History: Paul started production of a new album in the summer of 1980, initially with members of Wings but then alone once they decided to part ways. He also decided to call in George Martin to help produce the album. On December 9th, Paul and George mutually agreed to take a break after hearing of John’s death. They resumed two months later. The sessions were so productive that some songs were held back to be part of Paul’s next album.
My own personal history and initial prediction: There are two songs on this album I’m familiar with. The first is “Ebony and Ivory” which I feel like I know more by theme and the fact that it features Stevie Wonder more than I really know the song itself. It’s a nice message, but it’s also incredibly simplifying the situation. It’s something to see that it was such a huge hit, I guess I’m just young enough that I only really remember it being derided rather than people enjoying it. The other song I know is “Here Today,” his tribute to John. The version I know best is actually from much later, 2002, from Paul’s Back in the US concert DVD. That version of the song has been known to make me get choked up from time to time. With those in mind I’m looking forward to what else may appear on this album.
Review: While I had peeked at the tracklist as usual before listening, I guess I wasn’t looking too hard, because it was a nice surprise to discover another Stevie Wonder collaboration on here as well as another duet with someone that I now know is Carl Perkins. Listening to “Get It” I kept thinking “I know this voice…” but couldn’t quite place who it was. I think these duets as well as working with George Martin again are a part of what helps this album feel really fresh and interesting. It’s not the experimental work of McCartney II, but it’s definitely something a bit different than what we have been getting from Wings before that. I can see why this was a big critical hit for him, even if I didn’t always agree with their harsh sentiments in the 1970s.
Martin’s production is absolutely a highlight. I didn’t realize it was him while I was listening but knowing it now makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of great instrumentation and clarity between them all as well. Paul also uses an acoustic guitar a lot on this album, something we really haven’t heard him do too frequently for a while, and it sounds so clear and beautiful and lends a folksy quality to a lot of the songs. While some of the lyrics are repetitive at times, there’s also a bit more creativity and storytelling being brought back with songs like “The Pound is Sinking” and “Ballroom Dancing.”
The biggest mystery to me is why you would choose “Ebony and Ivory” as the single when you’ve got a masterpiece like “What’s That You’re Doing?” on the album. The latter is much more of a true collaboration with Stevie’s distinctive funky style being brought to it. It feels like it would have been just at home on the charts with some of Prince’s hits of the time period. But maybe Paul wanted something a little more on brand for him.
It was interesting to hear this version of “Here Today” for the first time with its beautiful string elements. There are tones of it which echo “Eleanor Rigby” almost, just that kind of melancholy longing to them. I think I am still partial to the 2002 live version though, if only because I think you can hear a little more emotion in Paul’s voice on that one, and the fact that it’s just him and his acoustic guitar makes it feel really personal.
Overall this is a really strong album by Paul, one of the first in quite a while I’ve had the desire to purchase. Knowing that Pipes of Peace contains songs from these sessions makes me more excited to hear that one.
Next Time: George has Gone Troppo.