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Back Tracks: Paul McCartney

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Every now and then a catalogue-oriented story breaks into the mainstream. This week, we’ve had one of those moments: Paul McCartney is moving his back catalogue distribution to Concord Music Group from increasingly beleaguered EMI. Reissues will commence in August with a new pressing of Band on the Run, his high watermark with former band Wings.

Of course, for someone of McCartney’s caliber, this is not the first time his albums have been reissued. EMI did a massive remastering of 16 McCartney/Wings albums in 1993; while almost all of them were armed with rare or unreleased tracks, they were often taken to task for their anemic mastering. But in the four months until a third reissue of Band on the Run hits stores, why not venture through Back Tracks and find out what previous McCartney reissues and other catalogue titles have looked like?

Read on after the jump.

McCartney (Apple, 1970 – reissued EMI, 1993)

Completed just a month before The Beatles finally dissolved during the post-production of Let It Be, Paul’s first LP consisted partially of Beatles leftovers (“Junk,” “Teddy Boy”) but had at least one classic in its midst: the unforgettable love song “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Its reissue included no bonus tracks (possibly because there were no singles anyway). Future reissues, however, could benefit from reproducing something in the packaging: the original press sheet given with promo copies of the album, in which McCartney provided track-by-track annotations and some answers to the many Fab Four-oriented questions spinning about him at the time.

Paul and Linda McCartney – Ram (Apple, 1971 – reissued EMI, 1993)

This more spirited, experimental album was quite stronger than its predecessor, and it gave Paul a quick U.S. chart-topper with “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” a left-field collage recalling The Beatles’ more experimental leanings. The reissue included a standalone single, “Another Day,” and its B-side “Oh Woman, Oh Why.” (Still unreleased on CD is a dedicated mono mix of the album – just when you thought it was safe to keep a Beatle away from mono…!)

Wings – Wild Life (Apple, 1971 – reissued EMI, 1993)

Though Wings’ first record wasn’t a hit to all – Rolling Stone famously speculated it was “deliberately second-rate” – it was clear that McCartney felt at home in a band setting. Paul and Linda, Danny Seiwell (drummer for Ram) and ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine were a pretty well-oiled outfit, crafting a debut relatively quickly (and some non-LP tracks to boot, including singles “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” released as bonus tracks on the reissue along with “Lamb” B-side “Little Woman Love” and outtake “Mama’s Little Girl”).

Wings – Red Rose Speedway (Apple, 1973 – reissued EMI, 1993)

With the addition of guitarist Henry McCullough and a lengthy tour to hone their chops, Wings’ sophomore record was a bit better put together, with the Top 5 hit “My Love” leading the charge. Like the last album (and most of The Beatles’ LPs for that matter), the singles were standalone cuts and only added to CD later on (in this case, non-album single sides “Hi Hi Hi” and “C Moon,” a live cut of “The Mess” which backed the “My Love” single and “I Lie Around,” the B-side to Wings’ smash “Live and Let Die”).

Wings – Band on the Run (Apple, 1973 – reissued EMI, 1993/1999)

Band on the Run, on paper, could have been a flop: recorded in a less-than-state-of-the-art studio in Nigeria after two-thirds of the band quit (McCullough and Seiwell) and released to great reviews but little commercial movement. Then “Jet” took off (bad pun), people sat up and took notice and the rest is history. The record may be as close to perfection as any of The Beatles got after breaking up. Reissued in 1993 with non-album single “Helen Wheels” (actually a part of the U.S. track list) and B-side “Country Dreamer,” the second disc of the 25th anniversary remaster was a cheeky assortment of live cuts, alternate takes and interviews with key personnel from the recording of the album.

Wings – Venus and Mars (Capitol, 1975 – reissued EMI, 1993/2007 (digital))

Recorded in New Orleans with a more experimental style in mind (again recalling the Abbey Road song cycle) and a newly expanded lineup (guitarist Jimmy McCullough and two drummers – first Geoff Britton and then Joe English), Venus and Mars gave Wings another big hit with “Listen to What the Man Said.” The extra tracks on the reissue were all outtakes later released as B-sides (including “Lunch Box/Odd Sox,” the flip side of “Coming Up” in 1980, and “My Carnival,” which backed “Spies Like Us”). The iTunes version of the album includes another remix of “My Carnival” only available on the “Spies” 12” and mixed by The Art of Noise’s Gary Langan.

Wings – Wings at the Speed of Sound (Capitol, 1976 – reissued EMI, 1993)

Recorded quickly in between touring, the best-known songs off Speed of Sound can come off as McCartney parodies. This is a problem since only one of those tunes, “Silly Love Songs,” is meant to evoke such feelings. But “Let ‘Em In”? It’s no “Hey Jude.” It’s barely a “Rocky Raccoon.” Bonus tracks included a pre-Venus and Mars single credited to “The Country Hams” and a post-Band on the Run B-side “Sally G” (but not its A-side, the non-LP cut “Junior’s Farm”).

Wings – London Town (Capitol, 1978 – reissued EMI, 1993)

Wings were a trio again (Paul and Linda with Denny Laine) by the end of the London Town sessions, and the record was a bit of a disappointment, especially in light of the excellent Wings Over America live album from the year before. But none of that particularly mattered once non-LP single “Mull of Kintyre” became the best-selling single of all time in Britain. (It’s included here along with its B-side, “Girls School.”)

Wings – Wings Greatest (Capitol, 1978 – reissued EMI, 1993)

The 1993 remaster of the first McCartney compilation had no bonus tracks, but it was the place to find non-LP A-sides “Junior’s Farm” and “Live and Let Die.”

Wings – Back to the Egg (Columbia, 1979 – reissued EMI, 1993/2007)

The last Wings album (and McCartney’s first for Columbia in the U.S.) is a halfway-decent, back-to-basics affair with producer Chris Thomas at the helm. Perhaps best-known for two tracks backed by a “Rockestra” that included John Paul Jones, John Bonham, David Gilmour and Pete Townshend in its ranks, Back to the Egg would nonetheless become a finale for the band after McCartney’s output was marred by a pot bust in Japan at the start of 1980 and the death of John Lennon at the end of the same year. The remaster included a non-LP B-side, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” and two of the amazingly worst solo McCartney tracks ever, the holiday single “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae.” (Non-LP single “Goodnight Tonight,” included on the remaster of McCartney II, was included in its 12” remix on the iTunes edition of the record.)

McCartney II (Columbia, 1980 – reissued EMI, 1993)

Recorded before Wings became a was, the experimental, synth-laden McCartney II was another lesser entry into Paul’s solo catalogue, despite a catchy, underrated single, “Coming Up” (which got a much better reception as Wings’ last, live single). Two further experimental B-sides and the Wings single “Goodnight Tonight” rounded out the bonus tracks on the remaster.

Tug of War (Columbia, 1982 – reissued EMI, 1993/2007)

After the commercial stiffing of McCartney II, Paul found new vigor in what was to be another Wings recording session with Sir George Martin at the helm. Then John Lennon was shot, and McCartney put the work on hold. Although he’d officially disband Wings midway through 1981, he revisited the sessions with a bevy of guests, including Ringo Starr, Carl Perkins and Stevie Wonder, whose duet with Macca, “Ebony and Ivory,” was a smash hit reflecting the general return to form for Paul. Amazingly, the 1993 remaster included no B-sides or bonus tracks, but the iTunes reissue had one bonus cut: Paul’s solo B-side version of “Ebony and Ivory.”

Pipes of Peace (Columbia, 1983 – reissued EMI, 1993)

So prolific were the Tug of War sessions that they built another LP. It wasn’t as well-received as its predecessor but it was bolstered by a few new tracks recorded with Michael Jackson, who’d enjoyed a collaboration with Paul on his little art-house project, Thriller. “Say Say Say” was a big hit for the pair of them (and admittedly a little better than “The Girl is Mine,” probably Thriller’s weakest cut). The bonus cuts were some odds and ends from around the mid-‘80s, including “We All Stand Together,” McCartney’s cutesy theme for animated project Rupert and the Frog Song.

Give My Regards to Broad Street (Columbia, 1984 – reissued EMI, 1993)

Possibly the weirdest record in McCartney’s proper solo discography, Broad Street is the soundtrack to an eponymous film that plays like a tired A Hard Day’s Night. The album itself doesn’t fare much better, consisting mostly of re-recorded versions of Beatles, Wings and solo cuts. There was a pretty decent single, though, “No More Lonely Nights,” presented in several iterations on the LP and included further on the remaster through two single-only mixes.

Press to Play (Capitol, 1985 – reissued EMI, 1993/2007)

Considered by no less an authority than McCartney himself to be his weakest LP, Press to Play was one of those unfortunate times where a veteran of the industry allies with the producers of the moment (even good ones like Phil Ramone and Hugh Padgham). The 1993 remaster was backed by two well-known extras: the theme to the comedy Spies Like Us and “Once Upon a Long Ago,” a new track on the U.K. pressing of McCartney’s All the Best! compilation in 1987. (The iTunes release added a dub of lead single “Press.”)

Flowers in the Dirt (Capitol, 1989 – reissued EMI, 1993/2007)

After the failure of Press to Play and a low-key Soviet-only release, Снова в СССР (Cyrillic for “Back in the U.S.S.R.” – quietly released worldwide in 1991), McCartney found another stellar collaborator who greatly benefitted the bulk of Flowers in the Dirt: Elvis Costello, recently separated from The Attractions and working on a new record. (McCartney likewise collaborated on that album, too, and Spike yielded one of Costello’s most enduring tunes, “Veronica,” naturally co-written with Paul.) This last remaster in EMI’s original series included a trio of B-sides, and a remix of “This One” was added when the album came out on iTunes.

Unplugged: The Official Bootleg (Capitol, 1991)

Not exactly a catalogue title per se, but it should be noted that this was the first commercially-released recording from MTV’s influential Unplugged series. It’s pretty good, too, with Paul reaching back to his early solo period and adding tracks from McCartney as well as some Beatles tunes he’d never played live prior.

Off the Ground (Capitol, 1993 – reissued EMI, 2007)

This looser follow-up to Flowers in the Dirt doesn’t strike as hard as its predecessor, but it did have its share of catalogue material; Japanese pressings include a 12-track bonus disc. One of those tracks, “I Can’t Imagine,” ended up on the iTunes release in 2007.

Run Devil Run (Capitol, 1999 – reissued EMI, 2007)

This mostly-‘50s-covers record followed a series of successes (The Beatles’ Anthology project and McCartney’s excellent Flaming Pie in 1997) and a massive creative loss (the death of Linda McCartney in 1998). Another cover, of Charlie Gracie’s “Fabulous,” was added on iTunes when the catalogue became available.

Wingspan: Hits and History (EMI, 2001)

This double-disc McCartney anthology, which was accompanied by a major advertising push and a documentary on network television, compiled McCartney’s best singles and album cuts from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. It also has a few vault cuts, too, including Wings’ live version of “Coming Up” from the McCartney II era (previously unreleased on CD) and an unheard outtake, “Bip Bop/Hey Diddle,” from the Ram sessions.

Driving Rain (Capitol, 2002 – reissued EMI, 2007)

Inspired by his new relationship with Heather Mills and doing John Lennon’s legacy proud with the post-9/11 anthem “Freedom,” this LP was surprisingly not too commercial. iTunes added another remix of second single “From a Lover to a Friend” when releasing it digitally.

Back in the U.S.ack in the World (Capitol/EMI, 2002/2003)

Collectors might want to be mindful of this double live album chronicling the Driving Rain tour – it was released in two packages. The domestic version (also released in Japan) came first, with a European edition dropping two tracks (“Vanilla Sky” and “Freedom”), adding four more (“Calico Skies,” “Michelle,” “She’s Leaving Home” and “Let ‘Em In”) and presenting a different version of “Hey Jude.” Both have the same effect, though.

Amoeba’s Secret (Hear Music, 2007/2009)

Here’s a neat little obscurity – a four-track live EP recorded at L.A.’s famed Amoeba Music record store. Initially pressed to vinyl, it was later released on CD and digital formats and managed to hit No. 119 on the Billboard 200 – not bad for such a small release, but then again, what else would you expect from a Beatle?

Written by Mike Duquette

April 23, 2010 at 16:55

6 Responses

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  1. Hey Mike,
    You forgot to mention one Paul McCartney CD; “Flaming Pie” from 1997. Inspired by the then recent release of The Beatles “Anthology” series, he decided to make an album very quickly. For me, it’s one of his better latter day albums.

    Eddie Scott

    April 24, 2010 at 09:12

  2. You also forgot:
    “Wings Over America”,”Tripping The Live Fantastic”,”Paul Is Live”,”All The Best” and “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard” as well as “Flaming Pie”

    David Lock

    May 1, 2010 at 22:37

    • The only reason I glossed over those is because they never really got their own re-releases at the time. Not to disparage any of them, though (especially “Flaming Pie”).

      Mike Duquette

      May 1, 2010 at 23:24

  3. Why does Press To Play get such a bad press? Like the McCartney II it’s a sign of McCartney’s enduring lust for renewal and experimentation, but where McCartney II starts strong and then loses some focus on side two, Press To Play gets stronger on side two, with tracks like Pretty Little Heasd, Move Over Busker, Angry and However Absurd. But side one isn’t bad either: Strangle Hold, Good Times Coming and Footprints are good songs, there are weaker moments though: The title track has too much drumcomputer, as does Talk More Talk. Feel The Sun was a mistake. Disastrous -if you ask me- are the bonustracks, most notably Spies Like Us and It’s Not True
    But overall I think it’s an important album because it was McCartney last attempt to keep up with the spirit of the age. After Press he picked up his Hofner again and teamed up with Costello, Mitchel Froom and Robbie McIntosh for an updated 60s-sound. Ofcourse he wasn’t alone in this: It was the same year as Lenny Kravitz’s debutalbum and the same year The Who and the Stones came back to the international stages. It was basically when the retro movement began, so in retrospect, McCartney was completely in line with fashion and yes it gave us some great music, but it took McCartney until “Rushes” (The Fireman) to get reacquainted with his more experimental side.

    Xavier Baudet

    July 27, 2010 at 03:49

  4. Great sum-up as usual, Mike. Unless I overlooked something, what’s not clear is that those 1993 reissues were only available as (pricey) imports in the US; the late ’80s Capitol CDs have always been the norm here.

    Many years ago, before CDs existed, I imagined a potential McCartney collection called “Besides”, which would collect all the singles in order, from “Oh Woman Oh Why” on, leaving out any A-side that had already made it onto an LP (“Wings Greatest” took care of several of those). I still wouldn’t past him to put out something like that alongside expanded CDs.


    August 1, 2010 at 07:47

  5. I’m curious which of the more recent remasters (1999 Band on the Run, 2007 iTunes release of Venus and Mars, for example) actually involved improvements to the sound quality of the original issues.

    I’m hoping to avoid the “anemic mastering” of the 1993 reissues without having to wait for yet-to-be-released recordings from Concord. I’ve read a few good things about the 1999 remastering of BOTR, but not much on other McCartney / Wings CDs. Thanks for the info.


    April 19, 2011 at 18:57

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