Paul McCartney’s Run Devil Run album (1999), marked his first release following the death of his wife, Linda McMartney, a year before. This is the second 50s-focused album that McCartney has released, the other being Снова в СССР from 1988. However, unlike the 1988 album, Run Devil Run chooses not to focus on the great rock’n'roll standards, like “That’s All Right” or “Lucille”, but on more obscure cuts that McCartney, and the other Beatles, grew up with in the 1950s.
The sound on Run Devil Run varies noticeably from track to track. This may be a side-effect of the album being recorded in different sessions at different times. On the highlight tracks, and most of the numbers to be fair, the sound is pretty much spot on. The vocals are clear but well supported by the rhythm while, in the first track especially, the guitars kick in loud when they come to solo. However, there are a handful of tracks where, similar to Jerry Lee Lewis’ Youngblood, an artificial attempt at 50s echo is made. This leads to some tracks losing vocal clarity – most noticeable on “Honey Hush”.
Blue Jean Bop – This Gene Vincent classic kicks the album off at a rather steady pace. Paul starts off alone with just voice and bass before the drums kick in. This opener delivers two stinging guitar solos and overall the track starts the album with a faithful 50s sound.
She Said Yeah – One of the highlights on the album for me. Paul makes the most of his voice, kicking into ‘Little Richard’ mode to belt this one out. The speed is high, the vocals are loud and the whole thing rocks!
All Shook Up – The first track that Paul has some fun with. A catchy guitar riff kicks the track off before Paul starts to rip through. The vocals are a little OTT for me on this one, the lyrics better the suit the more suggestive tone taken by The King.
Run Devil Run – The first of Paul’s originals on the album. Named after a drug store in the US and written in a style aimed to pay tribute to Chuck Berry, this track rocks full out. The story concerns the ups and downs of a ‘holy roller’, including getting siblings out of jail and picking cotton!
No Other Baby – Paul claims that this is the ‘most obscure song on the album’ and that he ‘never had the record’. However, the song remains imprinted in his memory and Paul and the band produce a solid job on this slower, more bluesy number.
Lonesome Town – A Ricky Nelson song that, lyrically, doesn’t stray far from the “Heartbreak Hotel” territory. This is a classic early ballad and fits neatly into the “Who Will The Next Fool Be” line of piano led songs.
Try Not To Cry – The second of McCartney’s originals on the album. This is one of the least 50s sounding tracks on the album and, while its not my favorite track, it does inject some variety into the album.
Movie Magg – I prefer this cut of “Movie Magg” compared to the original by Carl Perkins. Paul keeps the general country feel of the track, but, with the less-American voice, the overall effect feels more subtle.
Brown Eyed Handsome Man – This track, like “All Shook Up”, makes a conscious effort to step away from the original – in this case the Buddy Holly version of the Chuck Berry classic. I wouldn’t say that this version is my favorite but it is quirky and different and that deserves recognition on a track this well known.
What It Is – Another stand-out track on the album and another McCartney original. This is almost early-Beatles sounding and retains that classic sound, belting vocals and is a happy, uplifting track that rocks along in its own relaxed way.
Coquette – McCartney rolls out his best Fats Domino impersonation for this bluesy number. At this stage in the album it seems important to note the overall impact on Paul these musicians had, including his singing voice. Paul’s singing stye owes a lot to Little Richard and the other 50s rockers.
I Got Stung – An obscure Elvis number. This song is really the archetypal rockabilly sound on nearly every instrument. Drum stops, key-bashing piano and faced paced chuggin’ guitars – all at max pace. The lyrics are a little forgettable and, for that reason, this track isn’t one that I race back to time and again.
Honey Hush – An pre-rock’n'roll Big Joe Turner song. I can’t say this track does much for me. The leveling is out, making lyrics hard to hear – therefore the song becomes Paul wailing over slightly overdriven guitars screeching 12-bar.
Shake A Hand – This echo-soaked slower number nudges the album towards the close. A Little Richard number that Paul picked up when in Germany with The Beatles. This song is ok but lacks the oomph or impact of some of the highlights of the album.
Party – Another obscure Elvis number, this time from the movie, Loving You. The song is upbeat, happy and paced to make you dance. This makes is ideal to close out this album – a celebration of the 50s and the great rock’n'roll music.
Overall, Run Devil Run is an enjoyable, rocking album. Most of Paul’s singing and performances sound fresh and the band is tight and rockin’. There are a few tracks that I’m largely indifferent about but the tracks that are absolutely top-notch more than make up for that. A final reflection on rock’n'roll albums: Part of the challenge I think is knowing when to stop – too short an album and the customer feels cheated, too long and album and sub-par tracks sneak in; aren’t we a tough lot to please!
Paul McCartney - Run Devil Run – 6/10