Monday 21 March 2016

Stephen Stills "Right By You" (1984)

Stephen Stills "Right By You" (1984)

50-50/Stranger/Flaming Heart/Love Again/No Problem//Can't Let Go/Grey To Green/Only Love Can Break Your Heart/No Hiding Place/Right By You

"I thought music was enough, that I could fill the empty spaces..."

In the mid-1960s Stephen Stills had it all: a singer-songwriter-guitarist in the days when singing, songwriting and guitar playing were the most important talents you could have in music and a sense of the perfectionist that enabled him to make the most of each and every one of those talents. The bright, shiny, optimistic 'real' talent-loving 1960s (especially the hippie political movement at the tail end of the decade) loved Stephen Stills and he loved back with some of the greatest music made by anyone (seriously, has there ever been a better run than Stills had 1968-72?) By the mid-1980s though, the music scene couldn't care less about singer-songwriter-guitarists and since losing his solo contract with CBS in 1978 Stills' profile is at a worrying low, 'Captain Manyhands' output now reduced to a trickle (with just the Stills contributions to CSN album 'Daylight Again' and a paltry two songs released on the following year's live set 'Allies'). The doom-laden, anti-sceptic artificial pessimistic1980s (especially the pop scene in the middle of the decade) couldn't care less about Stephen Stills and everything he represents. Stills probably couldn't care less about what the 1980s represented either, but this time he had a problem. This new record contract with Atlantic is born out of sympathy from Stills' old friends in high places (like boss Ahmet Ertegun) rather than out of belief in Stills' talents or a feeling that he'll get a 'hit' out of it. Instead it's a one-shot deal which Stills cannot afford to break or his solo career is effectively over as few labels will want to touch him after another flop. Just to add another whole tonne of pressure, it looks as if CSN is over for the foreseeable future, possibly forever, with David Crosby attending the first of the court proceedings that will end up seeing him incarcerated on drugs charges, so a solo deal has to work to keep Stills in the limelight. All of which leads to the question: just how do you make your talents heard in a musical world that doesn't care about you any more?

'Right By You' is the answer, an album that couldn't sound less like your average Stills LP and which has left fans scratching their heads ever since. You see, Stills being Stills, he doesn't just release an album that sounded the way it did last time and hope for the best. Instead he gets really into what the sounds of the day are and how people make records the way they do - way more than most hippies vainly struggling to get into new technology to stay hippie-hip. Now that CSN seemed forever stuck in the past, Stills pushes on into the great unknown and comes up with a record that couldn't sound less CSN-like if it a Justin Bieber guest spot and a Spice Girls chorus (funnily enough Graham Nash will do the same with his own 'Innocent Eyes' album a couple of years later, showing what an inventive lot CSN are despite what their critics always say about them being stuck in 1969). Anyone whose come straight to this record from one of Stills' early 70s masterpieces is in for a shock with this record as far away from the laidback pure albums as it's possible to get, with every beat of silence filled, nearly every vocal treated and Stills' playing subservient to the hungry synth monster kept in the studio basement. The music world, or at least the small part of it still taking notes over aging singer-songwriters, was shocked.

This really shouldn't have come as that much of a surprise though: Stills has always loved technology - he was the first artist ever to record using digital equipment back in 1979 - and this time he's got an age to build up his music layer by layer, returning to and tweaking his music safe in the knowledge that for once Atlantic haven't got half an eye on the release date and a certain seller. The good news is that, for what it's worth, Stills has a far better instinctive grasp of what it takes to make a really great 1980s record; the trouble is, however well made, this is still a 1980s record.  Fans then and now would have preferred something a little more 'traditional'. The result is sadly another of one of those 'hideously dated I wish they'd remix it and do it properly' AAA albums from the decade that we seem to have discussed rather a lot on here as of late (amazingly CSN/Y stick to the same formula on their reunion albums 'American Dream' and 'Live It Up', though at least those albums have the benefit of harmonies: 'Right By You' is a strange harmony-less record, in all meanings of that word).

Not that this album is bad - at least not as bad as everyone who heard it in 1984 said it was and so many books say it is now. Stills' talents as a singer and writer might be showing the strain from his peak days, but that still puts him amongst the best writers around and his guitar skills are as strong as ever. Compared to Nash's similar attempt on the half-covers album 'Innocent Eyes' it's positively over-flowing with ideas, if not quite up to past CSN standards either. There are a few tracks where Stills understands this new electronic marketplace better than anybody ('50/50' is a 1980s pop/hip hop hybrid that Stills has found a way to work, thanks to opening the song up to his long-favoured 'Latin' rhythms, 'Love Again' turns the old Stills turbulence into a catchy 1980s pop song where the artificial and coldness of the sonic landscape actually works to a song's advantage and 'Grey To Green' is a great throwback to what the past Stills sounded like), just nowhere near a whole album's worth, with 'Right By You' featuring more padding than the Michelin Man. Given how much 'time off' Stills had to write this album it's something of a disappointment - it sounds like one of his more rushed recordings, a 'Manassas Down The Road' but now without Manassas and that road no longer enough of a stardom super-highway for him to get away with it.

Just as with the disco-bandwagon-hopping 'Thoroughfare Gap', Stills sounds simultaneously as if he's understood the genre better than anyone and also a little desperate to please, throwing a few guest spots in there that really don't fit (never have you wanted CSN keyboard player and singer Michael Finnigan to 'begin again' less than here) and some extra synths in there for good measure (it's all that extra time going to Stills' head you would guess - this is what all the other albums might have ended up like without deadlines and Crosby/Stills/Buffalo Springfield tugging at his lapels). This sense of 'trendy desperation' is something summed up spectacularly by this album's oh-so-1980s-it-hurts (literally, my eyes are aching) album cover, seemingly a rocket taking off from Earth that looks suspiciously like the underside of the power-boat Stills pilots in the oh-so-1980s-it's-silly(honestly, it's a CSN version of James Bond, complete with pretty girls and speedboat chases) music video for the single 'Stranger'. Though CSN have long had links with boats, they tend to be the ones that were built to last: wooden ships, antique schooners, Crosby's beloved 'Mayan', something hippily sustainable and of the earth. Prime CSN are about as far away from flashy speedboat album covers and music videos as it's possible to be, as artificial and over-adrenalin filled as the music is, built for speed but not to last. What it all comes down to is that in 1964 and even in 1974 none of CSNY needed to try to be cool - they just were cool. By 1984 Stills, at least, looks like he needs a new manager to stop himself looking silly.

Thankfully we know in retrospect that this something of a 'middle-career crisis' rather than a new formula to adjust to (with long-awaited sequel 'Stephen Stills Alone' from 1991 an all-acoustic all-solo album with a deeply unflattering front cover photo, seemingly in penance for this one), which means we can celebrate this record's quirkiness better - whilst being equally thankful that Stills never did anything quite like it again. 'Right By You' is perhaps Stills' most rhythm heavy album, with lots of songs driven by the beat rather than the melody or lyrics (a logical extension of where we were heading on 'Thoroughfare Gap' but across nearly the whole album this time). This is something fans had been waiting a long time to see as Stills, who started his career as a drummer, has always had a talent for finding a good groove and the beats across this album are pretty memorable, if a little OTT in places (How much better would this album have been with 'real' drums? Admittedly old Manassas bandmate Joe Lala, the main drummer for the album, may well have collapsed under the strain). In Stills' hands, though aiming at a pop market, the result is nothing short of 80s digital funk and there are times when this album sounds more like an electronic version of Sly and the Family Stone than it does CSN. This is a whole new avenue Stills hasn't really explored before or since and his aging voice is well suited to it, allowing him to sound as intense as before without sacrificing beauty (though upping his vocals in the mix a bit would have helped with this). Unfortunately, after a whole album of such similar sounds (and one bonkers bluegrass cover) the effect is rather lost and you end up yearning for some peace and quiet instead, while even Stills can't make a great beat the whole reason for enjoying a song. The result is something like hearing the 'doo doo doo' finale of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' without the eight minutes of dazzling intensity going on before it.

The other big change is in the credits. Future Stills solo albums will be low-key and sparse; this one looks back to the good old days when the likes of Ringo, Joni Mitchell and Rita Coolidge turned up on every other track with lots of old mates appearing (including the only return for another Manassas bandmate, Chris Hillman, on 'No Hiding Place' - which is what The Flying Burrito Brothers would have sounded like with Stills in the band - Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and  more Graham Nash harmonies than any other Stills solo LP). Usually Stills is such a big presence in the room that even past guests Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix mould themselves a little to his style, but not here: Hillman and his mate Herb Pedersen (from, umm, Rice Rice Hillman and Pedersen) take the lead on 'No Hiding Place', to the point where Stills sounds hopelessly lost. Jimmy Page gets almost as many opportunities for guitar solo-ing as Stills does and frustratingly the two never play 'lead' at the same time, so that this is less of a return to the twin-guitar Buffalo Springfield/Stills-Young CSNY days as Stills trying to lure Led Zep fans into buying his record. Stills offers his last Neil Young cover with 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' but fails to add the Stillsy signature parts that made past Young covers 'New Mama' and 'The Loner' so distinctive so in effect what we get is slowed down Neil Young karaoke. Mike Finnigan, longstanding keyboard player, sings so many verses on 'Can't Let Go' that you're half afraid Stills won't get the microphone off him for the rest of the album (and it's pretty awful you have to say, 'rubber soul' to coin a phrase rather than the real thing). Only Graham saves the day and even then it's amazing how much the harmonies suddenly seem as if they're missing something without the Crosby 'glue' to hold everyone together. To be honest 'Right By You' would sound a lot better without it's star cast for most of the record.

With all that surface noise going on over the top, the actual songs on this album tend to get a bit overlooked. In some cases that's probably a good thing: 'Flaming Heart' is a pop song so simple Buffalo Springfield would have passed over it for their first album, 'Can't Let Go' is embarrassingly twee for a writer of Stills' talents and even the only track on this album to ever get a good review (the bluesy title track) doesn't come close to similar past classics like 'Go Back Home' 'Black Queen' and 'Bluesman'. The less said about the bluegrass and Young covers the better (the 'old' Stills would never have chosen bluegrass and Young covers quite as obvious as traditional standard 'No Hiding Place' and 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' either).

Which is not to say that there aren't some good and properly developed songs on here too - just that those that are good tend to get somewhat lost underneath all the noise, almost as if we weren't 'meant' to hear them and how personal they are (even by Stills standards). I've always maintained that the hidden-behind-a-vocoder 'Trans' (1982) was always one of Neil Young's better efforts, with lyrics of real emotional heartbreak about his son Ben (born with cerebral palsy) and their struggles to communicate, speaking two completely different languages. That album is downright 'alien' at times, as cold and austere as any digitally-made 1980s album, but simultaneously Neil's most emotional work as a bunch of robots sing about yearning to be 'transformed' and long for a similar robot to 'sample and hold'. Stills, we know, always listened long and hard to what Neil had to say (so, for a longer time than anyone admits to, Neil did to Stephen) and this very album contains a cover of Young's 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart'. Is 'Right By You' Stills' response to 'Trans', a 'digital' and artificial album detailing his latest heartbreak? Is Stills now hiding not just 'behind walls' (his favourite phrase) but behind synthesisers too? Or is this all just a side-effect of 'Captain Manyhands' being given both time and a bank of synths to overdub for the first time going as far-out as he can? 'I hear that you're concerned about hearing me' jokes Stills in 'No Problem', the song right in the middle of this album which really is hard to hear. 'I understand your problem, but if you see the candles burn out from the middle - and I don't know how to stop them!'

This is, you see, a deeply sad album behind all that constant rhythm, noisy drums and power-boats, though for once Stills seems to be hiding what he's really feeling and insists on pretending to us that he's 'happy'. Those of you who've been following these reviews in chronological order will know the Veronique Sanson story well by now - the rushed engagement and marriage, the temper tantrums and bust-ups, the vows by Stills to be a good family man and putting his foot in it over and over as music and self-destructive tendencies that would put The Muppet Show's Gonzo to shame keep taking over. By 1984 their marriage is finally over after eight years of cat and mouse (including Stills taking up a new girlfriend, Susan Saint James, between 1978 and 1980 who might well be lurking in some of these lyrics too), with both sides feeling as if they've been savaged by lions (though some writers only write when they have an album contract, it seems likely knowing workaholic Stills that some of these songs date back to immediately post 'Thoroughfare Gap' in 1978 anyway). Stills has already seen the end in sight for a long time and written about it accordingly (CSN's 'Daylight Again' LP is full of songs of loss - 'Turn Your Back On Love' and marriage-escaping 'Southern Cross' amongst them) and his songs are in a similar vein here: guilty and burned-out yet still clinging to life, just about. 

The music-praising autobiography of '50-50' - the only song from this album to make the CSN box set, which is at least one more than was taken from 'Innocent Eyes' - has Stills the musician desperately trying to fill his now empty house with music but reveals that he's 'too high to hear the song' and now it's all just noise (a fair appraisal of the album). 'Stranger' is the Sanson soul-meeting of 1975's 'Love Story' in reverse, Stills getting excited by the very fact that he's met someone he plainly doesn't know and wondering where a new romance will take him. 'Love Again' is a sweet and much under-rated song about Stills trying to pick himself up and try love once again, reflecting that 'love is an accident of faith' as he picks over the bones of his latest romantic failure and figures that the problem wasn't that he wasn't loved but that Veronique loved him so much he could never match what she wanted from him. 'Can't Let Go', a track that sounds suspiciously like it ought to be a Donnie Dacus co-write from 'Illegal Stills', repeats the messages and gooey-eyes from early in the pair's relationship - but the song is handed over without comment to Stills' latest protégé Mike Finnigan, as if to distance himself even more. The charming 'Grey To Green' addresses the fact that Stills struggled to work out what his love wanted from him and what mood she was in, so he 'invents' a fictional girl from the future whose moods are always clear because her eyes change colour (they turn every possible colour it seems - your eyes will too given the ups and down on this record). 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' may be an obvious choice, but Neil's song of sympathy for Graham is in effect another one of those CSN theme songs that applied to all four with some regularity and an apt choice thematically, even if the synths sound ever more awkward on one of Young's most 'open' (and Stills-like) songs (if you count Crosby's longterm girlfriends as 'wives' then all four are on their fifth or sixth relationships by now). Bluegrass standard 'No Hiding Place' may be an anti-war polemic at heart, but in context it sounds like Stills near the end of the LP acknowledging that he's made another album of heartbreak after all, however hard he tried not to. Finally the title track tries to tell the 'truth' - that Stills will be a long time getting over one of the loves of his life, still having 'fantasies about you in the middle of the night' however hard he tries not to. By the end of the track - and the end of the album - though, Stills tells her and himself 'Time for a big change - a general haul of your attitude', which feeds back nicely into the fact that though 'Right By You' might read like a typical Stills album on the lyric sheet, it doesn't sound like one on the record.

Overall, then, 'Right By You' is a slightly painful record. It sounds like a painful period for Stills to have lived through ('It was a trip I had to deal with!') and it's often turned into painful music, with some of the biggest disasters in the Stills songbook. If ever a CSNY record deserved marks for trying though it's this one, a record that arguably tries a little too hard in trying to sound so utterly totally different to anything that came before - and unfortunately for us Stills chose completely the wrong time to get stuck into period technology. Like oh so many of the most overlooked CSNY solo albums, however, there's...something here worth a second glance and the ear-ache of putting up with the synths and artificial drums, with half an album of prime Stills here no matter how much he seems to be trying to hide the fact at times.

'50-50' is the closest to a song that fans will probably know and for good reason - it's probably the best thing here with Stills finding a way to match his distinctive 'Latin' music with modern technology. Having Stills and Nash together on the vocals (with Mike Finnigan taking the 'Crosby' role) and Jimmy Page at his most Stillsy on a bluesy solo also makes this the most 'traditional' of the big production numbers on the album. Not for the first time Stills tries to tell us two different stories in one track, with music that's upbeat and built for dancing married to a lyric that couldn't be more downbeat and mainly takes place with Stills' narrator lying in a soggy heap on his bed. He's just woken up, again, to an empty room after forgetting that he was alone now. He does what he always does when he's anxious or upset and reaches for his guitar, but somehow even his loudest playing can't 'fill the empty spaces' and leaves the racket 'bouncing off the walls', no one there to respond to it or soak it up. Stills is playing an 'oldie', 'too high' to recall what he meant when he wrote a past song of heartbreak (presumably one he wrote for Judy Collins or Rita Coolidge - 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' or 'Dark Star' seem likely candidates), but remembering that the last time he felt this bad at least he had the wherewithal to turn his mood into songs; now he simply feels empty. A fascinating verse has Stills debating what Sanson wanted from their marriage, cursing the fact that 'she wouldn't change me' and yet expected more from him. Stills worries that 'I could lose myself trying to please her' and fears that if he does transform into a better man as he's long wanted (see 'As I Come Of Age' written almost in parallel with falling in love with Veronique) he might lose the better things that makes him 'him' as well, that 'I might not like what I'd become'. Stills ends by turning to the audience he's afraid he doesn't have anymore, urging us to 'listen to our love - if you let it, it will take you' and to never pretend to be more than you are. The song's fine verses are slightly upset by a puzzling and oddly algebraic chorus ('That's 50/50 - or a hundred at a time!') when all Stills really means is that if you don't find the 'right' pairing you're doomed to 'be still one and one'; the percentage may also relate to how 'equal' relationships need to be to last, although Stills seems to change his mind whether he's making all or none of the effort. Forget the lyrics if you need to though (they're not very easy to hear!) and simply bask in the glow of the most percussion-heavy track of Stills' career. Noisy, but noble and with some real passion and 'truth' to go with the commercial sound.

By the time this album was released future singer-songwriter and Stills Jnr Christopher was ten years old and already making most of both his father's musical genes and his record collection. 'Stranger', the album's lead single, is the first and - oddly enough - only collaboration between father and son and it seems likely that Stills was borrowing his son's know-how of younger artists that had passed him by. Even for this album 'Stranger' is your typical 80s pop song, high on hooks and synths and accessible lyrics (and yes, inevitably, 'stranger' does indeed rhyme with 'danger', although Stills adds it in a post-chorus hook that sounds almost apologetic). The lyrics, though, are pure Stills Senior as he tries to fall in love once more and meet somebody new to take him out of himself. Unlike past and future love songs (1994's 'Only Waiting For You' is a good example) Stills only sounds optimistic about his chances of meeting a future lover in the music and the slightly OTT vocal and guitar showboating, not in the lyrics which again seem like one long sigh. 'Mutual attraction can be so distracting' Stills mutters, 'Make you forget where you are...' while he also remembers the heartbreak that can happen if he picks the 'wrong' stranger when in the song's excellent middle eight 'the loneliest person that you know is looking back in the mirror at you you you!' The twist compared to 'Love Story' is that Stills 'is' the stranger, acting out of character as he gives up on his old soulmate for a night on the pull and he seems almost to be warning the new girl in the block to back away while simultaneously seducing her. The trouble is that, unlike '50-50', the dichotomy between what the song sounds like and is really saying is a bit harder to understand with the backing by now pure 80s pop hell rather than a clever Stillsian twist on a modern format. For most fans 'Stranger' sounds like such a lot of noise about nothing it's easier just not to bother with it. Don't be a 'stranger' though - the lyrics at least are worth a look.

'Flaming Heart' is the album's first real disaster, which seems odd given that it's probably the most 'traditional' recording here. We can actually hear Stills for once (sort of) some love-lorn lyrics while there are some real guitars playing in criss-cross formation. Unfortunately, they're all played by Jimmy Page (here called 'James' as 'Stephen' introduces his solo), with Stills passing over the opportunity for some Springfield/CSNY-Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin duelling. Stills also decides to sing in his gruffest, most lived in voice yet (well, since 'Blaxk Queen' maybe) and the lyrics he sings aren't exactly taxing for the songwriter who once poured his all into 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes'. This is a clichéd love song, complete with references to 'fires' and 'endless yearning' while no line of thr song seems to last for more than a few words at a time. The most irritating thing about this forgettable track, though, is the guitar riff which sounds as if it belongs as the signature tune for some really bad 1980s soap opera (you can almost picture smiling pictures of the cast while it plays, all of them in speedboats). To be fair there are some good things in there too: George 'Chocolate' Perry was one of Stills' best bass players and he's rarely better than here with a walking bass that does some good work distracting us from the noise on top. As for Stills and Page and those synth drums, though, my ears are still ringing.

'Love Again' is perhaps the most interesting song here, even if it again sounds like all of your worst nightmares of what the 1980s sounded like. Stills sing single-tracked for once on this album and that adds a real vibe of vulnerability to this song - until Nash and Finnigan pop up on the power pop chorus anyway. Time seems to have moved on a little since some of the other songs were written and Stills is on the verge of a nervous breakdown from being 'so alone' before vowing to take a 'permanent spiritual break' which seems to have made him even more philosophical than normal. In one of the sweetest and happiest lyrics of recent years Stills decides that good times are never impossible and - perhaps remembering Judy and Rita and Veronique - that love can come along when you least expect it (again it's interesting to compare with the later 'Only Waiting For You' as Stills sings of how 'fate can be your best friend'). We've already quoted the line 'love is an accident of faith' but it's worth mentioning again because it's such a clever and heartfelt one for someone with so many heartbreaks in his life. Stills has always felt genuinely in love with all of his girlfriends - he's just had too much faith that too many of the differences between them will be overcome and fell in love with the wrong person. Stills doesn't sound unhappy about it here though; instead each relationship has taught him something new he didn't understand before and by the end of the chorus ('Here is love come again!') he's eager for the next stage of 'learning'. Surely singing about Sanson again, Stills recounts the story from the 'other' point of view. 'She' always felt that she 'loved him' but could never work out why and in the end he tested that blind faith too much. A final verse might well be about Susan Saint James (what is it with CSNY and Susans? We're only missing Crosby and we'd have a full set!) as Stills sings about being 'glad we got lucky' and looking forward to the 'growing' he'll surely do from this latest conquest. The best use of synths and drums on the album outside '50-50', the song is musically as dramatic (if slightly more wild) as the lyrics and is driven along nicely by a thrilling keyboard riff (which sounds not unlike that from 'Casualty', the Hollies reunion track made with Nash in 1983 funnily enough...) If every song from the 1980s had sounded like these two the decade might not have been so bad...

Alas 'No Problem' ranks up there with the 'Live It Up' title track, Wham! and anything by Michael Jackson as the most uncomfortably, hideous 1980s statements, complete with the sort of drum part that seemed to appear in every song back then (the 1980s 'Now That's What I Call Music...' all sound like this, for hours and hours and hours...) and a keyboard riff that's verging on the hysterical. Above all this sits Stills' vocal as low in the mix as it can be whilst still being there, drowned out by the sheer 80s pop hell going on around him, without even a guitar part in sight (again only Perry's respectable bass line holds the song together). That's a shame because, as off-putting as this song is to listen to, the lyric is another one that's worth digging through and the closest 'Right By You' comes to the CSN political commentary of old. Scorning the gimme gimme gimme attitude of the 1980s, Stills complains that 'the story goin' round the welfare line is that no one matters' and that 'fat cats are getting fatter'. Stills tries to attack the people who deserve it, telling us all in his best hippie voice that 'when everybody's hurt...when there's people going hungry...we better fix it!' The thing is, though, that Stills feels less sure about this world than he did back in 1970 when CSNY were at their revolutionary peak; he doesn't know anymore what to do to put things right and compared to the old days when 'Ohio' could sing from the heart about 'us' being 'finally on our own', Stills doesn't know what troops he can assemble anymore or why people seem to be content to just turn a blind eye without getting cross like him. he figures it must be because everybody's in pain ('Everybody got a story') but this doesn't appeal to his hippie community spirit and anyway the people in power have more than ever, leaving Stills more confused than ever ('Ain't nobody near enough worried!') Though the least likely out of CSNY to write a political protest, Stills played more than his share of political rallies and this song is a rare example of the democratic heart so often heard quietly beating in Stills' songs coming to the fore. On this evidence Stills should write more songs like these - and then never, ever go within a hundred miles of a synthesiser!

One song I'll never be able to find a good word for is 'I Can't Let Go', weirdly picked by more than a few reviewers as the record's highlight down the years. Stills was heading towards dodgy lowest-common-denominator silly love songs on 'Thoroughfare Gap' as it was, but this is the one and only song in Stills' catalogue you could imagine Barry White singing. Sickly sweet in the worst possible way, the song would have been poor enough with a clearly uncomfortable Stills singing the whole song. Instead Stills only sings the first verse and hands the reigns over to Mike Finnigan who is as 1980s a partner for Stills to pick as Jimi Hendrix was 1960s. Don't get me wrong, Finnigan worked well in the CSN band (he deserves plaudits for his work filling in for Crosby on 'Daylight Again' so well and he came into his own on the 1983 tour) but there's sadly a reason Neil 'Mr Authenticity' Young fired him from the 1999 touring band; Finnigan has a tendency to go all MOR and false if left unchecked and he's given free reign more than on any other song here. As for the backing, well, at least it tries to be loud enough to distract us from the vocals I suppose. For once on this album the lyrics are every bit as bad as the cringeworthy tune and tasteless performance, with this as a random sample: 'Slow down, things go through change, and pleasure can come from pain, so here's a memory of where we both belong'. Thankfully this wasn't picked as an album single but if it had been it would have had one of those awful 1980s videos with pink CGI love hearts and bad soap opera extras, probably in a powerboat. Very few songs in the CSN canon are completely and utterly bad but this is a sorry exception. That's four minutes 11 of my life I will never get back. Don't waste your time - reach for the skip button.

By contrast 'Grey To Green' is the track every other review always dismisses as 'silly' but is actually rather lovely. Stills is despairing, he's been rejected by cupid's arrows again and - in a reprise of 'Can't Get No Booty' - all the girls who used to come running now won't even give Stills' lonely narrator a second look. Suddenly, mid-second verse, the song changes, with 'she' arriving un-announced with the complaint that things go wrong because 'she' (perhaps a combination of every lover Stills has had to now) has to 'try so hard' to get Stills to work out how she's feeling. Stills' mind wandering, he thinks that human beings should come with colour coded eyes that reveal what we're thinking: green in love, blue when 'bad', 'hazel' when 'she works' and seemingly grey when she's feeling lonely. Stills vows to change 'her' eyes back to 'green' every chance he gets. I'd like to think that Stills was trying to write another 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' when he sat down to write this song and got into thinking about why he'd fixated so much on Judy Collins' eyes when he had so much of her to choose from. Actually it makes sense for a writer like Stills, who loves showing his 'realness' and vulnerability while peeking out from songs filled to the brim with confidence to make up a song purely about eyes, the 'windows to the soul' embedded in the body and closer to our 'hearts'. As with 'Love Story', two strangers then fall in love at the end of this song, mutually attracted by each other's angst and pain and vowing to put things right for each other, which they do 'in the twinkling of an eye'. Quite unlike any other song in the Stills canon, this pretty pop ditty is actually more like a Nash song and Graham's guest vocal sounds a lot more comfortable than Stills' does (he even sings in falsetto as if trying to reach for 'Nash notes' in his lead vocal!) Sweet but undemanding, at least it's a song that works well with the 80s pop setting and is actually a bit easier to listen to than some of the others on this album with less synth and drum distractions. My reviewer's eyes aren't quite green, but they're changing from the deep dark blue I felt on the last track...

My eyes are now turning black because being semi-conscious is the only way to get through the frankly horrid cover version of Neil Young's 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart'. Though it's nice to hear Nash singing on a song written about his breakup with Joni, Stills sounds deeply uncomfortable once again and takes several liberties with a song that arguably wasn't one of Neil's stronger ideas to start with. The slow tempo, the parping synths (which sound like a doorbell, presumably at the 'Heartbreak Hotel') and the presence of a misguided and derided extra verse written by Stills which tries to add some optimism but forgets to rhyme ('And so my friend if you have seen the other side of all those dreams know that you can take it as far as you want to, don't believe the great run around') all add up to another troubling three minutes better spent listening to the original from 'After The Goldrush'. Or indeed any other Neil Young song (except ones from 'Greendale', obviously). You have to say, though, that what Stills does here sounds more like sabotage than the inventive treatment he gave to past Young covers 'New Mama' (given added punch with some added guitar breaks) and 'The Loner' (with a new and rather handsome rock and roll riff). There is, for instance, a moment just before the last interminable reprise of this song where the synthesiser actually winks at us - yes, it winks! If Mills and Boon ever need a soundtrack for an audio CD, this is surely a candidate with more cheese than a delicatessen. Neil, of course, hates this sort of thing with a passion which makes you wonder if Stills was trying to wind him up (they weren't at peak speaking terms, their last regular contact being with the Stills-Young band tour Neil walked out on in 1976 and the quartet not quite back together again for Live Aid, where this song was also played - sans the extra verse and synths, thank goodness). Another awful mistake.

'No Hiding Place' solves some of the problems of the album by getting rid of the 1980s pop setting and the synthesisers in favour for a banjo bluegrass song that could have slotted in easily on the second 'Wilderness' side of the Manassas album (barring Stills' now over-growly voice). That's Manassas man Chris Hillman on the mandolin and once again he gets more air time than Stills on a song he recommended to his old partner. Unfortunately what looks so good on paper sounds terribly out of place and anachronistic and Stills sounds dreadful, as if he's been up all night for three nights solid, in contrast to Hillman and his buddy Herb Pedersen's lush leads. Once again Stills adds  lots of words to the song, replacing the Christian imagery of the original ('Sister Mary she wears a golden chain, on every link there's Jesus' name') with a set of lyrics about the cold war ('Did you hear the sport on TV holding forth about war, nukes and victory?') with only the chorus left intact. Turning not being able to hide from a God to not being able to hide from a man-made Judgement Day is an interesting twist and this is the sort of thing you can imagine being sung round nuclear bunkers the world over had Reagan got drunk enough to press that red button (we know Bush would have done in his place, probably Trump too). Some of these lyrics seem overwritten for such a simple song though, which occasionally loses the thread of what it seems to be saying ('With no hand upon your fate all the prophets do is wait either ending or ten thousand years'). The backing musicians try their best to whoop and yell the song on, but the backing track sounds strangely antiseptic considering it's the only one on the album not to feature a synthesiser at all. A bit of an oddball experiment, this, which misses the creativity and vision of Manassas to pull it off. Hillman and Pedersen might have been better off putting this song on one of their own albums.

The album ends on another odd note, with the title track 'Right By You' a blues that sounds deeply out of place on perhaps Stills' least bluesy album. Though Stills sounds more 'right' here, it's a shame that he chooses to hand over the bluesy guitar solo to Jimmy Page (whose good, but clearly not Stills-good - and boy is that remark going to get me comments!) and that the song runs out of ideas so early on, fizzling out to a sorry conclusion instead of building in power as the Stills of old would have managed. Lyrically this is a step back towards the album's better moments, though, with a 'wasted' Stills repeating old favourite phrases like 'to a flame' on another journey down memory lane. Perhaps noticing that all his girlfriends have something in common (complex love lives: 'No man ever done right by you!') Stills regrets the fact that he couldn't be 'that man', too busy 'pleasing' everyone around him to take care of what his beloveds really needed. 'Time for a big change' sighs Stills as he vows once more to learn from his mistakes. Though Stills has recorded lots of blues songs before and since this is arguably the most traditionally blues (alongside 'Run From Tears' perhaps) as he complains about 'all this misery and this cryin' and not knowing what to do!' (other Stills blues songs being about drunken card games, lost friends and musicians and Ole' Man Trouble). Stills reaches a peak of indignation that at last points at the real heartbreak and misery buried so well beneath the surface sheen of this album, but ironically there's something about this track that doesn't sound quite as moving and openly honest as the more 'hidden' songs on this album.

Sadly, if predictably, this album failed - despite the synths and the power boats - and 'Right By You' remains the last solo album Stills ever released on a major label as well as one of his weakest sellers. Clearly making a commercial album in 1984 was never going to work (not with a band who'd always relied on being so 'real' to their muse and music anyway) and Stills tried just a little too hard to do  'right' by his record company instead of 'us'. The first half though, especially, has its share of surprises and 'Right By You' seems to be an album that improves with age and extra playings (the further we get from the 1980s the less common hearing those sounds become and the deeper you dig in this album the more treasures you find). It's not a classic by anyone's standards and remains one of the few CSN albums this site can't wholeheartedly recommend, but 'Right By You' isn't quite the total disaster everyone thinks it is. A remix, a couple less experiments, a couple of replacement songs, no Mike Finnigan and less powerboats and 'Right By You' would be better remembered and rather more loved.

 Other CSNY-related articles from this site you might be interested in if you have a spare month or three:

‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)

'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)

'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)

'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)

'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)

'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)

'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

'Looking Forward' (1999)

'Crosby*Nash' (2005)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)

'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings

Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)

Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)

Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)

Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)

Paul McCartney and Bands: Live/Solo/Compilation/Unreleased/Fireman/Classical Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

You can now buy our e-book 'Smile Away - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Paul McCartney' by clicking here!

"Return To Pepperland"

 (Unreleased 1987)

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"

(President, '1988')

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 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
"All we
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.

The Fireman "Strawberries, Oceans, Ships Forests"

(EMI, November 1993)

Transpiritual Stomp/Trans Lunar Rising/Transcrystaline/Pure Trance/Arizona Light/Celtic Stomp/Strawberries Oceans Ships Forests/4-4-4/Sunrise Mix

"There's no smoke without fire"

Sometimes people forgtet just how 'weird' McCartney can be for a 'mainstream' artist. Always musically curious and more interested in what those around him are listening to than most, Paul has led his followers down more merry musical cul-de-sacs than possibly any other living artist in his quest for something that excites him. The three 'Fireman' projects of which this is the first are probably the greatest examples of this. At the time this record was released hot on the heels of the very mainstream pop record 'Off The Ground' McCartney's involvement was only a 'rumour' and not that widely believed by anyone. After all, even the fans who recognised the McCartney 'scraps' layered into this musical collage (bits of speech from 'The Broadcast' in 1979, a sample lifted from 'Cosmically Conscious' and that very recgnisable throaty roar Macca has) had no reason to think that the additions were McCartney additions or that the insistent trance riff was played by him. But they were, with Macca collaborating with producer 'Youth' on a straight collaboration that was intended to be a straightforward remix of some 'Off The Gorund' tracks for some B-sides but quickly grew into a new project where Paul could 'be' a younger, hungrier version of himself without the pressure of the McCartney name on his shoulders (the 'Paul McCartney Goes Too Far' solo album first mentioned as far back as 1966?) Though the actual sound and texture of the two albums couldn't be less like each other, in many ways this is the sequel to 'Thrillington', a chance for Paul to do something entirely unexpected with his own music. In a way it was a sad day when he 'broke' his own anonymity in a webcast to promote the second album - although even then many weren't still convinced this oh-so modern approach to music making was by a man in his 50s with nothing to prove until Paul finally camer clean to promote third and most musical album 'Electric Arguments' in 2007. Originally intended as a series of 12" remixes by Youth, it somehow got turned into one long LP by McCartney, which is where the trouble begins. Entering a new world can be fascinating for a few minutes and Macca's instant musicality is actually very well suited to this sort of thing (as 'Ou Est Le Soliel?' demonstrated six years earlier). However across 78 minutes this album loses much of its impact and even the new and alien landscape is in danger of becoming old and staid by the end. There's actually very little in the way of variety here, with these nine songs effectively forming only slightly different versions of the same track , which is a disappointment given your response when you start playing an album such as this one. Some sections do stand out though: the trippy psychedelic 'Arizona Light' with its hint of sitars and the folkier 'Celtic Stomp' with its mellotron-set-to-flite-settings sound that Macca has used so much since discovering it for the 'Strawberry Fields Forever' intro. Overall, though, this is a curio and a collector's item rather than a truly daring piece and it doesn't quite fulfil it's potential, even if it is nice to hear McCartney doing something so different with his talents and going back to his 'tape loop' way of working for the first time in nearly thirty years. 

"Oobu Joobu" (Radio Series)

(Broadcast on Westwood One May 27th 1995-September 4th 1995)

Show One (27/5/95 Extended Debut) (Unreleased Tracks Only): Oobu Joobu (New Theme Tune)/Take It Away (Demo)/Biker Like An Icon (Soundcheck)/I Wanna Be Your Man (Soundcheck)/We Can Work It Out (Soundcheck)/Ou Est Le Soliel? (Demo)/Atlantic Ocean (Unreleased Song)/A Fairy Tale (Macca at home)/Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Outtake)/They Call My Baby Baby (Soundcheck)/Boil Crisis (Unreleased)/C Moon (Rehearsal)/Put It There (Rehearsal)/Ebony and Ivory (Rehearsal)

Show Two (29/5/95) (Unreleased Tracks Only): Ain't That A Shame (Outtake)/Back In The USSR (Rehearsal)/The Lovers That Never Were (Demo)/Hey Jude (Rehearsal)/Spies Like Us (Demo)/Can't Buy Me Love (Soundcheck)

Show Three (5/5/1995) (Unreleased Tracks Only): I Love This House (Unreleased)/We Got Married (Demo)/Got To Get You Into My Life (Rehearsal)/Blackbird (Rehearsal)/Singing' The Blues (Soundcheck)/Rock Island LIne (Rehearsal) Guest: Pete Townshend

Show Four (12/6/1995): Love Mix (Unreleased)/Stop! You Don't Know Where She Came From (Unreleased)/Fool On The Hill (Rehearsal)/New Moon Over Jamaica (Demo)/Bring It To Jerome (Soundcheck)/You Know You Are Such An Incredible Thing (Jam)/Fixing A Hole (Rehearsal)/I Lost My Little Girl (Soundcheck)/Let It Be (Rehearsal)

Show Five (19/6/1995): Lookin' For Changes (Soundcheck)/Peace In The Neighbourhood (Soundcheck)/Mother Nature's Son (Soundcheck)/Off The Ground (Soundcheck)/How Many People? (Rehearsal)/We All Stand Together (Demo)

Show Six (26/6/1995): 20 Flight Rock (Rehearsal)/Summertime (Soundcheck)/Drive My Car (Rehearsal)/Doing It All Dat Long (Unreleased Film Score)/Give Us A Chord Roy (Jam)/Oh Mama Et Papa (Soundcheck)

Show Seven (3/7/1995): Untitled Instrumentals x2/No I Never (Jam)/Crackin' Up (Soundcheck)/After You've Gone (Demo)/Yellow Submarine (Rehearsal)

Show Eight (10/7/1995): Jet! (Rehearsal)/Keep Under Cover (Demo)/Get Out Of My Way (Soundcheck)/Three Cool Cats (Rehearsal)/Don't Break The Promises (Demo)/Peacocks (Unreleased)/I've Just Seen A Face (Rehearsal)/Music For A Glass Harmonica (Rehearsal)/Winedark Open Sea (Rehearsal)

Show Nine (17/7/1995): Miss Ann (Rehearsal)/She's A Woman (Rehearsal)/Live and Let Die (Soundcheck)/SMA (Heather McCartney)/Cut Across Shorty (Rehearsal)/Hi Heeled Sneakers (Rehearsal)/Let Me Roll It (Soundcheck)

Show Ten (24/7/1995): Shake Rattle and Roll (Rehearsal)/Honey Don't (Soundcheck)/Motor Of Love (Demo)/Your School (Unreleased)/Get Back (Rehearsal)/Tomorrow's Light (Soundcheck)

Show Eleven (31/7/1995): Matchbox (Rehearsal)/Blue Sude Shoes (Rehearsal)/Yesterday (Rehearsal)/Ballroom Dancing ('Broad Street' Film Soundtrack)/Little Daisy Root (Unreleased Fragment). Special Guest: Carl Perkins

Show Twelve (7/8/1995): Mean Woman Blues (Soundcheck)/When The Wind She Blows Cool (Jam)/Coming Up (Unedited)/Another Day (Rehearsal)/Praying Mantis (Demo)/Mambo Baby (Demo)

Show Thirteen (14/8/1995): Sweetest Little Show In Town (Demo)/Gonna Set The Town On Fire Tonight (Rehearsal)/Mr Froggie Went A Coirtin' (Rehearsal)/Soundcheck Song (Improvisation)/Every Night (Soundcheck)/Be A Vegetarian (Demo)/The Things We Said Today (Rehearsal)/Don't  Let The Siun Catch You Cryin' (Rehearsal)

Show Fourteen (21/8/1995): Lady Madonna (Soundcheck)/Bring It On Home To Me (Rehearsal)/Tequilla (Rehearsal)/Wanderlust (Demo)/Pull Away (Soundcheck)/Hey Jude (Rehearsal)

There was also a double-length 'highlights' show broadcast on September 1st 1995 with new links but no new songs

"Oobu joobu we, are, erm, confused by you!"

Imagine Murray The K twinned with your McCartney bootleg collection and you get 'Oobu Joobu', the Macca response to the 'Lost Lennon Tapes' of the late 1980s (both were broadcast on American station Westwood One). Both radio series are compilations of unreleased material designed to draw in long-term fans to a corunocpia of unissued and often unlistenable material that neither Beatle could porbably get away with releasing on record in their own right. It would have been fascinating to know what John would have made of his own series (whose first broadcast came in New York eight years after his death, with Yoko's blessing)  and what he'd have thought about his adult-life-long hobby of recording everything and anything for his own pleasure let loose on an unsuspecting public. Despite the worries before the start, though, that Lennon's legacy would be badly damaged by lots of low-level hissy barelys worked out versions of old friends (the equivalent of revealing the Wizard of Oz to be merely human) Lennon's reputation came through unscathed, his achievements all the greater for the more 'human' stumbling ways many of his greatest songs sounded. McCartney, a radio aficianado with a large personal tape collection himself, was understandably intrigued and more than a little jealous.

There are a number of big differences between the radio series' though which meant that 'Oobu Joobu' never quite reached the same peak of affection in Beatlefans' hearts. Firstly and most practically the series never ran as long as 'The Lost Lennon Tapes' so never matched that series' big piles of unreleased material (most of which dates from the 'Retun To Pepperland' era of 1987, with only a handful from the 1960s and 1970s). Secondly, less people were listening to radios in 1998 than in 1988 so Macca had a dwindling audience to start off with. Thirdly, unlike Lennon, McCartney was alive and well and keen to make this a 'real' radio programme, breaking the unreleased material up with a series of 'other' bits - some of which are genuinely fascinating (such as his memories of the more obscure songs he doesn't get asked about very often or his ad hoc 'interviews' with friends and musicians he's worked with down the years), others of which are downright boring frankly (Linda's regular 'cook of the house spot' or yet another take on why Paul loves Elvis - although Linda's own regular 'unreleased' song slot was often as good as if not better than her husband's, in the years before the 'Wide Prairie' compilation saw their first official release). There are also full entire records from people he admires (John Lennon and 'Beautiful Boy', Little Richard, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Oris Redding, The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, even The Human League and there'as a regular slot for unknown-to-the-Western-world reggae originals from the 1970s picked up by the McCartneys on holiday) - worthy and revealing in a sense too, but less interesting than the all-Lennon Tapes, although Macca's take on the 'Beatle covers' he plays is quite interesting. Lastly and most importantly, McCartney is a more natural songwriter than Lennon - note that's 'nraural' not better; John and Paul were very different yet very equal - which means that his songs tended to come out more or less as he thought of them so that his demos aren't quite as fascinatingly different or went through as many changes (part of the glory of the Lost Lennon tapes was being able to hear a song like 'She Said She Said' slowly come together over a period of time - Macca does return to his songs but its for fun, not because he's thought of anything different). Lennon, perhaps thankfully, never had as many near-enough-identical-soundchecks to sit through either. All you need to know about the differences between the two series is that the Lost Lennon Tapes released on bootleg went up to something like fifty editions whereas the bootleggers got bored after four volumes of 'Oobu Joobu'.
However 'Oobo Joobu' remains an overlooked part of McCartney's output. There are some real treasures played on these shows - many of which will be brightening up his CD single releases for years to come - and its great to see Macca being so generous with his time. He's also rather a good and natural radio host, taking to calling up friends and offering up titbits of stories as if he's been doing this sort of thing all his life. In a way its McCartney spinning fans a few records saying 'ooh hey have you heard this?' and payng his dues to the artists who inspired him and kept him going, along with the only airing some of his private tapes are ever likely to get (there's only so many soundcheck jams fans will buy!) It is the first real evidence we've had in years of the 'cheeky' persona last seen on Beatles press conferences in the mid-60s and the shows are great fun - if ultimately less revealing than the Lennon Tapes ever were. Even the 'new' theme tune is 'fun' but 'daft', Macca's take on Alfred Jarry's comic play 'Ubu Roi' (thought to be the 'founder of surrealism') and the programme is similarly disjointed, bitty and downright odd in places. Very McCartney, in other words, with the perfect showground for his mercurial talents and a bonkers musical range from classical (Paul talking about Holst's 'The Planets Suite' makes for particularly interesting listening) to rock and roll to a regular reggae spot celebrating unknown bands (including to the McCartneys sometimes, given that the home-made writing had rubbed off their own copies!)

There are still however many highlights in search of a 'proper' homewell worth looking out for, including the London Town-era take on the pre-war standard 'After You've Gone', a 1973-era P{aul reading out a fairy story to his children with a few piano improvisations along the way, a softer, gentler take on 1982's 'Take It Away', the London Town-era take on punk 'Boil Crisis' (which isn't quite as bad as people always say!), some great demos with Elvis Costello that have much more 'life' than the finished versions, Macca's rough demo of the song he gave to Johnny Cash 'New Moon Over Jamaica' complete with delivery in his style!, a cosy demo of 'We All Stand Together', an energetic demo for 1983's 'Keep Under Cover', Macca's first recording of Leiber and Stoller's 'Three Cool Cats' since the infamous Beatles Decca audition tape of New Year's Day 1962, Macca's version of 'Don't Break The Promises' with Eric Stewart that was re-made later by 10cc, a lovely tour band rehearsal of 'Winedark Open Sea', twelve-year-old Heather McCartney's punk song 'SMA' based around the ingredients of baby milk (which is a lot better than 'Boil Crisis'!), a lovely effects-less demo of 'Motor Of Love' from 'Flowers In The Dirt', Macca memory song 'Your School', a far-lighter-on-its-feet 'Sweetest Little Show In Town' from 1983 and a lovely demo of 'Wanderlust' with even more of a drug-haze than the finished version on 'Tug Of War'. 

'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976)

'London Town' (1978)

'Back To The Egg' (1979)

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980)

'Tug Of War' (1982)

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983)

'Press To Play' (1986)

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989)

'Driving Rain' (2001)
'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

'Memory Almost Full' (2006)

'New' (2013)

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings

Surviving TV and Film Footage

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part One: 1967-1987

Live/Wings/Solo/Compilations/Classical/Unreleased Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1970-1984

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1985-2015

Essay: Not So Silly Love Songs

Key Concerts and Cover Versions