Paul McCartney is still on the run, as his just-announced concert tour of the same name attests. But one thing the former Beatle doesn’t have to run from is his own legacy. Last year he inaugurated The Paul McCartney Archive Collection with his 1973 Band on the Run, making the title available in multiple platforms and prices. The next two releases in the non-chronological series have just arrived, and though the formats are slightly tweaked, the same hallmark of quality is evident on the deluxe reissues of his two “D.I.Y.” albums, 1970’s McCartney and its 1980 sequel, McCartney II. Rather than offering single disc remasters, both titles are available in standard 2-CD or 2-LP editions. For the true aficionado, lavish coffee table books contain both discs plus a DVD for McCartney, and both discs plus a third CD and DVD for McCartney II (catalogue numbers vary by edition).
The April 1970 release of McCartney was a shock heard ‘round the rock world, thanks to a Q&A sheet distributed with advance copies of the album. McCartney had answered the question “Do you foresee a time when Lennon/McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?” with a blunt “No." His solo career was officially launched, as was his intention to stand firm with the LP’s release date despite it conflicting with The Beatles’ swansong, the Phil Spector-doctored Let It Be. (The Beatles album eventually arrived one month later.) Now think of hearing album opener “The Lovely Linda” with The Beatles’ last release, Abbey Road, still fresh in your mind. The fully-produced production techniques of the late period Fabs were nowhere to be found. This was a ragged, raw, homemade McCartney, his playful fragment left unembellished. There were no majestic statements (though “Maybe I’m Amazed” comes close) though those would be present on Let It Be, even more majestically (over?)produced by Spector. What had happened to Paul McCartney, the studio innovator, pushing the envelope of orchestration and production? Whether he knew it or not, he was innovating in a completely different style.
The album is ramshackle on the surface, a hodgepodge of song forms, from the percolating rock of “Oo You” to the light acoustic pop of “That Would Be Something.” The lovely “Every Night,” with its memorable wordless refrain, complements another ballad classic, “Junk,” covered by artists as diverse as John Denver and Paul’s old Liverpool mate Cilla Black. A number of tracks hover around the 2-minute mark, and there are instrumentals, like “Valentine Day,” “Momma Miss America” and “Singalong Junk.” McCartney played every instrument on the album himself: organ, mellotron, toy xylophone, piano, Premier drum kit, various guitars, wine glasses, and bow and arrow to name a few! But the lovely Linda McCartney joined in on harmonies. When she adds her voice to the sing-along chorus of the gentle “Man We Was Lonely,” it’s hard even today not to read into the lyrics: “I used to ride on my fast city line/Singing songs that I thought were mine alone/Now let me lie with my love/For the time I am home/Home.”
The two poles of McCartney are most in evidence on the final two tracks. “Kreen-Akore” is an experimental mélange, driven by harsh percussion. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is the most fully-realized production on the album and its one bona fide standard. It’s passionately and unabashedly melodic and announced that the widescreen Paul McCartney hadn’t disappeared entirely.
What bonus material has been released? What about McCartney II? Hit the jump to continue reading!
The bonus disc included with all editions of McCartney is short, clocking in at just 25 minutes with only seven tracks. It does, however, offer a clear window into the album’s creation and subsequent revisitations by its creator. The most requested track is undoubtedly “Suicide,” a song written by the young artist, which starts incomplete in its piano-and-voice demo. The earnest, music-hall song, delivered in a wry tone, sounds almost Nilsson-esque. Outtake “Don’t Cry Baby/Oo You (Instrumental)” offers a moment of Paul singing a lullaby to his daughter. Like “Suicide,” the demo of “Women Kind” is in lesser fidelity but is equally fascinating. Again featuring just voice and piano, it’s very much a work-in-progress with Paul adopting various voices and jovially asking, “Right, fellas?” to the imaginary chorus of this theatrical track. It’s tongue-in-cheek and more than a bit goofy! Three live versions of album tracks come from the famous Glasgow stand of December 1979 – could McCartney eventually plan to release Glasgow in its entirety? – and the disc is rounded out by “Maybe I’m Amazed” as recorded for 1974’s One Hand Clapping documentary but in a clean version minus the movie’s voiceover. (The film itself and some audio portions were released on the Band on the Run set.)
The hardbound edition offers a DVD. Its chief attraction is a new 9-minute documentary on the album’s making in which McCartney (heard in a new off-camera interview) describes the process of recording as a “release” and an “escape” though also as a continuation of the original, stripped-down, back-to-basics Get Back/Let It Be sessions. (“Teddy Boy” was actually first attempted at a Beatles session.) He notes that a “few more normal things crept in” to offset the odder, more fragmentary cuts and finalize the album’s track listing. “The Beach” featurette is nearly three minutes of home movie footage set to the Loma Mar Quartet’s instrumental rendition of “Junk,” and there’s a music video for “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Finally, live concert footage is derived from a variety of sources, among them 1979’s Concert for the People of Kampuchea, 1991’s MTV Unplugged and again, One Hand Clapping.
After his solo debut, McCartney released one album jointly with his wife and then a series with the band Wings and its revolving personnel. 1980’s McCartney II was the work of a solo artist once more, recorded after the release of Wings’ final album but before the band broke up for good following the notorious tour and marijuana bust in Japan. It was infused with the same loopy, experimental, adventurous sensibility that marked the first album, and although it’s more uneven and polarizing than its predecessor, the Archive Collection reissue reveals a number of riches.
The recording ethos is similar, but McCartney II, unlike its predecessor, isn’t a low-key affair. It’s actually quite danceable, chiefly marked by the presence of synthesizers and electronic sounds. The hit “Coming Up” announced the free, Wings-less artist. Its distorted, electronic vocal effects (employed throughout the album) as well as dance textures new to McCartney now appear to be precursors to his later “underground” work with The Fireman. The excitement of this opening salvo augured well for the rest of the album, but McCartney II as a whole is somewhat patchy and schizophrenic. What was behind “Temporary Secretary” with its insistent synth sequencing, melodic drone and absurd lyric? The track today sounds like an attempt to channel Kraftwerk, and though it may turn some listeners off, McCartney atones with the album’s next cut and centerpiece track, the beautiful “Waterfalls.” Despite being his first American single to miss the Hot 100, the lush ballad offers a gorgeous melody even interpreted only by Fender Rhodes electric piano and synthesizer filling in for the orchestra. Macca is back in ballad mode for “One of These Days” and the languid “Summer’s Day Song” in which he multi-tracks the harmonies himself. Again, like on McCartney, there are instrumentals, such as the jaunty “Front Parlour” and the metallic, catchy and unfortunately-titled “Frozen Jap,” which was written before the infamous drug bust. It was actually inspired by images of the country’s snow-covered landscape and of Mt. Fuji. “Bogey Music” offers a potent bit of old-time rock-and-roll, 1980-style.
McCartney II’s bonus CDs offer related singles and a number of unreleased songs. In one form or another, every one of the unreleased songs recorded during the album’s sessions is present. As the original album is so freeform itself, the warts-and-all approach to both bonus discs enhances the album experience. (Disc 2 is available in the standard set, while Disc 3 is only part of the deluxe book edition. As a smart gesture to buyers, all of the outtakes are on Disc 2, with Disc 3 reserved for alternates and edits.) On Disc 2, one of the few familiar tracks is the live Glasgow performance of “Coming Up,” which was released as a single in the United States. “Check My Machine” and “Secret Friend” are both carried over from the previous remaster. The lengthy latter cut has a jazz influence, while the former epitomizes the experimental nature of the album with the singer’s voice pitched like a distant cousin of Alvin, Simon and Theodore. Of the unreleased material, “Blue Sway” is heard twice, once with orchestration from Richard Niles and once combined with “All You Horse Riders.” Electronic underwater effects are utilized on the offbeat instrumental “Bogey Wobble.” “Mr. H Atom,” with its sing-song nursery rhyme lyrics, segues into the robotic-sounding “You Know I’ll Get You Baby” featuring a repeated chant and more stacked vocals. From any other artist, some of this material with its lack of memorable melodies might be described as deliberately non-commercial, but McCartney always sounds earnest and engaged in following his muse, wherever it led. That said, it was a wise choice to leave the outtakes on the cutting room floor, ready-made for a collection such as this!
After “Coming Up,” the most enduring song from this period is the single and holiday perennial “Wonderful Christmastime.” Hearing it among the other bonus material casts the song in a new light. Electronic sounds begin the song but they’re in service to a winning and cheerful pop melody. The song’s edit is found on Disc 2, and the full length recording is on Disc 3 which also offers extended “original mix” versions of five other album tracks. The third disc has been designed for completists, and also finds room for the DJ edit of “Waterfalls” and “Summer’s Day Song” minus its vocals.
Unfortunately, no new documentary was shot on the making of McCartney II, but a 1980 television program, Meet Paul McCartney, takes the place of one on the DVD. Produced by the singer’s MPL production company, McCartney is interviewed by lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) about his latest release. The special comes to life when Rice and McCartney discuss songcraft and Rice inquires whether McCartney regretted not going for a potential standard with any of the album’s tunes, save “Waterfalls.” Paul, appearing somewhat uncomfortable, reveals not truly considering himself a lyricist proper. He does confess a surprising fondness for the lyrics of the album’s “Nobody Knows,” despite its repetition. (It’s interesting that Rice discounts “Band on the Run” from becoming a standard on the order of “For No One” or “Yesterday” because of its obtuse lyrics. With the benefit of the passing years, it certainly has become a standard in the rock canon, even if cover versions aren’t plentiful.) Meet Paul concludes with an absurdly literal music video for “Waterfalls,” depicting polar bears, castles, and indeed, waterfalls! There’s a selection of “Coming Up” performances, videos and featurettes, and music videos for “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Blue Sway,” too.
As with Band on the Run, the “coffee table” editions are wonders to behold. The 128-page hardcover, clothbound books (McCartney in bold red, its sequel in blue) allow for an extensive exploration of the album via text and full color photographs, most from Linda McCartney’s camera. McCartney offers a new interview with the artist, plus chapters on the album’s recording, its artwork and the attendant publicity. In that last section you’ll find a reprint of the full Q&A in which McCartney announced the dissolution of The Beatles. Full lyrics have been included along with track-by-track information as to the personnel and recording dates of each song. McCartney II follows a similar format, adding a section for sleeve art from the various singles released (including “Wonderful Christmastime”) and another documenting related “Film and Video.” McCartney is candid in his interviews, frankly evaluating his experiments. All tracks on both albums have been remastered by Guy Massey and Steve Rooke under the supervision of Allen Rouse at Abbey Road Studios, and the sound is stellar. Rouse notes in his commentary that de-noising has "scarcely been used" and the degree of limiting is "subtle." Each book also contains a download card for high-resolution versions of all of the tracks.
Elsewhere, so-called “insiders” have “leaked” plans for future releases in the Archive Collection series, totaling some 50 releases. Currently, only plans for Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound, Wings Over America and Ram have been confirmed. Whatever the future brings, it’s clear that Paul McCartney realizes the importance of preserving his catalogue in serious form. Without a doubt, the three releases now available are the most elaborate packages ever dedicated to any individual albums in the entire Beatles-related canon. The gauntlet has been thrown! There’s no “maybe” involved; I’m amazed by the scope of this campaign, and chances are, you will be, too.