The Story and Meaning Behind “So Bad,” a Falsetto-Filled Gem by Paul McCartney

It’s a somewhat forgotten single from a somewhat forgotten album. But “So Bad” just goes to show you that even in the more modest moments in this career, Paul McCartney can deliver charm and craft to spare.

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What is the song about? How did it fit into the album Pipes of Peace? And what did McCartney have to say about the song as it related to his romantic history? Here is a look back at “So Bad,” a 1983 Macca track that deserves a revisit.

Peace and Love

When Paul McCartney reunited with producer George Martin for his first solo album following the official disbanding of Wings in 1981, he recorded way too much material for just one LP. Hence, the 1983 McCartney release Pipes of Peace was initially built from leftovers from the sessions for Tug of War, which came out the previous year.

Macca did add some newer songs to the bunch, the most notable of which was “Say Say Say,” his No. 1 smash duet with Michael Jackson. “So Bad” was also added, but some of the collaborators that had been present in the Tug of War sessions stuck around for this track. They included Ringo Starr providing his steady balladic touch on drums, and Eric Stewart joining Linda McCartney on the layered backing vocals that are quite reminiscent of 10cc, Stewart’s previous band.

Pipes of Peace wasn’t nearly as commercially successful in America as Tug of War, and you can argue that part of that could be blamed on the choice of “So Bad” as the second single in the U.S. In the UK, the title track, which is a more ambitious number, was the selection for the second single and it topped the charts.

“So Bad” may have been miscast as a potential hit single, but that doesn’t stop it from being a lovely little song and production. It gives McCartney a chance to work out his falsetto in the verses, which is always a welcome move from him.  The simplicity of the lyrics also means you don’t have to work too hard to get the gist of it.

McCartney liked “So Bad” so much he recorded it again for the cassette and CD editions of the soundtrack to his 1984 film Give My Regards to Broad Street. In the book that accompanied the film (as reported by Beatles Bible), he explained the song might work best for someone who has reached a certain level of experience in the romance department:

“It’s just a very simple love song which is overtly sentimental. Sometimes you have to write that way because you love it. You can relate to it when you’ve been through the mill and you’ve got a nice partner. Maybe it means more than it does to a lad of 18.”

What is the Meaning of “So Bad”?

In the simplest and most accessible terms possible, McCartney lays out a situation in “So Bad” where one loves another so much that it becomes a kind of sweet torture. It’s the kind of thing where the narrator knows it might be easier on him if he was with somebody he perhaps loved a little less, but he’d be too heartbroken without her to go that route.

He spells it out for out in succinct fashion: First verse: There is a pain inside my heart / You mean so much to me. Second verse: And if you leave, my pain will go / But that’s no good for me. It’s counterintuitive to think of deep affection in this way, where the adjectives used to describe it are all negative: This is worse than anything I’ve ever had.

But McCartney doesn’t push so far in that direction that he can’t get back to the happy ending in the final verse: There was a pain, but now you’re here / And I don’t fear a thing. “So Bad” doesn’t come on like anything overly complicated. But in its simplicity lies accuracy and wisdom about the deepest love matches.

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Photo by David Harris/Keystone/Getty Images

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