Monday 11 April 2016

Grateful Dead "Shakedown Street" (1978)

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Grateful Dead "Shakedown Street" (1978)

Good Lovin'/France/Shakedown Street/Serengetti/Fire On The Mountain//I Need A Miracle/From The Heart Of Me/Stagger Lee/All New Minglewood Blues/If I Had The World To Give

"Don't tell me this album ain't got no heart - you just got to poke around!"

From the outside 'Shakedown Street' looks like it's going to be one of the Dead's more down to earth albums, located in a place that's clearly a few blocks down the 'wrong' side of town, the sort of place littered with bikers, police arrests on every corner, pimps and prostitutes and random disco dancers (it's eerily like my near-home town of Skelmersdale actually, with which Shakedown Street seems to be twinned - aside from the random disco dancers, though; arguably they would brighten the place up a bit). 'Shakedown Street', as per the cover, couldn't be further away from the elaborate complexity of 'Terrapin Station' and is in pure image terms the closest thing the Grateful Dead have come to depicting the Haight Ashbury years since they left the place (note that this isn't the insult it might seem: though 'Shakedown Street' is the sort of district that looks as if it turns violent when the sun goes down everyone here is smiling, even the cops; actually can I remove that link to Skelmersdale now? On second thoughts Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bleecker Street' is probably closer). However the music inside is a shock: even compared to the first side of 'Terrapin' this is a little, erm, different to anything the Dead have done before. Though fans had spent the first thirteen years of the band's existence assuming if the band ever tried to go 'middle of the road' they'd probably fall down a manhole cover, this one is - gulp - quite a mainstream record. Actually it's a very mainstream record: nothing too slow, nothing too fast, everything commercial, everything too polished...If this record had come with a 'Leo Sayer' or a 'Brotherhood Of Man' credit I'd have believed them. Though the cover (by 'Fabulous Furry Feak Brothers' cartoonist Gilbert Shelton) is punk, the music inside is pop-disco - and a million (no hang on we don't get that many hits...all eleven of you) have vowed to never go anywhere near this album in case it's contagious.

Which is not to say that 'Shakedown Street' is bad (well, not entirely), just misguided. Once again Warner Brothers have asked the band to have a go at doing something a bit commercial and, well, the Dead aren't the sort of band to go halfway down a street if they can get lost down to the end of it and build a whole new extension of their own. It's the same idea as 'Terrapin Station': put the Dead with a big name producer whose personality is 'stronger' than theirs is and you're bound to have something that will sell to the general music public. The only problem is, Deadheads aren't like most fanbases and even if the record did inspire a small handful of new people to invest in the group the old hands left in droves, with the album peaking outside the American top 40 (despite everything that's been said about the Dead being a 'cult' band, it's worth noting that this is the first studio Dead album to miss this traditional benchmark of popularity since 'Aoxomoxoa' nine years before). On paper this album should be better than its predecessor: Jerry Garcia's back to writing songs rather than suites and producer Lowell George, once the mainstay of the band Little Feat, knew about rock and roll far more than the band's last producer Keith Olsen ever did. But Lowell has been given an assignment to make the Dead sound more 'commercial' and that's what he does, making even the unlikeliest song sound catchy and polishing everything in sight.

Not that this album is all Lowell's 'fault'. Heck, the much discussed outtake from the album where the producer even sings lead on the cover of the Dead's old Pigpen favourite 'Good Lovin', is far rockier and earthier than anything Bob Weir does to the song. Of the Dead's writers Jerry is mainly down to writing simple ballads and folk song re-tellings a world away from his recent epic self, Bob is writing pop-rockers (and not many of those - at only two writing credits this is Weir's lowest amount since the early days), Phil is absent completely, the drummers come up with a two minute percussion instrumental and there's lots and lots of Donna Godchaux on this album, far more than before (not coincidentally, this is also her and her husband Keith's last Grateful Dead album). If most Dead albums are sumptuous banquets to be relished and studied ('Terrapin' at least was on the title track side - the likes of 'Anthem Of The Sun' and 'American Beauty' are so stuffed with things to contemplate they mean you'll never go hungry again), then this one feels like fast-food: here to fill your ears up but not exactly here to give nutritional value. 'Shakedown Street' is the first Grateful Dead record that could probably fit on a plate, not fill up a room. And a small plate at that. In short, this album needs a miracle.

What it really doesn't need for an album that's yearning so hard to sound 'contemporary' is so many glances back to the past. There are no less than three songs here that the Grateful Dead had been doing for years, all of them covers - and one of them had even appeared on record already. 'Good Lovin' had once been a raucous Pigpen number, turned into a fierce rocker that could go anywhere on different nights. By the time Bob revived the song in Pig's memory in 1977 it's become as static as the band has, sung rather than roared and static rather than manic. 'New New Minglewood Blues' was another song there from the 'Pigpen' days and can be heard (minus a 'new') on the band's first album. This time round it's rather a relief that the band have slowed the tempo down from the manic pill-popping energy of the original and a now-31-year-old Weir is better, umm, 'experienced' to play the part of a womaniser with hundreds of conquests notched up on his bedposts.  However there's such a thing as too slow and the song is arguably at 'half speed': though the two songs feature the same number of verses and choruses and a similar amount of instrumental linking parts, the  'new' song comes out at over four minutes and the original barely lasted for two. The odd one out is Jerry's beloved tale of gangsters 'Stagger Lee', a song which hadn't been around in 'this' Hunter-fied version for long but had been a favourite old folk tale of Jerry's since the early years and existed in some form since the Victorian era. The fact that all three 'old' songs are given the same disco white-suited coating as everything else just makes the album sound even weirder; so much for sounding contemporary!

There is, though, something to be said about hearing the Dead trying on new clothes for a change, even if the ones they wear here are rather ill-fitting and don't hide the unique 'Grateful Deadness' of the band that well. The best moments from the album - and there are many of them - come from the band working out a way to share something of their 'real' selves in this new antiseptic musical world. Beautiful emotionally charged Garcia guitar solos are two a penny on most earlier Dead albums, but here where they peek out through an occasional tiny hole in a shirt-sleeve or a hole in a sock they sound all the more beautiful - and 'real'. Weir, too wears these clothes pretty well and his long journey from so-much-0of-a-misfit-even-the-Dead-kicked-him-out to pop music trailblazer, ready to embrace anything the music world has to offer, is one of the Dead's most interesting stories. Anyway, as his many female fans will tell you, Weir looks good wearing anything - musical or otherwise. Phil Lesh, for too long too quiet, completely nails the funky throbbing disco bass line of the day in the title track, which has no reason to be as good as it is given the ingredients that are in the mix. Lowell George has a better understanding of why the band have two drummers than Olsen ever did and the Dead interpretation of the typical disco beats of the day (big noise, lots of things going on) is closer to their usual style than many fans will admit, while with the difference that instead of being artificially double-tracked Billy and Mickey are really interacting and throwing curve-balls at each other where possible. Donna, the most maligned member of the Dead, really isn't that bad: though her song 'In The Heart Of Me' isn't up to 'Sunrise' it's still better than most drippy heartfelt ballads of the period and her vocals work well against Bob's preening across the album. There aren't many lyrics you'd want to write on a banner and hold up at a Grateful Dead concert, but there's still more than you'd get on a more 'typical' album of this sort: the under-rated 'If I Had The World To Give' for instance is a rare example of lyricist Bob Hunter writing from the heart more than the head (or both together).

Then there's 'Fire On The Mountain', as classic a song as Garcia/Hunter ever wrote. Even though this version is a little too earth-bound to rise to the peaks 'Mountain' will often enjoy in concert, this re-write of a song first delivered 'rap' style by Mickey Hart is so perfect for everything the Grateful Dead were and are and ever will be that it's the one song here that's so Grateful Dead it comes wearing it's own 'Pigpen' T-shirt. Moreover, it sounds like a commentary on the album (though Hunter almost certainly wrote it as a warning to his now drug-befuddled old friend): a long distance runner whose spent so long trying to catch his breath he's lost sight of why he was running in the first place and is in danger of losing the race and of being consumed in the flames of apathy (or inspiration, depending on how you interpret the song). The narrator has woken up to find himself playing 'cold music on a bar-room floor', a world away from the 'community' spirit his songs used to invoke and where once he would soar over and direct the music it now 'takes all you got just to stay on the beat'. In many ways it's a song about the changing musical landscape too, divided between the punks the Dead used to be versus the mainstream that they've become - and need to stay if they're to have any chance of being popular enough to make another album (surely the inspiration for the 'dragon' come to burn the town down, as all good punks promised). The Dead, music's perennial losers-done-good-in-the-end-anyway (who else would mess up both their Monterey Pop and Woodstock shows in front of their biggest audiences and still have a career bigger than 99% of bands?) admit that they've run out of steam and have never had you rooting for them more. If ever an album was worth buying for one song alone (and even then not the best version of that song) then it's this one, as the band both accept and refuse their fate of oblivion, dreaming of moving forward out of their rut but not sure how.  Would that all music made in a band's twilight years have been quite as self-aware as this one.

This song does, however sum up two of the main problems with this album, both of them connected. The line 'caught in slow motion in a dash for the door' is rather a good summary for what's going on here, where the production manages to sound both like the easiest thing the band could be doing and - by smoothing out the edges - makes the whole record sound like it's playing in slow motion. The Dead are a band born for interaction, telepathy and exploring the unknown. That's why there's so many blooming archive Dead CDs out there: fans love the fact that the ship of the Dead went into slightly different waters every night and couldn't wait to explore the further edges of the map, even if it occasionally meant being 'eaten' by the sea creatures that lived in the 'unknown' bits. 'Shakedown Street', by contrast, is a cul-de-sac where we instantly know where the band is going to stay because it sounds like every other flipping album from the same period. There's almost no interaction on this album, which is an early venture into the art of overdubbing and strangely enough for a band as loose as the Dead traditionally are, making them keep to rigid time structures (with the drums amongst the first things added) makes the song sound as if they keep getting slower and slower as the song progresses.

Why are the Dead breaking the habit of a lifetime by playing singly or in pairs or threes? Well, the Dead isn't in the best health. This is the point where Jerry Garcia's drug addiction moves from being a hobby to a full-time career, with music a distant second. Like so many AAA stars, what used to bring freedom and open doors back at the beginning of Jerry's career is now closing the guitarist in so that he's spending less time functioning and making music and more time away from the band, his life experiences limited to drug taking and memories. That's not to say Garcia is incapable - the few times he's called on to play a guitar part his runs are as fine as ever - but after so many years of being the Captain-of-the-ship-who-didn't-want-a-captain (and doing so quite brilliantly) Garcia is now a little lost and by association the band are a little lost too. Jerry has always been the one with enough ideas flowing through his head for half a dozen bands and music flowed as easy as breathing (hence the amount of extra-curricular work he always did): now, suddenly, Garcia is having to work at his music and his ideas and can't just come up with inspiration at the drop of a hat (hence perhaps why he came to add most of his stuff for the album 'later', after the backing was in place, so he could have multiple goes). It didn't help that Jerry had already released a (nearly) all original solo album earlier in the year and didn't have much left over (in fact more songs from 'Cats Under The Stars' ended up staying in the Dead's setlist than from 'Shakedown Street', which sadly sys it all). Most Dead fans have a different stop-off point listening to the live shows: for some the only Dead that mattered ended in 1969 when the songs stopped getting longer; for others it's the death of Pigpen in 1973; for yet more it's the natural breaking off point of the eighteen month rest in 1974-75, while there's more than a handful that savour every Dead line-up and every single tour up until the end in 1995. For me the quota of bad shows starts outweighing the good ones in 1978 and while the Dead were always too extraordinary to ever be reduced to sounding merely ordinary, great live music became something you were lucky to find from this point on rather than something you could guarantee (minus 'bad vibes', the wrong 'acid' or problems backstage anyway - the Dead were always influenced by their environment more than most bands, which might be why so many of their albums use place names in this period).

Usually when Jerry's having a bad day Bob and Phil can fill in for him - but Bob is having his own problems in this period and his solo record 'Heaven Help The Fool' was released even more recently, while Phil seems to be 'written out' after a three-album writing streak (though why the Dead didn't revive his charming 'terrapin' outtake 'Equinox' instead of the three cover songs or 'France' I have absolutely no idea). As for Keith and Donna, there's too much of her (with Godchaux, once an 'additional guest' member, now heard on seven of the album songs) and not enough of him, on the husband and wife team's last Dead record. Poor Keith is by now suffering every bit as much as Jerry, with drugs causing an alarming decline and fall in his once brilliantly natural playing to the point where his only really audible parts on this album ('Good Lovin' and 'France') sound so simple even I could have a go at playing them (I wouldn't dare have suggested this even a 'Terrapin' ago!) While I've always had a soft spot for Donna, whose soulful vocals added a new dimension to old friends and helped create more than a few new ones amongst the Dead's canon, there's no song here that benefits from her presence anymore and her vocals tend to drown out Jerry's and Bob's all the time now. Even her own song 'From The Heart Of Me' could have done with either a re-take or a change in vocalist (it's worth adding that every single song on the pair's forthcoming 'Keith and Donna' album is a better song than that one anyway). It was clearly time for a break: a pregnant Donna was getting fed up of life on the road on the tour before this one, the Godchaux's marriage was in trouble, the drug pushers always round the band weren't good for a family with a new child and there was a feeling amongst both band and fans that the Dead were getting slightly stuck. The Dead clearly couldn't sack Garcia (the other player most visibly suffering) and they probably hoped that seeing Keith go would help Jerry clean up too. As it happens the split was as amicable as any break-up of musicians could be: the Dead, always reluctant to bring things out into the open, merely asked their errant players whether they might fancy doing something else apart from the Dead. Keith and Donna, not the sort of people to bring things out into the open either, eagerly accepted it as a way of leaving the band without being 'fired'. Donna remains a good friend of the surviving band members even now; so was Keith until his tragically early death in a car accident in July 1980, a mere twenty months after the release of this album. You see, AAA bands, amicable friendly splits are possible (yes I'm talking to you CSNY especially!)

Talking of places (which we were a bit ago before I started going on a bit - twice over if you count the mention of 'the decidedly Americanised 'France'), 'Shakedown Street' was at one stage set to be very different: another live record (the band's fourth officially) recorded in the weirdest location yet, the Pyramids at Giza! Against all odds it was the Egyptian Government agreed to Phil Lesh's late night wouldn't-it-be-fun-if?...idea and -  keen to have a big-name group 'advertise' their site and the Dead were an obvious choice after making the Egypt-referencing 'Blues For Allah' in 1975 (and Jerry's 'Egyptian Cat' motif seen on the 'Cats Under The Stars' solo earlier in the year). The fact that the Dead were somehow persuaded to pay for the full cost of the gig themselves may be another reason they remain the first band to play there (in fact no other rock and roll band, other than local musicians, ever played there so it could well be that hundreds of others were asked and no one else was 'foolish' enough to say yes!) From the beginning a Dead live album seemed likely, with the band's usual costly equipment taken there with the intention of recording a full album (eventually released as 'Rocking The Cradle' on the 30th anniversary of the shows in September 2008). Unfortunately the Egyptian Gods were not smiling and the Dead were not on good form, missing cues and playing as if they'd never met before for most of the three shows played there (the 'Cradle' CD is arguably one of the weakest official archive CDs out so far, at least of the 1970s, but so many Deadheads had asked to hear it you can understand why their own record label put it out above so many better sets). Though of course we don't know how the never-made final running order might have looked, it seems likely that many of this album's songs would have been premiered there, as had happened with 'Live Dead' and 'Bear's Choice', with these songs perhaps written with how they sounded 'in concert' in mind even more than normal.

Overall, then, 'Shakedown Street' is an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn't want to spend too much time there. There's only 'Fire On The Mountain' that's un-missable and only the title track and 'If I Had The World To Give' that come anywhere close (all three Garcia tracks, interestingly, despite his rapidly declining health). There's a lot of promise on the other songs too and had they been recorded more Dead-style I might be adding how humorous the lascivious (and un-Dead-ly) 'I Need A Miracle' is, how charming and unexpected a romance 'France' is or what a great groove the band cooked up on 'Good Lovin'. Unfortunately, though, anything that's in anyway bland as a song on this record gets doubly punished by the bland production. It's not solely the production's fault either: that list still leaves another four songs unaccounted for that would have been pure filler on any Dead album: a tired gangster folk song inferior to all of Garcia/Hunter's own ideas from a decade earlier, an unnecessary re-tread of an early favourite that still misses what the first version got 'wrong', a forgettable Donna ballad that I can't remember no matter how many hundreds of times I've heard it now (and I say this as a fan who adored her only other Dead song 'Sunrise' - Donna's collapse as a songwriter is even scarier than Bob's or Jerry's) and two minutes of drums and percussion masquerading as a desert. Even the peak Dead of 1969-1970 couldn't have rescued that lot; the fact that some fairly promising songs and even one out and out classic ended up sounding nearly as bad thanks to a botches production doesn't offer much in 'Shakedown's Street's favour either. But there is 'heart' and worth in this record here somewhere - you've just got to do one hell of a lot of poking around because 'Street' is an album that keeps its treasures well and truly buried.

Perhaps the most disappointing song on the album is the cover of Rudy Clark's 'Good Lovin' (better known for writing 'It's In Her Kiss'). Back in the days before the Dead's archive sets, the only way of getting hold of Pigpen's time with the band was through a handful of semi-legal live albums and his small cameos on the Dead's original output, but fans with longer memories knew how great some of his covers could be. 'Good Lovin' is a good example of what alchemy Pigpen could conjure when he was on form (there's an excellent version from 1969 on 'Dave's Picks Six'), all snorting energy and lustful charisma. By 1978 it had been five years since Pig had died, just long enough for the band to get nostalgic about the sort of songs they used to do and Bob in particular revives quite a few of them in the late 1970s. Unfortunately the Dead's music had wandered so far away from the point where they started that a true blues was out of the question: instead we start to get watered down poppy version of the band's old songs, including this one. The drummers try hard to set a manic beat, but for perhaps the first time ever on a Dead record the twin set of drums is distracting, while Keith and Jerry are clearly having a bad day and sound like they're hanging on to the end of the solo and longing for it to end, instead of relishing it like even the recent 'old' days. Only the backing vocals, with Donna right on the money for radio airplay and Jerry and Phil clearly not, adding a touch of excitement simply through their uniqueness (the pair had quite a lovely blend), while Bob compensates for a dull backing track by over-singing and vamping in a bland way without the natural authenticity of Pig in his prime. For fans too young to know but who'd heard things from older Deadheads it was a disappointment - for old fans who remembered what the band's original versions of 'Good Lovin' sounded like it was a travesty. Worryingly, the best version of this song on the 'Shakedown Street' CD isn't even the Dead's own but George Lowell's rockier rehearsal version where he sounds far more in touch with the song. Though the backing track is actually identical, this version sounds as if it has a lot more 'life' to it, with Bob far more comfortable reverting back to his 'old' role as harmony vocalist and sparring partner to a bluesier bandmate. Live performances: a whacking 440!

'France', too, is something of a let down. When the Dead did romantic in the past it was usually thanks to a Garcia ballad where the guitarist revealed his more vulnerable side, though even that was a rarity (the Dead did far less love songs, track for track, than probably any other band who started in the 1960s). This track, though, is a soggy pop song recorded as a duet between a flat Bob and a shrill Donna that sounds about as un-Deadlike as any song the band ever recorded and could have been made by any middle of the road pop group. Jerry doesn't sing at all and unusually contents himself with some strummed rhythm guitar while Bob takes the lead on a 'flamenco' part, though the dominant sound comes from Keith's fluttering piano and co-writer Mickey's steel drums. Bob Hunter, always a little uncertain of himself working with the others away from Jerry, turns in perhaps his blandest lyric: apparently every lady in the South of France 'loves to dance', which if true makes me wonder why I've never seen it or heard about it on the news as it sounds a serious affliction to have. Bob H is happier when doing what he normally does when working with Bob W and turns the song into a congratulatory audience-response moment ('The club can't contain the beat, it just rolls out into the street...come on down and see the show!') but even these lines lack conviction and aren't the sort of thing any self-respecting Deadhead would write on a bumper sticker. Odder still nothing about this song 'feels' like the Mediterranean lazy setting at all: instead it's an upbeat, slightly manic track whose Caribbean flavour and slight off-beat puts you more in mind of Jamaica, albeit with Spanish guitarwork (traditionally Americans confuse most of the rest of the world together, but the Dead were better travelled than most by now). Only at the 3:20 mark does the song finally get Dead-like, taking an unexpected left turn into a tense and paranoid minor key that leads to some frantic jamming over the 40 second song fade, but even this seems out of place: are we meant to think that this French holiday has turned sour even though there's nothing to reflect that in the lyrics? Have the bars shut early? Is this a comment on crowds of people getting together and an inevitable move away from a 'Woodstock' vibe to an 'Altamont' one? Or did the band simply get fed up of trying to sound like everyone else and 'accidentally' reverted back to being themselves? Most fans prefer the end of this track to the rest of the song, it has to be said...Bob W later admitted that he considered the track one of the band's biggest mistakes, admitting 'I didn't write that one as such - it just sort of...happened. But it sure as hell didn't happen right!' Live Performances: 0, this is one of the few 1970s Dead originals to never be played in concert (to be fair Donna, co-lead vocalist, wasn't in the band for long after this track was written)

The 'Shakedown Street' title track is a better example of the Dead managing to update their traditional sound with the music of a new market and is by far the best example of the Dead sounding relevant to the market-place since the 1970 folk-rock years. Unfortunately for us modern fans, this is the era of disco and if there's ever a genre you didn't want the Dead to work with it's this one. Mind you, the problems with the song are only really heard in concert, where this song's overly simple groove tended to slow down quickly and get boring long before the band had finished noodling (I've yet to hear a decent live version on any of the archive CDs - and there are lots of versions of this song out there). Heard on record it's a better proposition, limited to just (!) five minutes of jamming and pegged in place by one of the most rigid rhythm tracks the band came up with. Phil is the real star here, keen to add something a little different to his usual style and aping the big fat basses of period disco, while having two drummers both playing the same hard beats, but with a little something different to each other alongside this, already means the Dead are putting one over on most of their opposition. Lyrically, too, this is a song that promises much with Hunter making a rare return to the sort of 'community/generational' comment he last made when the hippies were in full swing. By now the modern world is seedy, very like the one depicted on the album cover, where in a place that once was filled with joy and optimism 'even the sunny side of the street' is dark'. Perhaps with Haight Ashbury in mind, Hunter seems to be reflecting further on how distant the hippie haven now seems to where the 'action' currently is (with disco very much a major city phenomenon, particularly New York). The key line here is 'it used to be the heart of town' - heart as in the middle and 'heart' as in the emotional centre: now music has become regimented and is all about the tempo and sound, not the 'feel' and message. Hunter's sad message is that his old favourite place has seen better days, but that there is still goodness here if you're patient enough to look past the sleaze and decay that has grown there, that 'you just gotta poke around'. You wouldn't expect Hunter, one of the greatest wordsmiths of the 20th century, should be lost in such an alien world but instead he turns these flaws to his advantage writing in clipped sentences and Garcia's music seems to be tugging away at the tight reins, always looking for some extra melody and passion unusual for a disco record. The result is an under-rated track, perhaps a little too disco for most tastes (those spot-on 'Saturday Night Fever' harmonies and added 'woooohs!' are tough for any Deadhead to listen to without feeling a little nauseous) and, yes, maybe it gives us a bit much too fast, but having the Dead complain about being left behind and forgotten on a track that proves just how well they 'get' then-contemporary music is an intriguing idea and the Dead prove that they can do more than just laidback jams. Live Performances: Surprisingly, a comparatively lowly 163

Perhaps reflecting on the 'desert' modern music had become, we're next off to the 'Serengetti'; in the 'real' world the 'Serengeti' (with one 't') is a nature lover's paradise in Tanzania, Africa home to more lions than anywhere else and containing 70 different types of mammals (71 if you count humans) and over 500 sorts of bird - in the 'Dead' world two minutes of exotic percussion as a chance to give both drummers a writing credit. Though this instrumental is more substantial and interesting than the forthcoming 'Antwerp's Placebo' from next record 'Go To Heaven', it still seems like a poor man's way of re-creating the band's legendary 'Drumz' sequences (where their combined drum solos could last upwards of half an hour) on a Dead album. How much better might this track been if the thudding primal drums with their power and scale had been scaled down into the disco drums of the title track or opened up at the end into the slow-motion waddle of 'Fire On The Mountain'? Alas this song simply gets louder then quieter, because of its brevity less interesting than anything Mickey's own Rolling Thunder band were up to at the time and sounding very out of place on an album so dominated by simple disco rhythms. Live Performances: 0 under this actual name, though a few 'Drumz' sequences do sound similar

'Fire On The Mountain' returns to the album's vague theme of decay in a quite brilliant way. Fans now know the song mainly as the 'downside' to jams that began with this album's bouncy polar opposite 'Scarlet Begonias' as heard on 'From The Mars Hotel' (where the two share similar unwieldy time signatures) where it's become a sort of symbol for getting too carried away with love and beauty and getting too complacent about life, ending up with the narrator getting stuck. Heard out of context it sounds more like a cry for help, Hunter voicing the concerns he senses from best mate Garcia that he was starting to take his eyes off the ball. Fittingly, Hunter's lyric about trying to escape being caught in a rut are attached to by far Garcia's most ambitious work on this album - or indeed for the next few years, until past his coma. The song starts with a long-distance runner being urged to run and not be caught in slow motion because he still has so much ground to cover, but the song is ambiguous whether this is a friendly concern, a military order or a masochistic gym trainer. Hunter goes on to explain that he understands the problems: making music that sells ('We all got to eat'), that the band have been inspired and 'ablaze' for so long and so intensely the flame was always in danger of burning itself out and that the Dead's position as such a unique band has robbed them of being able to judge themselves by other standards ('You're here alone - there's no one to compete'). But still he urges his friend to dig deep, to make it safely down the mountainside and away from the position he's now in, 'drowning in laughter and dead to the core' - a line that given the band we're talking about might well be about how Jerry was spending more and more time with the Dead repeating Dead-style material instead of exploring his old natural curiosity and experimentation. Rather sweetly, Bob also wishes his old friend 'mercy' when the fire finally comes, adding that it's a 'business' the same as any other and he shouldn't be afraid to play on it, though he's still rather Garcia was at the forefront and pushing back the barriers.

Throughout the song the clock is ticking, as memorably summed up by Mickey and Billy's unusual metronomic drums, the sound of batons changing hands as they pass the rhythms around to offer a sense of 'movement'. The threat is the fire that's consuming the mountain, leading to a memorable chorus cry of 'fire!', a traditional symbol of danger - though there's no clue as to what that fire is. Earlier in the song the fire represented inspiration, but if so then it's the inspiration for other newer bands who've discovered the 'flame' the Dead once held and which is going out, with punk and disco acts overtaking the elder 60s generation and making them further removed from the 'pulse' of what was popular. However much the song sounds like a message from one old friend to another though (and several Hunter-Garcia songs started off this way), it's worth remembering that the first draft of this song was for Mickey's Rolling Thunder Band and that a fascinating proto-rap version (spoke-sung - actually yelled-sung - by Mickey; with a missing verse or two: 'Blind man blind man call off your dog, he lifts his leg on the fire he's hogging the log...Out of the frying pan into the fire, out of the rat-trap and into the wire') exists with comparatively few lyric changes. Hunter may still have had Jerry in mind when he wrote it of course (the track was still within the 'Dead family' after all so Jerry would no doubt have heard it) and was inspired by a genuine bush fire that started during a visit Bob made to Mickey's ranch. I still can't think of this song any other way though: 'Fire' is pure Jerry, even if for once he had to fit his repetitive, slightly paranoid melody to Hunter's lyrics for once in his career. His vulnerable, saddened vocal - a million miles better than anything he's recorded since the band's eighteen month hiatus - is fully committed yet fascinatingly raw (listen out for the hidden wobbled 'ye-eah' during the opening instrumental): this is a man who clearly saw something in those lyrics. His guitar solo too is the best in a long long time, brimming with even more sadness and frustration than the vocal and - fittingly for the song - even this drops short of his old ambitious inventive past, sadly sighing its way through some old chords before falling away as if the strain is too much. The Dead finally remember to add some real passion and fuel to the 'fire' here and suddenly this song matters, far more so than made-up songs about France or old outlaws. This song is a loved Dead classic for several very good reasons, a mountain peak in this period of Dead history. Lice Performances: Another surprisingly low figure of 254 performances, around three-quarters of them in a medley with 'Scarlet Begonias'.

Side two needs a miracle to compete with 'Fire' and sadly Bob's only full contribution to the album is depressingly ordinary. 'I Need A Miracle' does, at least, do a better job at conjuring up a real blues backing track than 'Good Lovin' did, with a genuinely tight and taut backing track that features the first Dead harmonica part since Pigpen's death (played by Matthew Kelly of Bob's solo band Kingfish). Unfortunately John Barlow's lyrics, usually a source of Hunter-like depth and imagery, are reduced to rockstar preening and sexual predatory lyrics that to the modern ear sound rather unsavoury. At least the song kinda knows how daft it is, with hilarious lines that the apparently weedy narrator is longing for a girl twice his age, height and weight, while trying to cover up for any loss of face with some huffing and puffing. Sadly apart from that the song is just a list of stereotypes as the narrator dreams of 'breaking each and every law' with a woman who also combines 'nobility, gentility and rage'. The lyrics then get more and more innuendo prone as the narrator 'rides her like a surfer running a tidal wave'. The result is a song that's certainly unforgettable compared to most of this by-Dead-standards bland album, but not necessarily in a good way. That said, at least Bob Weir sounds like he's having great fun on this one and really nails his weedy-and-seedy-but-needy narrator well and there's a brief bit of interplay where he and Jerry compete for who can do the best impression of a heavy metal guitarist. Live performances: an impressive 272

Donna Jean's second and final song for the Dead is another ballad, but sadly [  ] 'From The Heart Of Me' is no second 'Sunrise'. A confusing mix of metaphors (Donna is, to be fair, the only band member still writing lyrics and music at this stage) combine old age mountains with 'voices' that spread across the world in harmony. The rest of the song is more of a love song - the natural assumption for the inspiration would be husband Keith, except the pair aren't getting on too well by this stage and we know from 'Sunrise' how heartfelt Donna could be when singing about someone she respected (such as Bill Graham). This song is pretty big in scale lyrically after all (if not musically), the narrator noticing the sheer scale of planet Earth but still leaving it behind to run for home 'and your arms', while the twinkling stars are 'out shining for you and me'. Keith, naturally, dominates the sound suggesting he had a small hand in the track, which is the closest in style of any of the Dead's work to what the pair will do on their one and only solo album (an intriguing mix of blue-eyed soul and laidback country-rock). Donna sounds very comfortable here and delivers a delicious vocal without any harmonies from the rest of the band, but sadly musically this song doesn't have the same scope as the rest of the words and seems content to stick to some rigid and much-used chords rather than reaching out for the heavens and up to the mountains. Still, even if the song is a disappointment after the stunning 'Sunrise', it's not as poor a song as many Deadheads claim and its worst sin is being forgettable, not boring like 'France' or 'Stagger Lee' or weird like the album cover songs. Live Performances: 26

Talking of which, Jerry's re-telling of long-dead gangsters were always my least favourite part of the Dead's stage act. All cowboy stories tend to sound the same to me and somehow Hunter's lyrics tended to reduce all these characters to similar ciphers rather than the fully three-dimensional characters he came up with on his own. [  ] 'Stagger Lee' sounds a bit of a pest to be honest, not the hard-done-by sympathy character of 'Dupree Diamond's Blues' or the likeable bandit of 'Jack Straw' fame. Stagger Lee ('Stacker Lee' in the original 1895 version) rows with Billy DeLions over a card game in which he loses everything, including his beloved Stetson hat and murders him. Billy's wife Delia (missing from the original folk tale) complains to the sheriff who replies that he can't do anything as 'Lee is twice the size of me!' She gets her own back instead, shooting him in a, umm, rather uncomfortable place where, incapacitated, he can be arrested. The problem is, though, that this is all just a narrative: there's no feeling for any of the characters, no sense that Stagger Lee was a brute who had it coming, a sympathetic loser who was conned into a card game he never should have played or that Delia was seeking genuine revenge for her husband's murder. That's unusual for Hunter, who usually makes us feel for his characters every time they open their mouth, but then this song is tied in closer than most of his lyrics to the old traditional folk tune (the Dead's 'Stagger Lee' is, for instance, a lot closer to the 1895 original than 'Casey Jones' is to 'The Ballad Of...'). Bob has admitted too that some of the facts are a bit questionable, updating the tale to 1945 for no apparent reason (the date gets set back to 1895 for his solo versions, suggesting it was Jerry's idea to place it round the time of his birth) and that the facts are blurry: 'All I know is somebody shot somebody that night and a legend grew from it!' Jerry sounds as if he's having fun and turns in a twinkly vocal that almost makes up for the lack of melody and the sheer repetitiveness of this six-verse chorus-less song. Many fans seem to like 'Stagger Lee' but this track really doesn't belong on a Dead LP - as for me, I'm pressing criminal charges! Live Performances: Billy got murdered 247 times on stage!

The 'new' 'New New Minglewood Blues' is a little better than the revival of 'Good Lovin', but for me can't compete with the sheer sped-up innocence of the original version as heard on the 'Grateful Dead' album eleven years earlier. The band's sound has changed by almost all recognition: Weir again sings lead but in a swampy confident vocal a million miles away from his jittery 20-year-old self and the track sounds more like a victory lap as anything else, with the band enjoying their position of respectability and statesmanlike standing in the musical world. Unfortunately putting Bob's roar, the best thing about this re-make, so far down the mix was a bad move and slowing the tempo down to a half-crawl is another, something that doesn't make the song menacing (presumably the intention) so much as dull. Blues player Noah Lewis probably wouldn't have recognised what the Dead had done to his tune; chances are most of the Deadheads who last heard this track in 1967 didn't recognise it either. The Dead even mess up the false ending, something their old selves would never have done. To be honest this version is a bit too 'new' and not enough 'Minglewood Blues' for most tastes. Live Performances: 431

One other song from this album that's always had a bad reputation is the last one, a final Garcia-Hunter song of the decade so poorly received that it was only given three performances (the lowest of any of their originals that actually made it to record - and no 'The Barbed Wire Whipping Party' doesn't count!) However I have a soft spot for [  ] 'If I Had The World To Give', which may not be the best or most memorable song the pair of writers ever came up with but whose very humble, understated charm is fully in keeping with the lyrics. In comparison to Donna's narrator, who casually believes the stars are there for her and her beloved, Hunter's narrator is far more timid: he can't give much at all and yearns to give more, but by golly he's going to give what little he has to give 'long as I live'. There's a typically lovely Garcia middle eight too ('But I would have what love I had to give...') that moves the song out of its 'content' phase and makes the act of giving seem like a real effort.  Garcia's paper-thin voice is perfect for such a simple, yearning song as he also promises to sing any song his beloved likes - lullabies, a 'plain serenade...', anything that will reflect his lover's emotions. In a way it's as if Hunter has moved on from 'Fire On The Mountain', adjusted his sights from the band used to be doing to what they still can do - deliver songs in touch with characters and their feelings, whatever they might be. The stripped down backing (with Keith finally waking up for his last track as a member of the band with his best piano playing of the album, simple as it is) does make the song at risk of being forgotten in amongst the noisier songs that come before it, but I'd rather hear something heartfelt and humble like this than all the shouting in the world. Only a slightly anonymous Garcia solo truly lets the side down: actually 'World' is one of the Dead's more under-rated songs, especially from this forgotten period. Live Performances: 3

'Shakedown Street', then, isn't really the place where the cool guys hang out: its contemporary disco sounds are far more embarrassing to modern Deadheads than anything the band used to play in their natural style and the band are uninspired for the most part, with only Garcia and Hunter occasionally breaking out of the apathy that had beset the band. However if you can avoid the blind alleys and unnecessary trips down into memory lane there's enough here to suggest that even at one of their lowest points the Grateful Dead were a band to be reckoned with and which still had more than enough ideas to sock it to the music buying public. If only both Jerry and Bob had delayed their solo albums, swapped some of the better songs from each around and then delivered this material to someone more concerned in staying 'hippie' than 'hip' then this album might yet have been a rewarding experience for band and listener. Instead it's another 'nearly' album like 'Terrapin Station' and 'Go To Heaven' to come, though perhaps lacking the former album's grandiose vision and title track and the latter album's consistent mood and feel. Better than many fans remember, if not as good as by rights it ought to be, 'Shakedown Street' feels trapped in no man's land, under-written and over-produced, where 'too much of everything is still not enough'. However every fan needs to own 'Fire On The Mountain' and most will want to own the other two 'proper' Garcia/Hunter songs - and by most AAA standards in 1978, especially band's celebrating their fourteenth year, three integral songs out of ten isn't actually that bad odds. 

Other Dead-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

‘Live/Dead’ (1969)

'Workingman's Dead' (1970)

'American Beauty' (1970)
'Blues For Allah' (1975)

'Terrapin Station' (1977)
'Shakedown Street' (1978)
'Go To Heaven' (1980)
'In The Dark' (1987)

'Built To Last' (1989)
Surviving TV Clips 1966-1994
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1993
The Last Unfinished Album 1990-1995
Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1966-1976
Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1978-2011
A Guide To The CD Bonus Tracks
Dick's Picks/Dave's Picks
Road Trips/Download Series/Miscellaneous Archive Releases

Essay: Why The ‘Dead’ Made Fans Feel So ‘Alive’
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

Paul McCartney: Non-Album Songs Part Two 1985-2014

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

Non-Album Recordings Part #15: 1985

A third McCartney 'soundtrack' single in a row, [189] 'Spies Like Us' was written for the Chevy Chase/Dan Akroyd comedy film and features much the same 'Saturday Night Live' humour as the show that made them famous. In a way its a version of 'Live and Let Die' with two incompetents in the 'James Bond' role who get everything wrong - so it seemed a good idea to get the man who wrote that theme tune on board. Unfortunately, like most other McCartney songs written to order since 'Live and Let Die', Paul ended up with a parody of a decent theme tune. Though I can see where McCartney was coming from - the song has a big fat comedy drumbeat that sounds like waddle with lots of space left for either gusty gutturall guitar or explosions depending on the part of the song - he's back to meddling with a genre even he doesn't quite understand yet. Mid-1980s pop is full of noisy Stock-Aitken-Waterman songs like this, which think they're being rock and roll but are really pop. Choosing to record everything himself, rather than bring in a younger crowd, Paul slightly misses the sheer blissful pointlessness of pop sogs of this period: this track is too noisy and rocky to be pop, while too twee and unfinished to be perfect pop. Lacking McCartney's usual hallmarks of melody and originality, it became his first song not to make the top three in the UK since 'Tug Of War'. The (so far unreleased) demos for the song are actually a lot more fun than the real thing, with a joy of exploration that seemed to go awol by the time of the finished recording. Spending god money after bad, Paul released multiple remixes of this song - so much so that the charts had to introduce a new law that only three seperate mixes of a song would count towards sales - with a seven minute 'party mix' (using film dialogue), a four minyte 'DJ' version (a shortened edit that gets to the payoff finale that bit quicker) and, erm, 'An Alternaticve Mix Known To His Friends As Tom' which marked the first time Paul had ever given one of his songs to someone else ('The Art Of Noise' to be excat - there'sll be a lot more of this sort of thing from now on). After all that, the original version is still the most palatable. To add insult to injury the film-makers didn't even use the song in the film, which somebody could have told me before I wasted two hours of my life watching Chevy Chase pretending to be funny (the song may be poor, but it's still a lot better than the film!) Find it on: as yet nothing except the original single, which in case you were wondering had the 1975 outtake 'My Carnival' as the B-side.  

Non-Album Recordings Part #16: 1986

Simpler and more radio-friendly than most of that year's 'Press To Play', it seems odd that [200] 'Write Away' didn't make the record (instead it became the simplistic yin to 'Pretty Little Head's rule-breaking yang). A very McCartney song, this track borrows heavily from the pun of 'write' and 'right' from Lennon's first book of poems 'In His Own Write' (and in case you think that's a bit cheeky, it isn't - the title was Paul's idea when John was in desperate need of a title; the two's humour was a lot closer than Paul is ever given credit for) and from The Hollies' 'Dear Eloise' (which makes even more play of 'writing a letter to make you feel better' - The Beatles were making 'Sgt Peppers' at Abbey Road no 3 while The Hollies were recording that song at no 3 so it's possible Paul heard it at the time). While it's never spelt out what letter the narrator is writing, it sounds like an answer to a dating column. A silly funny song that while solo written was clearly inspired by Pauk's recent work with 10cc's Eric Stewart, this track manages to rhyme 'Margarita' with 'nothing sweeter' and 'Cindarella' with 'other feller', although it's chirpy bounce is pure McCartney. Find it on: The 'McCartney Collection' edition of 'Press To Play'

A humble sad little song about coming to the realisation that the one you love is a 'bad 'un, [201] 'It's Not True!' sounds like an early bit of fortune-telling over Heather Mills when Paul broke off several long-lasting friendships from people telling him to leave well alone. The narrator noisily denies all the evidence before him, cemented with some truly whalloped drums and a choir of yelled voices, while his own reflective verses sound like he's been hypntoized. A nicely produced simple song, this song lacks the playfulness or courage of most of the 'Press To Play' songs but is a nice enough 'extra' as a B-side (to 'Press'), with a typically generous beautiful yearning melody in the chorus line that other writers would have saved for a more substantial song. Find it on: The 'McCartney Collection' edition of 'Press To Play'

[202] 'Tough On A Tightrope' is the most interesting of the three 1986 B-sides. Once again in this period Paul writes alone but sounds very like Eric Stewart (especially the time when he was at his peak as a 'serious' writer with comedy touches rather than a jokey writer on the last two glorious but unloved 10cc albums 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle'). Deeply in love, Paul's narrator is for once having his advances spurned. The verses are more relaxed, telling his loved one 'don't get it wrong - get it right!' in a section that mirrors Wings' 'Get On The Right Thing', while the middle eight reveals the 'truth' as it were: 'I'm lost in the queues of giving too little...conflicting reviews of our life coming in'. Like 'It's Not True' this song seems oddly conscious of what other people think - it seems strange to have two songs, perhaps the only two songs, on this subject so close together so something seems likely to have caused them: had Paul been re-reading some of the early newspaper criticisms about Linda? Figuring that love is like walking on a tightrope and finding the right balance, this is a nicely gritty McCartney lyric that's one of his more pleasing songs of the period and arguably better than the A-side 'Only Love Remains'. Find it on: The 'McCartney Collection' edition of 'Press To Play'

So far the 'Press To Play' flipsides have all been far less adventurous than the record. However the rarest [ ] 'Hang-Glide' (only released on the 12" mix of 'Pretty Little Head') is one of the most out-there recordings of the decade for McCartney. A see-sawing instrumental built around a snarling, barely-controlled guitar and some bouncy casio keyboard sounds, it sounds like a return to 'McCartney II' but made on slightly newer equipment. It's not  among the very best of McCartney and you'd be even harder pressed to work out it was him without his name on the record than that album, but it possesses a typically free-flowing rounded melody that ought really have been put to better use. Find it on: only the original single to date I'm afraid!

Non-Album Recordings Part #17: 1987

McCartney's last top ten single to date is the thoughtful [203] 'Once Upon A Long Ago'. A typical McCartney song which promises to be a classic but almost loses all that hard work through a couple of clumsy couplets, it was written for the soundtrack of the 'Princess Bride' film along with 'Beautiful Night' but both songs were rejected for being too 'schmaltzy' (despite being a fairytale comedy, it's often quite a realistic and brutal film; Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler got the commission instead). When this song is good, though, it's powerful stuff and perhaps the earliest example of Paul getting nostalgic and talking about his past (although for now it's a very general view of the past that only gives the gameaway with the amount of musical imagery in the song, from playing guitars on an empty stage to 'cales' and 'broken chords'.  Like many of Paul's songs from the 1980s (written after Lennon's death) this song seems to be looking for answers and - literally given the musical terms used here - for harmony. 'Making up tunes in a minor key, what have those tunes got to do with me?' sings Paul as his sub-conscious ends up writing another song that isb't obviously McCartney-esque; like a lot of the under-rated 'Press To Play' this song is sadder than what came before. The narrator apprently reaches out for answers to his loved one ('Tell me darling, what does it all mean?') but like 'Eleanor Rigby' and the recent 'Footrpints' the power of the song comes from the fact that the questions are left hanging unanswered, wrongs still unsolved. The trouble is that Paul isn't brave enough to go with what half his tired brain is trying to write: he'd still determined to make this a positive song and ends up turning it into a twee song about children searching for treasure, 'once upon a long ago', turning 'fact' into 'fairytale' to make it more palatble. . Macca isn't done yet though: a rousing finale featuring Nigel Kennedy and David Gilmour's guitar tries to blow the blues away (literally in the music video) and gives the song an extra weighty uplifting punch more like the McCartney of old. Don't dismiss the earlier melancholy though: the real message of the song ends the moment that the catchy chorus kicks in and as those sad elongatesd chords at the start - so unusual for McCartney - imply, this is a 'lost' song that only seems to have found direction at the end through sheer willpower. Another under-rated song and one sadly never included on album, except on the 'All The Best' compilation that came out soon afterwards (Paul may have been deliberately trying to write a song to 'plug' it - in which case what could more natural than looking over your past? It's the melancholy, not the nostalgia, that seems to have surprised him). Find it on: 'All The Best' (1987)

The first fruit of Paul's collaboration with Elvis Costello, [204] 'Back On My Feet' was the flipside of the above single and another song that cuts a bit deeper than usual. Already Elvis has brought some sweeping changes to the partnership: while ridicule and anger aren't necessarily alien to McCartney's writing, the rejection of love is very unusual. The narrator also holds his rebel flag more proudly aloft than any of McCartney's solo characters have so far. In fact this gloomy alienated individual is very un-Paul: shouting at the world that 'you always glared at me about my misery - but I've seen things you'll never see, so don't pity me!' Critics desperately trying to be hip claimed that Elvis must have written this song nearly so, but its also better than a lot of Costello's compositions have been hitherto: McCartney using his natural instinct for melody (especially on the chorus) where Elvis would normally block the words until a tune naturally came to the surface (its Elvis' reliance on words to tell the full story as much as his more aggressive writing style - and theglasses - that led mfans to compare this collaboration to the old days with Lennon). The Penny-Lane style camera shots ('Cut to a scene...') are also very McCartney, slowing the spontaneous song down to the point where it 'feels' like it now has a script. The result is, for now, the best of the two writers with the determined, gutsy 'Back On My Feet' a breakthrough of sorts for both men, slightly ruined (but not too much) by another very 80s backing track. Paul rescues it, however, with a sterling vocal, his closing screech of 'I'll Be Back!' (the same message the Bearles once had in 1964) seemingly proof that he's onto better things andf has found his way again, whatever this song's sulky message. The surprise is that Paul and Elvis were both acquiscent enough to let one of the two great songs from their collaboration disappear as the flipside to a single that couldn't have shown less of this song's angry defiance. Find it on: The 'McCartney Collection' re-issue of 'Flowers In The Dirt'

One of the more obscure McCartney releases, [  ] 'Simple As That' rather slipped through the net for most fans, despite being better than most of that year's 'Pepperland' album. It's  a song written for a various artists charity record raising money for 'drug awareness' (after 'Live Aid' there was a sudden rash of this sort of thing, most of them well intended and raising money for good causes, but horrendous to sit through). Goodness knows why they decided to give McCartney a ring after his various durg busts down the years, but perhaps with the spectre of Jimmy McCulloch haunting him (maybe Lennon too) he was moved to pen a simple but dignified song about the dangers of heavy drugs. For Paul the choice is simple: you can either take them or you can't ('would you rather be alive or dead?') Far less 'teachery' than the rest of the record, Paul's message is stark and clear as he dresses his song up with one of the better period sounds of his 1980s records to get the message across better to the right audience, although he does confess to his own worries about peer pressure and the neded to be strong to say 'no' (this is also something he knew about, having resisted trying drugs for so long against the wishes of John and George). He even throws in a typically gorgeous middle eight ('And if you love your life...') which is always the hallmark of a McCartney song that's had a lot of careful thought and planning. To rub the point about children and drugs in, this song features the last performance of the McCartney family on backing vocals with Mary (now sixteen), Stella (fifteen) and James (eight) all taking part - sadly Heather (now twenty-four) doesn't appear. Find it on: the various artists set 'The Anti-Heroin Project: It's A Live In World' 

Non-Album Recordings Part #18: 1988

The only McCartney original released in an otherwise lean year was [208] 'New Moon Over Jamaica', written for Johnny Cash and sung as a duet. Cash was at the time between his great standing as a 1970s drug-taking moody rebel and a forthright seventy year old survivor singing frankly about death and was currently in critical freefall, with this album one of the last Johnny released on the Mercury label (where he'd been since the early 1960s) before he was dropped from the label (as unthinkable, in the country world, as EMI sacking The Beatles). McCartney's song was unlikely to rescue him from oblivion although you can tell that Paul is a Cash fan: he's captured his dour and reflective mood really well with a haunting and hesistant melody quite unlike his usual work, even if the lyrics are the typical McCartney blend of hope and rebirth. The song was presumably written during one of the Mccartney's familys to their favourite place, Jamaica, and in it the narrator vows to make a fresh start for the new year when he gets home. Somewhere in the lyric Paul says 'goodnight to Venus', who sounds awfully like Linda, so might have been thinking about an early trip there in the 'Venus and Mars' era. However there's an odd finale, where the narator comes to the realisation that despite seeing his love so perfectly 'new moons, new years and old loves don't mix. Paul presumably gave the song to Johnny after realising how well the song sounded with the country loilt of a pedal steel - quite what Cash thought about being given a song about a place he'd never been and had no ties to I'd rather not think! (Why didn't Paul make a reggae-fied version of this song? It would have been a more apt choice given the sentiments and the beat might have suited this lagubrious melody). Sadly what could have been a lovely song is rather spoilt by Johnny inviiting Paul (who also produced the session) to sing along - though in their ways both men are first-class vocalists they come from two such different worlds and have two such different voices that the result is a lot more uncomfortable than similar duets with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackon and Carl Perkins. The verse where Paul sings solo, in a key that's clearly a million miles out of his natural range, is particularly heavy-going. As a song, though, this thoughtful and reflective piece is one that 'got away' and deserved to be better known. Find it on: The Johnny Cash album 'Water From The Wells Of Home' (1988)

Non-Album Recordings Part #19: 1989

With McCartney having compiled 'Flowers In The Dirt' from the fruits four different lots of 'sessions' (the aborted 1987 'Return To Pepperland', the Elvis Costello songs, the 'early' sessions with just Chris Whitten and the later ones with the whole of the 1989 band), he suddenly had more songs to hand than usual to release as B-sides. Depending on which format you bought the album in, many of these were appendaged onto the record itself and many critics commented on how some of them were even better than the majority of one of Paukl's better records. [221] 'Flying To My Home' is a case in point. One of the songs from the 'fourth' sessions, it features McCartney returning to his falsetto voice for the first time since 'So Bad' (but slightly lower and more aggressive than usual - it sounds to me as if he was trying out a Liverpudlian version of Costello's distinctive London nasal twang). Perhaps with his longest tour in 13 years booked and ready to roll to promote the record, Paukl's thoughts turn to travel, with an optomistic song about returning home after a long time away. In typical McCartney fashion though, I reckon this song is a 'twist' on his real thoughts - it's a return to being away from home he's singing about here, with Paul currently mired in talks about the minuate of going back on the road and organising specially shot video screens, booking arenas and hiring the biggest travelling crew of his career. Hence, perhaps the lines 'they gave the new place an old face and I'm going to take some time to size the situation up' - an odd line indeed if this really is the narrator's home, as surely he'd at least be consulted as to what his family planned to do while away (unless they're keeping it a surprise; Mccartney, of course, had many houses dotted around the Uk and abroad- it could also be that he's returning to one of the houses he hadn't been to for a while). There's also a few lines about Linda that hark back to 'Maybe I'm Amazed' (the narrator's shock that 'I've got a woman living in my life!' - Linda had perhaps just said 'yes' to appearing on stage with the band just as in the olden days). A pretty song with a gospel/Beach Boys feel over the opening a capella harmonies, it's a charming piece with a typically rounded McCartney melody and a feeling of sunshineyness that in lesser hands would sound contrived. You really feel the narrator's anxious quest to get home as quicly as possible, expressed through a one-two-three cymbal crash drum part from Whitten and Hamish Stuart, Robbie McIntosh and Paul himself all stabbing at the song with staccato guitar parts. Sadly lost in the fuss over A-side 'My Brave Face's poor chart placing, 'Flying To My Home' is one of the period's most overlooked songs, with several classy production touches that have lasted the test of time better than most of the parent record. Find it on: the 'My Brave Face' single and the 'McCartney Collection' re-issue of 'Flowers In The Dirt'

[222] 'The First Stone' is another strong B-side which sounds like it ought to be part of the 'Costello' co-writes. It isn't - this noisy contemporary sounding rocker was co-written by Paul with Hamish Stuart (despite sounding even less like his work in the Average White Band than most of Paul's). A song in many parts, it starts as a parable about being careful who you criticise when you're not deserving of praise yourself ('If you can't practice by what you teach you better leave alone'; whoops...err, love you Paul!'), it's the first McCartney song ever to quote from the bible (although by rights it should be 'don't cast any stones', not 'throw'). McCartney's punk-style double-tracked vocal is surprisingly authentic (with a very Costello like sneer of 'hey, you sinners!'), as is Robbie's angry snarl of a guitar solo and this band turn in one of their better collective performacnes, a powerful sting of an attack that belies their usual reputation as a rather 'sleepy' and over-slick band. However the chorus 'Can't find love' sounds tacked on - it shouldn't belong here, not least because it's a direct steal from the Jefferson Starship (the Grace Slick song actually called 'Can't Find Love' and released on their album 'Winds Of Change' in 1983: we know Paul was a fan of the Jefferson Airplane, perhaps he bought this later record on a whim and forgot where he'd come across the actually very McCartney sounding hook). Another stronger-than-average B-side from the period, it's a shame that room wasn't found to include this track on the album - it might have shut a lot of the album's bigger critics that it was all a bit 'soft' up a bit. Find it on: the 'This One' single (sadly its never been on the parent CD)

[223] ‘Ou Est Le Soliel?’ is a B-side (b/w Figure Of Eight) from the same period that, surprisingly, has been attached to the album from its very beginning on almost all editions of the album. Surpring because, un;like the other more traditional B-sides on this list, ‘Ou Est Le Soliel?’ is a completely one-off experiment, the most 'out-there' recording released under the McCarrtney name since the daysd of 'McCartney II'. A trance-filled dance track with chaotic keyboards, repetitive drums and hardly any words or indeed any tune – exactly the sort of song I usually can’t stand in other words. But McCartney had a gift for rhythm-based songs like these – surprisingly, given his better regarded fascination with melody – and this track is a gem. The lyrics when translated from French basically tell us ‘where oh where is the sun? God I detest travelling!’ but, in the context of this album about hidden messages and failed communications, they sound exotic and full of deep meaning. The band also come into their own on this track, delivering some fine counterpointed harmonies in the Wings mould and shaking up the sound every few seconds or so just when the whole thing is beginning to sound repetitive. Those of you who are privileged to know McCartney’s still unreleased ‘Cold Cuts’ archives project won’t be quite as surprised to hear this song as others – Macca’s long had a fascination with curio instrumentals with occasional electronically-treated vocals but – amazingly – this is one that truly works. Find it on: the 'Flowers In The Dirt' CD

Given away free on tour, [ ] 'Party Party' is an oddball McCartney attempt to get into the 'rave' scene hitting Britain perhaps a year or so too late. With its dumb repeated drum patterns, bleeping synthesisers (which still make me think my old watch is beeping, even after all these years) and a daft chorus, it comes close to being another 'Boil Crisis' middle-aged-dad-getting-down-with-the-kids moment, saved only by the usual infectious McCartney enthusiasm and loads of charm. Paul may have been thinking of his similarly simplistic Beatles song 'Birthday' and wanted a song that was similarly universal: however dance music is a harder genre to pull off than rock if you don't know it, although I have heard a lot worse down the years. Even so, probably a good thing it wasn't on the album - 'Ou'est Le Soleil' is a far better attempt at dpoing the same thing! There wasn't a B-side, Paul doodling some apologetic 'Flowers' a la the album cover into the wax instead! Find it on: a single given out free with tickets to the 1989 world tour shows.

Finally for this section, [226] 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey' was a sort of 'Mersey Aid', released to raise money for the families of those who'd lost loved ones in the 'Hillsborough' disaster when 95 fans died after the collapse of a stand (at the time of writing the families are still fighting to clear their loved ones' names with the police deliberately re-writing evidence to make them seem at fault rather than themselves). Lots of Liverpool musicians pulled together to re-record the Gerry and the Pacemakers classic (the only time any of The Beatles sang with the band that had at one time been their biggest reivals in the Brian Epstein management group) and also read outmessages of comdolences for the B-side. Sadly McCartney was the only Beatle to appear, alongside Gerry, The Christians, Holly Johnson and, curiously, Stock-Aitken-Waterman. The single sold very well despite being a rather bland re-working of a rather good song and its #1 UK chart peak put McCartney in the Guiness Book Of World Records again: he's the only person to have had number ones as a solo artist ('Pipes Of Peace'), as a duo ('Ebony and Ivory'), as a trio ('Mull Of Kintyre'), with The Beatles (any of their number one hits) and now as part of a 'crowd'. Find it on: alas neither this song nor its  B-side has ever been re-released in the CD age, although it sold so many copies it shouldn't be too hard to find (in the UK at least).

Non-Album Recordings Part #20: 1990

'There's only one thing my money can't buy - another live McCartney CD because the pile's way high!' [227] 'All My Trials' was a very popular song around Merseyside bands in the 1960s for some reason - the Beatles are thought to have played during their pre-signing days and might have recorded it for one of their albums (or at least a BBC session) had The Searchers not beat them to it (their painfully slow but still rather moving version appears on their second album 'Sugar and Spice' under the less common title 'All My Sorrows'). Getting bored of the cover material in the band's setlist during the second half of their tour and deeply moved by the amount of damage Margaret Thatcher's Government was doing to the North of England (with the docks in Liverpool particularly hit - this song's Liverpudlian links made it a nice choice), this song was performed once and 'rushed out' as a protest single as well as appearing on the 'Tripping' CD. Sadly for Paul the cogs of the music industry moved so slowly that by the time this single came out Thatcher had been ousted and John Major put into power, leaving this single largely redundant. Perhaps missing the point that this was exactly the sort of thing the song was criticisng, many people 'went' for this single at the time of release, claiming it was a rich man's attempt to get rich off the poor ('If money was a thing that money could buy then the rich would live and the poor would die'). Had Paul really wanted to 'cash in' on the run of anti-Thatcher songs then he'd have a) recorded this in the late 1980s when everyone else was doing it and b) written the song himself and got the Royalties. The problem with this song isn't the song choice (which has a nice ring of 'oh no - it's happened again' about it, given that it dates back to similarly gloomy times in the 1950s and has links to Liverpool that 'big' or local fans would have guessed at, plus an opening Rickenbacker ringing guitar lick that sounds like pure mid-60s Beatles) but the performance. Paul's nicely raw vocal was sadly thought not good enough for release so the song gets dressed up to the nines, layered with fake-sounding echo, some very dated Wix Wickens synth solo-ing and poorly attached McCartney vocals (which simply show up how rough the lead vocal is). The song - and sentiments - deserved better. Curoiusly attached to the 'Tripping The Live Fantastic - Highlights' CD (a single disc re-issue of the double set reviews above), the fact that many fans who'd missed the single ending up forking out extra money for an album they'd already bought in a more complete state to hear a song about the cruelness of poverty seemed a needlessly ironic blow. Had Macca done this as a one-off charity single and released it earlier it might have done rather well, though. Find it on: 'Tripping The Live Fantastic' and the single of course

Another much overlooked McCartney song is [ ] 'Good Sign', possibly the best of his attempts to 'get down' with the kids. A sort of sequel to 'Press' crossed with The Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations' and his sown 'I Saw Her Standing There', McCartrney records how his body changes when his lover walks in the room, with an increased heart rate and a feeling he wants to dance. Though the song would have worked fine as a rock song, the 'house music' touches suit the piece well, as it dances and sways from one section to another at break-neck speed and it really does sound like a man losing control of his senses, as one of Chris Witten's best drumbeat patterns and some great Wixy synth-horns keep whistling past his ear. Originally intended for 'Flowers' but removed at the last minute (for 'Soliel'?), it's an under-rated track best heard on the 12" mix which runs for some seven minutes. Find it on: the 'This One' single
Having run out of songs but still keen to keep releasing singles off 'Flowers In The Dirt' in the hope of getting a hit, Paul returned to the discraded songs from the 'Choba B CCCp' sessions. [224] 'I Wanna Cry' is to 'Choba' what 'Cry Cry Cry' is to 'Run Devil Run', a McCartney original that uses rock and roll to blow away the blues. A slow burning 12 bar blues groove, its very un-McCartney like and enlivened only by some nice bluesy guitar work from McCartrney while Mickey Gallagher, Nick Harvey and 'Ram' session muso Henry Spinetti play on. The lyrics are unremarkable too: 'You said you loved me - but you know it was a lie!' This song s perhaps the reason why we've never had a blues McCartney album, althoughy he's tried everything else by now. Still, its a nice extra as a B-side. Find it on: the 'This One' single.
Just to keep things tidy, Paul also re-recorded [225] 'The Long and Winding Road' for the in-concert video/DVD 'Put It There', which is effectively 'Tripping The Live Fantastic' with visuals. He was pleased enough with this so-so live recording of one of his later-period Beatle classics to release it as yet another extra on his 'This One' CD, alongside 'I Wanna Cry' and 'I'm In Love Again'. It is, however, near enough the same to the parent album. Find it on: the 'This One' single

Not so much a song as 38 seconds of the McCartney band walking to the stage, complete with fake chants of [ ] 'Showtime!' from the roadies, a mock band cheer that's meant to be backstage and the sound of the crowd getting louder in your ears. It's ok as a bit of atmosphere I guess and revealing for the sort of rituals the band went through before taking the stage, but turning it into a whole track (with the credit split between the whole band) is either an over-kindly gesture by McCarrtney to his colleagues or an insulting one to fans, I'm not quite sure which. Find it on: the full length 'Tripping The Light Fantastic'  (ie its not on the 'Higlights' set and a good thing too!)

Also credited to the whole band, [ ] 'Inner City Madness' is proof of how even the most sane and normal bands can go mad after long extended periods out on the road. Taped at soundcheck, its a noisy atonal jam where nobody is playing in sync with anyone else and the band are making noise just for the hell of it. Fair enough if this is their only means of touring that many countries playing more or less the same brilliantly melodic set every night and good luck to them, but why do 'we' have to hear it? Find it on: the full length 'Tripping The Light Fantastic'

[ ] 'Together', an improvised two minute reggae song at the end of the first disc of 'Fantastic', sounds like the band were tryong to rehearse the similar but slower 'Too Many People' and got bored. McCartney is inspired enough to write a Bob Marley-esque song about brotherthood and togetherness, but like 'Freedom' to come its a load of slogans without any heart or intelligence behind it and ultimately falls a bit flat. Though better than the other two 'originals' exclusive to the album, it's a relative measure and we should perhaps be grateful that this didn't end up becoming the next McCartney single given how his mind works (a fuller re-recording one day wouldn't go amiss, however). Find it on: the full length 'Tripping The Light Fantastic'

Non-Album Recordings Part #21: 1993

 [  ] 'Long Leather Coat' is a fun story-song of the sort Paul hadn't recorded for a while. It shares a lot of the strengths and weaknesses of the parent album 'Off The Ground' (it was like the other B-sides recorded during the same sessions): it's nicely experimental, in both sound (psychedelic guitar backed against a very contemporary 90s backing, which every band sounded like until Oasis came along to blow the cobwebs away in 1994) and texture (it starts off as a leerry song about a dirty old man which turns into feminist statement when the 'innocent' girl he tries to lure locks him in his bedroom and destroys his beloved leather jacket). However the performance is lacklustre, Blair Cunningham clearly struggling to keep the rhythm up to the end and like much of the album it's a couple of takes away from everyone knowing what they're doing. Macca's also written far better melodies and riffs than this down the years. However the lyric is interesting enough to make up for any other lapses. For a time it starts as a Vegetarian's eye view of people who wear leather jackets (made from cows) for fun: a world of crooks and shysters who have no feeling of other people, the jacket and the un-named man's pride in it a 'symbol' of everything wrong with his 'type' of people. But the song gets more complex than that: the woman deliberately plays the victim and chats him up because of the coat, trapping him through his vanity. Possibly a song about what Paul longs to do as a member of various animal protection protest groups but would never do for fears of upsetting his media image (setting animals kept for medical experiments free; attacking models wearing fur, etc), it's a wish fulfilment wrapped up with a commited vocal and a tagline of 'let the party begin!' that alternates between excitement and sarcasm. Another of Mccartney's most overlooked B-sides. It was presumably left off the album because 'Looking For Changes' had a similar message and is - just about - the better and harder-hitting  song. Find it on: the 'Hope Of Deliverance' single and as with all the other entries in this column was released as part of 'Off The Ground - The Complete Works' in Japan and The Netherlands

[  ] 'Big Boys Bickering' is - following on from 'All My Trials' - the political end of McCartrney's spectrum raising it's ugly head again. Released in a perido of relative prosperity after a decade of troubles, it was yet again received as the ramblings of a politically naive rich man who doesn't know what 'real' suffering is all about. On the contrary - Paul knows well from his relayively poor childhood what suffering means and keeps in touch with 'real' people more than most - and always has, even at his fame peak as a 'Beatle'. This isn't about a specific instance anyway but a general feeling that the 60s were meant to take down the greedy power-hungry men in chrage for good - and his disappointment that they keep getting replaces by others, even from his 'own' generation (John Major - then in power in 1993 - being the first UK politician to be McCartney and co's age, or near enough; actually he's two months younger than George Harrison and about elevn behind Paul). These lyrics are a mixture of the inspired and the insipid: 'All of the taxes that you paid went to fund a masqeurade' is a spot-on line probabkly about the Falklands War that says more in one line than some Pink Floyd concept albums on the same subjects, while others like 'They argue through the night, shaking their sticks of dynamite' are too light for such a serious song.  The biggest 'talking point', though, was the use of the 'f' word which even 23 years after Lennon had first paved the way was enough to get a blanket radio ban, a 'aprental advsiroy' sticker on the CD sleeve and a lot of chuntering from critics and fans about what language should be used in songs in the present age. I'm with McCartney though: the ideas of our world leaders being 'big boys bickering' is a strong one and cop-out language like 'messing it up for everyone' wouldn't have the same gravitas. What with all the attention on the lyrics very little is ever paid to the music, which is lovely: a sighing, head-hanging admittance of guilt and failure over having not been able to change anything for the better nicely augmented by Robbie's nylon guitar part and some lovely Wix accordian. Another song that deserved better. Find it on: the 'Hope Of Deliverance' single

[  ] 'Kicked Around No More' is the start of a 'new' topic of song that's run right up to Paul's 'newest' LP at the time of writing 'New': the hard done by loser. The song is feeling sorry for itself, with a slow almost painful melody and Paul yelping like a wounded animal, while a 10cc-style electronically treated choir express their symapthies behind Paul. A nice middle eight comes out of nowhere to rouse the narrator from his slumber, reflecting that his life ought to be 'so sweet'  and referring back to 'Band On The Run' with the idea that he always used to be 'running' but doesn't feel the urge anymore. An unusually fragile song by McCartney's standards, it's another promising B-side that perhaps needs a little something extra to put it amongst his top run of standards. Find it on: the 'Hope Of Deliverance' single
[  ] 'I Can't Imagine' is an oh so McCartneyesque song that its hard not to laugh at the way he manages to find a new way to say something he's saidso many hundreds of times before. A breezy enthusiastic rocker that's clearly dedicated to Linda, Paul seems to be looking back on his doomy 'McCartney' days and how, baby, he's still amazed everyday at how strong their love has been. Though another 'silly love song' that doesn't offer much that's new in terms of melody or lyrics, it's all well played has an oh-so catchy chorus and sung with gusto by Paul who seems to have swallowed some happy pills given the relatively gloomy style of most of his other recordings circa 1993. It's as if Paul has been rummaging through his past styles to reflect just how long-lived this romance has been: the chorus harmonies and production sound straight out of 'Pipes Of Peace', although the tune and beat are both very early Beatles and the chord sequence very late-period Wings! However the highlight is a quick flamenco-style guitar twirl by Robbie, which is over far too soon.  Find it on: The 'C'mon People' single

[  ] 'Keep Coming Back To Love' is another typical McCartney pop song that sounds like a sequel to 'Silly Love Songs'. Paul tries to write about another theme but his favourite subject of 'love' is everywhere around him. A strong punchy chorus can't quite make up for a rather dodgy verse lyric about regretting letting a person in his life go or a feeling that melodically this is McCartney-by-numbers. Sadly this rather graceless song - complete with garbled grungy guitar solo in the middle - never really gets going, lacking the sweetness and self-deprecating sincerity of 'Silly Love Songs', a rare example of a McCartney love song not being quite up to standard. Find it on: The 'C'mon People' single

[  ] 'Down To The River' is a cheery folk original that always gets overlooked. Though like many a McCartney song before it the track feels ver-simple and unfinished, there's a certain charm about this sweet song that once again has Paul trying to re-connect with nature after a troubled time in his life. First performed as a surprise entry in the acoustic set of McCartney's brief 1991 tour (the first time he really did get to Japan, with his suitcase and double-checked this time round!) it's hardly an essential find but is a pleasant enough song that with a bit more time could have been developed into a really good song rather than an ok one as here. Find it on: The 'C'mon People' single

[ ] 'Mean Woman Blues'  is a McCartney band cover of yet another Elvis song that was attempted for many different McCartney projects over the years (with versions recorded for but discarded from 'Choba B CCCP' and 'Unplugged' but only officially released here. That'sa shame because its one of the band's better covers, with a strong bluesy acoustic feel that works well combining the usual McCartney sunshine with the slightly darker snarl of the original (Elvis' version isn't exactly depressed either). The twist at the end: 'that woman's as mean as she can be - she's almost as mean as me!' Paul tags on a 'Blue Suede Shoes' ending on most versions of the song. 'Midnight Special', a song already covered on our review of 'Choba', was also re-recorded for the 'Biker' CD single. Find it on: The 'Biker Like An Icon' single
[  ] 'Sweet Memories' is one of the lesser McCartney B-sides of the period, if only because it sounds exactly like the sort of sappy soppy pop song about love everyone expects his albums are full of. This is no 'Silly Love Songs' however, never mind 'Yesterday' - it's the kind of filler B-side a talented writer like Paul can turn out in his sleep when he needs to work in a hurry, with only the lengthy instrumental section near the end of the song (played, unexpectedly for both writer and song, in the minor key and hinting at some unfulfilled longing or sadness) standing out. The song is almost unbearably poignant today, with Paul spending more or less his last recording before Linda's diagnosis of breast cancer in 1995 reflecting on their happy life together and how much more are to come. Find it on: The 'Biker Like An Icon' single

[ ] 'Style Style' sounds as if it ought to be another 1980s outtake, with more period technology than even 'Press To Play', but it's actually another new recording. An odd song about the narrator viewing a lady he fancies from afar and reasoning 'she's got style!', it finds the character moving away from his first thought ('what great clothes she's wearing!) to a more rounded interpretetaion ('what a great way she's wearing those clothes!') It sounds as if he might have been going to some of Stella (now 22)'s early dress design classes and picking up on the instructions given to models on the catwalk. Chances are, though, that Linda is in there somewhere too - especially the end conclusion concenring attitude! Fans of the new romantics will particularly like this track, although McCartney sounds slightly lost admidst all the technology. Find it on: the 'Off The Ground' single

[ ] 'Soggy Noodle' is indexed as a 'whole' track, even though its only a thirty second bit of guitar doodling, played in the 'Off The Ground' video before Paul is whisked off his feet and flown around the world. It sounds very out of place here without its parent track and is the shortest McCartney 'song' since 'Be What You See (Link)' eleven years earlier! Find it on: the 'Off The Ground' single

A short 90 burst of [ ] 'Cosmically Conscious' (which starts in the 'middle') had already been heard at the very end of 'Off The Ground'). However the full song - lasting nearly five minutes - appeared as the B-side to 'Off The Ground' itself and hearing its is, as they say, a 'joy joy'. In truth you don't get anything extra from the song which simply repeats the one verse over and over (with, for once, the most interesting segment used on the record), but it's nice to hear the 'full' recording of a song first written in India with The Beatles and while still a throwaway bit of filler is more charming than other bits of 'filler' like 'Wild Honey Pie' or 'Rocky Raccoon'. Macca was presumably reminded of it both by the early discussions over The Beatles Anthology taking place and his own recent song 'I Owe It All To You', a contemporary song based on memories of that trip to Rishikesh. A pretty melody and lyrics that repeat Lennon'#s 'Jai Guru Dev' refarin of 'Across The Universe' in English this time, it's handled nicely with a cod-psychedelic backing of underwater noises a la 'Yellow Submarine' and a few sitars.  'Cosmically Conscious', already an unexpected ending to the 'Off The Ground' LP, has its own unexpected ending: a wuick burst of 'Take Me Down To The River', an unfinished McCartney fragment that has the same effect as his 'Take Me Back' doodle at the start of 'Revolution #9', a palette cleansing move before going into the next song. Find it on: the 'Off The Ground' single.

Meanwhile, over on the live tour, the McCartney band still haven't learnt to leave their off-shoots on ther cutting room floor. [ ] 'Robbie's Bit' is a ninety second unplugged instrumental that sounds not unlike a sped-up 'Junk' improvised one night while waiting for the others to get ready and left in the live souvenier recording to keep the guitarist happy. Robbie certainly has the chops to play solos like this, but the song is a little too obvious in its originas, hence the awkward 'Thanks Chet!' credit on the sleeve (referencing 50s star Chet Atkins). Find it on: 'Paul Is Live' (1993)

[ ] 'Welcome To The Soundcheck', meanwhile, is forty five seconds of rainforest noises interrupted by a helicopter (a note of interest: is this the same sound effect Oasis used on their D'Yer Know What I Mean?' single? Both albums were made at Abbey Road Studios a mere four years apart and they certainly sound one and the same, although I guess one helicopter is much like another). Who exactly is turning up to this gig?! Find it on: 'Paul Is Live' (1993)
Paul likes to busk in reggae, as we've already heard on ''Together'. Thankfully [ ] 'Hotel In Benidorm' is a marginally more complete and interesting soundcheck jam that sounds as if Paul actually has a lyrics sheet with him. This narrator is a proud but penniless man standing up to faceless bureaucracy, as a traffic warden (Lovely Rita?) fines him after first telling him it would 'be ok' and Paul worries about how to feed his wife and kids. It's kind of the unsunny side to 'Seaside Woman', with the closing line 'the hotel isn't finished yet but we still have to stick around' perhaps closer to the truth of why the McCartney band are spending their time busking a song that clearly isn't finished yet and was ultimately never played on stage (this is from a soundcheck). Find it on: 'Paul Is Live' (1993)

A noisy six minute instrumental, [ ] 'A Fine Day' sounds like it might have started out life fro the chord changes of 'Sgt Peppers' or maybe t'The End' with its sea of guitar solos but has gone somewhere very different by the time the tape clicks in. Though still noisy and largely atonal, the band are far more together here than on the similar 'Inner City Madness' and though its a relative measure this is a far better use of their time. That's clearly McCartney trying to remember how he used to sound in The Beatles' days with the ringing Rickenbacker upfront, while Robbie plays more aggressively than usual alongside him. A fine day indeed when even your unplanned throwaways turn out this well, although its not a piece made for repeated hearing. Find it on: 'Paul Is Live' (1993)

Non-Album Recordings Part #22: 1997

Meanwhile, back at EMI/Pie, Paul has got a few songs leftover from the album all ready and waiting for B-sides. Given that the album songs weren't exactly a career highlight I wasn't expecting much from these, but actually most of these B-sides are at least up to and occasionally greater than the record. Take [ ] 'Looking For You', an outtake from the Ringo 'n' Jeff Lynne sessions that resulted in 'Really Love You' and 'Beautiful Night' and while no great shakes its way better than either horror. Slow and stompy, with menacing overtones, it comes on like a 1990s 'Thankyou Girl' with a similar Oasisy sneer (was it inspired by the recent Anthology work?) or even the similarly named 'I'm Looking Through You'.  In common with much of the album, though, McCartney doesn't know where to stop and runs out of ideas long before the song's end. Find it on: the 'Young Boy' single

McCartney's first Halloween-themed song, [  ] 'Broomstick' is a leftover from the Steve Miller sessions and again, whole no classic, is a lot better than 'Used To Be Bad'. The slow makes a much better use of the blues idiom but avoids a similar amount of cliches by taking the usual McCartney twist on having a 'witch' as a partner. Suggesting he's been watching the 'Bewitched' series (on after The Monkees back in the 1960s) Paul declares that he doesn't care what life and magic spells can throw at him - 'as long as we're together we're gonna be just fine'. It could be a love song of Linda, of sorts - the witch is at the cokking point after all, with a parody of 'Cook Of The House' in the middle - but if so then its a reference made with love not sarcasm, Paul perhaps laughing at the eearly days of their courtship when ,mad Beatle fans often branded Linda a 'witch' (Yoko too - she got her own back by dressing up as one at the 'Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus' when she and Lennon guested in 1968, a scene finally given an official release mere months before this single was recorded - was it an inspiration?) Paul's 'Band On The Run' style drumming is particularly good, adding bits of percussion on key words in the song ('You know I heard it on the wind...*crash*) while Miller turns in some tasty guitarwork. This pairing used to be bad, but now they don't sound bad at all. Find it on: the 'Young Boy' single

[  ] 'Same Love' is a much more traditional McCartney piano ballad, sounding not unlike 'Only Love Remains'. It was recorded early on in the 'Flowers In The Dirt' sessions with Hamish on guitar and guest Nicky Hopkins on piano (who'd played with members of the Stones, Who and Kinks but never a Beatle before) but sadly never returned to even though it sounds like one of the more promising songs of the periods. The opening piano part is full of typical McCartney warmth, but the song progresses verse by verse into a noisy epic, which is particularly fitting given that the thrme of the song is 'how can we keep our love fresh after all these years?' The answer is that 'even though we may not be as good as new' the couple have learnt a lot and come to depend on each other. All in all, one of Paul's better B-sides, at least post the 1970s, and the main reason to buy the flipping horrid 'Beautiful Night' single. Find it on: the 'Beautiful Night' single. 

Non-Album Recordings Part #23: 1999

An outtake from the 'Run Devil Run' sessions and released as a B-side, [  ] 'Fabulous' - originally sung by Charlie Grace which, despite having shades of Elvis, The King never did perform - doesn't quite have the class or power of the rest of the songs that made the album. It does, however, have a 'fabulous' bass riff and a nicely silly and soppy vocal from Paul as he remarks 'well if this is love then it's fabulous!' I'm not sure that's quite the word for the cover but then 'not bad considering but not quite up to the rest of the album' would fit into the line of a song! Find it on: the 'No Other Baby' CD single

The first time I heard Paul's name linked with Heather Mills was on the ultra-rare single [  ] 'Voice!', a sort of musical collage credited to Heather and 'featuring' McCartney (even though he did most of the work - shades of things to come?) Recorded very early in the pair's relationship, it's an interview Heather made where she talks about how discrimination and how just losing the ability to walk doesn't make you hopeless as a human beig in any other way. Every so often a ghostly McCartney intones 'why don't you ask her? She has a voice!' A slightly different and actually better mix of the song appeared on the B-side. It's all a bit odd and rather erased from McCartney history by fans now, but still worthy of note in the 'Fireman' brand of music-making. Find it on: the original single (if you're very very lucky!)
What's the first thing to come to mind when discussing Paul McCartney? How about bicycles? For a time Paul sponsored his own cycling team, helping out a 'green' team who were hired under a year's worth of promotion in return for turning vegetarian as part of one of the oddest business deals in the music world not undertaken by Apple. The team were named the 'Linda McCartney Cycling Team' and had all their costs and expenses and wages paid for, with a snazzy logo on the side of each bike reading [  ] 'Clean Machine'. That phrase was taken from the Beatles song 'Penny Lane' and to celebrate/promote/comfuse the heck out of journalists a promotional single was also released, including cut-up snippets of 'Penny Lane'. In a first for McCartney, it was only made available exclusively through the internet at the cycling team's own website, sadly long since deleted (the old site domain/address is now a site advertising plumbers in Cumbria!) Find it on: nowhere, unless you thought to tape the soundtrack of a website you didn't even know was by Paul McCartney for later posterity 

Non-Album Recordings Part #24: 2000

Though Buddy Holly didn't feature much on the 'Run Devil Run' album, McCartney still had a soft spot for hiw old hero, as well as the copyrights to all his songs. So when comedian Ben Elton got in touch with Paul about using the [  ] 'Maybe Baby' song as the title track for his film of the same name and mentioned that it was coming up to the 50th anniversary of the song's original reording, Paul's interest was piqued. He re-hired as much of the 'Run Devil Run' band as he could for one last encore (Gimour, Green and Paice all returned) in tribute to Buddy and the song duly became the latest in a long line of soundtrack-only McCartney release. It is, however, less interesting than most of his previous year's worth of covers. Buddy's song is much more pop than rock and while the band try their best to rev the song up the way they had with all the others, its a much uneasier alliance. The use of backing vocals throughout the song rather distracts, as does the urgent guitar riff which has now turned all heavy metal and sounds like 'Lucille'. It's not a patch on 'Run Deviol Run', or even the more low-key covers Paul and Linda played behind Denny Laine on 'Holly Days'. Still, if anyone can mess around with the Buddy Holly catalogue why not the one who owns the song? Find it on: the film soundtrack album 'Maybe Baby' 

Non-Album Recordings Part #25: 2001

One of the more disappointing McCartney releases in recent years, [ ] 'Freedom' was written as a direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and given a world premiere at the 9/11 tribute concert before being added as a bonus track to late pressings of the 'Driving Rain' CD. By the time the song appeared it had been built up to the level where people were talking about another 'All You Need Is Love' or 'Give Peace A Chance'. In the end the song was on a par with meaningless McCartney gibberish like 'Mumbo' and 'Bip Bop'. Taking its cue from the Richie Havens song of the same name, the song tries hard to express the idea that the deaths in the tragic terrorist attacks won't be in vein and that those still standing will refuse to  change in the name of 'freedom'. But the song seems to realise part way through that this just isn't true: that actually we lost a lot of our freedoms after 9/11 in an attempt to stop similar terrorists. So in the end what we have is a stomping nursery rhyme that says very little except that freedom is a 'right given by God' (isn't that what the terrorists were saying too?) to live in a 'free' world where things like this don't happen, which is about as simplistic a take on the 'Western world has shamed Allah' motives behind the terrorist attacks as you can get. More naive than 'Give Ireland Back To The Irhs' (without any of that song's heartfelt outrage or emotion), more repetitive than 'Goodnight Tonight' (without the same dazzling hypnotic technique) and sillier than 'Hey Diddle' (without the charm) 'Freedom' is McCartney at his worst, a writer of slogans that he thinks people want to hear rather than what he actually wants to say. Ignore this song and pay tribute to the fallen by playing 'Big Boys Bickering' and 'All My Trials' instead.Find it on: some copies of the 'Driving Rain' CD and as a CD single

Much more interesting is a rather unusual McCartney song which, like the old days, was commisioned for a film soundtrack. [ ] 'Vanilla Sky' was requested by director Cameron Crowe who had long admired Paul's work and asked for something from the folkier side of his musicality. Luckily Paul, who was deep in the middle of 'Driving Rain' at the time, had been working partly in this style and came up with a song that manages to reflect a quite complex film rather well. On the surface this is business as usual: the melody recalls 'Biker Like An Icon' but on the acoustic guitar, while the lovely echo-laden harmonies recall late-period Wings and the daft cookery-show style lyrics recall 'Flaming Pie'. Like the film, though, there's an undercurrent of something deeper, with Paul reflecting on the preciousness of moments in time ('You gotta love every hour! You must appreciate!') as he urges everyone listening to 'ride high' and break through the 'vanilla skies' that want to keep us in place at a level of ordinaryness. Without wanting to spoil the shock ending of the film too much for those who haven't seen it, the song does fit in well with the plot's themes of questioning the levels at which we're really awake, with the command 'open your eyes!' ushering in a new reality several times across the film (Paul was invited to see a rough-cut of the film as he was working on the song and picked up a 'feel' for it much quicker than on 'Spies Like Us' or 'Same Time Next Year'). McCartney's 'solution' is to treat every moment, whatever waking state you're in, as if its the 'real' one and that way you'll still have lived your maximum at every level (we're back to that 'Smile Away' advice again). What's really clever, though, is that until you tune in to this song properly you just think Paul's singing a typical nonsense song about nothing in particular - only after seeing the film and getting to grips with the lyrics does the 'hidden depth' ring out, so 'typically McCartney' is the rest of the song. The track was even nominated for a Grammy award in the film soundtrack category, but lost out to Randy Newman's song 'If I Didn't Have You' released on 'Monsters Inc'. Find it on: 'Vanilla Sky' (The Original Soundtrack Album)
McCartney had a long history of singing Elvis' [  ] 'That's Alright Mama', which was a part of The Beatles' setlists back in their Quarrymen days and which Paul can be heard performing on a 1963 BBC session. The song was clearly a favourite - strangely, though, he'd never recorded it in his solo career, for 'Choba B CCCP' 'Unplugged' or 'Run Devil Run' where it would have fitted in nicely. However the song was Paul's first choice when legendary Atlantic producer Ahmet Ertegun came calling for a 'tribute' album he was compiling for Sun Records, the home not only to Elvis but to Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins (the 'Million Dollar Quartet' who made the studio's name). The record was released as 'Good Rockin' Tonight' and featured all sorts of big names including Tom Petty, Elton John, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. Paul's song was chosen to kick off proceedings and it's amongst the most traditional on the album, with a very similar sound all round - not least because of the presence of two of Elvis' original backing musicians: guitarist Scotty Moore (who'd played on the original session) and drummer D J Fontana (who'd joined Elvis too late but had played on lots of his other recordings and played the song live). The end result shows the real fanboy in McCartney as he does a rather good impression of Elvis which will tickle fans of both singers no end, but sadly there's less of the real 'McCartney' here than either of his rock and roll cover LPs.

A slightly more unexpected McCartney tribute was for an Ian Dury tribute album. Though Paul had only met the singer briefly - at the Kampuchea Benefit Concerts in 1979 - he'd been a distant admirer and his children had owned several of his records. He would also no doubt have sympathised with Dury's struggles with cancer, who was diagnosed in 1997 two years after Linda but chose to spend the last three years of his life very much in the public eye, performing concerts right up until the end and working as an ambassador for UNICEF. Having been one of the first musicians signed up to work on the tribute album by Dury's backing band The Blockheads, McCartney had a near-complete pick of Dury's repertoire and his choice is an interesting one. [  ] 'I'm Partial To Your Abracadabra' is the third song from Dury's debut record 'New Boots and Panties' and not at all the most obvious choice - it's a sci--fi song set in the future where the human race no longer has genders and where pregnancy occurs without sex, but a mystique about the activity hovers over our future selves, inherited from previous generation hang-ups. Like many of Dury's recordings, the original is sly and sung with a knowing wink, as if we're all in on the joke that he's singing about something he shouldn't be allowed to. McCartney, though, has leapt in with both feet and gives a dazzling performance, playfully screaming the song for all he's worth and treating the siong as if its the best chat-up line in the world. He sounds rather good actually, far close to what Dury would have wanted than the rather anonymous, reverential performances on the rest of the tribute album and it's a welcome return to the mischevous McCartney of songs like 'Famous Groupies' that hasn't had a look in since Linda's death. The first sign that Paul is moving on from his mourning ('I'm glad that's over!'), this is one of his better 'party' songs. Find it on: 'Brand New Boots and Panties - The Songs Of Ian Dury' (2001)

Non-Album Recordings Part #26: 2004

Switching gears with his customary speed, McCartney  spent a relatively quiet year working on twin projects that couldn't have been more different: the last piece for Linda, the solemn classical mass 'Ecce Cor Meum' and the cheery [  ] 'Tropic Island Hum', a children's film project that's the sequel-of-sorts to 'Rupert and the Frog Song'. Though the book didn't come out till later (where it was re-named 'High Above The Clouds') it was based on a plot written by Paul and old Beatles pal Geoff Dunbar and concerned Wirral The Squirrel on an ecological tale that ends up with him visiting a remote island. Though there's a lot more to the plot in the book (which is easily the longest extended story-writing McCartney has yet done and rather good, better than it's reputation suggests), typically McCartney's grand plans fo a full length animation had to be pared back to the point where the only bit of the film that ever got made is the moment when Wirral arrives on the island and is seduced by Maron Montgomery playing Wilomena The Squirrel. An epic several years in the making, 'Tropic Island Hum' works a lot better as a cartoon soundtrack than it does as a song, with several characters coming and going across it's nearly six minutes (almost all voices are by Paul, although the chorus vocals include the last ever released performance by Linda, taped about a decade earlier). The tune is basic and silly, more 'Yellow Submarine' than the actually deceptively complex 'We All Stand Together' although there are still lots of frogs and a dixe land band that marches on towards the end. It's a song that was never going to have quite the universality of 'Rupert' and has in fact become the lowest charting McCartney single of all to date, getting a largely negative reviews from fans. However McCartney again shows his ability with voices and accents and the re's enough of worth here to make you wish that Paul would finish the rest some day. Find it on: the soundtrack was only ever released as a single (with 'We All Stand Together' on the B-side) but the cartoon can be seen on the 'Paul McCartney Animation Collection' DVD.

Another of the year's recordings is [  ] 'Whole Life', a second song released on an anti-drugs album (this one organised by Eurythmics star Dave Stewart) and one that covers much the same ground than 'Simple As That' a decade earlier.Unusually, though, Paul missed his deadline and wasn't happy with his first idea started in 1995, scrapping the song until Dave phoned him up with news of an 'anniversary' album he was making and asking if he'd ever finished the song, leaving Paul to start again from scratch. The intervening years have hardened McCartney's stance somewhat though: having seen his wife fight so hard for life Paul is no longer bemused but appalled at the amount of people ready to throw their lives away on nothing more than a high. Perhaps with Jimmy McCulloch in mind, Paul is in an angry mood, complaining that 'you've got your whole life in front of you!' and pleading for the drug-addict he's addressing what it is that keep them taking up their bad habits ('I need to know! You gotta tell me!') McCartney's band, so poorly used across Macca's studio works in this period, are on cracking form on this song, with a tough and brittle no-nonsense backing that make the point well, with an especially gutsy guitar solo from Rusty which pushes McCartney to his best 'Helter Skleter' style screams (this is the last point at which McCartney sings with the same power of old, before his voice begins to give way little bit by little bit - did he hurt it somehow recording this song?) A much-overlooked gem from the noisier side of McCartney's canon, 'Whole Life' is as tough and punkish as 'Simple As That' was adult and caring, the highlight of a similarly anonymous record where few artists invested as much effort as Paul. Find it on: '46664: One Year On' CD EP 

Non-Album Recordings Part #27: 2005

Not for the first or last time, a truly atrocious McCartney album ('Chaos and Creation In The Backyard') would have been improved immeasurably had Paul included his more adventurous B-sides on the album instead of the safer, more cliched material. [  ] 'Comfort Of Love' is, like much of the album, typically McCartney in its cheery 'smile away' persona, but it goes a nicely adventurous direction over the course of the song. Paul remembers his early years when he dreamed of owning his own house and car and how if he 'made' it in his career like that 'then I'd be happy'. However once he got them Paul realised that riches and material comforts weren't what life was about at all - and that even after he 'improved my conditions, it doesn't feel like I wanted it to feel'. Paul struggles to be happy when he knows so many people out there aren't and would glady swap all his riches for world peace, but he can't and he's powerless to help except through writing more songs that bring him more money that won't help him get 'peace of mind'. Typically, Paul turns his thoughts to love and how both he and the world needs the 'comfort of love' but that this can't be bought for any material price. With a degree of creative insight far greater than anything on the album, Paul puts together a musical accompaniment that fits the lyrics perfectly (or was this song written the other way around? Either way both music and lyrics fit well), one that tries so hard to be happy but keeps sliding deeper and deeper into a minor key marked by some wonderfulyl aggressive guitar. Unlike the album, there's a sense of the real McCartney lurking vehind this song, one that longs to tell the world the good times are 'coming up' but who has lived too long ans suffered too much to believe that wholeheartedly anymore; however Paul gets on with cheering us up anyway because that's what he's good at and all he knows how to do. An exceptional song, especially for this period, wasted as the B-side  to one of the worst songs Paul has ever released. Find it on: the 'Fine LIne' CD single.

Better yet is [  ] 'Growing Up, Falling Down', an eerie song from the same single that takes all the usual McCartney 'unplugged' characteristics (folky flutes, a strummed guitar, a beautiful melody and hope) and dissects them all, leaving the individual pieces hanging in the air, not connecting to each other at all. Paul is on yet another trip down memory lane, but this one is a much more rounded picture than normal, full of tears and rain as well as sunshine and family get-togethers. The pain and the laughing all intermingle in McCartney's imagination as he gets hit by all sides of his past life at once, mirrored by a soubdtrack that sounds like elements of his past jumbled up together: bits of rock, psychedelia, folk and even a bit of jazz thanks to a wonderfully moody saxophone part. The theme of the song is that being older doesn';t necessarily mean that you become wiser and McCartney regrets some of his youthful ways that meant he grew up too fast in some ways and in others not fast enough ast all. He even returns to the lovely falsetto of 'So Bad' and 'Girlfriend' in order to sound more innocent, but he's not fooling anybody: this is a man whose seen a lot and (in stark contrast to the parent album) has a found of way of turning that into some marvellously insightful music. Find it on: the 'Fine Line' CD single.

[  ] 'Summer of '59' continues the nostalgic theme, although it's not quite up to the same level. Sounding not unlike the rockabilly stomp of 'That Was Me' to come, it's a fun ramble through what life was like when The Quarrymen were becoming adults (and their girlfriends - 'some of them' - were 'turning into women'). A sequence of vaguely remembered details and the feeling that Paul and his gang were unstoppable, knowing something the rest of the world didn't yet, it's a joyous exercise slightly undone by the repeated chorus 'it's all in the name of good taste', which sounds more like something from a Kenny Everett parody. Paul may have written the song around his jokey phrase when asked about a Beatles reunion in the 1970s ('The Beatles split in '69 and ever since then have been doing fine...') - the lyrics have the same metre and even the same opening rhyme, although they're set in very different years. Later McCartney songs in a similar vein are better than this, but it's still quite fun to hear Paul return to skiffle and again the song is better than anything on the 'Chaos' album. Find it on: the 'Jenny Wren' single

[  ] 'I Want You To Fly' is another nicely adventurous song from the 'Chaos' sessions,
 with a lovely 'Band On The Run' style keyboard progression and some nicely cryptic words. Perhaps written as a reply song to 'Waterfalls', this is a song that urges the listener to be daring and creative and make the most of their talents instead of giving way to a life of lethargy. By the middle of the song the track has become 'we' rather than 'you', as Paul tells us 'I want us to hide, I want to be near you!' By the end of the first half of the song he's telling somebody 'I want to be you!' (the anonyous fans without the pressure perhaps?) before opening a 'rusty cage' and letting a prisoner take to the skies and fly away. Suddenly, just part the halfway mark, the song turns into a punding rocker with the sort of 'flanging' sound effects last heard on 'I Am The Walrus' as the song slowly adjusts to a bumpy flight and McCartney drops his voice from a purr to a growl. Though less successful than the first half, it's a neat idea to suddenly switch gears like that half way through and again the song shows far more thought than went into the album. In truth this B-side has far more in keeping with the inventiveness and intelligence of 'Blackbird' than the oh-so-close sequel 'Jenny Wren' does. Find it on: the 'Jenny Wren' single

A bit more McCartneyesque, though no less interesting, is [  ] 'This Loving Game', a piano ballad that despairs at the amount of breakups and conflicts out there in the world and a sighing nagging lyric that mankind can do better than this. 'We never learn how to play this loving game' is Paul's annoyed response, as he himself searches out for good advice that 'never came' (perhaps the earliest indication that things are going wrong in his relationship with Heather Mills, 'Somebody told me to walk away when love got hard and I had to pay'). However it sounds more as if Paul is addressing Linda in this song, asking for advice from someone who knows him really well and who loes him unconditionally, having seen him in good times and bad. Though the melody and riff start off like every other McCartney song since the year dot, there's a slightly threatening undercurrent that works really well too, with McCartney prodded and poked by jangly guitars while he just about struggles to stay connected thanksd to the tiniest of organ notes dubbed low in the mix. There'll be a lot more of this sort of thing on the next couple of albums - thank goodness, I couldn't have taken another album as bad as 'Chaos'... Find it on: the 'Jenny Wren' single

Another waste of a rather lovely song came when 'She Is So Beautiful' was released in Japan as a final 'proper' song to 'Chaos' but not in the rest of the world. A vintage McCartney ballad and one of his last love songs written for Heather Mills (is that why he 'hid' it?!), it's very simple and yet profound in it's simplicity, like many of Pauk's best ballads. The backing track consists of a lovely clarinet part that addsa a real sense of melancholy to the track, evern though the lyrics Paul is singing couldn't be happier or more uplifting. It's as if he's trying to reflect on the happy times the couple have had, but can't help the underlying melancholy that the times are coming to an end from getting through. Similar in many ways to 'Fool On The Hill', this is a charming song that is as simple or as deep as you want it to be. Japanese fans, who had this song exclusively, have finally had the payback for Paul messing up his 1980 world tour there! Find it on: the Japanese edition of 'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

Rather less essential is another oddity released at the end of the 'Japanese Chaos' is [  ] 'I've Only Got Two Hands', a collection of three instrumental pieces in search of a home that sounds now like it was a warm-up for 'Electric Arguments'. McCartney and producer Nigel Godrich fought really hard to get one of these pieces to work as a low-key opening to the album, to be blasted aside by some opening rock song. But as the album turned out to be fairly low-key itself they couldn't get the idea to fit and dropped it (if only Paul had done same thing with Back To The Egg's 'Reception'!) The finale section of the instrumental works best, a noisy rocker with grungy guitar riffing and parping car horns, but none of these pieces sound all that inspired and you wonder why the pair tries so hard to use an idea that clearly wasn't working. Instead of being the beginning, the track makes a rather ghostly coda to the CD. Find it on: the Japanese edition of 'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

Finally, Paul also gave a song to the Ray Charles tribute album released in 2005. His contribution was [  ] 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying', a studio re-make of the Charles song he'd already recorded live for 'Tripping The Live Fantastic'. This version of the song is better, mainly thanks to the loss of the 1980s trappings that held back the original (especially Wix's keyboards), with Macca offering a nicely sultry jazzy vocal. He sounds better on the song than Ray Charles did on the original, actually, which perhaps isn't the intention of most tribute albums! Find it on: 'Inspired By Genius - The Music Of Ray Charles' (2005)

Non-Album Recordings Part #28: 2007

[  ] 'In Private' is an instrumental recorded at the 'Memory Almost Full' sessions which could have become a really nice song had it been given some lyrics. A sturdy acoustic guitar gives way to a harpsichord sound while underneath a rattled conga drum effect recalls the 'band On The Run' era. McCartney very obviously plays everything himself and it's great to hear him play the drums in particularly, with a characteristic boom-chikka rattle that knocks spots off anything Ringo can play. However, like many instrumentals it also goes on too long and runs out of interesting places to go long before the two minutes are up. Find it on: the deluxe edition of 'Memory Almost Full' (2007)

[  ] 'Why So Blue?' is much more interesting, an actual song that was on the 'Memory' running order right until the mixing stage when Paul had second thoughts. It's hard to see why as it would have been among the better tracks on the song, if poerhaps not quite the best, with a similar sense of nostalgia and regret. The verses are very McCartmney, happy as he remembers times from his youth that made him who he was. However as the song goes on the 'cardboard castle' around him crumbles and Paul is 'among the down and outs, one of life's young students' learning hard life lessons he doesn't want to learn. Paul-as-now then seeks in the chorus to ask himself 'why then so sad? Why, then, so blue?' as he wonders why his earlier self wasn't happy more often given the golden life he lived. Watching himself in his mind's eye sadly walking past a bus stop, Paul remembers seeing a friend - who 'touches a nerve that hadn't been touched in sometime' and he begins to think that his past wasn't quite so miserable. By the end of the song it sounds as if the tables have been turned as his younger self asks him modern self why he's remembering the sadder times and not the happier ones. The best verse is clearly about Linda and the comforting thought that 'when two eyes meet, you know they have to meet again' and imagines their future in Heaven, 'free at last and feeling fine'. Like almost all McCartney songs, this track takes a sad situation and makes it better, but there's more of a feeling than most that McCartney's melancholy is genuine and surprising to him. A fascinating song that really deserved a wider audience, a nice counterpart to 'That Was Me'. Find it on: the deluxe edition of 'Memory Almost Full' (2007)

By contrast [  ] '222' is an odd little near-instrumental, given a curious McCartney spoken part over the top ('Ooh look at that! Look at her walking! Taking my breath away!') Paul could be singing about the time he first saw either Linda or Heather, but the song doesn't develop from there and is more of a grungy piano riff than an actual song, livening up only when an unexcpected trumpet part arrives out of nowhere. Find it on: the deluxe edition of 'Memory Almost Full' (2007)

Non-Album Recordings Part #29: 2010

Yet another McCartney film soundtrack song, [  ] '(I Want To) Come Home' was written for a film with the very McCartneyesque title 'Everybody's Fine' directed by major Beatles fan Kik Jones. He'd spent most of the film rushes with Beatles tracks inserted while sadly telling himself that he would never get the rights to use the and would have to come up with a last-minute replacement. Someone on the production film cheekily phoned Paul up to tell him about the film and how 'Let It Be' especially was the perfect song for the score. McCartney was sympathetic, but his hands were tied (Michael Jackson still owned the rights) so instead he offered to write a new original for the soundtrack. The film plot revolves round a widower trying to get his family back together for Christmas, from scattered parts of the globe (actually 'Let It Be' would have been an awful choice as the narrator is doing anything but let things be, actively trying to heal old wounds) and McCartney was quickly sent an early edit for him to work to. Once again, he came up trumps, the film touching a nerve within his own life post-Linda, with a collection of grown-up children all living their own lives at different ends of the globe, partially estranged thanks to Heather Mills. Written with the same sort of melancholic nostalgia as much of 'Memory Almost Full', 'Home' is a moving song that keeps with McCartbney's recvent habit of writing about himself as an elder man. Figuring that he's seen so much and done so much on his long and winding road he's seen everything except the home he's been searching for his whole life through since he lost it (presumably when his mother died). There may also be a secondary theme at work here: Paul reflects on 'coming close' to the 'edge of defeat' after the Heather Mills years and how his life has been tarnished since. Typically McCartney isn't fully negative, he recalls how 'it was fun shooting stars holding onto the sun', but after years of being in the public eye more than ever (at Heather's urging) and finding himself 'out in the cold' by it all, Paul just wants to go home to family and loved ones. Though the slightly stodgy melody doesn't quite match the words and the performance is nothing special (aside from some nice 'Your Mother Should Know' strings), this is another awfully good song that worked well in the film and once again deserves to be better known. The song was nomainted for a 'Golden Globe' as best soundtrack song, but lost to some nonsense by Ryan Bingham. The McCartney version was released online as a download-only single, although many fans know it better from Tom Jones enthusiastic but slightly misplaced cover, included on his 2012 album 'Spirit In The Room'. Find the McCartney version: as a downloadable single on i-Tunes (it has yet to appear on an album or compilation) 

Non-Album Recordings Part #29: 2011

Though a guest appearance on a Tony Bennet duets album passed without comment at the time (it's the sort of thing fully in keeping with McCartney's crazy-paving career), in restrospect the cameo was clearly more than the one-shot affair we expected and opened up Paul's brain into doing a whole album of similar songs. As it happens very little of the 'Kisses On The Bottom' album comes close to matching [  ] 'The Very Thought Of You', which is superior crooning with an elaborate production and McCartney working as an unexpected 'guest' rather than the star turn. Macca gets very little to do, with Tony Bennett leaving his heart open in the opening verse and McCartney raising his game to match in the second verse, sounding surprisingly good singing 'properly' without the 'husky' voice of the album. Though neither singer can match over versions down the years (Bing Crosby's is about the best), they both sound pretty good considering their age and the many testing high notes in this song, getting the tone of the track just right. If only McCartney had left it at that...Find it on the Tony Bennett album 'Duets I' (2011)

Rather closer to home is the rustic banjo folk of [  ] 'Best Love', a bluegrass song that sounds like the long lost cousin of 'Heart Of The Country' and 'Ram On'. Actually it's a song written by comedian Steve Martin even though many fans would swear it was a McCartney original: it has a lovely rounded melody, a daft lyric ('Thanks for solving Friday's crossword, who knew Ivan was a Tsra?') and a theme that love is best expressed through small moments that to outsiders won't mean anything but to those in love with everything. With a theme of two lovers messing about, doing nothing and with nowhere to go, it really evokes the atmosphere of 'Ram' and the backing harmonies are very much in the Wings mould too. Only the American references give away the fact that Martin, an accomplished banjo player since his teens, wrote the song about his own memories, probably writing the song about his first longterm girlfriend Bernadette Peters (an actress who appeared alongside him in many of his early films). A lovely song about nothing much in particular, it's one of the best 'Silly Love Songs' Paul didn't write. Find it on: 'Rare Bird Alert' by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers' (2011)

Non-Album Recordings Part #30: 2012

Masochistic fans who still couldn't get enough McCartney crooning could also buy two additional songs recorded at the 'Kisses On The Bottom' sessions which didn't make the album. [ ] 'My One and Only Love' is a rather dreary song written in the 1950s and made famous by Frank Sinatra. McCartney's voice sounds even more shot than on the rest of the record and the backing is anodyne and tedious. Anyone who starts feeling romantic after hearing schmuck like this needs to see a doctor quick. Find it on: 'The Complete Kisses On The Bottom'

Just as pointless, but doubly so for most of the year, is [  ] 'The Christmas Song', also known as 'Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire' (sounds painful!) A Bob Wells/Mel Torme song writtn in 1944, it's best k nown from Nat King Cole's version, but even as great a singer as he struggles to get through the song while making it sound convincing so a newbie crooner like McCarrney has no hope. Even in a festive mood I can't find any reason for listening to or owning this track - it's an overplayed piece of nothing sung by McCartney in such an awful ghostly husky tone that you worry for his health. After hearing this you'll want the whole production team roasting on an open fire - truly truly horrid. Now you readers what not to buy me for Christmas (Aww you shouldn't have - no really, you shouldn't have!) Find it on: 'The Complete Kisses On The Bottom'

Sensibly deciding not to put the song on the original album (because any fan who knew their McCartney would see the track in the running order and run!) the re-recording of  [  ] 'Baby's Request' manages to slightly outdo the sheer tackyness of the 'Back To The Egg' original. Which to be honest isn't saying a lot.Recording a marginally less toe-curling version of one of your worst ever songs when you could have been reviving something amazing like, say, 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'For No One' (two Beatles classics that would have worked well in this idiom) instead we get an encore no McCartney baby ever requested. If McCartney even thinks about releasing a third version of this song then I will go straight round to his house with a copy of 'Waterfalls' and won't leave until he agrees to re-record that song instead of wasting our time on insincere nonsense like this. And now the song's blooming stuck in my head again too, it took a week to shift after reviewing 'Back To The Egg' - thanks Macca! Find it on: 'The Complete Kisses On The Bottom', if you really really really must!

Non-Album Recordings Part #31: 2013

As usual, some of the best recordings from a McCartney album 'got away', left to wander free around the worlds of Japan-only import CDs or CD singles that were only around for a week or so before vanishing. Like much of 'New' the tracks manage to sound both 'catchy' and 'deep', without suffering from the heard-it-all-before vibe of a third of the album or the trying-too-hard vibe of another third (though like the rest the tracks get things 'just right!') [  ] 'Turned Out' uses Macca's quick-stepping rhymes to good effect on a song about Nancy, the new love in Paul's life, while offering a rare post-'Driving Rain' reflection on the Heather Mills years that gives the song much more depth than most songs that use Macca's commercial instincts this obviously. 'Lookig back it didn't hurt me' is McCartney's typical reflection on troubled times, 'In fact it did something for my soul', which enabled Paul to realise what true love was really like and what a 'good thing' the new love of his life turned out to be. This should have been the first single, never mind on the album 'proper'. Find it on: the 'deluxe edition' of 'New' (2013)

[  ] 'Get Me Out Of Here' is weirder but still rather good, a vocal distortion making Paul sound as if he's singing down a crackly telephone on a song that shamefully rips off Buddy Holly's 'Oh Boy' (Paul owns the publishing to this song himself, so I doubt he'll be sued anytime soon). Paul sings the song over a very tricky acoustic riff that really makes the song and the feeling of being trapped and somewhere lost, while played for laughs (Macca even ad libs 'I'm a celebrity...Get me out of here!' at one point) is just unsettling and unusual enough for the experiment to work. Though recorded as 'New' along with the other album songs, it wouldn't surprise me to learn this song was a leftover from the slightly sadder songs around the 'Memory Almost Full' period. Frankly had the rest of the album been up to the standards of these two 'unloved' songs it would have been an even more successful record! Find it on: the 'deluxe edition' of 'New' (2013)

[  ] 'Struggle' is more obscure and weirder, a psychedelic throwback that sounds like 'Sgt POeppers' would have done if it had been made in the stripped-down style of 'McCartney'. A wheezy synth set to accordion setting provides the backbone before Paul sings in a beguilling falsetto (not unlike Mick Jagger's) and a sea of voices then start crying about 'when?' things will get better. The song sounds like another written for Heather Mills, with Paul admitting that he's tired of falling out and wants to play the pipes of peace, or somethig like that. Paul then starts talking down a megaphone that the fight between war and peace is 'the eternal struggle' of mankind, on what is an impressively contemporary track for a musician in his seventies. Find it on: the 'Japanese edition' of 'New' (2013)

[  ] 'Hell To Pay' starts off by sounding like 'Ode To A Koala' with its thumped bare piano chords (not an especially promising start) before giving way to a hook straight out the Abba catalogue. Another song about Heather ('You make a living out of making people think that you're giving things away!') gets wrapped up with the theme of a wordlwide recession, with Paul angrily turning on those responsible that they have to 'learn to share' or things will come and bite them later. Though again it's great to hear Paul being so adventurous at this stage in his life, this isn't one of his better ideas and sounds like a few random ideas without Pauk's customary talent at pulling things together. Find it on: the 'Japanese edition' of 'New' (2013)

[  ] 'Demon's Dance' is another slightly clunky piano pop song, like a pub pianist trying to remember how to play 'Lady Madonna',which has Paul seemingly pretending to be Ian Dury on the vocal. It's a love song to Nancy, of sorts, reflecting the 'feeling that's been building inside me that's too hard to resist' as Paul shyly tries to chat up his new sweetheart and hangs on her every word. However the song is delivered in such an odd sarcastic manner that it lacks the sweetness of similar songs for Linda, Heather and even Jane Asher. Find it on: the 'Japanese edition' of 'New' (2013)

Non-Album Recordings Part #32: 2014

Proof that we can never second-guess what McCartney's going to do next and should just stop trying comes with the single-only song [  ] 'Hope For The Future'. Of course, you'll know from the title that this song sounds pure McCartney and it's true the song itself is a rather predictable McCartney ballad about how life will get better than this, one day someday. Instead its the presentation of it that's 'new': Paul was hired not by a film studio this time but by a game industry to appear in a cameo role in the middle of the hip-and-happening-man franchise 'Destiny' (which is like Halo, but without the energy blades). Set in the future when mankind have drifted into space but been pushed back to their original home planet it comes at the time when all hope seems lost and yet the previously-warring human tribes finally realise what's at stake and come together. It's all very McCartney, full of optimism and hope and smiles, and he's the perfect person for the job as his hologram form appears just before a big battle. Unfortunately for McCartney his dreams of appealing to a whole new audience went up in smoke when 99% of gamers reached for their controls and pressed 'skip' after wondering momentarily why that old geezer's voice seems so familiar. Alas the hoped for hit single never quite happened, despite McCartney having access to a far wider audience than a mere music release would get him. Find it on: the game 'Destiny' or as a downloadable single from iTunes (2014)

'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