THE SINGER,THE SONGS & THE SONGWRITER.
You have a reputation as a songwriter which is as large as the reputation of, say, Burt Bacharach, and probably Cole Porter, and also one as a performer in the tradition of Elvis Presley and the Stones. Everybody who approaches your music approaches it from their perspective. Do you value any aspect of it greater':' Do you like to think of yourself, for example, as "Yes, I can write good songs"?
I like to think that, definitely. But I fancy myself as a few things, not in a big-headed way or anything. I really dig myself as a bass player, now more than I have done in the last year, just because we just did a couple of good sessions where I played well.
So as a bass player I kind of fancy myself. As a singer I do, you know, and as a songwriter. Probably comes in that order. But then I can kind of play a bit of keyboards. It just depends on how I'm doing, really, I can play lousy keyboard, too.
With Denny and the others there must be the eternal problem of ego. That is, people are always going to refer to the group as "that's the band with Paul McCartney." How does that weigh on you and how do you think it weighs on them?
If it could happen I'd just like to call it Wings and everyone know that that's the band with Paul McCartney in it, but I don't think it could. So basically, we just call it Paul McCartney and Wings or Paul and Wings to get it as short and as easy to remember as possible. But I think Paul McCartney and Wings will do and whoever joins is just stuck with that. It's a slight hangup but it shouldn't really be a big one. Anyone who's interested in music shouldn't be too hung up by the fact that I'm the front man.
I mean it's Jagger and the Stones in a way, isn't it? He's very definitely the front man and the others all kind of come second, except maybe Keith. But even Keith comes second to Mick, you know. So they haven't done too badly with the ego hangups, have they?
I remember seeing a poster for the Stones years ago with this great big Jagger face. The rest of them were tiny little people. Now I would tike to see them all equal and that's the way I feel about them, but obviously for merchandising, marketing and the rest of it, they feel mass appeal is in Jagger's face. And that's what we come down to eventually. Since most people know me better than they're gonna know anybody else in the band, it's silly of us to try to hide it. It's just better to take full advantage of it and just not sweat.
You told me you still ask your friends, "Is this really good?" And Linda mentioned that you still get nervous about the work. And so does this mean you watch critical notices very closely?
No. I don't like criticism whatever. I don't think I ever liked it when my Dad said, I don't like your trousers. But I went through a difficult period where I started to listen to what the newspapers have to say... about me... and say, some guy would be sittin' in New York all hungup thinking "Well, that's not as good as I woulda wanted."' And I thought, ''Well, blimey, that's only one guy. I'm not going to take it as gospel."
Linda mentioned you "bounce off" other people. After you left George Martin and the other three, was Linda the only person to bounce your ideas off of?
For a while, yes. Oh yes.
Did you miss not having more people? Is there anyone you ask now outside the band?
Sometimes now I mainly bounce off myself. I do that more now, call it what you will - maturity? Sometimes if a friend is in the studio I'll ask for their opinion and that will make it easier on me. The laugh of all this is I say all this rubbish and it all changes the next day.
I still read the notices and stuff and they're usually bum ones when you're expecting them to be great. Like after Ram, there were a lot of bum notices after Ram. But I keep meeting people wherever I go, like I met someone skiing.
As he skiied past me lie said, "I loved Ram, Paul." So that's really what I go by, just the kind of people who flash by me in life. Just ordinary people and they said they loved it. That's why I go a lot by sales, not just for the commercial thing. Like if a thing sells well, it means a lot of people bought it and liked it.
Does this mean, then, that you didn't think too much in retrospect of Wild Life. Because of all your albums...
No, ah, I quite liked it. I must say you have to like me to like the record. I mean, if it's just taken cold, I think it wasn't that brilliant as a recording. We did it in about two weeks, the whole thing. And it had been done on that kind of a buzz we'd been hearing about how Dylan had come in and done everything in one lake. I think in fact often we never gave the engineer a chance to even set up a balance. There's a couple of real big songs on there, that freaks or connoisseurs know.
Yeah, 'Tomorrow' is one of them. It's like, when I'm talking to people about Picasso or something and they say, well, his blue period was his only one that was any good. But for me, if the guy does some great things then even his downer moments are interesting. His lesser moments, rather, because they make up the final picture. Some moments seem less, he was going through kind of a pressure period. You know, you can't live your life without pressure periods. No one I know has.
You mentioned Dylan sort of being an inspiration for doing Wild Life the way you did it... He's going on the road, of course, this month.
With the Band...
Does this in any way motivate you, inspire you?
No, not particularly. I mean, I've just been on the road last year, so my being... doing that just might have inspired him. I don't know, you know. He's a great guy, Dylan; he's a musician, and stuff, and he's a great spirit. Love him, you know.
Do you think he influenced you at all?
Oh, yes. Very heavily.
I think the first time was in 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away.' That was John's song. Then there was a good deal of influence in the 'Hard Day's Night' and 'Help'! periods. Certain chords, the acoustic bit. We liked him.
We met him when he came to New York and we were together awhile. He came to one of my sessions when I was doing Ram in New York.
You mentioned in the studio that you were influenced in a recent session by Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man. Do you think someone might misconstrue this?
Being influenced by something and stealing something are two different things. When you hear the track we did and hear Marvin Gaye's you probably would never know they were related. I may be influenced by something, but it's in my head and doesn't necessarily show in the song. 'Here, There and Everywhere' was supposed to be a Beach Boys song, but you wouldn't have known.
Was it the 'Trouble Man' instrumental?
Yeah. Beautiful, you know. That kind of stuff, I really love. I'd have liked to hear him sing a bit more on it, but it's just good music. It's just good.
We just went to Paris, did one truck trying that wasn't too good, and the next track we didn't give a bugger about and it turned out really nice. We played about eleven minutes just jamming, and it all seemed to fit into place.
I've only relearned that in the last four days. Guitar playing is better if you really don't try and if you play like you're playing in the bathroom, playing on the bog, just for yourself. Those are all the great licks, that's when it really happens, you know it's just beautiful then and people can feel that you don't care and it's loose and it's lovely. That's what great musicians have, this kind of feeling that they're not even trying. They just pick up the thing and this great graceful music happens. Basically the thought is to kind of unthink the trying bit. I make better records when I'm just playing for me.
In the songwriting area, you've had thousands of cover versions. There were cover versions in Britain like 'Michelle' by the Overlanders and David and Jonathan, and in America it's ranged from Tony Bennett doing 'My Love' to Vanilla Fudge covering 'Eleanor Rigby.' Ray Charles did a couple. Did you have any feelings about them or didn't you bother to keep track?
Most of them you don't keep track. I don't keep track, but a couple rise to the top. Like Ray Charles' 'Eleanor Rigby' and Roy Redmond's "Good Day Sunshine.' Great version of that by Roy Redmond.
I'm pleased to see people covering 'My Love' purely out of a business interest, just because it's the first time I've ever come near to owning one of my copyrights. Strange, but it is true, you know. So I've got a renewed interest if someone does it.
But the actual versions I normally don't really like. For some reason I think peuple don't seem to get behind the songs for my taste, except, say, Ray Charles, some of the really good people, will get behind one. I haven't heard Tony Bennett's 'My Love.'
Was 'My Love' written for Linda?
Was Mother Mary ('Let It Be') a reference to the Virgin Mary?
No. My mother's name was Mary. So that was probably what that was about.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people - 'Michelle', 'Uncle Albert', 'Eleanor Rigby'.
'Uncle Albert' was. I did have an uncle Albert who used to quote the Bible to everyone when he got drunk. He used to read from the Bible. It was the only time he ever read the Bible, but it was when he was drunk. He died a few years ago and he was a good man. So he was kind of inspirational. 'Michelle' is just a name. "Eleanor Rigby', that was just a name. That was just made up.
There is actual French in the song 'Michelle' and on 'Drink to Me.'
Yes, there is French on 'Michelle.' On 'Drink to Me' its just a background kind of thing.
What made you think of doing the French In 'Michelle'?
I just fancied writing some French words and I had a friend whose wife taught French and we were kind of sitting around and I just asked her, you know, what we could figure out that was French. We got words that go together well. It was mainly because I always used to think the song always sounded like a French thing (imitates French singing, Charles Aznavour style). And I can't speak French, really, so we sorted out some actual words.
The big copyright off the McCartney album was 'Maybe I'm Amazed.' Were you aware that would go down so well?
Sometimes we're a bit daft here. We have a bit of funky organization, you know, which isn't that clued in to picking up tracks off albums. At the time we thought 'Maybe I'm Amazed' was a good track and maybe we should do that as a single, which it probably should have been. But we never did. It was the same with 'Uncle Albert' in Britain. We only did that as a single in America and it was a great success there. It would have been a big success here, I think, but for some silly little reason it never managed to get out.
Yeah, I'd say 'Maybe I'm Amazed' was the most successful song off McCartney. You've got people who say "Oh, I love The Lovely Linda" and silly things that were just little asides on the album.
Or 'That Would Be Something.' They were almost throwaways, you know. But that's why they were included - they weren't quite throwaways. That was the whole idea of the album. All the normal things that you record that are great and have all this atmosphere but aren't that brilliant as recordings or production jobs. Normally that stuff ends up with the rest of your demos, but all that stuff is often stuff I love. I've got a tape of 'Fixing a Hole' which is somewhere in my house under a big lump of tapes. It's great because on the tape I'm writing 'Fixing a Hole,' and I'm going through all these words and it goes on for hours, gradually netting the tune,
'Give Ireland Back to the Irish' was the first of your singles in eight years that didn't sell in America and Britain.
Before I did that, I always used to think. God, John's crackers, doing all these political songs. I understand he really feels deeply, you know. So do I. I hate all that Nixon bit, all that Ireland bit, and oppression anywhere. I think our mob do, our generation do hate that and wish it could be changed, but up until the actual time when the paratroopers went in and killed a few people, a bit like Kent State, the moment when it is actually there on the doorstep, I always used to think it's still cool to not say anything about it, because it's not going to sell anyway and no one's gonna be Interested.
So I tried it, it was Number One in Ireland and, funnily enough, it was Number One in Spain, of all places. I don't think Franco could have understood.
That the second, and to date the only other one that didn't make it that big, was 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.' Do you think that was the start of the "So it's come to this" type of attitude?
Yeah, I should think so. Probably. Yeah. You see, I do things that aren't necessarily very carefully thought out. Now, you know, I've just got three kids over the last few years, and when I am sitting at home playing at the piano my audience a lot of the time is the kids. I just wrote that one up, the words were already written, you know, I just found out what the words to the nursery rhyme were, wrote a little tune up around it, went and recorded it. I had an idea in my head that it would be interesting for everyone to find out what the words to the original nursery rhyme were. I thought it was all very deep and all very nice. I see now, you know, it wasn't much of a record. That's all. It just didn't really make it as a record, and that's what tells, the black plastic.
'Hi Hi Hi' was the one that brought you back to the top ten, after 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish' and 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' although in Britain they played 'C Moon' because 'Hi Hi Hi' was banned by the BBC.
I thought the 'Hi Hi Hi' thing could easily be taken as a natural high, could be taken as booze high and everything. It doesn't have to be drugs, you know, so I'd kind of get away with it. Well, the first thing they saw was drugs, so I didn't get away with that, and then I just had some line 'Lie on the bed and get ready for my polygon.'
The daft thing about all of that was our publishing company, Northern Songs, owned by Lew Grade, got the lyrics wrong and sent them round to the radio station and it said, 'Get ready for my body gun,' which is far more suggestive than anything I put. 'Get ready for my polygon,' watch out baby, I mean it was suggestive, but abstract suggestive, which I thought I'd get away with. Bloody company goes round and makes it much more specific by putting "body gun." Better words, almost.
It made it anyway in the States.
Yeah, well, the great laugh is when we go live, it makes a great announcement. You can say "This one was banned!" and everyone goes "Hooray!" The audience love it, you know. ''This next one was banned!" and then you get raving, because everyone likes to. Everyone's a bit anti-all-that-banning, all that censorship. Our crew, our generation, really doesn't dig that stuff, as I'm sure you know.
George Martin gave me the impression you'd written the basic tune to 'Live and Let Die' and said to him, as one might say to a drummer, I'd like X seconds of this type of music. Is that what you did?
Nah. I sort of wrote it, got George round to my house, sat down at the piano, worked out an arrangement with him, then he went off and scored it. Because I can't do that, I can't voice instruments and stuff. I can in my head, but I don't know how to get it all down. I'll say, tell the cellos to play A, and he'll say, "Oh, of course, in their range that's a B flat," or something like that. I can just give him the piano things. So we worked it up and then we went Into the studio and did it in just a couple of days. It was quite easy to do and turned out well for the film.
It was certainly your biggest production job of the last five years.
Because of George?
Because of Bond. I didn't feel that I could go and do a little acoustic number for a Bond film. What are people going to think, "Oh, Christ, what is this?"
With the shadow of Shirley Bassey in their minds.
Exactly. You're following something so you've got to keep vaguely within the format.
'Helen Wheels' has done better in America than England, as have many of your records past, back in the old days. Have you ever thought of a reason why?
The only thing I can think of is the foreigner syndrome. We're British, and that means something to an American. It's like some Americans who do better over here, like Cassidy and the Osmonds, even Elvis.
When you started to play live again in I972 with Wings, were you very nervous?
Yes. Very nervous. The main thing I didn't want to face was the torment of five rows of press people with little pads all looking and saying, "Oh well, he's not as good as he was." So we decided to go out on that university tour, which made me less nervous because it was less of a big deal. We went out on that tour and by the end of that I felt quite ready for something else, and we went to Europe. I was pretty scared on the European tour. That was a bit more of the big deal, here he is, ladies and gentlemen, sold all the tickets out... I had to go on with a band I really didn't know much. We decided not to do any Beatle material, which was a killer, of course, because it meant we had to do an hour of other material, and we didn't have it, then. I didn't have something like 'My Love' that was sort of mine. I felt like everyone wanted Beatles stuff, so I was pretty nervous on that.
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But by the end of the European tour I felt better, and at the end of the British tour I felt good. By the time we did the British tour I knew we could get it easily and that I could get it going. Everyone digs it, and there's enough stuff not to be nervous.