The Paul McCartney What-Could’ve-Beens…

Any great, prolific musician comes with a history of what-could’ve-beens, alternate albums, songs that haven’t seen the light of day, and so on…

I talked extensively about The Beach Boys’ unreleased albums and alternate versions of finished albums. There’s so much you can say about The Beatles’ unreleased material, but I think Paul McCartney’s solo stuff has a treasure trove that’s overlooked. McCartney had plenty of unreleased material sitting around as far back as the beginning of his career as a reborn musician, and a lot of the time, he would dig out material from the vaults and put them on future albums if they didn’t make the cut the first time. Not dissimilar to The Beach Boys’ 70s methods at all!

The Beatles often made the right call when it came to sequencing their albums. For instance, Please Please Me was set to have a song on it called ‘Hold Me Tight’. It was left off, and finished for their second album With The Beatles… But ‘Hold Me Tight’ is often regarded as one of the lesser Beatles songs, and I admit it’s one I don’t often listen to. Not a bad song by means, there is a catchy beat to it, but it’s just “there”. It leaves little, unlike a better track on the album like ‘All My Loving’ and ‘Not a Second Time’. Can’t really complain though, for With The Beatles was what it was: The group’s second album after the surprise smash of Please Please Me. The decision to leave ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’ off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, some 4 years later, was both an excellent and an iffy decision: On the one hand, that album lost two PERFECT songs, but on the other hand the album is fantastic without them and the pair of songs made for one of the greatest singles ever…

One time they made the rare wrong call was when they were putting together Beatles for Sale. Beatles for Sale is often called a subpar Beatles album, though contrarian me actually finds it to be a better overall album than its regarded-as-superior predecessor A Hard Day’s Night. Yes, throw the stones, I think A Hard Day’s Night loses a little momentum once we get halfway through the songs that weren’t record for the film of the same name! Whereas with Beatles for Sale, the few gaffes only stall its momentum from time to time.

Beatles for Sale contains a track that few fans like, and it’s perhaps a big reason why the album is mostly downed: A cover of the Roy Lee Johnson song ‘Mr. Moonlight’. Like ‘Hold Me Tight’, I think it’s just a “nothing” song. Not badly played or anything, just… There. It leaves little other than John’s opening scream and the organ solo. Sitting on the cutting room was a far better song, a cover of the Little Willie John song ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’. This track had rocking energy and killer vocals… It would’ve fit in perfectly with the likes of ‘Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!’ and ‘Rock and Roll Music’.

Paul, more often than not, tended to make some questionable decisions when it came to sequencing his albums.

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Paul McCartney’s new life in music kicked off with the spring 1970 release of McCartney. Chided for not being the next big thing, or for being way too stripped down for its own good, the album was a striking work of minimalism not dissimilar to the lo-fi quirkiness of The Beach Boys’ first three post-SMiLE albums, particularly Friends. Most of McCartney’s solo work was fair game to the rock journalists back then, as it seemed like they had sided with John Lennon following the break-up. Silly, nonsensical politics that blinded them to great music. McCartney feels like the work of a man who has left fame, the city, the pedestal… And has found joy in his quite, newfound life in the countryside.

McCartney was conceived and recorded when The Beatles’ slow and bitter end was occurring. John had left the band by the time Abbey Road hit the racks, and not too long afterwards, Paul found himself depressed in his Scottish farmhouse, often drunk, not even getting out of bed, and causing a great deal of trouble for his significant other. Coincidentally, this period where he was kind of dead inside was when Americans were beginning to think he actually died thanks to certain somebodies running wild with some really kooky conspiracy theories. It was a strong-willed Linda McCartney that got Paul back on his feet, and by December, recording had commenced on the solo album.

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A good chunk of the album was homemade, with Paul playing every instrument. The only other person to contribute was Linda, and her contribution was minuscule: A few vocals! There were various little odds and ends recorded during this period, but McCartney is deliberately unfinished and raw. The real fun begins with his second solo album…

Paul took the reviews into consideration. The takeaway was that McCartney was too underproduced and lacking, so he decided to make his second album a more produced effort, something in line with The Beatles’ high points. This LP, however, was thematically similar to its predecessor. Sessions for Ram began in late 1970 in a New York-based studio. Paul now had a group of musicians with him, such as guitarists Dave Spinozza and Hugh McCracken, and drummer Denny Seiwell. The album would be billed as a “Paul and Linda McCartney” release.

By early 1971, a ton of songs had been recorded. Paul was highly productive during these sessions, perhaps the post-break depression was finally out the door. The handful of recordings for an aborted special based on Rupert the Bear only fattened up the selection. Keeping the Beatle tradition alive, Paul issued two songs on a single, the A-side handpicked by engineer Dixon van Winkle. They were not intended to appear on the finished album: The melancholic ‘Another Day’, and the bumping blues of ‘Oh Woman, Oh Why’. It was a Top 10 smash all around the world, and Paul’s first single.

Ram is regarded as one of the greatest solo Beatle records, though how people talk about it today is a country mile from how it was received in 1971. It was trashed, made out to be a massive pile of garbage. John didn’t like it, Ringo felt it was the worst thing Paul had put out at that point and stated he was very concerned about his former colleague. Nearly every magazine and publication gave it a blisteringly negative review. Time was on Ram‘s side, for it’s now (rightfully) called a masterpiece. This reappraisal of the spinner occurred by the beginning of the 1980s, flowered in the 1990s, and exploded not too long ago when it was re-issued as a part of the Paul McCartney Collection.

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Unlike a lot of Paul’s 1970s albums, Ram is *perfectly* sequenced with no dull moment. Everyone involved made all the right choices, and that’s saying a lot because the songs left off of the album are pretty strong too! Perhaps Ram could’ve been an epic double album with all of these rejected songs, but it was an anti-White Album. It was a single album, and it was perfect as a single album. The right call was made.

Many of these songs found another life.

‘Dear Friend’, a lengthy and direct song to Lennon, appeared on Wild Life in late 1971. A rollicking piano-driven popper called ‘Little Woman Love’ was the B-side of the ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ single in 1972. 1973’s Red Rose Speedway utilized the eclectic and groovy ‘Get On the Right Thing’ and the sorrow, beautiful ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’. Mid-1973 B-side ‘I Lie Around’, recorded for Red Rose Speedway, apparently had its roots in the Ram sessions as well. A snippet of ‘Big Barn Bed’, Red Rose Speedway‘s opening track, can actually be heard towards the end of Ram!

Ram was an early addition to the current McCartney re-issue campaign. This deluxe version of Ram was released in 2012, and contained the single, ‘Little Woman Love’, and previously unreleased tracks that appeared on countless bootlegs over the years.

‘A Love for You’ had several different mixes over the years, but the one used here – the John Kelly mix – was apparently put together in the mid-1980s. Was it for the third and final iteration of the cancelled Cold Cuts compilation? Either way, ‘A Love for You’ is one of the best of the outtakes, and saw an official release in 2003 in a film called The In-Laws. The mix bucks and stomps, certainly not short on energy, and certainly punchier than the other mixes made for this recording.

‘Hey Diddle’ sounds like something Paul happily played on a lazy sunny day on his farm, perhaps to his kids. It might sound a bit trivial at first, but Paul and Linda’s duet here is just something else. Linda’s singing is often called a weakness of the Paul records, but here? It’s beautiful, don’t care what anyone says. ‘The Great Cock and Seagull Race’ has an interesting history, it started out as this very straightforward, retro-sounding blues jam that was heavy on the piano. Around December 1971, Paul was going to release this. A few new mixes of the song had been prepared by this time, one of which Paul played during an interview with WCBS in New York City. That particular mix added the sound of seagulls and a rooster crowing at the beginning, and the song isn’t cut short like Dixon von Winkle’s Ram-era mix. It goes on and on here. The other (less common mix that appeared on one of the Oobu Joobu bootlegs) is similarly lengthy, but doesn’t have the sound effects.

What this was going to be the B-side to, I don’t quite know. Paul had various plans when it came to Wild Life‘s single, some sources say he was going to release a truncated version of ‘Some People Never Know’, or ‘Love Is Strange’. No single happened because of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in January 1972, which lead to Paul recording and releasing ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ instead. That single’s B-side was an instrumental version of the A-side.

‘Rode All Night’ goes up to the 8 1/2 minute mark, and it’s never tiresome. Roger Daltry would later do it as ‘Giddy’. A good “out all night on the road” rocker, I guess a cut-down version wouldn’t have really stood well next to the other tracks. ‘Sunshine Sometime’ was intended for Rupert, with a serene melody. The Ram re-issue version is the “Earliest Mix”, no vocals. Paul and Wings would add vocals sometime in 1978, that version’s very pretty as well.

You can almost make Ram II out of these tracks and a few others. It’s something he arguably should’ve done, but right after Ram was released, Paul decided to form a new band… Wings. In addition to Paul, Linda, and ex-Moody Blue Denny Laine, the line-up at the time included Ram drummer Denny Seiwell.

Wings’ first album was Wild Life. Paul decided to have the album recorded in about a week or so, after recently hearing that Bob Dylan had done the same. The decision has remained rather divisive for fans, and it predictably rankled critics back in the day. Wild Life was badly received, and sadly didn’t cut it in sales. Barely denting the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic, Wild Life disappeared. Without a single to promote it, it probably had little to no presence. Wild Life is eight tracks too short, and many of the tracks suffer from being too long. Fans are split on it. It’s either cutesy rubbish, or a fun minimalist work (like McCartney) with some hidden brilliance within. I’m more towards the latter camp myself, but I feel the LP would’ve been a whole lot stronger if it had a few Ram leftovers to fill the gaps, and if some songs (title track, I’m looking at you) were shortened.

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Paul wanted to have his new band start from scratch, rather go for the tricks and high life. A fifth musician was added to the line-up, the late Henry McCullough, of Spooky Tooth and Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. Their first tour was impromptu stops at British universities, sometimes they’d show up announced! ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ appeared in February 1972, attracted controversy, and was banned by the BBC. They then went back to London, into a studio or two, and began work on the next album. Something that would be a little more serious, a little more produced, and something that would be bigger than the last. A more recent recording of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ was issued as a single in May, perhaps Paul’s attempt at being ironic. (That of course had the aforementioned ‘Little Woman Love’ on the B-side.)

The sessions for the new album halted when Wings embarked on their first major tour, but it wasn’t a British tour. Or an American one. Paul opted to hit the road and travel continental Europe. From June to August, the five-piece band played selections from the previous albums, covers of classics (like ‘Cottonfields’, probably because The Beach Boys recently scored a huge hit with their version in Europe), and also gave listeners a taste of what was going to be on the next album. When said album was nearing completion, the plan was to make it a double album that would include at least one live recording. During this time, the band recorded the theme song for the then-upcoming James Bond film Live and Let Die. Paul issued the rocker ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ (also banned by the BBC for its lyrics) and the reggae pastiche ‘C Moon’ as a single at the end of 1972.

The first acetate of the next album, titled Red Rose Speedway, was compiled around December… The track listing looked like this:

  1. ‘Country Dreamer’
  2. ‘Night Out’
  3. ‘One More Kiss’
  4. ‘Jazz Street’
  5. ‘Big Barn Bed’
  6. ‘My Love’
  7. ‘When The Night’
  8. ‘Single Pigeon’
  9. ‘Tragedy’
  10. ‘Mama’s Little Girl’
  11. ‘Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)’
  12. ‘I Would Only Smile’
  13. ‘I Lie Around’
  14. ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’
  15. ‘Get on the Right Thing’
  16. ‘1882’
  17. ‘The Mess’

The Red Rose Speedway sessions were very democratic. The two Dennys and Henry had some say. This track list, for the most part, represents that approach well. Henry had only written one song for this album, and was – to my knowledge – only played live, an improvised, ongoing blues number. Consequently, it does not appear here or on the second acetate.

Diverse the song selection may be, the sequencing is all kinds of weird, almost White Album-esque! The two pieces that would not make it to the second acetate were unsurprisingly the longest, a gargantuan live take on Paul’s period piece narrative ‘1882’ and the noodling, not-all-that-jazzy ‘Jazz Street’. ‘1882’ is actually a big favorite of mine, and it boggles my mind that Paul never released this song in any form, or played it live ever again. Dating back to around 1970, a home demo of it has popped up on bootlegs. I have yet to hear the supposedly great 3-minute studio version recorded in 1972. (Whatever that 3-minute thing is on YouTube, I hear it’s not the real deal.)

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This leads me to bring up the possible re-issue. The Paul McCartney Archive Collection hasn’t gone in chronological order, and six years in, we still haven’t gotten an expanded Red Rose Speedway. Last year’s releases were Tug of War and Pipes of Peace, this year it’s Flowers in the Dirt. 2018 would be right, because Red Rose Speedway will turn 45 by that time, but Paul might go for a safer choice like London Town (released in 1978, so 40th Anniversary) or Off the Ground. It seems like Paul doesn’t have fond memories of this album or its sessions. In various interviews, he kind of wrote it off.

Anyways, ‘1882’ in its live form is more of a straightforward rock jam, but its story of a poor boy stealing bread and being put on death row is quite impressive. Perhaps the studio version makes it sound more like a late Victorian era piece. ‘Jazz Street’ isn’t bad, and it does have some nice melodies, but it’s mostly just eight minutes of… There. Nothingness.

Acetate deux was compiled, I think, in very early 1973…

  1. ‘Night Out’
  2. ‘Get On The Right Thing’
  3. ‘Country Dreamer’
  4. ‘Big Barn Bed’
  5. ‘My Love’
  6. ‘Single Pigeon’
  7. ‘When The Night’
  8. ‘Seaside Woman’
  9. ‘I Lie Around’
  10. ‘The Mess’
  11. ‘Best Friend’
  12. ‘Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)’
  13. ‘Medley’
    1. ‘Hold Me Tight’
    2. ‘Lazy Dynamite’
    3. ‘Hands of Love’
    4. ‘Power Cut’
  14. ‘Mama’s Little Girl’
  15. ‘I Would Only Smile’
  16. ‘One More Kiss’
  17. ‘Tragedy’
  18. ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’

As you can see, some tracks surface here that weren’t on the first acetate. The sequencing is a little more cohesive, too. ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ are perfect back-to-back, both being very tender and heartbreaking songs. ‘I Would Only Smile’ and ‘One More Kiss’ are country-tinged, so they go perfectly together as well. Other parts are perhaps a little less consistent, but Red Rose Speedway‘s sessions produced a real grab-bag here.

On the surface, Red Rose Speedway‘s sessions seem like a mere collection of muzak ditties, but really, Paul threw things against the wall. There’s faux-jazz (‘Jazz Street’), faux-reggae (B-side ‘C Moon’, ‘Seaside Woman’), country (‘Country Dreamer’, One More Kiss’), folk (‘Mama’s Little Girl’), chugging rock (‘Night Out’, ‘The Mess’), and even space rock! (The divisive ‘Loup’)

‘Night Out’, as an opening track, doesn’t really work. Much like Wild Life‘s opening ‘Mumbo’, it’s an aimless two minutes of jamming and Paul shouting some lyrics here and there. One listen to it shows you why it got cut, but I do like a good tiny slice of Paul just rocking out. ‘Country Dreamer’ was too good to leave off if you ask me, a light country number that’s full of the usual Macca melodies and those nanoseconds that are irresistible. That’s pure Paul. That would later become the B-side to ‘Helen Wheels’ in late 1973.

Linda gets her chance to shine with ‘Seaside Woman’, but that too was cut from the final running order. Interestingly enough, in the LP’s booklet, you can see the title written a few times on one of the more… Erm, interesting photos contained within. ‘Seaside Woman’ is a better shot at reggae than the admittedly jokey ‘C Moon’, and it had a life of its own after being left off this LP: A single issued in 1977 under “Suzy and the Red Stripes”, and three years later… An animated short film based on it, directed by animation/vfx veteran Oscar Grillo of all people!

Denny Laine’s two vocal contributions sadly got the axe as well. ‘I Would Only Smile’ is perfectly fine, breezy, melancholic country pop. ‘I Lie Around’ is bigger, much nicer, and has a slight Beach Boys vibe to it – perhaps the final announcement from Paul that he had found a great new life up in the countryside. Thankfully this one was officially released as the B-side of ‘Live and Let Die’, shows that Paul had some kind of love for it.

‘The Mess’ and ‘Best Friend’, both live recordings from the Wings Over Europe tour, are big casualties here. Both have a rocking energy to them that I think would’ve spruced up the finished album, if included. One’s moody, the other is more optimistic. The former was released as the B-side of ‘My Love’ in March 1973, it is one of three recordings from that whole tour that have been given an official release.

‘Tragedy’ is one of the bigger losses here too, ironically. A very quiet and almost serene cover of a Thomas Wayne rockabilly song from 1959, it rings closer to the 1961 hit version by The Fleetwoods. It is also very mind boggling that Paul never released this in any form. This and ‘1882’, c’mon Paul! You gotta release this stuff!

Lastly, we’ve got ‘Mama’s Little Girl’. This one is even quieter, soothing as all heck, but perhaps a little too long – clocking in at nearly four minutes. If Paul wanted to please the fickle, songs like these weren’t going to cut it. His music was already written off as hopelessly lightweight, ‘Mama’s Little Girl’ is featherweight. That isn’t a bad thing at all, but in 1973, it certainly was!

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The released Red Rose Speedway‘s biggest problem is the closing medley. Paul took four unrelated, unfinished songs and strung them together, hoping to pull an Abbey Road. These songs are all catchy and well-arranged on their own (I especially love ‘Power Cut’ and its instrumental reprise of the other three medley pieces during its climax), but it hogs up 11 minutes of side two, leaving you with only three other tracks. This was probably done for commercial reasons, because his new band’s debut album was a relative flop, and two of his only 1972 releases had been banned. It was time to step things up, at EMI’s behest.

Then you get to the other track that most people don’t seem to dig, the spacebound ‘Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)’… I may be totally alone on this one, but I love ‘Loup’. It has a sick bass line, the Wings men howl like galactic wolves, and the synthesized sound effects are pretty cool. No, it’s not Pink Floyd. It’s a country mile from Hawkwind, and it’s not up to the level of mild spacey stuff like Fifty Foot Hose… But for an attempt at a genre that’s arguably out of Paul’s wheelhouse, it’s not half-bad. Few works from the man ever cracked at progressive rock as a whole, which is something of a shame because as a unit, The Beatles were arguably a great influence on the early prog bands. (Someone, somewhere, just gagged at that thought!)

At four minutes long, however, it also hogs up space on side two. Stronger selections were more worthy of the disc, but I get the sense that Paul included ‘Loup’ in a sort of “I’ll have my cake and eat it too” move. EMI told him to make a commercial album out of a mildly eclectic and weird set, so Paul probably thought he could get away with one odd number.

While Red Rose Speedway wasn’t quite warmly received, as expected, it had shot to the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘My Love’ was a smash, and is either the poster child for everything wrong with Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles work, or is a lovely example of a great Paul love ballad. Henry McCullough’s guitar solo, though…

If I were tasked to re-do Red Rose Speedway as a single album, I’d cut the medley and ‘Loup’, and I’d sequence the rest a little differently. ‘The Mess’ would definitely make the cut, ditto ‘Tragedy’ and the shorter studio version of ‘1882’.

SIDE ONE

  1. ‘Big Barn Bed’
  2. ‘My Love’
  3. ‘One More Kiss’
  4. ‘I Would Only Smile’
  5. ‘Tragedy’
  6. ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’

SIDE TWO

  1. ‘Best Friend’
  2. ‘Seaside Woman’
  3. ‘Country Dreamer’
  4. ‘Get On the Right Thing’
  5. ‘1882’
  6. ‘The Mess’

Red Rose Speedway closed the door on the quiet and often unusual domesticity of the early McCartney output. Wings lost Denny Seiwell and Henry McCullough shortly after, and the trio found themselves in a more exotic location when it came time to do the next album. Band on the Run was as polished as ever, and combined the quirkiness of the first four albums with a real sense of professionalism. Critics ate it up, sales were through the roof… Afterwards, Paul kept that oddball charm alive in many ensuing Wings albums, and even after Wings’ disbanding in 1980… That spark had kind of faded away by the mid-1980s, and would come back sporadically.

Though Paul McCartney may currently not have much interest in releasing all of these unreleased gems (and there are plenty more when you go beyond 1973), they are still worth uncovering. Perhaps that homey, lazier, weirder phase lasted a bit long, but there’s good stuff to be found in that three-year era…

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