By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
(Originally posted 12.01.16)
So you’re in the jungle, you’re living in a tent, you have zero financial obligations, you have all the time in the world, and you just plain don’t care. Is this a call for celebration?
Right off the bat, I’m probably being too literal, trying to make sense of the lyrics of Band on the Run’s “Mrs. Vandebilt,” one of the great showcases for Paul McCartney’s runaway bass inflections, because that first verse is a slightly-changed, tumbling tip of the hat to British comedian Charlie Chester. Which is really here nor there in the grand scheme of things.
Which is not to say that there is any scheme being practiced within this delicious tour de Macca, other than the crafting of yet another insanely catchy slice of pop and roll by one of the masters of the insanely catchy slice of pop and roll form. “Take things as they come to you!”, McCartney seems to be saying in these lyrics, which might be the case if you’re looking to make a case, but I submit to you that the lyrics could well be carefully positioned red herrings unless you don’t believe in such things and, really, well, that’s kind of getting off the case at hand.
“Mrs. Vandebilt” is a four-on-the-floor, beat-buoyed road trip driven by one of, if not the, world’s most inventive bass players. And don’t argue with me, now! We must not have dissension among the ranks!
“Mrs. Vandebilt” is all about the ever-present, runaway bass line and, of course, the up-and-down, go-high-then-low-then-high-again melody line. The first 72 seconds, and really most of this track, bear this out, painted as they are with just a few aural brushstrokes–rhythmic, acoustic guitar chord stabs, bass, percussion, vocal, and what sounds like some understated keyboard layering close to the first chorus. Then, Howie Casey’s liquid saxophone draws deserved attention for seven punctuated seconds.
A beautifully-rendered electric guitar solo (which recurs later, as does Casey’s sax) is another of the many reasons that this skillfully crafted track, like so many of McCartney’s ingenious constructs, never, ever fails to please; another one is what really is the meat of this four-and-a-half-minute moment: the rip-roaring, get-out-of-the-way, leave-my-kitten-alone close, a let’s-let-loose-at-all-costs, band-on-the-run refrain that plays sweet havoc with what has come before. Above, and for that matter below, the repeated “Ho, hey ho!” cries, McCartney’s runaway bass, sliding up and down the fretboard with determinedly enthusiastic plucks, steals the show, exiting stage right with a quick, descending run of notes before the track fades, clearing the decks for the tour de Lennon that is “Let Me Roll It.”
There is a picture of McCartney in the booklet of the 2010 archive collection reissue of Band on the Run, in which the headphone-appointed artist is decked out in his electric blue shirt, sleeves rolled up, his left arm crossed against his chest, his right arm pointing upward and his right hand resting against his lips, pursed into a knowing smile that says, “Man, just wait ’till you hear what I’ve got up my (rolled up) sleeves.” If a picture truly speaks volumes, this one is akin to the length and breadth of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
If I close my eyes, I can see myself sitting on the edge of my bed in my college dorm room, listening to the Band on the Run album over and over as a long-haired friend sits on my no-speed bicycle, pedaling in place with abandon. “You know, this is a really great album,” my friend says as the memory tape rolls in my brain. And when “Mrs. Vandebilt” comes on, the pedaling stops in its tracks. My attention, as well as my friend’s, is suddenly focused on that insistent bass line, and as the track hits midway, my friend and I are plucking the strings of our Hofner air bass guitars even as the track fades, and without even thinking, I walk slowly to my turntable in somewhat of a daze and put the needle back to the beginning and the air Hofner plucking begins again.
Which is why I love this song.