Paul McCartney Interviewed by Paul Gambaccini, 1979, Rolling Stone Introduction by Ben Fong-Torres from collection of RS interviews: Between the first long Paul McCartney interview and this one, London correspondent Paul Gambaccini filed what seemed to him like hundreds random notes about McCartney and Wings.
"I began to feel embarrassed by the number of McCartney pieces I'd done," he says. "But it was -- simple. Paul doesn't like schedules. So you couldn't plan weeks ahead, from America, and nail him down on a specific date. And if he wanted to do something, he'd ring up two or three days in advance."
In spring 1979, a McCartney aide rang up Gambaccini. Paul had just finished the album Back to the Egg "and they knew Rolling Stone was interested -- the magazine had sent a writer over a couple of years before, and he could never pin McCartney down, so this was the interview that was supposed to have been done in 1977.
"Back to the Egg turned out to be McCartney's major disappointment, says Gambaccini. But, he would bounce back, in 1980, with the hit "Coming Up," reunite with Beatles producer George Martin and release Cold Cuts. [sic]
1979 Introduction: Fifteen years ago the Beatles' first film, 'A Hard Day's Night,' opened around the world. The mere fact that it was a black-and-white film tells us how much time has passed. During the intervening decade and a half, millions of lives were affected, some profoundly, by the Beatles. It sounds heretical and contradictory, but one person who seems relatively unchanged is Paul McCartney. He is definitely a richer man, but his wealth has merely brought him the freedom to do what he wants, and that is simply to make music and be with his family. He makes few concessions to his celebrity and attends few public functions, unintentionally ensuring that each appearance is an event. The Buddy Holly tribute he has been involved with have drawn the most star-studded assembly the London musical fraternity has seen during the last three years. At home on his estate south of london, Paul watches a good deal of television with Linda and the kids. He listens to BBC radio going to and from his London studio, preferring to drive himself rather than be chauffered. Anyone searching for a departure in his behavior from that of the people who buy his records would be disappointed.
Whereas 'Please Please Me,' the Beatles' first British album, was recorded in one day, McCartney, now works for weeks on a Wings LP. He records where fancy strikes: in Nigeria ['Band on the Run'], New Orleans ['Venus and Mars'], on a boat afloat in the Caribbean ['London Town'] or, in the case of the new LP, 'Back to the Egg,' in a castle overlooking the English Channel.
'Back to the Egg' does not include his recent disco-influenced hit single, "Goodnight Tonight," simply because McCartney felt it would not fit musically. While the LP makes few obvious concessions to disco or New Wave, it rocks more than 'London Town'; "Old Siam, Sir," the new single in Britain, sounds more like Tina Turner or a manic bluesman than Paul McCartney.
Paul is frightened of critical reaction, but this is nothing new: He remembers when a top BBC disc jockey predicted "She Loves You' would not be a hit. Time and public acclaim of his work have given him the confidence to plan activities that critics may not consider rock & roll. He is also relieved to have put behind him the financial mismanagement the Beatles suffered and to be in the skilled hands of his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, who with his son John has succeeded both in negotiating the most preferential recording contract in history and in investing the McCartney profits in publishing catalogs that have already earned many times their purchase prices. John also represents Paul in the seemingly neverending negotiations to allocate the funds of the Beatles' now-defunct record company, Apple.
I have Known Paul McCartney, for over five years, since just before the release of 'Band on the Run.' When I first met him, he was struggling to establish Wings. After an inauspicious start with "Wild Life, " "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Give Ireland Back to the Irish, " the group had rallied for three hits: "Hi, Hi, Hi," "My Love" and "Live and Let Die." Not surprisingly, McCartney at that time was desperate to avoid talking about the Beatles, especially about the neverending reunion rumors. He regarded me with the suspicion he had for any inquisitive young reporter and dismissed mention of the Beatles' early days as "ancient history".
In the years since "Band on the Run", Paul has let down his defenses. Anecdotes about the Beatles now flow , in addition to reminiscences of pre-Beatles days. He seems pleased with his past. This is a product of being happy with his presence.
This interview was conducted in two installments in late March 1979. We began in EMI Studios, Abbey Road, where McCartney worked with the Beatles and where he works with Wings whenever they are not flying around the world. "Silly Love Songs" and "My Love," Wings' biggest American hits, as well as "Goodnight Tonight," their latest hit single, were cut here.
The second phase of the interview, was held in a photography studio above Belsize Park subway station in north London. While the cover picture of the new alum was being set up, a long and exhausting process, we chatted in a third-story room discussing the new album, the two-song supersession that Paul calls the Rockestra and McCartney's hope that Wings can tour later this year and turn up unannounced at small clubs. We also talked about his opinion of the British New Wave; the time Paul and the original Beatles drummer, Pete Best, were deported from Germany; how McCartney considered counseling Sid Viscious the, Beatles' fear that Gerry and the Pacemakers would be more popular -- things like that.
I remember reading a quote from journalist-broadcaster Tony Palmer, I believe, who said at one point in the Sixties, "lt must be the hardest thing in The world to be Paul McCartney." Have you ever thought it was hard to be you?
No, I think it would be harder to be Idi Amin and one or two others. To go from being a kid living on a street on some council estate [public-housing project] to becoming very famous is a big change. Living with all the trappings of that isn't an easy adjustment; your privacy has to go a bit. It is a bit humiliating sometimes if you have a hangover or you really just feel rough, and you've got to do an autograph or stand while someone takes a picture. But you reach a point where you realize you can't turn back.
I wonder if live television would be too nerveracking now for groups, considering that the audiences would just multiply a million-fold by international broadcast. Do you think that would be a bit nerveracking?
I don't think any group minds an audience of millions. I think they thrive on that.
That's interesting, because when those silly offers to reunite the Beatles were being made a couple of years ago, I thought the most terrifying aspect of it would have been so many people watching, but that wasn't scaring you?
No, I don't think that had anything to do with it. The whole Beatles reunion thing was always a nonstarter, because we had all just broken up. It is like getting divorced: After you've made the big decision you don't want someone coming up and saying, "Hey, listen, I think it would be a great idea if you all got married again." Things like money and TV exposure are not relevant. If we'd wanted to get together, instead of the opposite, then I'm sure no one would have minded. They would have wanted all that TV exposure. In fact, I remember when the Beatles were breaking up, my thought was that what we needed to do was get back on the road and do what I want to do now, which is sort of turn up at small clubs. And I remember John saying, "No way. We want to play to 200,000, don't we!"
Well, do you think you will be turning up unadvertised with Wings?
Me! Yes, I think so. I like just turning up on a bunch of people. There is a different kind of electricity when they didn't expect you. You get something and they get something, which was my original idea for the Beatles [in the late Sixties]. As far as a Beatles reunion is concerned, I don't think that would ever happen. I don't think it would really be a good thing if it did.
By now it has taken on such a mythic quality.
Yeah... it gets a bit that, doesn't it! A bit legendary, and the mists of time roll back to I mean, you know, there's no use. say, "Look, you know we're all humans, and we were in this fun group together and we had a great time, but it ended for various reasons." I don't need to go into them for you; it was bad enough going into them for me. So you don't really need people expecting all that sort of stuff to happen, but people still do.
There are still little legal hassles to this day, aren't there?
Not legal hassles. What happened is that when we were the Beatles, instead of setting us all up legally as individuals, everyone set us up as a partnership. So when we wanted to split up I just naively thought, "Well, I'll take my ball and go. I'll just have my bit, and we'll call it a day." But we found that you couldn't just take your little ball and go because of millions of legal reasons. So it's now ten years since we started the whole thing, and you wouldn't believe what we've been through. You just wouldn't.
How much of this is because of being young and naive when you originally signed your contracts, and how much of it is because of disagreements within the group?
Well, I think I was young and naive about all of that until the Beatles broke up. It was just, "Well, we all know nobody will screw each other. We all pretty much know each other. We'll all do it okay." It's just disagreements within the group because, as I say, all contracts that were signed could have broken up quite easily. I would be happy to do a deal that's going now. Just so that we don't have that hanging over our heads and can just say hello again without having to say, "Hello, and by the way, Apple requires you to sign this."
Have you been following the trial of Allen Klein? [The Beatles' short-term mentor after the death of Brian Epstein, Klein was convicted this year on one count of income-tax evasion for failing to declare a "substantial" amount of cash obtained in 1970 by selling promotional copies of Beatles albums, He was to be sentenced June 18th and faced up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $5000.]
No, I just started reading about it the other day. I feel sorry for him now. I was caught in his net once, and that panicked me. I really wanted to do everything to get him. I was contemplating going to where he lives and walking outside his house with placards, doing all that. I was really that crazy at the time. I would have done anything to get out of it, but it all turned out okay.
Do you now regret selling the publishing rights to the Beatles songs?
I don't now because I own some of my new stuff totally, and my company is into publishing. So I don't mind, but it's funny to think somebody owns,"Yesterday" and that it's only to do with me as far as the royalties are concerned. It's funny to think of some of the things that went down. In fact, it's more than funny, it's crazy, because companies were sold behind our backs, and we always had a tiny share of everything. And all the big businessmen always advised us to sell everything. They never said, "Hold onto your paintings because one day they might be valuable." So we were persuaded to sell all the bits and pieces of our rights, which is about the worst advice you can get. Lord Goodman, who shall not be nameless, was one of the people advising us at that time. I don't think it was good advice, and he ended up advising the Labour government. So he told us the wrong things; he probably told them the wrong things.
Were you really on one percent royalty at the beginning?
To tell you the truth, I don't remember. I don't really know what percent. Those days I just signed the contract. It was too long and boring to really read. It would have taken way too much time, plus I couldn't understand it.
You said something very revealing when I just changing the tapes, which is that you are still a bit shy to say you own "Stormy Weather."
You've got to do something with money. You've got to invest it in something. I love songs, and the opportunity came up to do all that, and so I'm now a publisher and a businessman, which to me is something I don't like to talk about too much. Maybe I'm not grown up enough.
What originally happened was, Lee Eastman said to me, "if you were to invest in stuff, what kind of stuff do you like " And I said, "Music." And he said, "Well, what kind of people in music do you like!" I told him a few. I said, "Buddy Holly, but if you're talking about more up-to-date people, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman."
I love Buddy Holly, I've been crazy about him since I was a kid. And Lee rang up one day and said, "Buddy Holly's publishing is up for sale." I said, "Fantastic, I don't believe it." And he said, "We got it, for the company, we got it." So, I just thought, well, either we just get it and leave it, which would be possible, or we try and make a bit of noise about it and get some bit of activity going. So I said, "Let's have Buddy Holly Week; let's have it on his birthday instead of his death day and just try to get people to play his music, cause there are kids who've never even heard him. "It's a pretty haphazard thing, but last year we had Buddy's film [The Buddy Holly Story], which worked out great; the year before we had the Crickets [Holly's band] and the year before we had Norman Petty [Holly's producer]. It awakened a lot of interest. You suddenly started to find Teds pouring out of the cracks in the floorboards cause there was incredible interest there that I hadn't even realized, really. Finding these fourteen- and fifteen-year-old kids coming in?all the hairdos -- saying, "Yeah, man, Buddy Holly, he's my favorite, him and Eddie Cochran." And Eddie Cochran was dead before they were born. But they still got this big feeling for him. And Buddy is now like the big hero. Not that he wasn't always, but there is new interest in him, which I think is great.
It must have been a relief when you realized that all of these protracted Apple negotiations really don't matter that much anymore, because your current fiscal structure means that, while it may not be a drop in the bucket, nonetheless you don't need it.
Indeed. That was it. For a while it wasn't so much that I needed it; is was just that the whole thing was like a headache, an emotional headache. This is getting like a psychiatrist's interview, isn't it! It wasn't particularly all the money. It was just that it was a drag to be arguing with these three people whom I'd come all this way with, and it just wasn't possible to wink and say, "Come on, let's sit down at the table and just talk about it."
How much were you involved in the decision to switch labels in America from Capitol to Columbia?
I stay along with the trip on top of it all, and I'm very involved in the decisions. But I don't do the deals, and I don't go to the meetings and sit down and make demands. We're really lucky to have... some honest people whom you feel you can trust. I think most people have slight suspicions about their managements or their lawyers.
Would you feel comfortable advising some of the younger musicians, like the Sex Pistols? They obviously went wrong financially from your point of view.
It would be very easy; I'd know exactly what to tell them, having come through it, but there would be certain conditions. One is, find yourself an honest person to do that bit for you. Did you mean it on the level of, would I as an elder, feel like the kids would say, "Aw, piss off, you old fart, what do you know?" [Gambaccini nods.] Yeah, because I know that they've got to be just like what we were. So for that reason it isn't easy to approach people like that. I certainly thought of going to see Sid Vicious and trying to say something to him that would cool him out and make it all okay, 'cause i feel I can really understand people who get into things like that.
And then Sid Vicious dies, and what do you think?
Well, exactly. You don't know. You didn't know what to think before he died. I don't know [shrugs]. Lord Lucan is missing [a young British lord, who is suspected of murder and has disappeared.]
I was thinking this when you were talking about the Apple hassles. Do you have days now when you never once think of the Beatles?
Oh, yeah. Most days. When the Beatles broke up it was painful to talk about. It was just hard. So you found yourself thinking about it. Now, having come all this way, I can remember only the good stuff. I know one or two spicy stories and I have my bitch now and again, but generally I always did dig it; I always did think that what we were doing was great. Even when we broke up, I never thought like John did. Who knows why he thought that! John's pretty complex. He possibly didn't even mean it. All the stuff about how we were "bastards"... He brought out the worst side, as if to exorcise it. But I really didn't agree. It was pretty good, you know. But there are days when I don't think about it because I'm doing all sorts of other stuff.
Actually, it's fifteen years ago...
That "Can't Buy Me Love" was out! No!
Well that the Top Five in the States were all yours.
Oh, was it! Great! So what shall we do about that!
Well, I think that whenever that week comes along, you should just have a little toast.
You'll have to play them one by one [on the radio].
You must have taken so many plane rides. Do you feel safe flying? Have you ever had any close shaves?
Oh, yes, too many, but for me, flying has been sort of like a long story. It started off when me and Pete Best, who used to be the drummer with the Beatles in bygone ages, got deported from Hamburg, and the first time I'd flown was on that plane back.
We got deported because we'd been changing clubs. We used to play this place called the Indra, and we got an offer to work another club for higher pay. So we were going to move to this other club called the Top Ten. And we'd been stuck in the back of a cinema by our employer, a really dirty old place right next to a bog [toilet]. It was all concrete walls. No sort of paper on the walls -- really damp and everything. We used to sleep there in our leather jackets -- camp beds, two in a room.
Pretty punk, man! The jeans and leather jackets, next to the bog -- pretty New Wave at the time. Anyway, we always thought our employer had never done well by us. So I seem to remember that Pete Best had a contraceptive in his luggage, so when we were moving, just as a joke, we pinned it up and set it up in smoke, black mark about two feet long on this wall.
We packed up and went to the other club. As we were walking down the street, same evening, the German police pulled up [imitates a siren and the police voices saying, "Come on, step inside please, hello!]. And they slung us in the jail, and we were in there for about three or four hours with one of those little peepholes and we couldn't see anything, and we didn't know what we were in for. Eventually it transpired that this guy had said we tried to burn down his cinema. He was kidding; he should have known better. But I think it was basically because he was sore at us for leaving him. He tried to nail us for breaking our contracts. And the fellow from the other club came down with a bottle of scotch for the police -- or whatever, I don't really know -- and he eventually got us out and we went and played at the Top Ten.
So anyway, we got woken up one morning -- me and Pete. I think it was because we'd set the little fire, that's why. And the cops just said, "You come with us." And we got in the back of the car, went down to a place called the Rathaus, which is like some government building -- it means something in German. It doesn't mean rat house, it just felt like one. And they had these lifts with no fronts on them, you know, these a things like big boxes that keep coming at you. You just gotta jump on one. It was all a bit surreal. And we had to wait outside this passport office for hours and hours before he guy eventually said to come in. We tried our best to persuade him it was nothing, and he said, "Okay, fine, well, you go with these men." And that was the last we knew of it. We just headed out to the airport with these couple of coppers. And we were getting a bit -- "Oh, dear, this could be the concentration camps -- you never know, you know; it hasn't been that long.
I read an interview with Billy Joel in 'Melody Maker,' in which he said that he wouldn't know what to do if he met you because he admired you so much.
Yeah, I saw that, too. It's weird. I'd be the same. Dave Bowie came 'round when we studio down there called Replica, which is a replica of Abbey Road Studio Number Two. He came down, and we just had a laugh. I reminded him of the day when he brought round a demo to me when he was still Davy Jones. It was all just chat.
Whom could you meet now and feel a great deal of respect for?
You mean that I'd be tongue-tied with!
Probably Dylan. I'm exaggerating, really, because I do like him. There's no point going round and just not being able to say anything. But, you know, I don't want them to read this. People know enough of my insecurities and my weaknesses, and they blast me left, right and center with it. I don't want to give them any more.
You mentioned to me once, jokingly, that you remembers when the Bee Gees came in and applied for work, as it were, at Brian Epstein's while Robert Stigwood was there. Can you actually recall any of their earlier days?
One night in 1967 I turned up at Robert Stigwood's place, and he said, "What do you think of this record?" And he played some young songwriters that he was thinking of signing. It was a couple of their early songs. I liked them, and he said, "Oh, great,'cause I'm thinking of signing them." And that was really the start of them for me.
Your disco single, "Goodnight Tonight", has made a tremendous entry in the American charts. It's actually something that you recorded a while ago, isn't it?
Yes, about a year ago.
It seems to be out at the right moment because of the popularity of disco material, but had you foreseen this would be the right time?
No, I didn't plan the timing at all. We had a meeting and decided it would be nice to have a single while the TV show [Wings Over America, which aired March 16th, 1979] was out, because it had been something like seven months since we'd put a record out. "Goodnight Tonight" was going to be the B side and "Daytime Nightime Suffering" was going to be the A side. So we sat around years -- well, it seemed like years -- discussing it; you know, the normal soul-searching you go through. And we decided, "No, it isn't all right; we won't put it out." So we scrapped the whole thing. And about a week later, I played the record again. I thought, "That's crazy, we've made it; it's stupid, why not put it out! Just because people are going to pan it." I liked it, and other people had taken it home and played it to people at parties. So we decided to do it.
It's a bit of a shame, isn't it, if as an artist you are inhibited by what you feel people's reactions might be to something that is an expression of what you want to do?
Yes, but you can't help it; you've just got to put it out and hope for the best.
Obviously you've not a hungry artist in the sense that, "We've gotta maximize our profit, so lets put the hit single on the LP."
I think that's the record company's view, you know. It's understandable that kids who don't want to buy singles will be waiting for the album, and when it's not on the album, they might feel a little bit cheated.
Have you gotten some word from the company saying, "Please Paul..."?
Yes, the companies here and in America, worldwide, would like a single on the album. It makes more sense merchandising wise. But sometimes, I just have to remember that this isn't a record retail store I'm running; this is supposed to be some kind of art. And if it doesn't fit in, it doesn't fit in. They're not really strict on it. We've got a lot of artistic control, thank goodness. But I can see the wisdom of what they're asking. I remember Al Coury. We weren't gonna put "Helen Wheels" on the American Band on the Run , and he rang up and said, "I can give you quarter of a million more sales if you put it on." And I said, "We don't want it, we really don't want it." I was being kind of reticent, an in the end he persuaded me anyway. He said, "Just do it, just in America or something." I suppose he was right: 'Grease' and 'Saturday Night Fever' and the way they have been selling albums recently, having four hit singles and then making it all come out as an album. So you've gotta have an album with that many hits on it.
'Wings Greatest' didn't do very well in the States, and I think I know, why, but...
Why! Tell me.
Did it have something to do with the fact that it was your last album for Capitol? You're kind of a lame-duck artist for them, so they might as well promote somebody else whom they have a long-term contract with.
I see, well, yes. I suppose that's a possibility, but I really don't know the ins and outs of stuff like that. I'd really be up to my neck in it if I got involved in all those little side issues. I don't know, to tell you the truth. Lord Lucan is missing.
Do you feel any degree of panic that it wasn't a big album?
No, no. I don't really feel the need for everything to be incredible and great. I'd probably get quite annoyed if I had a big string of albums that didn't do it, but I'm more interested in the new thing. To me it was just a repackage. I'm not into Beatles repackages or anything myself because it seems like a second-class item to me.
Did you ever care when Capitol in the States would repackage the Beatles albums?
Yeah, I really didn't like it. The worst one, I think, was 'Help!'. We didn't have a very good communications system then; it was like ringing up the moon. When we brought 'Magical Mystery Tour' over, it was an EP, and they said, "We don't do EPs in America." We said, "You're gonna have to, because we made one. " He said, "No, no, you're gonna have to make it an LP because rack jobbers won't take it," and all that technical stuff. But the worst was when we did 'Help!'. We arranged for the album over in Britain not to include any film music by Ken Thorne, who did the incidental music In the score. But in America they put on bits and pieces of his music. We turned up in California one day, and we played 'Help!' and found all this funny music on it that we couldn't believe. So those things used to happen.
And we had covers and stuff that they'd veto. Like 'Yesterday and Today'. They wanted a repackage album, they wanted a cover, so we gave them a photo of butchers in white coats and babies -- not real-babies, but dolls and meat and stuff... It's a bit sick, isn't it! But yeah, it's a laugh. So we did it, and of course, Capitol said, "No way are we gonna do this." So we just sent them some more photos.
By the way, did you do 'Please Please Me' [the first British Beatles album] in one day?
I think it was probably done in a day or two. We never used to take much longer than a day. We did the first album in a day, fourteen hours, I think it was. "Please Please Me" was originally to be a slow song. It was more like Roy Orbison: "Come on . . . come on [he sings the words] please please..." Yeah, Roy Orbison stuff. And when we took it in, George Martin said, "Can we uptempo it a bit" And we said, "Are you crazy?" And we tried it through like that.
So many of the old song credits said "Lennon and McCartney" even when they were written by one of you. Did you ever wish or do you wish now that the McCartney ones had said McCartney and the Lennon ones had said Lennon?
No. Okay, rephrase that answer. Yes. Because you asked me if I ever think that. Yeah, I do, and not just out of a personal thing for me; I sometimes feel it for John, things getting called Lennon and McCartney, things like "Strawberry Fields," "Norwegian Wood," certain ones John wrote and I just helped a little bit. And there are certain ones that I wrote. There's probably only about, say, twenty that are really our own. On the rest there's quite a lot of collaboration. I suppose you do get a little bit niggled; you wish people knew that was mine. But, hell, how much credit do you want in a lifetime!
Do you ever hope that John records again? Do you think he should?
I hope that if he would like to record again, he will record again, but I hope that if he doesn't want to, he doesn't. This is something totally down to his own personal feeling. Whatever gets you through the night.
Do you happen to know what his personal feeling is? Because nobody else seems to.
Not particularly. I would imagine he's just getting on with his own life. He has a son by his previous marriage whom he didn't get to spend a lot of time with, and possibly be feels that having a new son by Yoko, with Yoko -- it sounds a bit like a racehorse, out of Yoko -- that he would want to spend time with his son and see him grow up. I suspect that's what he's doing. But I don't really want to go talking for him. I would imagine he's just getting on with his life and being cool, and I hope he's digging it.
Do you feel that you are maintaining a proper balance between your family life and your work?
What's proper? Proper would be, possibly, to be with them all the time because they are my kids and it's my family, so it would be really great just to be totally with them and give them any support they need. But I work. I come in to do music, and I'm not there all the time. But yeah, I do think I've a good balance, myself. It feels good, but if anything, I wouldn't mind being with them even more. I just like them.
It seems to me that you have an excellent working arrangement here at Abbey Road; maybe some people don't realize how close you are to home.
Well, actually, you don't, because I'm not living there now! Which is crazy: I've got a house right around the corner, but we live in the country, which is two hours away. So I drive in -- would you believe? Having a house around he corner and driving in every day, two hours. And that is mainly just because the family is Iiving there.
Do you drive yourself?
Yeah, I don't like to be driven. Except wild.
And this is down south?
So if you drive home, it takes two hours. How long do you spend in the studio?
A long time. I kind of just drive in, make music all day, drive back, go to sleep, get up, drive in, make music all day.
Linda's the cook of the house?
Yeah, she's great.
I remember her telling me that you and she had agreed that if things ever went wrong, there would be no big alimony settlement and everything.
Well, you know, it depends if you think that money would be a compensation for a breakup like that. I don't think it would be. I can't imagine her ever ringing up and saying, "Oh, by the way, I'm having half of the mantelpiece, and you can have the Volkswagen."
Have you ever talked to Al Coury about the RSO 'Sgt. Pepper'?
No, I haven't seen Al since he went to RSO. He used to be with Capitol, so I used to talk with him a lot then. Ah... he's very good, obviously he's gotta be good, he's sold a lot of records for people, he's what you want behind you. A sort of vital force. Yeah, yeah, sell, sell, sell...
Did you see the film?
No, I haven't seen it yet, so I can't talk about it. I thought at the time of Sgt. Pepper that they couldn't make a film of it. We used to be stoned all the time and talk about things like that and say, "Hey, what a great film this would make." But we used to say that the trouble is that people are all freaking out on acid with this album. You're never gonna be able to get those big elephants that are coming through their heads. And we just thought, you just can't capture it: Once it gets to be a film, it's always going to be a bit plodding compared to the album. Those days it was a fantasy thing; it all took place in your mind, and it would really be harder than anything to capture that feeling. And I think from what I've heard of the Stigwood thing, it doesn't seem to have captured it.
Did you have any particular image in mind?
No there were too many... I couldn't tell you... they were silly things: tigers leaping and herds of horses, you know, add good morning [he sings], good morning, good morning. Well, I mean, there's a hunt that comes through there and galloping horses come through, a fox and some hounds come through. I mean, in your mind, you see the band and you can see all the horses. Your mind is a great thing -- especially when you're hallucinating [laughter].
You mentioned the other day that Paul Simon had dropped and that he is interested in doing a lot of film work, which is one of the reasons he went to Warner Bro's. Do you have any desire to do more film work. Do you ever think, "My God, before my life is through, I want to have this done."
Yeah. We're doing a couple of film projects with the group. But there's one thing I haven't really got together yet. One of the big ambitions is to do a thing called Rupert. He's a white bear, a cartoon from a newspaper strip, and he's got a bunch of mates. He's very England in the Forties. We've recorded a demo album, and I've written a story. That, I suppose, is my big ambition before my life is over. I wouldn't mind making that into, like, a Disney film, only I'd even like to get it better. Yuk, yuk.
Of course, there will be somebody who says, "'Rupert the Bear' is not rock and roll. Why are you doing this?"
Oh, well. It doesn't matter, I'm not just rock and roll; I don't live my life by that kind of limitation, you know. I like stuff that isn't necessarily rock and roll.
I know you were thinking about doing a Christmas show last year and didn't. But of course in the Beatles days you did have a Christmas show. People in the States don't really know what a Christmas show is like in England and the kind of people you used to have on it.
It would be a residency thing for a couple of weeks at a big theater like Finsbury Park [now the Rainbow] or something. What Brian Epstein did was get a producer who was used to putting on shows like that. You know, it was more of a variety show in a way. But based on the groups and after Billy J. Kramer and the Fourmost, maybe Gerry [and the Pacemakers[. They didn't take too much out of you. And with the residency thing, you got this great feeling of going into the same place; it got very easy to do. We'd stand behind the big screen while they did an introduction on film. Then they'd turn it off and we'd appear, and everyone would go, "Yeahhhh!" And then we'd run off; there'd be a blackout and we'd run off. We did various things. Like old music-hall things, where we'd all dress up and John would be the wicked Sir Jasper. I'd be the hero and knock him out at the end. George would be the wanton woman who is saved from being tied on railway lines. It was all daft stuff, but it worked. It was just... the audience just wanted to see us; they didn't mind what we did. And we had a bit of a laugh with it.
Do you think rock has gotten too big to do anything like that?
No, it's just that the style has changed. I still 1 feel it would go down as well. But stars have changed. For instance, everyone used to go on all the plug shows. Anything that would have a song, we went on: local shows, network things, interviews here, people and places, regional news, you'd just go on anything. And that's something people don't do half as much these days. I think it maybe didn't please everyone, but the nice thing was that you had a very varied day.
How did you assemble your "Rockestra"?
A lot of people in music have been thinking about using a rock and roll lineup instead of an orchestra. So I wrote a tune, and finally I just asked the people who would like to be in a Rockestra. Keith Moon was going to turn up, but unfortunately he died a week before. So he couldn't make it. It's a bit sick, but he would have laughed along with all that stuff.
But Jeff Beck was gonna come. And Eric Clapton. And they actually didn't turn up. Beck was worried about what would happen if he didn't like the track. He wanted to be able to say, "Well, I don't like it so it can't go out." So there were a few of those little political things. So he just didn't turn up in the end. Eric didn't feel like it. There was some kind of reason; he had the flu or something. But he didn't come. Most of the people did turn up: Pete Townshend, Dave Gilmour, Lawrence Juber of our group and Denny Lame. And Hank Marvin. That was the guitar lineup. On drums we had Kenney Jones, John Bonham and Steve Holly [also of Wings]. And then on bass we had me and Bruce Thomas of the Attractions and Ronnie Lane. And then we had John Paul Jones, who did some bass and some piano. And then we had Gary Brooker, who played piano. We had Speedy Acquaye. We had Tony Carr and Ray Cooper on percussion. We had our brass section from the American tour. Linda played keyboards, and we had Tony Ashton, also on keyboards. Oh, and we had Morris Pert on percussion, and that is the full lineup, I think.
Where you happy with the turnout?
It was great, actually, 'cause we filmed it. You saw how we actually built the whole thing. So that's being put together at the moment as a film by Barry Chattington. It shows certain people in the music scene today trying to get together. For instance, Pete, of course, got roped into ending everything with one of his big jumps. So he got that.
Do you worry about your image?
I try not to these days, 'cause it's stupid to; I mean, we're all gonna be dead soon, so there's not an awful lot of point, you know. The main thing is to be able to enjoy it in some form or another. So worrying about your image and your reviews stops you from enjoying it. Takes away what there used to be in music, which is just trying to avoid doing the job and just getting out and doing it just for a laugh. So I'm all right, actually, recently... even... I don't know, just not even bothering if we get bad reviews and stuff. Which really used to; I used to go off in the corner and I'd go, 'My God, the critic is right; I'm terrible; he's got it; we're useless.' But then you'd go out and you'd play to somebody, you'd play live. You start to see critics being wrong, so generally everyone should be able to ignore them and just get on with the work that he does. Basically, I'm not too careful about image. If I were careful, I would try to avoid that "family man" and "he lives on a farm." 'Cause you know that kids and the farm are ammo, and they say, "Here's old family man Paulie, back with the sheep, what a yawn." I give them all the ammo with that. If I were really concerned with it, I'd live in London. And always be down in the clubs and always be buying them drinks and always be popping pills just to show them how hip I am. But you reach a point where it just doesn't work; you can't live for all of that. You reach a point where it all becomes real and you become all that. And if you don't like it, then you suddenly... wait a minute. So, I'm down trying not to bother with all that stuff now.
On this new album, which I haven't heard yet, have you been able to investigate?this sounds really corny, but -- new areas?
Slightly, yeah. You start off really wanting to do something very new, but eventually you come back to what is you. So it always gets an imprint of what is you, and you always do what you do. You know what I mean. The sort of magnetic forces, or whatever it is around you, make a certain mold, I think. I think you must listen to the music because I can't really talk about it. I think so many different things about it. So if anyone asks me what it is, I can't tell you. "It now is a ballad of the Sixties" [McCartney proclaims in a strong voice]. You know, until about after ten years, then, oh, yes, it was a ballad of the Sixties.
Do you have any particular current favorites?
In records just knocking around, I like "The Logical Song" [by Supertramp]; I like a few of the young bands, a few of the British ones -- it wouldn't mean that much in America -- I like Squeeze, Jam and a few people. I'm not into it but I like some of the good stuff that's going on. I like some of Elvis Costello's stuff; I like a lot of that stuff anyway -- the newer stuff. And I still think Stevie Wonder is amazing. I like Elvis Presley a lot. I like the Gene Chandler record. I like "Lord Lucan Is Missing." Who does that one, do you know? [Peter and the Test Tube Babies.] John Peel keeps playing it, has played it a few times.
You met a couple of the Boomtown Rats, I hear.
Yeah, They're great, because they're exactly what we were; they are doing the same thing we were doing. And it's crazy that anyone should ever forget that. They're all lads just let off the leash from school or college or home, and they are just having a ball. Some of the music is really good; I really like some of the directions because it's brought a lot of rock back into rock. A lot of what it was all about back into it. But so is the revival of the Fifties stuff. It's all brought back a kind of feel that was missing for a while there or was underplayed.
Did the Beatles ever get bad reviews?
Yeah, sure we did, sure. I remember before 'Sgt. Pepper,' we were coming in for a lot of flak. People were saying. "The Beatles are finished: they're rubbish." Because we weren't doing anything, we were just hiding away in the studios, out of our skulls making this album -- we were having a great time. And then it came out and they changed their tune and they said, "They're all right, they are okay."
Did you ever personally feel part of the "Merseybeat" movement?
No, that was just something the journalists called us. We just laughed about it. God, what did they call us: the Merseybeats, the Mop Tops, the Fab Four. God. Couldn't they think of anything better? It just used to be a joke, all that stuff. We never used to take it seriously. But the Merseybeat was quite a good little paper. The most fun we used to have out of it. And then we won a poll. They had a poll for who was the best group, and that was a tense moment because we thought Gerry and the Pacemakers were definitely gonna take it off of us. So we bought a few copies and filled them in.
Did you really?
Yeah, of course, doesn't everyone?
I'm sure Gerry bought just as many copies as we did.
Have you ever wondered why someone like him hasn't really survived in terms of the charts?
Not really. I mean, Gerry's thing was great, he was very good, but he didn't have as natural of a thing going as we did. We had at least two writers, and George turned out to be a writer, and even Ringo. So we potentially had four writers, and they had just Gerry, who wasn't as prolific as John and I. He wrote a couple that were good, but he had to rely mainly on other writers for his big hits. We were very keen on getting our own stuff in. Because... we sort of arrived at the end of an era; most of the groups around about then were just doing impressions of Roy Orbison or the Shadows or Cliff Richard. And we liked Bo Diddley more and Chuck Berry and things like that. So we'd do stuff that was slightly more obscure. "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody," by James Ray. And we'd do covers of those kinds of things. And we were writing a couple of not very good tunes. We had one we used to do called "Like Dreamers Do," which was pretty bad. But it used to go down quite well, so we latched onto this idea -- it gave us a special identity. Because you wouldn't hear these songs anywhere else, just when you came to see us. So it started to work, so we went a bit more in that direction of trying to get our own thing going rather than have it laid on us by a producer. So George wasn't too happy in the beg inning, and "Love Me Do," wasn't a very big hit, but it was our first one. The second one was a Number One. So it worked out.
Gerry did have three Number Ones in a row with his first three records. Were you ever afraid that they might beat you to the brass ring?
Oh, yeah. And Dave Clark was the other big threat. There were a couple of moments when we were worried, but our philosophy then was that something would happen.
Since so few British artists had made the American charts in a big way, did you think that you might do it, or any of those groups might do it?
We thought of this; we said, 'We're only going to America." It was a bit of a big statement, but we did decide among ourselves that we'd only go to America if we had a Number One. We'd walk in a bit cocky. We were playing in Paris when the news came through -- telegram -- "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was Number One in the States. Wow! So we were able to go to the States without begging.
When we arrived, there was this big thing at the airport, all the millions of DJs; it was on all the stations, and we'd arrived. So it worked out. It was a great way to do it. And then there was a terrifying interview. I never used to think I was good at press conferences because I'm one of those people who -- I don't think I'm good at it; I'm probably all right. But John was always much better with a snappy remark. Then, Ringo was good at that, too. It turned out we all managed to get a quick remark in there, and we did well at that press conference. And because we were just so keen on America and R&B and all the great New York stations, we used to just ring them up all the time. "Hello Murray... Yeah, why don't you come around and interview us?" We were in it totally; it was magic for us; we'd just arrived in America, Land of promise. We had a great time with it all -- meeting the Ronettes and Phil Spector and people like that. What more could you ask?
Last question for today. You've had many chances to leave England, and yet you choose to remain here. Is there a reason, other than that it's your home, why you enjoy living here?
No, there isn't any other reason; I just live here. There are all sorts of reasons, really. I've been a lot of places on tours and I enjoy them all for visits, but after a while I don't feel at home. England's not the greatest of places all the time. But I don't want money to dictate where and how I live. I live here and try to pay the taxes and avoid as much as possible going to buy guns and sandbags and vaguely try and keep it all straight and be reasonable about it all.