Macca’s 25 Best of the Past 25 Years

Bill King recently gave a fresh listen to all of Paul McCartney’s mainstream albums released since 1993, in order to compile a list of the 25 best of Macca’s latterday tracks. He had an assist in this project from some longtime Beatlefan contributors. Here is what he came up with,  followed by the other contributors’ choices. …

Macca performs at halftime of the 2005 Super Bowl.

Whenever lists of Paul McCartney’s best solo songs are compiled, the emphasis invariably is on the first 20 years of his post-Beatles career — the likes of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die,” “Jet,” “Band on the Run” and so on.

Little attention is given to his body of work over the past 25 years. That was a tumultuous time for Macca, with a knighthood, the death of his beloved Linda, a short-lived marriage that produced another daughter before ending bitterly, and a third marriage that seems to have left him happier and more fulfilled. Plus, of course, numerous tours.

In fact, over the past quarter century, Sir Paul’s acclaimed live performances, in marathon concerts running nearly 3 hours, have become what he’s known for primarily, aside from The Beatles.

The new albums he’s made during those years are largely an afterthought, if they’re given much consideration at all — even with many long-time fans.

And, truth be told, much of the new music he has produced since 1993 is middling McCartney. It also was the era of a creative misfire that resulted in what many consider to be the low point musically of his career — the “Driving Rain” album.

Still, when it comes to making music, McCartney is incapable of not mattering. And, as a fresh immersion in his work over the past 25 years recently confirmed for me, there still have been some great tunes in that time.

In going back through his solo albums since 1993 to compile a list of the 25 best Macca tracks of the past 25 years, I limited myself to his mainstream releases — not including his classical works or his ambient or electronica side projects, with the exception of The Fireman’s “Electric Arguments,” which really is closer to a true McCartney album.

I also reached out to a group of Beatlefan contributors, asking for their own lists and comments on Macca music since 1993. Not surprisingly, our lists differed in many respects, but also had certain constants — tracks that everyone agrees are top-flight McCartney.

More about that later. Here are my 25 favorite Macca tracks of the past 25 years, in approximately chronological order …

“Off the Ground.”

First up are four tracks from 1993’s “Off the Ground” album:

“Hope of Deliverance.” A fine pop number with a tasty backing that mixes acoustic guitars, autoharp and a prominent bassline with Latin percussion. It also has a very catchy chorus, and a nice message, to boot.

“I Owe It All to You.” A traditional McCartney ballad, with a very effective acoustic guitar hook, some exotic imagery in the lyrics, a plaintive vocal and one of those instantly hummable Macca choruses.

“Golden Earth Girl.” One of those majestic McCartney ballads, with a piano opening that calls to mind “Wanderlust,” and chiming guitars and shimmering oboe and flute orchestration. This one carries an ecological message and some lovely word pictures (“counting fish in a sunbeam, in eggshell seas”), but what you’ll keep with you after listening to it is the beautifully delicate melody and refrain.

“Cosmically Conscious.” Paul wrote this at the Maharishi’s back in 1968. Its dense, echoey, layered sound is chockablock with old Beatles studio tricks and trademarks.

“Flaming Pie.”

Next are four numbers from 1997’s “Flaming Pie,” an album that stands pretty clearly (to me, at least) as McCartney’s strongest of the past 25 years:

“Somedays.” Recorded with a 14-piece orchestra, this is a beautiful, somewhat melancholy ballad with mournful strings. The Spanish guitar solo is especially good. It obviously was inspired by Linda’s illness. I find some of the lyrics incredibly touching: “Some days I look, I look at you with eyes that shine” and “Some days I cry, I cry for those who fear the worst.” 

“Calico Skies.” A solo acoustic guitar love song co-produced by Paul and George Martin, this one almost feels like an Irish folk tune. Another one seemingly written with Linda in mind: “I will hold you for as long as you like / I will hold you for the rest of my life.”

“Little Willow.” Another lovely acoustic number, and another sad one. Written in response to Maureen Starkey’s death.

“Beautiful Night.” A majestic piano-based tune with immediately recognizable Ringo Starr drumming, it has an irresistible, gorgeous chorus that is vintage McCartney. The orchestration by George Martin builds as the song progresses, and it has a false ending that gives way to an upbeat reprise with Linda and Ringo singing along.

Playing with his Run Devil Run band at the Cavern in 1999.

Next are three tracks from McCartney’s dip into the rock ’n’ roll of his youth, the 1999 album “Run Devil Run”:

“Lonesome Town.” This melancholy Rick Nelson classic, done as Macca performed it earlier that year at a London tribute to Linda, has a sad lyric that Paul said had become more meaningful to him. It shows, especially in his impassioned vocal, which pushes the limits of his higher register. David Gilmour joins him singing in the middle.

“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.” Done with accordion, this midtempo Chuck Berry number has a Cajun feel, and is a real toe-tapper.

“Honey Hush.” At the time it came out, Macca said this Big Joe Turner number was his favorite on the album to sing. A sometime Macca sound check offering, it’s a rollicking rocker with an infectious “Hi Ho Silver” chorus.

Departing from the album discography, the next track on my list is a one-off number:

“I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra.” This refreshingly different number is from “Brand New Boots and Panties,” an Ian Dury tribute album from 2001, and features Paul covering a Dury song with Dury’s old band, The Blockheads. It’s an engaging taste of a harder-edged Macca than we usually get. Paul, who was just the singer here, tackles the number with gusto, opening with an extended “Owwwwww!” and singing in his Little Richard voice. The catchy tune features a chunky, muscular backing with riffing horns that’s very reminiscent of The Who in the early ’70s.

Macca in his Liverpool backyard.

Next come two tracks from the 2005 album “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard”:

“Too Much Rain.” A beautiful piano-bass-acoustics tune, nicely arranged. The vintage McCartney melody was inspired, he said, by Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” The optimism of the lyric is tempered by an almost mournful guitar line.

“Promise to You Girl.” This catchy tune has a Queen-like chorus, starts out slowly, and ends up rocking out moderately with some pounding piano.

I included two songs from 2007’s “Memory Almost Full” on my list, but it nearly was three (more on that later):

“Dance Tonight.” Immediately memorable, impossibly catchy. The mandolin sells it, and it’s very much a knee-slapper.

“Only Mama Knows.” A classical-sounding string intro gives way unexpectedly to a rock guitar chorus that comes crashing in. The track as a whole harks back to the “Junior’s Farm” Wings era, only played with a bit more intensity. The chorus is very catchy, and there are some nice harmonies with the “Hold on” bit in the middle. This one was an almost consensus pick.

Creating art for The Fireman project.

Next up are three tracks from the 2008 album “Electric Arguments” (made by McCartney and collaborator Youth under The Fireman rubric):

“Sing the Changes.” A rollicking number with a wide open, airy feel, echoey vocals and chiming guitars. Worked well when done live.

“Highway.” An upbeat piece of classic rock that also brings Wings to mind, it’s propelled by a great bass line and punctuated with pounding piano and a bluesy harmonica. A very deliberately unpolished production, with a loose-feeling, almost noisy wash of sound.

“Dance Till We’re High.” Classic Macca pop-rock, this midtempo number has an infectious beat and an absolutely gorgeous middle eight and chorus. The production has a quasi-’60s feel to it, with its layered strings and pealing bells, sounding rather Phil Spector-esque. The first time I ever listened to this one, on a preview disc, I had to call up a friend immediately and play it over the phone!

Promoting “Kisses on the Bottom.”

McCartney’s 2012 album of pop standards, “Kisses on the Bottom,” supplied two tracks for my Top 25:

“My Valentine.” This is a far cry from being McCartney’s best love song, but it’s still a very engaging romantic number, in the style of the album’s covers. And, it’s elevated by Diana Krall’s piano and Eric Clapton’s acoustic guitar.

“Get Yourself Another Fool.” A tune associated with Sam Cooke, done here in a very jazzy arrangement with bluesy electric guitar by Clapton and a particularly strong vocal by Paul, who uses his regular singing voice, rather than the higher crooning voice he used on most of the album. Paul also contributes some tasty acoustic guitar.

A publicity shot for the “New” album.

Finally, Macca’s most recent album (as of this writing), 2013’s “NEW,” landed four tracks on my list:

“Save Us.” Cowritten with producer Paul Epworth, this propulsive rocker is driven by an insistent, fuzzy guitar hook reminiscent of the Strokes, and is backed by rich harmonies. It’s rather like I’d imagine Wings would sound circa 2013.

“Alligator.” A slyly sexy pop-rocker that has some familiar Macca chord progressions. It features a distinctive flute-like synth line, and a slower middle portion sung in falsetto. Plus, one of those oddball McCartney sexual analogies (in the tradition of “my salamander” in “Getting Closer”).

“Early Days.” A lovely autobiographical acoustic number featuring Paul’s unretouched, frayed, timeworn voice. Besides harking back to The Beatles’ early days, the lyrics jab those who profess to know what went on with the Fabs, but who weren’t actually there.

“New.” Making a nice use of horns, this is a terrific, bouncy, retro-sounding number with a wonderful melody. It brings to mind “Revolver”-era Beatles. The coda with Brian Wilson-ish harmonies is a nice touch (unfortunately dropped in concert performances). It’s hard not to feel good listening to this song.

That’s my list of Macca’s 25 best since 1993.

First runner-up was the autobiographical, upbeat rockabilly/skiffle number “That Was Me,” from “Memory Almost Full.” (It was a last-minute cut from the list.)

Other tracks that didn’t quite make my list, but which are worthy of mention: “Get Out of My Way,” “Down to the River,” “The World Tonight,” “Flaming Pie,” “Run Devil Run,” “No Other Baby,” “How Kind of You,” “This Never Happened Before,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “Only Our Hearts” and “Everybody Out There.

Certainly, some of the songs on my list would not rank among the 25 best of McCartney’s entire solo career, but, overall, it’s a pretty solid playlist. Basically, Macca is in competition with his past self, artistically, every time he releases a new album — and his earlier work is hard to top.

A little over half of the songs on my list also were chosen by some of this project’s contributors: “Hope of Deliverance,” “Golden Earth Girl,” “Calico Skies,” “Little Willow,” “Beautiful Night,” “Too Much Rain,” “Dance Tonight,” “Only Mama Knows,” “Sing the Changes,” “Highway,” “My Valentine,” “Save Us,” “Alligator” and “Early Days.”

I should point out that I included some covers of others’ tunes done by McCartney, whereas some contributors chose to stick strictly to songs penned by Paul for their lists.

Also worth noting, I did not include any tracks from the 2001 album “Driving Rain,” which I consider the nadir of McCartney’s career. The tunes on that album mostly are half-finished and indifferently recorded by David Kahne, though a handful could have been much improved with better production. The ones I’d like to see Paul take another run at, perhaps with a different producer: “I Do” (not really a strong melody, though it has a nice middle), “Magic” (which is the reverse — a decent main melody, but it seems Macca forgot to write a middle), “Your Way” (a rather halfhearted attempt at a country tune) and “Your Loving Flame” (again, it seems he didn’t bother to write a middle and so he just vamped for a few bars).

The most popular track named by the other contributors that was not on my list was “The End of the End,” and I can’t argue with that selection. It’s a fine track; it just didn’t crack my Top 25.

In descending order, other tracks not on my list that were named by multiple contributors were: “Jenny Wren,” “Long Leather Coat,” “Off the Ground,” “Looking for Changes,” “Run Devil Run,” “Ever Present Past,” “The World Tonight,” “Flaming Pie,” “The Lovers That Never Were” and “Fine Line.”

Songs not on my list that drew only one or two mentions from others: “English Tea,” “Queenie Eye,” “I Can Bet,” “C’mon People,” “The Songs We Were Singing,” “Young Boy,” “How Kind of You,” “Sun Is Shining,” “On the Way to Work,” “Vintage Clothes,” “Try Not to Cry,” “Kicked Around No More,” “Party,” “This Never Happened Before,” Summer of 59,” “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and “From a Lover to a Friend.”

Yes, even that last song, which I barely can tolerate, has its fans. And, I’m sure there are songs on my list that some of you can’t stand. Just keep in mind: Musical taste varies widely, and your favorites don’t have to match mine, and vice versa.

All in all, though, I’d say this is an enjoyable and respectable collection of latterday McCartney tunes.

— Bill King

Here are the Macca 25 lists compiled by Beatlefan contributors. First up, Rip Rense …

My choices were confined to songs written by McCartney, as opposed to covers. My original list maxed out around 35. Songs were chosen for musical structure, originality, sensible lyrics, and the old variable, personal taste.

Macca circa 1996.

In no particular order:

“Don’t Want to Be Kicked Around” — A bonus track from “Off the Ground,” it has McCartney infectiousness, strong melody, beautiful bridge, and sentiment you can identify with. Should have been a main album track. I always like McCartney laments.

“Big Boys Bickering” — Another track foolishly omitted from “Off the Ground,” with the famous “f—-ing it up for everyone” refrain. An angry denunciation from Paul, in this case aimed at the ruling elite of government and corporation. I always like when he gets blunt and mad, an all-too-rare thing.

“Golden Earth Girl” — By my standards, a beautiful piano ballad in Beatles tradition. Lovely Carl Davis orchestration/arrangement, witty lyrics (!), gentle lyricism. A poetic tribute to Linda.

“Looking for Changes” — From “Off the Ground,” a stinging, pointed rebuke of animal cruelty. Not the most imaginative song, musically, but a straight-ahead rocker with undisguised rage: “I saw a monkey that was learning to choke / A guy beside him gave him cigarettes to smoke / And every time that monkey started to cough / The bastard laughed his head off. . .” More please, Paul.

“Hope of Deliverance” — Some dodgy lyrics, perhaps (“I will understand someday, one day / You will understand always / Always from now until then”), but overall a warm, upbeat, encouraging anthem, with underlying acknowledgement of uncertainty. I can’t help thinking he had George Harrison in mind when he wrote, “We live in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us.”

“Calico Skies” — From “Flaming Pie,” a tender Paul ballad: poignant, moving, heartfelt, understated. Effectively a farewell to poor, fatally ill Linda, but also with strong general writing, including: “Long live all of us crazy soldiers / Who were born under calico skies / May we never be called to handle / All the weapons of war we despise.”

“Little Willow” — From “Flaming Pie,” this was written to comfort Ringo’s daughter, Lee, on the passing of her mother. It is as touching and delicate a song as Paul has ever done, uncontrived and graceful.

“Beautiful Night” — This “Flaming Pie” closer was supposed to be a “big finish” number, and mostly succeeded. Written in the early ’70s (or earlier?), it has a McCartney Beatles period melody and George Martin production (with Ringo drumming.) The “Make it a beautiful night” punch-line, while pleasant enough, might have had more depth. “Beautiful life” might have been a stronger idea, but this will do.

“Heaven on a Sunday” — A deceptively light guitar ballad from “Flaming Pie” that grows on you with repeated listening, it has a melody conveying something between laziness and ennui, bolstered by a comforting refrain: “If I only had one love, yours would be the one I’d choose.” Nothing contrived here.

“Run Devil Run” — A (nearly literally) runaway rocker from the album of the same name; half the fun of it is just trying to parse the lyrics, worthy of Chuck Berry. Paul’s raw-edged voice was in top form, and the band of David Gilmour, Mick Green, Ian Paice, Pete Wingfield, Dave Mattacks should have stayed together much longer.

“Jenny Wren” — A superior work worthy of McCartney’s Beatles efforts, from the “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” album. Thoughtful words, moody, original melody, with a creative touch also worthy of a Beatles session: a solo by one Pedro Eustache on the Armenian reed instrument, the duduk. A reflective song of melancholy, and, yes, optimism.

“English Tea” — Lennon might have dismissed this as “granny music,” but it’s delightful granny music — with a line you can draw back through “You Gave Me the Answer” to “Your Mother Should Know” and “When I’m 64.” It’s both tongue-in-cheek and sincere, which adds to its charm, as does the beguiling arrangement by Joby Talbot.

“Too Much Rain” — Temptation to dismiss this as a lightweight feel-good homily (“You’ve got to learn to laugh”) would be woefully misplaced. It’s fine music, for starters, rather unlike any other Paul composition I can bring to mind. He acknowledges how heartbreaking, crushing life is, yet still insists that one must brave it out. The message could not be more sincere.

“In Liverpool” — A weighty autobiographical piece about his home city, “In Liverpool” exists only as a live performance from 2008. Yet it’s one of Paul’s strongest career efforts, testimony to his often poor judgement of his better work. A natural, unaffected recitation of places and “people I’ve never met” from the old days, set to simple guitar accompaniment, it’s sort of a grandchild of “Eleanor Rigby.” A tragically lost gem. (How could he throw this away and put out so much dreck on “New”?)

“Dance Tonight” — Yes, it’s simple, yes, it’s about next to nothing, but it’s ear candy. It makes you feel good, and you can’t get it out of your head. It was born of McCartney trying out a left-handed mandolin in a London shop, prompting his daughter, Beatrice, to start dancing. Good indicator! Charming, doesn’t wear out.

“Ever-Present Past” — McCartney did a lot of things right on “Memory Almost Full” (thanks, no doubt, to producer David Kahne), and this was one. Glib, reflective, infectious, it’s an uptempo look back at life. Combining sad observations with upbeat arrangement (and vice-versa) is always a good plan.

“Only Mama Knows” — Brilliant string intro by David Kahne gives way to heavy rock band and a story-song lamenting the caprices of fate. You wonder if Paul adapted part of a novel here, but, whatever he did, it worked great. One of his best solo rockers, it melts back into Kahne’s strings at the end. A slick mini-movie.

“You Tell Me” — Excellent Kahne production of a gorgeous, wistful meditation, in which Paul laments the loss of youth. “When was that summer of a dozen words? / The butterflies and hummingbirds flew free / Let’s see / You tell me …” Example of how so much can be done with so little, when Paul has something to say.

“Mr. Bellamy” — One of the most musically and lyrically playful things McCartney has done in many years, this whimsical number is, I hope, about a cat. But, whatever the case, it’s a winner — from the somber opening brass to the broken piano figure, from Paul’s comical baritone parts to the understated strings and the spooky-jazzy outro.

“That Was Me” — More good stuff from “Memory Almost Full,” this energized autobiographical number sort of continues the “Ever-Present Past” theme in rambunctious ’50s rock ’n’ roll framework. “When I think that all this stuff can make a life / It’s pretty hard to take it in.” I’ll bet.  McCartney should have worked more with Kahne.

“The End of the End” — It’s tough to express, especially in rhyme, a farewell to life without being maudlin or forced. McCartney musically succeeds here in a fashion he has not managed, perhaps, since “Let it Be.” (He would do well to indulge more “sad songs,” which he seems to almost pathologically avoid.) “On the day that I die / I’d like jokes to be told / And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets / That children have played on/ And laid on while listening to stories of old.” These are among the best lyrics he’s done. Caveat: the song deserved a fuller production than the understated one it received; certainly, a solo other than Paul whistling, whimsical touch that it is.

“Only Our Hearts” — I don’t like this song, understand. I don’t care for “artificial standards” in general, but I am in the minority here. Fact is, McCartney executed this genre really well with this number, and with “My Valentine” (which I also don’t care for). You don’t have to like a piece of music to recognize its quality.

“Sing the Changes” — This is one of the most joyful, uplifting, inspiring things McCartney has done. His approach — while in the guise of The Fireman, produced by some creature known as Youth — was to jam in the studio, and add spontaneous vocal lines, often paraphrased from favorite poems. “Every ladder leads to heaven. . .sing the changes as you’re sleeping. . .feel a sense of childlike wonder.” Puts you in a great place.

“Traveling Light” — Another successful experiment from “Electric Arguments,” this is highly unusual, if not unique, in the Paul canon. His whispery baritone, the eerie instrumentation, the enigmatic poetry all combine for a haunting atmosphere unlike anything else he has done. A two-parter, to boot. Creative and weighty.

“Early Days” — The best work on the otherwise awkward, empty, deliberately au courant-sounding album, “New.” McCartney could take this song, and “In Liverpool,” and various other autobiographical works and pull them together into an album. “Early Days” is very fine, for its unadorned production, the honesty and pointedness of the lyrics(!), and Paul’s unaltered, scratchy “old voice.” “These sweet memories of friends from the past / always come to you when you look for them / and your inspiration, long may it last / may it come to you time and time again.” It came to him here.

Runners-up: “Get Out of My Way,” “What It Is,” “The Sun is Shining,” “How Kind of You,” “Two Magpies,” “Light From Your Lighthouse.”

Next, Kit O’Toole …

“Calico Skies”: Paul at his simple best — moving lyrics and acoustic guitar is all that’s necessary to convey the deeply moving lyrics.

At the Concert for New York City.

“Flaming Pie”: Macca at his most playful, with the lyrics clearly inspired by Beatles stories he mentioned during “Anthology” interviews.

“Little Willow”: A tribute to Maureen Starkey, this delicate look at grief and loss took on new meaning after Linda passed away.

“Somedays”: Paul must have had Linda’s fragile health in mind when he wrote this tender, thoughtful ballad featuring lines such as “Somedays I look / I look at you with eyes that shine / Somedays I don’t / I don’t believe that you are mine.”

“Too Much Rain”: Similar to “Somebody Who Cares,” the song provides understanding and encouragement about enduring difficult times.

“Riding to Vanity Fair”: One of the most personal, emotional songs Paul ever wrote. From the dark beginning to Paul’s straightforward vocals, he addresses someone who has clearly betrayed him. Tasteful guitar and keyboards complete this profoundly sad but defiant track.

“Ever Present Past”: The lead single off “Memory Almost Full” sets the reflective tone for the rest of the album. “Searching for the time that has gone so fast / The time that I thought would last” previews themes of time and memory.

“That Was Me”: A rocking track that looks back on his life with awe and wonder.

“The End of the End”: Although a sad reflection on death, the track also provides lovely images such as in the lines “On the day that I die I’d like jokes to be told / And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets / That children have played on / And laid on while listening to stories of old.”

“Queenie Eye”: This track cleverly compares the rules of a children’s game with rules of life, and it points out “it’s a long way to the finish.”

“Sing the Changes”: This song has much more energy live, but the Fireman track still retains its defiant, ebullient feel.

“The Lovers That Never Were”: Another product of his collaborations with Elvis Costello, this track tells of a complicated relationship (will this couple ever move beyond friendship?).  It would have been even better if it had been released as a duet with Costello, as you can hear Elvis’ voice throughout this version.

“Long Leather Coat”: Why did this rocker not make the “Off the Ground” track list instead of being relegated to a B-side?

“Cosmically Conscious”: While the lyrics may not be complicated, it’s hard not to sing along with the “it’s a joy” refrain. The live version at David Lynch’s benefit is even better than the original.

“Run Devil Run”: The first album released after Linda’s death, the album and title track signaled Paul’s return with surprising aggression and anger.

“222”: A bonus track from “Memory Almost Full,” this mostly instrumental song is a welcome foray into jazz.

“Kicked Around No More”: Again, why did this fail to make the “Off the Ground” lineup? Jazzy chord changes, lush harmonies, and a lovely McCartney lead vocal make this track a standout.

“Promise to You Girl”: “Looking through the backyard of my life” summarizes “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” perfectly; while the track begins on a somber note, it swiftly kicks into a higher gear, expressing optimism. The frequent changes in mood slightly echo the “Abbey Road” medley as well.

“Follow Me”: “Chaos” reflected the turmoil Paul experienced in his second marriage, and this song once again is about coping, but stresses that one cannot weather the storms alone.

“Turned Out”: The slight country twang combined with piano and rock guitar gives this “New” track an organic, classic Wings feel.

“Why So Blue”: Another example of a song inexplicably failing to make the final cut, “Why So Blue” sounds slightly Beatlesque, particularly in the chorus.

“Party”: Similar to “Run Devil Run,” “Party” reflects Paul’s deep affection for classic R&B and rock, yet signals his regained passion for music.

“Really Love You” (Twin Freaks version): The “Flaming Pie” track receives a radical makeover by Freelance Hellraiser (with Paul’s blessing). The drums come from “What’s That You’re Doing,” and that relentless funk bassline turns the song into a dance workout.

“The Song We Were Singing”: Evocative of the nostalgia pervading “Flaming Pie,” in this song Paul fondly recalls his years working with John Lennon. Despite their differences and difficult times, “we always came back to the song we were singing / At any particular time.”

Here are Al Sussman’s picks …

Latterday examples of McCartney the master pop craftsman/earworm creator:

Recording pop standards with Diana Krall.

“Off the Ground”

“Hope of Deliverance” — Used to great effect in John Scheinfeld’s film about the Chicago Cubs, “The Heart & Soul of Chicago”

“The World Tonight”

“Young Boy”

“Beautiful Night”

“Fine Line”

“Dance Tonight” — Arguably Paul’s most instantly accessible song of this century

“Ever Present Past”

“Only Mama Knows”

“Save Us”

“New”

“Sing the Changes” — From the most accessible of the three Fireman albums

Latterday classic McCartney love ballads:

“Calico Skies”

“Somedays” — Both of these songs written under very emotional circumstances, as Linda fought her ultimately losing battle with breast cancer.

“This Never Happened Before”

“My Valentine”

McCartney-penned should-have-been anthems:

“C’mon People” — If this had been a hit, it would have dovetailed nicely with the promise of the start of the Clinton administration

“Hope for the Future” — Unfortunately, not generally released, so most people have never heard it.

Favorite covers:

“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”

“Party”

“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”

“More I Cannot Wish You”

Great songs, but beyond categorization:

“Celebration” — from “Standing Stone.” Obviously has an emotional attachment for Paul, presumably involving Linda, since he plays it at virtually every soundcheck.

“The End of the End”

“Too Much Rain”

Next comes an imaginative list from Renato Facconi …

The 25 songs (from 1993 on) that I like the most:

“Off the Ground”

“Looking for Changes”

“C’mon People”

“Cosmically Conscious”

“The Song We Were Singing”

“Beautiful Night”

“The World Tonight”

“Young Boy”

“Calico Skies”

“Fine Line”

“Jenny Wren”

“Dance Tonight”

“Run Devil Run”

“Lonely Road”

“From a Lover to a Friend”

“How Kind of You”

“Dance Tonight”

“The End of the End”

“Only Mama Knows”

“Sing the Changes”

“Sun Is Shining”

“My Valentine”

“Save Us”

“On My Way to Work”

“Early Days”

Why did I choose these songs?

Keeping watch for icebergs is a good time to listen to Macca.

OK, when asked for a list, I remembered the time I was crossing on boat from North Canada to Greenland: 3 days and 2 nights sailing without a stop in a sea that was very cold and full of icebergs. I had to make a watch once during the day and once during the night for two hours and it wasn’t easy. They told me you can have some music, and that’s what I did. It helped a lot.

It was a real hard sailing, but everything went fine for me, my wife and the 7 friends who were with us.

In listing the McCartney songs I like most, I dreamed to be again sailing on the Arctic Sea and to prepare a tape/CD with 25 songs to accompany my night watch.

The first 3 songs from “Off the Ground” are the ones I like the most from this album, and it would be a nice start, just a way to sing and whistle, with nothing serious in mind.

“C’mon People,” let’s see how the waves are growing around us. Then “Cosmically Conscious” would start: What else can you expect from a dark night in the Arctic?

Oh yes, now this song really appears to be a great experience and, yes, I am full of joy, despite the cold weather.

Then, I have chosen songs from one of the records I like most, “Flaming Pie.” Excellent music, nice lyrics. I still remember the promo video for “The World Tonight,” with the landscape from Tuscany in the background.

OK, a nice remembering, good weather, nice fields, a lot of colors, while our little boat is passing in the middle of the fog. And, yes, just let me dream of The Beatles enjoying the songs they were singing, even when they had real difficulties.

C’mon, we’ll see the Greenland seaside soon, don’t worry! And I promise when I get home I’ll write a song. And, I did, “Hard Sailing,” its title.

“Beautiful Night,” “Calico Skies,” “Young Boy,” really the correct music to help you spend a difficult night.

What else can I expect? Some chaos? A splendid creation? Oh, yes, so the quiet songs that follow are really a good company until “Dance Tonight,” a song I have always loved, either on CD or live.  Quite easy, but so catchy and full of hope, you know, I start singing until … So glad that it’s not windy.

That’s untrue, it is really windy and the night now is dark, so I can now listen to a song, which, despite its title, is so positive, “The End of the End.” No need to be sad, this song runs, and I think of a good friend I lost a few years ago.

At the end of the end
It’s the start of a journey
To a much better place
And a much better place
Would have to be special
No reason to cry

Wow, I like to think this is the real end of the end.

C’mon, now, we have to stay tuned, the night is darkened you need to watch with attention.

“Run Devil Run” and “Brown-eyed Handsome Man” are a good way to get up from my thoughts and see how things are going.

Now, everything is going well with the sailing, so what about a few songs from a not very positive period for McCartney?

“Lonely Road” and “From a Lover to a Friend” really fit the quiet, approaching the end of the night sailing.

But, it is not the end and two songs from a certain Fireman are a good company now. I liked a lot this peculiar way of approaching songs by McCartney, and the two I have chosen are really great songs. And, no, the sun already shined long ago.

Now it is the time for a love song, “My Valentine,” an excellent song that seems to have been recorded decades ago, to prove the versatility of the composer.

Approaching to the end of my watch, no better choice than to hear 3 of the songs from his latest album.

OK, let’s throw the anchor and think about the early days by The Beatles and, why not? Also mine.

And, here are Jorie Gracen’s picks, which she says are not in any particular order. …

1. “Appreciate”

Linda was the inspiration for many of Paul’s songs.

2. “Only Mama Knows”

3. “Hope of Deliverance”

4. “Cosmically Conscious”

5. “Looking For Changes”

6. “Long Leather Coat”

7. “Alligator”

8. “The World Tonight”

9. “Try Not to Cry”

10. “Keep Coming Back to Love”

11. “Sing The Changes”

12. “Queenie Eye”

13. “I Love This House”

14. “Highway”

15. “Save Us”

16. “Flaming Pie”

17. “Beautiful Night”

18. “The Lovers That Never Were”

19. “Off the Ground”

20. “I Can Bet”

21. “Looking at Her”

22. “Mistress and Maid”

23. “Whole Life”

24. “Turned Out”

25. “Love Come Tumbling Down”

Finally, Tom Frangione’s list …

“Off the Ground”

Paul and Youth.

“Hope of Deliverance”

“The Lovers That Never Were”

“Long Leather Coat”

“My Old Friend”

“Calico Skies”

“Little Willow”

“Beautiful Night”

“I Got Stung”

“What It Is”

“Fine Line”

“Jenny Wren”

“How Kind of You”

“English Tea”

“This Never Happened Before”

“Summer of ’59”

“Vintage Clothes”

“That Was Me”

The End Of The End

“Dance ‘Till We’re High”

“Highway”

“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”

“New”

“Early Days”

“I Can Bet”

 

 

 

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Reassessing Paul McCartney’s ‘Off the Ground’ 25 Years Later

Bill King takes a fresh look at a 1993 album that once was a mainstay on his stereo, but which he hadn’t listened to in years until recently.

Twenty-five years ago, in the spring of 1993, Paul McCartney’s “Off the Ground” album was practically the soundtrack of my family’s life, as it occupied most-played status on the living room stereo amid a bunch of road trips to follow Macca’s New World Tour.

However, after a recent social media post from Beatlefan’s Al Sussman noting the anniversary of the album’s release, I realized that it had been years since I’d listened to “Off the Ground.

Paul McCartney

The back cover of “Off the Ground.”

That also spurred a memory from nearly five years ago, when my son Bill sent me a link to an article published by Grantland, the late, lamented pop culture site operated by ESPN. The piece by Ben Lindbergh was titled “Ranking the 21 Best Paul McCartney Deep Tracks,” and at No. 9 on the listing was “Golden Earth Girl,” a track from “Off the Ground.”

My son remarked that, until reading the list, he had forgotten about “Golden Earth Girl.” Ironically, he said, that was “an album I heard probably 90 times that year and have never, ever listened to since.”

Bill’s general impression of the album was that it featured rather dated production, sounding very early ’90s, and that it didn’t have the same level of songwriting that shone through on its similarly produced predecessor, “Flowers in the Dirt.”

I replied to him that “Off the Ground” had some good stuff on it (and some mediocre), but most folks, including Paul, seemed to have forgotten about it.

Five years went by, and I still hadn’t listened again to “Off the Ground,” until Al’s anniversary posting. My memory of the album was that some of it was really good (“Hope of Deliverance,” for instance) but much of it hadn’t held up well and wasn’t as satisfying as when we were caught up in the excitement of the tour.

McCartney used his 1993 tour band to record the “Off the Ground” album.

I decided to revisit “Off the Ground” with fresh ears and then go back and compare my contemporary impressions with what I wrote in my original review of the album, published in Beatlefan #81.

Overall, my 2018 critique of the album wasn’t nearly as positive as what I wrote in the winter of 1993.

Back then, I noted this was Macca’s first “band” album since “Back to the Egg” (recorded with his then touring band of Hamish Stuart, Robbie McIntosh, Paul “Wix” Wickens, Blair Cunningham and Linda, rather than session musicians), and said that I thought it had a consistency and energy absent from some of the tracks on “Flowers in the Dirt.”

“The highs here may not soar quite as high as on some previous albums, and there are a couple of weaker tracks, but there aren’t any that make you wince,” I wrote, adding: “Macca and co-producer Julian Mendelsohn, known for his work with the Pet Shop Boys, have put a lot of interesting textures into the sound of this album.”

My view now: It’s generally one of Macca’s less satisfying albums. Several of the tracks meander on way longer than they need to; the lyrics range from decent to embarrassing; and the production, like my son remembered, feels a bit too processed — unusual in that Paul said at the time that most of the basic tracks were recorded live in the studio. I’d rate seven of the 13 tracks as keepers.

Let’s go through the album track by track, comparing my 1993 comments with my recent impressions:

In 1993, I described the title track, “Off the Ground, as “a midtempo rocker whose hard-edged backing of thunderous bass and droning guitars is leavened by handclaps and the ‘la-la-la-la-la’ backing vocals of the very catchy chorus.” I still like the backing, and it does have a catchy refrain, but Paul’s lead vocal now strikes me as sounding very muted.

Back then, I noted that this was Macca’s most overt “message” album, with a heavy emphasis on animal rights and his nostalgia for the positive vibe of the late ‘60s.

Those are still valid concerns and feelings, but the tracks where Paul is trying to deliver a message now feel even more dated than the rest of the album, in part because of the earnest but clunky lyrics.

A prime example is the next track, “Looking for Changes. Even back in 1993, I noted that, while it was “an energetic rocker with bashing drums and buzzsaw guitars that calls for respecting animal rights [and] the sentiment obviously is heartfelt,” I thought “the lyrics are a tad awkward,” as when Paul sang, “I saw a cat with a machine in his brain / The man who fed him said he didn’t feel any pain / I’d like to see that man take out that machine and stick it in his own brain.”

Still, I said back then that the overall result was one of the most memorable tunes on the album.

Now, my notes on the track were summed up with one word: meh.

From left, Robbie McIntosh, Wix, Linda, Paul, Blair Cunningham and Hamish Stuart.

My original review found “Hope of Deliverance” to be problematic. “It’s a fine pop number,” I said, “with a tasty backing mixing acoustic guitars, autoharp and a prominent bassline with Latin percussion … And it has a catchy chorus … but [it’s] not a very good choice as the lead-off single because it doesn’t sound like much else being played on the radio, and it isn’t really representative of the album, having a much lighter feel than most of the tracks.” Now, having long since given up any concerns about solo Beatle stuff getting played on the radio, I rate “Hope” as the best track on the album.

“Mistress and Maid,” I wrote back in 1993, was “a slyly charming story song in 3/4 waltz time” that “displays the most assured lyrical touch on the album — not surprising considering it’s one of the two songwriting collaborations with Elvis Costello on the album. And it’s very nicely produced, with some interesting orchestration arranged by McCartney and Carl Davis.”

I don’t have much more to add, all these years later, except that it’s very Costello-sounding.

In my original review, I said that “I Owe It All to You” was “the closest thing to a traditional McCartney ballad, [with] a very effective acoustic guitar hook, some exotic imagery in the lyrics, a plaintive vocal and one of those instantly hummable Macca choruses. Where, in the past, he might have gone in for synths and strings … here he opts for a leaner, rockier sound that builds in intensity. It’s my favorite on the album.”

“Hope” since has supplanted it as my favorite, but “I Owe It All to You” is still a fine track, though I find the imagery of the lyrics (Egyptian gardens, glass cathedral, golden canyon) a bit rococo.

Which brings us to the track that drew the most derisive comments back in 1993: “Biker Like an Icon.” I wrote in my original album review that, “Musically, I can see the appeal of its quirky chord changes, and McCartney does a good job of singing it, particularly toward the end. But the lyrics, which tell a story about a girl who comes to no good as a result of her obsession with a biker, are awfully trite.  … The weak lyrics ruin what might have been one of the album’s most distinctive numbers.”

The track didn’t wear well, even then. By the end of the tour, I was calling it “loathsome” in Beatlefan. Now, I’d sum it up as not much of a tune, with stupid lyrics. The accompanying T-shirt sold on the ’93 tour — featuring a parody of religious paintings, with a madonna wearing a motorcycle jacket and helmet —  was more artistically satisfying than the song.

Onstage in Australia during the 1993 New World Tour.

Next is “Peace in the Neighborhood.” Back in ’93, I wrote that it was “a gentler message song that basically says the peace and love scene of the ’60s still is a worthwhile ambition for us all.” I said it had “an impossibly catchy refrain, some effective vocal play by Macca and very nice piano” by Wix.

Now, I find the extremely laid-back groove of the track too low-energy. This is one of the ones that drags on way longer than it should.

“Golden Earth Girl,” the track that Grantland liked, is “one of those majestic McCartney ballads,” I wrote in 1993, “with a piano opening that calls to mind ‘Wanderlust,’ and chiming guitars and shimmering oboe and flute orchestration. This one carries an ecological message and some lovely word pictures (“counting fish in a sunbeam, in eggshell seas”), but what you’ll keep with you after listening to it is the beautifully delicate melody and refrain.”

I still like this one a lot, especially the very pretty melody, but now I think the lyrics strain a tad too hard to be poetic and rely too much on an obvious pun (“in eggshell seas” for “in excelsis”).

Ironically, Macca was so concerned with upgrading his lyrics for this album that he enlisted the aid of a British poet friend, Adrian Mitchell. Paul said he asked Mitchell “to look through the lyrics as if he was an English teacher.”

Based on the end results, I’d say that, as a teacher, Mitchell was an “easy A.”

The album’s other collaboration with Costello, “The Lovers That Never Were,” didn’t knock me out in 1993. I wrote that it “has one of the album’s less memorable melodies, but its bittersweet tale of unrequited love (‘a parade of unpainted dreams’) is given a welcome bit of toughness by the pounding drums and handclaps.”

Now, I’d rate it definitely as one of the songwriting duo’s lesser efforts. The lead vocal on this one also sounds a bit too processed.

A bootleg showing how the cover shot for the official album was shot.

Next is Get Out of My Way, which most fans felt back in 1993 should have been a single. Back then, I wrote that it was “a terrific little rock ’n’ roll tune. The band joyously bashes this one out with considerable energy. … The ringing guitars are reminiscent of Chuck Berry, and the refrain is probably the catchiest on the album.”

That summation still works for me.

Back in 1993, I said that “Winedark Open Sea” was “the album’s weakest track. It meanders rather aimlessly, wasting the intriguing imagery of the title on a fairly repetitive love song. … Any of the B-sides … would have been a stronger selection.”

Another one that seems to go on forever. If I were still listening on a turntable, this one would be a needle-lifter.

The album winds up with “C’mon People.” I wrote in 1993 that, in this one, “McCartney attempts an anthem for the ’90s … and, for the most part, it works, [as it] builds from a relatively simple piano-driven opening to a big production benefiting from a tasteful orchestral arrangement co-written and conducted by George Martin. Best thing about it, though, is McCartney’s singing — powerful, emotional.”

With hindsight, that seems a bit generous to me. Nowadays, this one strikes me as plodding.

Tacked on to the end of “C’mon People” is a “hidden” track: a 2-minute excerpt from “Cosmically Conscious” (see below) that I said back then served up “a tantalizing taste of vintage Beatlesque psychedelica with a little Indian seasoning. It leaves you humming its unfinished melody and wanting more.”

And that’s still the case.

Reviews for the album in 1993 were tepid, and sales were unimpressive, with “Off the Ground” peaking with its debut at No. 17 on the Billboard album chart; it was on the chart for only 20 weeks, although it did go gold (meaning sale of 500,000 units). The initial single, “Hope of Deliverance,” peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 at 83, though it did make it to No. 9 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The single was a bigger hit in Europe.

The album was released in conjunction with McCartney’s New World Tour and six numbers from it were played in the regular set list: “Looking for Changes,” “Peace in the Neighborhood,” “Off the Ground,” “Hope of Deliverance,” “Bike Like an Icon” and “C’mon People.” A seventh, “Get Out of My Way,” unfortunately was dropped from the set list after Australia.

“Hope of Deliverance” generally was the most warmly received of the new numbers in concert, and “Looking for Changes” rocked convincingly enough to hold the audience early in the show. The crowds seemed unfamiliar with (and not that interested in) most of the other new songs, with “Peace in the Neighborhood” being the weakest selection live and quickly becoming the beer or bathroom run song. Canny use of Linda’s pictures, culminating with a Beatles era shot of John and Paul, helped hold audience interest during “C’mon People,” and, at a few shows on the U.S. tour, some fans held up signs at the appropriate times with that song’s “Oh yeah” refrain printed on them.

“Off the Ground — The Complete Works” included the B-sides as well as the album tracks.

Besides “Hope,” three other tracks led singles released from the album: “C’mon People,” “Off the Ground” and “Biker Like An Icon.” None was a hit. A single with dance mixes of “Hope of Deliverance” also was issued. The dominant format at the time was CD singles, and each single featured three non-album B-sides, most of which were from the album sessions (with a couple of live “Unplugged” numbers thrown in).

Later in the year, a 2-CD compilation, “Off the Ground — The Complete Works” was released in Germany and the Netherlands. It included all the B-sides (except for the ones that were remixes of album tracks).

The common fan sentiment at the time was that the B-sides were better than some of the tracks that made the album, and, for the most part, that is still a valid observation.

The studio B-sides were:

“Big Boys Bickering” — a Cajun-flavored country-blues shuffle that drew some press notice for its liberal use of the f-word in protesting the first President George Bush’s refusal to sign an international ecological treaty.

“Long Leather Coat — a raucous rocker written by Paul and Linda with animal rights lyrics (better than “Looking for Changes”) and the band rocking out full-bore.

“Kicked Around No More” — a similar ballad to “Once Upon a Long Ago,” with a really fine, soulful lead vocal, and 10cc-style backing vocals. The syncopated rhythm injects a bit of energy into the lushly produced number.

“I Can’t Imagine” — a sprightly, upbeat acoustic guitar-driven pop number with a light Latin rhythm, nice backing harmonies, and an urgent lead vocal. (When the iTunes Store added McCartney’s catalog in 2007, they included “I Can’t Imagine” as an exclusive bonus track on the main “Off the Ground” album.)

“Keep Coming Back to Love” — a soulful number cowritten with band member Hamish Stuart, opening with a jazzy piano riff and featuring an interesting bass line on the chorus. Paul and Hamish share the vocal.

“Down to the River” — a Cajun-inflected country-skiffle harmonica number first performed during the 1991 secret gigs tour of Europe. Lyrically slight (and repetitive), but thoroughly enjoyable, with an impossibly catchy refrain.

“Cosmically Conscious — the full version of the extremely catchy song, which Paul wrote at the Maharishi’s back in 1968. Its dense, echoey, layered sound is chockablock with old Beatles studio tricks and trademarks. A great companion piece for George Harrison’s “When We Was Fab.”

“Style Style” — an unremarkable, overlong pop number (running 6:07) that does have a very hummable chorus.

“Sweet Sweet Memories” — a middle-aged love song with another memorable chorus and a prominent bass line. Tacked on at end is the 26-second “Soggy Noodle,” essentially just a bit of guitar picking.

Overall, the “Off the Ground” project didn’t produce a lot of top-level McCartney music, but it did include a number of tracks that are worth revisiting 25 years years later.

— Bill King

 

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That Was the Year That Was: Lots of High Points for Beatles Fans in 2017

Beatlefan Publisher Bill King looks back on the past 12 months in the Beatles world. …

The year’s big event was the 50th anniversary of the “Sgt. Pepper” album.

Any year where you get to see two of The Beatles live in concert in your city has to be considered an above average time for a Beatles fan, and that was the case for me in 2017.

But, the year proved to be notable for fans in other ways, too.

The biggest event in Beatledom this year (or, arguably, in many years) was the much lauded 50th anniversary edition of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

This one checked off just about all the fan “wants” when it came to reissues, as it was put out in multiple configurations featuring new Giles Martin mixes in stereo and 5.1 surroundsound, had bonus discs with previously unreleased material and video features, was presented in lavish and thoughtfully prepared special packaging.

I think it’s safe to say the 6-disc Super Deluxe Edition is the all-round best Beatles reissue ever, and a rare instance of Apple Corps hitting one out of the ballpark. (Conversely, the release of The Beatles’ Christmas recordings late in the year deservedly drew a much more muted response sine it came out only on vinyl and did not feature any bonuses. And, Apple Corps missed an opportunity by ignoring the 50th anniversary of “Magical Mystery Tour.”)

Meanwhile, the “Pepper” 50th anniversary also brought forth several documentaries (one of which was shown on PBS in America) and a number of new books about the album and its times, including Bruce Spizer’s “The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans’ Perspective,” to which I was honored to contribute.

“I Me Mine” was republished in an expanded edition.

Also on the plus side, another notable event of 2017 was publication of an expanded edition of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” book, spanning the complete length of his career in music. This volume was his musical story told largely in his own words and featured 141 songs with handwritten lyric sheets reproduced in full color.

However, not nearly as enthusiastically greeted was “George Harrison: The Vinyl Collection,” which consisted of 180-gram vinyl reissues of all 12 of George’s studio albums, from “Wonderwall Music” through “Brainwashed,” plus “Live in Japan” and two 12-inch picture discs of “When We Was Fab” and “Got My Mind Set on You.”

While Harrison fans wanting some, but not all, of these new vinyl reissues didn’t have to fork out for the entire box set, since the individual LPs also were available separately, the fact that the releases used the original analog master tapes, rather than new remixes, and did not include any bonus material drew a lot of flak from fans … and made them less than an essential purchase.

“Flowers in the Dirt” was the latest entry in the McCartney Archive series.

Much more successful, but still controversial, was the release of Paul McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt” album as part of his archive series.

The excellently remastered album was made available as a 2-CD special edition, a 2-LP vinyl set and a deluxe edition box set that included 3 CDs (with 18 bonus tracks, including previously unissued demos) and a DVD with all the music videos from the album, other short films and the “Put It There” documentary; plus a booklet of handwritten lyrics, a photobook and a 112-page book with the complete story of the album told through interviews with Paul, Elvis Costello and other contributors.

However, the decision to issue an album’s worth of additional bonus tracks, including B-sides, remixes and single edits, as digital downloads only drew heavy fan criticism, as did the fact that the “Flowers” reissue carried a much higher list price than previous Archive Collection releases.

The other major high points of the year for Beatles fans were the previously mentioned concert tours by both Paul and Ringo.

Bruce Springsteen onstage with Macca. (Photo by Bob Gannon)

Macca’s One on One tour stretched through much of the year, starting with shows in Japan and moving on to two legs of U.S. dates (including a bunch in the New York area that saw Macca joined onstage by Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen), shows in South America and Mexico City, and his long-awaited return to Australia and New Zealand in December.

While he didn’t shake up the set list much, and there still were the occasional problems with his voice, McCartney’s nearly three-hour show wowed audiences and left concertgoers with a big smile on their face wherever the 75-year-old legend went.

Also, he continued to show a superb command of the stage and a good feel for audience interactions. He frequently brought fans up onstage and sometimes — as with the July 13 Atlanta area show, where he helped a young woman named Becka Philips tell her family she’s gay — these fan moments were high points of the evening.

Another highlight of my Macca concert experience was having my longtime friend John Sosebee travel over from Alabama to join me and Leslie at the show. It felt a lot like old times, and we all enjoyed the concert thoroughly, even the familiar parts we’ve seen numerous times before. As I noted in my blog and Beatlefan article on the show, I think my friend Melissa Ruggieri of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution got it exactly right in her review when she wrote: “There might not be a more beautiful sonic live experience than the moment ‘Something’ shifts from McCartney on ukulele to the full band kicking in like an exploding rainbow. It’s a moment worth revisiting a hundred times.”

Ringo at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Rick Glover)

The fact that I also got to see Ringo in concert just four months later was the cherry on top when it came to 2017’s treats. Leslie is still upset that she was under the weather at the time and missed Ringo and the All Starrs’ show at Atlanta’s beautiful Fox Theatre, but our daughter Olivia joined me, and it was a fun evening. Ringo was in fine voice and humor, Todd Rundgren played the class clown as usual, and the band members obviously were enjoying themselves as they jostled and poked each other during their rundown of classic rock hits.

The only real disappointment was Ringo not doing any song from his most recent album release, “Give More Love,” with the title number dropped from the set list shortly after the opening stint in Las Vegas.

With Ringo shaking up the band’s lineup for a forthcoming 2018 European tour, many of us hope that, perhaps, he’ll bring back “Oh My My” (done with the All Starrs in 2008) or finally do “Octopus’s Garden” (which he’s previously only done live a few years back with his part-time group, the Roundheads).

There are still songs Ringo isn’t doing that fans would love to hear. (Photo by Rick Glover)

I’d also love to see a live version of his hit cover of “Only You,” but I’ve pretty much given up hope of that.

Other 2017 Beatles-related highlights this Beatles fan included: the Avett Brothers’ terrific version of George’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” which they debuted on “The Late Show with Steven Colbert” and included in their concert sets … the voluminous “A Is for Apple Volume 2” book continuing the authors’ very detailed look at the early days of Apple Corps and and Apple Records … and the launching by SiriusXM of The Beatles Channel, which surprised many fans by including relatively obscure solo album tracks in its mix of familiar Beatles hits.

Sad moments during the year included the deaths of John Lennon’s pal Pete Shotton (with whom I once spent a delightful evening), Harrison buddy and fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty and The Beatles’ first “manager,” Allan Williams. And, for us personally at Beatlefan, 2017 unfortunately will be remembered for the sudden loss of our longtime Japan correspondent, Gen Onoshima.

Overall, though, a 6-disc “Pepper” retrospective with lots of previously unissued bonus recordings, and fresh chances to see both Paul and Ringo perform onstage made 2017 one of my favorite Beatle years in quite a while!

Feel free to share your own thoughts on the latest Beatle year. …

— Bill King

 

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Ringo’s Back Beat: You Can’t Lose It

Beatlefan contributor Dave Persails offers an appreciation of the world’s greatest drummer.

Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band on their 2017 tour. (All photos by Dave Persails)

Ringo Starr recently finished a concert tour of the U.S., and he made a stop in greater Houston, in Sugarland, Texas, to be precise. With no real surprises, the show was very much the same show we’ve seen for the past six years.

We did get an excellent and welcome return of a rocking “Back Off Boogaloo,” complete with a riff from “Helter Skelter.” Disappointingly, however, the new album track “Give More Love” was no longer on the set list, as it once was for the earlier Vegas shows. Ringo dutifully puts out a new album every couple of years, and it almost seems that, whether it sells or not is beside the point.

Of late, there appears to be a new appreciation for Ringo.

Beyond that, what else is there to say about Ringo Starr? Plenty, it seems, if you pay any attention to what authors and musicians have been saying in recent years.

In some older Beatles biographies, Ringo was hardly mentioned. Whereas there are countless books on The Beatles as a group, plus many on John Lennon and Paul McCartney as solo artists, and even a few for quiet Beatle George Harrison, the number of books devoted to The Beatles’ drummer can be counted on one hand. Not until 1991 did anyone see fit to write one, when Alan Clayson gave us his “Straight Man or Joker?” Even the title raised doubt — still — as to whether Mr. Starkey should be taken seriously.

Of late, there seems to be a new appreciation for our favorite drummer. Michael Seth Starr issued his biography in 2015, and, in 2016, Alex Cain and Terry McCusker explored “the percussive elements” of Ringo’s work with The Beatles. Due in 2018 is a fresh telling from fellow Liverpudlian David Bedford, as to how Ringo joined the group.

This recent attention is no doubt due, at least in part, to Ringo’s 2015 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. That honor took place with more than a little help from his friend Paul, but it was also then that so many other famous drummers paid their respects. Dave Grohl said, “Ringo was the king of feel.” Jim Keltner called him “a song drummer.” And, Max Weinberg observed, “four drums, that’s all Ringo Starr needed.” They all, at one time or another, answered the musical question, “What would Ringo do?” Such is the power of his influence.

The Beatles and company also seem to have realized the importance of recognizing Ringo. In the recent 50th anniversary “Sgt. Pepper” release, the drums are mixed to the fore, a fact that has the drummer rather pleased. “Now my drums are back, the overdubs and things lost them originally,” he said. “Now they are back. I’m so happy to hear it the way we did it.”

Ringo seems to love backing up his fellow All Starrs.

If one digs deep enough, there is evidence that Starr always has been at the center of things. Lennon told David Scheff in 1980 that “Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met. He was a professional drummer who sang and performed and had ‘Ringo Starr-Time’ and he was in one of the top groups in Britain, but especially in Liverpool before we even had a drummer.” His old bass drum was boldly emblazoned with the words “Ringo Starr” — not the name of the group he was in — right up to the time he joined The Beatles. McCartney recalled Ringo’s first sit-in with the band as “the moment, that was the beginning, really, of The Beatles.”

In so many ways, Ringo was the heart of The Beatles, especially in the U.S. in 1964. Then, the Saturday Evening Post called Ringo “the most popular of The Beatles in America,” adding, “he evokes paroxysms of teenage shrieks everywhere by a mere turn of his head, a motion which sends his brown spaniel hair flying. When he flips his wig, the kids flip theirs. ‘Riiinngo! Riinngo!’ the kids call out.”

Throughout The Beatles’ career, Ringo often was on top, if not out front. Americans were introduced to him as he sat upon the tall drum riser on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” shaking his head, with that big, happy smile. This drummer was not one to hide in the back, as so many did. There was even a ridiculous “Ringo for President” campaign, an exhibition of his popularity, here. Then there was the Beatles cartoon series, where Ringo’s character was usually at the center of the story (if not the butt of the joke), and always in every sing-along feature. He had central roles in The Beatles’ films, too, most famously in “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” He forever will be associated with “Yellow Submarine,” both the film and the song.

Many famous drummers have cited Ringo as an influence.

From The Beatles’ heyday, consider how many songs are defined by his unique drumming style: “Ticket to Ride,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “A Day in the Life,” “Come Together.” The list goes on. In the early concerts (see the Washington Coliseum film, for example) witness Ringo bashing the drums like he was driving a boat through a storm called Beatlemania. He’s all over the place!

Yet, in the studio, despite what initial misgivings producer George Martin may have had, Ringo proved to be THE drummer that every great Lennon-McCartney song needed. On percussion, he could be subtle (“And I Love Her”), raucous (“She Loves You”), and … where the hell did that come from? (“Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Rain”).

So, what about Ringo Starr, now? Though they are very different bands, as George Harrison was with his Wilburys, Ringo is with his All Starrs. There is no doubt that Ringo is the leader, but he’s quite happy to take a back seat and, for much of the show, quite literally. Ringo as the front man and vocalist for some of his own songs is a good showcase. He’s learned over the years to be that leader. He’s more comfortable than he was in the past, but it’s very clear watching him up top on his drum riser — that’s where he’s most comfortable. That’s where Ringo’s star shines.

When the All Starr Band finishes Gregg Rollie’s “Oye Como Va,” Ringo clicks his drum sticks together to pay tribute to a performance well done. When Richard Page displays those smooth vocals on his own songs, again Ringo makes note. When Steve Lukather tears through a blistering solo, Ringo offers a nod. He’s having fun as much as they are.

Beatles fans should take advantage of Ringo’s continued touring and catch one of his shows.

The band members all take great care to pay tribute to Ringo when their turn in the show comes up. So it is that Ringo becomes “the legendary one” or the “greatest drummer ever” or “the guy we all came to see” and that all the other band members are all too happy to be playing with and honored to do so.

In this band, Ringo is in his element. Playing on the stage is what he likes to do, and the crowd couldn’t be happier to be a part of it, no matter whose hits are being played.

Should Ringo Starr get more recognition, and more press? Maybe. But, even Ringo is not so keen to write a bona fide autobiography. He seems content to let out just enough bits of info in his books of postcards and photos. He reveals just a little in his somewhat autobiographical song lyrics, too. As usual, he lets his music do most of the talking. He is not known for doing drum solos — so much so, that everyone knows the one very famous solo he actually did, and we know it by heart.

No, if you asked him, he would say what he likes best about his own drumming are his accidental fills. Fills, he says, that he could never play the same way twice. Ringo is arguably a very humble and modest drummer, for someone who claimed drumming as his madness.

Now, the fourth Beatle, the man some had been written off as a fourth-rate Beatle, is flying first class. With news coming of a new All Starr lineup, we all should be sure to catch his show while we still can.

Dave Persails

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One on One With McCartney: Fan Tour Reports

Here is a selection of reports filed by Beatlefan contributors from the recent U.S. leg of Paul McCartney’s One on One tour. See Beatlefan #228 for more coverage.

Macca joined onstage by Billy Joel in Long island. (Photo: MPL)

Tom Frangione reporting on some of the New York area shows …

Following a seven-week summer hiatus, Paul McCartney and his band returned to the stage, launching the current leg of their One on One Tour with two shows at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, which began on Monday, Sept. 11th. The venue is a short train ride across the river from New York’s Madison Square Garden, where they would be taking the stage a few days later for an additional two shows.

Sept. 11 is a somber date on the calendar, especially in the New York/New Jersey area, so Paul addressed the anniversary early on, dedicating the show to “those we lost on that day” 16 years earlier. He did not, however, reprise the song he wrote in the wake of the attacks, “Freedom”, as many had suspected he might.

Paul on acoustic at Madison Square Garden (Photo: Rick Glover)

The extended holiday did wonders for his voice, which was well rested and in fine form. The band tore through the standard tour set list, which showed little deviation from last time Paul was in town, barely a year earlier, with just two songs swapped out from the August 2016 repertoire: “Here There and Everywhere” and “The Fool on the Hill” were dropped, with “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in their stead. For the former, Paul told the story of how he and John came to give that song to the Rolling Stones back in 1963 (quick! Someone get him a Mark Lewisohn book!) and, for the latter, he did acknowledge the 50th anniversary celebration we’ve all been immersed in this summer.

One of Paul’s band members, Paul “Wix” Wickens, noted that they had some surprises in store, given the number of frequent fliers (The Fans on the Run and others …) likely to see multiple shows during the eight-show run in the area. Beyond the two shows each in Newark and the Garden, pairs of shows also took place at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, and the Barclays Center in the garden spot of the world, Brooklyn, USA.

“I Saw Her Standing There” with Bruce Springsteen. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

For “I Saw Her Standing There” in the Sept. 15 encore at Madison Square Garden in NYC, Paul was joined was joined onstage by local hero Bruce Springsteen and his sidekick “Little” Steven Van Zandt, bringing the crowd to a frenzy. Two takes were done, presumably as a “safety” measure for possible release or web posting, or other editing.

Paul noted from the Garden stage that “New York has many special memories” for him, and he had many friends and family in the audience. To mark the occasion, he added a medley of “A Day in the Life” and “Give Peace a Chance” to the middle of the set list. The spirit of John Lennon was very much in the room, as it was during the acoustic performance of “Here Today.”

Kathy Urbanic reporting on the Sept. 23 show at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse …

The Syracuse show was fantastic, as always, so no need for me to to ladle on the superlatives. Paul was in high spirits, and he seemed happy and playful with the crowd, although I noticed early on that he seemed a little congested. He sneezed twice while introducing one of the early songs, made a joke of it and said, “God bless me.” I think he may have a bit of a cold — his voice seemed hoarse on some of the numbers — but you’d never know it by his energy level.

The Carrier Dome is not air-conditioned and, with the outside afternoon temperature hitting the high 80s, it was sweltering inside — for the concertgoers and for the band. Paul never commented on the heat, though, and the band members didn’t scale back on their energy, either. It occurred to me what a class act they are — consummate professionals. Paul and the guys gave it their all, even in decidedly uncomfortable conditions.

Paul with Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray at MSG. (Photo: Rick Glover)

I noticed two sign language interpreters on the floor in front of the section where I was sitting, a young guy and a young gal. It was fascinating to watch them, especially the young guy, who put a lot of body English into his delivery of the lyrics.

There was a scary incident that, thankfully, was quickly resolved: During “Live and Let Die,” some of the explosives ignited material at the top of the rigging at the right side of the stage (just above the big screen on that side). There were visible flames on the rigging that did not look like they would burn themselves out; in fact, they were getting stronger. We could see one of the crew members (or maybe it was a Dome staffer) climb up the rigging in the dark to douse the flames while Paul launched into “Hey Jude,” after which those of us who had spied the problem breathed a sigh of relief.

Peter Stergakos reporting on the Sept. 26 show at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island … 

My initial intention was to write a “proper” review of one of Paul’s performances at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.  However, after being a part of this concert experience, I feel the need to go much further. A simple musical analysis of McCartney’s performance is, I feel, a futile exercise at this point in time. The magnitude of the man’s significance far supersedes any commentary on his music or how well he performed it.

Onstage at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. (Photo: James Liverani)

Upon seeing him in 2005 at one of his Madison Square Garden shows, I had made the decision that this was basically “it” for me. By this time, the decline in his vocal abilities was well evident and, in all honesty, I couldn’t subject myself to any more shows in which a man who was/is such a huge part of my life seemed to struggle to make it through a given performance.

For this reason, when my wife presented me with two tickets to one of the Nassau Coliseum shows for Father’s Day, my feelings were, at best, quite mixed.

At any rate, the night of Sept. 26 had arrived and here I was, going against my decision, getting (psychologically) ready to see a performance by a man who is one of the prime representations of my nearly 60 years of life. How would he sound? How much would he struggle? Would his performance envelope me, make me happy for him and proud of myself in being such a huge, diehard fan? Or would I be standing there shaking my fat head the entire night?

Well, let me state in no uncertain terms that, within less than 30 seconds of the evening’s opener (“A Hard Day’s Night”), every one of those concerns became nonexistent. Yes, his voice was clearly not what it once was and, if I’m being brutally honest, sounded even more strained than it did in ’05 (which was to be fully expected). So, why wasn’t I hoping this would be a quick evening?

The best way to explain is to quote my wife, who was at my side and, at best, is only an average music listener and certainly not a fanatic for Paul, The Beatles or any other musical artist. But, during the fourth song (“All My Loving”), she leaned over to me and said, “His voice isn’t so great, but I don’t care!”

And, there, you basically have it. This was Paul McCartney. A 75-year-old Beatle whose level of importance nearly excused any technical shortcoming he could possibly exhibit on a live stage. As his songs took us through the times of our lives, he exuded an energetic warmth and persistence which, for my part, are unmatched by any performer I’ve ever had the opportunity to see.

For the very first time at any concert, he made me realize that it was not about a “perfect” performance, from a technical standpoint. It was about the sincerity, desire and, yes, LOVE, that emanated from the stage. This is not a love “for the money” as many cynics would speculate; it’s a love for the music, the process which creates it and a very deep-rooted appreciation of the resultant adulation his fans put forth for that music and the man who played a crucial role in creating it.

It was more than a concert; it was an event I’m grateful to have been given the chance to be a part of.

Garry Wilbur reporting on the Sept. 26 show at Nassau Coliseum …

It was my 12th time seeing Paul in concert, this time at the newly refurbished Coliseum venue in Long Island, NY.

The set list was the exact same one he played Saturday night at Syracuse, with one exception which I’ll get to. It was a very enjoyable show, but Paul’s voice was threadbare for most of it, in my opinion anyway. I saw him last August and it didn’t sound as bad then.

Joked about which Nassau he was playing. (Photo: James Liverani)

He started off by quipping, “Hello Nassau! When I heard we were off to Nassau, I thought we were going to the Bahamas.”

Other notes from the show; lots and lots of oldsters in attendance, including me … Paul, before launching into “Here Today,” referred to John “passing away,” which always irritates me since he was actually murdered in cold blood … the big bathroom break song was “My Valentine,” but, for me, it was the men only/women only ending to “Hey Jude” … Paul reading signs from the audience: “Brooklyn girls do it 8 days a week” (must have been a holdover from the Barclay Center shows in Brooklyn the previous week) and “My 16th time seeing Paul in concert,” to which Paul replied, “That seems highly excessive” …  the “Give Peace a Chance” refrain in which Paul yelled out “to all the world” — a welcome and nice touch …  anecdotes about Soviet planes spraying clouds to prevent rain from spoiling Paul’s Red Square show, and imagining once that Robert Plant would be fatally zapped by laser beams at a Led Zep concert adding, “Must have been watching ‘Goldfinger’ too much.”

The encore was interesting. Paul muffed the beginning of “Yesterday,” then restarted after joking about it. Then, he brought on Billy Joel, who was wearing a baseball cap with an H on it (for Hicksville?). The home crowd went crazy. Paul asked Billy what song he’d like to do and “Get Back” was the reply. Unfortunately, Billy looked out of it the whole time he was onstage. He stayed at piano for the next song, “Birthday,” then, after a big embrace with Paul, he stumbled off the stage (maybe he’s not fully recovered from his hip surgery?). After Billy exited, Paul thanked him for being a good sport and showing up on such short notice. I wondered if he woke him with a call while he was sleeping!
After the finale “Abbey Road” medley song ‘”The End,” a pretty confetti dropping closed out the show.

I never miss a chance to see Paul in concert when he tours in the NYC area. I hope I’ll be able to see him many more times. And, that his voice will hold up. At 75, he shows amazing stamina and energy! And the songs, even with his voice showing more wear and tear than ever, remain wonderful and exciting to hear.

Check out Beatlefan #228 for news of the One on One U.S. tour leg and for Rick Glover’s report on Macca’s New York Takeover.

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‘Give More Love’: A Track-by-Track Preview of Ringo’s New Album

Beatlefan Publisher Bill King previews Ringo Starr’s “Give More Love” album, set for Sept. 15 release on CD and download and Sept. 22 on vinyl. …

 

If you’ve listened to Ringo’s three most recent albums that he’s self-produced with engineer Bruce Sugar (2010’s “Y Not,” 2012’s “Ringo 2012” and 2015’s “Postcards From Paradise”), you already have a pretty good idea what to expect from most of the tracks on Ringo’s 19th solo studio album, “Give More Love” — upbeat philosophy, lots of midtempo rockers, an unabashed love song to wife Barbara, a host of famous sidemen, and plenty of namechecks from the drummer’s storied career.

This time, however, he offers more tracks on the CD and digital configurations. And, refreshingly, Ringo takes a slightly different approach to a few of the numbers. While, overall, the album is very much in keeping with recent Ringo efforts, the sound is a bit rockier in places, and there’s also a straight-up country number, a taste of ’50s rock ’n’ roll and some surprisingly bluesy numbers.

The overall set isn’t quite as strong in terms of material as “Postcards From Paradise,” which received regular play in my car CD player for a good three months. But I’d give a strong thumbs-up to half of the 14 tracks. And Ringo is in good voice throughout; he’s much more versatile as a singer than in his earlier days.

Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh guest on the album.

Recorded at Roccabella West, Ringo’s home studio in Los Angeles, “Give More Love” has 10 new tracks featuring collaborations with friends, including Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather, Peter Frampton, Benmont Tench, Timothy B. Schmit, Richard Page, Amy Keys, Richard Marx, Nathan East, Gary Burr, Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard, Don Was, Gary Nicholson and Gregg Bissonette.

The three advance singles available as downloads are the catchy title track; the hard-rocking “We’re On the Road Again,” which features McCartney on bass and backing vocals; and the country number “So Wrong for So Long.”

The four CD/digital bonus tracks that won’t appear on the vinyl version are remakes of “Back Off Boogaloo,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “You Can’t Fight Lightning” and “Photograph,” and generally present the tracks in a more stripped-down, bluesier style than the originals.

The new version of “Back Off Booglaloo” is based on the original recording Ringo made when he wrote the song. The other three bonus tracks are collaborations based on performances from Starr’s 2016 Peace & Love birthday event. Anglo-Swedish rock band Alberta Cross performed “You Can’t Fight Lightning” and Louisville, KY-based indie-folk group Vandaveer performed “Photograph” and “Don’t Pass Me By.” Starr loved their renditions and asked them to record the songs for his new album, adding his own vocals.

The new album picks up where the last one left off.

The album was produced by Ringo and “recorded” by Sugar, and the two of them mixed the tracks.

Here’s a track-by-track look at the album, complete with credits, my thoughts in italics, as well as comments from Ringo provided by Universal Music Enterprises:

“We’re on the Road Again”

Written by Richard Starkey and Steve Lukather

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Paul McCartney: Bass

Steve Lukather: Guitar, Keyboards

Jim Cox: Piano

Backing Vocals: Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Gary Nicholson, Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, Edgar Winter, Richard Marx, Steve Lukather

This upbeat rocker features a raucous lead guitar riff that should sound very familiar to those who’ve listened to Ringo’s recent albums, and the lyrics are self-referential, as is common on his albums. Macca plays some throbbing bass and adds some shouts at the end. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this one played by the All Starrs in concert.

RINGO SAYS:

Steve Lukather is Mr. Vitality when he’s rocking, and that’s how we got this rocker going. Luke and I were hanging out, and we had a bit of a rhythm pattern going and started to put a track down. We got a bit crazed in the beginning thinking that there’s already Willie Nelson — who we love — singing his “On the Road Again.” But we realized Willie doesn’t own that line, and our road trip is a lot more rocking. Yes, that is Paul McCartney on bass and on screams, too. I didn’t ask Paul or others on this song to scream — they just did it; like Paul, Edgar Winter and Joe Walsh at the end. They all went off and rocked. Real rock & roll and screams just seem to go together.

“Laughable”

Written by Richard Starkey and Peter Frampton

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Peter Frampton: Guitar, Background Vocals

Benmont Tench: Keyboards

Timothy B. Schmit, Richard Page Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

Matt Legge: Additional Engineering

This midtempo number features some tasty playing and a nice electric guitar solo, but it’s not a very memorable tune.

RINGO SAYS:

Recording with Peter Frampton.

This is the first song that I’ve ever written with Peter Frampton. Pete came up to the house, and he had that line about things these days being, “Laughable / If it wasn’t sad.” That’s all we need. Anyone can have a good line, and we can write a song all around it. Pete wanted this song to get a little bit more political, and I thought it was political enough. And, in every interview, I am not political — I’m about Peace & Love. But the expression of the song does speak to the times we are in now.

“Show Me the Way”

Written by Richard Starkey and Steve Lukather

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Steve Lukather: Guitar, Keyboards

Paul McCartney: Bass

Jim Cox: Organ

Timothy B. Schmit, Richard Page Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

This love ballad for Barbara has only a so-so melody but it benefits from having Macca on bass and a very good guitar solo by Lukather.  

RINGO SAYS:

“Show Me the Way” is for Barbara. She shows me the way. We’ve been together 37 years, You have ups-and-downs. I’ll cry. She’ll cry. We’ll cry — there are those days. But there’s so much love and so much support. We’re still getting to know each other and loving it. Steve Lukather co-wrote this one with me. I really wanted Paul to play bass on this track, because it’s an important track to me because of the expression to Barbara, and Paul said “Yes.” For me, he’s still the most melodic, incredible bass player. Paul plays every note great. And, yes, we have some history and chemistry. That also comes into play. I’d love someone with a big, great voice like Celine Dion to sing this song, because I love it and it’s important to me. But, until then, I’ll have to do.

“Speed of Sound”

Written by Richard Starkey and Richard Marx

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Richard Marx: Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals

Steve Lukather: Guitar

Peter Frampton: Guitar, Talkbox guitar solo

Nathan East: Bass

Windy Wagner, Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

A midtempo rocker with a strong drum beat and some of Frampton’s voicebox guitar.

RINGO SAYS:

Fooling around with Richard Marx.

I was writing with Richard Marx and he said, “I want to do something raucous,” because usually we do something more ballady. Richard had a good line about the “Speed of Sound,” and I thought, how can we show that? That’s why I asked Pete Frampton about doing a little talkbox for me — something he and Joe Walsh both know a lot about. Richard is so great and so easy. We have a competition, he and I. We have to write the song in 25 minutes, so, if it takes 34 minutes, it’s like, “Oh no, it took FOREVER.” I love Richard. These days, I don’t have time for hard cases. We have fun, and we know what we’re doing.

“Standing Still”

Written by Richard Starkey and Gary Burr

Ringo Starr: Vocals, Percussion, Claps

Nathan East: Upright Bass

Gary Burr: Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals

Georgia Middleman: Backing Vocals

Greg Leisz: Dobro

Steve Dudas: Guitar

Bruce Sugar: Drum Programming, Claps

One of the album’s best tracks, “Standing Still” has a very bluesy sound, thanks to the guitar and dobro. I like the rootsy feel, and it has a very catchy chorus.

RINGO SAYS:

Gary Burr was in Ringo and the Roundheads for years, and we’ve been friends ever since. Now, Gary’s with Georgia Middleman and she’s a great writer and a country girl. Gary and I wrote this song together, and then Gary and Georgia came back and do the harmonies. It’s great to have people you love on your record. I’m still thinking of putting a country record together, but I don’t know if I’ll do it at home or in Nashville. I went to Nashville to record before a lot of people, but, lately, Nashville’s been coming to me. And what about that Greg Leisz on dobro? He plays with such emotion, and it was so great to find him.

“King of the Kingdom”  

Written by Richard Starkey and Van Dyke Parks

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Nathan East: Bass

Dave “Wawa” Stewart: Guitar

Edgar Winter: Tenor Sax

Steve Dudas: Guitar

Bruce Sugar: Keyboards, Synth Programming

Windy Wagner, Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

This sprightly number features a reggae beat (and a lyrical tribute to Bob Marley) backed by some funky guitar and a sax solo. I’d rank it in the second tier of tracks from the album.

RINGO SAYS:

A couple of songs from the new album might show up on the next All Starr tour.

Van Dyke Parks is an old friend. I’ve known Van Dyke since like 1975. And on most of my records lately, we’ve written a song together because I do tend to call my old pals. Van Dyke came over one day and I had a bit of a track, and I said something about, “She’s the king of the kingdom, and I’m in charge of the band.” Then, because the emotion on this song was kind of reggae, we started talking about Haile Selassie. So, we went on the Internet to read up on him, and that led us to “One Love” and, of course, to Bob Marley. I wanted to reference Bob Marley and give credit to Bob Marley because I loved him and what he brought to music.

“Electricity”

Written by Richard Starkey and Glen Ballard

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Joe Walsh: Guitar

Don Was: Bass

Benmont Tench: Keyboards

Glen Ballard: Rhodes Piano, Backing Vocals

Windy Wagner, Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

Each album, in recent years, Ringo has done one of his Liverpool/autobiography songs, and this is the one for the new album. He namechecks Rory and the Hurricanes (subject of last album’s song) and, mainly, Johnny Guitar, with brother-in-law Walsh doing the honors on axe.

RINGO SAYS:

“Electricity” was written with Glen Ballard, who I originally met through Dave Stewart. This is another one of my personal history lessons that talks about my old band Rory and the Hurricanes, and Johnny “Guitar” Byrne, who was an amazing player we had in the group. There’s also a reference to “Gangster of Love,” which is a classic by another great player, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, from America. Glen had the bit about “electricity going through his fingers,” so I put that crazy vocal effect on so this track would feel very electric. This was the first track we put guitar on for the album and I got Joe Walsh to come down, because he’s a relative and a very electric guy, too, a beautiful human who plays great. What else do you need?

“So Wrong for So Long” 

Written by Richard Starkey and Dave Stewart

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Dave Stewart: Guitars

Nathan East: Upright Bass

Greg Leisz: Pedal Steel Guitar

Jim Cox: Keyboards

Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman: Backing Vocals

Ned Douglas: Additional Engineering

Ringo goes traditional country on this tale of heartbreak, complete with pedal steel guitar and a namecheck for “Johnny Cash and June.”

RINGO SAYS:

Here you have two Brits — Dave Stewart and I — writing a great country song. In a way, this was the start of this record, because we were originally going to go to Nashville last June to do a country album. We wrote a few songs before we’d go there so we’d sound professional. Then, they offered me a summer tour, so I went on the road instead. Dave’s a great friend who’s very inventive and great to have around. I remember I had the line, “I hope you’re happy / I hope he’s happy too / But just like all the others / I’ll get over you.”  That’s my favorite line — some of my own lines blow me away!

“Shake It Up”

Written by Richard Starkey and Gary Nicholson

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Don Was: Upright Bass

Steve Dudas: Guitars

Gary Nicholson: Acoustic Guitar

Edgar Winter: Piano

Windy Wagner,  Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

An upbeat, 1950s-style rock ’n’ roll number, this one is basically a riff on “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and, in fact, gets Rutlesclose to being a remake of that song at points. But it does a nice job of re-creating the musical feel of that era.

RINGO SAYS:

Ringo is in good voice on the new album.

I love Gary Nicholson. As soon as this record is out, he’ll be calling me and saying, “So are you starting a new record, because I’m coming to town.” We have a good time writing together. He is so professional. He has a computer full of things and phrases he’s said. Usually, there’s a good title going down. For me, “Shake It Up” is like the school hop — on this track, it’s like we’re in white jackets and we’re rocking. He’s on guitar. I’m on drums. Edgar Winter is on it — Edgar is rock & roll, and so is Don Was, who I first worked with in 1990 on “Time Takes Time.” I had four producers then, because I was so insecure. It was sort of left in his hands. Don always does a great job.

“Give More Love”

Written by Richard Starkey and Gary Nicholson

Ringo Starr: Drums, Vocals, Percussion

Steve Dudas: Guitars

Matt Bissonette: Bass

Greg Bissonette: Hang Drum

Jim Cox: Keyboards

Timothy B. Schmit, Richard Page, Amy Keys: Backing Vocals

Another concert-likely number, this one is sort of quintessential latterday Ringo. It has a comfortable feel, like a pair of old shoes, and is pretty catchy.

RINGO SAYS:

I wrote “Give More Love” with Gary Nicholson, too, and it’s a great message for the album, because it’s what I’m all about. This track features so many friends, new and old. Jim Cox is back on keyboards and it’s great to have him. We have Matt Bissonette on bass, and his brother Greg Bissonette on Hang Drum. Olivia and Dhani Harrison gave me this steel drum, one you can just sort of have on your knee, and that’s what Gregg was playing. And you can’t do better than Timothy B. Schmitt, Richard Page and Amy Keys on backing vocals. What a beautiful sound with the three of them: Amy and the boys, who can sound more like girls than she does!

“Back Off Boogaloo”   

Written by Richard Starkey and George Harrison

Ringo Starr:  Drums, Vocals, Percussion, Guitar

Joe Walsh: Guitar

Jeff Lynne: Acoustic Guitar

Nathan East: Bass

Bob Malone: Piano

Steve Jay: Additional Engineering

This re-do opens with Ringo’s original acoustic guitar demo for the song and then turns into a rockier reading of the number. One of the album’s high points.

RINGO SAYS:

The original version was a hit single for Ringo.

We were moving house to Los Angeles, and a ship brought six containers of my stuff — of course, most of it was Barbara’s. But I’m going through it, and found a box of little two-inch reel-to-reel tapes. My assistant Scotty was checking out everything in the office, and he said, “You should listen to this.” It’s me singing “Back Off Boogaloo” with this great guitar. I’m thinking who the hell is that playing? Then I realize, I’m on guitar! It’s 1971, Marc Bolan had been over the night before and used the word “Boogaloo,” and I woke up and the reel-to-reel captures the song coming. So, I gave the tape to Jeff [Lynne] to do some new production around that, which he did, then he got busy on tour, but his guitar is on it; so are Nathan East and Joe Walsh.

“Don’t Pass Me By”

Written by Richard Starkey

Performed by Ringo Starr and Vandaveer

Ringo Starr: Vocals, Piano

Mark Charles Heidinger: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar

Rose Guerin: Vocals

Tom Hnatow: Resonator Guitar, Acoustic Guitar

Robby Cosenza: Drums, Percussion, Harmonica

Track produced and engineered by Duane Lundy

My favorite track, this re-do features a more overtly country reading of the song than on the White Album, and throws in a bit of “Octopus’s Garden” at the end. The resonator guitar gives it a much rootsier sound than most Ringo tracks.

RINGO SAYS:

See Ringo’s comments on “Don’t Pass Me By” below, paired with “Photograph.”

“You Can’t Fight Lightning”

Written by Richard Starkey

Performed by Ringo Starr and Alberta Cross

Track produced and arranged by Petter Ericson Stakee and Peter R. Ericson

Engineers: Viktor Buck and Fred Appelvist

Recorded at Fred´s Kitchen Studios in Stockholm

Ringo Starr: Vocals

Petter Ericson Stakee: Guitar, Backing Vocals, Percussion

Matthew Pynn: Guitar, Lap Steel

Fredrik Aspelin: Drums, Percussion

Erik MacQueen: Bass Guitar

Pete Remm: Piano, Hammond Organ

Viktor Buck and Peter R. Ericson: Backing Vocals

The original version from 1981 was done with Paul and Linda and featured Macca on drums. This version is slightly less weird, with a bluesier feel and a better vocal by Ringo than on the original, which was basically just a jam.

RINGO SAYS:

For my birthday “Peace & Love” celebration last year in Los Angeles, my publicist, Elizabeth Freund, arranged for a few talented young groups to perform. Alberta Cross — a Swede and a Brit who come from Brooklyn — picked “You Can’t Fight Lightning,” which was a wild choice of an obscure song I wrote a long time and recorded with Paul and Linda many years ago. Paul produced that track, and I played guitar since it was all one chord. But Alberta Cross did such a great job with the song, it made me want to rediscover the song again with their help. I love it.

“Photograph”

Written by Richard Starkey and George Harrison

Performed by Ringo Starr and Vandaveer

Ringo Starr: Vocals

Mark Charles Heidinger: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar

Rose Guerin: Vocals

Tom Hnatow: Resonator Guitar, Electric Guitar

Robby Cosenza: Drums, Percussion

Track produced and engineered by Duane Lundy

Not as majestic as the Richard Perry-produced original, but a nice variation on a classic. I wish Ringo would consider doing an entire album of material in the same style as “Standing Still,” “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Photograph” are done here.

RINGO SAYS:

[“Don’t Pass Me By” and “Photograph”] are two songs that people already know and love that I did here with Vandaveer, who also played my birthday party in Hollywood. Vandaveer is a very cool musical project from Louisville, Kentucky, led by a man named Mark Charles Heidinger. These are not obscure songs at all, but Vandaveer did them great and they did them differently, so that even the old songs on this album feel new.

All in all, a solid effort from Ringo, with some very welcome stylistic variations.

— Bill King

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McCartney on Tour: Still Worth it? Oh, Yeah!

Beatlefan Publisher Bill King saw the July 13 stop of Paul McCartney’s One on One tour at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, GA. His thoughts on the evening …

Macca at the magic piano in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth.

Say what you will about Paul McCartney’s mostly unchanging show and his occasionally faltering voice, it’s still a wonder of nature watching him onstage, thoroughly pleasing an audience for nearly three hours with pop music’s most stellar songbook, served up with charm and whimsy to spare.

Admittedly, when I first saw the set list for the current edition of McCartney’s One on One tour, I was a bit underwhelmed, as there was nothing on it that he hadn’t done live somewhere before (though “I Wanna Be Your Man” never had been a regular part of the show before this tour).

Macca has a way of winning over even jaded fans.

But, after the amazing 2-hour-53-minute show by the 75-year-old legend at Infinite Energy Arena in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth had finished, I had the usual big smile on my face — as did every other concertgoer I saw.

Yes, as a hardcore fan I would have loved a somewhat fresher selection of tunes. And it baffles me why he skips over a couple of decades of his career like they didn’t exist. As my friend John Sosebee (who attended the show with me and Leslie) noted, the lack of any “Flowers in the Dirt” songs this time around was particularly surprising, considering that album just recently had gotten the archive reissue treatment. “My Brave Face,” a favorite on the first solo tour back in 1989-90, is a terrific tune that drew acclaim at the time and is in a key Paul easily can handle.

Still, there’s no denying the sheer entertainment power of the numbers presented onstage. Most of the crowd looked like they are probably getting the same Medicare mailers I am, but there also were youngsters who seemed to appreciate what they were seeing and hearing, including the young lady with green hair and a nose ring in front of me, who stood for most of the show.

The set list was heavy on Beatles, as usual.

It was a great concert, and his voice was surprisingly good, only a bit shaky on a few numbers and never to the point where it really detracted.

The set list was the same as opening night of this tour in Miami: 24 Beatles songs, six Wings songs, seven solo songs (three of which were from the “New” album), one Quarrymen song, and the tune he did with Kanye and Rihanna.

It went like this:
1. “A Hard Day’s Night”
2. “Save Us”
3. “Can’t Buy Me Love”
4. “Letting Go”
5. “Temporary Secretary”
6. “Let Me Roll It,” with the “Foxey Lady” jam at the end
7. “I’ve Got a Feeling,” also with a jam at the end
8. “My Valentine”
9. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”
10. “Maybe I’m Amazed”
11. “We Can Work It Out”
12. “In Spite of All the Danger,” with a reprise at the end
13. “You Won’t See Me”
14. “Love Me Do”
15. “And I Love Her”
16. “Blackbird”
17. “Here Today”
18. “Queenie Eye”
19. “New”
20. “The Fool on the Hill”
21. Lady Madonna
22. “FourFiveSeconds”
23. “Eleanor Rigby”
24. “I Wanna Be Your Man”
25. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
26. “Something”
27. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
28. “Band on the Run”
29. “Back in the USSR”
30. “Let it Be”
31. “Live and Let Die”
32. “Hey Jude”

Encore:
33. “Yesterday”
34. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
35. “Hi, Hi, Hi”
36. “Birthday”
37. “Golden Slumbers” /
38. “Carry That Weight” /
39. “The End”

It was an evening with a lot of musical high points.

Among my favorite numbers were “In Spite of All the Danger,” featuring a nifty acoustic guitar solo by Paul; and “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which is done closer to the Beatles arrangement than in 1993 (and featured an entertaining story about Mick and Keith of the Rolling Stones, who were given the song to record).

Also a high point for me, surprisingly, was Macca’s George Harrison tribute, “Something,” which I’ve seen him do quite a few times. Atlanta Journal-Constitution music columnist Melissa Ruggieri got it exactly right in her review when she wrote: “There might not be a more beautiful sonic live experience than the moment ‘Something’ shifts from McCartney on ukulele to the full band kicking in like an exploding rainbow. It’s a moment worth revisiting a hundred times.”

John agreed that “Something” has only gotten better over the years. He also really enjoyed the mid-show acoustic set. For some reason, he said, “‘You Won’t See Me’ got to me emotionally, which has never happened to me in any concert I have ever attended.”

John also thought “Love Me Do” was fantastic, with “Wix playing the harmonica perfectly,” and loved the one-two rocking punch of “Sgt. Pepper’s” going into “Hi, Hi, Hi” in the encore, saying those numbers had him “singing at the top of my voice, on my feet. The kids sitting next to me were looking at me in amazement, watching a 62-year-old old man rocking.”

Sharing the mic with Rusty Anderson.

Leslie is a fan of the upbeat rockers, and particularly liked the latter part of the main set starting with “Band on the Run.” She’s also a big fan of “Let It Be.”

Quibbles? Again, I would have loved to have heard some songs never previously done live in place of, say, the holdovers from “New.” And, as John said, now that I’ve seen “Temporary Secretary,” I don’t need to see it again. It largely was lost on the crowd.

Leslie also said she wouldn’t mind not hearing “Hey Jude” again, but, let’s face it, that’s never leaving the set list, because these shows draw a lot of first-timers or folks who haven’t seen him since Wings, and they expect the classics. The same goes for “Let Me Roll It,” which John said he wouldn’t mind never hearing live again.

As for “Maybe I’m Amazed,” it also falls into the expected-classic category and it’s his “for Linda” song (which is why it also made Leslie’s highlight list from the evening), but there’s no denying it’s not well-suited to his vocal range any more. Many fans would hate it if he ever dropped that tune, but there are other Linda songs he could sing. Unfortunately, “My Valentine” is pretty much it for a “Nancy song,” so I think we’re stuck with it — unless he writes a new one.

Becka Phillips’ sign got her called up onstage.

The bottom line: A lot of my friends who aren’t hardcore fans went to this concert, and they were raving afterward on Facebook about what a wonderful set list it was. So, it’s a balancing act that seems to work for Macca.

The Duluth show also excelled in the nonmusical aspects. Fans got a kick out of the local authorities renaming a road behind the arena Paul McCartney Boulevard, and the freshened production effects were top-notch, with the pyrotechnics bigger than ever — though the smoke lingered for the rest of the evening in the 11,500-seat arena, reportedly the smallest Macca is playing on this leg of the tour. (His usual Atlanta venue, Philips Arena downtown, is undergoing renovations, and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which he was interested in opening, wasn’t ready in time for this summer’s tour schedule.)

Paul comforted the emotional young fan.

The band — Abe Laboriel Jr., Brian Ray, Rusty Anderson and Paul “Wix” Wickens — seemed just as thrilled to be playing with Macca as when they first hit the road with him 15 years ago.

And Paul’s stage patter may rely on tried-and-true stories for the most part, but his interaction with the audience has gotten warmer and more quick-witted over the years.

Speaking of that interaction, we didn’t just get one fan invited onstage, but a host of them, including a family of four from Bowling Green, KY, wearing Sgt. Pepper costumes. Paul let the young boy strum his bass.

But, the show was stolen by a young woman named Becka Phillips from North Carolina, who was brought onstage before the family. She had a sign that Paul had read out loud earlier in the evening asking, “Plz help me tell my family I’m gay!” Paul asked her if her family was in the arena, and she said her dad was.

Paul turned to the crowd and, with a grin, said, “Hey Dad … She’s gay!” Paul also told her, “Good on ya comin’ out like that,” gave her a hug and then, as requested, signed her upper chest.

Another hug from Macca.

By this point, the young lady was in tears and, like a father, Paul pulled her close and gave her another hug. A sweet moment that she later said on Facebook was “everything I thought it would be and more.”

So, yes, the One on One stop in Duluth was another wonderful evening with Sir Paul.

Each time he goes out on the road now, I hear from fans wondering if this will be the last time. Again, I think Melissa Ruggieri hit the nail on the head when she wrote: “McCartney loves music too much to ever declare a farewell outing, and, between his apparent stamina and the sturdiness of his band, he just might stay on an endless tour.”

She added: “Trust us, no one would complain.”

Certainly not the audience in Duluth!

— Bill King

Photos by Rick Glover (who was seeing his 149th McCartney show). Look for more tour coverage (and more photos) in Beatlefan #227 in August!

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