Monday, 21 March 2016
Paul McCartney and Bands: Live/Solo/Compilation/Unreleased/Fireman/Classical Albums Part Two: 1987-1997
"Return To Pepperland"
Lindiana/I Love This House!/We Got Married (Early Version)/Beautiful Night (Early Version)/The Loveliest Thing/Squid/Big Day/This One (Early Version)/Love Comes Tumbling Down/Rough Ride/Christian Pop/Atlantic Ocean/Love Mix/Return To Pepperland/PS Love Me Do/Same Love/Don't Break The Promise/Once Upon A Long Ago
"Dear old dad - wbat are you writing now?!"
Though never strictly released as an album and nearly always ignored in a discussion of McCartney's work, 'Return To Pepperland' is important enough to get it's own section. Unlike, say, Neil Young (whose abandoned as many albums as he's released down the years) this is the only McCartney project to have been entirely shelved not to feature Rupert The Bear. Recorded in 1987 with big-name producer Phil Ramone on board, it features Macca in the post-'Press To Play' loss of confidence over his work and where it was going and has a similar feel in terms of the pop music constructions and big booming 80s synths, although the songs are sadly not the hidden gems of that record. Many of the songs try too hard to go back to the generic McCartney 'sound' - silly pop songs in the vein of the 'Pipes Of Peace' album, although one or two do, like 'Press To Play', do posess more of a rule-breaking feel, posessing more of the adventurous 'McCartney II' approach to 80s technology. Paul may have been influenced by what he heard of George Harrison's recent recordings (released that year as 'Cloud Nine') which were far more contemporary and lighter than anything he'd been doing for years - in fact the Beatle-reference-heavy 'Return To Pepperland' is 'When We Was Fab' without the fun, a 'then and now' shot to celebrate how Sgt Peppers was 'twenty years ago today' and while an aweful song it's notable as the first truly nostalgic moment of McCartney's songwriting. Never one to waste a good song or even a bad one, many of these songs were released down the years - particularly during the 1997 years when Paul was in need of a B-side or were given their first airing during Paul's 1995 radio series 'Oobu Joobu'. Most immediately, however, 'Once Upon A Long Ago' was the only song released the same year it was recorded and is one of the two best songs from the sessions, 'We Got Married' and 'This One' were re-recorded in grander form for 'Flowers In The Dirt' in 1989 while 'Rough Ride' was the only recording from these sessions to make an album intact. These three songs are all the clear highlights and sensible choices to keep from the sessions, but there are a few other songs of worth that deserve more than their B-side status ('Love Come Tumbling Down' especially). Interestingly not all these songs were 'new' either, with a few 'Broad Street' and 'Press To Play' leftovers recorded as part of the sessions too (Macca always tended to be two or three records ahead in terms of actual somngs during the 1970s and early 1980s, but had all but fallen out of the habit by 'Press To Play'). To be honest, though, this record would have been crucified if sent out to an already disgruntled fanbase and music press (who still hadn't forgiven Paul for sitting through 'Give My Regards To Broad Street') and is really a collection of B-sides rather than a missing McCartney milestone.
Please note that as this album never actually came out the track listing is vague - and rather long by McCartney 1980s standards, suggesting that a few of these songs (perhaps the instrumentals 'Squid' and 'Big Day') would have been held back for B-sides had things gone as planned. However most bootleggers have gone with 'Lindiana' because it 'sounds' like an opening track. Clearly written for Linda, it's a song that has the same stateliness and piano backing as 'Only Love Remains' but with a nagging chorus and a very irritating synth line. The message of the song is an interesting one as Paul urges Linda not to 'let go' because he's there for her - interesting as almost all his love songs have their situation the other way round (this is the oppposite take on 'Maybe I'm Amazed', although the comparisons betwen the two sadly end there). First recorded after the end of the 'Broad Street' sessions in the Autumn of 1984 and given a few 1987 overdubs, 'LIndiana' is one of the few songs from the sessions not to be given a release anywhere. A shame because the power-pop chorus is rather good, even if the song as a whole falls a bit flat.
'I Love This House' is another 1984 outtake with extras that's an intrioguing take on McCartrney's love for run-down and well-loved things. Few of the Beatle fans who longed to marry Paul in 1969 would have been jealous of Linda's Mull of Kintyre honeymoon if they'd known about it, in a run-down cottage with a leaky roof and a distinct lack of home comforts. But the couple loved it - Linda because it was 'funky' and so far away from the airs and graces she hated; Paul because it was 'his' - not Brian Epstein's, not the Ashers', but the first piece of property he owned outright. 'I Love This House' uses the mataphor for the couple's marriage - it's old, run down and rusty, but Paul wouldn't have it any other way - it has too many memories and too much has happened in it to care what state it's in. The song became one of many B-sides for the 1997 single 'Young Boy', featured as part of an extract from the 'Oobu Joobu' radio series.
An early version of 'We Got Married' is up next, which oddly given that the 'Pepperland' sessions use more technology than any other McCartney project is actually a stripped-down affair compared to the final version on 'Flowers In The Dirt'. I rather like the funkier, rootsier early version which is more in keeping with Pauk's attempts to depict a marriage as it really is, with ebbs and flows and lots of work. Paul's more 'human' vocal is a delight too, while David Gilmour's guitar solo (possibly recorded back to back with his work on 'No More Lonely Nights' given the timing) is about the only passage to survive intact to 1989 and actually runs for much longer when heard complete.
'Beautiful Night' sounds rather better than its 'Flaming Pie' incarnation too, but then that's not hard - the final version is one of the biggest travesties in Paul's catalogue. Paul doesn't know the song that well yet and this sounds like more of a 'rehearsal' take, but that actually suits the song better than the all-singing all-dancing all-Ringo affair of the finished product. The melody and some of the lyrics still set the teeth on edge and it's still the weakest song of the sessions, but at least Macca's vocal isn't quite so smug and an added surge into the middle eight from Chris Whitten on drums (and ignored by Ringo on the re-make) adds a nice touch to the song.
'Loveliest Thing' is a straightforward McCartney pop tune, another love song to Linda that starts off like every other Macca love song since the year dot but ends up somewhere smokey and jazzy and minor key by the end of the chorus line where Paul reveals that his love is one-way, 'without permission given'. A tortured middle eight adds much depth and darkness to the song as Paul pleads with his loved one for a relationship to work before a guitar solo (by Paul himself?) sweeps in to pierce the laidback jaunt of the main song. It's one of the better songs from the project even if Macca's vocal is all too obviously a 'rehearsal' take he never returned to. The song was added to the 'McCartney Collection' re-issue of the 'Flowers In The Dirt' album in the late 1990s.
'Squid' is an itty bitty instrumental that isn't very much but is rather lovely for what it is. It's nice to hear Paul going back to using acoustic guitars as his main source of music and his twin-playing, later joined by a very 80s synth, is well handled. Like many an instrumental, though, you can't help but think that this song would have been better still with lyrics and doesn't really go anywhere once all the instruments have been added. I'm also clueless as to what this all has to do with a 'squid' - is this the ecologist McCartney simply going with the first creature that popped into his head again? The song was released for the first time in 1997 as an extra on the 'World Tonight' single as part of yet another 'Oobu Joobu' extract.
Though 'Squid' was a 1987 recording fellow instrumental 'Big Day' seems to have been taped during 'Press To Play' and given a few extras a year later. A noisy instrumental, not unlike 'Night Out' with lots of yelling and screaming and a tough-as-old-boots guitar riff at its core, it's not unlike the sort of B-sides Paul's writing partner Eric Stewart wrote for 10cc despite the lone credit to McCartney. It's a really good middle eight in search of a proper song to contain it. To date this song is still unreleased.
The demo of 'This One' is one of the record's high spots. A simple piano ballad with an accompanying drum track, without all the gubbins that went with the 'Flowers In The Dirt' recording, the song's melody sounds even prettier and McCartney's more heartfelt vocal makes the lyrics sound ever more profound too. The only major difference is that the song starts with the middle eight ('What opportunities did we allow to fly by?...') instead of the chorus, with the whole middle eight sung a second time in its more 'normal' position. A lovely song ends up sounding even lovelier, although to date this version of the song has yet to be released.
'Love Come Tumbling Down' is a much under-rated song too, an intriguing twist on Macca's usual love songs that alternates between a breezy major key verse and a tighter, more claustrophobic refrain that suggests that love isn't quite as easy as the narrator is making out. The melody is typically McCartney perfect and sounds very much like a 'Pipes Of Peace' outtake (despite dating from 1987), while the lyrics recall the moment he fell in love for the first time (with Linda? Or back with Jane Asher? Or even Hamburg-era girlfriend Dot?) desperate to zoom forward in time and see if the relationship turns out to be as great as he thinks it is from love at first sight. An atmopsheric drum pattern really enhances the song, sounding like electronic raindrops and there's a brief but glorious guitar solo too. The song was released as part of yet another 'Oobu Joobu' sequence on the back of the 'Beautiful Night' single, where it trounced the A-side hands down.
'Christian Pop' is perhaps the weakest thing here, a third instrumental that seems to have been titled for the setting on Macca's synthesiser. Played back-to-back with the similar doodles on 'McCartney II' (even the ones that didn't make the album) it's obvious and cliched and not obviously McCartney-like even if the urgency and deep bass piano rumbles does recall 'Listen To What The Man Said'. Macca's overdubbed piano playing is rather good though! Some McCartney commentators note that the central tune got recycled into the unlikeliest setting of all - the Liverpool Oratorio - although only the grand sweep of the digital stings near the end has anything much in common with this song.
'Atlantic Ocean' is McCartney with his dance hat on and in future years would have been handed over to his pseuonym 'The Fireman' for release. 'Feel the rhythm of the Atlantic Ocean' McCartney intones like a dance/house star half his age as he half-sings, half-raps his way through a daft lyric about living to nature's beat. It's not as bad as you might expect, but neither is it worthy of release. Which is a shame because it did come out, as another 'Oobu Joobu' extract released on the back of 'Young Boy' in 1997.
'Love Mix' is a real curio, with such a contemporary sound I'm surprised it doesn't come with a Stock-Aitken-Waterman credit. You can easily imagine Kylie or Jason singing this, which is a shame, but it would have been one of their better songs had they done it - McCartney may be writing simple, catchy pop but he understands how it works better than most writers. The intriguing chorus is quite postmodern too, refering both to the 'mix' of the song and the mixtures of the two lovers' personalities as they drop their differences and come together in true McCartney fashion 'waiting for the sun to shine'. This was another song that improved on A-side 'Beautiful Night' when heard as part of 'Oobu Joobu'.
The title track 'Return To Pepperland' is well intentioned but something of a mess. A sort of social protest song about all the things that the hippie dream was meant to solve but hadn't in two decades ('Twenty years later and who would have guessed? Nelson Mandela still under arrest!' - the song became null and void in 1990 on his release). Unfortunately what could have been a sweet song of then-and-now with a sweet singalong chorus is given one of those horrid cheesy music hall backings - 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' meets 'Flaming Pie' - and the cast of characters are diabolical, without Macca's usual 3Dness or personalities. Had this track been released someone somewhere would surely have been unkind and pointed out that the biggest difference between 1967 and 1987 was the scale of ambition for songwriters like Paul and this is not one of his better ideas. Still, it's intriguing for long-term fans as Macca comes to terms with the fact he has a 'past' to draw from as well as a 'present' and 'future' for the first time and gets involved with EMI's own 'twenty years ago today Sgt Pepper on CD' campaign and there are some nice Beach Boysy swirly harmonies and backwards tapes loops at the end which are nicely psychedelic. Perhaps mercifully the song has yet to have been given an official release (Twenty years later who would have guessed a self-referencing song would be such a mess?)
Keeping with the nostalgic theme, Macca recorded the only two Beatles songs he 'owned' (because John and Pau;l hadn't signed their 'Northern Songs' agreement yet): 'Love Me Do' and B-side 'PS I Love You' (to become 'P.S Love Me Do'). Both are lovely under-rated songs (especially the charming flipside) and feature prime McCartney melodies. However both songs sound a bit lost tacked onto each other (one is about trying to be in love - the other a response to a long term relationship, so they're not a natural fit) and the 80s sound is all the worse for being on a song you know. Still, this 'Love Me Do' is better than Ringo's solo version on 'Vertical Man' eight years later! The song was released, but only in Japan where it appeared as a 'bonus' track on their edition of the 'Flowers In The Dirt' CD.
Perhaps the most traditional song on the album, the piano ballad 'Same Love' is another album highlight with another dreamy melody that recalls 'Warm and Beautiful' but without the smugness let down by the slightly anonymous lyric. The tale of a couple coming together after a pause, McCartney wonders whether the love will burn the same way it did when they'd just met and all but breaks down as he remembers the hugeness of 'the love you made to me' in a catchy chorus. Alas the song is missing the extra 10% magic it needs to truly catch fire. This song was another 'Beautiful Night' freebie that proved to be a better bet than the gormless A-side.
Finally, 'Don't Break The Promises' is an interesting song. A 'Press To Play' Eric Stewart co-write leftover from the album sessions and given a bit of a production sprinkle in the 1987 sessions, it's a bouncy reggae-tinged song that's very 10cc-like. Oddly enough, though, 10cc were the first to release their version, on their 1992 reunion album 'Meanwhile...' - and that version is pure McCartney, slowed down to a pretty piano ballad! Eric's version is arguably the better, although there's a nice air of movement in Macca's version and there's a sweet tune underlying both versions. McCartney's version was another 'Oobu Joobu' extract, this time from the 'World Tonight' single.
Finally 'Once Upon A Long Ago' is the version we know and love, the 1987 single included on 'All The Best' (the last minute substitute for this record) that deserved better than to peak at a lowly #10 in the UK charts (even so, it's still the last top ten McCartney has ever had). The song features the same line-up as the rest of the album, with the addition of two notable guest appearances: David Gilmour returns after recoeding 'We Got Married' and a young and then not-that-well-known violinist Nigel Kennedy plays a second memorable solo. For once the 'best' song was rescued from these sessions - along perhaps with 'Rough Ride'.
An early version of the single's B-side 'I'll Be Back On My Feet' with a different set of lyrics is also known to have been recorded at these sessions (before being re-recorded later in the year with Elvis Costello's input) but has yet to appear on bootleg.
So, would this album have reversed McCartney's declining fortunes the way that 'Flowers In The Dirt' will? Probably not sadly and keeping most of these songs sin the vaults as possible B-sides for an album that sounded like a bunch of B-sides anyway ten years later ('Flaming Pie') is probably about right. However there is some good stuff here and even at its worst the album is only at the level of the underwhelming 'Pipes Of Peace' rather than something really bad (like 'Flaming Pie'). Caught halfway between the commercial McCartney and his more adventurous side, 'Pepperland' rather fell through the cracks but is an interesting project that deserves more interest from fans than it gets at present.
"All The Best"
(EMI, November 27th 1987)
European Version: Jet!/Band On The Run/Coming Up (Studio Version)/Ebony and Ivory/Listen To What The Man Said/No More Lonely Nights (Ballad Version)/Silly Love Songs/Let 'Em In/C Moon/Pipes Of Peace/Live and Let Die/Another Day/Maybe I'm Amazed/Goodnight Tonight/Once Upon A Long Ago/Say Say Say/With A Little Luck/My Love/We All Stand Together/Mull Of Kintyre
USA Version: Band On The Run/Jet!/Ebony and Ivory/Listen To What The Man Said/No More Lonely Nights (Ballad Version)/Silly Love Songs/Let 'Em In/Say Say Say/Live and Let Die/Another Day/C Moon/Junior's Farm/Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey/Coming Up (Live In Glasgow)/Goodnight Tonight/With A Little Luck/My Love
"And when the cupboard's bare, I'll still find something there!"
Having given up on 'Return To Pepperland', McCartney needed another album quick for the Christmas market and to keep EMI off his back. Luckily it had been years since 'Wings Greatest' and he had a whole catalogue full of ripe tunes to plunder, many of which had become increasingly rare, while simultaneously the growing CD market which had imploded in 1987 meant that audiences were more accepting of greatest hits albums than they used to be. Hence 'All The Best', an album named by Paul's manager Richard Ogden after his typical McCartney optimistic phrase to go alongside his signatures down the years. It's a clever name for a canny album, although actually it could have been even better had Macca stuck to his guns and released some rarities and obscurities along with this record as planned ('All The Biggest' would surely be a better title), with 'Maybe I'm Amazed' the only non-top ten hit here (even 'Waterfalls', which peaked at #10 in the UK, didn't make the cut, which is a great shame - 'Once Upon A Long Ago' actually peaked at the same position but got in vecause it was the most recent single and had yet to appear on an album). On the one hand, this is a cash-in pure and simple: there's nothing new here, no brave choices, no real sense of understanding the McCartney canon and viewing it in a fresh light and there's even a sense of desperation behind the two very different track listings promoted on different sides of the world, each tailored to the recordings that had sold the best in each place (so no 'Mull Of Kintyre' for America and no 'Uncle Albert' for Britain, which is a blessing for both halves of Pau's fanbase to be honest). It seems odd, too, that the album should be presented seemingly at random, with aeveral rock songs followed by several ballads well out of sequential order: after all what better start could there be to a compilation than the naggingly catchy #2 hit 'Another Day'?
However there's still a touch of the old 'give them something extra' Beatles formula about this album. There's a generous running time for a start in both versions, which would have made this album a double set on vinyl, bordering on triple. There are some lovely illustrations to go with each song, which were all specially commisioned and all in keepoig with the essence of each track (a flower for 'Coming Up', a kiss for 'My Love', a band literally on the run and a megaphone for 'Say Say Say', although why Paul's Uncle Albert looks like Laurel and Hardy I'll never know). It's certainly a big improvement on 'Wings Greatest' by actually deigning to include all the big hits this time (although it's sad that there's no room for 'almost' hits like 'Junior's Farm' or 'Helen Wheels' 'Hi Hi Hi' 'Spies Like Us' and 'Press' in here), though equally this album can't compete with 'Wingspan's real sense of who McCartney is and why he's important.
"Choba B CCCP"
(Melodiya, October 31st 1988)
Original Russian LP Version (1988): Kansas City/Twenty Flight Rock/Lawdy Miss Clawdy/Bring It On Home To Me/Lucille/Don't Get Around Much Anymore//That's Alright Mama/Ain't That A Shame/Crackin' Up/Just Because/Midnight Special
The 1989 re-issue added: I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday/I'm In Love Again
Revised European Version (1991): Kansas City/Twenty Flight Rock/Lawdy Miss Clawdy/I'm In Love Again/Bring It On Home To Me/Lucille/Don't Get Around Much Anymore/I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday/That's Alright Mama/Summertime/Ain't That A Shame/Crackin' Up/Just Because/Midnight Special
"Well, darling, I guess that's my mind more at ease - but nevertheless why store up memories?"
The general view of The Beatles is that Lennon and McCartney came from very different worlds and had nothing to link them except geography. Actualy that's not strictly true: John and Paul may have come from different social backgrounds but they had very similar musical influences all round - it was what the pair occasionally did with their influences that marked them out. Legend has it that Paul had been talking about doing an albu of covers before John, mainly at Linda's urging (possibly with Wings, perhaps as a solo album - he hadn't really thought it through yet) but after Lennon was 'trapped' into the record via a court case with Chuck Berry's publisher (he had to record three Morris LKevy-published tunes on his next record as part of the settlement for re-writing 'You Can't Catch Me' as Beatles song 'Come Together') Macca never felt like doing his own - till here in the late 80s, during a bit of down-time when his manager Richard Ogden hit on a great way to record the album without having the music press jumping all over it as his next big statement: release it in Russia. Paul had long had a soft spot for Russia, ever since jokily hearing about the efforts of locals to smuggle illegal Beatle records and other artefacts into the communist country where they were 'banned' as examples of capitalist culture (something that's hilariously wrong given whast a naturally 'communist' band The Beatles were at heart). Even before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Communist Russia had been losing its stranglehold on the hearts and minds of its citizens and Paul had been hearing more and more about the lengths people went to to hear his music - and how grateful Russian fans were to now be able to have access to his plentiful back catalogue. So in a typically McCartneyesque display of brotherly love he decided to release this album there first, as both a special purchase for fans who'd be getting this album before their Western counterparts for a change (originally we weren't meant to have been getting this record at all until the positive reviews and ridiculous import prices encouraged Paul to re-work it slightly for a Western release in 1991) and as a 'primer' for the history of rock and roll his Russian fans had been missing. It was a typically generous gesture from a man who could easily have sold more copies had the album been released with his usual fanfare. The record was cheekily named 'Back In The USSR' (but translated back into Russian) after Paul's jokey Beatles track which had also done mouch to extend the hand of friendship to the fans who heard it (an oh so American Beach Boys style song but sung with Russian place names and an American accent!) and kept the name even when released in America and Europe.
'Choba B CCCP' is effectively Lennon's 'Rock and Roll' album some fifteen years on - Macca even covers three of the same songs that John did back in 1974, 'Bring It On Home To Me' 'Ain't That A Shame' and a different song titled 'Just Because'. While neither is the most creative or satisfying album either Beatle ever made, fans can have fun compatring and contrasting between the two. Interestingly too Paul tackles songs that would normally be more associated with John (Bo Diddley's cheeky 'Crackin' Up' is a very Lennonish song, while Fats Domino's you'll-be-sorry-when-I'm-Famous 'I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday' has the teenage John written all over it) while John sang more than a few songs that Paul did in the early Beatle days (particularly 'Be-Bop-A-Lula', a song Macca won't put on record until 'Unplugged' in 1991 and yet often launched into for indulgent journalists asking for his favourite song down the years). Typically, though, both solo albums would have been so much better had they been just that bit more like the other, though less typically it's Lennon's album that's overslick and characterless while Paul's is a bit too raw and uncompromising.
The result is somehow equally frivolous and pointless, adding little to the originals whilst not really revealing that much more about the interpretor, all too audibly rattled off during some not very intense sessions that seem the anathema of the ground-shaking rule-breaking hell-raising entity that rock and roll was originally supposed to be. However the album makes more sense when you realise that originally no one, not even the Russians, was meant to hear it. Feeling, wrongly in my opinion, that he'd moved too far away from what he was 'meant' to be doing with the under-rated Press To Play album, Paul wanted to go back to making music for fun rather than for a career and held a series of informal 'Friday night jamming sessions' where all of his friends were welcome to drop in and play along. Visitors included Ram session drummer Henry Spinetti, Ian Dury Blockhead Mickey Gallagher (who'd come to fame playing with Lindisfarne's Alan Hull in their first band 'The Chosen Ones'), new drummer Chris Whitten (who was too young back then to have played on much at all but will be around for 'Flowers In The Dirt' and Macca's 1989/90 world tours) and most interestingly of all unsung 50s guitarist legend Mick Green, once of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (you might not know the work of Britains' leading early 60s rock band but the groups of the 1960s certainly did, especially The Who who styled themselves aftert the power trio and covered many of their songs down the years).
The songs were meant to be fun and a chance to let off steam rather than anything serious but Paul thought the recordings had potential, so he invited as many friends as could make it into his home studio for two lengthy recording sessions where some 22 songs were recorded in total. Unsure as to what market there was for songs that had all too audibly been recorded in a hurry, Paul then sat on the 1987 recordings for a year before Ogden's big idea (initial Russian copies of the album included eleven songs, the re-issue in 1989 contained thirteen songs and the 1991 CD had fourteen - Please note that for the purposes of this review we're reviewing the 1991 CD edition which is the fullest edition and most readily available). A further two songs 'I'm In Love Again' and 'I Wanna Cry' became 'bonus tracks' on the 'This One' single in 1990 and 'It's Now Or Never' turned up on an Elvis tribute album with the other abandoned songs including a re-make of Beatles classic 'I saw Her Standing There', Beatles BBC favourite 'Lend Me Your Comb', Lonnie Donegan's 'Take This Hammer' , Eddie Cochran's 'Cut Across Shorty' and an early version of The Vipers' beautiful 'No Other Baby' re-recorded in stunning form for Macca's second rock and roll album 'Run Devil Run' in 1999). The end result is a sweet gesture that's a lot better than the options of either not hearing these recordings at all or hearing them on hissy over-priced bootlegs but is perhaps the least essential of all the McCartney releases to date, a trip down memory lane that's curiously passionless and uninvolving. You wonder what the Russian fans who adored this album at the time thought when rock and roll became more plentiful and they got to hear how great the original versions of these songs sounded.
'Kansas City' is a Little Richard song made famous by The Beatles thanks to their version on 'Beatles For Sale' in 1964. With the backing band seemingly unfamiliar with the 1960s reinvention this version comes out more like the original, Macca's vocal sly rather than loud and proud and the song slowed to a bit of a crawl, complete with the middle eight cut by The Beatles from their version ('I might take a pane, I might take a plane, but if I have to go on my bike I'm going just the same!') Had we not known the version from a quarter century earlier this might have sounded ok, but direct comparisons reveal this one as a lifeless pub-band cover without any real skill or enthusiasm and Macca's vocal is a mess, pulling out of his Little Richard whoops early on.
'Twenty Flight Rock' is a special song to Beatles followers - this Eddie Cochran number was the one Paul 'auditioned' with to join The Beatles and so impressed Lennon back in 1957 (not that he let on at the time!) It's very McCartney, with a cheery vocal and a fun and slightly subversive lyric about a lover walking up twnty flights of stairts to see his lover and finding he's 'too tired to rock' with rock and roll going back to stand for its oruginal euphemism for sex. Macca still charms on the vocal, but he's done many better versions of this song down the years and his paino playing is appalling.
Little Richard's 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' is another sixties favourite played by many bands slowed to a barely recogniseable crawl that's deeply painful. I'm not sure I'd have held out any hopes for this band's history had I been passing by the studio at the time.
Fats Dominos' 'I'm In Love Again' is a relative album highlight, one that's less clumsy and more together than most on the album and a good vehicle for McCartney's impressionable vocal - why was it left off early versions of the album when it's about the best thing here?!
Sam Cooke's 'Bring It On Home To Me' is less impressive than Lennon's version (one of the few decent covers on 'Rock and Roll') but another better-than-average song for this album. The heavy echo makes Paul sound more like his old partner than ever, though the tempo is a tad slow.
'Lucille' is enegertic but sloppy, a million miles away from tha taut energy of The Beatles' BBC days (sessions that hadn't yet been made available officially on 'Beatles At The Beeb' at this point remember), more fun to play than to listen to.
Duke Ellington's 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' has some great backing for once, with some terrific Mick Green guitar lines and a much tighter drum pattern. However Paukl's swamped-with-echo vocal is hard to hear and all over the place, only really hitting the spot on the shouted chorus.
The album highlight is probably the jovial version of the middle of three Fats Domino songs 'I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday'. The song may be full of 50s slang - a 'wheel' is somebody 'moving' up their respective careers and the lyrics are full of references to c'ool cats' and the like - but its silly waddle is well suited to the very 80s arrangement, the players dropping away to just the repeated drum pattern in an arrangement that's very like the pop songs of the day.
I was surpised that there weren't more Elvis songs on 'Rock and Roll' and again here where the only Presley song major fan Macca tackles is Arthur Crudup's 'That's Alright Mama'. Macca's vocal is all but drowned out by the echo which sounds so false and wrong on such an urgent, lively song and compared to the playing on the original this is tired and over-played, though Green's solo is still a thing of beauty.
The much-covered 'Summertime' is another highlight, Paul taking the 'Janis Joplin' approach to George and Ira Gershwin's classic which smoulders the same way as most covers but with an underlying sense of threat and power. Fra from being lazily helpless, this version is trying hard to fight back and wrestle control of the narrator's life. The recording needs a bit more rehearsal time and an extra take to get things fully right however.The Beatles had this in their setlists in their Hamburg and Cavern years though no recordings of it seem to have survived, sadly.
I actually prefer Paul's take on Fats' most popular song 'Ain't That A Shame' to John's: Lennon doesn't have much to offer the original except a cackled vocal but Paul's thankfully un-echoed vocal is direct and right on the money while the band seem to know this song much better than the others, with Mickey Gallagher playing so much better than he does on the rest of the album.
Bo Diddley's 'Crackin' Up' is another track that's better than average and one of the few that would go on to be part of the McCartney band's setlists across 1989 and 1990. Sensing the similarities between R and B and reggae - two genres the McCartneys had long adored - Paul changes this song around more than any other on the album and largely it works, with a swing and ease that's actually pretty good for white Western players who usually sound embarrasing at this sort of thing. The solo break in the middle is at least a minute too long, though, and the recording runs out of steam long before the end.
'Just Because' is different to the moody epic sung by Lennon on 'Rock and Roll', being the more obvious choice reorded by Elvis in 1954 and treated to Macca's best Elvis impersonation (which isn't all that close to be honest).It's noisy fluff best left in the vaults.
The album then closes with 'Midnight Special', a traditional song from the American South first given a 'modern' setting by blues singer Ledbelly, Given that it's really a blues song, Macca's version is unexpectedly upbeat and rock and at times he seems oblivious to the lyrics he's singing ('I'm penitentiary bound!' he sings with the sort of glee someone usually has on their holidays).
Overall, then, 'Choba B CCCP' is a bit of a mess, only occasionally displaying the crackling energy of the superior sequel 'Run Devil Run' and sounding more like something done as a hobby than as a serious addition to the McCartney Collection. However the album was a big success in Russia where they'd never known anything like it - the country only had one record label anyway at the time and the initial printing of 50,000 copies (the most ever needed in the country) sold out in weeks, leading to the 400,000 edition extended version the following year. The album is remembered fondly more for political reasons than music ones today but does atleast have a couple of recordings of interest and the punchy no-frills recordings are certainly a more suitable setting than what Phil Spector did to Lennon, even if you long for the band to have been given some proper rehearsal time to really nail the songs properly.
Denny Laine "Lonely Road"
Land Of Peace/Eyes Of A Child/Success/First Day In London/Lonely Road/True To Me/Without Your Love//If I Tried/Burnin' Bridges/Money Talks/What Can I Do Without You?/Fly With The Dove/Black Sheep/Peace Must Come Again
"If I tried, I could be someone and not be all alone like I am now"
Some thirteen years before his ex-colleague walked the same path, Denny Laine was heading down a 'lonely road'. The first in a sequence of three albums largely written and recorded on Denny's own using some fading 80s techology and recording equipment he still owned, 'Lonely Road' is also the start of some rather sad listening for long-term fans. Denny once had it all and more than has the talent to have it all again, but he'd reduced to making ends meet on a series of rushed, lo-fi recordings that are automatically ten years behind the times and the songs too speak of frustration, isolation and despair. It's a long way from the 'carnival' Wings records of the 1960s and you mourn for the fact that had these records been done properly with cutting edge equipment Denny may yet have had his success and been 'reborn' again. As it is, however good these songs are, the overall effect if of listening to fourteen versions of 'Wonderful Xmas Time'. However Wings albums have taught us patience and the ability to sift out the good from the bad and there is much good here despite the production: 'Land Of Peace' is an intriguing sequel to 'Mull Of Kintryere' complete with bagpipes and lyrics lifted from 'All You Need Is Love', 'If I Tried' is a nice return to Denny's earlyu bluesy years with some nice guitar playing, 'Money Talks' is a nicely feisty rock song about the financial problems a 'lonely, hungry and cold' Denny has faced without it down the years, while the overall highlight must surelyu be Denny going back to his early days with The Moody Blues on the nostalgic 'Success' and 'First Day In London', memories that must have seemed an awful long time ago for the near-penniless musician. Overall, then, 'Lonely Road' is a sad album full of heartbreak and frustration that isn't always an easy listen and the period trappings - which aren't even from the same period - make it a struggle to sit through. However the album is a welcome stepping stone towards Denny's great return on 'Reborn' in a few years time and is still proof of an under-rated talent who deserved so much more from his career. As ever with Denny, the album is hard to find on its pown but several tracks have been jumbled together on various compilations - 'Blue Nights' contains the most songs from this album.
"Tripping The Live Fantastic"
(EMI/Parlophone, November 5th 1990)
Showtime/Figure Of Eight/Jet/Rough Ride/Got To Get You Into My Life/Band On The Run//Birthday/Ebony and Ivory/We Got Married/Inner City Madness/Maybe I'm Amazed/The Long and Winding Road/Crackin' Up//The Fool On The Hill/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heartr's Club Band/Can't Buy Me Love/Matchbox/Put It There/Together//The Things We Said Today/Eleanor Rigby/This One/My Brave Face/Back In The USSR/I Saw Her Standing There//Twenty Flight Rock/Coming Up/Sally/Let It Be/Ain't That A Shame?/Live and Let Die/If I Were Not Upon The Stage/Hey Jude//Yesterday/Get Back/Golden Slumbers-Carry That WEight-The End/Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying
"If I was not upon the stage...hang on hang on...no no wait a minute...what I meant to sing was..."
Some ten years after Wings had last toured the world, Paul was back with his next world tour enabling another Beatles-starved generation to see the band in concert (Ringo's All-Starrs didn't get going till the following year). The ad hoc band - who never did get their own name and were always known as 'The McCartney Band' - were largely made up of the musicians who'd played on 'Flowers In The Dirt' (guitarists Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band, Robbie McIntosh from the later Pretenders line-up and drummer Chris Whitten who'd been with Macca since 1987) alongside new find keyboardist Wix Wickens. This time there was to be no doubting who the boss was or attempts at a band democracy, although Hamish in particular would become an increasingly close writing partner over the next few years. From the start everything about this tour was 'big', with McCartney and co breaking the records for the biggest rock and roll audiences in a single night (records that would hold for a decade till the Rolling Stones broke it) and taking in thirteen separate countries. It was a tour that lasted for nearly a year, saw the band playing to a total of 2.8 million people and lasted for nearly a year. And they called the 'Wings Over The World' tour of 1976 big...
From the start Paul had planned a souvenier tour CD to help the band pay their way (it's a surprise, actually, there wasn't a film crew alongside for a video) and a record 83 of the 103 gigs the band played were recorded. Macca went right back to his past and revived more Beatle songs than ever, includiong several that had never beern played live before: 'Sgt Peppers' 'The Abbey Road Medley' 'Magical Mystery Tour' 'Birthday' 'Eleanor Rigby' 'The Things We Said Today' and 'Can't Buy Me Love', as well as some Wings highlights and lots of songs from 'Flowers In The Dirt' in a desperate attempt to boost sales. As well as the same basic three-hour set listplayed every night (heard almost complete on this album), as a double-CD/four LP set 'Tripping The Live Fantastic' also had space for the sort of whimsy that only several months on the road can do to a band: revived oldies, soundcheck jams and indescribable moments of 'inner city madness'. To the band who'd spent so much of their time in transit and later returning to their natural lives without all the screaming and hsitrionics it must have been a welcome reminder that this magical mystery tour had ever taken place at all. However for the fans who attended this hodgepodge seemed a curious mixture. The need to include the best sounding recordings rather than the ones where the band were on top form means that the set comes across sounding more slick and professional and yet more lifeless than it seemed at the time, while the sudden slide once per side of the vinyl release into basic soundcheck jams then makes it sound amateurish by turns instead. Despite the laudible attempt to include 'everything' to make the experience as complete as possible, it all comes off as rather missing the point somehow, with none of the warmth felt by fans to and from the stage captured in this worklike compilation.
Macca might have done better to have simply chosen the gig where the band played best and ignoring all the rest - piecing the set together like a huge jigsaw puzzle just doesn't work. Not everything is bad - new songs like 'Figure Of Eight' and 'Put It There' sound better suited to the stage than they did the studio and the latter especially is rather moving, whilst it's hard to go wrong with a song that has the strength and malleability of 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'The Fool On The Hill'. Liverpudlian classic 'All My Trials', later released as a single, is also a welcome addition to Mccartney's covers collection if a bit too late on record to be the anti-Thatcher social protest it was intended to be. But few of the arrangements add much to the songs, with tracks like 'Licve and Let Die' and 'Hey Jude' trying hard but just missing the point of what made the originals so special and even the better ideas such as a slinkier 'Got To Get You Into My Life' or a nosier singalong 'Jet!' lose their way in the 80s settings. It seems as if, after all that careful planning and the lengths gone to make these shows special, all the wrinkles have been ironed out including the ones that made the shows so alive. Even the album title sounds like it's trying that bit too hard. Give this one a miss - even the highlights version isn't much of an improvement - and save your money for either 'Wings Over America' or 'Back In The World', which are just as tight but full of more character than this set.
"Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights"
(EMI/Parlophone, November 28th 1990)
Got To Get You Into My Life/ Birthday/ We Got Married/The Long and Winding Road/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band/Can't Buy Me Love/All My Trials/ The Things We Said Today/Eleanor Rigby /My Brave Face/Back In The USSR/I Saw Her Standing There/Coming Up/Let It Be/Hey Jude/Get Back/Golden Slumbers-Carry That Weight-The End
"...Hey Jude, let's make it bad, take a bad album and make it worse!"
With 'Fantastic' not selling as well as hoped, Paul had a another go and decided to miss out many of the weirder, filler moments from the set such as 'Showtime' 'Crackin' Up' and 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying'. However by diluting down an album that was only worth listening to because you could hear the band throwing in a few unusual things along the way the whole point of this album has been lost and all you have here is a Beatles greatest hits moments, with a bit of promotion for 'Flowers In The Dirt' left in and all the interestingn songs removed (and if you want to hear the best of The Beatles then you're better off buying a Beatles compilation in the first place). Worse still, this album is probably the first real non-value for money McCartney release (though you could make a claim for 'Wings Greatest'), making real collectors fork out for songs they already had all over again in order to buy the solitary new tune: a woeful live recording of 'C Moon'. Never has that song sounded more as if it was laughing at me. To be fair there are some good moments here worth rescuing: stand-alone single 'All My Trials' sounds good in context, tougher and more 'real' than most of the trips down memory lane while 'The Things We Said Today' is a brave choice from the Beatles collection and 'We Got Married' and 'My Brave Face' translate well to the live stage, with an added toughness to the versions on 'Flowers In The Dirt' (albeit with less subtlety). Really, though, you were still better off at the time buying the double disc version - or buying 'Back In The World/US' if you weren't there at the time.
Denny Laine "All I Want Is Freedom"
(EMI/Parlophone, ** 1990)
All I Want Is Freedom/Game Set and Match/Light On The Water/Bad Money/Wedding Dream/Get On The Floor/Rescue My World/Heart For A Ride/On The Radio/You Lost and Found Me/Talk Of The Town
"When I was younger I was told all that glitters is not gold, stars would shine from miles away and life is just a game we play"
More of the same from Denny, with a very 80s sounding from the 1990s that still under-serves his talent while being better than the poor sales and critical sluaghtering suggest. Denny struggles a bit with his voice and is overshadowed by the over-powering backing vocals and musicians, but there's still lost of characteristic Laine touches throughout this set that shine through. 'All I Want Is Freedom' is Denny's own 'All You Need Is Love', a singalong anthem very much in keeping with the Wings philosophy, whilst the reggae-ish 'Rescue My World' suggests it wasn't just Linda buying up obscure reggae records during holidays to Jamaica and the ballad 'Heart For A Ride' (is it about people trying to make too much out of the Mccartney-Laine fights?) is a lovely song ill-suited to its anonymous backing. However there are too many songs like 'Light On The Water' and 'Game Set and Match' which sound like what my year nine music class were up to on ancient casio keyboards for comfort. Denny may want his freedom, but a solo album made as completely solo as this only restricts his talents and holds him back. Perhaps mercifully,this album remains near-impossible to find on CD, although thankfully much of it was included on the much more common 'Rock Survivor' compilation. However much much better is just around the corner...
"Unplugged - The Official Bootleg"
(EMI/Parlophone, May 13th 1991)
Be Bop A Lula/I Lost My Little Girl/Here There and Everywhere/Blue Moon Of Kentucky/We Can Work It Out/San Francisco Bay Blues/I've Just Seen A Face/Every Night/She's A Woman//Hi-Heel Sneakers/And I Love Her/That Would Be Something/Blackbird/Ain't No Sunshine/Good Rockin' Tonight/Singin' The Blues/Junk
"I want you to bring my rock and roll shoes because tonight we're going to rock away all the blues!"
The McCartney band was having a well earned rest in 1991 after touring round pretty much all continents except Anatarctica during the past two years when they got the call from MTV to appear in their new 'unplugged' format. The idea was simple: rather than a band turning up to just play another ordinary plugged-in noisy show the whole gig would be played acoustically - with the odd plugged in instrument like an electric bass to make things easy. Wings always used to have an acoustic set of course and Macca had toyed with one on and off ever since (even performing solo for the first time at some 21st century gigs) so the format would have appealed to him, although this is by far the longest acoustic show Paul ever gave. Paul, however, wanted to do things properly or not at all and his was the first show to be played entirely acoustically without any amplifiers or even monitors as well as all instruments. It must have saved a fortune on MTV's electric bill and made for an entertaining show too, with Paul going back to his early skiffle days as he effectively 'busks' the whole show which has a pleasant feeling of informality throughout. You wish he'd take the show just that little more seriously actually as there's some good music to be had here - some great dips into the rarer ends of the Beatles and solo catalogues which is a very good idea ('And I Love Her' sounds especially good and 'Every Night' especially poignant) and some even rarer dips into the early rock and roll canon, which isn't (though Hamish's take on Bill Withers' 'ASin't No Sunshine' is an unexpected joy). The biggest surprise is 'I Lost My Little Girl', the very first song McCartney ever wrote as he proudly tells us in a new middle eight written especially for the gig and the first public airing of the song (though it appears on many a Beatles bootleg!) Well, actually no that's not true - the biggest surprise of the night is what's missing, with none of the usual live standards here - no 'Hey Jude', no 'Let It Be', no 'Long and Winding Road' and not even 'Yesterday', which would have fitted the acoustic segment rather well.
The experience clearly reminded Paul of his early years learning to play and it's that aspect of this show that's the most interesting - though viewed as a concert rather than a history lesson it's slightly less edifying, with a slightly anonymous and detached feel that still seems to have the slick McCartney feel of a 1980s/90s album somehow despite being the distinctly non-period set-up. One thing in this album's favour though is that his band are used well - admittedly with six people on stage the sound gets a tad cluttered at times for what should be a bare acoustic set but a lot of these players come with a folkier rather than a rock background and Hamish Stuart, from the folkier end of the crowded eclectic 'Average White Band' stage, is right at home with some gorgeous singing and guitar work, while Robbie McIntosh is far more at home on acoustic than electric and plays his best solos too. Chris Whitten had abandoned ship not longer after the McCartney tour sailed home in 1990 so this show also marks the first appearance of new drummer Blair Cunningham, who'll be around for next LP 'Off The Ground' and yet he too sounds far more at home here, ably getting his brushes out with a subtly Whitten - though perhaps a stronger 'rock' drummer - could never have provided. Paul was pleased enough wth the results to sanction the first ever MTV concert album, correctly figuring that as the bootleggers would beat him to the punch anyway he may as well release his own 'official' bootleg! Though ostensibly a limited edition, no one seems quite sure how many copies it was limited to (500,000 was the official figure banded around at the time - I'm sure I've seen more copies than that down the years though and it did make the charts which suggests a figure closer to the million mark!) as the album hung around for as long and sold only slightly less copies than Macca's othger reason extra-curricular albums. Though other live McCartney records are better and 'Unplugged' spends too long trying to gee-up excitement into rock standards that don't fit to be a five-star record, it's an intriguing and often excellent album that more than stands on its own two feet away from the TV studios and makes for a more entertaining insight into McCartney and band than 'Tripping The Live Fantastic' ever did. Originally the show was even longer by the way, with further covers 'Mean Woman Blues' 'Matchbox' and 'Midnight Special' as well as Beatle favourites 'The Things We Said Today' and 'The Fool On The Hill' performed - the idea was always to edit down the full show to a tight brodcast length however; the wonder is that Macca didn't cut down the record more as he usually did on his live albums.
'Be-Bop-A-Lula' is a rather undershwleming intro, with Paul's take on Gene Vincent's classics sounding more Hollywood Dud than Hamburg Club. Macca is more enthusiastic on the vocal than he sounded on the whole of 'Fantastic' however and Robbie turns in a great acoustic solo, all slashed chords and flaying arms.
'I Lost My Little Girl' is up next and is a charming early song that shows a clear Buddy Holly influence and is already a pretty neat match of the genuinely inspired (that's a great chord sequence for a fifteen year old, already quite unlike anything else around) and a typically Macca teeth-grinding mistake ('Her was not expensive - it didn't always curl' - to be fair Macca does point this lyric out as the weak link despite writing a lot worse down the years!)On this evidence the Quarrymen were wrong to reject it be4cause it was 'silly' (even if Lennon clearly looked on it fondly, often singing it whether Paul was in the room or not - the middle eight, written in the modern age as a linking piece to get back from B to A again, is arguably the weakest part!
It's hard to go wrong with a classic like Revolver's 'Here There and Everywhere' which sounds great whatever is done to it. However this accordian-drenched version isn't anywhere near as lovely as either the original or the brass-drenched version from 'Board Street'. Macca's breathless vocal is also struggling a bit on this song tonight too.
Bill Monroe's 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' is a country song that would have been better left to Ringo, although Robbie plays some great authentic slide blues guitar for a nice bit of colour and the harmonies sound mighty good. The song was written in 1946 and is only four years younger than Paul, although oddly there's no record of The Beatles ever singing it at Hamburg or (their favourite period for rock and roll jam sessions) 'Let It Be' - instead the earliest on record we have is the Wings 'univerity' tour of 1972.
'We Can Work It Out' was long overdue a revival and is one of the few songs from this set to remain in the McCartney band's setlists on their next tour. It's great to hear in any form and Macca gets audibly (or if you're watching the video visibly) choked during the Lennon-written middle eight about life being too short for fussing and fighting - who'd have thought how it would end just four years on from writing this song together eh?! However the Bavarian street theme is an uncomfortable fit for a classic song, which doesn't ruin it per se but does make you long to never ever hear an accodian ever again (take that thing off Wix, somebody, please!)
Jesse Fuller's mid-1950s acoustic rock 'San Franscican Bay Blues' is the closest the McCartney band get to re-creating the feel of the original song the whole night. It's scrappy and inconsequential, but fun and isn't really a blues at all but a happy-go-lucky song very much in keeping with the McCartney character.
'Help!' classic 'I've Just Seen A Face' is one of the set's more obvious entries, one of the earliest Beatle songs to be played live back in Wings' 1976 tours. Full og manic goodwill cheer, it's acoustic rumble is well built for the style of a show like this one although Macca does rather throw his vocal away in comparison to the clever vocal control he displayed in the original.
So far the set has been catchy but not very deep, so thank goodness for 'Every Night', one of Macca's deeper and more emotionally resonant songs from the McCartney album. While the original was deliberately solo - it's the most worried and troubled song in the McCartney canon after all, wondering what the point of going on really is - this new version goes in quite a different direction, with some gorgeous harmonies and a much calmer feel making the bitter origins of the song seem a distant memory. Macca proved the song wrong - there really was a reason for getting out of bed to make his music and he's still surrounded by the woman he loves and wanted to be with twenty-odd years before. A special version of a special song, with a lovely a capella section near the end that's almost Beach Boys.
'Help!' B-side 'She's A Woman' is not an obvious choice for an acoustic set given that the song was originally one of the fab's heaviest rockers and this sort of fusty blues version isn't exactly the perfect fit. Without the attack in Macca's voice the song seems less frivolous somehow, but it's nice to hear him return to this song for the first time since the Candlestick Park gig in 1966!
'Hi-Heeled Sneakers' by Tommy Tucker was a popular song around Liverpool which every local band seemed to do (though The Searchers were the only one to put it on record) and arguably is a lot more known nowadays than it was in the 1950s, even when Elvis sang it. Paul puts on his best American twang for the slightly menacing song about dressing up to go out, but reducing the song to the bare bones reveals it as a not-that-great 12 bar blues slog.
'And I Love Her' has never sounded so good though, with a lovely harmony-drenched arrangement that sounds stately and, well, loved. Macca and Hamish sing with more care than they do on the rest of the record and the slightly slower feel even compared to the 'A Hard Day's Night' original really suits the song, which now sounds like an 'older' grown-up version that's still very much in love. Robbie does a good job at embellishing George Harrison's original solos without changing them too much.
A revved up 'That Would Be Something' is one of the few songs here that turns something was originally a bit insubstantial (there's only one verse!) into a 'fuller' song. A nicely bluesy take on the song really brings out the best in the funky riff and the song is now more forceful and sexy than the playful original on 'McCartney'.
'Blackbird' - introduced as 'Blackboard' after the cleaning lady accidentally requested the song by the wrong name - is another natural fit, with Paul and Robbie performing it on twin guitars just as Wings once did in their set (though without the lively bass part from 1976). This 'White Album' special still holds its own after so many years and is arguably the best acoustic song in Paul's multi-decade back catalogue anyway, hard to ruin and thankfully played with care here.
The surprise highlight of the album is another cover, Bill Withers' slow and sultry 'Ain't No Sunshine' which is given over to Hamish to sing while Wix at last gets off his beloved accordian and onto the piano where he plays some exquisite blues thumping. Blair is right on the money with his lively drum part as well, nodding this ballad into the right side of rocky, although this is Hamish's greatest hour, with a delicious vocal full of delight and longing. For the last time in his career (so far) Macca is a spare part, looking on democratically from the drumkit as he lets his band shine without him, just like the 'Wings at the Speed of Sound' days.
Elvis' second single 'Good Rockin' Tonight' is less welcome though, another of those curiously unloveable Macca 50s re-treads which is treated as a joke rather than a charming period piece.
Marty Robbins' 'Singing The Blues' is a much better fit, an originally sad and slow ballad about things going wrong turned in typical McCartney style into an upbeat rocker about having the chance to move on. Wix again stars on the piano and Hamish gets to add a truly lovely harmony part on the best McCartney-sung cover on the set.
Closing encore 'Junk' - actually technically its 'Singalong Junk', the instrumental, despite how its listed on the sleeve - is a third song from McCartney that sounds rather good done like this. Slightly slower than the album, full of the same weary unloved feel, but with a lovely flamenco jazz guitar part from Robbie that makes the song sound more confident and hopeful - it's a neat reminder of just how far McCartney and band have come after so many years. It's hardly 'Junk' at all.
Overall, then, 'Unplugged' is a bit of a mixed bag that's pretty evenly half and half between what works and what doesn't. I'm impressed, however, at how willing McCartney is to use the excuse of this new format to do something a little bit different, reviving some old songs of his own he's longed to play and some even older songs by other people he never had a chance to (odd that of all the cover songs here only 'Be Bop A Lula' was ever played by The Beatles with any regularity at any time). By and large you can see why Paul made his name as a rock/pop electricity-loving plugged in musician as this acoustioc folk style is not his natural 'world' - he tends to under or over-sing the vocals while there's usually one instrumental part too many in most of these songs (usually that flipping accordian!) However if you're enough of a McCartney fan to want to hear everything then 'Unplugged' is an unexpected treat for offering such a different style and sound you can't get elsewhere and there are just enough good performances here to make this now rather rare set worth your while digging for. In terms of AAA unplugged sets its somewhere in the middle - below Oasis' stunning and even more inventive set from 1996, about level with Neil Young's semi-inventive set from 1994 and a little above CSN's slightly boring Unplugged gig from the same year.
Paul McCartney and Carl Davis "The Liverpool Oratorio"
(EMI/Parlophone, October 7th 1991)
Movement I (War)/Movement II (School))/Movement III (Crypt)/Movement IV (Father)/Movement V (Wedding)/Movdement VI (Work)/Movement VII (Crises)/Movement VIII (Peace)
"I know I'll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I'll often stop and think about them..."
Paul was approached with the idea of writing his first classical piece by Liverpool's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who wanted something special for their 150th anniversary concert in 1990. Macca missed the deadline by a hair but was uprfront about being ever so slightly busy, having been in the process of touring the world and re-establishing his pop career. However the commision came along at the right time - Paul had grown tired of trying to keep pace with what the pop world was up to and wanted to make something more substantial than 'Return To Pepperland', thealbum he'd just abandoned when the Philharmonic came a-calling. When the Beatle-world heard that Macca was working on a classical piece we expected something a bit more 'mainstream' - a record more like the one 'Working Classical'; turned out to be full of short pieces with singalong tunes that could easaily have become pop songs if played on different instruments. However McCartney was keen to do something bigger and used the Liverpool commision and his roots to his home city to explore questions that had been bothering him for a long time - where he came from, the world he was born into and how his Northern background had shaped his outlook. Though many people compared this work to 'Handel's Messiah' and other Oratorios (strictly speaking it's not an oratario which has tobe based on a 'sacred religious text' to qualify, although the size and scale and sense of history is in keeping with the genre) for me the closest comparison is Lennon's 'In My Life' - a song already with a classical nod thanks to McCartney's inspired tune and a sense of weariness and change as well as love.
Though all the actual melodies are McCartney's - some obviously (the entire second 'school' section' sounds like a classical take on 'Band On The Run'), some less so (the opening choir section 'War' is impressively un-McCartney like, with the scope and range that most pop writers turned classical composers can't manage) - he needed help realising his vision into a full piece. American composer/conductor Carl Davis was nominated as his companion and helped add the classical touches needed - though to be honest I'd have preferred it if Macca's fertile imagination was left to wander without having to be contained to classical rules and traditions (The Beatles were great because they broke the pop mould, not because they were contained by it ). At it's worst the Oratorio plays things far too 'safe', sounding like an outsider writer desperately trying to join a different club rather than a writer with a different melodic eye who can perhaps see things that the classical world are too bloind to realise. That problem will gradually be solved across the next four classical McCartney works and counting but is perhaps the biggest problem of this work: that in trying so hard to sound like a 'proper' classical work it doesn't have enough McCartney. On the plus side, it's impressive just how far Macca has got away with this. Imagine if a contemporary classical writer had been asked to write a pop song to compare to 'Blackbird' or 'Yesterday'; they just wouldn't understand the concept, the need to get emotions over in words and song in such a short space of time. Expecting McCartney to expand his vision to 80 minutes with a very different background is a similar challenge - and one that, largely, he's moe than up to.
For fans who come to this work from a more 'pop' based setting the most interesting part is the fact that for the first time since 'Penny Lane' Paul has gone back to his childhood. Traditionally the take in interviews was that Macca's childhood was idyllic and that even the sad death of his mother only brought him closer to his brother and his dad. However there's a real sense of tragedy and darkness across this work that McCartney rarely hints at. The work starts with Liverpool at war, bombed into submission while McCartney's parents try to make do with a newborn baby and make ends meet (though Paul is carefully to keep the autobiography down, this is clearly 'his' parents' experience). The 'Childhood' section is also very dark and seems taken straight from Pink Floyd work 'The Wall' with ex-army veteran's who've seen everything they once knew blown up in their face giuven the task of teaching the nation's children - a recipe for disaster in retrospect yet the case for so many veteran's looking for work. The next two movements' Crypot' and 'Father' are more interesting, touching on McCartney's religious beliefs - although the 'God' the central character calls out for isn't specific as much as the more general 'mother nature' figure many of Paul's pop songs reach out for. Disc two moves further from the autobiography and even further from Macca's emotional resonance, with tales of a generic Northern 'wedding' and the hard graft 'Work' which couldn't be less like the Paul and Linda story or his adventure with The Beatles. However it's worth hearing just to see how Paul thinks his life might have turned out had John Lennon not been around that fateful fete day in 1957 when their lives changed forever. The last two sections 'Crises' and 'Peace' move closer to Paul's natural style again, though, a sort of classical 'Tug Of War' as Paul enjoys himself being as noisy as he can before soothing all that angst away again with a typically soothing peaceful McCartney melody that puts everything right. The end result is a mammoth work, one which runs a mere five minutes shorter than 'The White Album' and longer than any other solo/Wings work (its even a fraction longer than 'Wings Over America'!)
The Oratorio could then be cut in half without losing too much and in common with all of Mccartney's classical works there are at least as many boring moments of recitiaves and not much happening as there are genuinely inspired moments. Too often in this piece Paul proves to be a novice classical songwriter with repeated cliches and moments that too often sound in the thrall of past writers. However there's enough of worth here to make the piece worthwhile as Paul tries to use a different set of tools to tell a similar story of his generation and their experiences growing up in a changing world. Given an epic premiere at Liverpool Cathedral, broadcast on the BBC with Kiri Te Kanawa and Willard White in the main roles, the work was perhaps given too much of a build-up at the time and was far too pompous and un-McCartney for what should have been an introduction for many to the classical world. The performance more than the music was slaughtered by critics who either expected the work to be Beatley and tuneful or scoffed at the idea of a mere pop writer having a go at all. The album proved to be a lot more popular with the public than the critics, though, and is still today one of the highest selling classical pieces by anybody, spending longer at the top of the classical charts that any Beatles album that wasn't 'Sgt Peppers' and even registering at #36 in the 'overall' pop chart - a first for a non-compilation classical release.
Ultimately 'The Liverpool Oratorio' is something of a proud but inevitably doomed failure - like many 'short story writers' Macca finds it a whole new experience writing a novel and falls into many traps of filling in time where inspiration should be or repeating refrains and motifs past the point where they remain interesting. Though it's not without its worth, there isn't always enough going on to hold the listener's interest and there are several parts to the piece that could and should have been whittled down to a more respectable size. Though each movement has something interesting in them somewhere, there's not enough of interest for each part to last fifteen-twenty minutes (it's the like the bad old days of the pop album, if you like, when one three-minute classic pop single allowed you to get away with anything for the rest of the side). However in many ways the 'Oratorio' is a lot better - and certainly longer and deeper - than it had any right to be. Writing a piece of work in an environment this alien without messing up too badly is perhaps the single greatest achievement of Paul's musical career - certainly it's been his biggest musical challenge to date. Though many complaints have been filed against McCartney the usual one heard down the years is that his music always sounds the same and he never stretches himself. Though the Liverpool Oratorio is far from perfect - and perhaps even the weakest of his five classical pieces to date - you could hardly lay that complaint at Paul in this period; what other writer of 'pop' songs would even consider the request for a classical work, never mind make it one of the longest, heaviest and most involving pieces of the modern classical world? However for all that this is a project that would still be better sampled on a 'highlights' work and is at least an hour too long.
"Paul Is Live!"
(EMI/Parlophone, November 16th 1993)
Drive My Car/Let Me Roll It/Lookin' For Changes/Peace In The Neighbourhood/All My Loving/Robbie's Bit (Thanks Chet)//Good Rockin' Tonight/We Can Work It Out/Hope Of Deliverance/Michelle/Biker Like An Icon/Here There and Everywhere//Magical Mystery Tour/C'mon People/Lady Madonna/Paperback Writer/Penny Lane/Live and Let Die//Kansas City-Hey! Hey! Hey!/Welcome To The Soundcheck/Hotel In Benidorm/I Wanna Be Your Man/A Fine Day
This was a souvenier of the 1993 world tour which somehow managed to be even more disappointing than the last one three years earlier and features the same line-up, give or take a drummer. Now a single CD, though one with a rather generous running time, Macca tries to include as many of the 'new' Beatle songs revived for the last tour as possible alongside a few repeats and probably more songs from 'Off The Ground' than anyone ever wanted to hear. Again, the McCartney band were cooking when you were in the same room with them but the sound didn't translate to record very well, the band all sounding a little distant from each other and rather over-slick despite the lack of studio re-touching. Though there are less blowing-off-steam oddities on this record than 'Fantastic',which makes for an easier listening experience all round, 'Paul Is Live' desperately needs something of the like with many of the Beatles recordings coming across as over-reverential and the new songs too stodgy. That said there are highlights: what a thrill to be able to hear Paul revive 'Paperback Writer' after twenty-seven years (a track not heard as often as tour as some of the others), a singalong 'All My Loving', a reclaimed-from-Ringo 'I Wanna Be Your Man' or a strident 'Penny Lane' making its live debut. Some of the 'Off The Ground' stuff sounds ok here too - 'Looking For Changes' is built for the live stage even if this recording is not quite as 'together' as the album cut while 'Peace In The Neighbourhood' and 'C'mon People' have a certain weight and gravitas. Best of all Macca revived Wings live favourite 'Let Me Roll It' and it sounds extra menacing here, oozing a confidence that the retro rocker curious and tossed away Beatle revivals can't match.
On the negative side, the improvised 'Hotel In Beindorm' tapes at a soundcheck is a real waste of our time, a silly reggae-ish song that's woefully bad, while the noisy six minute jam 'Fine Day' is anything but, a noisy and very overlong band jam that simply proves again how out of synch with each other this band of individually great musicians could be. I stioll don't understand why 'welcome to soundcheck' onvolved 45 seconds of rainforest sounds: whose playing at this gig - The Animals? The Monkees? The sleevenotes defensively warn that these last three 'may not be suitable for people of a critical disposition'. Which is everybody who didn't play on them, surely? Had this record cone out at a lter date we would probanbly call these 'bonus features', although even then we'd feel cross at forking out so much money for so much dross. Even without such lapses this set should have been better still: what a great excuse to have on your second time round the world to play all your really good songs you don't often get a chance to play, the 'Little Lamb Dragonfly's and 'Through Our Loves' that would have accelerated McCartney to true hero status in this era. Why should fans have to sit through yet more messing around rock covers when there are so many gems in the Mccartney catalogue screaming for another chance? There's also a sense that even the best moments from this album are lacking...something compared to 'Wings Over America' , without the same soul or emotional impact. Even more than 'Fantastic' you can tell this is an 'arena' album where the band can't see the whites in their audience's eyes and are losing touch with them. The best thing about this album is the cover, a hilarious spoof of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ conspiracy from the 1960s, with Paul re-creating the Abbey Road cover with his son James' sheepdog (who looks just like Martha did) and a ‘beetle’ Volkswagen parked at the side of the road just as in the olden days, only instead of ’28 IF’ it sports the tag ’51 IS’ (Macca’s age at the time). Sadly much of the music begs to differ just how 'alive' Paul is on this album.