Monday 26 March 2018

Essay: Paul McCartney's Not-So-Silly Love Songs?/Updates

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

Well done, you made it to the halfway part of the book (or halfway through our 'music' section at any rate!) We can't give you a prize to celebrate I'm afraid, though you probably deserve one, but we can shake things up a bit by moving outside talking about our respective AAA bands' discography and moving on to what makes them stand out from their peers and offer something no other band can. In truth these essays kind of run across the whole book and you can read them in any order, but now we've reached the halfway point it's quite useful to take stock of where we've been and why before working out where we will go next. Paul is, at it happens, in the commercial (if not necessarily creative) doldrums, the overlooked ‘Press To Play’ album getting the lowest sales of any of of his records till that time and about to embrak on the only fully unreleased album of his discography (if you don’t count ‘Memory Almost Full’, which was effectively the superior outtakes taken from the ‘Chaos and Creation’ sessions and which proved once again that Paul’s producers have no idea what his best work is). There is, though, one constant in Paul’s writing across time, even if the object of it changes…
When we released our Lennon book, with an essay all about how he stayed ‘authentic’ across his career (even if that authenticity changed meanings across time) a reader wrote in and asked if our McCartney essay was going to be about his ‘inauthenticity’. A funny idea – Paul is a typical Gemini, spending his career jumping around from one extreme to another as we’ve seen so often in this book (who else would follow the drug and sex soaked [42] ‘Hi Hi Hi’ with the literal nursery rhyme [40] ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’?) but not very fair. To these ears Paul always means what he sings – it’s just that what he means changes on an almost constant basis, so that his collaborators (be they in the classical, pop, rap or animation worlds) simply can’t keep up with him. Sometimes this holds him back: albums like ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’ or ‘Flaming Pie’ reveal what goes wrong when Paul listens to whoever the last person in the room was and takes the easy route out with the lowest common demoninator. At other times, though, it gives him a range and scope few other writers can compete with: [***] ‘I can bet… you won’t guess what happens next!’ Macca cackled on a song from ‘New’ in 2014 and he’s dead right: all these years of being a McCartney fan and he’s still taking me by surprise: following up his most groundbreaking work as The Fireman with an album of croned standards is not something anyone else (even the similarly mercurial Neil Young) would ever think of doing. Somehow though, unlike Neil trying on different characters, every single one sounds like the real Paul – at least on the day he’s writing or singing it (often the same day, particularly towards the end of this book).
There is, however, one constant that dominates his discography and which ties this book together: love. Every critic since the day it came out has attacked [92] ‘Silly Love Songs’ for being, well, silly: with so much else to write about in life why would someone spend their career writing silly love songs without any depth to them? But that, yet again, is being unfair to someone who means every word he sings. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Paul asks – for him love isn’t silly. It’s the constant that keeps him going, in between writing the groundbreaking pioneering stuff the critics miss (have you heard ‘Press To Play’ lately? Or McCartney II? Or ‘Electric Arguments’? Or even Thrillington? They sound nothing like anything being made by anybody else – including people decades younger) and the genuine howls of social outrage and protest that were always a signature part of The Beatles’ sound but since John’s death have somehow been assumed to be part of Lennon’s catalogue alone (check out one of the world’s first ecological protest songs [34] ‘Wildlife’, one of the world’s darkest ecological protest songs [***] ‘Looking For Changes’, look past the swearing on[***] ‘Big Boys Bickering’ and understand the context behind [***] ‘All My Trials’. Bear in mind that only one solo Beatle got banned by the BBC on four separate occasions and it wasn’t Lennon: see [39] ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ [42] ‘Hi Hi Hi’ and the videos for Linda song ‘Oriental Nightfish’ and Paul’s own [**] ‘Beautiful Night’ – banned on grounds of nudity, sadly, not because it sounds awful).
No, love is the one returning thematic thread across Paul’s work – as he himself sang only a few pages ago in this book on [194] ‘Only Love Remains’. Few writers have ever been as romantic as Paul and – a few songs from the end of the Heather Mills days aside – it’s been his once constant. This has always fascinated me: has there ever been one writer whose always been so regular in writing about the joys, rather than the agonies, of love? There’s been that too over the years too of course (‘We Can Work It Out’ was a plea to Jane Asher that she was clearly ignoring given the imagery in ‘For No One’ not to mention the angry howls of Fireman song ‘Nothing Too Much Just Outtasite’), but Paul has never stopped writing about the healing powers of love in a way no other writer has, at least with as much conviction as opposed to an ear on sales. Seriously: the first Dire Straits album is all about the fallout from Mark Knopfler’s first marriage, Brian Wilson was already looking over his shoulder wistfully a year into his first marriage on ‘Pet Sounds’ and Paul Simon has gone hot or cold over love more times than a microwave meal. But Macca, even at his lowest ebb, has always written about love and it’s healing capabilities.
His first love song was, well, it’s ‘Thinking Of Linking’ actually, an unreleased-for-good-reason Lennon-McCartney original busked as an extra during the making of ‘The Beatles Anthology’ but everyone has to start somewhere. His first released love song was Beatle B-side ‘P.S. I Love You’ written for Dot Rhone, a Cavern groupie who was bowled off her feet when her favourite Quarryman started winking at her from the stage and asked her out. She was convinced, as early as her teens, that she would end up alone as she thought she was ugly, taking a clothespin to her nose every night in an attempt to straighten it. The British tabloids love ‘rediscovering’ Dot every few years or so and recycling stories about how controlling he was, how he insisted on what she wore, who she spoke to on a night out and that she should dye her hair blonde to look as much like Brigitte Bardo (and Cynthia Lennon as it happened) as possible. But they often cut the good stuff for their lurid headlines: Dot also said how impressed she was at Paul’s caring side, given that he was a teenager born into the North of England in the early 1960s where boys were expected to be controlling to girls (something The Beatles, more than perhaps any other social movement, put a stop to). You can hear it in these songs too as – in stark contrast to most other early 1960s hits – Paul spends his first published love song worried that his girl will feel left behind and lonely when he’s out working.
With the exception of the unusually lustful ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, Paul’s next love song ‘All My Loving’ continues the theme: he’ll write back every day so his girl knows she’s loved. This song, though, was written for Jane Asher, the actress Paul met in April 1963 during an earlyfab four publicity stunt. Poor Dot miscarried Paul’s first child in 1961 (when he was all of nineteen) and the two grew apart, as she craved marriage when he craved his freedom. The press, naturally, pointed all blame at Paul and probably for good reason (Cynthia recalls in her book how shocked she was at Paul callously ending it – even though she spends the rest of it with far more words of affection for the only Beatle to stay in touch with her post band split than she does for her husband). However it’s remarkable, for a songwriter with a position of power in 1963, that the only Beatle originals about misery and breakup come from the happily married Lennon’s side of the collaboration, not his (‘Not A Second Time’ and ‘I’ll be Back’ particularly, which stick out like a sore thumb on those early Beatle discs).
Jane inspired many of Paul’s most loved songs: ‘And I Love Her’ ‘Here There And Everywhere’, ‘Every Little Thing’, his treacly cover tracks ‘Til’ There Was You’ ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and over on The BBC ‘The Honeymoon Song’. All these songs reveal a maturity you wouldn’t expect from an inexperienced writer who was still all of twenty-one/twenty-two: the originals particularly are timeless somgs about the specialness of being in love. But she also inspired the stormiest side of his writing to date: ‘Another Girl’ sounds like a warning to someone not used to being told what to do, ‘We Can Work It Out’ is a desperate plea to put things right after a row and ‘For No One’ is a twenty-something McCartney imagining the natural course for their marriage over several unhappy decades, with the original working title ‘Did It Die?’
He was saved from this fate when Jane walked in on him one day in an uncompromising situation with groupie Frankie Schwartz. An under-rated figure in Beatle folklore, she may have inspired the lyric to ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’ and was a very genuine candidate for the next Mrs McCartney. For her part she offered comfort during the fallout of the early Apple years and was more than the money-grabber she is often portrayed to be. But she was never a secure replacement – that role instead went to Linda Eastman, whose presence in Paul’s life changes his songwriting forever. Though the world was really introduced to her during their whirlwind marriage on March 12th 1969 (still not as whirlwind as John and Yoko’s mind!), musically the world first met Linda when she joined in during the anything-goes chorus to ‘Bungalow Bill’ fro0m ‘The White Album’ or in the lyrics to two early McCartney love songs. On ‘Lady Madonna’ he’s more impressed than in love, fascinated at how easily his new girlfriend managed to juggle being both a mother (to Heather, a toddler from her first marriage) and a successful photographer respected in the business and the song becomes more of a track about feminism than his new wife. ‘Two Of Us’ is the real deal though, inspired by Linda’s desperate pleas to see something of the English countryside as the pair got into their car and took a guitar and a picnic but no map, enjoying the freedom of ‘getting lost’ after a lifetime of having to be in a certain place by a certain time. ‘Two Of Us’, written in the back of a car during one of these busked holidays, is our first sign of what Linda means to Paul: freedom, a soulmate to enjoy life with, being naughty. For years Paul had been the ‘reliable’ Beatle who Brian Epstein could rely on for some kind words and a thumbs up but this was only half the real McCartney – he also needed someone to break boundaries with, in the exact same way John was with Yoko.
The love songs for Linda come thick and fast during the early solo years. Paul is adrift, having effectively lost the ‘best job in the world’ and aware that the fanbase who used to adore him now blame him for breaking up The Beatles. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is often cited as Macca’s best song for a reason: it’s totally authentic in a way even Lennon would struggle to match. Throughout that song – and much of both ‘McCartney’ and ‘Ram’ – Paul lays it on the line: without Linda to brighten up his life he wouldn’t be able to cope. ‘Lady Madonna’ from the heart, it’s the sound of the richest and one of the most talented me on the planet telling his wife he isn’t worthy of her. Other songs follow in a similar vein: ‘Every Night’ is about how his wife gets him out of bed and has faith in him, ‘Man We Was Lonely’ is about the friends who stop coming (notice the use of ‘we’ as in ‘us against the world’) and ‘Dear Boy’ even laughs in the face of the ex husband who didn’t ‘get’ how special Linda was when he divorced her. Most fascinating of all, though, may be ‘Long Haired Lady’. Linda’s first real lead vocal on a McCartney project, in retrospect it’s fascimating, a jumble of confusion and guilt and doubt as Paul wonders aloud what love is. Is it providing a service? Can it be measured? Should it be equal? He tries to sum it up by concluding that love is in Linda’s laughter, her ‘flashing eyes’, her long blonde hair. But it’s something much bigger than any of the things that first turned him on put together – it’s the thought that he can’t live without her, which suddenly makes all his doubt seem insignficant. ‘Ah’ the chorus arrives as part of a lengthy fade, ‘love is long’. This isn’t an attraction – this is an addiction. Funnily enough, though the lush romantic music couldn’t be more different, this is the McCartney equivalent of Lennon’s ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, two songs more hooked and repetitive than any Beatle drug song.
Things get lighter in the McCartney universe after thatas the Beatles feud dies down and Paul begins to see a life away from The Beatles, all the more so as Paul decides not to go and abandon his family on the road but bring them with him in the much more family friendly Wings (everyone got to live with their girlfriends and wives on the tourbus). In many ways the overlooked ‘Wildlife’, the band’s debut, is the pair’s true ‘courting’ album even if they’d been married for three years by 1972: ‘Mumbo’ is the lustful scream of desire and attractrion (though the garvled lyrics mean ‘woman’ is about the only word most fans can make out), ‘Bip Bop’ was written for their two-year-old daughter Mary; ‘I Am Your Singer’ is a sequel to ‘Two Of Us’ that makes out that their love is unbreakable and that they need each other (Linda, groomed for a career of her own, was literally the singer for the songs Paul provided – an idea he might have nicked from a Rolling Stones American B-side he always used to say he liked); ‘Tomorrow’ is a sequel to ‘Yesterday’ that throws off the stormclouds of the past to celebrate how great things are going to be in the future; ‘Some People Never Know’ is the first real song to have Paul and Linda singing in the Harmony, the way he used to sing with John, on a lyric about how people have understesimated their love and the reasons for it and probably always will. The most telling song, though, is a triumphant cover of Mickey and Sylvia novelty song ‘Love Is Strange’. Though The Everly Brothers were the first act to treat this song like they meant it, Macca’s version is again life or death: love is strange and deadly – and yet triumphant. You can hear the sheer joy in his passionate vocal and the fact that the music is basded around his wife’s beloved Jamaican reggae rhythms (a half-decade before most people knew what they were) only underlines the fact even more.
Things chill out for the blissful middle Wings years: Paul is still haunted by his Beatle demons (as ‘Dear Friend’ makes clear) but he can make a living now and he is no longer doubtful of his love or affection. As such he writes his first true no-twist-in-the-tale love song for Linda ‘My Love’. Unusually for his usual quick-thinking self, he doesn’t even try and offer a ‘contrast’ anywhere in the music as he so usually will for his most teeacly moments – instead he makes it the most unabashed romantic (some would say slushy) piece of music in his discography. Note the personal pronoun too: this is no longer a song about love as an abstract concept he might find one day; instead this is a song about ‘my’ love, nobody else’s. ‘Only One More Kiss’ also helps make ‘Red Rose Speedway’ perhaps the soppiest of Paul’s albums, written after a rare row (that, by all accounts, was patched up remarkably quickly – certainly quickly than the agonising lost weekend happening for Lennon across the pond in this period; then again Macca was probably smarter than to sleep with his wife’s friend at a party and leave her to make her own way home). Though ‘Band On The Run’ is perhaps the least romantic of all Wings albums, he adds in a couple more love songs bristling with full-on passion: ‘Let Me Roll It’ is the first McCartney romantic song where love sounds mad, bad and dangerous to know as the song sizzles with desire and longing, a ‘wheel’ of fire (was it inspired by Dylan?) that luckily is reciporacted – but how dangerous might it be if this love was one-way? ‘1985’ is in many ways a sequel to ‘For No One’ where Paul imagines a future with his wife – and finds that actually it’s easy, he can’t see a time when they’ll be apart. At the time 1985 was eleven years away – about as far as any early-thirty something likes to think about their life – and topped George Orwell’s famous year by one. Paul effectively says that even with so many younger, hotter, potential girlfriends around he already has the best one.
One of the best McCartney love songs to these ears is ‘Love In Song’ from ‘Venus and Mars’. Paul seems to be remembering how lost he once was, his heart ‘crying out’ for love in a world that confused him. He also longs for ‘all that goes with loving’ – the comfort, the stability, the knowing that there’s someone there when you need them. In this song love is trust and faith in another person, a theme that will be picked up in later life. For now though he has found ‘happiness in the homeland’; comfortable in domestic bliss in a way his younger self touring the world never expected to find. That might be why, over on ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’, Linda gets her own song for the first ‘Cook Of The House’ (the weakest of her first batch of material – her love songs in return to Paul are much better; see ‘Love’s Full Glory’ and ‘Endless Days’ for how in return she too felt that her love with Paul was a ‘constant’ – this makes for an interesting comparison with Yoko’s sometimes hot, sometimes not songs for John). That’s also the album with ‘Silly Love Songs’ on it as Paul began to get a reputation he arguably didn’t deserve: to date only ‘Bip Bop’ and ‘Mumbo’ had been truly ‘silly’ love songs. By contrast it’s the rest of Paul’s catalogue that was sometimes silly: the songs about fictional characters, the little ditties composed on the spot ([  ] the tape-testing ‘The Lovely Linda’ amongst them, cute as it is) and the increasingly curious attempts at hit singles. It’s the love songs that fans could always take as heartfelt: everything else could potentially be fluff, but Paul always took his romance songs seriously – because he took love seriously.
You can hear that on some of the most unexpected tracks that often go in a different direction to where the other tracks are heading. The all singing all dancing ‘London Town’ takes things simple for the sweet and innocent ‘I’m Carrying’, one of Paul’s most heartfelt songs as he fools us into thinking he’s humping around a heavy parcel when really it’s his heavy heart full of love. You can hear it on ‘Winter Rose’, one of Paul’s prettiuest songs from one of his ugliest sounding albums ‘Back To The Egg’, where once again his love is forever – or at least long enough to get him through the hard times of Winter where his lonely and cold self pleads with his lover to ‘shine your light every where’ and inspire him. ‘Darkroom’ gets overlooked in a discussion of Paul’s songs about Linda but it’s perfect for the cheeky sound of ‘McCartney II’ where Paul is trying to show a side of himself usually well-hidden on an album initially intended as a ‘minor’ release to come out alongside his Wings works. The darkroom was, of course, where Linda spent a lot of her time as a photographer still just about keeping her own career going in the 1970s and Paul hints at how much depth his wife offers that other people don’t see – something that’s only ‘developed’ behind closed doors, as it were.
Interestingly the love songs become fewer and further between for a few years as Paul tries to get his career back on track by working with other people and writing more commercial material. There are exceptions though and what’s more they’re often the best things on patchy albums: ‘Someone Who Cares’ is one of Paulk’s very best songs, forgotten as it is, again dealing with the idea of love as faith. At his lowest, as per ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ love came by to save him and he urges those at home going through hard times to believe the same. Love, for him, is redemption, a chance to realise that the world isn’t all bad. ‘The Sweetest Little Show In Town’, by contrast, concludes that not everyone is lucky enough to have a Linda in their lives, but he is and he is determined to make the most of it. However the big song in this period is surely ‘Through Our Love’, an updated version of ‘Long Haired Lady’ a decade one that sighs that it all worked out and that love is indeed long. ‘We can do things that they said were impossible’ Paul concludes, but that to do so he needs to see life in a certain way – through the eyes of someone being loved. Asked to write some new songs in a hurry to sell the soundtrack album of ill-fated film  project ‘Give My Regards To Broad Street’, Paul naturally turns to love, realising afresh that he doesn’t need to keep worrying about his lovelife as it is remarkably stable. ‘No More Lonely Nights’, recorded on his and Linda’s fifteenth anniversary, sounds like a valediction: what was his younger self worrying about? Of course this was true love – and he can sing afresh ‘I won’t go away, until you tell me so’.
A couple of years later ‘Only Love Remains’ adds again that real true love is long-lasting and will be there come what may, whatever love has to throw at you. Indeed ‘Press To Play’ is an album packed with references to Linda all roundfrom a slightly older perspective, as if Paul has realised they aren’t young lovebirds anymore but an institution (even whilst he’s desperate to sound young again): she’s the ‘Stranglehold’ he doesn’t want to escape, the ‘Talk More Talk’ is the communication that keeps their marriage going, ‘Press’ is particularly interesting given that it’s a return to the lustful sexual side of Paul’s writing for the first time in twenty-three years (this is a very physical song - ‘Press! Right there! That’s it! Yes!’ – after so many years of writing about love being heartwarming or intellectual or abstract). And then there’s ‘Footprints’ about how lost he’d be without her.
Unfortunately that’s the theme that creeps in a lot round now, which begs the question: when did Linda get sick? We ask this a lot in our review of ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ because it’s an album full of foreboding, dark shadows and ticking clocks, even though Linda was officially quite well and even toured the world with this album as part of the band (twice). It’s an album that starts with Paul imaging being alone again after so long – though the hint is a divorce, it’s never actually stated in ‘My Brave Face’ and could well be a partner wishing he’d told his loced one how nuch she meant to him before he died. ‘Distractions’ is about never quite getting round to telling your loved one how much they mean to you because life keeps getting in the way of simply enjoying each other’s company. ‘That Day Is Done’ is ‘Yesterday’ with added melodrama. ‘Don’t Be Careless Love’ panics when a loved one is absent or late and the narrator imagines the worst. And above it all sits ‘This One’, as the world fades to black and the narrator sighs over ‘opportunities’ that got away from him. Even one last terrific traditional McCartney love song for Linda (the gorgeous ‘Winedark Open Sea’, where Paul literally screams about how much ‘love I feel for you right now’ – we’ve never ever heard him this emotional in love before – interestringly there are very few love songs on the last album of Linda’s lifetime ‘Flaming Pie’, perhaps because they were too hard to write; ‘Beautiful Night’ was, after all, an old song from 1987) can’t buck the feeling that in the 1990s something was seriously wrong. And then it happened: a last minute announcement, before the papers broke it, that Linda was poorly with breast cancer, some forty-two years after the same thing happened to Paul’s mother Mary. After nearly thirty years where love had been constant and the only thing that ‘remains’, Paul was left without a partner to write about.
Many fans wondered where Paul would go next: retrospective love songs? Or would we never hear a love song again? Actually Paul got together with Heather Mills so quickly much of his next ‘proper’ album ‘Driving rain’ was full of them anyway. But it’s worth returning to the immediate post Linda days for two of the most committed and emotional (and, yes, authentic) moments in this whole book. The first is a cover of the cute Vipers song ‘No Other Baby’. It’s meant to be sung in a detached manner – this is a cool teenager singing to his girl after all, probably with chewing gum hanging out of his mouth. For all we know that’s how Paul planned to sing it too, during the early days of planning covers project ‘Run Devil Run’ with Linda and giggling over their favourite songs (thanks to her parent’s riches she had more 1950s Americana records than he did growing up!) And then she died, leaving him to sing the song in an entirely different way: I defy any fan to listen to that final screamed verse about how ‘there’ll never be no other baby but you’ without a tear in the eye or a lump in the throat. The three cliché-ridden originals on that album sound like a man trying to delay the inevitable because he’s not ready for it (one song even promises to ‘try not to cry’) – then, three years later, comes the first McCartney original since her death. And suddenly ‘Lonely Road’ sounds different to every single McCartney song that’s come before it. The Long and Winding Road is broken – love isn’t what remains after all, love don’t live here anymore and Paul is lost without it. ‘I can’t walk this lonely road!’ he roars in a blind panic, in the harshest vocals since Lennon fodund primal scream in 1970, all that usual McCartney warmth and stability gone in a flash. It’s a quite brilliant moment, even if the rest of the album never quite gives us the post-Linda epic we were secretly hoping for.
Instead Paul’s busy balancing the two loves of life, comparing Heather Mills to Linda on some songs he probably would find uncomfortable listening now as the new love is compared to the old time and time again. ‘Magic’ is a song that cleverly balances their two twin stories – both times Paul felt the tug of his heartstrings and stopped them, asking them out, fully realising the ‘magic’ at work in his life and that this love was meant to be. ‘Heather’ should have come at the beginning of ‘Driving Rain’ – it’s a longer ‘The Lovely Linda’ with only fractionally more words. ‘Riding To Jaipur’ is an international ‘Two Of Us’, getting lost in India rather than the outskirts of London. ‘Your Way’ could be about both women (we speculate it has a verse for each). And most moving of all is ‘Your Loving Flame’, a song Paul admits was written for Heather (on a grand piano moced especially into his hotel room on tour at Heather’s secret suggestion) but which sounds in its intensity and comfort and sheer ‘rightness’ with the world as if it could so easily have been an outtake song written for Linda. Only the unusual ‘From A Lover To A Friend’ is purely for Heather and that’s a song that will dictate where most of their romance will go from here: Paul’s unsure, he wants to believe in their love and he knows she feels it, if only she could be more open with him…Somehow we’ve turned full circle and we’re back to ‘For No One’ again, as the next few albums imagine how the future might be and worrying that when he’s sixty-four Paul might be lonely after all.
‘Chaos and Creation’ was a shock when I first heard it. The rumours about Heather were stil that – rumours – and Paul was defending his missus in the press far more often than he ever did Linda. I was expecting a whole string of love songs (given that Jane’s arrival was hidden by Beatles co-credits and Linda’s shared space with songs about The Beatles’ split we never did get a full album of those before). Instead it’s a confused, questioning album. Most of the time it dodges the question: the reason it turned out so bad (a little like ‘Flaming Pie’) is because Paul doesn’t want to write about what is on his heart yet so he turns to his imagination and that’s never been as strong a source for him down the years, a few lucky dips aside. That’s why we get dumb songs like ‘English Tea’ and pointless blackbird sequel ‘Jenny Wren’. The other half is oddly troubled by something far vaguer and less defined than anything Paul had put into song before now: he’s ‘At The Mercy’ but isn’t sure quite what; he’s urging his partnher to ‘Follow Me’ when before now they always shared the same path and most telling of all was warning us (and maybe himself) of others ‘Riding To Vanity Fair’. Heather is almost entirely absent for the sequel ‘Memory Almost Full’, a work more about life and career than love and where you would never believe that he was about to go through a messy divorce (it’s completely different to Lennon’s guilt-ridden ‘Mind Games’ and ‘Walls and Bridges’ for instance).
However one track bucks the trend: ‘House Of Wax’ is an angry, frightened sequel to ‘Only Love Remains’ that takes all the calm and beauty and serenity of that tracks and turns it on its head. Love isn’t constant or reliable anymore – instead it’s shaken his beliefs to the core and now his whole world is crumbling down around him. Even the vocal is the screamiest on record, to go alongside the two post-Linda (and comedy B-side [2] ‘Oh Woman Oh Why’). The Fireman album ‘Electric Arguments’, the first to be released post-Heather, finally comes out and says it. No actually it snarls it: ‘The last thing you could do was try to betray me’ is the focus of the song, McCartney’s usual mantra of ‘it’s gonna be alright’ turned on its head as nothing will ever be right again. ‘All you had to do was love me, to lay down beside me’ he urges. ‘Nothing too much – it would be outtasite’. Other lines are less dicepherable, lost in a song where nothing is clear anymore, but those that do hit home: ‘Wanting my money…I’ll never forget it!’ Even the slight new age zen-like feel of the rest of the album can’t change the feeling that McCartney is a changed man.
And there I feared, when I first started working on these books, this essay might end. But no: one of the other themes of Macca’s career is how love is always surprising and so it’s proved. One of Paul’s first comforters after his death was her friend Nancy Shevell. The pair went way back, to their childhoods as fellow heiresses, and she was concerned about Paul being alone. Their romance was more of a slow burn than the last three but has again brought faith back to romance’s biggest believer and inspired the best songs on Macca’s recent albums. ‘Hosanna’ for instance is all about finding that you had faith after all, however tested you may be, while ‘Looking At Her’ suggests that the McCartney romantic impulse still beats strong, however well hidden it is by schlocky covers of big band songs for Valentine’s Day it may be (‘Kisses On The Bottom’ is the final punchline to what that opening question about whether I was going to do an essay about Mccartney being ‘insincere’). The most interesting track, though, is one that is –aptly - hidden from view. After all those years, aftrer all that fame and money, after all those silly love songs listed in this column, Paul was still ‘Scared’ to tell his girl that he was falling in love with her. This is a new tist that we’ve never had from Paul before – and might well usher in a whole new range of love songs in the future. Or then again maybe not. I would hate to bet on what Paul McCartney is going to do next and in a life that unpredictable love trulyt is the only thing that remains. And as a result isn’t silly – for love isn’t silly at all.

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 [382] '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)
One of the big question marks people have over Paul McCartney is that he doesn’t act the way we thinka an aging knighted statesman should. Rather than turning into an old codger and moaning about the youth of the day, Macca’s more likely to be found collaborating with young whippersnappers, from Michael Jackson to, umm, The Frog Chorus. And sometimes that backfires spectacularly, such as Macca’s attempt to get in on the act of upstart rapper Kanye West and his irritating diva rival Rihanna. Macca, perhaps trying to impress his teenage daughter, took part in three recordings to not much effort and was a big hit with a grand total of one person in the room. ‘This Paul McCartney guy’s going to be huge!’ was Kanye’s much parodied riff to the papers – I’d love to say it was meant ironically but I truly fear he was being serious, the ignoramus. Only One was the first ‘fruit’ of their efforts, a love song for Kanye and Kim Kardashian’s baby ‘North’ (as in ‘North West’. Seriously, his parents should be locked up for that alone, never mind their disservices to popular music). Macca, used to writing songs about his babies, but this autotuned nightmare is the least sincere offering in paul’s canon since ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’. Their voices really don’t blend, the lyrics say nothing and the plodding piano part would have been dismissed by Linda for being too easy – during her first Wings rehearsal. Hideous. Oh and the ‘hey hey hey’ riff is nicked wholesale from ‘Say Say Say’. It was the worst part of that song – it’s the best one of this one. That says it all. Find it on: ‘Only One’ (The Single, 2014)
Rihanna gets more to do on FourFive Seconds, which is a relief as she’s screechier but has more talent than Kanye. This song about getting plastered is beneath Macca, though, who sticks to filling in a few odd lines (two lines in the melody really sound like him) and a bit of guitar strumming. Oh and the chorus is bad even for Kanye: ‘Hold me back, I’m about to spazz!’ You and me both buddy, whatever it means. Paul also appears in the music video, looking suitably embarrassed. Find it on: ‘FourFive Seconds’ (The Single, 2014)
All Day is, unbelievably, worse – an unmelodic uninventive rap song that has nothing to say (sample line: ‘Hey you there? Straight to the sdhaft, top top top, shaft!’) and where Macca can’t be heard at all. I suspect it might be him stabbing at the organ like it’s a mellotron about to burst into glorious colour that keeps getting cut short, but I’m not sure. This shouty sweary piece is truly awful, everything that is wrong with modern music. I actually miss Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and the Frog Chorus. Actually this song would be improved by any of them. Especially the Frog Chorus. Find it on: ‘All Day’ (The Single, 2014)

Special Editions (MPL/EMI, 2010-2017):

The McCartney deluxe re-issue series is an expensive way of buying all your old favourites all over again. While preferable to letting these albums go off-catalogue and gloriously luxuriously packaged, full of pristine photos most of them taken by Linda, you have to wonder at the sheer audacity of it all. Most of these sets retail at £60-80 when new and only the ‘Ram’ set really looks like it costs that much. Most of the sets come with two or three discs of extras, most of which is taken up by period B-sides and a far smaller smattering of rarities than we know exists to be used here (see our ‘unreleased’ column for thirty extra recordings to start you off) and a DVD that generally include something vaguely interesting from the period and a few music videos. How much better these sets might have been with a few extras added – a new documentary exploring all these songs fully, a look back at how Paul feels about them now and some talking heads from the various Wings line-ups (Denny Seiwell seems to be the only other band member to regularly take part). The result is a frustratingly uneven bunch of albums that seem to be released in the most random of orders even though the albums with the best outtakes (‘Red Rose Speedway’, cut down from a double LP at the last minute, ‘London Town’ which sounds glorious in demo form and ‘Back To The Egg’ with so many re-thinks and alternate takes) missing so far. Macca really upset fans with his latest set ‘Flowers In the Dirt’ by making one disc of extras available only through a download link accessed through the book – surely, after paying all that money, they could have added in an extra disc. Still for all its faults there are some truly sublime moments in each of the entries so far, whether it be audio, video or packaging and this remains the single biggest official raid on the Mccartney vaults yet. If you have the money and don’t know the albums then this is a great way of getting to know them all, even if they somehow lack the homespun charm of the beaten up old vinyls by and large. All the sets come with a card that allows you to link with a deluxe download from the McCartney website too – which doesn’t make that much difference to my cloth ears and comes in a file too big to burn to a CD, which seems like a lot of effort for something fans should be getting for free (why not make these DVD-audio format sets?)

“Band On The Run” (2010)

CD One: The UK Edition of the Album

CD Two: Helen Wheels/Country Dreamer/(One Hand Clapping: Bluebird/Jet!/Let Me Roll It/Band On The Run/1985/Country Dreamer)/Zoo Gang

CD Three: Making Of interspersed with Band On The Run (‘Original’ though its actually a 1999 recording)/Band On The Run (rehearsal 1989)/Bluebird (Live 1975)/Jet! (Live In Berlin 1989)//Let Me Roll It (Rehearsal 1993)/Helen Wheels (‘Crazed’ Remix)/Picasso’s Last Words (1999 Acoustic Version)/Band On The Run (‘Nicely Toasted Mix’)/Band On The Run (‘Northern Comedy Version’)

DVD: Band On The Run (Promo)/Mamunia (Promo)/Album (Promo)/Helen Wheels (Promo)/Wings In Lagos/Osterly Park (Album Cover Behind The Scenes Footage)/One Hand Clapping: Theme/Jet!/Soilly/C Moon/Little Woman Love/Maybe I’m Amazed/My Love/Bluebird/Let’s Love-All OF You/I’ll Give You A Ring/Band On The Run/Live and Let Die/1985/Baby Face

This first release in the series was obviously here to test the ground, but made more fans go ‘aaaagh!’ than ‘aaaah’ courtesy of arriving just eleven years after the last pricey re-issue of the album. The 1999 disc came with a ‘making of’ disc that was a bit of a cheat, featuring as it did a whole load of ‘exlusive’ performances of the album songs…in the main taken from soundchecks on the 1989-1990 and 1993 world tours (where they sound much they did on ‘Tripping The Live Fantastic’, all big and 1980s), plus a bit of Macca mucking about with a Scouse version of the title track. There are some gems in there too, though, such a terrific ‘Britpop’ remix of ‘Helen Wheels’ with Kimmy’s astonishing guitat solo up load and a snatch of ‘Bluebird’ heard from a 1973 recording taped in apology to the people of Japan for Paul not being allowed in for a world tour there. Fans with a generous bootleg collection were disappointed given what else we knew existed (fascinating demos mostly) and were so again when the deluxe edition came out with an extra disc of rarities that merely added some B-sides and a few songs from the aborted ‘One Hand Clapping’ documentary. The whole hour was included in full on the DVD disc and is the best of all the video bits and pieces on these sets.

Taped in London during the Band On The Run overdubs/‘getting to know you’ sessions for the next line-up of Wings (with Jimmy and brief drummer Geoff Briton amongst the line-up) it’s a fascinating documentary that captures Paul in possessive mood (most infamousdly waving his arms at poor Howie Casey while trying to play his solo on ‘Bluebird’) and Denny Laine seemingly drunk out of his mind. The performances are great, though, especially ‘Soilly’ which won’t get a proper home until ‘Wings Over America’ and sounds terrific here as amore polished and less histrionic rocker. ‘Let Me Roll It’ and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ (the audio of which is left over till ‘McCartney’ later in the series) also sound pretty fabulous, although it’s the chat that lingers in the mind most: the running joke of the band talking to longstanding Beatle engineer Geoff Emerick (‘How was that for you Geoffrey?’), Geoff Britton having disputes with Linda already and Denny Laine acting as if The Moody Blues’ one big hit (‘Go Now’) puts him in a unique position to understand what being in The Beatles was like. Jimmy, unusually, is deadly quiet throughout. Other footage is better than average for these sets too, with a fifteen minute silent film (overdubbed with album tracks) shot by Linda as the album cover full of famous faces was being put together (Michael Parkinson’s children seem to be having a great time!) and three minutes of home footage of Wings in Lagos, which is great but short (is this all that survived the McCartney’s mugging?) plus a bonkers American TV advert for the record and three music videos recently featured in ‘The McCartney Years’ DVD set. As for the packaging, its summed up by the fact that three fascinating pages of polaroids taken in Lagos are here in tiny barely-viewable form while we get five whole pages of varities of ‘Band On The Run’ from around the world which are all identical to the British version except the font and occasionally the positioning of the photos. Macca has some nice observations on the songs, though and there’s some sheet music for the orchestra overdubs that’s somehow survived the years intact. Oh and an odd American promo picture for ‘Jet!’ which for some reason has a topless model urging all the girls to expose themselves – which is a whole interpretation of the song I’d never thought about before! Great, then, and one of the better releases in the series despite the swizz of the 1999 documentary disc being repeated, but maybe not special enough for the price.

 “McCartney” (2011)

CD One: The Album

CD Two: Suicide/Maybe I’m Amazed (One Hand Clapping)/(Live At Glasgow 1979: Every Night/Hot As Sun/Maybe I’m Amazed)/Don’t Cry Baby (Oo You Backing Track)/Woman Kind

DVD: The Album Story/The Beach (Scottish Home Movie)/Maybe I’m Amazed (Promo)/Suicide (One Hand Clapping)/Every Night (Kampuchea 1979)/Hot As Sun (Kampuchea 1979)/Junk (MTV Unplugged)/That Would Be Something (MTV Unplugged)

Speculation was at fever pitch for what would follow ‘Band On The Run’ – despite being where it all began and a big sales hit, ‘McCartney’ really wasn’t the choice many of us were expecting. You see, not many outtakes exist from this album – it was a turn the tape recorders on and get it down kind of an album. Alas if any outtakes do exist from this record Macca has sat on them for another few decades as the most interesting thing we get here is the original idea for ‘Oo You’ back when it was yet another of the albun’s instrumentals (it works better without the words). Otherwise we get rotten outtake crooner song ‘Suicide’ (as much lamponned by Lennon during the ‘Let It Be’ sessions and rejected by Frank Sinatra who thought it was a joke) and a weirdo song we’d never heard before even on bootleg ‘Wiman Kind’, an oddly misogynistic song for a Beatle for which Linda probably gave him a slap. Other bits and pieces really shouldn’t be here either – album tracks as performed in ‘One Hand Clapping’ (already out on the ‘band On The Run’ set’s DVD) and Wings’ near-last performance in Glasgow in 1979, which are nice but really ought to be complete on a deluxe ‘Back To The Egg’ instead. The DVD ain’t much better, with Wings again in 1979 at their ‘real’ farewell performance at the Kampuchea benefit shows and the 1991 Unplugged set (which admittedly is rare, but should be here in a deluxe set of ‘Flowers On The Dirt’ not split up as it is here). The saving grace of this set is the documentary, sadly something not repeated on most of the other sets, where Paul talks in-depth for much the first time about just how depressed he really was in the wake of the Beatles’ split and how confused he was while making this album. He’s at his most photogenic too even while depressed and Linda took many many snaps of him in this period wich brighten up both documentary and packaging no end. The rest of the DVD disc is a disappointment though and overall this is one of the weakest releases in the series. The book is one of the better ones though, even if it repeats many of the words and images heard in the documentary, highlighted by the rarely seen press release for the album in which Paul ‘accicdentally’ blew the story that The Beatles were over.

“McCartney II” (2011)

CD One: The Original Album

CD Two: Blue Sway (1986 Version)/Coming Up (Live At Glasgow)/Check My Machine/Bogey Wobble/Secret Friend (Unedited)/Mr H Atom-You Know I’ll Get You Baby/Wonderful Xmas Time/All You Horse-Riders-Blue Sway

CD Three: Coming Up (Unedited)/Front Parlour (Unedited)/Frozen Jap (Unedited)/DarkRoom (Unedited)/Check My Machine (Unedited)/Wonderful Xmas Time (Unedited)/Summer’s Day Song (Instrumental)Waterfalls (Edit)

DVD: Meet Paul McCartney/Coming Up (Promo)/Waterfalls (Promo)/Wonderful Xmas Time (Promo)/Coming Up (Kampuchea 1979)/Coming Up (Wings Rehearsal)/The Making of The Coming Up Video/Blue Sway (new Music Video)

This is my personal favourite of the re-issue series so far, even though it too is badly flawed. Macca ever so nearly released ‘McCartney II’ as a gonzo double record set, only changing his mind at very much the eleventh hour and trying his best to salvage a ‘mainstream’ record out of it. As explained in our main review in this book, the finished album sucks eggs, but the original is Easter eggs – a very odd tasting sort of Easter egg but a treat all the same. Macca sounds at his best when he’s stretching himself and never more so than here with ten minute dance rave numbers and wacky electronic wizadry that brings out his natural musical abilities. The nearly-released double album is fabulous – but that isn’t quite what we get here. Instead of releasing the album on two discs as it was intended we get a few different edits and mxies thrown in and some of the songs untouched are left on the first disc how they are. Every fan likely to buy this set already owns the ‘McCartney II’ that did come out, so why not use the opportunity to release the album as it shold have been? The running order was one of the best things about it (leaking with weirdness on disc three and retracing steps back to normality via ‘Waterfalls’ ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘Coming Up’), alas this new version of the album doesn’t work as well all jumbled up. There are, though, some brilliant things here such as the original instrumental version of ‘Summer’s Day Song,  original six minute ‘Coming Up’, the original four minute ‘DarkRoom’, the original six minute ‘Check My Machine’ and the original ten minute ‘Secret Friend’, all of which work so much better in full. Though you’d never want to hear them out of context outtakes ‘All You Horse-Riders’ ‘Blue Sway’ ‘You Know I’ll get You Baby’ ‘Bogey Wobble’ and especially the groovy chemistry lesson ‘Mr H Atom’ are all terrific to hear properly at last too, in pristine sound. I’m less keen on ‘Wonderful Xmas Time’ clogging up the running time, the 1986 re-hash of ‘Blue Sway’ for the ‘HoCold Cuts’ outtakes set that never came out misses the point of a charming song and discs two and three could easily have been combined on one disc without much bother at all, but hey ho, overall this is the best McCartnet deluxe edition in terms of audio.

The rest of the set is a bit more of a mess. McCartney was in hermit mode across 1979 as he pondered the rest of his career and Linda doesn’t seem to have taken as many pictures of him in this period so this set’s packaging feels more padded out (one exception is a great shot of baby James McCartney trying to get his dad’s attention while both are posed in front of the actual synthesiser used on the album). The DVD too is a disappointment: I’d love to have a new making-of like the one on the ‘McCartney’ set but all we get is the worst interview of Paul’s career (he clearly hates Paul Gambaccini, asking some very uncharactiastically dumb or awkward questions back in 1980, mostly about Lennon, which he proceeds to duck or downplay), the usual music videos already out on ‘The McCartney Years’, a very mutinous looking Wings in 1979 rehearsing ‘Coming Up’ who look as fed up as anything and a four minute making of for the fantastic ‘Coming Up’ music video. Even so, this is one of the best sets in the series, recommended for anyone who liked the original album but always longed for it go even further out on a limb.

“Ram” (2012)

CD One: The Album In Stereo

CD Two: Another Day/Oh Woman Oh Why/Little Woman Love/A Love For You/Hey Diddle/The Great Cock and Seagull Race/Rode All Night/Sunshine Sometime

CD Three: The Album In Mono

CD Four: Thrillington

DVD: Ramming on (Documentary)/Heart Of The Country (Promo)/3 Legs (Promo)/Hey Diddle (Home Video)/Eat At Home (Tour Footage)

Now this, this is what a deluxe set should look like. Macca’s most home-brewed album seems delightfully home-spun in this mass-produced version too, full of little gifts like photo-books of the McCartneys proudly holding their sheep and rams aloft for the cameras and a parcel of hand-written lyrics that come in a package tied up by hand with real string. There are booklets galore in this set with some of the best photographs of the set as Linda spent much of her down-time between sessions snapping away Paul’s return to the studio for posterity. This set looks great, best of the bunch and nowhere is this more fitting than Ram, arguably the most beautiful of McCartney records. But hold on, in the opposite to the packaging (the outside of the actual box is an ugly white concrete slab containing colourful extras), so the actual contents aren’t as appealing as they seem.

In audio terms we get an extra disc – but CD two is full of the same A and B sides you can find on any decent past re-issue of this album with meagre extras all round (an ugly remix of one of Macca’s best outtakes ‘A Love For You’, an ugly seven minute steam-shedding jam ‘Rode All Night’ and two doodles intended for an aborted Rupert The Bear full length animation that ended up becoming a short in 1984 and really should have been included complete). CD three is the album in mono – the last Beatles product of all issued in mono before the format was discontinued, which gives it some historical value I guess, but not much musical one as by 1971 the mixes were being done by the same engineers to the same plan and there are very few differences here at all (the long fades of ‘Long Haired Lady’ and ‘Back Seat Of My Car’ a little bit while ‘Too Many People’ is slightly punchier, but nothing you can pin down). Cd Four is the Thrillington re-make of the album as easy listening music – which is a great way of getting hold of a rarity but few people ever listened to this album and thought ‘I wonder what it would sound like with The Mike Sammes Singers performing it?’ for a reason. It’s a joke you’ll play once before filing away forever, not what box sets are made of. As for the DVD it lacks the weight of other releases in the series, with a very short making-of, one rare music video (‘3 Legs’) and one common one, plus three minute fragments of the McCartneys at home and Wings on tour (which sadly means we probably aren’t getting a deluxe set of ‘Wildlife’ any time soon, where this set should naturally be). The result is a set you’ll want to read and view and bask in all over again (especially if you like sheep!) but which isn’t made for repeated listening or viewing.

“Wings Over America” (2013)

CDs One and Tour: The Original Album

DVD: Rockshow aka Wings Over The World/Backstage Pass

One of the best live sets by anyone, missing on our shelves and re-packaged again, what’s not to like? Well the price for a start – this set costs an extra £30-40 compared to the other already pricey entries in the series and doesn’t look it to be frank. There are some gorgeous replicas of tour booklets, more of Linda’s photographs the official photographer Humphrey Ocean’s catalogue of the tour once intended for a book that never got made, plus reproductions of all the badges and stickers used to promote the tour. It’s great to see the rare concert film of the show (which, delayed three years. Got buried by the end of Wings and a certain drugs bust at the time) which should have come out as a video/DVD in its own right decades ago. However there’s nothing else that the self-respecting fan hasn’t got in some source already – no new audio and only a brief bit of home footage of Wings on tour added to the DVD. How much cooler this set might have been with memories of all of the people involved (roadies, catering, lighting men etc) and Humphrey Ocean’s intended animation for the tour (with a family of mice who tour with Wings and have their own adventures) finally finished for this set. Instead ‘Wings Over America’ got rather overlooked yet again, overtaken by cheaper, more substantial McCartney releases. One day they’ll get it right – and at a price we can afford too hopefully.

“Venus and Mars” (2014)

CD One: The Album

CD Two: Junior’s Fram/Sally G/Walking In The Park With Eloise/Bridge Over The River Suite/My Carnival/Going To New Orleans/Hey Diddle/Let’s Love/Soilly (One Hand Clapping)/Baby Face (One Hand Clapping)/Lunch Box-Odd Sox/4th Of July/Rock Show (early Version)/Letting Go (Edit)

DVD: My Carnival (Studio Footage)/Bon Voyageur/Wings At Elstree/TV Advert

Maybe it’s the carnival atmosphere but it feels as if McCartney never kept track of his own archives here, letting lots of things that should be here go, perhaps because he couldn’t find them. There are, you see, some glorious outtakes from this album’s sessions, back when these songs were young and fragile before Wings overdubbed a galaxy of overdubs on top of ‘Venus and Mars’. Of these outtakes, one of the best compilations around spanning two whole discs, we get one solitary early take of ‘Rock Show’ that itself is nowhere near the ones I’ve got on bootleg. What a waste. In fact we don’t get much of anything new here – the packaging is mostly outtakes of the back cover photograph (all shot on a beach so far away you can’t aleays tell what’s going on anyway), the audio is mostly made up of period A and B sides and the DVD has no new making of, just period live performances and McCartney on holiday having fun trying to tape a mardi gras song while the rest of a sulky band want to go outside and play. Thirteen precious minutes of Wings at work on this album are fascinating though, as are a few of the CD extras, notably an entire unreleased song about being unhappy on my birthday 4th July (only heard in very fragmentary form on bootleg – we never knew it was finished) and three more snippets from ‘One-Hand Clapping’ (which should really be on the ‘Band On The Run’ set) which include the delightful song given away to Peggy Lee ‘Let’s Love’ and under-rated rocker ‘Soilly’. I’m not so sure we need the audio of Macca messing around with ‘Baby Face’ though. Overall this is one of the weakest sets in the series which doesn’t really have much new to add to the discussion of the album and seems to be here more because it was a big seller at the time in the wake of ‘Band On The Run’ than because Paul is burning to put this stuff out there at last as he is with a few of these other sets.

“Wings At The Speed Of Sound” (2014)

CD One: The Album

CD Two: Silly Love Songs (Demo)/She’s My Baby (Demo)/A Message To Joe/Beware My Love (‘Jon Bonham Version’)/Must Do Something About It (Paul Vocal)/Let ‘Em In (Demo)/Warm and Beautiful (Demo)

DVD: Silly Love Songs (Promo)/Wings Over Wembley/Wings In Venice

Fans do, at least, have something of a soft spot for ‘Venus and Mars’. Almost nobody out there loves the sequel ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’, so the choice of this album in the deluxe series came as a shock. There is, however, one of the best audio CDs of the series containing two truly gorgeous demos (Macca pretending to do the drums on ‘Silly Love Songs’ and him and Denny Laine’ having a great time on a recently coined ‘Let ‘Em IN’ that sounds fabulous – seriously they should have left it like this and made it a B-side, it’s far better). The remix of ‘Beware My Love’ might not add much in the way of drumming (guest Jon Bonham is no Joe English to be frank) but is a fabulously raw version of a powerful song, whilst the chance to hear Paul singing his own song ‘Must Do Something About It’ (given sway to Joe for the LP) reveals what a sweet and under-rated minor gem in the McCartney catalogue it is. I’m not so sure about Macca testing out his vocoder with some instructions for the drummer sent through the post though while ‘Warm and Beautiful’ and ‘She’s My Baby’ sound horrid even in basic demo form. The DVD ain’t great either, lasting just a measly twenty-two minutes with just the short tour film ‘Wings Over Wembley’(which would have made more sense in the ‘Over America’ set), three home movie minutes of the band in Venice and one measly music video everybody knows to watch. The packaging is as good as all the other sets though, maybe a little better, trhanks to a rarer than average set of Linda photographs, some glossy pull-outs of promotional advert posters (Wings look great in this period) and more original handwritten lyrics. The re-issue can’t do much about ‘Speed Of Sound’ being the runt of the Wings litter, but it does sound and look better than it ever has before in this version.

“Tug Of War” (2015)

CD One: The Album

CD Two: Stop! You Don’t Know Where She Came From/Wanderlust (Demo)/Ballroom Dancing (Demo)/Take It Away (Demo)/The Pound Is Sinking (Demo)/Something That Didn’t Happen (Demo)/Ebony and Ivory (Demo and Solo Version)/Dress Me Up AS A Robber (Demo)/Rainclouds/I’ll Give You A Ring

DVD: Tug Of War (Promo x 2)/Take It Away (Promo)/Ebony and Ivory (Promo)

Usually these deluxe sets hace one thing going for them: re-mastering that makes them sound better than they used to, if nothing you’d want to pay all that extra money for alone. ‘Tug If War’ and ‘Pipes Of Peace’, though, actually sound worse than they did in the 1990s, at least to these ears. There’s no depth to the sound, no punch, just layers and layers of synths getting in the way. Oddly enough the demos sound better (they are kinda better than the over-slick remakes too in many cases actually) and the second disc is another of the best in the set, with some terrific versions here. Two Maccas are having so much fun with ‘Take It Away’ that they just can’t stop, pushing themselves on through several repeats of the chorus that’s irresistibly good fun, ‘The Pound Is Sinking’ separated into two different songs, sounds fabulous, ‘Dress Me Up As A Robber’, complete with a sneaky few bars of the original instrumental demo on the end, is funky as hell before the session musicians dragged it down and ‘Ebony and Ivory’ is much more palatable with Paul singing all the words for some reason (which is odd, because it’s not as if its all Stevie Wonder’s fault the reason it came out the way it did). The DVD though is the worst in the series: four music videos, three of which are all on ‘The McCartney Years’ (and the one that ain’t, a second pass at the title track, was left unreleased for a reason). As for the packaging, this time we get an extra ‘scrapbook’ as well as the main booklet featuring glossy photos of the album sessions (with most of the text moved to the booklet proper) and the design is much better in my eyes I think, with everything coming in pull-out trays. There are, though, problems with this set and its sister one that even the extra photos can’t cure.

“Pipes OF Peace” (2015)

CD One: The Album

CD Two: Average Person (Demo)/Keep Under Cover (Demo)/Sweetest Little Show In Town (Demo)/It’s Not On (Demo)/Simple As That (Demo)/Say Say Say (Remix)/Ode To A Koala Bear/Twice In A Lifetime/Christian Bop

DVD: Pipes Of Peace (Promo)/So Bad (Promo)/Say Say Say (Promo)/Hey Hey In Montserrat/Behind The Scenes At AIR Studios/The Man (Home Footage)

‘Pipes’ is usually seen as the neglected little sister of ‘Tug’ and much like the album itself it feels the extras here are made up of leftovers from the last release. Most of the songs for these two albums were demoed together, but Macca took all the good sounding ones for ‘Tug Of War’, leaving this album thin on the ground. All we get are a pretty rollicking demo for ‘Keep Under Cover’, an oddball return to the misogyny of ‘It’s Not On’ that’s less patronising than ‘Wman Kind’ but not as funny as ‘Temporary Secretary and a funky home demo for anti-drugs song (oh the irony!) ‘Simple As That’ which works better here as a basic thought than a big epic production. Usually I hate remixes on box sets as filler material, but against the odds the new mixof ‘Say Say Say’ is the best thing here, giving what was always one of Macca’s more cobtemporary songs a surface sheen that is the most moden he’s sounded since, well, the original probably. Alas the remix shows up how shoddy the re-mastering is again as once more my 1990s copy of the album sounds better all round. The DVD is one of the shortest in the series and badly needs a making of but thankfully it has some really fascinating material. George Martin quit EMI and Abbey Road to form his own AIR studios in partnership with Hollies producer Ron Richards. With Macca back working with Martin he ended up switching studios too and Linda’s home movie in these new surroundings is fascinating, even if the band are sadly stitching together the manic ‘Hey Hey’ rather than anything really worth taping. The home footage of the Maccas at play with Michael Jackson is oddly moving too now he’s no longer here, although it still doesn’t make me feel the Jackson collaborations are a highlight of Macca’s back catalogue. Let’s just be thankiful Wacko Jacko’s ‘return’ duet ‘The Girl Is Mine’ ain’t here I guess! As for the packaging, like ‘Tug Of War’ it’s one of the best in the set with trays containing extra booklets and photographs. Odd that’s what is effectively Macca’s solo ‘white album’ comes in an ugly beige box though.

“Flowers In The Dirt” (2017)

CD One: The Album (with ‘Ou Est Le Soliel’ as a bonus track as per the –reissue)

CD Two: The Elvis Costello Demos (The Lovers That Never Were/Tommy’s Coming Home/Twenty Tiny Fingers/You Want Her Too/That Day Is Done/Don’t Be Careless Love/My Brave Face/Playboy To A Man)/The Lovers That Never Were (Remix)

Bonus Download (Not Included In Set But Only Accessed If You Buy One): Back On My Feet/Flying To My Home/The First Stone/Good Sign/This One (Remix)/Figure Of Eight (12” Mix)/The Loveliest Thing/Ou Est Le Soliel? (Remix x 4)/Party Party (x 2 mixes)/The Elvis Costello Demos (I Don’t Want To Confess/Shallow Grave/Mistress and Maid/Distractions/This One/Back On My Feet)

DVD: My Brave Face (Promo x2)/This One (Promo x2)/Figure Of Eight (Promo)/Party Party/Ou Est Le Soleil? (Promo)/Put It There (Promo)/Distractions (Promo)/We Got Married (Promo)/Creating Flowers In The Dirt/Put It There (Documentary)

This is at the time of writing the final McCartney deluxe edition – and the fallout from it means that its looking more and more as if it will be the final one. Macca got a lot of flak for this and rightly so. I mean, if you were paying £60 for the privilege of owning an album (the bulk of which had been issued before) you’d want to actually own everything listed on it wouldn’t you? But no: even though CDs cost all of 10p to manufacture in bulk for a big company like EMI the McCartney Archives people couldn’t be arsed to actually put the third disc on an actual disc. Instead you have to do the hard work by downloading it. Why? If Macca was sensitive to accusations of poor sound quality then surely the second disc (with some great but pretty shoddy sounding Elvis Costello colleaborative demos) should be the one getting the boot. None of it is greatly rare (though fans did have to pay quite a lot of money to get ‘Party Party’ for one last time around twenty-five years ago) but that’s not the point. These sets cost a lot of money. Why only do half a job?

The fallout has overshadowed the fact that, at last, these deluxe sets are turning out right. Though far from faultless and still overly pricey there’s a lot here for your money (if you do some extra downloading). ‘Flowers’ spawned some of the best B-sides of McCartney’s career and while twenty minutes of dance track ‘Ou Est Le Soleil?’ will test even the patience of fans who like the Frog Chorus most of the (absent) third disc is amongst the best in the series. Even so it’s still not long enough – there’s a whole bunch of things missing, most notably the entirely different single recording of ‘Figure Of Eight’ and period A-side ‘All My Trials’ plus an endless amount of remixes. The second disc, featuring Elvis Costello in surprisingly gorgeous harmony with Macca, is superb: all unreleased demos, all fantastic. I dread to think the contractual negotiations that must have gone on to get this lot, given that it features not just songs that ended up on Paul’s albums but Elvis’ as well. A dark and dangerous ‘The Lovers That Never Were’ is the highlight, knocking spots off the re-tread that turned up on ‘Off The Ground’, but there are other gems too such as a sarcastic ‘So Like Candy’, the Lennonish ‘Playboy To A Man’ which is so much better with harmonies rather than the screams of Elvis’ solo version and ‘My Brave Face’ back when it was fun and bouncy and in denial all the way through. Fabulous! Again, though, why is it not here complete? Downloaders have access to another six tracks not on the CD even though they could all have fitted on there fine. Even this is controversial though: what happened to Elvis’ co-credits for ‘Distractions’ and ‘This One’ by the time they ended up on the parent album? As for the DVD, it features a whole bunch of music videos that weren’t on the ‘McCartney Years’ DVD for once (Itself already top heavy with late 1980s footage), the rare ‘Put It There Documentary’ from 1991 and a whole new making of the album which really should have been there for every item on this list. The packaging too is exquisite even for this series: along with the normal booklet there’s one full of handwritten lyrics, a catalogue for a contemporary Linda McCartney photo exhibition of her family and a massive photobook full of Linda’s pics as the video for ‘This One’ was being put together. It may be sprinkling flowers in the dirt compared to what this set – and indeed this series – gets wrong, but if only they’d included that missing disc in here then this would be the best in the format after ‘McCartney II’. Let’s hope any future instalments in the deluxe series turn out like this one…

"Never Stop Doing What You Love"

(EMI, ‘Mid 2005’)

Another Day/Jet!/Let ‘Em In/With A Little Luck/Live and Let Die/Listen To What The Man Said/My Love/Take It Away/No More Lonely Nights/Silly Love Songs/Put It There/Once Upon A Long Ago/The World Tonight/Bluebird/Calico Skies

"In the audience, watching the show, with a paper in his hand”

Here is the other side of McCartney’s art. No sooner has he wowed the world by getting jiggy wit da young things on the ‘Twin Freaks’ remixes than he’s back as an establishment figure. This weird compilation was released to ‘celebrate’ (if that’s the word) Macca getting pots more moolah from agreeing to be the figurehead for banking company ‘Fidelity Investments’, who in turns sponsored his 2005 world tour. Macca got a lot of flak for this at the time and rightly so: did he really need more money? And did we really need yet another compilation? I think not – the track selection was apparently chosen by Paul ‘in association with Fidelity employees’ which merely reveals what an unadventurous bunch they are. Pretty much every song is also available on ‘All The Best’ and even the ones that aren’t are on ‘Wingspan’. There’s one exception to this, but only if you’re American where [  ] ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’ was only out as a single and got the boot from their copies of ‘Best’. It’s a worthy song, but you don’t need to buy a whole CD just to hear it – ironically given the circumstances, your bank manager probably wouldn’t like it. Even the running order is dumb, almost chronological but not quite. Never stop doing what you love indeed – but icons should never milk their back catalogue merely for profit either.

"iTunes Live At Capitol Studios"
(MPL, March 2012)
Always/Bye Bye Blackbird/Get Yourself Another Fool/I’m Going To Sit Down And Write Myself A Letter/Home (When Shadows Fall)/More I Cannot Wish You/The Glory Of Love/Accen-Tu-Ate The Positive/My Valentine
"I’m gonna sit down and listen to another albu8m and pretend it came from you…”
If you loved the ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ album and are after more crooning McCartney in your life then, well, we recommend you see a doctor quick. Quite how anybody thinks Macca losing his voice over a bunch of pre-war standards is a mystery to me, but my review got lots of letters from fans saying that they actually liked it so I only have one response: you’re all mad. Until they find a cure you might want to invest in this nine song set which even Paul couldn’t sell to EMI as a proper album so he released it himself through iTunes. The result is even less necessary than the album, with Macca losing his voice on multiple re-takes never mind when singing live when an orchestra. I really don’t see the point as there’s nothing here he didn’t sing better on the parent LP. Give this one a miss and go and buy yourself ‘Press To Play’ or ‘London Town’. Please!

'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