When it came to making promotional films, Ringo was the quickest Beatle out of the blocks after the group disbanded in 1970. John never really made any bespoke videos for his singles, and George didn’t get in on the act until 1974. Paul joined the fray in mid-1972, by which time Ringo had made not one, but two, promos for his first solo single, ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, and another for its follow-up, ‘Back Off Booglaoo’. Apart from a rarely seen clip for ‘Photograph’, though, there were no promos for his 1973 smash hit album Ringo. When he finished work on its successor, Goodnight Vienna, he put that right by making a TV ad for the album and a sister film for its lead single, ‘Only You’.
‘You’re Sixteen’, from Ringo, had topped the US charts and been a hit around the world, so it made sense to record another tune from the salad days of rock ‘n’ roll for his next LP. And it was John Lennon who suggested that he tackle ‘Only You (And You Alone)’, the classic 1955 song by The Platters. Listening to the original, with the high pitched vocal intro, it would seem an off-the-wall choice for Ringo, but John came up with a very different arrangement which was more suited to the inimitable Starr style (John’s guide vocal for the track was eventually released on 1998’s John Lennon Anthology box set).
Even so, it’s still a bit of a gear shift for Ringo. His low-key, high-register vocal is in contrast to his usual, more exuberant approach, but he pulls it off admirably. And his deadpan spoken-word section in the middle, in heavily-accented Scouse, is just class. The whole recording is very simple – again, a move away from the more busy material on Ringo. As well as playing the chugging rhythm guitar which drives the track, Lennon ropes in his and Ringo’s boozing buddy of the time, Harry Nilsson, to join him in providing dreamy backing vocals. And that, along with drums, bass and some little keyboard and lead guitar flourishes, is pretty much all there is to it. It’s not the best thing ever recorded, but it’s an effective remake and quite winning in its own way.
Perhaps echoing the 1950s theme, the parent album paid homage to the 1951 film The Day The Earth Stood Still in its cover artwork. An early sci-fi classic, it’s a cautionary tale of aliens visiting earth to warn mankind off its atomic age, Cold War rush towards self-destruction. Its key scene features a flying saucer (seen as the only respectable method of interstellar travel in those days) landing in Washington D.C., and opening up to reveal the extraterrestrial visitor, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), and his accompanying protector, a giant robot called Gort. Goodnight Vienna depicts this image, only superimposing Ringo’s face over Rennie’s and adding a big white star onto his outfit. No idea why, as there’s nothing remotely space age about the album, but it does make for a memorable cover.
Wisely, the marketing men riffed on this image when the album was released in November 1974. They made a glorious TV commercial which begins with Ringo in his space suit joining a marching band somewhere in Los Angeles (playing the drums, naturally), before a flying saucer makes a somewhat shaky landing in the same street. It’s not quite on the same scale as the one from The Day The Earth Stood Still, it has to be said, but it’s big enough for Ringo to clamber inside. The craft (steam-powered, by the looks of it) then takes off and soars through the L.A. skyline, before coming to rest atop the famous Capitol Records building, where Ringo waves to the assembled Earth people below. All this plays out to snippets of songs from the album and a marvellous, playful narration by Ringo and John Lennon (Ringo returned the favour by voicing the TV ad for John’s Walls and Bridges album, released a couple of months earlier).
The film for ‘Only You’ picks up roughly where the commercial left off. You see the spaceship coming in to land (it’s not exactly Star Wars level of special effects, though I really can’t see the wires) and then Ringo singing the tune on the roof of the Capitol building. There, he is joined by Harry Nilsson, who spends half the clip sitting in a deckchair, smoking a fag and reading a music paper (albeit one with Ringo on the cover). Still, it could have been worse. Considering how high up they were, I’m presuming the director was keen to get all the footage in the can before the bars opened.
The video isn’t the most dynamic, in truth, though they do inject some humour to try to liven it up. It’s pretty hokey, variety show-style fare – Ringo pulls the ‘arrow through the head’ gag during the spoken word section, and then they do the ‘form a long line by ducking under the camera as the camera pans past’ routine (none too convincingly). But, as ever with Ringo, it’s done with such guileless charm that you can’t help but smile. Best of all, during the fade-out, we get shaky but quite impressive aerial shots of the pair swaying to the music on the roof, plus a glimpse of Gort, the robot from the film and album cover, alongside them. This incarnation of Gort must be at least three times the size of the spacecraft he’s supposed to have travelled in but, hey, who are we to question alien technology?
‘Only You’ was released at the height of Ringo’s chart powers, and continued his amazing run of US Top Ten hits, reaching #6. It also made the Canadian top 20, and gave him what proved to be his last Top 30 hit in his homeland (where the video was shown on Top of the Pops and, I would imagine, must have seemed quite a glamorous affair to mid-’70s Britain). The promo film finally had an official release on a DVD accompanying the 2007 greatest hits compilation, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr. He has made better videos in his career but it’s still a nice visual relic from a far-flung time when Ringo Starr, solo artist, was quite literally top of the world.
The view among fans about the McCartney Archive Collection to date seems to be very mixed. Some people are really happy with what MPL is putting out, think the lavish deluxe editions offer value for money and love unboxing them when they arrive in the post. I have no problem with that, and don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade. The books, and other bits and pieces, look beautifully produced, and it’s good to get detailed information about each album out there. But, for me, this is putting the cart before the horse. As I’ve said in previous posts, the most important thing is the music – and, in this, I think we’ve been seriously short-changed.
Let me say, I have no sense of entitlement about this. Paul has already given us acres of great music over 60 years (with more to come), and it seems almost churlish to ask for more. He’s an artist, and is perfectly within his rights to do whatever he wants with the stuff he’s created. However, if he wants to repackage his back catalogue and make a profit in doing so – and the very existence of the Archive Collection indicates that he does – it would make sense that it’s done properly, and with an eye on what your target audience wants. Even the standard two-disc Archive releases are not going to have much mass appeal beyond the McCartney fanbase, and Paul’s “people” have said the profit margins on these products are quite tight, so why not make them as attractive as possible by including the one thing virtually all fans would like to see: more rare and unreleased songs?
The thing is, it’s not like he’s been set against this idea throughout his career. As far back as the mid-‘70s, he was talking about a Cold Cuts collection of tracks which didn’t quite make it onto his early albums, but it never appeared (except on bootlegs). And he remains very unusual among his contemporaries in not having ever issued a ‘rarities’ set (Elton John is the just the latest of Paul’s peers to do so, with the recent release of an eight-disc collection. And that is currently selling for less than £90….compared with £240 for the Flaming Pie deluxe). Okay, he’s put some stuff on the Archive releases but, as my earlier posts have discussed, there are still lots of songs inexplicably left in the can. Paul said in a recent interview that he wished he could be more like Bob Dylan. If that’s the case, he would do well to check out Dylan’s on-going official Bootleg series – albums full of unissued material, which now span almost 30 years and a staggering 15 volumes.
Ah, but what about quality control, I hear you ask? Maybe Paul doesn’t want to put out recordings he thinks are inferior and so tarnish his reputation. Well, that argument tends to run aground when you consider the Archive releases have already included truly awful material like ‘Women Kind’ and ‘Bogey Wobble’, or worthless trifles like ‘Message to Joe’ and ‘C’mon Down C’mon Baby’ (not to mention ‘Outtake’ versions i, ii and iii on Wild Life). I know taste is subjective, but stack those up against gems like ‘Waterspout’, ‘Seems Like Old Times’, ‘On The Wings of a Nightingale’, ‘Yvonne’, ‘Return to Pepperland’ and other quality songs which are still languishing in the vaults. Okay, I know some of these could yet turn up on future Archive packages but – based on previous releases – I wouldn’t want to put any money on it. The stupid thing is, all these songs have already surfaced on bootlegs, so not putting out official, good quality versions seems an exercise in denial and futility. It may also be a sign that Paul doesn’t really have a clear idea of the riches he is sitting on. It’s very interesting that one unreleased track from the early ‘90s, ‘When Winter Comes’, was lined up for inclusion on the Flaming Pie Archive edition, until Paul decided it deserved better and has instead made it the closing song on his forthcoming McCartney III album. You can only presume he forgot about it for the best part of 30 years. In the Flaming Pie book, when quizzed about another unheard song from those sessions, ‘Cello in the Ruins’, he simply says: “It does ring a bell….but god knows where the bell is.” Seriously? He doesn’t have anyone – a team, even – compiling and managing his vast musical archive?
So, on the whole, I feel the Archive Collection has been something of a bust so far, which is a real pity. It’s unlikely Paul will change course now though – we know what he’s like when he’s got his mind fixed on something, and he doesn’t like to be told he’s doing something wrong. I’d rather he took a different approach (which I’ll come onto later) but, if the series does continue, there are a few simple things MPL/Capitol could do to make it a more appealing proposition to fans and a much more polished, considered presentation of the McCartney oeuvre.
Pick up the pace
The glacial pace of these releases is unfathomable. As I said in part one, we’re a decade in and haven’t even got to the half-way point (assuming he plans to do his whole catalogue). I know Macca’s a busy man, but surely he’s got teams of people to do the leg work? Yes, the accompanying books are nicely done and must take a while to put together, but surely not this long? If nothing else, the drawn-out release dates make no financial sense. I’m generalising, but younger fans are not so hung up on physical releases, and the hard-core older fanbase which must make up most of the target audience is inevitably shrinking all the time, either through other commitments or sheer mortality (people are literally dying to hear this stuff). Which is bound to impact on those fabled “margins” we hear about. Is it really too much to ask that a minimum of two Archive editions come out every year? For the next few years, at least, they should commit to:
2021 – London Town and Back to the Egg
2022 – Give My Regards To Broad Street and Press to Play
2023 – Choba B CCCP and Run Devil Run.
Keep it affordable
Another thing eating into those profit margins is the fact that the cost of these sets are soaring with each release. Yes, you’ll always snare the die-hard collectors who’ll go without regular meals to pay for this kind of stuff, but more and more people are saying “I’m out” with each new release. Which means MPL/Capitol puts the price up again next time, to recoup their costs. Which means fewer people buy it, and so on. A vicious circle. Here’s a thing – why not trim out any unnecessary books and other trinkets and throw in an extra disc or two, and peg the price at around the £100 mark? You know, like, er, The Beatles have done with the recent anniversary special editions. Yes, I know the market for those is bigger, but surely it’s better to sell five copies at £100 than two copies at £180? And you can still do luxury special editions with all the added treats for those who really do wish to re-mortgage their homes.
Be thorough and complete
First of all – and I can’t believe I’m having to say this – do all the albums. I’m slightly concerned Paul last year released remastered versions of Choba B CCCP and Paul is Live without any Archive extras or bonus material. Indeed, Choba actually had fewer tracks than the previously available version (11, as opposed to 14), because that’s how it was originally released in Russia, or some such nonsense. Really, who makes these decisions? All his studio albums, at least, should be properly, erm, archived. Okay, remastering probably won’t make much of a difference to the sound quality of ones released after 2000, but let’s not leave the house half built. And, as part of that, all b-sides, bonus tracks, giveaways and other rarities – in other words, everything he’s ever officially released – should be included alongside the relevant albums. And fully remastered. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Involve the fans
You’re never going to be able to please everyone with these sets, I accept that, and Paul shouldn’t be dictated to by his fan base when compiling his work.However, there are lots of people out there who appear to have a more in-depth, rounded knowledge of his back catalogue than he or his “people” do. They are also much more likely to have an idea what will make fans (not just serious collectors) part with their hard-earned cash. With their input, situations like Flowers in the Dirt debacle could easily have been avoided. I’m sure they could offer solid advice about how these sets could be made as appealing as possible to the majority of the potential audience. Which brings me to….
More unreleased material
I can’t imagine any fan would disagree on this one. As I mentioned earlier, we already know there’s some great stuff lurking in the vaults; we also know the titles of other tracks which have yet to see the light of day, and I’m sure there is much more we know nothing about. The 1988 Elvis Costello collaborations (on the Flowers Archive edition) and a few other goodies aside, we’ve seen precious little of this stuff in the series so far – incomprehensible, when you consider this would be a major selling point. Perhaps Paul is holding stuff back for some sort of outtakes box set but, as such a project has failed to materialise since Cold Cuts was first mooted 46 years ago, I wouldn’t hold your breath. In fact, I doubt anyone involved in this series thinks very far ahead. For all the talk of a “comprehensive plan” when Macca re-signed with Capitol in 2016, the reissue campaign has been characterised by scattershot, inconsistent decision-making and missed opportunities. There’s a real lack of imagination and care going into the music side of these releases, as if MPL is making it up on the fly.
As long as enough people keep buying the Archive sets, I’m sure they will continue, and I doubt very much will change, sadly. But there is another way. Capitol could run a concurrent series of releases just focusing on the music, mopping up and properly presenting stuff missed off the Archives (which would, of course, give people an incentive to buy some of those albums again). Looking at the way David Bowie’s catalogue has been divided up into a series of chronological box sets over recent years, I’d love to see something like this for McCartney:
put out his studio albums of original material in three box sets, with seven or eight per box, plus bonus discs filled (not half-filled) with related demos, singles/B-sides and unreleased songs from that period. You could have “1970-76”, “1977-93” and “1997-2020”.
compile companion box sets rounding up the other sub-genres of his output — “In Concert”, with all his live albums (including Wings Over Europe); “Covers” (possibly including Broad Street and Unplugged alongside the two rock ‘n’ roll albums and Kisses on the Bottom); “Classical”, and “Experimenting” (including the Fireman releases, Liverpool Sound Collage and Twin Freaks). Each box could also have bonus discs collecting rarities and unreleased material, plus a CD-style liner notes book.
produce a four-, five- or even six-CD anthology box of unreleased home demos and outtakes recorded at his Rude Studio over the years. And you could finish things off with a DVD box containing ALL his promotional films, concert films and notable documentaries/TV specials such as Put It There, Movin’ On, In The World Tonight, Back in the US and so on.
They could make each album available individually, on CD and for download/streaming, as well. But if they really want to encourage the collectors among us, they could design the artwork for each of the nine boxes so that they spell out M-c-C-A-R-T-N-E-Y when displayed on a shelf, perhaps with a different instrument on the cover of each (three different basses on his studio collections, acoustic guitar, piano, etc.). If these were priced at around £120 and came out once a year, I think most fans would be in heaven. And it would give Paul a chance to tidy up and collate his musical legacy while he’s still around to do so.
These are just my thoughts – I’m sure others will have their own ideas. Paul has produced so much outstanding music over the past 50 years, I just hope someone at MPL or Capitol will come up with a serious plan one day to do it justice. There are easy ways to keep us happy, make some money and ensure the McCartney canon is given the care and status it deserves.
When Tug of War and Pipes of Peace were announced as the next installments of the McCartney Archive Collection in October 2015, I was licking my lips in anticipation. Not only were these two of my favourite Macca albums, the b-sides from their attendant singles had never been released on CD – and, by all accounts, there was a wealth of unreleased material recorded during the sessions with George Martin from 1980-83. This package had the potential to be among the highlights of the series. But when the content for the bonus discs was revealed, it was a crushing disappointment.
The b-sides were there, true, but the rest was largely made up of a batch of 1980 home demos of songs which made it onto the albums, and which had been circulating on bootlegs for more than 20 years. I always feel such things are a bit of a cheat, as they’re ultimately just unfinished or inferior versions of songs we already have. Interesting to listen to once or twice, but then you file them away and forget about them. Or at least I do, because the final recording is almost always the one I prefer. It was also baffling that demos were completely overlooked for earlier Archive releases like Ram and Venus and Mars, yet were now becoming the core of the bonus content – at the expense of unheard songs. But the craziest thing about the selection was that two of the demos he recorded in those 1980 sessions, the unreleased songs ‘Unbelievable Experience’ and ‘Seems Like Old Times’, were omitted from this package. WTF? One ‘new’ demo did make it onto the Tug of War extras, ‘Stop, You Don’t Know Where She Came From’ – but there is apparently a finished version of that, complete with a brass section, so why didn’t they give us that instead?
The Pipes of Peace bonus disc was a little better, in that it offered a couple of genuinely unheard curios, ‘It’s Not On’ and ‘Simple As That’, plus the relatively rare film soundtrack number ‘Twice in a Lifetime’ (I could have done without the ‘Say Say Say’ remix which flipped the Macca/Jacko vocal lines, though I see why it was included). But considering both that and the second Tug of War disc both had around 40 minutes of free space, this was pretty thin gruel. Why didn’t they include ‘Blackpool’, a track earmarked as the b-side of the cancelled ‘The Man’ single in 1984? Or the 1981 version of ‘No Values’, later re-recorded for Broad Street? Or ‘All The Love is There’, the song he cut with Stewart Copeland of The Police? Or the acoustic reprise of ‘Tug of War’ which was originally planned for its parent album? Or the three-part medley which originally welded ‘Sweetest Little Show’ with ‘Unbelievable Experience’ and the similarly unreleased ‘Any Younger’? Or some of the jams with Stevie Wonder and Carl Perkins recorded during the early 1981 sessions at George Martin’s studio in Montserrat? Hell, if demos were so important, why not include the terrific one Paul wrote and recorded for the Everly Brothers during this period, ‘On The Wings of a Nightingale’? Or the one he presumably must have cut for the song ‘Runaway’, recorded by the band Ivory in the early 1980s, or even the two tunes he gave Ringo for 1981’s Stop and Smell The Roses?
If these albums represented a huge missed opportunity, worse was to follow. In the summer of 2016, it was announced Paul had re-signed with the Capitol/EMI record label, and the accompanying press release touted that “a comprehensive plan for the artist’s catalogue is being conceived.….. and will be implemented beginning July 2017.” This sounded promising, and hinted at a change of approach – after all, why would you need to conceive a “comprehensive plan” if you were just going to carry on with the Archive series in the same way? However, the next release – which actually emerged in March 2017 – proved to be the most controversial and divisive of the series so far.
Again, on paper, Flowers in the Dirt (1989) promised so much. Another stellar album, it spawned some of his best-ever b-sides and bonus tracks. Lengthy recording sessions from 1986-89 also produced a plethora of unused songs, some of which saw a release on the Flaming Pie singles a decade later, while others (such as ‘Return to Pepperland’) languished in the vaults. And when the tracklisting for the Archive edition revealed that not only would the widely-bootlegged acoustic demos he recorded with Elvis Costello in 1987 feature, but also initial studio recordings of the same songs laid down the following year – recordings some of us didn’t even know existed – it looked like this package would really deliver. Sadly, that was where the good news ended.
First, only the 1987 Costello demos (which most hardcore Macca fans already owned) would be included on the standard two-disc edition. If you wanted the really juicy 1988 studio versions, you had to splash out on the deluxe edition which, in the UK, was on sale for an eye-watering £130. Even though both sets of tracks would have fitted comfortably onto one CD. Not only that, but all other non-Costello outtakes from this period were completely ignored. As for all those great b-sides I mentioned, well, they were available if you bought the pricey package…..but only as digital downloads. This senseless decision understandably infuriated lots of loyal McCartney fans. There was even a petition on change.org, which attracted more than 1,000 signatures, urging MPL to add in an extra disc with the download songs, but to no avail. A spokesman claimed Paul didn’t want the Archive packages to contain more than four discs (including DVDs) – a bizarre, rather arbitrary “rule” which strangely didn’t apply to the Ram reissue, for example, or the more recent Flaming Pie release. Surely, when you are asking people to pay through the nose for a package like this, you should provide physical content? MPL seemed more interested in the accompanying books (including a less-than-essential photo book documenting the making of the video for ‘This One’ and a catalogue from one of Linda’s photo exhibitions) than actual McCartney music. Madness.
In retrospect, I’m less bothered by the fact the b-sides were download-only than by the fact they weren’t even remastered, and so didn’t sound any better than the versions we already had – again, in total contrast to earlier Archive releases. It betrays a real lack of care towards how Paul’s music is presented. There are some truly great tracks there – ‘The Loveliest Thing’ is among my favourite Macca numbers ever, and there are many devotees of ‘Flying To My Home’, for example – and yet they were just tossed out without being upgraded or even put on a disc, like they didn’t matter. Even more perplexing, given the emphasis this release put on Paul’s collaborations with Elvis Costello (something he ultimately backed away from when making the original album), the downloads also featured four further co-writes, including acoustic demos of two completely unheard tracks plus the wonderful b-side ‘Back On My Feet’. As there was plenty of empty space on both bonus discs (again), why not put these in alongside the rest of the Costello-related tracks? The whole thing felt slapdash, ill conceived and a case study in how to alienate your (limited) target audience. If they had dropped a couple of the books, shoved in a couple of extra discs and pegged the price at around £100, I think many of us would have thought it was a luxury worth raiding the piggy bank for. As it was, well…..I have four friends who are huge Macca fans, and only one among the five of us actually bought the deluxe edition.
To be fair, it seems MPL/Capitol took heed of the backlash around Flowers because, although we had to wait 21 months for them, the next Archive sets saw a big improvement. In December 2018, we lurched back to the early days of Paul’s solo career and the first incarnation of Wings, with reissues of Wild Life (1971) and Red Rose Speedway (1973). The former, recorded in little over a week with a threadbare collection of songs, was never going to offer much in the way of bonus goodies, though the compilers did their best, seemingly throwing on every sketchy home recording from that period they could find – including three brief snippets of guitar noodling which didn’t even have titles. Red Rose Speedway, on the other hand, was put together over the course of a year and was originally planned as a double album, and the resulting Archive edition is possibly the best one to date. The deluxe version contained the original double LP version of the album, including a clutch of unreleased numbers, plus a batch of other outtakes, live recordings and singles/b-sides. At around £150, it was still a pretty pricey affair but, crucially, almost all of the really worthwhile bonus music was also made available on the standard two-disc version of the release, and there was no download-only nonsense. So everyone was happy.
The only sour note came when a special Wings 1971-73 box set was also produced which combined both deluxe album packages and also threw in an exclusive live album from the band’s 1972 European tour….all for a trifling £300. Another poke in the eye for fans with more limited budgets (remember, this came out within weeks of the costly Beatles’ White Album and Lennon Imagine box sets) or those of us who just aren’t that interested in the books and other trinkets. Bearing in mind people buying both deluxe Wings albums would be paying the best part of £300 for them anyway, couldn’t Capitol have just released Wings Over Europe as a regular, standalone release? Plenty of people would have snapped it up. As it is, in this day and age, it quickly emerged onto the market through other, less “official” routes, but I just don’t see the sense of lining the bootleggers’ pockets when it could – and should – have been available for anyone to buy.
Still, there were signs of a more considered approach. But with the Archive Collection, it always seems to be one step forward followed by two steps back. The widely expected reissue of the remaining Wings albums London Town and Back To The Egg was bypassed and in July this year (sadly, 19 months between releases now seems to be the norm) we zoomed forward in the McCartney timeline with the release of his 1997 effort, Flaming Pie. Again, lots of potential with this one. We know he recorded a number of tracks with Steve Miller other than the ones which made the album, including ‘Sweet Home Country Girl’ and ‘Soul Boy’. Then there was ‘Cello in the Ruins’, a track recorded during the Pie sessions and almost issued on a charity fundraising album in 1995. And the cover of ‘A Room With A View’, released on a Noel Coward tribute album in 1997. So did the Archive edition feature any of these? No. Of course not.
What we got instead were demos of songs we already have on the album. Lots of demos. Home demos, studio demos, run through demos and, in some cases, multiple versions of the same song. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could happily have lived without four versions of ‘Beautiful Night’ and three each of ‘Great Day’ and ‘Calico Skies’, not least because none of them really that different. The rough mixes of the album songs featured here are equally pointless. And while they did include all the b-sides from the album’s three singles, most of them were recorded a decade earlier and have nothing to do with Flaming Pie. I can deal with that though – what is really annoying is that several of them are only available through the deluxe pay wall (now topping £200) and, even worse, are still embedded in the Oobu Joobu mini radio shows as featured on the original singles. I’m struggling to see the artistic value in that, as I’m sure most people would just want to listen to the songs in isolation. It’s strange how MPL/Capitol will go to the trouble of removing a few seconds of live stage banter at the beginning of ‘The Mess’ (as included on the Red Rose Speedway reissue) which fans had got used to hearing for 45 years, yet couldn’t be bothered to trim off many minutes of pseudo DJ chat and frippery – welded either side of six songs – that I can’t imagine many people ever wanting to listen to more than a couple of times.
So that’s where we are. In my next post, I’ll reflect on the Archive Collection as a whole, how it could be improved, and what I’d really like to see happen to the McCartney back catalogue going forward.
Ten years ago this week, the Paul McCartney Archive Collection series was launched with a reissue of Band On The Run. Although no clear strategy or template for the series was set out by MPL (rather telling, in retrospect), it seemed that all of Paul’s albums were going to be remastered and re-released with bonus material and video content, plus – if you wanted to pay extra – even more discs, and an accompanying book. As The Beatles’ back catalogue had been spruced up and put out again the previous year, to great success, it was obviously an optimum moment for Macca to follow suit and remind people he had continued to make some pretty decent music after 1970.
I was more than a little excited by the prospect. Paul’s back catalogue was in desperate need of a sonic overhaul – it had last been remastered (not particularly effectively) in 1993, and now sounded a little thin and flat compared to other CDs I was listening to. Even better, this project finally offered a mouth-watering opportunity to break open his vaults and put out unreleased tracks from down the years, as well round up various singles, b-sides, bonus tracks and other rarities which had never made it onto an album. I must admit, the books and other supplementary goodies which make up the ‘deluxe’ editions have never really appealed to me. Yes, they look very nice, and I know there are people out there who love collecting them, but I never thought they were worth the considerable extra cost (a feeling which has hardened as the price tag for the deluxe editions has sky-rocketed in the years since). For me, it was all about the music we were going to get – cleaned up and compiled properly, alongside stuff we hadn’t heard before – and I couldn’t wait.
A few months later, the reputable Daily Beatle news website published a leaked schedule for the series, which indicated it would all be done and dusted by 2016, and a treasure trove of unheard material was on the way. It may have been this was totally bogus, or just that MPL changed course early on, but either way the reality has been very different. A decade on, and not even half of Paul’s studio and live albums have had the Archive treatment, never mind his classical and experimental ventures. Even worse, the dearth of unreleased material has rendered many of the releases a huge let down, as the emphasis has shifted towards ever-more expensive deluxe editions filled with glossy books and other collectors’ trinkets. The bonus music so many of us crave often seems to be treated as an afterthought, with no real cohesion or care about what is included, the narrative changing with each release. It’s clear no fans have been involved in creating these sets, which often alienate the very audience they are designed for. So how did such a promising project go so wrong?
It all started solidly enough. Even though I’m a chronological sort of guy and would rather they had started at the beginning, and Band On The Run was the one Macca album which had previously been the subject of a special edition (in 1999), it made sense to kick things off with the 1973 blockbuster. Leading with his most successful and critically acclaimed work would – and did – attract a lot of attention and positive notices. There was even a prime time ITV special about how it was made, and Paul supported it with a few other interviews and TV appearances. There was a limit to what could be included on the bonus audio – cassettes of early takes and demos were lost when Paul and Linda were famously mugged on the streets of Lagos during the recording sessions – but it rounded up single tracks from the time and added in some live studio recordings from the One Hand Clapping film shot at Abbey Road a few months after the album came out. And the film itself, which had been in mothballs in 1974, was finally given a release – and as part of the basic (ie. standard price) edition. A promising, satisfying start.
We didn’t have to wait long for the next releases, either. In June 2011 came McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980), the albums which bookended the first phase of his solo career. With the former, again, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of ‘new’ material and so it proved, though it was nice to hear the full version of ‘Suicide’, rather than just the snippet included (to great effect) on the original album. It was a little odd that they chose to include some live versions of songs from the album recorded later in the ‘70s, but I guess they had to pad out the bonus disc somehow (at this point, it seemed that demos and alternate takes were not part of the Archive plan). McCartney II, on the other hand, was originally planned as a double-album, so there was a lot more available unreleased content and it was all included here. Hell, if you really wanted it, the deluxe version even had another disc of ‘full length’ versions of some tracks – though, as someone who struggles to make it through the regular six-minute version of ‘Check My Machine’, I was happy to pass on a nine-minute rendition of that and similar extended recordings of “gems” like ‘Frozen Jap’ and ‘Front Parlour’. The only annoying aspect of this release was the baffling decision join a few of the unreleased numbers together for no apparent reason – particularly frustrating in the case of ‘All You Horse Riders’/’Blue Sway’, which really don’t sit well together and create an unwieldy ten-minute track. I also noticed that, on both releases, the accompanying DVDs were now only available in the deluxe edition. But there was nothing essential on those, so I could live with that. Roll on Christmas, I thought, and Ram and Venus and Mars.
Except it didn’t work out like that. It was another 11 months before the next release and it comprised Ram alone. And this time, a lack of logic behind the musical selections began to become apparent. For example, the hitherto unreleased ‘Hey Diddle’ was an early version of the song recorded at the time of the Ram sessions, not the more complete version (with overdubs added in 1974) which had been circulating on bootlegs for years. Okay….but then why was the version of another outtake from the sessions, ‘A Love For You’, a remix done in the 1980s? Which was not only shorter and inferior to the mix included on bootlegs, but also – unsurprisingly – sounded much less in keeping with Paul’s Ram-era work. Likewise, we get the “earliest mix” of the song ‘Sunshine Sometime’, without vocals. Here’s an idea – as the song’s never previously been released in any form, why not give us the finished version, even if the lyrics were added later? We’re still waiting for that, by the way.
Another problem was how little bonus stuff there was on this release, a little over half an hour’s worth. Was this really the best they could do? For example, we know that in 2011 a stash of almost 30 home demos were discovered dating back to the summer of 1970, including pretty much all the songs which surfaced on Ram. While I’ve said previously on this blog that I’m not a massive fan of demos, it would still have been interesting to hear some of the album’s songs in their earliest, rawest form. Similarly, why not include the initial takes of ‘Get On The Right Thing’ and ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ before they were reworked two years later for Red Rose Speedway? If there was any structured thinking behind what the Archive editions should cover, it was increasingly hard to decipher. For the first time, there was a tinge of disappointment with the series.
That feeling returned the following year when – seemingly out of nowhere – we jumped forward to 1976 and Wings Over America was reissued. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulous album and it was nice to have the sound quality upgraded. But bearing in mind it was now 12 months between Archive releases, couldn’t this one have waited, or been released alongside something else? There were no bonus tracks, apart from an utterly pointless handful of alternative live recordings included in the deluxe edition. The only real exciting aspect was the accompanying release, for the first time on DVD, of the full-length Rockshow concert film. But that was a standalone release, not part of the Archive series. The whole painfully-slow process was now becoming a source of frustration.
There was an even longer gap – a full 18 months – before the next offering but this time the wait was worth it. In late 2014, we got a twin package of Venus and Mars (from 1975) and Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976), and the former offered the best selection of bonus material yet. As well as collecting up singles and b-sides from the era, it featured the ‘finished’ version of ‘Hey Diddle’ (the one omitted from Ram) and two glorious, previously unheard demos of songs he gave away: ‘Let’s Love’ and ‘4th of July’. There was also a smoking hot version of ‘Soily’ and a joyful romp through the 1920s classic ‘Baby Face’, both from the One Hand Clapping film. Throw in a lengthy, early take of ‘Rock Show’, and this was exactly the kind of stuff I was hoping the Archive series would produce.
Speed of Sound, which had no real leftovers from its recording sessions, was inevitably less exciting, though it did include a version of Paul singing ‘Must Do Something About It’, which he gave to drummer Joe English to sing on the finished record. What was curious was what else they used to flesh out the bonus disc. Remember all those demos of album tracks which weren’t deemed worthy of inclusion on any earlier releases? Well, suddenly, such embryonic recordings were now the order of the day, as we were treated to demos of ‘Let ‘Em In’, ‘Silly Love Songs’ and the like – presumably because there was nothing else available. It was a not entirely reassuring portent of things to come.
Nonetheless, Venusand Mars illustrated what the Archive series could be capable of and gave me, ahem, hope for the future. Once they got onto other albums, many of which offered a rich seam of unreleased or rare material, they were bound to raid the vaults and share lots of ‘new’ McCartney music, right? Well…….I’ll talk about that in my next post.