- Album This interview has been made to promote the Memory Almost Full Official album.
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May 12, 2013 • From Mail On Sunday
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The legendary singer reveals the inspiration behind the songs on the free CD he is giving away with the Mail on Sunday
No figure in popular music casts a greater shadow than Paul McCartney – a giant of British music for over four decades; the Beatle whose fame and talent never diminished, through eight albums with Wings, smash-hit duets with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, and unsurpassed solo success in both pop and classical music. And so it’s no surprise that Britain’s number one artist should choose the nation’s favourite Sunday newspaper, the Mail On Sunday, to give away his latest platinum-selling album, Memory Almost Full. You’ll find the CD, free, inside next week’s issue. […]
Paul McCartney: This was the last track I recorded for the album. I was on my way to a meeting, but before I got there I went for a walk, to experience life for a minute. There’s a guitar shop I like to visit and so I went there and got chatting to the guy who works there. He said he had a left-handed mandolin to show me, and I ended up buying it. The great thing was that I didn’t know how to play it – it’s tuned like a violin, so I had no idea what the chords were. It took me back to when I was a teenager being presented with an instrument. I had to figure out how to play it. I found one chord, then another, and then a really strange chord. I still don’t know what it is but it sounded great. At home, I started stomping around the kitchen, playing this little instrument, just enjoying myself. I sang, ‘Everybody gonna dance tonight’ and my little girl came running in and started dancing, so I fell in love with the song. In fact, I liked it so much I ran into the studio to record it, and stuck it on the album. It seemed like a good atmospheric opening.
Ever Present Past
Paul McCartney: Sometimes I just sit down and try to write a pop song. I’ve done it throughout my life and it’s an interesting thing to do, to try to make something catchy. This mone starts off, ‘I’ve got too much on my plate.’ The way I write, I just follow that thought and think, ‘What did I mean by that? Explain yourself.’ After I’d got the verse this idea of my past, my Ever Present Past, came about. There’s no deep meaning in it. I think what happens with me is that I just write something and people read into it. I like that, because often you do things in a subliminal way and don’t realise what you’re doing. So I might think a statement is quite simple, but somebody else might say, ‘Yeah, but it means this…’I like multiple meanings. However, I often just start off with a phrase that’s really just to help me write the song and get me to the next bit.
See Your Sunshine
Paul McCartney: I’d already recorded most of the song, and when the time came to put the bass on it I played a fairly straightforward track. Then I was messing around, because I thought it was done, so just for my own pleasure I started goofing around, playing way too much, and afterwards I joked with the producer, saying, ‘Whoa – that was way over the top!’ He said, ‘No, that’s great – do another take like that. I think that’s exactly what the song needs.’ That was dangerous, because I pulled out every trick in the book and just had fun playing. But when I listened back it all seemed to make sense. I was going where I wouldn’t normally go, throwing in notes that I didn’t think were needed, but somehow it fitted. I think I only did two takes.
Only Mama Knows
Paul McCartney: This really is like a short story. I’ve done that in the past, not always writing from a personal perspective. It’s good, because you use your imagination more, and that’s something I enjoy. I wrote about Eleanor Rigby, but I don’t know a woman who picks up rice in a church, and nor do I know anyone stranded in the transit lounge of an airport, as in Only Mama Knows. But I like to get into those imaginary stories, then follow them through and become that character. The lead character in this song is someone who was left by his mother, doesn’t know why she left him and doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his father’s face. It’s interesting because it takes you out of yourself. You can become an alter ego. It doesn’t have to be Paul McCartney singing it – it can be this other guy singing. It’s good to do; it lets you have another vocal approach, another emotional approach.
You Tell Me
Paul McCartney: I started off just remembering summers: ‘Were we really there?’ ‘Was it real?’ Sometimes, for a lot of people, memories – particularly childhood memories – seem so golden and you think, ‘Did it really not rain all summer or am I just imagining the sunny bits?’ And then the phrase ‘You tell me’ began to be the theme of the song. I wrote it out in Long Island, during one of those summers. I was looking at a red cardinal – and for someone English that is kind of magical, seeing a bright red bird coming out of a tree – so he appeared in the lyric. A lot of what’s in the lyric was there as I was writing. It became a tribute to golden summers.
Paul McCartney: Who is Mr Bellamy? I never know who these people are. Who are Chuck and Dave from When I’m Sixty-Four? Who is Eleanor Rigby? Who are Desmond and Molly from Ob-La-Di? I don’t know – I just make them up. I like giving characters names and trying to make them fit.I had a little piano riff that’s behind the Mr Bellamy verse. I wanted some lyrics that would poke in and out of the riff, so I began with, ‘I’m not coming down, no matter what you say, I like it up here.’ Sometimes I don’t actually know where I’m going, so then I look at just what that verse is, and in this case I got a picture of a guy sitting on top of a skyscraper and all the people in the street – the rescue team, the psychiatrist, the man with the megaphone shouting: ‘Don’t jump’ and the people shouting: ‘Jump’. So I fished around for a name and came up with Bellamy, which sounded like someone who might want to jump. And I just followed the story through. The end is like a pull back with a camera – there he is, little Bellamy sitting on the ledge, enjoying it up in the clouds. And that’s how we recorded it, as a sort of film.
Paul McCartney: I’ve always had a couple of voices. Originally you’re just a kid at home, like everyone else, and then you start to dream of being a singer. My heroes then were rock ’n’ rollers, so my ballad voice was based on Elvis and the screamy voice was me trying to be Little Richard. I loved him so much. When I joined the Beatles, John used to like that and it’s stayed with me as something I enjoy doing – that gritty, souly voice. So on this track I was just thinking of how much there is to be grateful for in life, and I wanted to put that into song and use the gritty voice to do it with.
Paul McCartney: For me this is about my clothes from the Sixties and the fact that what’s out comes back – fashion going round in circles. I meet quite a few young guys in bands and a question they always ask is, ‘Did you keep the clothes?’ As a matter of fact I did. The Beatles had a tailor, Dougie Millings – he’s in a scene in A Hard Day’s Night. Instead of just going to get a suit as you did before, for a job interview or whatever, suddenly you were going to get epaulettes and fancy buttons, materials and linings. That to me is where the song is coming from. The message is: vintage clothes are great but don’t live in the past. It’s the opening of a medley. The next four songs are designed to run together, with this as the opener. I hadn’t done that since Abbey Road and I thought it would be quite nice to flirt with that idea again. It just means it’s a slightly longer form. You’ve got to think, ‘What came before?’ ‘What statement are you going to make now?’ ‘How’s this going to lead on?’ It’s not that different from just sequencing an album, but you suddenly think of them as a suite of songs, and it’s interesting to write them in that way.
That Was Me
Paul McCartney: People often say they can remember more from their childhood than they can from a month ago. I think that is a fact of life – I don’t know why. So all I had to do for this song was to think back. And immediately I go back to Liverpool, where there was a little place we could escape to, beautiful little woods where, come springtime, there would be these carpets of bluebells. It was a magical place. There’s something about me at the bus stop that’s a big part of my memories – going to school, coming home from school, going to the pictures, going to your friend’s house. So all of these things got in there. ‘The cellar’ is the Cavern, ‘Royal Iris’ is a ferry boat they had – they’d call them riverboat shuffles, and some of our earliest gigs were on them. So these are just exciting memories of mine, and I connected them: ‘On a blanket, in the bluebells, at the bus stop,’ Then I get into the Beatles: ‘That was me, on TV, sweating cobwebs in a cellar.’
Feet In The Clouds
Paul McCartney: Because of the retrospective mood of this medley, it then goes back to school and teachers. I had a real motley bunch of teachers at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys. Some of them were complete maniacs. Whereas I wrote about golden summers in You Tell Me, school was very dark and gloomy. The building itself wasn’t the lightest of places – it was built in 1825. This seemed to affect the attitude of the teachers. They were a dark bunch of people. So the song is like a therapy session for me.
House Of Wax
Paul McCartney: There’s something about chords in a song that can take you to a place. In this song they are not complex but there’s something in the tonality of them that takes you to what the vocal becomes. And I like the lyrics: ‘Lightning hits the house of wax, poets spill out on the streets, to set alight the incomplete remainders of the future.’ It’s quite surreal. I enjoyed singing them because of those chords and the mixture of the melody and the lyrics. I think this will be good to do live. It’s another one that my band played on. In fact the medley was conceived early on in this album and the band is featured on a lot of it.
The End Of The End
Paul McCartney: I’d read something somebody had written about dying and I thought, ‘That’s brave.’ It seemed courageous to deal with the subject rather than just shy away from it. So I fancied looking at it as a subject myself. I like the Irish approach of a wake, where it’s celebratory. I remember once an Irish woman wished me well by saying, ‘I wish you a good death’, and I said, ‘Say what?’ I thought about it later and actually it’s a great thing to wish someone. I thought, ‘Well, what would I like?’ Jokes, a wake, music, rather than everyone sitting around looking glum, saying, ‘He was a great guy’ – though they can do a bit of that, too. So that led into the verse, ‘On the day that I die I’d like jokes to be told and stories of old to be rolled out like carpets.’ I have played it to my family and they find it very moving because, you know, it’s Dad. It’s a strange combination, because you’re talking about a serious subject. But I’m dealing with it lightly.
Nod Your Head
Paul McCartney: Well, that End Of The End brought the party down, didn’t it? It was going to be the last track on the album, but we thought we couldn’t leave everyone going, ‘Oh God, I’m not going to listen to that again.’ So we had a little stompy rocker called Nod Your Head and we thought we’d let them off the hook. I think it’s good to talk about difficult subjects and then to get off it and just rock out. So that was the feel of making the album. Get some personal thoughts out (Gratitude, The End Of The End), talk about my childhood, talk about love, about beautiful memories. Try and get everything said, but with a feeling of optimism and enthusiasm. I thought if I could accomplish it all then that would be a good thing to do.