Interview for Musician • February 1988

McCartney Gets Hungry Again

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Interview by:
Timothy White
Timeline More from year 1988

Album This interview has been made to promote the All The Best! (UK version) Official album.

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For the first decade-and-a-half of his post-Beatles career, everything Paul McCartney touched turned to gold. His critics said that such effortless success kept McCartney from pushing himself as hard as he should, but the public clearly loved the man and his music. Lately, though, the hits have not come so easily. His last several albums, Pipes of PeaceGive My Regards to Broad Street, (the final CBS LPs) and Press to Play (the first under a hefty new Capitol pact) met with a quiet commercial reception. The inner and outer pressure to demonstrate his viability in the rock landscape of the dawning 1990s is clearly mounting. “Paul’s out there searching,” says Capitol president Joe Smith, “and I told hint to please don’t be in a rush, because he’s right where Paul Simon was before he came out with Graceland.”

McCartney’s already made his own African trek, returning in the early 1970s with the splendid Band on the Run. This time, he’s seeking songwriting renewal through a grassroots generational alliance with another son of a Liverpudlian, Declan Patrick McManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello. The immortal Lennon-McCartney epoch, as well as the McCartney-McCartney era of collaboration with wife Linda, could soon make way for McCartney-McManus.

“A fair bit of thought went into Paul’s decision to approach Elvis Costello,” says Richard Ogden, McCartney’s personal manager. “Paul felt it was helpful that they had both an Irish heritage and Liverpool family roots in common. But one of the things Paul liked best about Elvis’ songwriting was his strength as a lyricist. Paul sensed his own melodies and ideas could be excitingly compatible with Costello’s literate style.”

The possibilities inherent in this Anglo-Irish pairing of pop checks and petulant balances are provocative. The man who once had the good sense to recast a song called “Daisy Hawkins” as “Eleanor Rigby” now suspects he can learn something from the chap who retitled an album This Year’s Model instead of Little Hitler. But come what may, the Paul McCartney anthologized on All the Best will never he quite the some again.

At 45, McCartney retains the features of a banding, but a trace of soft wrinkles accents his sad eyes and frames his smile-bent lips. His character is like his complexion: supple but staunch, ruddy but unblemished. There is solidity in his natural air of openness, but a subtle fatigue from its cumulative toll.

What Paul has excelled at all his life is the ability to adapt, to match inexorable change with creative resolve. When something as sure as winter is approaching, he counters the seasonal shift with a chipper measure of control.

But the matter most on Paul’s mind this bracing afternoon in London town is what the New Year will bring. After months of diplomacy, Paul McCartney finally agreed to confront the calendar of his later career, giving himself over — on the eve of an uncertain new chapter — to an unprecedented discussion of all that was and can never be. Listen to what the man said.

This feels like a pivotal time in your career. And because it’s never been done before, I’d love to examine your entire solo pilgrimage. The British version of All the Best has material not on the Armenian collection. “Once Upon a Long Ago” is a track you did with producer Phil Ramone.

The English market, or so they tell me anyway, likes compilation things and “Hits” albums; they’re very popular. Whereas in the States, even if it’s something like Springsteen’s live compilation, apparently they reckon the market isn’t as keen on stuff like that So over here people put your hits together and then put a new song on it for a his of interest and added enjoyment. In America the record company was more concerned with just having the hits. I like the extra song, “Once Upon a Long Ago,” but America for some reason didn’t want it. Who am I to argue?

The flip side of “Long Ago” is a track you wrote with Elvis Costello, “Back on My Feet.”

I started doing some writing with Elvis — [breaking into a brogue] or Declan McManus, as ‘is real name is; ‘tin a real Irish name for a Liverpool lad. We originally said, “Well, look, let’s not tell anyone we’re working together, because if it doesn’t work, we’re gonna look like idiots.” You do that; you get excited about a collaboration, and then nothing really comes of it. But we’ve now written quite a number of songs together, and this was the first.

How we started off writing together was that, rather than just jump in the deep end, he played me a couple of songs he’d been having trouble finishing, and said, “Tell me what’s wrong with these.” And then “Back on My Feet” was one where in my case, I wasn’t totally happy with my lyrics, though I’d pretty much written it. So I fixed up his two songs, he fixed up this one of mine, and we were off and running. The next song we wrote from scratch, which was better yet!

There’s now about nine of them that we’ve written together and some will show up on the next album. I’m not worried now about saying I’m writing with him because we’re both quite happy with the standard of the work.

Was there any contrast between the may you and Costello write?Does he write with a piano? A guitar?

I think he normally writes with guitar, but he’s a bit like me and will do either. We wrote on guitar, mainly, with two where he played a bit of piano. You just ring the changes, really The minute you get into a formula, you’re goosed — it’s the truth! So when we found one may of working, we’d say let’s do another thing. We tried to keep each song different, because you fall into ruts easily. You think you’ve got the hang of something and you say to yourself, “Ah, we write upbeat numbers.” So we’d say, “Okay, on the next one, let’s try to write a soully ballad, or a rocker.”


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