Today sees the release of the latest in Paul McCartney’s acclaimed Archive Collection series, Flaming Pie. Originally released in 1997, the album marked something of a comeback for McCartney, who was inspired by the spontaneous, more immediate recording techniques of The Beatles. Many heralded it as a sort of return to form upon its release, and now fans can judge for themselves with this illuminating deep dive into the Macca vaults. Like previous Archive Collection entries, Flaming Pie is available in a number of configurations, including a 2-CD set, a 5-CD/2-DVD box, a website-exclusive collector’s edition, a 2-LP configuration, and a 3-LP box set. We kick off this roundtable review with Joe’s look at the deluxe box set.
“No, not another souvenir,” Paul pleads in the outro to the tenth track of Flaming Pie. In the case of its deluxe box set edition, however, he might want to rethink that stance. Each successive box in McCartney’s long-running Archive Collection seems more luxurious than the last, and this truly – even overwhelmingly – lavish collection is no exception.
At no time in his career has Macca truly run from his past; how could he, even if he wished to do so? But on Flaming Pie, he took hold of that past – and all of its attendant ghosts – in a striking embrace. The centerpiece of the deluxe edition is a hardcover 128-page book; at its heart is a lengthy and heavily-annotated, no-stone-unturned essay by Chris Heath. (It’s ideal reading accompaniment while listening to the album, and should take the average reader about as long.) It’s not long before Heath mentions McCartney’s old band from Liverpool: the second line of the second paragraph in fact. That’s as it should be; their spirit and sound are evoked often throughout the vibrant Flaming Pie. Ringo Starr plays and sings on the sweeping “Beautiful Night,” and his recognizable presence sends shivers up the spine. He also co-wrote the raucous “Really Love You,” the first song to bear a McCartney/Starkey credit. George Martin co-produced the lilting “Calico Skies” and reassuring “Great Day” and orchestrated both “Beautiful Night” and the reflective “Somedays.” (“I laugh to think how young we were,” McCartney sighs over a delicate melody and guitar-and-strings accompaniment.) Paul worked on Flaming Pie concurrently with The Beatles Anthology (the three audio volumes of which were released in 1995 and 1996), and brought Jeff Lynne from that project to his new album.
Heath quotes McCartney’s recollection of his words to the Electric Light Orchestra and Traveling Wilburys co-founder: “I’m not going to let you get it too Jeff Lynne!” Paul observed that he was familiar with Lynne’s ethos even before they worked together on Anthology. He joked, “I knew him anyway from when he nicked every Beatle riff on earth! Sorry, Jeff!” So Flaming Pie wasn’t “too Jeff Lynne,” but rather very McCartney as produced by The Beatles’ foremost student. The duo ended up co-producing the lion’s share (eight songs) of Flaming Pie, with Lynne contributing guitars, keyboards, and crucially, close harmony vocals to standouts such as the anthemic opener “The Song We Were Singing,” the rocking “The World Tonight,” tender “Little Willow,” and the shimmering “Beautiful Night.” Another key collaborator, with three songs, was blues-rocker Steve Miller with whom McCartney reunited almost three decades after their 1969 single “My Dark Hour” (on which the moonlighting Beatle was credited as Paul Ramon). Miller added backing vocals and guitars to the richly melodic “Young Boy” and upbeat “If You Wanna,” and shared the lead on the bluesy “Used to Be Bad.” Keeping Flaming Pie very much a friends-and-family affair, Paul welcomed his son James and wife Linda on the mellow “Heaven on a Sunday.” The courageous Linda, whose first cancer diagnosis was received shortly after the first Jeff Lynne session for Flaming Pie, adds warmth – and part of the Wings vocal sound – to “Heaven,” “Beautiful Night,” and especially “Great Day.”
The deluxe box digs deep into every aspect of Flaming Pie, essentially a D.I.Y. album with some special guests. Paul is credited with electric, acoustic, 12-string and Spanish guitars, bass, double bass, harmonium, drums, percussion, piano, organ, vibes, and more. The hardcover book is practically a museum catalog, and the box set is the museum. The copiously-illustrated book also has a reprint of Linda’s Flaming Pies recipe book (of six pies, natch), originally a promotional item, glued onto one page. It’s just one of many items from the McCartney/MPL archives replicated here. The attention to detail throughout is so impressive that the smallest error – i.e. misspelling Berklee College of Music as Berkeley – stands out as a result.
In addition to the main tome, the cloth box (which opens and closes magnetically) includes a hardcover folder that houses the seven discs as well as a separate paperback book with lyrics, credits, and track-by-track notes. This appears to be similar to the booklet in the 2-CD edition. Then there are two envelopes with more archive items. One envelope contains a reprint of the Summer 1997 issue of the fan club newspaper Club Sandwich featuring commentary by Paul, Geoff Baker, and Mark Lewisohn about Flaming Pie. The second envelope, a buttons-and-string interoffice mailer, opens to reveal replicas of handwritten lyric sheets. Most notably, and somewhat excessively, these sheets of varying sizes are printed on different paper stocks. There’s also The Flame newspaper, a fold-out four-page tabloid from 1997 with amusingly spoofy articles. A plectrum rounds out the offerings in this envelope. Lastly, nestled within the box is the hardcover studio notebook of Paul’s assistant John Hammel. He listed every instrument played on every track; those original pages are accompanied by replica photos of some of those including a mellotron and various, often beautiful vintage guitars.
The title of Flaming Pie was inspired by a perhaps-apocryphal comic anecdote John Lennon told about the origin of The Beatles’ name. With his friend and bandmate Paul’s album, Flaming Pie became an official extension of the Fab canon and a worthy tribute to the power of timeless songcraft in The Beatles’ grand tradition. The deluxe set – with its additional discs of fascinating demos, outtakes, rough mixes, B-sides, films, and more – is just about the ultimate tribute to its own staying power. If McCartney steadfastly refuses to throw everything into these Archive Collection boxes (witness the digital “bonus disc” on 2017’s Flowers in the Dirt Archive release or the recent MP3 downloads made available for free at PaulMcCartney.com of the original 1986 “Beautiful Night,” an alternate version of “Somedays” sans George Martin’s orchestration, and an acoustic “Calico Skies”), this is still a dizzyingly comprehensive souvenir.
Sam got hold of the more digestible 2-CD edition of Flaming Pie, and was so excited that he couldn’t wait to share it with our readers as a special unboxing video. Here’s the first installment of The Second Disc In Vision!
What do you think of the new iterations of Flaming Pie? Sound off on your thoughts below! All versions are available now at the following links:
2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Deluxe 5CD/2DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Super Deluxe 5CD/2DVD/4LP: Paul McCartney Online Shop
2LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
3LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada