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McCartney 3

As the 70s confined the 60s to history, Paul McCartney was public enemy number one. Looking for a scapegoat to blame for the break-up of The Beatles, all fingers pointed in his direction. Just 7 days after the band’s lawyers made the rumours official, he released his debut self-titled solo album, stealing the march on The Beatles Let It Be album, still a month away from hitting the shops.

Recorded on the hop between Beatles’ sessions, sometimes booking into Abbey Road under an assumed name, McCartney was written, played and produced entirely by the man himself. Despite the inclusion of Junk and Maybe I’m Amazed (and the autobiographical Every Night) – two three bona fide McCartney classics, the critics hated it/him. They blamed him for the Beatles split, they thought him cynical for having an album ready to go so quickly and they poked holes in what they considered half-finished songs and ideas.

Paul McCartneyEvery Night

Hindsight of course brings fresh ears and perspective to the album. Recorded just half a year on from McCartney’s kitchen sink ‘n all Abbey Road medley, the yin to the solo album’s lo-fi yang, its close-miked and down-home recording offers an honest insight into McCartney’s state of mind at the time. Contentment sits side by side with piano balladry, scrubbed acoustics and interesting instrumentals.

Paul McCartneyMomma Miss America

Momma Miss America runs the gamut of McCartney’s talents; groovy keyboard, compressed drums, funky bass played like a lead guitar and a stinging solo straight offa Abbey Road‘s The End. It’s one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks. Remember that Kia Ora advert from years ago – “It’s too orangey for crows…“? They shoulda used this to soundtrack it.

While McCartney isn’t an 18 carat gold 10 out of 10 debut, it’s a great portent of what was just around the corner.

Ram is McCartney’s first great ‘solo’ LP. The only album to be credited as ‘…by Paul and Linda McCartney‘, it came just 13 months after McCartney. Stop and consider McCartney’s output at this time; September ’69 saw the release of Abbey Road. April ’70 saw his debut released, just a few weeks before The Beatles’ Let It Be album, and in May ’71, Ram made itself known. That’s an astonishing run of releases. Most musicians would happily retire on the strength of those records in such a short space of time.

Ram was recorded in New York featuring session musicians including future Wings stickman Denny Seiwell. A direct answer to the critics’ accusations of McCartney‘s lo-fi, low budget, low quality material, McCartney went all-out for an album that could match anything he’d done in The Beatles. Recording began in October 1970 (just six months on from that debut release, remember, and bang in the middle of a court case surrounding the dissolution of The Beatles) with McCartney very much in control (and in love). When he’s not singing of married life – Eat At Home and The Back Sea Of My Car painted a picture of domestic bliss – he’s airing his dirty laundry in public. Too Many People was a thinly-veiled dig at John and Yoko and collectively, the remaining Threetles considered 3 Legs very much an attack on them. Again, the critics hated it. Lennon too. They thought it smug, inconsequential and irrelevant. Given the backdrop of music at the time – The Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin IV, Sabbath’s Master Of Reality – you could say that McCartney was well out of step with the fads and fashions of the era. Which, of course, makes Ram all the more incredible.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed the past week or so with Heart Of The Country. Leading off side 2, it’s a simple countryish strumalong, a rootsy and rustic distant cousin of Mother Nature’s Son, played by McCartney on a down-tuned guitar, loose and light and airy. Reflecting domestic life on High Park Farm on the Mull Of Kintyre, I want a horse, got a sheep, he sings, wanna get me a good night’s sleep….looking for a home in the heart of the country, it’s easy to see why McCartney could easily get up the noses of critics and ex Beatles. The accompanying video only hammered the point home.

The best bit about the song, of course, is when McCartney breaks into that free-form scat section. Pitched somewhere between his own Rocky Raccoon and Stevie Wonder’s future Sir Duke (I wonder if sly ol’ Stevie was taking notes?) it’s further proof that McCartney did not give two hoots what anyone thought of him. On first listen it sounds throwaway, nonsensical and off-the-hoof, but listen back…the scat mirrors exactly what he’s doing on the fretboard…..and what he’s playing is hard to master. My fingers have tied themselves in knots this week attempting its ridiculous rapid-fire jazz.

No sooner had McCartney released Ram than he was back in the studio. By the end of the year, just 7 months later, the first Wings album would be released. That album, an underplayed and undervalued minor classic, deserves a whole post of its own sometime soon…

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

It Was Plenty Years Ago Today (50, to be exact)

Half a century ago this week, The Beatles were in the studio recording the tracks that would make up their Revolver LP. Amazingly, the first track worked on was Tomorow Never Knows, the cut ‘n paste, experimental, looped track that still sounds futurtistic, frightening and like nothing else in the entire Beatles’ canon. It was only three short and manic years since She Loves You, but it may as well have been three million light years, such is the leap in their vision and outlook. You could be forgiven for assuming that for the session the band reconvened in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 with a handful of solo acoustic tracks just waiting to be Beatlefied. Nothing could be further from the truth.

beatles revolver back

For Tomorrow Never Knows, the band set up in the studio to jam the main backing track, with Ringo’s compressed and relentless thunk driving the track in tandem with McCartney’s droning bass. Listen with eyes closed and you’ll hear a little organ, a wonky tonk piano in the fade out, a perisitent rattling tambourine and a couple of guitar tracks; the fuzzed out one manipulated to play backwards and the other fed through a Leslie speaker to give it that widescreen swirl that would in time become synonymous with the era.

On top of it all there are sound effects that could well be the calling sound of the Great God Pan himself; Fanfaring trumpet noises. Scraping, sweeping, jarring strings and what sounds like the divebombing seagulls that bother the fish and chip eaters at Largs shorefront. It’s fairly astonishing for 2016. Imagine hearing it for the first time in 1966. Wow!

The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows (released mono version)

Making the track involved more than just the four Beatles – George Martin orchestrated the whole affair, ably assisted by Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick who’s job involved deadening Ringo’s drum sound by stuffing an old jumper inside the bass drum and shuffling it about until the right sound was achieved. The backing track took just three takes over 2 days to perfect, before Lennon’s vocals were given the requisite attention.

Famously, Lennon’s lyrics came from Timothy Leary’s LSD manifesto, ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead‘ and flowed in a stream of epoch-defining consciousness…

“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,
It is not dying, it is not dying.

Lay down all thought, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

That you may see the meaning of within,
It is being, it is being.

That love is all and love is everyone,
It is knowing, it is knowing.

That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead,
It is believing, it is believing.

But listen to the colour of your dream,
It is not living, it is not living.

       Or play the game ‘Existence’ to the end,
Of the beginning, of the beginning.”

At the mixing desk, after hearing how the guitar track sounded through the Leslie speaker, Lennon insisted his vocals were given the same treatment. “I want to sound as though I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top. And yet I still want to hear the words I’m singing.”

It’s also been said that John wanted the sound of 4000 monks chanting ad infinitum in the background. I’m not certain he achieved either goal, but what was eventually committed to vinyl was brave, bold and big of beat.

Here’s the druggy, fuggy first take:

The BeatlesTomorrow Never Knows (Take 1)

Keen-eared Beatles spotters will be aware that the first copies of Revolver were sold with the wrong mix of Tomorrow Never Knows included. These records were quickly withdrawn and recalled, although not before a good many had disappeared into the hands of unsuspecting record buyers. Discovering this a few years ago, with shaky hand I checked the matrix number on the run-out groove of my ‘first’ pressing Revolver, bought for £4 in Irvine Indoor Market in the mid 80s when the Beatles were anything but cool. Pah. One digit out. Meaning it wasn’t technically a first issue, and nor was it worth the £20,000 it might have been. I wouldn’t have sold it anyway*.

Back in Abbey Road’s Studio 3, just after half seven that evening when Tomorrow Never Knows had been expertly finished, the band veered back towards the middle of the road to tackle Got To Get You Into My Life, another drug-inspired song and another story for another day.

beatles revolver sessions 66Just out of shot, a young Paul Weller, keen to rip off George’s Taxman and apparently, his entire wardrobe.

*Aye, right.