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Paul McCartney Is Not Dead (And Neither Is the Past)

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Were you frightened of possible negative reaction when you released your solo album, McCartney? It was your first break from the Beatles.
I was as confident as I ever am about any LP. I realize it was more kind of throwaway and done at home than any of the previous ones, but that wasn't a reason to worry about it. You never know what people are going to think about a record anyway.

The handout on the British edition of McCartney didn't appear in America. Why was that?
Linda and I did a mail-out from our house. We had made up this little interview for friends and the press and sent them out with about the first hundred albums. Somebody thought it was supposed to be a thing that came with the album, probably because we didn't explain it in the mailing. We should have said. "Enclosed find press kit." People got the idea it came with the album, but it didn't come out in Britain in the copies in the stores.

I had asked Peter Brown [of Apple] for a list of questions he thought might have interesting answers. Looking back, it seems a bit blunt and weird, but at the time it wasn't meant to be. Things like, "Are you gonna be another John and Yoko?" "No, we're gonna be a Paul and Linda." Little silly things like that.

How did you feel people would react to Linda's presence?
She was on Let It Be doing backup vocals. That was her first appearance, and nobody said much about that. The time we did McCartney, as it was largely recorded in the back room, she was always there. That was how she came to be on the album as much as she was.

You did have the release date close to Let It Be.
There was some hassle at the time. We were arguing over who had mentioned a release date first. It was all a bit petty. I'd pegged a release date and then Let It Be was scheduled near it. I saw it as victimization, but now I'm sure it wasn't.

Seeing that Let It Be was released basically after the fact, do you wish it had not been released?
Oh, no. I don't wish that about anything. Everything seems to take its place in history after it's happened and it's fine to let it stay there.

It was the first album to have the little bits on, like the type that also appeared on McCartney.
I rather fancied having just the plain tapes and nothing done to them at all. We had thought of doing something looser before, but the albums always turned out to be well-produced. That was the idea of the whole album. All the normal things that you record that are great and have all this atmosphere but aren't brilliant recordings or production jobs normally are left out and wind up on, say, Pete Townshend's cutting floor. It ends up with the rest of his demos.

But all that stuff is often stuff I love. It's got the door opening, the banging of the tape recorder, a couple of people giggling in the background. When you've got friends around, those are the kind of tracks you play them. You don't play them the big finished produced version.

Like "Hey Jude," I think I've got that tape somewhere, where I'm going on and on with all these funny words. I remember I played it to John and Yoko and I was saying, "these words won't be on the finished version." Some of the words were "the movement you need is on your shoulder," and John was saying, "It's great! 'The movement you need is on your shoulder.' " I'm saying, "It's crazy, it doesn't make any sense at all." He's saying, "Sure it does, it's great." I'm always saying that, by the way, that's me, I'm always never sure if it's good enough. That's me, you know.

So when McCartney came along I had all these rough things and I liked them all and thought, well, they're rough, but they've got that certain kind of thing about them, so we'll leave it and just put it out. It's not an album which was really sweated over, and yet now I find it's a lot of people's favorite. They think it's great to hear the kids screaming and the door opening, it's lovely.

The first of your albums with some of those little bitsy things was 'Let It Be.' Had you wanted to do that before?
Yes, I think so. In the back of everyone's mind there was always that kind of thing. The sound of a tape being spooled back is an interesting sound. If you're working in a recording studio, you hear it all the time and get used to it. You don't think anything of it. But when the man switches on the tape machine in the middle of a track and you hear that kind of djeeoww, and then – the track starts, I'd always liked all that, all those rough edges and loose ends. It gives it a kind of live excitement.

When you do have rough edges on an album, you're open to interpretation. There's the famous example of John and Yoko's 'Wedding Album,' where the reviewer reviewed the tone on the test pressing and said that the subtle fluctuations in this tone were very arty.
The whole analysis business is a funny business, it's almost like creating history before it's been created. When a thing happens you immediately start analyzing it as if it was 50 years ago, as if it was King Henry VIII who said it. It is daft, actually, but you can't blame anyone for doing it, they've got to write something. Unless they can say "I was around at his house and he gave me a nice cup of tea ... funny little blue cups he gave it in ..." they've got to say, well, what did you mean by this, or what was that tone.

With one song you mentioned just a few minutes ago, "Hey Jude," everyone was trying to figure out who Jude was.
I happened to be driving out to see Cynthia Lennon. I think it was just after John and she had broken up, and I was quite mates with Julian [their son]. He's a nice kid, Julian. And I was going out in me car just vaguely singing this song, and it was like "Hey Jules." I don't know why, "Hey Jules." It was just this thing, you know, "Don't make it bad/ Take a sad song ..." And then I just thought a better name was Jude. A bit more country & western for me.

Once you get analyzing something and looking into it, things do begin to appear and things do begin to tie in. Because everything ties in, and what you get depends on your approach to it. You look at everything with a black attitude and it's all black.

This other idea of Paul Is Dead. That was on for a while. I had just turned up at a photo session and it was at the time when Linda and I were just beginning to knock around with each other steadily. It was a hot day in London, a really nice hot day, and I think I wore sandals. I only had to walk around the corner to the crossing because I lived pretty nearby. I had me sandals on and for the photo session I thought I'll take my sandals off.

Linda: No, you were barefoot.

Paul: Oh, I was barefoot. Yeah, that's it. You know, so what? Barefoot, nice warm day, I didn't feel like wearing shoes. So I went around to the photo session and showed me bare feet. Of course when that comes out and people start looking at it they say, "Why has he got no shoes on? He's never done that before." OK, you've never seen me do it before, but, in actual fact, it's just me with my shoes off. Turns out to be some old Mafia sign of death or something.

Then the this-little-bit-if-you-play-it-backwards stuff. As I say, nine times out of ten it's really nothing. Take the end of Sgt. Pepper, that backward thing, "We'll fuck you like Supermen." Some fans came around to my door giggling. I said, "Hello, what do you want?" They said, "Is it true, that bit at the end? Is it true? It says 'We'll fuck you like Supermen.'" I said, "No, you're kidding. I haven't heard it, but I'll play it." It was just some piece of conversation that was recorded and turned backwards. But I went inside after I'd seen them and played it studiously, turned it backwards with my thumb against the motor, turned the motor off and did it backwards. And there it was, sure as anything, plain as anything. "We'll fuck you like Supermen." I thought, Jesus, what can you do?

And then there was "I buried Paul."
That wasn't "I buried Paul" at all, that was John saying "cranberry sauce." It was the end of "Strawberry Fields." That's John's humor. John would say something totally out of synch, like "cranberry sauce." If you don't realize that John's apt to say "cranberry sauce" when he feels like it, then you start to hear a funny little word there, and you think "Aha!"

When you were alive and presumed dead, what did you think?
Someone from the office rang me up and said, "Look, Paul, you're dead." And I said, "Oh, I don't agree with that." And they said, "Look, what are you going to do about it? It's a big thing breaking in America. You're dead." And so I said leave it, just let them say it. It'll probably be the best publicity we've ever had and I won't have to do a thing except stay alive. So I managed to stay alive through it.

A couple of people came up and said, "Can I photograph you to prove you're not dead?" Coincidentally, around about that time, I was playing down a lot of the old Beatle image and getting a bit more to what I felt was me, letting me beard grow and not being so hung up on keeping fresh and clean. I looked different, more laid back, and so I had people coming up saying "You're not him!" And I was beginning to think, "I am, you know, but I know what you mean. I don't look like him, but believe me."

You were supposedly Billy Shears, according to one of the theories.
Ringo's Billy Shears. Definitely. That was just in the production of Sgt. Pepper. It just happened to turn out that we dreamed up Billy Shears. It was a rhyme for "years" ... "band you've known for all these years ... and here he is, the one and only Billy Shears." We thought, that's a great little name, it's an Eleanor-Rigby-type name, a nice atmospheric name, and it was leading into Ringo's track. So as far as we were concerned it was purely and simply a device to get the next song in.

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