Interview for Melody Maker • Saturday, May 31, 1975

McCartney: 'Abbey Road' revisited

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Melody Maker
Interview by:
Chris Welch
Timeline More from year 1975

Album This interview has been made to promote the Venus and Mars Official album.

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

Junior's Farm

Officially appears on Junior's Farm / Sally G

Love In Song

Officially appears on Venus and Mars

Sally G

Officially appears on Junior's Farm / Sally G

Venus And Mars

Officially appears on Venus and Mars

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WINGS flew over Soho this week. But these were of musical origin and did not belong to the rather grubby pigeons that haunt London’s home of strip clubs and Chinese restaurants.

Jimmy McCulloch, Denny Laine, Joe English and the founder members, Paul and Linda McCartney, were gathered to drink a little wine, bang about on the upright piano and talk to whoever happened to be passing through the discreet, unpretentious home of McCartney Productions.

The offices are a far cry from the fabled splendours of Apple on the other side of the city, just recently closed, and eliciting barely a reaction from Paul beyond: “It had to happen.” He was more concerned with the release of the new Wings album “Venus And Mars”, although he was happy to chat about a whole range of subjects, when we finally settled in a back room, away from the hubbub of a minor reception.

The album has already been hailed as a worthy successor to the remarkably productive and successful “Band On The Run,” and it seems that Wings have finally settled down into a workmanlike team. There have been personnel changes, but the purpose remains the same. Paul doesn’t want to be tied down, but at the same time wants to make Wings work. There is even wild talk of a British tour, maybe sometime towards the end of the year, and the group are currently rehearsing material for a show.

They had been busy recording in New Orleans, and Paul, as frank, open and gently biting as ever, pondered my suppositions and suggestions, and anticipated the kind of discussion that will inevitably surround the new songs.

Was environment important to Paul’s songwriting and recording output? 

“I think it always rubs off a bit, just in kind of arrangements and who’s there. There’s a couple of tunes we’ve got brass on and it’s New Orleans brass. If you were American and lived in London, you’d start to pick up bits of this and that. You can’t help it.

“But the album doesn’t sound very New Orleansy to me. I couldn’t tell you. It’s just your opinion. Everybody says something afferent about every track anyway. We just wanted to record in America and find a musical city.

“There’s not that many. Only New York, Nashville, and LA and I’d never been to New Orleans, except on tour when we never saw anything except the inside of a trailer. The only thing I remembered about New Orleans was the vibrator bed in the motel. And it was sweating hot.

“So we went down to New Orleans in search of a musical town and the weather. And then we found out Mardi Gras was on while we were there. I’d written most of the stuff before we got there, and Jimmy had written one of the tracks with a mate of his.

“We’d been in Jamaica before we went to New Orleans and for the first time ever, I’d got all the songs together. I wrote it all out and stuck it all together like a scroll that went from here to the end of the room. So I had all that together and we just turned up and started recording.”

Did the album have a link running through it like “Band On The Run” had? 

“I feel it has something like that, yeah.” 

Did Paul feel that following up a hit album like “Band On The Run” was going to be difficult? His voice slowed to a lazy Liverpool drawl, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Yeah, once or twice I thought, yeah, gotta follow that then. But y’know, it doesn’t worry me.” 

Did he feel there was a timetable to be adhered to, pressing commitments to be fulfilled? 

“No, I just thought I’d do a new LP… I had this bunch of songs on my scroll and I thought it would be better than ‘Band On The Run’. Yes, I think it’s better, but that’s down to who likes it and stuff. 

“With the previous LP, as you know, a couple of the lads left just before we started, and I felt this has really got to work, it’s going to be ludicrous. There were only three of us and we had to get down to work.

“That became a bit of a challenge. I was looking to do an LP that people would like. And not say: “Do I like it or not, I’m not sure, oh I like him when he does that. ‘I wanted an LP that would sell!”

Was he at all surprised at its success and that so many hit singles came out of it? 

“Well, I wasn’t going to do any of that. I was going to keep a low profile, keep really cool and just release the album. Then the fellow rang me up and said: Look we’ve got to take a single off this.’ This is the guy from Capitol, who’s a real sharp shooter.

“So he suggested taking one single off and it kind of crept to the chart, so it looked like a good idea. Normally I wouldn’t like to do that because people think you’re milking the album. But if you don’t take a few tracks off the album, then a lot of people won’t even know that it’s out.

“Maybe housewives who’ll really like it. And if Jimmy Young doesn’t say that it’s out, how will they ever know? That was the whole point about “Sally G. We flipped that and I thought it might seem we’re trying to fool the public. But it isn’t, it’s only to get a bit of exposure on that song.

“Otherwise it just dies a death, and only the people who bought ‘Junior’s Farm’ get to hear ‘Sally G’. I like to have hits, definitely. That’s what I’m making records for. It’s not for the bread, although I like that too, it’s just that if you do something in my particular field, you want people to hear it.

“It’s like doing a cover for Vogue and nobody buys Vogue that week. The photographer who took the picture would feel, well, brought down. And if you’re working towards an audience, you don’t like to feel they’ve all left the theatre. So anything I do, I like it to be a hit.”

Are there any songs that have flopped and not gone the way Paul might have liked?

“Oh yeah, a couple, quite a few. I can’t think which, just some that didn’t do as well. As long as you’re making a few good songs occasionally, and you’re working and digging it, that’s it, isn’t it?

“With an album you’re allowed to do anything, and all I do is write a few tunes, and a few sound like good tunes. If I’ve written five ballads, then I’d do something a bit more funky. I mainly think, okay, so I’ll do a new album now, I’ve got a blank canvas and I can do anything I like. And I just start writing tunes.

“With this new album I did this scroll thing and sat down and put one song there, and another song here. Fiddle about, fiddle about. The only time I’ve done this before was on the mini-opera thing on ‘Abbey Road,’ the only time I’ve sat down with four sheets of paper and put them in order.”

Does “Mars & Venus” have astrological or astronomical significance?

“It’s really a total fluke. I was just sitting down and started singing ANYTHING and some words came out. And I got this whole idea… well, the bit on the second side came first. and I got this idea about a fellow sitting in a cathedral waiting for this transport from space that was going to pick him up and take him on a trip.

“The guy is a bit blotto and he starts thinking about ‘a good friend of mine studies the stars, Venus and Mars are all right tonight.’

“And the next bit was your ruling star is in ascendancy today,’ but ‘Venus & Mars are all right’ was better, it flipped off the tongue. I thought, well I know Venus and Mars are planets so I can’t go wrong there.

“But afterwards somebody said to me, did I know that Venus and Mars are our closest neighbours, and I said wow. you live and learn. And then somebody told me Venus and Mars have just eclipsed the sun. or something. I’m not exactly sure, you’ll have to check up with Patrick Moore.

“But they did something and aligned themselves exactly for the first time in 2,000 years. I swear I had no idea about all this going on. It was just stuff that happened afterwards.” 

Do people accept Paul on a more rational level now, less of an idol? 

“I don’t know how people accept me. I only know the people I see. The impression I get off people is sort of… average.

“In a funny way the downers of the recent years, having to fight so much business stuff, and wondering whether it was right to fight a business manager, in a funny way it’s kind of helped. I don’t think it screwed up my writing. although there might have been times when my time was taken up more with business things. But it gave me more of challenge.”

Paul began to reminisce unexpectedly about the earliest Beatle days, the happier period perhaps expunging the sour aftermath.

“Do you know on the early Beatle records, I never noticed they didn’t have a real bass and drums sound? It wasn’t until much later when the bass sound came into its own…”

Sly and the Family Stone? I hazarded. 

“’Sgt Pepper’ even, thank you very much. But when you listen to an old Beatles record now, although it’s a dated sound, back to ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Twist And Shout,’ there’s John singing as ballsy as you like, and that’s nice. It may not have had a ‘sound’ but it had something. Nobody though about bass and drum sounds.

“Those first sessions are totally in a blur. All I remember was the pub afterwards, because I was so nervous. I remember the Decca audition though. Tony Meehan was there and he was going to produce us, and there was a little bit of dubiousness.

“We couldn’t get the numbers right and we couldn’t get in tune. But eventually we did these records. The first LP we did was at ten o’clock in the morning, just after a night out. We played the stage act right through, and then went home.

“I think we sat around and talked about it for an hour. But we did fourteen tracks and went home, and they just mixed it. They’d ring us in a couple of weeks, and we’d say, is our record ready yet? It was like putting a film into the chemists. (Linda laughs.)

“But obviously as things began to develop it was like the workers taking over the means of production.”

When did the Beatles realise that the sound could be Improved?

“It must have been around ‘Sgt Pepper’ or just before on ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’. I can’t remember the exact point when we were thinking in terms of ‘albums.”

“We all became aware of Motown bass sounds and big thick drums. It was just a learning process. Now you have to have a big bass drum and bass guitar sound, so much so I’m thinking of going away from it and back to the dinky, old fashioned sound, maybe.

“We did this crazy thing with the Tuxedo Jazz Band in New Orleans. It’s a backing track of me playing ‘Babyface’ on the piano, for a TV video tape. It should be ready in a couple of months. But when we were in New Orleans I took the track and asked these fellows to overdub, and like these guys don’t know what earphones are, they’re a trad band right? A genuine, New Orleans brass band.

“They couldn’t get the tempo for a while, but then they started to get it. It’s a terrible sound if you’re looking at it critically, but it’s got a lovely, joyousness about it. It’s great (Paul broke into a fair imitation of a tailgate trombone), it’s like they’re revving up all the time.

“They’re brilliant. The drummer plays bass drum with his… melon…and he has a coat hanger in his left hand, and the bottom half of a hi-hat, which he hits with his coat hanger. So it’s boom, chick-a-boom, and his mate’s got the snare drum. They have this ethnic talent-it’s like a Morris dancing act. I’m not really a jazzer you know, I like it, but I’ve never been into it.

“The Southern high school marching bands play Stevie Wonder numbers now y’know. It’s marvellous. They’re about fifty strong and they’ve got all the girls dancing in front of them. The bass guitar or a marching bass drum, it’s just anything low down that gives a kick. Even the Mills Brothers had a bass going behind them.

“I always tried to play bass guitar so it would sound like a real bass, and I never did play a lot of twang. We used to do a skit on Jet Harris in the Cavern, when they had this big record out, and I learnt it. It used to go down great.

“No, I haven’t used the violin bass for years, it doesn’t record very well. I played stand up bass on ‘Love In Song’, on the new album. And I also played piano and a little bit of acoustic and electric guitar, Jimmy plays most of the lead, and a couple of bits where Denny plays lead.”

Finally, were there any projects Paul was working on other than Wings?

“I’ve got a big plan to do Rupert. I’ve been saying this for years unfortunately, but I would like to get together a big “Bambi’ if you like, a Disney style cartoon-which will be the first actual film score I’ve bothered to try and get into, and I’d really love to do that.

“The only disappointment to me is that it’s such a big thing. I haven’t got it together yet. I’m going to have to clear some time. I was never into Rupert at all as a kid, but we’re now married, with kids, and I started reading our eldest kid a few Rupert things as a bedtime story. And I thought, ‘this is far out, and psychedelic.’

“My idea is to make the annuals move and have them. talk. I can see it all in my head But it’s very expensive, and somebody has to get together the Rupert story and it’s hard to write a very good plot. You could take one of the old stories, but they’re all short. And you don’t get all the characters in.

“If I manage to write the story and all the songs, it will be possible then. It’s a bit like Pete. and his Tommy.” If he’d asked to do a film before doing the album ‘Er’ I’ve got an idea here, will you give me X million. They’d have said, ‘No Pete, actually.’

“But there you go, that’s a great dream of mine and of course it incorporates a film score, one and a half hours of music. All the film stuff I’ve done so far, I’d do the theme and have someone to help me score the music. I did a couple of the main themes in ‘Family Way’ and then handed over to George Martin.

From Melody Maker – May 24, 1975

Last updated on August 28, 2023


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