A few weeks ago a historical marker passed seemingly unnoticed: the 35th anniversary of Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary.”
The oversight isn't surprising. To the public at large, "Temporary Secretary" is one of McCartney’s least known, and most dismissed, singles. At the time, rock arbiter Rolling Stone magazine panned it and the rest of McCartney’s curious, synth-heavy second solo album, “McCartney II,” as “an album of aural doodles designed for the amusement of very young children” and the former Beatle’s voice sounding “like a cross between an insect and a windup toy.”
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“Secretary” was issued as a 12-inch single in September 1980 and, despite the diss, in the intervening decades the once-scorned new wave ditty has become a secret weapon in the arsenals of DJs worldwide. I’ve heard spinners as varied as No Age’s Randy Randall, Mark “Frosty” McNeill of Dublab and Nightswim DJ Chris Holmes (who’s McCartney’s touring DJ) drop the song on unsuspecting Los Angeles crowds. The respected house DJ and producer Dixon named one of his mixes after it.
For reference, here’s McCartney’s original, created with the help of an ARP sequencer during a period when the artist was exploring emerging musical technology:
It’s a catchy song about, yes, the narrator’s desire for the titular assistant to service his needs. “All I need is help for a little while,” he sings. “We can take dictation and learn to smile/ And a temporary secretary/ Is what I need for to do the job/ I need a temporary secretary.”
The result is a weirdly ambiguous lyric that suggests both the the need for administrative help and the desire for an easy lover. Is Macca looking for an employee, a prostitute who can type or a filer with benefits who’ll clock out at the end of the day?
It’s the electronic tones that draw the ears all these years later. Though on first listen the song seems like a stoned McCartney toss-off or a desperate attempt to compete with emerging synth-pop trailblazers Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder and Gary Numan’s Tubeaway Army, there’s something about “Secretary” that sticks.
In recent months a DJ named Temporary Secretary has uploaded a few reworkings that serve as a reminder. One reimagines the track as a high-hat heavy trap-rap song, replete with rolling snare breaks.
Another features a Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em mash-up:
There's a minimalist version crafted to sound like a Super Nintendo game:
More organically, in the spring, the British duo Darkstar dropped a revved-up version featuring Wild Beasts singer Hayden Thorpe, offering further confirmation that Macca’s early experiment with synthesizer-based pop was prescient:
That take was followed by the ultimate acknowledgement: In May at O2 Arena in London, McCartney performed the song in concert for the first time ever. Soon after, the Foo Fighters joined him onstage to do the song.
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