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We knew the Beatles were pretty good, but it’s always difficult to say that without seeming hugely immodest.Paul McCartney
Dubbing Paul McCartney’s new album Beatlesque may at first sound as redundant as yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s newsworthy nonetheless, considering that the world’s most famous songwriter has been dodging his past since the band split in 1970.
Flaming Pie, McCartney’s first solo album in four years, arrives today, 40 years after he met John Lennon, 30 years after the landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and 20 years after the nostalgic Beatlemania tribute opened on Broadway.
Despite a long and winding solo career, McCartney has been unable to shake his Mop Top identity. Today, he’s embracing it with pride renewed by The Beatles Anthology, the 1995-96 project that birthed a three-part ABC documentary (seen by 420 million in 94 countries), a trio of double albums and a 10-hour home video.
“I was really pleased that we pulled it off and that it was so well-received,” McCartney, 54, says by phone from his London office. “It reminded me of how great the Beatles were. It’s easy to forget these things after a time.“
Anthology inspired the relaxed, upbeat Flaming Pie, titled after Lennon’s claim that the Beatles’ moniker was revealed in his vision of a man on a flaming pie. Most of the 14 songs were penned during McCartney’s immersion in the Beatles’ vaults.
“The early tapes were so simple and direct and easy to listen to, and yet they were good little songs,” he says. “I thought I should try and do the same thing on this album and just keep things simple. I noticed when we went through all the Beatle albums, each track was quite important. I said it would be nice to get back into that habit, so I just made sure that every song on this album was something special.“
Sterling melodies and direct lyrics aren’t the only Beatle flavorings. Producer George Martin returns on Calico Skies. Ringo Starr drums on Beautiful Night and co-wrote Really Love You, history’s only McCartney/Starr tune.
“At first, we didn’t know if were going to enjoy working together,” McCartney says. “I suppose each of us thought things might have spoiled a bit (because of) all the business troubles we’ve had. It turned out that we had a blast, and we made what we thought was really good music.“
Flaming Pie is generating McCartney’s best reviews since 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, yet the usually shrewd and indefatigable self-promoter granted only two U.S. interviews, declined most publicity opportunities and won’t tour.
“I’m just too lazy at the moment,” he says. “A few years ago, we went around the world twice, and that was enough. You find yourself off in some strange godforsaken place and you think, ‘I’ve got a lovely home; why don’t I ever visit it?’
“I’ve been telling people promoting this album, the password is no sweat. I don’t want anyone sweating about this album. It was conceived with no sweat and recorded with no sweat. It’s a little homemade pie.“
It’s unusually homey in light of McCartney’s tendency in the public eye to be charming and affable while staying aloof and vague. Flaming Pie, recorded at his home studio in Sussex, England, reveals rare intimacy behind a casual facade.
The 1994 death of Maureen Starkey, Starr’s first wife, inspired the touching Little Willow. Wife Linda McCartney sparked the romantic ballad Somedays (“Somedays I look at you with eyes that shine. . . . I don’t believe that you are mine”). Great Day, penned 25 years ago, was a tune the couple sang to their toddlers.
“After the Beatles broke up, Linda and I spent quite a bit of time in Scotland, enforced retirement really,” McCartney says. “We were just trying to get our heads together, mainly me trying to get my head together. I developed a couple of songs for the kids to dance to.“
McCartney added the song to Flaming Pie, removed it after second thoughts, then reinstated it when his kids protested. It’s the closing track.
“I didn’t want to end the album on a big note,” he says. “It was a trick similar to what we did on the end of Abbey Road with Her Majesty, a surprise to deflate any pomposity.“
The four McCartney kids, long shielded from the media glare, are emerging independently. Stella, 26, replaced Karl Lagerfeld as head of the Chloe fashion empire. Guitarist James, 19, makes his recording debut with a solo on Dad’s album.
“In the back of my mind was the fact that they would inevitably be son of or daughter of The Famous People,” McCartney says. “Consequently, we never pushed them. We always worried about ‘too much, too soon,’ so we waited for them to grow up and (make) their own decisions.
“James has been into guitar for the past 10 years. He’s getting very good at it. We did Heaven on a Sunday quickly, and the studio guys were quite impressed with his playing. I was very proud. We took the tape home, and we made his mum cry. A lovely moment, obviously.“
McCartney is optimistic that Linda, 54, has fully recovered from breast cancer that required surgery in late 1995. She shot Pie’s photos and adds vocals to three songs.
“She’s doing a lot better now,” he says. “You’ve got to keep a good eye on it over the next few years. You can never get complacent. But she is doing great and in great spirits.“
He attributes their marriage of 28 years, an eternity by showbiz standards, to “that little old thing called love — spelled l-u-v.
“We are best friends rather than just husband and wife,” he says. “I always think of her as my girlfriend. We have a lot of fun and we are honest with each other. I don’t really know what else I attribute it to, actually. Both of us had done enough playing around before we got married. I think that’s probably the secret.
“We stopped going to clubs looking for fun and, in my case, birds. We were able to settle down and enjoy each other. We’ve raised four lovely kids, our greatest achievements.“
Ranking only marginally lower is his recent knighthood, bestowed March 11 by Queen Elizabeth II.
“Such an accolade is like passing all your exams ever with a triple A-plus,” Sir Paul gushes. “Originally, half of me was a bit cynical. I thought about whether I should accept it or question it. It came down to the feeling that it was a very great honor that the people of Liverpool and the British people of my generation could share in. It was a great day when the queen put the old Edward the Confessor’s sword on my shoulder. It is hugely historical. And one of my kids cried. That brought home what a big deal it was.“
From the No Big Deal department: McCartney’s recently unearthed school exercise book containing the earliest Lennon/McCartney compositions. He jotted Love Me Do and several never-recorded lyrics in the notebook 40 years ago. Beatle diehards who assumed Anthology bonuses Free as a Bird and Real Love were the final entries in the Fab Four songbook are panting to hear the long-lost tunes.
“We had the opportunity all along to record those songs and always chose not to, and that’s still a fairly good idea,” says McCartney, noting that their initial efforts “weren’t our best songs (and) weren’t things we thought of recording, except Love Me Do and One After 909. The rest we never felt were quite as good. Of course, we used to exaggerate and tell journalists we had hundreds of songs. There’s probably three or four, and that figure might drop to two, if the truth were known.“
The book will remain in his memorabilia. He’ll concentrate on finishing Standing Stone, a 75-minute symphony commissioned by EMI to celebrate the record company’s 100th anniversary. Recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, the classical piece will premiere at London’s Albert Hall in October and at New York’s Carnegie Hall in November.
McCartney’s inescapable past no longer vexes him. He was pleased but not surprised when VH1’s recent “town hall meeting” drew nearly 3 million Beatle-obsessed questions from fans worldwide.
“We knew the Beatles were pretty good,” McCartney says, “but it’s always difficult to say that without seeming hugely immodest.”
Last updated on September 18, 2020