Paul McCartney Opens The Book Of Love Songs With Kisses On The Bottom

What do you do when you are the Cute Beatle approaching 70? Age—and those decades of inhaling herb—is finally catching up to those pipes, yet vanity or stubbornness prevents you from simply clipping on that capo to sing your classics in a lower key. Oh, and your name is Sir Paul and you're the only survivor of pop's most valuable (in every sense) conglomerate who is not Ringo.

There are some obvious choices. A reality show? Been there, done that. A Rick Rubin-produced warts and all expose? You would find that Paulie's gritty is everyone else's pretty. As the son of a dance hall bandleader, James Paul McCartney always deferred to the Great American Songbook's greatness. Moving from the stadiums (where, for a $500 ticket, he will do his damndest to hit a younger bloke's high notes) to LA's Capitol studios, where he crooned into Nat Cole's old mic, he is not only aging with dignity but with a subtle beauty young Paul may have missed a few decades ago, when the temptation to show off his octaves (and Little Richard-inspired holler) would be too great.

Kisses On the Bottom may sound to the uninitiated like a an acquired taste among libidinal positions, but its actual provenance is more coy: a phrase from "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," a 1935 chestnut with music by Fred E. Ahlert and lyrics by Joe Young, popularized by Fats Waller, who never met a double entendre he didn't like; the "bottom" is the end of a letter, but with a wink that would anticipate "Baby's Got Back" and other ditties.

Kisses On the Bottom, Macca's 16th studio solo album, harkens back to a time when it would have been unthinkable to sing a line like, say, "I'd love to turn you on." But of course, troubadours for centuries have been seeking exactly that, and in this realm of Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser, McCartney harkens back to a professional tunesmith tradition he and John Lennon eviscerated, replacing it with a singer-songwriter tradition that still has legs.

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