We live in a world where practically every song released can be classified as a single–any individual track can easily be cued up on Spotify or YouTube, or downloaded on iTunes. Physical media lovers like myself still mourn the loss of CD singles with their myriad of rare and otherwise unavailable b-sides, but by far the most iconic single format was the 7″ 45 RPM vinyl with a big ol’ hole in the center and one song on each side. The Beatles, as one might expect, gave the world some pretty excellent combinations–“Day Tripper” and “We Can Work it Out,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” and my personal pick for the greatest single of all time, “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.” But one of the more unintentionally awesome couplings was pairing “Help!” with “I’m Down”–two songs that, while both centered around going through a rough patch, couldn’t be more vastly different (which is exactly why they work so well together).
“I’m Down” is a really cool transitional track–it sounds like an early With the Beatles-era kind of song, but you can hear the leap in skill and songwriting that took place between 1963 and 1965. But all it takes is one listen to realize that this song is all about the vocal performance. The call-and-response “I’m really down” backing vocals are a lot of fun, but this is one of those great tracks where Paul McCartney lets loose with his Little Richard impression and goes nuts behind the mic.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate that, in 2018, a 76-year-old McCartney is still putting out catchy new music. The lead single from his upcoming new album Egypt Station, “Come On to Me,” may not be legacy-cementing–not that he needs it, of course–but it certainly isn’t a mark against him. (The divisive “Fuh You” on the other hand is probably not going to end up on any career-spanning best-of.) But his most recent records are a reminder that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he is ultimately a mere mortal, and his vocals aren’t what they used to be. But back in the day, the guy could do it all, as evidenced by one amazing fact.
Flashback to July 14, 1965. At around 5:30 PM, the Beatles recorded “I’m Down” from start to finish, including Paul’s incredible vocal, a performance that would have rendered most people lunging for lozenges and hoarse for a couple days. But immediately after, he proceeded to pick up an acoustic guitar and deliver one of his most gentle and beloved vocal performances ever: “Yesterday.”
For my money, Paul is the only one of the four Beatles who didn’t peak vocally during the 1960s–I’d say it was the 1976 Wings Over America tour–but the fact that 11 years after recording “I’m Down” and “Yesterday,” he was still outshining his earlier work is a testament to how damn amazing the guy is. Paul McCartney, if you’re reading this, and obviously you are, you’re a treasure.