530. ‘Pipes of Peace’, by Paul McCartney

Recently, I’ve seen a couple of articles that have claimed 1984 as the best year ever for pop music. Ever. On the one hand I get it: Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Springsteen… MTV hitting its stride. Fashion choices that remain ingrained on our collective conscience. On the other hand, looking down my list of #1s, none of these artists will be bothering top spot in the UK during this hallowed year. Instead, we start with an ex-Beatle, with the only truly solo chart-topper of his long career…

Pipes of Peace, by Paul McCartney (his 2nd of three solo #1s)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd January 1984

And to be honest, I’m expecting something truly horrendous here. Still scarred from Macca’s first ‘solo’ chart-topper, ‘Ebony & Ivory’, I see the word ‘pipes’ in the title, and am imagining more bagpipes a la ‘Mull of Kintyre’ or even, shudder, pan-pipes… But actually, no. It’s quite nice. After a strange intro, that sounds like a rusty orchestra tuning up, we glide into a gentle, late-Beatlesy melody. This could have slipped quite easily onto Side 3 of ‘The White Album’ (it was produced by George Martin, too).

Even the earnest message… All round the world, Little children being born to the world, Got to give them all we can… doesn’t grate like it did in E&I. Paul, as ever, just wants us to all get along. Help them to learn, Songs of joy, Instead of burn baby burn… (Either that, or it’s an anti-disco message…?) And it ends in a nice a cappella section which, following on from the Flying Pickets, makes this truly the sound of the season.

It’s not perfect. There are some weird synthy touches that border on cartoonish sound-effects. And there’s a disjointed feel to this song, as if it’s a gathering of ideas rather than a finished version. On the whole, though, it’s a pleasant enough start to the year. It was clearly going for the Christmas market, even if it couldn’t dislodge the Pickets until long after the decorations had come down. Still, peace is for life, not just for Christmas…

The video is set in the trenches of World War I, in which Paul plays both a British and a German soldier who meet during the famous (and possibly apocryphal) Christmas Day truce of 1914. They exchange photos of their sweethearts back home as soldiers play a game of football around them. Again, it’s quite nice. And again, as with ‘Ebony & Ivory’, you can just about make out John Lennon scoffing from beyond the grave…

I’d say that this keeps our run of retro number ones going – just the fact that it’s by Paul McCartney is already pretty retro for 1984 – but that is all about to end. Up next, we have one of the most aggressively ‘eighties’-sounding chart-toppers of the entire decade. And if you have some pearls handy, now might be the time to start clutching them…

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42 thoughts on “530. ‘Pipes of Peace’, by Paul McCartney

  1. Lennon scoffing? Why?

    I don’t recall this song…at all. But, I will have to say that 1984 was very cool for me. Graduated HS & headed for college. I had a great summer, too.

    • I’m sure if I’d lived through it I’d have a different opinion… Wait till I try justifying some of the trashy pop that makes #1 in the late 90s! I will say that, having started writing my 1984 posts, the first couple of #1s are really good.

      As for Lennon, given how bitchy he could be, and how down he was on Paul at times, I just imagine he’d have found songs like this and ‘Ebony and Ivory’ a bit… simplistic in their peace and harmony schtick.

      • Wait…didn’t Lennon & Ono craft “Give Peace A Chance?” Then, there was “Happy Xmas (War Is Over) & “Imagine.” Then, there was the “bed-in” for peace. He had his own “peace & harmony schtick.”

      • You’re right. I’ve always thought, though, that there was a cynicism to Lennon’s messages of peace and love. ‘Imagine all the people…’ (but he knew it would never happen)… Though maybe that’s tied in more to their image – John as a slightly troubled soul, Paul as all thumbs up and smiley…

      • I won’t argue his cynicism. I guess he was hoping for a better world but, thought it unlikely? IDK. We will need to have Max ring in on this one.

        Paul was troubled, too. Both of them lost their mothers as teens…Lennon @ 17 & McCartney @ 14.

      • Hello everyone…sorry I’m a day late…fell asleep last night early!
        McCartney was way too saccharin for me at this time. Lennon’s projects bit some…THIS IS WHY… they needed each other. Lennon would never have allowed “So Bad” by McCartney in the 80s and McCartney would have toned down some of Lennon’s far out songs. What you are discusing is the reason the Beatles were so successful…and songs will outlive us. When I say they complimented each other…They did! And they policed each other. It was a Ying yang thing.

      • I agree…. To a point. For me, though, Lennon produced some solo work that was the equal of the Beatles. McCartney didn’t. (With the caveat that I admit I am not as up on McCartney’s post-Beatles stuff, and that he didn’t have the ‘benefit’ of an early death to cement his legacy…)

      • That was me also… Lennon kept an edge to him that McCartney lost after the Beatles. Now that doesn’t equal in hits…but hits are not always the best songs. Double Fantasy had a lot of hits but I never thought it was his best by any means.
        Sometimes I bet I would like the number 30 song more than the number 1. Not always…but most of the time. The album that came close to me was Band on the Run.

  2. Ok my normal comment lol..as far as the articles. “1984 as the best year ever for pop music. Ever” Hold on…let me stop crying from laughing so hard!! (wiping the tears away) Yea you had Springsteen and McCartney but not their best years by any stretch. Jackson and Madonna? That would be the opposite of “best” (Ok ok to be fair… that is just my musical preference)… Prince ok…he was in his prime…him I could see….if you would pick a year say like 1966 or 1967 then I could see.

  3. I am fond of this one, loved the video and the xmas spirit to it. That said i do recall The Tube tv music show that debuted the next number one referring to it as Pipes Of Piss. I would say its no more or less soppy than Woman or Beautiful Boy so John would not have exactly been in a position to finger wag had circumstances been less tragic.
    Re Lennon being more cynical, maybe, but Paul mixed up the creativity post Beatles and was far more experimental than John who tended to stay in his rock ballad groove except where he was working with Yoko. We had acoustic paul which the fabs all slagged off but which has been reasppraised critically as hugely influential in the 21st century. We had Bond macca. Epic macca from Band On The Run the best post Beatles album by any of the 4. Singalong 70s macca. Synthpop 80s solo macca having a fab playabout. Wistful touching macca after johns death. The Fireman indie duo dance macca. Orchestral classical macca. 80s dance macca. Indie costello macca. Frog chorus macca. Ballroom macca. Charity single macca for liverpool causes.

    Which brings me to the next epic Scouse chart topper. 2 in a row. That trio of 1984 hat tricks are good enough reason to nominate 1984 as one of the greats. Singles and album sales would also support it. Me, I think 1979 has it. Or 1967…..

    • Wait… what’s the other hattrick? Frankie, George Michael…?

      1979 is a great shout, and I loved 1980 too, though the overall quality wasn’t as high. 1967 was like 1984 – a good year that wasn’t entirely reflected in its #1s… (Engelbert, ahem…)

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