The Paul McCartney Archive Collection’s decision to release 1970’s McCartney and 1980’s McCartney II simultaneously makes sense for reasons other than the similar titles. Both albums represent extremely personal statements, and result from significant personal and professional crossroads. His first solo outing, McCartney, received critical acceptance years after its initial release, while McCartney II still baffles critics and fans with its distinctly new wave sounds. Regardless of opinions, both receive deluxe treatments, including remastering, bonus tracks, and rare videos.
Back in 1970, McCartney was released during a tumultuous time. The Beatles had just disbanded, and the album included a terse Q&A where McCartney announced, unequivocally, his freedom from the band. Recorded at home, with McCartney playing all the instruments and singing all vocals (with some assistance from his new wife Linda), the album sounded much more intimate and bare-bones than The Beatles’ final recording, Abbey Road. Still reeling from the Beatles’ breakup, fans did not know what to make of this “new” Paul McCartney, whose selected Linda as his next collaborator. Lyrics from various tracks reflect the pain McCartney suffered right after leaving the band, most famously in his ode to Linda, “Maybe I’m Amazed”: “Baby I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man/Who’s in the middle of something/That he doesn’t really understand,” he sings. “Baby I’m a man and maybe you’re the only woman/Who could ever help me.” “Every Night” also reflects melancholy: “Every night I just wanna go out, get out of my head/Every day I don’t want to get up, get out of my bed.”
However, McCartney also provides a snapshot of his new-found family life, encapsulated in songs such as “The Lovely Linda,” where he clearly expresses his contentment: “I used to ride on my fast city line/Singing songs that I thought were mine alone/Now let me lie with my love for the time I am home.” Wisps of his Beatles past still appear on the tracks “Teddy Boy” and “Junk,” both dating back to his Fab Four days. But tracks like the bluesy “That Would Be Something” hint at his unique voice as a solo artist, one which he would further develop with Wings and, ultimately, back on his own.
The Paul McCartney Archive Collection reissue comes in a variety of packages: the two-CD Special Edition includes the original album, with all tracks receiving a welcome remastering The second disc offers outtakes and live songs; the live songs are a particular treat. His energetic versions of “Every Night,” “Hot as Sun,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” all recorded during a 1979 Glasgow concert, truly make the tracks come alive. Another performance of the latter song appears, which derives from the 1974 documentary One Hand Clapping. Recording at Abbey Road Studios, McCartney and Wings performed various tracks, and the footage was originally intended as a TV special. Eventually the project was scrapped, and the film circulated for years among collectors. The entire program finally received an official release as part of the Archive Collection’s first remasters package, 2010’s Band on the Run Deluxe and Special Editions.
The McCartney Deluxe Edition includes a DVD featuring rare footage: a music video for “Maybe I’m Amazed” (displaying photos of Paul and Linda); live performances of “Every Night” and “Hot as Sun” from 1979’s Concert for the People of Kampuchea; and two clips from McCartney’s excellent 1991 MTV Unplugged special: “Junk” and “That Would be Something.” A brief documentary about the making of McCartney, home video of the McCartney family frolicking on the beach, and a performance of McCartney’s unreleased track “Suicide,” which he actually recorded four times (once during the Get Back sessions; again for McCartney; once more for the One Hand Clapping special; and finally as a demo for Frank Sinatra, who never recorded the song), round out the extras. A hardcover book containing rare Paul and Linda photos also comprises the Deluxe Edition. While these extras certainly add to McCartney’s appeal, it’s the remastered original album that impresses. Previous versions had a muddy sound quality, while the remastering (overseen by McCartney and occurring at Abbey Road Studios) restores the album to its intended quality.
After the hard feelings over the Beatles’ breakup subsided, McCartney found fans through tracks like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Junk” (benefiting greatly from appearing on the Jerry Maguire soundtrack). With some exceptions, McCartney II has yet to benefit from such massive acceptance. Ten years after his first solo album, McCartney found himself at a crossroads once again. After 1979’s commercial disappointment Back to the Egg, he decided to record an album without Wings. Composing on synthesizer, he laid down over 20 tracks at his home studio. Eventually he shelved the demos as he began a Wings UK tour in late 1979. He played a few tracks from those sessions, however, including “Coming Up,” which received enthusiastic audience responses. In addition, he released “Wonderful Christmastime,” his first solo single since 1971. The other demos may have never seen the light of day, except for his ill-fated 1980 Wings tour of Japan. The story is now well-known: McCartney was arrested for trying to bring marijuana into the country, culminating in a nine-day jail sentence. Ultimately the tour was canceled, and McCartney returned to his home in Scotland. He unearthed the 1979 demos and decided to flesh them out into an album. Now at a crucial point in his career, he needed to rehab his image after the drug bust, recoup from the scrapped tour, and decide whether to continue with Wings or on his own.
The result of this personal turmoil, McCartney II, baffled some fans. Having apparently ingested a great amount of new wave music (possibly Kraftwerk and Devo as well), McCartney composed a number of instrumentals and non-instrumentals, most emanating a robotic tone. One major hit surfaced from the album: “Coming Up.” However, the restrained album version did not resonate with audiences as much as the 1979 Glasgow concert performance, which was issued as a B-single to the album version. Liking the live version’s energy, some DJs simply played the B-side rather than the intended single, resulting in a huge hit. The second single, the lovely ballad “Waterfalls,” failed to find a large audience, not even cracking the Billboard Top 100.
Despite those catchy tracks, many of the others evoke a head-scratching reaction. However, “Temporary Secretary” has a danceable quality, which was really brought out on 2005’s Twin Freaks’ remix album (a collaboration between McCartney and DJ/producer Freelance Hellraiser). Its lyrics are loopy but fun: “She can be a diplomat but I don’t need a girl like that/She can be a neurosurgeon if she’s doin’ nothing urgent.” He finally breaks through the robotic sound with “On the Way,” a slow, bluesy rocker slightly reminiscent of “Let Me Roll It.”
Unlike the McCartney reissue, some of the McCartney II package’s highlights involve tracks that never appeared on the original album. The Special Edition comes with several outtakes: “Secret Friend” (original B-side of “Temporary Secretary”) and “Check My Machine” (B-side of “Waterfalls”), both of which have a quirky charm. “Secret Friend” clocks in at over ten minutes, however, a bit long for just essentially a repetitive groove. The live “Coming Up” also appears, as well as “Wonderful Christmastime.” The true standout remains “Blue Sway,” a McCartney II outtake that comes in two versions: the original demo, called “All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway,” and the 2011 remaster, featuring orchestration by Richard Niles. The new “Blue Sway” is a sweeping ambient track that shows what some of McCartney II’s tracks could have been: coherent, experimental yet accessible, and containing some structure. For that track alone, the McCartney II remaster is worth the price.
The DVD, included in the Deluxe Edition, contains some interesting odds and ends, including an extensive 1980 interview promoting the album. Watch McCartney appear irritated at some of the TV presenter’s questions, particularly having to do with the Japan incident. The original video for “Coming Up” still charms, with its debut of the “Plastic Macs.” Each band member is played by McCartney, appearing in a variety of guises (including his mop top incarnation). Even with comparatively primitive graphics, the video impresses with its seamless editing. Another clip is narrated by McCartney, who explains how the video was shot. The original video for “Waterfalls” is also included, as is a very grainy version of the “Wonderful Christmastime” clip. While it was clearly filmed many years ago, one should be baffled by its inferior quality. As a collector, I’ve seen bootlegs that looked more pristine. A live “Coming Up” from the Concert for the People of Kampuchea and a fascinating rehearsal clip of the same song are also highlights. Finally, the video for the new version of “Blue Sway” amazes with its underwater filming techniques. For more information on the making of this extraordinary clip, view the “making of” trailer. Like McCartney, The Deluxe Edition also features a hardcover book containing rare photographs.
Overall, The Paul McCartney Archive Collection has provided fans with pristine sound, rarities, and and an opportunity to hear his catalog from a new perspective. McCartney may have aged better than McCartney II, but both present views of an artist at crucial turning points in his life and career. Fans will find both packages fitting tributes to McCartney’s deeply personal statements.
For more information, visit Paul McCartney’s official website.
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