The best songs are well-drawn maps to your heart that trigger long suppressed memories, memories that swell to great heights as you remember that warm, beautiful glow you felt when you were eight and your father patted your head, smiled and told you not to worry about what the kid next door said because everything was going to be all right and that was enough for you, enough to last a lifetime.
The best songs–the greatest songs–and the best and greatest songwriters know how to unravel just enough of a tale to function as emitters of clues that lead to the emotions they’re wanting to convey and wake up in you. The best songs change you in sometimes mysterious ways, ways you never can see coming. The best songs solve puzzles you’ve been taking apart and putting back together in your brain for so many years–puzzles and problems stored in the little compartment in your noggin that stay there, figuratively and literally, until the time comes to solve them and move on.
Imagine that your father–the man who taught you how to throw and catch a ball; who sprinted along next to you on your street as you passed in a rickety manner from training wheels to full-fledged bicycle tires but stopped after 30 or 40 seconds and claimed victory anyway; who snapped pictures of you and your prom date in the hallway by your front door and embarrassed you in that soon-he’ll-be-grown-up-and-away-from-my-gaze kind of way; who upped your weekly allowance to $1.25 from $1.10 after you promised, with tears welling in your eyes, to be a better brother to your sister; and who went with you to the library to stand up for you to the bitter librarian who wouldn’t let you take out a book marked with an “adult content” stamp that didn’t really need one and who didn’t know you were an advanced reader but you were and your father knew it.
The best songs open a flood of memories to your consciousness and light up your brain with effusive fireworks that celebrate with glee the times in your life that were so alive. In “Put It There,” Paul McCartney looks back on times spent with his father. “I want to show you I’m your friend,” Jim Mac says. “It’s all that matters in the end.” “Put it there if it weighs a ton,” he relates, and Paul remembers “That’s what a father said to his young son.” “I don’t care if it weighs a ton,” Jim Mac notes. “As long as you and I are here, put it there.”
Everything is going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright no matter what happens, because fathers can fix anything. Anything! “The darkest night and all its mixed emotions is getting lighter,” McCartney sings, urging the listener to become part of his memory. “Put it there if it weighs a ton,” he sings, and all of a sudden you remember that day in the park when your kite flew away, and that time at the ballpark when you almost caught a ball in your official Little League glove but got beaned just a hair instead and you cried and your father put his arm around you and said “Almost! Good job!”. You remember those winsome moments–the ones that caress you and hold you tight and give you hope.
The beautifully understated, emotive arrangement of “Put It There” starts sparingly with some acoustic picking, a shaker, some perfunctory percussion, and McCartney singing towards the upper edge of his register alongside Hamish Stuart’s bass, basic with a bit of a pack of flash as the tale unravels, some gorgeous, assured orchestration from McCartney and old salt George Martin, as the grown man remembers the way he was assured that life would treat him well, that he could traverse through course changes with confidence, even if his stomach rumbled just a bit and the road ahead looked potentially treacherous. “If there’s a fight I’d like to fix it,” Jim Mac explains. “I hate to see things go so wrong.” Go on and wear this invisible suit of armor and go forth–nothing can hurt you.
And because we know that nothing can really hurt us–not really–we go forth, the simple memories of our fathers smiling at us as we recall them passing around plates of sloppy joes at the dinner table, explaining why Uncle Joe shows up in every picture taken at family functions. These memories happily swirl around the inside of our beans as we make our way, the soundtrack of our lives playing with knee-slap percussion, a bit of acoustic guitar, and that voice that conveys any emotion it chooses.
In Paul McCartney’s “Put It There,” there is a mound of emotion, and if we listen carefully, we can take so much from it. Because that’s the magic of great songs composed with that special spark that opens up a well of memories and changes you for all time. That is the well-drawn map, the one that you follow as you pedal to new destinations on your path. That is the song, the song in your heart.