May 30 – The Beatles Booked Another Smash Hit

The Beatles were about as hot as you could be in 1965, particularly at home in Britain. But they had one critic at least. “Why do you always write songs about love all the time? Can’t you ever write about a horse, or a summit conference or something interesting?”

So asked Paul McCartney’s aunt Lil of the mop-top superstar. And he accepted the challenge, the result being “Paperback Writer” which came out as a standalone single on this day in 1966. Not a horse nor a summit but at least for Lil’s sake it wasn’t about love…unless you count the love of books. It’s suggested that Paul got the idea from his friends opening the Indica Bookshop of which he was the first customer. Whether or not that was the case, it was clearly a McCartney creation although credited to “Lennon/McCartney” as was their norm then. Lennon said it was “the son of ‘Day Tripper’, meaning a rock’n’roll song with a guitar lick or a fuzzy, loud guitar song. But it’s Paul’s song.”

Not only were the lyrics, about an aspiring novelist trying to hit the Best-sellers list a bit different than their ordinary fare upto that point, so was the sound which involved a bit more overdubbing than previous singles and more Paul… they amped up the bass parts a bit. Oddly it was John, not Paul, who requested that; he felt the band’s records lacked enough bass oomph til that point. So engineer Geoff Emerick boosted that instrument in the mix and had Paul try out a new Rickenbacker bass instead of his usual Hofner. Emerick noted it was “the first time the bass has been heard in all of its excitement.”

EMI in Britain put out the 7” on this day, with it being about six months since the Rubber Soul album was released and a couple of months before Revolver would be ready for the stores. While the band became known for the somewhat unusual practise of releasing singles that weren’t on the albums they were currently promoting, which might have been a way of getting radio play (from the single) without cutting into the LP sales, this one was simply because the record company felt they’d been too long without a hit single (weeks!) and needed one out quickly. They put a lot of effort into promoting it, some quite innovative and successful, some not so much. They initially promoted it using the infamous “butcher cover” photo with the band bloodied, standing around decapitated dolls… it also was used on a limited number of Yesterday and Today album sleeves before being pulled. This got noticed, but not in a positive way, so they quickly replaced that with other photos of the band, including on some editions a photo of them playing live, but with the photo reversed so George and John seem to be playing left-handed.

More successful was their decision to promote the song heavily on TV. They got them onto several British programs including Top of the Pops (which, Peter Asher noted, per usual, the BBC taped over on their master tapes to save money, leaving only one known copy of the appearance – a home taping without sound) and recorded a “promotional clip” – what would later be called a “video” – of it with the band at Chiswick House and its gardens in London. That would be shown on Ed Sullivan in North America and lives on in Youtube glory and elsewhere.

How did people react to the new, not-talkin’-’bout-love Fab Four. Critics mostly liked it. Cashbox for example said it would “continue their run of blockbuster singles”, calling it “a rhythmic, pulsating ode with an infectious, repeating riff all about the creative urge.” A few British publications sniped at it a little, thinking it a bit too experimental or “a trifle too clever for its own good.”

The public didn’t seem to think it too clever to enjoy. It debuted at #1 in the UK and spent two weeks on top in the U.S., making it their 12th #1 there. It also hit #1 in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany and quite a few other lands. It helped that American listeners wouldn’t be able to buy it on an album until the Hey Jude compilation in 1970. However, it might have signaled to discerning watchers that perhaps the Midas Touch was dimming a little for them; despite being a #1 it sold fewer copies in the UK than any single of theirs since “Love Me Do.”

The band must’ve liked the change though; Revolver delivered the most experimental sounds from them upto then and a wider range of song topics (“Taxman”, “Eleanor Rigby” etc) than fans had come to expect. Thanks Aunt Lil!


May 27 – Could Paul’s Wings Fly Him High Enough To Reach Other Planets?

By 1975, we were getting a good sense of who the individual Beatles were. Five years had passed since they went their separate ways, and each of the Fab Four had tasted some solo success. Of the four, it was becoming clear that Paul seemed on track to be the most successful on the charts, although maybe not with critics. He put out his sixth album since the Beatles demise on this day 48 years back, Venus and Mars. Like the previous Band on the Run, it was put out as Wings, with McC making a conscious effort to show himself as a member of a full-fledged band rather than just a lone and lonely Beatle. Heightening the effect was that this one was the first he’d put out on “Capitol” Records rather than the Apple label that had been carried over by Capitol after the Beatles.

Wings were through the ’70s a core trio of Paul, his wife Linda (who often played keyboards) and former-Moody Blue guitarist Denny Laine. For this album, they had guitarist Jimmy McCulloch along and a drummer. Originally in the recording, late in ’74, it was Geoff Britton but he ran into some personality conflicts with Sir Paul so was replaced for most of the sessions by Joe English, who funnily enough was the only male who wasn’t from Britain. Along the way, as they recorded over the winter at Abbey Road as well as studios in New Orleans and L.A. and utilized some talented session musicians such as Dave Mason and Allen Touissant. Mason added guitar work to the great single ” Listen to what the Man Says” and Touissant, who wrote Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” and produced Labelle’s “Lady Marmelade” played piano on the title track.

While most of the album was written by the McCartney’s (Paul shared writing credits with Linda although most figure he had the pen in hand more than she did) , he did let the others contribute to the process here and there. We even got to hear Denny take the mic on “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” and the other members all got some writing credit on at least one track.

The album is a vaguely – very vaguely – concept album about fans going to a fantastic over-the-top concert, perhaps because he was readying Wings for a major world tour at the time. Carrying over the style of the previous album, the title track is really two songs, a slow, atmospheric intro (“Venus and Mars”)“leading into a full-out rocker (“Rock Show.”) Though listed as two separate tracks on the LP, they were put out as a single together, although whittled down from the album’s nearly-seven minute run. That was one of the memorable tracks, another was “Magneto and Titanium Man”, a whimsical ditty about a trio of Marvel Comics characters getting tied into a bank robbery. Stan Lee thought that one “terrific.” Whether it was memorably great or memorably embarrassing probably comes down to one’s enjoyment of “whimsical” ditties. The real standout though was the typical McCartney-esque love song “Listen to What the Man Says,” which allmusic describe as “typically sweet and lovely”.

Critics however, didn’t always equate “typical” to great when it came to Paul. Rolling Stone roasted the record, saying “as time goes by, John Lennon’s importance to the Beatles becomes more and more self-evident” and dissed the album’s “self-aggrandizement” and Paul and Linda’s “unconvincing and blatant bid to be enshrined as pop music’s Romeo and Juliet.” Q rated it only 2-stars, and years later, allmusic rated it a so-so 3-stars, saying a couple of tracks were excellent but “Paul doesn’t really try anything new” and basically already sounded formulaic.

Fans didn’t necessarily think it the second-coming of Sgt. Pepper, but liked it well enough. “Listen to What the Man Says” became his fourth North American #1 hit without the Beatles and made #6 in his homeland while “Venus and Mars Rock Show” hit #12 in both the U.S. and Canada. Overall, the album went platinum in the U.S.,UK and Canada and topped the charts in all those as well as New Zealand and France. McCartney would continue to work on the “I’m a band” theme more in the following two years, with the huge tour (which resulted in the Wings Over America album) and Wings At the Speed of Sound.

May 12 – Turntable Talk 14 : Paul Ram-med His Way Onto The Record Player

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 14th instalment…if you’re wondering about past topics, I indexed the first dozen here. For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is Feels Like The First Time. No, no, we’re not going X-rated here, we’re talking about a different kind of first – the first album our guests ever bought.

Today we start off with Randy from Mostly Music Covers. Randy does a more thorough look at cover songs than anybody I’ve ever come across, and recently has looked at songs translated from foreign languages at his site:

The question of do you remember the first album you bought is not all that straight forward. Having said that I am going to rip the bandage off, it was The Partridge Family Album. When you finish laughing, please allow me to explain. It would have been 1971 and I was 12. I was coerced by my oldest sister to pony up my allowance/birthday/lawn cutting money I had been saving so that she and the year younger than I, sister #2 (of 3) if you are keeping score, could buy the album. I will admit to watching the show and I may or may not have had a crush on Susan Dey. However, I was not a willing participant in the purchase and did not attend the offending event, nevertheless the deed was done. And as is often said, “the truth will out”. It’s a reoccurring nightmare but there it is, scars and all, thanks to Dave. I do forgive you, my friend.

Now that we have that unpleasantness out of the way, after that experience I was ready to go it alone for my music purchases, but an album was a way off yet. That summer I started working a paper route, yes that was an actual thing, delivering newspapers to people’s door. That would be followed with a gig at the gun club, and various other interesting jobs, but a story for another day. Formative years for us all at that age in developing our music interest and I have to say I was a little naïve. For starters the 45 rpm single was financially more viable than an album, (even being gainfully employed) so a few of those would be the beginnings of my music investments. In 1973 there was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, and “Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James.

I had really taken a liking to Paul McCartney’s post The Beatles efforts, at least the few songs that initially made the regular rotation on the local AM stations. By 1974 it was the explosion of Wings and songs like “My Love” from Red Rose Speedway and then all the great songs from Band on the Run. I bought the single “Jet” but immediately feel in love with “Let Me Roll it” on the B-side. My friends at this time were into Rush, Zeppelin, and Bowie. I wasn’t quite ready to go there yet.

We are in 1974, so at 15 I am very late to the party for my first album, for that matter also for my first, oh wait, never mind. Now for a moment we need to backtrack to 1972 and still with Paul McCartney’s songs. It was his solo album Ram (released in May of 1971) that had got a lot of airplay on the radio and I liked the songs I heard. A trip to the record stores would involve seeing all the new albums on display, with new album price tags as well. Not in the bargain bin but not at full price was Ram. So, it was I really like Wings and Sir Paul’s new stuff, but the ‘old’ stuff was the right price.

Still got the album!

Thanks to Wikipedia it’s an easy copy and paste for the track listing.

Side one

“Too Many People” (Paul McCartney) – 4:10

“3 Legs” (P. McCartney) – 2:44

“Ram On” (P. McCartney) – 2:26

“Dear Boy” (P. McCartney, Linda McCartney) – 2:12

“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (P. McCartney, L. McCartney) – 4:49

“Smile Away” (P. McCartney) – 3:51

Side two

“Heart of the Country” (P. McCartney, L. McCartney) – 2:21

“Monkberry Moon Delight” (P. McCartney, L. McCartney) – 5:21

“Eat at Home” (P. McCartney, L. McCartney) – 3:18

“Long Haired Lady” (P. McCartney, L. McCartney) – 5:54

“Ram On (Reprise)” (P. McCartney) – 0:52

“The Back Seat of My Car” (P. McCartney) – 4:26

I loved this album then and I still do, the ‘Rams’ share of the songs on it are amazing. And most importantly it’s a “Smile Away” from The Partridge Family. “Ram on”

May 8 – The Ferry Launched Again For Good Cause

An all too common type of rock story – a disaster inspires a fine hit record. And a rare rock story – Paul McCartney gets told “no!” . That’s because his producer got his way for the quickly-recorded single “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, which came out this day in 1989 as a fund-raiser.

Although this version of the single seems primarily credited to McCartney, it was actually a collaborative effort put together, fittingly enough, by Gerry Marsden. Marsden had written the song and recorded the original version of it with Gerry & the Pacemakers back in 1965. At the time they were rivaling The Beatles for popularity in Britain, having started their career with three-straight #1 songs there in 1963 including “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and there was a certain rivalry between the two Liverpool bands back then. So when the Beatles did the movie A Hard Day’s Night, Gerry came back with his band in a movie, a similar musical comedy about their supposed trip to America and their triumphant return to their hometown…via the ferry across the Mersey River. That being the one which flows into the sea through Liverpool. It was a lovely pop song that made it to #8 at home and #6 in the U.S., however their trajectory would go the opposite way to the Beatles over the next few years.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood recorded a surprisingly true version of it in 1983 but the song would only go to the top of the charts in a third version, spurred on by a horrible sporting accident. In April ’89, there was a mad rush into a football stadium in Sheffield, England when Liverpool fans were let into the stadium through a narrow tunnel to get to two small standing room areas designated for them. It was a first-come, first serve type of thing (strikingly similar to one that caused deaths at a Who concert in Cincinnati ten years earlier) and the crowd surged in, far exceeding the tunnel or designated area’s capacity, resulting in hundreds being crushed or trampled. By the end of the day, 94 fans had died (two more would later) and over 700 were injured. Police blamed “hooliganism” but an official report blamed them for inadequate crowd control and poor planning.

Seeing as how they were all Liverpool fans, it hit that city hardest and Marsden decided to do a record to raise funds for the victims and their families. He called Pete Waterman of the “ Stock Aitken Waterman” team that has written or produced over 100 hit singles on the British charts, starting with “You Spin Me ‘Round” by Dead or Alive. Waterman agreed to produce it and agreed that “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey” would be a good choice. Soon Paul McCartney, the band The Christians and Holly Johnson (former singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) were on board as well. It was recorded in three parts, first Marsden, then McC and Christians and finally Johnson, but it was put together seamlessly. Compared to the original it was a little longer and had a bit of an electric guitar solo, but all in all, was quite faithful. The careful listener might notice Paul “wails” briefly midway through it. He hated that and wanted it edited out but Waterman refused. Linda McCartney later said to the producer “you know you’re probably the only person who’s ever told Paul McCartney that he couldn’t have his own way. But all of us down here think you’re right; we think it’s marvelous to hear him showing some emotion.”

The record was quickly put out on the small PWL label, as a 7” and 12” single or CD single, with a choir singing “Abide With Thee” on the b-side.

In two weeks it got to #1 in the UK, and it also made the top in Ireland; in Australia it made #45, but it generally went unnoticed in North America. Precise sales figures are unavailable but it’s said to have raised “millions of pounds” for the charity.

Curiously, Paul’s been a part of two more #1 singles in Britain since, both charity fund-raisers – the 20th Anniversary remake of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and a remake of “He Ain’t Heavy” in 2012 for the Justice Collective.

April 30 – Speedway Clocks In At 50

Wings were in flight 50 years back. They put out their second album, Red Rose Speedway, on this day in 1973.

While it was the fourth post-Beatles album for Paul McCartney, it was the second one using the name Wings. This time around, the quartet of Paul and Linda McCartney, Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell had added in a fifth member, guitarist Henry McCullough. One can say many things about the legendary Beatle, but no one could accuse him of being lazy coming out of that band. Not only had he put out a solo album and a Wings one between the Beatles breakup and this date, but also several one-off standalone singles, such as “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and “Hi Hi Hi”, which was riding up the charts as this album hit the shelves, borrowing a little from the later-era Beatles playbook (when for instance they had released “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” close to the same time they put out the Sgt. Pepper album which the songs didn’t appear on.) “Hi Hi Hi” became a top 10 hit in most major markets, including his homeland where the BBC had banned it because of possible druggy meanings.

The sessions for Red Rose Speedway seemed a little chaotic. Paul had hired Glyn Johns to produce it, but after a few weeks Johns quit because of McCartney’s controlling ways in the studio and what the producer saw as a rather drug-inspired aimlessness of the band. So McCartney decided to produce the record himself, maintaining at least some outside talent by using Alan Parsons as an engineer. Another problem was that they’d written a lot of material for it. They had started out thinking it would be a double album. They recorded around 20 tracks, and expanded their individual musical boundaries a little. For instance, Paul played synthesizer on some songs and even a celeste, a small piano that sounds like a glockenspiel. Linda played keyboards and some percussion as well, while newcomer McCullough took over lead guitar. One of the better songs they recorded during the sessions was a hit…but not on the album. “Live and Let Die” became a hit single from the James Bond movie of the same name but wasn’t on Red Rose Speedway.

However, Apple Records (the Beatles old one and the one Paul was still with) thought the reception to his first couple of records hadn’t been as strong as they anticipated, and were busy promoting a couple of Beatles compilations (the “Red” and “Blue” ones) at the time, so they felt an expensive double album from Wings might not sell. It was culled to a single LP. This didn’t sit too well with everyone, as it seems what Paul chose to jettison was the material he didn’t write and star on, for instance the song “I Lie Around” which was written by Denny Laine who sang lead on it. Even the cover photo of the record was said to have caused some strife. While they’d had a large photoshoot of the entire band, the one used on the cover ended up being one Linda had shot of her husband, holding a rose in his mouth, with a motorbike rather than the band in the background.

The result was a nine song album which finished with an Abbey Road-ish 11 minute medley of four songs, “Hold Me Tight”, “Lazy Dynamite” “Hands of Love,” and “Power Cut.” The one memorable song on the record was the one single they released, “My Love”, a slow Beatles-esque ballad that seems to divide fans to this day, with equal numbered camps thinking it one of his very best and very worst songs to date.

If people like Denny Laine weren’t entirely happy with the finished product, neither were most critics. The Village Voice rated it a “D” declaring it “quite possibly the worst album ever made by a rocker of the first rank.” Crosstown the New York Times noted it was a bit better than its predecessor, Wild Life, McCartney “continues to pale beside his former bandmates, John Lennon and George Harrison.” A few years later Rolling Stone declared it “weak and sentimental drivel.” Even Linda herself thought “there were some beautiful songs – there was ‘My Love’ – but something was missing.” Only allmusic, decades later would praise it with a 4-star rating, although their writeup didn’t sound quite so convincing. “A really strange record, one that veered towards schmaltzy” , suggesting “the greatest songs here are slight – “Big Barn Bed,” “One More Kiss” and “When the Night.”

The public perhaps were similarly torn. While it was a Beatle, and wasn’t terrible, neither was it anything to make people forget Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or even George’s All Things Must Pass. “My Love” was a major hit, his first non-Beatles American #1 (also his first American gold single) and a chart-topper in Spain as well and a top 10 in places like the UK and Canada. The album itself also hit #1 in the U.S., #2 in Canada and #5 in his homeland, with it scoring gold records in the States and Britain and a platinum one in Canada.

Thankfully it didn’t take Paul long to recover from this mis-step, if indeed it was that. Seven months later Wings were back with Band on the Run, a smash hit that almost everyone thought was worthy of an ex-Beatle.

April 28 – One Hit Song, Two Hit TV Shows

Don’t have a cow, man but today we look back at a more-or-less “one hit wonder” and her one hit. But make no mistake about it – Tracey Ullman has done a whole lot more for the entertainment of the masses than give us one American hit song. That hit, “They Don’t Know” peaked at #8 on Billboard this day in 1984.

Ullman is something of a media darling in her native Britain and far from unknown over here, but music’s always been a bit secondary to her. She was and is, first and foremost, a comedienne and actress who happened into the music world through chance and coincidence. The crossover isn’t unique… Steve Martin (who more recently has gotten into music in a serious way) had a top 20 hit in the 1970s, when he was a hot SNL comic, with “King Tut”; about four years after that SCTV‘s Canadian hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie had a smash in their homeland and a top 20 in the U.S. with their comic “hit single” “Take Off” that had Geddy Lee of Rush appear on it. But as much as Ullman was a comic and not really a musician per se, she was different in that … well, you could just listen to her record and go “that’s quite good!” and not feel the need to laugh.

Ullman’s life had been sent on a great path through a terrible turn in life. Her father died in front of her eyes, reading to her, when she was just 6. “When that happens to you as a child,” she said, “You can face anything.” And, she added “if good things happen, you’re grateful.” Her mom went into a deep depression, so young Tracey and her sisters put on impromptu skits and impersonated stars to try and cheer her up. By her late-teens (in the late-’70s) she was working on the London stage as a dancer and actress. By 1983, she was a popular comedienne in the UK and had out a fairly successful BBC comedy record. One day fate intervened.

She was having her hair done (“I was having some of those Boy George kinda dreadlocks put in,” she recalled) when the wife of the president of punk indie record company Stiff saw her. She leaned over and asked if Tracey wanted to make an album. Tracey said “Yeah!”

The album ended up being You Broke My Heart In 17 Places, a fun collection of 11 cover songs packed into less than half an hour. Among the songs were covers of Blondie and Doris Day tunes as well as two by fellow Brit Kirsty MacColl, a friend of Tracey’s. They were the title track and the hit “They Don’t Know.”

MacColl had recorded “They Don’t Know” in 1979 and it was a radio hit, at one point being the second most played song on British radio. However, she didn’t get along with management at Stiff Records, and there was a strike that impeded their record pressing so in the end Stiff pressed few copies and it failed to actually chart. Happily for us, and Kirsty, Tracey resurrected the song, made it a wee bit faster and cheerier, kept Kirsty around to do the trademark, high-pitch “ba-by!” part of the song and once again Stiff put it out as a single in the UK. This time they printed enough copies and it got to #2 in that land in 1983. Over here, MCA took over the distribution and the happy song made #5 in Canada, #8 in the U.S., not harmed at all by the fun video which had a cameo from one Paul McCartney at the end! It was one of the happier, upbeat songs of the year which the Philadelphia Inquirer assessed as “a cheerful throwback to the innocent hits of the 1960’s girl groups.”

That was the highlight of Ullman’s music career; one follow-up album later in ’84 barely registered on the charts anywhere and years later she told a Brit newspaper if she could’ve done one thing over in her life, “I would have stopped making records after ‘They Don’t Know’”. That doesn’t mean that was the end of her entertainment career, or impact on it though.

Thanks to the success she had in the UK and the popularity of the song, a very young Fox TV decided to offer her a variety sketch show. She accepted and while The Tracey Ullman show wasn’t a ratings hit, it was exceptionally noteworthy for one reason. The producers thought there was a need to have something to segue into and out of commercials with, so they came up with the idea of having underground comic artist Matt Groening create a set of brief animated clips. He created a dysfunctional yellow family. A few years later, they spun off into their own TV show, which far outdid Tracey’s. Thank you Tracey for giving us The Simpsons

April 27 – When Wings Came In To Roost

Not quite like the breakup of the Beatles about a decade earlier, but still a blow to the Fab Four fans…on this day in 1981, Denny Laine announced he was quitting Wings, effectively ending that band’s ten-year run. Multi-talented Laine (primarily a guitarist but at home on keyboards and bass as well) and Linda McCartney were the only two constant backing members of Paul McCartney through their run.

While nowhere near as hugely popular as the Beatles, McCartney’s ’70s band had a great run of hits and were the most consistent-sellers of any of the former Fab Four’s solo or subsequent works. They’d put out seven studio albums, all gold or platinum in the U.S., plus a million-selling live one and scored 15 top 10 singles there, 13 in their UK home. In their homeland the ’77 single “Mull of Kintyre” was for awhile the biggest-selling single of all-time and the year before, “Silly Love Songs” was the top single of the year in North America. However, the writing seemed like it was on the wall for the breakup for a couple of years. While the band was the core trio all along, they often had other members, and in 1978 had brought in drummer Steve Holley and guitarist Laurence Juber to work on Back to the Egg. A largely experimental album on McCartney’s part, it did moderately well but was a major letdown compared to the mid-’70s success they’d known. By most accounts, Paul thought the problem was more the musicianship of his band than his odd songwriting on it.

The band had some downtime in 1979, and Paul began recording some of his own songs that he didn’t think fit Wings well. They’d end up being his 1980 album McCartney II. A major tour for Back to the Egg was planned for ’80, but upon landing in Tokyo early in the year, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and jailed for ten days. The Japanese leg – of importance because it was one large market they’d not yet had much success in – was canceled, his music was banned from Japanese radio and promoters went after the band for losses. Subsequent to him being freed and going back to England, they decided to cancel an American tour as well.

All of this didn’t sit well with Denny. He already felt that McCartney wasn’t sharing band royalties properly with him and he was furious he was out so much money from the 1980 tours because of what he viewed as simple stupidity on the ex-Beatle’s part. they were aware of Japan’s strict drug laws and yet McCartney tried to go through customs with half a pound in his luggage. So Laine started his own band later in the year (they quickly put out a song called “Japanese Tears”) while McCartney slowly began working on what began as the next Wings album. Laine (probably reluctantly) showed up to work on a couple of tracks but soon Paul began thinking he didn’t like the Wings lineup and began calling other musicians – famous and otherwise, including Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay and one Ringo Starr whom he knew from another band – to work on the songs which would become Tug of War. Apparently that was the last straw for Laine.

His quitting didn’t prompt McCartney to officially declare Wings dead, but he simply moved on entirely without them. A few months later he told a Canadian magazine “I felt limited working with this group, and I just didn’t fancy going in and making another group album,” adding as a parting shot “with the Beatles towards the end there was a bit of pressure, but I never really felt it…I just felt the position with Wings…it wasn’t so easy.” Thus they flew off in different directions.

A real reunion of the band has never happened, although Laine and some of his ex-bandmates from it have put on a few concerts here and there under the “Wings” moniker, but one might think “Wings” without a McCartney is no high-flying bird.

April 17 – When Paul Had Left The Building

The Beatles were done by this day in 1970…but it was when it became pretty obvious to the public. That because Paul McCartney put out his first solo album, simply entitled McCartney.

Now, in reality, the Beatles had done their finale, on the Apple building roof and had already agreed to part ways. But it wasn’t yet known to the public, and there was still one more Beatles album to come out – Let It Be. And other Beatles had stepped out on their own already – Ringo Starr had released his debut three weeks earlier and John Lennon had done some experimental things with Yoko like The Wedding Album, and had formed the Plastic Ono Band which put out their Live Peace In Toronto about five months prior. But these were assumed to be mere side-projects by most. When Paul put one out with only a wee bit of help from wife Linda, people seemed to clue in to the fact that the greatest band of the ’60s were not going to be around in the ’70s.

Paul put out the album (the first of 26 he’s done since the Fab Four) on their Apple label, which made keeping it secret from the others all the more difficult. He began recording it in his home late in ’69, suspended the project for the Get Back sessions (documented in the recent hit documentary) then finished it off at Abbey Road right afterwards… at times working in one studio while Phil Spector finished up Let it Be in a neighboring room! When the other Beatles found out, it didn’t sit well with them. They went to Apple to try and get them to roll back Paul’s record release, so it wouldn’t conflict with Let it Be, which was due in only a couple of weeks, and the compilation album Hey Jude which had only just come out. Paul refused, even when Ringo went to his house in person to ask. He admits to throwing Ringo out. Starr said Paul “went crazy” and yelled “I’ll finish you now!” on his way out. He threw gas on the fire when he told interviewers he didn’t miss Ringo’s drumming at all and he didn’t “envisage a time” when he and John would ever write together again.

All of this didn’t sit very well with a number of people – others in the Beatles realm, critics and fans alike. The album itself didn’t help. The overall reaction tended towards “he broke up the Beatles for this?”. That because the record was distinctly low-fi, and had a rather unfinished demo quality to it. Paul played all the instruments on it, in general singing and playing acoustic guitar, recording it on a basic four-track recorder and then later played other instruments like his usual bass, plus drums, some piano and even “wine glasses” and dubbing them in, as well as a few backing vocals from Linda. Speaking of her, her photos on the album cover and inside liner notes (including a famous picture of Paul holding their newborn Mary on the back cover) were one of the few things widely lauded about it.

There were 13 songs, running about 34 minutes, including a few instrumentals, like “Kreen Akrore”, an interesting four minutes of building percussion inspired by a TV show he had seen about natives of the Amazonian rainforest. “Glasses”, as one might expect, featured him playing wine glasses. The album kicked off with “The Lovely Linda”, a ditty that ran under a minute and was designed just to be a soundcheck for him. The one standout and comparatively finished song on it was “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which kept a low-profile then but became a hit for him when he released a live version with Wings in 1976.

At the time it arrived, few cared much for it. As Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffer said, “many…found the whole confused, tasteless.” The Guardian more clearly stated he sounded like “a man preoccupied with himself…he seems to believe that anything that comes into his head is worth having. And he’s wrong.” Rolling Stone found it “distinctly second-rate” although it did like “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Only the NME liked it, thinking it “sheer brilliance” which “exudes warmth and happiness.” Later reviews became a bit more fond of it. Rolling Stone would this century give it a middling 2.5-stars, allmusic, 4-stars. An undercurrent of feelings that it seemed “unfinished” – songs with potential but left half-baked – ran through most.

Despite not having a hit single, the album did well. It actually spent three weeks at #1 in the U.S. (before being replaced by, what else, Let it Be) and also was a #1 in Canada, and reached #2 at home for him, as well as #3 in Australia and #13 as far away as Japan.

McCartney has reverted to the one-man band approach a couple more times, with McCartney II and in 2020 with McCartney III.

March 29 – Two Superstars Made One Super-selling Single

Take one of the greatest songwriters and performers of the ’60s and one of the greatest of the ’70s, put them together in the ’80s and you’d expect to hear something pretty spectacular. On this day in 1982, the debate over whether or not that in fact was the case began. Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder put out their duet “Ebony & Ivory”.

While both greats share the microphone, it was essentially a McCartney single, and was originally only on one of his albums, Tug of War. (Eventually it would show up on greatest hits compilations of both artists.) McC had written the song some time before after hearing actor Spike Milligan suggest “black notes, white notes, you need to play the two to make harmony, folks.” The ex-Beatle liked the idea and the obvious metaphor for racial harmony and wrote the song, envisioning it as a duet with a great Black artist. Wonder was an obvious candidate and apparently loved the chance. They recorded it together in Montserrat with none other than George Martin producing. It was truly a duet, seemingly they were the only performers, with Paul playing some bass and guitars, Stevie the drums and both playing various synthesizers and keyboards. Slightly ironically, the pair shot the video separately as their schedules wouldn’t co-ordinate for time together to film. They did however work together on another song for Paul’s album, “What’s That You’re Doing?”, a song that Wonder co-wrote.

The lyrical message was great and straight-forward, and seems all the more relevant today: “ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony side by side on my piano…why don’t we?” But the song itself… well, opinions were divided. Some thought it a powerful and melodic message, others (like allmusic) considered it “sincere schmaltz.” A quarter century later, BBC listeners voted it the “worst duet ever.” Blender would later rank it among the “10 Worst Songs Of All-time”, appreciating the SNL parody with Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo more than the song itself. If you were wondering they picked another ’80s #1 as the worst, “We Built This City” by Starship, which they termed “the truly horrible sound of a band taking the corporate dollar while sneering at those who take the corporate dollar.”

But the public didn’t care. It shot to #1 in the States (where it stayed on top for seven weeks), the UK, Canada and Germany, among other places. It was still ranked as the 69th biggest-selling single of all-time by Billboard as recently as 2013. Paul was able to duplicate the dueting-with-an-R&B/pop-great formula again a year or so later, with Michael Jackson and “The Girl is Mine” as well as “Say Say Say” , his final #1 hit to date.

March 21 – Did Capitol Look A Little Foolish? ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’.

Was it a record that changed music forever? Was it almost a huge entertainment blunder? The answer to both is “yeah, yeah, yeah”! The Beatles hit #1 on the U.S. charts this day in 1964 with “She Loves You.”

Remarkably, to do that it had to knock off the previous #1 single…which for the previous seven weeks had been “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It was the first time in Billboard “hot 100” chart history that one song by an artist had replaced another by the same act at #1. And to top that off, two weeks later, yet another Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love” took over for five more weeks. It was a trifecta not duplicated in the 20th Century, although the Bee Gees came close in 1978 (one of their songs was knocked off by their younger brother Andy for a week before another Bee Gees one hit #1). More remarkable, American buyers gobbled up the single that was put out by Swan Records. The American company that held their rights, Capitol, didn’t think it sounded promising and wouldn’t release it, unlike their Canadian counterparts, or Parlophone, the British label.

The song was written quickly by Paul McCartney and John Lennon one night after a concert in Newcastle. They started it on the bus, then finished it in the hotel, “John and I sitting on twin beds with guitars,” according to Paul. He says it was loosely inspired by him hearing “Forget Him” by Bobby Rydell. “As often happens, you think of one song when you write another.”

McCartney remembers playing it for his dad shortly after. “That’s very nice son, t there’s enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing ‘she loves you, yes, yes, yes!’ instead?” Thankfully, they didn’t make that change and took George Harrison’s suggestion of harmonizing on it, even though George Martin didn’t think that worked well. They did agree with Martin though on a new start for the song, beginning it with the chorus, a highly unusual idea for a pop song back then.

It came out in the summer of 1963 in their homeland and dominated the charts for the rest of the year. Parlophone had pre-orders for an incredible 500 000 singles of it (enough to make it platinum on its day of release, had platinum records actually been awarded back then) and by November it had topped a million. Eventually it was not only the biggest-seller of ’63 in the UK, but of the entire decade. In fact, it would stay the biggest-selling single in Britain until 1977, when who else but Paul McCartney (with Wings) topped it with “Mull of Kintyre.” “She Loves You” remains one of their top 10 ever. Yet, even seeing how popular it was there, Capitol in L.A. balked at putting it out.

Initially it looked like they were wise. Swan Records didn’t have a great deal of clout or marketing power, so when first put out in early fall of ’63, it failed to make much impact on radio and sold perhaps a measly 1000 copies. However, it soon became a hit in Canada, doubtless winning a few ears over in border cities like Buffalo and Detroit. Then of course, come February ’64, they showed up in America, were on the Ed Sullivan Show and the rest is history. Swan still had the 45 rights but Capitol quickly added it to The Beatles Second Album.

Around the same time, the Fab Four went back to the studio to hastily record a German version, “Sie Libt dich’, because the German record company figured that despite their popularity performing so often in Hamburg, their records wouldn’t sell there if in English. The German version got to #7 there; the regular English version topped charts in Canada, New Zealand and Sweden among other lands.

The song soon became part of the cultural landscape. The Flintstones spoofed it the next year and it’s still listed among Rolling Stone‘s 100 greatest songs of all-time. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds points to it as highly influential on him and credits it with being one of the first-ever rock songs to incorporate folk music chord changes. Still, for all that it had a detractor or two (besides Paul’s grammarian father). The leader of communist East Germany once asked “is it truly the case that we have to copy every dirt that comes from the West? I think, comrades, with the monotony of ‘yeah yeah yeah’ and whatever else it is called, yes – we should put an end to it!”

By the way, if you have a Swan Records 45 of it in your hands, you have a piece of music history – but not a retirement plan. Copies seem to sell for $10-15 online these days.