Monday 14 May 2018

Otis Redding Essay: It Takes Two - The Art Of Melancholy In Soul Music

You can now buy 'Change Gonna Come - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Otis Redding' in e-book form by clicking here!

I used to think I knew what the secret to soul music was, dear listener. It was the sound of one stubborn immovable object trying to get another immovable object to do what they wanted to. Not enough loving, too much loving, loving the wrong way, loving the right way but not often enough, too much freedom, too much of a trap: most soul music is men or women huffing or puffing about their other half and getting sweaty as they try to change their minds by force. James Brown, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles – everyone who came before Otis seemed to be not so much ordering as bullying o bargaining. With the odd exception of a song like ‘Shake’ (is it really soul?) that encouraged you to dance, most soul songs weighed you down with the weight of battle. Almost all soul singers spent their careers wanting something so desperately that they would get down on their knees and plead for change.
And then came Otis and suddenly all that soul DNA became enveloped in more dimensions somehow, as if it was telling the part of a wider story. Otis didn’t beg. Otis didn’t plead. Otis didn’t huff and puff the way his predecessors did. Though Otis was physically bigger than any other soul singer (‘six feet one, weigh one hundred and ten’ as he puts it himself in his song ‘Love Man’) and sweated buckets on stage with the best of them, something seemed different about him somehow, subtler. He was vulnerable for starters. Otis’ first big hit and the song that changed his career was titled [  ] ‘Pain In My Heart’ and reacted to events, rather than famous soul songs like ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ or ‘Please, Please, Please’ that demanded things of his partner. Rather than ordering change, Otis spends most of his career trying to put things right with his beloved instead. However he still sounded vulnerable – with power. That’s a huge trick to pull off and to my ears no one else got it right. In fact I’m not sure anyone else ever really tried it. Most soul singers got grandiose ‘characters’ and nicknames’ across their careers. James Brown was the Godfather of Soul. Sam Cooke was the King of Soul. Jackie Wilson was ‘Mr Excitement’. Even Otis’ main rivals Sam and Dave were known as ‘Double Dynamite’. What name did Otis choose for himself? ‘Mr Pitiful’. That name even became a song, so that more people could hear it, a parody of sorts of what all his rivals were doing, upbeat and enthusiastic but at the heart of it all so very very sad. Otis was the one soul singer you could count on to keep you company through a sad and lonely night, a figure for whom nothing ever seemed to be going right, for whom every relationship was going to end in heartbreak and make himself look stupid.
You just didn’t do that in soul music before Otis arrived in 1964. You don’t really do that now: who else but Otis would sing quite so many songs of melancholy in their careers? Songs where, far from seeming like superhuman the people in them seem vulnerable and weak? ‘Pain In My Heart’ was the start in a whole series of original songs about feeling vulnerable: ‘Security’ ‘Cigarettes and Coffee’ ‘My Lover’s Prayer’ ‘Ole Man Trouble’  ‘Chained and Bound’ ‘Dock Of The Bay’…they all come with the feeling that something is going wrong and all the huffing and puffing and sweat isn’t going to put it right. ‘Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)’ even has Otis trying to write what other soul singers do and realising that he can’t, so he realises that ‘this is the only song I can sing’ instead, a song that in another’s hands would be all smiles, but here is all tears. This theme is less obvious in the soul cover songs Otis did, which tended towards the happy side of things, although that might be why – unusually for a soul singer – he reached into the rock and roll idiom too and his choices are interesting: rather than the common cover songs ‘Day Tripper’ is a rare Beatles love affair that doesn’t work out, ‘Satisfaction’ a teeth-gnashing song of frustration about everything in life, while even in-concert-only Beatles cover choice ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ isn’t exactly the happiest song in the Lennon-McCartney songbook. Nope, Otis is a pitiful figure. ‘My life is such a weary thing’ sighs Otis on ‘My Lover’s Prayer’, ‘You can’t make my life all over!’ Notably the only time Otis ever asks his love to come back to him, as he does on this song, he doesn’t do so in an ‘I promise you the Earth baby and sweep you off your feet’ way like a James Brown, but in a ‘how could you leave someone who needs you so badly he’s going to cry great rivers till you come home lyric?’
Then Otis discovered his backing band – or at any rate Stax discovered them for him. Booker T and the MGs were themselves not your average r and b instrumental band. Their playing, especially when enhanced by the Mar-Keys horn section, tends towards the melancholy. Booker T isn’t a flashy keyboard player – he plays glorious descending chords that sound like teardrops. Guitarist Steve Cropper, who co-wrote so many songs with Otis, is a master of the minor key (just check out that guitar solo on ‘Ole Man Trouble’, so full of despair and desperation). Donald ‘Duck Dunn’ doesn’t so much press home where the song is going as throb and pulse, letting the sorrow of the songs sink in. And drummer Al Jackson can play anything, including the kind of weight-of-the-world sigh that only heartbreak and despair can inspire. Booker T and the MGs can and do play happy songs and indeed most of their own discography tends towards the cheery. But they sound at their best playing sad.
‘So what?’, you might be thinking. Otis was just a sad man with a big voice and a band with the scale to match it. But that melancholy is important because it allows Otis to do things differently to everyone who came before him. It’s easy to get stuck in one place if you sing soul: there are only so many ways you can ‘show off’, plead endlessly, order the person of the opposite sex to do what you want them to do and yell ‘gotta gotta gotta’ while you go red in the face. But the melancholy in Otis’ work allows him to tease out extra nuances in his writing. He’s not tied to just sitting in one place and can go anywhere. Soul music can suddenly do regret, not hope. It can do guilt, not pride. It can do multiple layers and this gives Otis a subtlety his forebears can’t reach. Take a song like ‘Try A Little Tenderness’: it’s his gentler instruction to any macho men listening to soul records for advice in their love lives: sometimes being yelled at by a tough guy isn’t always the way to go, he says, try it with some sensitivity instead. ‘Just One More Day’ is an earlier song on the same theme: ‘I’ll buy you anything you want me to buy, and I will love you till the day you die, if you please let me have one more day!’ Otis cries. You believe him, in a way that you don’t always believe Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, James Brown and co who are playing a character. We know that this is the ‘real’ Otis somehow, a gentle giant who has fun playing at a romantic caricature like ‘Love Man’ but is really struggling to keep his shit together like the rest of us.
Where did this come from? Well, here is my guess – but I stress it is only a guess. Otis was an autobiographical writer, perhaps more than he’s ever been given credit for. His life impacted his music more than it did most soul singers – perhaps because he was a lot more sensitive than most soul singers and less concerned about playing a role. Otis, though, was sensitive to the degree that he worried about everything, because he knew how easy it was for life to change and to lose everything. He was certain that he was about to lose everything important in his life any day now and much of the  sadness in his work came out of fear. His dad was poorly with TB for most of his childhood and could have died at any time; this is unsettling for anyone, but it also left Otis was the family’s chief breadwinner from the moment he left school early at fifteen, aware of life’s responsibilities far too young. He then had a baby at eighteen and a wife at nineteen and it changed his life – the couple had a chance meeting after she went to see a band run by local Georgian singer Johnny Jenkins when she fell for backing singer Otis. Keen to make his acquaintance, she got nervous and her words came out as a row: why did he have to sing like that? Their relationship started with an argument then and there would be many more, in between the kisses. It was a relationship that was clearly based on love and where the pair adored each other – but did they adore each other enough to stay together in between the temper tantrums? Otis seems to have been asking himself that question up to the day he died, past his seventh wedding anniversary.
Desperate to make it in the music business, he moved out of Georgia at the age of twenty to try to make it as a singer in Los Angeles – wife Zelda and son Dexter stayed behind. While other soul singers had the life they always dreamed of out on the road, partying every night and with a different girl (sometimes boy) on their arm after every gig, Otis went back to his hotel room alone. He yearned to be with them, doing the things other couples took for granted. He longed to do the ordinary things every other soul singer ignored and make them out to be special moments. Even after he became a success and bought his wife and child a mansion to keep the rain off their heads, he hardly ever got the time to spend with them – he was too busy touring or recording and trying to get a hurried message through to them on the phone. Even the rows in what was an often stormy relationship, the sort of thing that other soul singers always vented about, seemed somehow special to Otis: with so little in his life that was solid and so much risk of it being taken away, he was always anxious to please, to put things right, to make up any differences that happened. Zelda once said to a reporter that ‘every single song Otis sang I felt as if he sang it for me’ and she’s probably not far wrong. Just as Otis got through his first overwhelming gig on the advice that he should aim to sing to just one girl in his audience and the rest would believe it and follow, so he realised more and more that this one girl was her. And he was worried that without her he might not be able to sing at all. One of the most moving of Otis’ songs is a lyric that was written about what he wanted most in his life: not love, not happiness, not perfection. But [  ] ‘Security’. And Otis is wary, paranoid even, that what he’s got is all going to be taken away and that there is nothing he can do about it.
You could argue that he found it. Zelda was so distraught at his early death at aged twenty-six (when she was only twenty-three) that she said she could never possibly fall in love again – and she hasn’t, even with the fiftieth anniversary of Otis death come and gone. There’s never been a moment of doubt in her voice in public in all the years since that Otis was made for her and it would no doubt have done soul’s gentle giant the world of good to hear that. I’ve never doubted it either: most of their arguments were probably not because she wasn’t in love but because she felt insecure too. She was fifteen when they met and she was swept off her feet; eighteen when she had her first child and she was alone for long stretches of their marriage when Otis was off on the road. She thought her husband was the most attractive and talented man in the world and he was off on the road alone; of course she probably feared that he was about to run off any day too. At times he might well have done, certainly that’s what the guilt in many of his songs seems to suggest sometimes. But nobody has ever come forward with a paternity test and said ‘Otis was my father!’ and there has never been a ‘ten girls a day shock’ revelation about Otis, even after he died (and couldn’t sue, which is what happens to so many leading figures after they die – especially when young and famous). Whatever the cause of that doubt, though, it seems to have fuelled both of them in this period. Otis loved Zelda but couldn’t be sure if she loved him; in turn Zelda loved Otis but couldn’t be sure he loved her. There were cracks in their relationship as early as the first album and Otis mines this uncertainty in his songs. Is today going to be the day she walks out on him? Is it today that this minor fight will blow up into something he can’t stop? Otis is terrified of losing what he knows is the love of his life too and the Redding catalogue is a series of songs, original and borrowed, that charts their rise and fall together as a couple far more than any other soul writer ever did (Otis may have got some of this from his hero Sam Cooke, but Cooke’s love life was complex and full of strife: his first wife died soon after their divorce in a car crash and his second was in the process of splitting up from when he died after the death of their son in their family swimming pool, not to mention at least three children born out of wedlock). Otis’ problem, by contrast, is that the family home is his sanctuary and escape – but he also feels a drive to write and record and sing that takes him away from home for so many long periods. Will his wife let him do this? Or will he lose both (with pretty much 100% of his songs about Zelda somewhere?)
On the first album ‘Pain In My Heart’ Zelda is the only thing that’s going right – that he no longer doubts anything when ‘I hold you in these arms of mine’. Second album ‘Soul Ballads’ has Otis pledging himself in a much more determined, anxious way. ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ he promises Zelda, while offering to be ‘Your One and Only Man’. Both songs, though, come with an added dimension of worry and doubt – he can’t feel safe when they’re together anymore, he needs her to know it, to prove it to her. Both songs and plenty more on that album come with a weight, a desperation, a pleading that’s hidden away in the minor keys, the sigh of Otis’ vocal in between his promises of love and a horn section that feels unstoppable, a pressure that’s too much for even this powerful singer to bear. ‘Chained and Bound’, a song that reads from the title as if it’s going to be another soul song about escaping the clutches of a girl, is the happiest we ever hear Otis, more than happy to be with the one he loves (‘I don’t have to worry no mo’!’) However even this song has Otis aware that he’s never at home, sighing ‘what kind of love is this I’m giving?’
Then we have the great ‘Otis Blue’, an album released as Otis has realised all his career objectives and become a headline act at last, a popular draw across Europe that everyone is talking about as the next big thing. But you wouldn’t know that from the music: every time he plays halfway around the world he’s another day away from his sweetheart. Emotionally this is the album where all things have gone wrong: it starts with the messy chaos of ‘Ole Man Trouble’, moves on to the argument that ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (And I Ain’t About To Stop Now)’, features a revved up ‘Satisfaction’ and sighs over the fact the narrator never had it so good on ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’. This is a haunted man, as far away from James Brown’s look-at-me antics as it’s possible to get; Otis wants to run away and hide from everyone. ‘The Soul Album’ seems on first hearing to be happier – but even that record starts with an unlikely opening song with the tearful ballad ‘One More Day’ as Otis pleads with Zelda to stay just one more day so he can enjoy their time together just a tiny bit longer. There’s a four note phrase buried away in this song, in the horn arrangement that’s the most emotional moment of any of these recordings: ‘Please don’t leavvvvve meeeee!’ it intones between Otis’ promises of a brighter future. It kinda works, but fifth record ‘Dictionary Of Soul’ is a very schizophrenic album when you scratch under the surface. Half of it finds Otis strangely at peace: ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ is the sound of someone whose finally worked out how to cope with marital strife, by being kind and supportive and ‘Hawg For You’ is as sexual as Otis ever got, an innuendo song where all that testosterone spills over into a lyric that almost seems to write itself. But then there are the guolty songs: ‘Lord Have Mercy’ is the one time Otis tries his rival’s usual spirit on for size and it doesn’t fit (‘How many kisses have I stole?’ he starts, before backtracking and apologising for the rest of the song); ‘I’m Sick Y’all’ and ‘Lord Have Mercy’ are also both pleas to the universe to put things right because they’re out of Otis’ hands.
It might be significant that the last album of Otis’ career is a duets album, one mostly made up of breakup songs, as if he’s desperate to give an audience to his wife’s views as well. However more significant I think are the songs that Otis went on to write in the second half of 1967 in the most prolific creative outpouring of his life, none of them released in his lifetime. ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay’ is the most obvious of course: Otis has lost everything, he has no home to go to and we even hear that his home is in Georgia, exactly where it really was making this a more autobiographical, confessional song than normal. But now Otis is afraid to go home to the house that once offered so much security and so he cools his heels by the docks, wasting time, without even as much of a band as normal to support him as he cools his heels and whistles, completely alone for the first time in song. It’s there in other songs too though: Zelda was herself a wannabe songwriter and though she was reluctant to get her work on her husband’s albums for fear of nepotism it might be significant that the only song of hers Otis ever sang is the heartbreaking [  ] ‘I’ve Got Dreams To Remember’. It sounds to us now like eerie fortune telling as Otis’ lover gets on a plane that ‘stole you away from me’ given that this is what will happen forever only a few weeks (days even?) after the recording took place. But assuming that Zelda didn’t have a premonition it seems like the natural end of their love story that’s been played out on song since the beginning and tells the story from her side: what if after getting on this plane he never comes back? Oh well, at least she found the love of her life and has memories, even if she no longer has his physical presence anymore. Even with all these other sad songs where Otis sounds as if tears aren’t far from his eyes, they’re closest in this song which he almost whispers, afraid of hearing what these words have to say to him.
Almost as eerie is Otis’ own ‘I’m Coming Home’ in which he sighs that his woman has left him and taken the house, leaving him a ‘lost and lonely little boy’ with nowhere to turn. Or [  ] ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ where he sighs that ‘I made a mistake’ and ‘I miss you all the time’. Or [  ] ‘Waste Of Time’ where Otis finally caves in and huffs and haws the way his contemporaries did, only in a twist it’s a song demanding not love but release: ‘My heart can’t stand it!’ he cries. Or [  ] ‘Free Me’ with its haunting opening verse: ‘Turn me loose, free me darling, let me go from your love now’. It feels like a love story that’s run its course and that the melancholy that’s been there since day one has slowly swelled up and overwhelmed the songs to the point where there’s nothing else.
Or is this too simple? Zelda for one is adamant that she never loved her husband more than she did at the end of his life and that they were never closer. She famously sued author Scott Freeman for comments he made in his excellent biography ‘The Otis Redding Story’ that he was thinking of divorcing Zelda. That’s probably going a bit far: the Otis Redding of these songs would never have gone through it. But I do think that he lived with the fear, rightly or wrongly, that she would end it each and every day. Various biographies think that Otis, like many music stars, wasn’t immune to sleeping round during busy nights on tour too. Maybe it was more his guilt that one day she might find that out?
Whatever the source of that melancholy, it makes the world of difference to Otis’ music. There have been other great singers in the soul idiom before Otis, who can hold the attention of a room and use all their effort and willpower to deliver a rocking song. There are some around now, though soul music does seem to be something of a dying art. Hopefully soon in the future there will be more. But Otis is, up till now at least, unique. I love the irony that it took the biggest, butchest, heaviest soul singer with the biggest voice to turn around the world’s most extroverted genre and make it introverted. I love the idea that the man who was given that many God given talents spent his times full of doubts and worries as the rest of us. I love the thought that although Otis was huge and powerful, it was the subtle of his delivery that moves you and that the power was couples with authenticity. I love the fact that he took the most macho musical genre around and urged his audience to try a little tenderness. I love the fact that he called himself ‘Mr Pitiful’ when he was one of the most wonderful musicians on the planet with so much going for him. Otis may shout, but does so when trying to repair a tender flower. He may moan in frustration, but it’s not out of ego but because he really cares. He may have been built like a boxer, but he sang fragile love songs to a fragile love crowd. If anyone helped soul music find its soul it was Otis, by recognising that life doesn’t have to perfect for you to strut your stuff.

A Now Complete List Of Otis Redding Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'The Soul Album' (1966)

'Complete and Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul!' (1966)

‘King and Queen’ (1967, with Carla Thomas)

Surviving TV Footage 1965-1967 plus The Best Unreleased Recordings

Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums 1963-2014

Otis Redding Essay: It Takes Two – The Art Of Melancholy In Soul Music

Paul McCartney: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Paul McCartney might not have toured consistently year in year out like the Grateful Dead or Neil Young, but he’s still racked up almost more concerts than anybody in the AAA alumnus: 1400-ish as part of The Beatles, 150 with various incarnations of Wings and 900 odd as a solo act, adding up to a ridiculous 2450. And he’s still going! Paul has actually played more in the 21st century already than he managed during his entire thirties, fourties and fifties and loves shrugging off the idea of retiring, claiming that he’s happier on stage than he’s ever been. That’s resulted in an awful lot of live McCartney CDs over the years (and in truth a lot of awful live McCartney CDs) but also some truly first-class performances. Here are five landmark moments out of thr thousand or so (we refer you to our Beatles book ‘Every Little Thing’ for the first half of Paul’s live career). One thing that’s always fascinated me too: what other performer, so famous for playing one instrument for so long, has ever swapped his main part before? Paul was a bass player first and foremost right through to the tours of the 1990s but now only begins his tours with a bass before swapping to guitar these days. If I know Paul’s restless creative nature he’ll be on the drum stool soon…

1)  Where: University Of Nottingham When: February 9th 1972 Why: First Wings Gig Setlist: ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ [39] Give Ireland Back To The Irish ‘Thankyou Darling’ [34] Wildlife [32] Bip Bop ‘Blues Jam’ [54] The Mess [46] My Love ‘Lucille’ ‘Long Tall Sally’

Fascinatingly the first performances John and Paul gave post-rooftop both took place at universities. But whereas Lennon plumped for Cambridge, to make an arty statement as Yoko’s ‘plus one’ at a gig invitation sent out to her, Paul was busy putting his brand new barely-met band through their paces down the bottom of the bill on a hard tour of British universities. This first Wings tour is infamous: most of the students considered The Beatles part of their elder brother or sister’s generation – which was exactly what Paul wanted, on a tour where anything to do with the fab four was banned (at least until the encore when he revived cover ‘Long Tall Sally’ for the first time since 1964!0 The whole point of this tour was to make Wings seem like just any other touring band, appearing more often than not unbilled after a few quick negotiations with the local student’s union, rather than in a blitz of publicity which would have scared a band still very green around the gills. The band didn’t even have a set itinery – they just drove up and down the motorway in a tiny van up looking for places that might have unis (in the day before every town had one), with Nottingham their first destination. This is the gig where the van pulled up outside the students union, the roadie was sent in to tell the students that Paul McCartney was outside in the van and he ambled up to the window several minutes later and without a blink said ‘oh, yeah, it is you, great!’ – not quite the response the Beatle was looking for! The first gig was rough, but Wings were tough – they even kicked things off with an Elvis oldie recorded before most of the people in the gig were born and the first McCartney original played that night was the one currently banned by the BBC (Indeed Wings’ biggest applause of the night was meant to come when Paul yelled ‘this one got banned!’ before kicking into the first notes). No audio or visual footage of the first gig exists, but bootlegs of later shows reveal a garage punk band with some bright ideas busking in between interminable tuning and occasional mistakes. With Beatles songs off the menu, ‘McCartney’ too primitive foir the stage ‘Ram’ too lush and only a few of the ‘Wildelife’ tracks ready, the setlist isn’t exactly golden in these early years but includes a few surprises: ‘Thankyou Darling’ is a rare cute spoof love song intended for ‘Red Rose Speedway’ back when that album was a double set, while ‘Blues Jam’ was an attempt to do a ‘Pink Floyd’ and improvise – the band will do a lot more of this sort of thing when Henry McCullough joins later in the year but as the band’s lone guitarist Denny Laine struggles. ‘My Love’, the only future set regular, receives a world premiere too, several months before appearing on Wings album number two. The band were paid hours after the gig, after a share of the takings were kept by the universities involved – Paul relished the thought, after years of touring with Brian Epstein, he was getting paid in real money and enjoyed counting out the pennies to his bandmates on the bus (Linda got a share too meaning the Mccartneys took double though, often a bone of contention!) After the gig in Nottingham uni Wings carried on to play gigs at York, Hull, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Lancaster, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Swansea and Oxford. Did they play at your uni maybe?!?

2)  Where: Gaumont Theatre, Southampton When: September 9th 1975 Why: Start Of Biggest Tour  Setlist: [73a] Venus and Mars [74] Rock Show [59] Jet! [62] Let Me Roll It [79] Spirits Of Ancient Egypt [41] Little Woman Love [43] C Moon [11] Maybe I’m Amazed ‘Lady Madonna’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ [80] Medicine Jar [98] Soilly [66] Picasso’s Last Words ‘Richard Cory’ [60] Bluebird ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ ‘Blackbird’ ‘Yesterday’ [76] You Gave Me The Answer [77] Magneto and Titanium Man ‘Go Now’ [69] Junior’s Farm [78] Letting Go [55] Live and Let Die [81] Call Me Back Again [46] My Love [82] Listen To What The Man Said [58] Band On The Run [42] Hi Hi Hi

By 1975 Wings had switched lead guitarists and drummers (twice!) and were more prepared for the big time. The heavy sales of ‘Band On The Run’ had boosted Macca’s confidence and he was determined to tour sequel ‘Venus and Mars’ to keep Wings in the spotlight. For many fans this is where the band truly ‘flew’ – it’s the Jimmy McCulloch/Joe English era heard on their only live album ‘Wings Over America’ and seen in their only (released) film ‘Rockshow’. This first gig of the tour is a little different to the others though and is in many ways a ‘test’. The new songs from ‘Speed Of Sound’ (like [87] Let ‘Em In [94] Time To Hide [92] Silly Love Songs and [90] Beware My Love) haven’t been roadtested yet, ‘Soilly’ is for now the end of the first electric set rather than a finale encore and a few crossovers from the early Wings days remain like ‘Little Woman Love’ and ‘C Moon’. The Southampton venue was also kept deliberately small as a sort of glorified ‘soundcheck’ and can’t compete with the later venues Macca already has his eyes set on (most of the ones mentioned in new song ‘Rock Show’ deliberately made to be played on the road with ‘long hair in Madison Square’ and ‘rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl’, two of his favourite haunts from Beatle days). However this is a key gig for lots of reasons: as well as the first with two new members, it features the first live performance of many Beatles classics, slowly working their way into Wings’ repertoire for the first time – ‘Lady Madonna’ ‘Blackbird’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and (barring a TV performance back in 1973) ‘Yesterday’. Interesting though that Paul hasn’t yet revived his longstanding live perennial ‘Hey Jude’.

3)  Where: Hammersmith Odeon, London  When: December 29th 1979 Why: Last Wings Gig Setlist: ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ [118] Getting Closer [4] Every Night [122] Again and Again and Again [110] I’ve Had Enough [64] No Words [93] Cook Of The House [122] Old Siam Sir [11] Maybe I’m Amazed ‘The Fool On The Hill’ [5] Hot As Sun [120] Spin It On ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ ‘Go Now’ [123] Arrow Through Me [137] Coming Up [133] Goodnight Tonight ‘Yesterday’ [101] Mull Of Kintyre [58] Band On The Run Rockestra Theme ‘Lucille’ ‘Let It Be’

Four years later and Wings have another new lead guitarist and drummer, Laurence Juber and Steve Holly (who becomes an especially big hit with the fans making many of their stage announcements). Alas, though, the fourth Wings tour is barely over before it’s begun, with just twenty appearances to their name. The split wasn’t by choice – after this first English leg of the tour Wings flew to Japan for the first time – but it all went wrong just a week after this gig when customs discovered a joint tucked away at the top of Paul’s suitcase and under their heavy (draconian?) drug laws was sentenced to seven years inside. In the end he was only there for seven days, enjoying a seaweed diet and communal bath singalongs, but it spelled the end of Wings as the band flew home, all but penniless after the costs of the tour, leaving Linda alone to wait anxiously for news (something Paul never quite forgave the rest for, even though it was on management orders). This gig, then, ended up being the last one Wings ever played though nobody knew it at the time including the band – and it’s our old friend, the benefit shows for the people of Kampuchea, a forgotten concert eight years after Bangladesh and six before Live Aid that did much the same thing raising money for Cambodians murdered during a military takeover by the Khmer Rouge. The big news for fans at the time was the big finale when Wings left the stage to put on gold suits and came out with some fellow performers as ‘Rockestra’, the all-star band who had already appeared on the recently released ‘Back To The Egg’ album (well, everybody except Pete Townshend who refused to wear the suit!) The big news in retrospect is that only twenty sets of people ever got to hear certain key songs in the Mccartney discography before he bucked touring for another decade: this is the only ‘Got To get You Into My Life’ with real horns (rather than a synthesiser monstrosity), various ‘Back To The Egg’ songs (‘Getting Closer’ sounds particularly good), the debut of masterpiece ‘Coming Up’ (the live version on the single was taped at an even better gig at Glasgow a week earlier) and a lot of surprise revivals from the ‘McCartney’ album including ‘Every Night’ and ‘Hot As Sun’, a song that was last played live by Paul on piano when the elctrics went at The Cavern pre-Brian Epstein! Oh and ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, which in 1979 was still the best-selling single by anybody ever in the Uk before ‘Band Aid’ knocked it from its perch by copying exactly the benefit set-up here to even bigger effect. Six songs were released on the tie-in live album: the three rockestra songs plus ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ ‘Every Night’ and ‘Coming Up’.

4)  Where: Estadio Do Maracana, Rio De Janiero, Brazil When: April 21st 1990 Why: Record-Breaking Audience Setlist: [**  ] Figure Of Eight [59] Jet! ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’  Rough Ride  [58] Band On The Run We Got Married [87] Let ‘Em In ‘The Long and Winding Road’ ‘The Fool On The Hill’ ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ ‘Good Day Sunshine’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ Put It There ‘Hello Goodbye’ ‘The Things We Said Today’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ This One My Brave Face ‘Back In The USSR’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Coming Up ‘Let It Be’ ‘Ain’t That A Shame?’ [55] Live and Let Die ‘Hey Jude’ ‘Yesterday’ ‘P.S. Love Me Do’ ‘Get Back’ ‘Golden Slumbers’ ‘Carry That Weight’ ‘The End’

Paul returned to the live stage full time on May 26th 1989 with a performance at Holland’s Countdown Café. This was a much bigger tour than the world had really seen before, that took in nearly fifty shows each in Europe and America and a handful of gigs around the rest of the world too. This show in Brazil was a particular talking point – it was the second night of a two-hander and was in the giant sports stadium in Rio that usually hosted football matches and seated 150,000 people. For this night, though, an extra 34,000 people were squeezed in for a gig that finally broke the record held by The Rolling Stones since the early 1980s (who themselves got it from CSNY in 1974, who got it from The Beatles in 1965!) The result was the highest grossing show at that point in time too, earning the McCartney band (Paul and Linda, Hamish Stuart, Robbie McIntosh, Wix Wickens and Chris Whitten) 3.4 million dollars between them. For the occasion Paul tweaked his usual live set of the day too, adding in lots of extra Beatle songs and keeping the Wings tracks to a minimum. This results in an extended run of five Beatles tracks in a row that remains the longest ever played at a solo Beatles show.This night’s recording of ‘The Long and Winding Road’ can be heard on the live set ‘Tripping The Live Fantastic’, while video footage of the show exists and was used in the documentary ‘From Rio To Liverpool’ about the backstage events going on behind the tour.

5)  Where: The Arena, Oakland, California When: April 1st 2002 Why: The Big Live Return Setlist: ‘Hello Goodbye’ [59] Jet! ‘All My Loving’ ‘Getting Better’ Coming Up [62] Let Me Roll It Lonely Road Driving Rain Your Loving Flame ‘Blackbird’ [4] Every Night ‘We Can Work It Out’ ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ Vanilla Sky ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ ‘The Fool On The Hill’ Here Today ‘Something’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ ‘Here There and Everywhere’ [58] Band On The Run ‘Back In The USSR’ [11] Maybe I’m Amazed  [43] C Moon [46] My Love ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ Freedom [55] Live and Let Die ‘Let It Be’ ‘Hey Jude’

This show kicking off the 2002 tour had so many firsts about it. This was the first live show Paul had performed in nine years, his first without Linda since The Beatles’ rooftop gig in 1969, it featured the live debut of many tracks (‘Hello Goodbye’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ ‘Here There and Everywhere’ and some songs from ‘Driving Rain’) and  nearly completely new line-up, with guitaristRusty Andersen, bassist Brian Ray and drummer be Laboriel Jnr joining Paul and keyboardist Wix. Linda was there in ‘spirit’ too – she and Wix, as the two keyboard players in the band, had grown ‘competitive’ during their 1993 tour and decked out their instruments with the most ridiculously over-the-top decorations they could find. The lava lamp Linda had at the end was given to Wix as a present – and he kept it every gig for this tour in triubute. Paul pays a moving tribute to his wife in ‘My Love’, alongside a ukulele version of ‘Something’ for George Harrison and the first live performance of ‘Here Today’, Paul’s tribute to Lennon from 1982.However the biggest shock of all is that Paul performed solo, for the first time in his life, reviving the old ‘acoiustic’ middle set Wings always used to play and playing a whole run of songs solo from his Beatles, Wings and solo days. However the band more than played their part in making this show special and are still playing with Paul to this day, becoming the longest lasting lineup Paul has ever played with (beatles included) a couple of years ago. Long may this band be on the run…

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) As with the other solo Beatles books in this series, songs released by the fab four have been included with our book on the band ‘Every Little Thing’ to allow us to concentrate on the solo stuff. There is, as with all things Beatles, a plethora to choose from although it took a very long time to get the first disc of covers dedicated simply to Paul (the better than average ‘Art Of McCartney’, released in 2014 with contributions from AAA alumni Cat Stevens and Roger Daltrey among others, plus – finally – a real blues institution in B B King covering [143] ‘On The Way’ in the manner it should always have been). We’ve chosen to give you just one of these selections (for which we’ve again been loyal to our AAA brood) as well as a couple of others, but the two disc set is worth looking out for. Oddly there seem to have been very few Macca or Wings covers from the 1970s when Macca was arguably at his solo peak – instead all the decent covers have come in the past twenty years or so.

1)   [23] ‘En El Corazon Del Campo (Sherpa ‘Todas Sus Grabaciones Para Discos’ 1973)

Or ‘Heart Of The Country’ in Spanish if you haven’t worked that out (and don’t blame yourself if you didn’t: the actual translation is ‘In the heart of a field’, which is close but not quite right). Sherpa is a Spanish singer who sounds not unlike Macca singing using his higher pitched voice and as such the near-falsetto ‘Heart Of The Country’ is a good fit for him (he looks a lot like Macca in his brief moustachioed period circa 1976 too – one for the ‘Paul is Dead’ troupe right there). Eight years Macca’s junior, Sherpa started off his life as the bassist in Spanish band Modulas before forming Baron Rojo with two younger brothers, though he found his biggest fame as a solo star in his fifties around the millennium. Basically the same arrangement but played with a much bigger band sound, this is a nicely funky take on one of Macca’s overlooked gems, sung (in English) with real delight and some extra ‘yes come ons!’ Sherpa is clearly having fun, reeling off the nonsense scat part with relish while a thicker bass line and a drum part that sounds like Keith Moon on holiday all contribute to a recording that’s great fun and not ‘sheepish’ at all, like many McCartney covers. The recording is actually an outtake, recorded in 1973 (two years after ‘Ram’ – is that how long it tookl to reach Spain?) but unreleased till 1998 when it appeared on the compilation we’ve listed above.

2)  [62] ‘Let Me Roll It’ (Robyn Hitchcock ‘Songs In The Key Of Paul’ November 2013 Issue)

I’ve been a subsc riber to Mojo music magazine for a while now, dear readers, and while their CDs usually head straight to the local charity shop, occasionally (about once a year) you get something really good. This Robyn Hitchcock cover on a McCartney covers CD is one of the very best. Robyn is most famous for doing Syd Barrett impressions (same folkie high pitched voice and folky pyshcedelic weirdness – he’s always appearing in Pink Floyd documentaries) but comes alive on this tough cover of one of Macca’s toughest songs. Robyn’s voice sounds even more Lennon than on McCartney’s original as he slows the tempo without sacrificing the intensity or sacrificing the blows. Many people like the ‘Band On The Run’ record as much as they do because Paul sounds as if he means it – this beautiful cover too sounds like a battle between life and death, but a little more human without the Lennonish echo Macca used to treat his voice. Up front and in your face, it’s something both men should have done more of in their careers and the slow burn finally sizzling to a heated climax near the end only to be snatched back to the beginning again is a masterstroke.

3)  [164] ‘Wanderlust’ (Brian Wilson ‘The Art Of McCartney’ 2014)

The Beach Boys spent the 1960s covering no less than four Beatle songs (three on ‘Party!’, one left unreleased till ‘Rarities’ in 1983) – it’s hard to imagine that happening the other way around, although Paul was enough of a pal to (allegedly) munch a carrot on the Beach Boys recording of ‘vega-tables’ and guest with Brian on a peculiarly ugly song ‘A Friend Like You’ from solo album ‘Getting’ In Over My Head’. Born two days apart, both musicians often cite the other as an influence and are always praising each other’s work in the press (‘Pet Sounds’ is Paul’s favourite album allegedly – itself inspired by The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul – though one wonders if Macca has changed his mind after being in the front row of Brian’s ‘Smile’ tour, a record which makes ‘Pet Sounds’ seem like ‘Please Please Me’). When Brian agreed to take part in the ‘Art Of McCartney’ tribute album, both fanbases were agog at what he might choose to do. The result surprised everyone: Brian likes finding obscure songs and ‘Wanderlust’ is pretty obscure, buried away on the second half of ‘Tug Of War’. However it’s a worthy song that works well with Brian’s elaborate remake, all chanting vocals and trumpets that would have sounded great if done by The Beach Boys in their heyday. It is, after all, about the very Beach Boys theme of escapism and isn’t all that far removed from ‘Sloop John B’ with a sailor heading out to sea to be free of all the rules back home – if you haven’t read that section yet the sailor was Paul himself, ticked off for smoking weed while recording ‘London Town’ in the Bahamas and relishing the irony that the boat he was in and whose captain’s rules he had to follow was named ‘Wanderlust’.Very lovely indeed!

'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