Interview for Billboard • Saturday, April 12, 1997

McCartney Turns Back the Clock

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Interview by:
Thom Duffy
Timeline More from year 1997

Album This interview has been made to promote the Flaming Pie Official album.

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

Beautiful Night

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

Flaming Pie

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

Great Day

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

If You Wanna

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

My Dark Hour

Officially appears on Brave New World

Really Love You

Officially appears on Flaming Pie


Officially appears on Flaming Pie

The World Tonight

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

Used To Be Bad

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

Young Boy

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

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“I’ve really started to say to myself,” muses Paul McCartney, sitting in his recording studio overlooking the English Channel, “look, what’s it been worth to do all that Beatles career, earn all this money, get all that fame, if at some point I don’t go, ‘That was great, now I can have a good time.’ “

Lately, McCartney’s been doing just that, bringing a spark of spontaneity and freedom to “Flaming Pie,” his first solo album in four years and his first since the phenomenal success of the Beatles’ “Anthology” series. Set for release by EMI in most international markets May 12, “Flaming Pie” will be served in the U.S. and Canada by Capitol Records May 20.

In the first interview he has given to discuss the new album, McCartney explains how revisiting the Beatles’ legacy for the “Anthology” project helped inspire the sound and spirit of “Flaming Pie”–and also gave him a new perspective on the music business.

“I feel like the suits are back in charge now,” says McCartney. “So I want to be subversive and sort of break that lock, just for me personally this time.” Rather than planning “mega-campaigns” to launch “Flaming Pie,” McCartney describes his desire to make an album “for the kid in the bedroom. The Beatles, we all wanted to make records for the kid in the bedroom somewhere, because we had recently been that kid in a bedroom.” 

“Flaming Pie” finds McCartney collaborating with friends and family including Ringo Starr, George Martin, Jeff Lynne, Steve Miller, his wife, Linda, and his 19-year-old son, James, who makes his recording debut in a guitar duet with dad. The album is both rocking and reflective, emerging from a period in McCartney’s life marked by personal struggles, such as Linda McCartney’s battle with cancer, as well as triumphs, such as the knighthood conferred upon him this year at Buckingham Palace.

Fans in North America will get their first taste of “Flaming Pie” with the release April 17 of the upbeat guitar-driven single “The World Tonight,” while the song “Young Boy,” featuring Steve Miller on guitar and backing vocals, goes out as a single in most other countries April 28.

Although McCartney has no plans to tour, as he did to promote his previous solo album, “Off The Ground,” in 1993, a new television documentary about his solo work by “Anthology” director Geoff Wonfor is due to air next month on outlets in some 25 countries, including VH1 in the U.S. In addition, there are discussions under way about the placement of “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy” in the forthcoming film “Father’s Day,” starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal (see story, page 1).

“It’s the best Paul McCartney album I’ve heard in years,” says Gary Gersh, president of Capitol Records (U.S.). Gersh and other record executives also acknowledge the impact that the Beatles’ “Anthology” series is likely to have on McCartney’s solo album. “There are a lot of people who learned a lot about the Beatles over the course of the last 18 months and a growing number of young fans who will be receptive to a great new Paul McCartney album–and this is it,” says Gersh.

The album “is much more simple and direct than anything he’s done for a long time,” says Tony Wadsworth, managing director of EMI’s Parlophone Records in London, who has been involved with McCartney’s solo career for the past decade.

“In looking at ‘Anthology,’ I saw the standards that the Beatles had reached,” says McCartney. Those were standards of both songwriting and studio spontaneity that McCartney sought to recapture. The “Anthology” project gave him that opportunity.

In mid-1995, as Capitol and EMI prepared for the release late that year of the first of the three “Anthology” albums, McCartney recalls, “One of the bigwigs at the record company said, ‘We don’t want a [solo] record from you for the next two years. We don’t really need a record off you for awhile.

“I was almost insulted at first,” he says. “But I thought, well, yeah, it would be silly to go out against yourself in the form of the Beatles. So I fell in with the idea and thought, ‘Great, I don’t even have to think about an album.’ What a great, lovely, lazy couple of years–although we worked quite hard on the ‘Anthology.’ “

McCartney began exploring a number of creative projects, including a new classical piece, “Standing Stone,” which he will debut at London’s Royal Albert Hall in October to mark the centenary of EMI. As a solo pop artist, however, “the only music I made then was just for the fun of it, because I couldn’t stop,” he says. “The songs were written purely for fun. There was not one of them which was, like, ‘Oh, this is a song for my next album.’ “

As he did on his first self-titled solo album in 1970, McCartney recorded most of the musical parts for “Flaming Pie”–drums, bass, guitar, and piano– himself, either recording alone or with one or two friends sitting in.

The title of “Flaming Pie,” as well-informed Beatles fans know, comes from John Lennon’s fanciful tale of how the group got its name. “We’re talking about teenage years. Glory years,” says McCartney. He describes the day Lennon announced he was penning a piece for Mersey Beat, the Liverpool music paper. “We were so keen to get into Mersey Beat; it was like our official organ,” says McCartney. “So he wrote this thing called ‘On The Dubious Origins Of The Beatles’ or something like that. It was very goony. It was John’s typical wit, slightly biblical, which was the humor of the day. He wrote something like, ‘I had a vision when I was 12, and a man came unto us on a flaming pie and said, “You shall be Beatles–with an A.” And so it was.’ “

McCartney’s recollections of the Fab Four flow fast and deep. For years, he kept memories of the Beatles at bay, and he acknowledges that for much of his solo career he kept a musical distance from his past.

But “Flaming Pie” displays a joyously familiar style–in the pounding piano of the title track, the guitar rave-up of “The World Tonight,” the George Martin orchestration of “Somedays,” the acoustic coda of “Great Day,” and more.

“It’s the ‘feel’ that you’re talking about,” says McCartney. “It’s true. I’ve got a feel. I’ve got my feel. And throughout my career, I have made efforts to get away from it.

“But I started to think on this album, no, I don’t really need to. And somebody pointed out to me, ‘Hell, a lot of what these younger groups are doing is your sound.’ So I thought it’s actually mad if I don’t do it and I just let everybody else do it and admire how well it sounds when they do it.”

The ease with which McCartney now taps into his past led to two of the most noteworthy collaborations on “Flaming Pie,” the first with Miller and the second with Starr.

After discovering that his son James was a fan of Miller, McCartney told him about “My Dark Hour,” a song he cut with Miller (drumming under the pseudonym Paul Ramon) in 1969 at Abbey Road after an aborted Beatles session. More recently, the two musicians renewed their acquaintance at an Earth Day concert in California. After recording “Real Love” with Ringo Starr and George Harrison in early 1995 for the “Anthology II” album, McCartney flew to Idaho to play again with Miller.

“We invited him to join the band,” quips Miller, speaking by phone from Idaho, describing the snow-bound session that February that produced “Young Boy.” McCartney, he says, “is a great songwriter and a great musician.”

The two collaborated again at McCartney’s studio in May 1995 on a “road song” titled “If You Wanna,” written by McCartney, and a blues jam called “Used To Be Bad,” which is credited to both songwriters.

“We fell in, like an old habit, like a comfortable glove,” says McCartney. “When you can work with someone like that, it’s stranger to lose it than for it to still be there. It often is still there, like with Ringo . . .

“Ringo had always said, after ‘Real Love,’ that he was comfortable in this studio. And he said we should do it again some time,” says McCartney. The opportunity came in May 1996, as Starr came down to play on “Beautiful Night,” a song on “Flaming Pie” that McCartney had written a decade earlier but never released.

“We had a lot of fun doing it and then he stayed over the next day in case we needed to fix any drum things, which we didn’t,” says McCartney. “I could see that whenever we’d gone out to rehearse anything he was very comfortable. So I said, ‘Well, let’s take this a little step further. I’ll get on bass, you get on drums, we’ll get Jeff [Lynne] on his guitar, just a three-piece, and we’ll have a jam for the hell of it.’ “

The resulting track, “Really Love You,” is a cool R&B groove built upon Starr’s drum beat and McCartney’s rock’n’roll vocals. It is the first song ever released that is co-written by the Beatles’ former drummer and bassist.

While McCartney relishes a new sense of ease in making music, he describes a fresh sense of frustration with how corporate marketing can overwhelm creativity in the music business today. After all, the Beatles, some 30 years ago, took control of the business from “the suits” he now says are back in charge.

He describes record company meetings in which representatives of EMI and Capitol each outlined their promotional plans for his new album. “They’re saying to me, ‘You’ve got to go to Cologne, you’ve got to go to Stuttgart, you’ve got to go to Amsterdam’ ” and to New York and to L.A. and so on. McCartney put up his hands.

“I’m saying, I don’t think I fancy it. I really don’t want to try too hard on this album. The success of the ‘Anthology’ is one reason. I’ve [also] noticed a couple of other artists recently who have been on mega-campaigns, and it looks like they’re trying too hard. I just looked and thought, ‘God, I thought he was better than that.’ And I’m guilty of it, and I’ve done it in the past, because managers and [record] people sort of say, you’ve got to do that, or if you don’t do that . . . “

In working on the “Anthology” project and in making “Flaming Pie,” McCartney was reminded that the music once mattered more than the marketing campaign.

He tempers his frustration with humor, dropping into the voice of a proper British gentleman as he suggests: “Letting the talent floooow, and not putting too many demands on it, is the rrr-right way to go.

“It really is, man,” he says, serious once more. “You’ve got to nurture talent instead of beating them about the head. You’ve got to give them a little bit of freedom. It’s absolutely where it needs to go now.”

Last updated on September 28, 2020


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