Paul's an amazing guy. He just smokes his joints and whistles his way
— Harry Nilsson, 1984 —
Sometimes I just have to remember that this isn't a record retail store
I'm running: this is supposed to be some kind of art.
— Paul McCartney, 1979 —
It's difficult being Mrs. Paul McCartney.
— Linda McCartney, 1989 —
Failure and Hope in the Eighties
After Paul's 1980 arrest and imprisonment in Japan and his subsequent vow to never again touch his lips to another smoldering joint, the news out of Barbados on January 14, 1984, that the McCartneys were once again caught in possession of their favorite intoxicant understandably caused quite a stir. On holiday with children Stella and James, the couple were allegedly approached on the beach by a local dealer, inquiring if they might care to get down with a little bit of the old ganga.
Following the clandestine transaction, this dreadlocked Judas of the jungle immediately ran to the nearest police station and cashed in his chips, insisting that the famous Beatle was holding some "dynamite shit." The call then went out, summoning the isle's top cops for a Saturday afternoon pow-wow to decide how best to approach this potentially explosive situation. Hours later a full-scale raid was mounted, with several carloads of enthusiastic peace officers racing up the long, winding drive of McCartney's rented nineteenth-century villa. The moment Paul and Linda saw them coming, of course, they knew what was up. Teeth clenched in a stone-faced smile, McCartney threw open the large, teak double doors before the police even had a chance to knock.
"Come in," he said in a clipped, business-like timbre. "I suppose you'll want this, won't you?" Reaching deep into his pockets, the forlorn ex-Beatle matter-of-factly produced a solitary ten-gram bag of dope, and summarily dropped it into the outstretched palm of the head man, who noted that an inspection of the premises was in order.
After a rudimentary search an additional seven grams was uncovered in Linda's purse. Escorted to HQ in Bridgetown, Paul and Linda were questioned for a couple of hours, relieved of their passports, and then allowed to bail themselves out for SHOO. All things considered, quite a pricey smoke.
Appearing in Holetown Magistrate's Court a couple of days later, the beleaguered pair were formally charged and without further ado solemnly pleaded guilty. Their counsel, high-powered local attorney David Simonds, assured the court that Mr. and Mrs. McCartney were definitely not "retailers" but only occasional users intent on securing the grass for their own personal consumption: "The male accused is of considerable international standing. He is a very talented and creative person. People who have this talent sometimes need inspiration. I'm instructed that Mr. McCartney and his wife obtained the vegetable matter from someone on Holetown Beach. They are certainly not pushers."
On the prosecution's side, Inspector Allan Long remarked that the McCartneys were setting a very poor example for the island's youth through their behavior. Keith Walker, the assistant police commissioner, commented: "The law is for everybody on the island — and that includes McCartney. We are treating this as a very serious case. I don't know if he'd be welcome here again."
Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, however, the judge elected to extend to the naughty pair a mere slap on the wrists, fining them a total of just £70.
Thinking themselves out of the woods, the McCartney's packed up and boarded a flight home, breathing a sigh of relief as they landed at London's Heathrow Airport. Unfortunately, after a not totally unexpected search through their luggage, customs officers discovered yet more pot in a plastic film canister belonging to Linda. Due to the small amount of the offending substance found, however, she was not held but merely issued a ticket to appear at Uxbridge Court in West London on January 24.
Prior to leaving the airport an obviously angry Paul berated reporters, saying, "This substance is a whole lot less harmful than rum punch, whisky, nicotine and glue — all of which are perfectly legal. I'd like to see it decriminalized. I don't think that in the privacy of my own room I am doing any harm whatsoever. . . . Let's get this straight. I'm not interested in setting an example for anyone. I'm just being my own self in my own time."
Slowly making their way through the mob of reporters lying in wait for them outside the court on Linda's trial date, the McCartneys declined comment. Inside the packed courtroom, though, Linda's attorney, Edwin Glasgow, immediately shifted into high gear, attacking all those who would pre-judge the two famous dopeaholics: "The suggestion that Paul McCartney's wife ought to grow up and set an example is pretty puerile, ill-informed and a prejudiced judgement from people who have not met her. My client is a thoroughly decent lady who has done a great deal more for others than those who sneer at her now have ever done."
Eventually fined £75, Linda clung close to Paul as they once again fought their way through the offending paparazzi, pausing only long enough for her to comment: "It's much ado about nothing. It's a pity we have had to go through all this. It's horrible to feel like a criminal when you are not. They never seem to get the heroin pushers, the Mafia, and the murderers." Although Paul McCartney has always been a little too self-conscious to ever attempt becoming a "serious" actor, he has nonetheless long been interested in working on film. There was of course his filmic dabbling in the sixties. And, if his numberless videos and three Beatle movies over the years count, he's also managed to rack up quite an impressive list of credits as well. Still, running around mugging to the camera, miming songs, hardly qualifies him to write and star in his own feature-length motion picture. "In this business," says a Hollywood insider, "what you can do is limited to only what you can afford to do. And with McCartney, that's just about anything."
Paul's idea to create a vehicle for himself in the pictures came out of the same kind of mundane circumstance from which he seems to draw so much of his creative inspiration; this time he was sitting in London's horrendous morning traffic. Working first with writer Tom Stoppard on a proposed anti-war film based on Tug of War, he began interviewing prospective directors for the project, finally settling on a young, relatively unknown director of television commercials, Peter Webb. Still reasonably wet behind the ears when it came to the movies, Webb was, for McCartney, the perfect choice: hungry enough to be the kind of accommodating yes-man Paul expected, and just smart enough never to tell the king when he had no clothes on.
Eventually, the admittedly tired anti-war theme was dropped in favor of a kind of pseudo-documentary featuring the now-Beatleless solo incarnation of Paul, entitled Give My Regards to Broad Street. "It's kind of a parody of me now," says Macca.
When I was faced with making it, it was like, "Well, should we go into this kind of space blockbuster, ridiculous music on the moon thing? That's Spielberg, that's Lucas, that's those guys. They do it so well, there's no point tryin' to compete with them." The other thing was "National Lampoon," "Saturday Night Live," "Monty Python" . . . But I'll look second class to any of them if I try and do their thing. So this was just more my thing. And it comes off a bit more English, a bit lighter on the comedy, 'cause I'm not any great, stunning comedian. Ringo's the funny one.
In all fairness the original premise of the film did have potential. A world-famous superstar rocker's master tapes go missing with an ex-con assistant the primary suspect. The remainder of the movie centers around the intensive search for said masters along with an array of million-dollar fantasy sequences thrown in for good measure. Put into such singularly dry terms, of course, it doesn't really sound all that exciting, but remember that Raiders of the Lost Ark was just a story about a guy trying to find an ancient relic. The problem was the producers (who were edged in later) allowing the inexperienced McCartney so much creative control. This penchant for always having to "do it all" has certainly brought the former Beatle a terrifically long way over the years, but has caused him a lifetime of grief as well. The other three Beatles certainly didn't appreciate it, nor, by and large, did the various configurations of Wings. As Denny Laine has said: "If only he could relax a bit, and let somebody else occasionally take the wheel. . ." Still, Paul is Paul and loved the world over for it. It's hard enough sometimes to remember that, despite his overwhelming accomplishments, McCartney is every bit as human, frail, and afraid as any one of us. Maybe even more so. It is, after all, his unique ability to successfully mirror so much of what we as his audience think and feel that has placed him squarely on top. "Anyway," Denny once reflected, regarding his ex-partner's stellar flop, "you can't hit the friggin' bull's-eye all the time, can ya?" True enough. But perhaps this dart missed the board entirely.
"The public will be the judge," McCartney proclaimed to reporters during his October 1984 cross-country promotional tour of America to help sell the film. And they were, staying away in record numbers, causing the $9-million fiasco to close literally everywhere within just two short weeks. Of course the critics too had a say in all this, despite McCartney's warbling about how only the "people's" opinion matters. The Sacramento Bee called it "slow freight, overloaded with blandness" and gave it a "B" for "boring." The Orange County Register (also a California paper) printed a bold headline, declaring "Don't Give Much Regard to Paul McCartney's Film," and went on to trash the movie piteously, commenting, that "the only good thing to say about the climax of Broad Street is it's safer than sleeping pills and cheaper than a lobotomy." The paper's film critic, Jim Washburn, was something less than kind, stating: "GMRTBS is touted as depicting 'a day in the mind of a pop star.' Let's hope not, because any mind as empty as the one behind Broad Street could be rented out as a racquetball court. . . . The problem seems to be Paul McCartney. The minute he appears up there on the screen, his mouth set in its permanent oval of mild surprise, it's as if a monstrous vacuum begins sucking up every minute of razzle-dazzle. He's so enervating nothing can help." Finally, the Tucson Weekly may have summed it up best in saying that "... all Paul needs is someone willing to criticize and add to his ideas, who he is willing to recognize. John Lennon played that role once, and the partnership was brilliant. It's not that McCartney isn't a genius — he is — or that he's run out of good ideas. But, left on his own, Paul McCartney just doesn't explore the potential of his material."
After its disastrous term in movie theaters Broad Street found a temporary home on various cable TV channels and was even molded into a commercially unsuccessful video game. For McCartney, making his very own motion picture was the culmination of a lifelong dream. In the cold light of day, however, it turned out the artist's dreams required just a little more editing than he perhaps cared to admit. "I'm too human for all this [criticism]," he explained to American TV critic Gene Siskel at the time. "I don't like sitting around with someone telling me they don't like my picture. I'm just a real little person inside this box."
Trying to come to terms with that "little person" in a meaningful way is another important (though almost never talked about) feature of McCartney the man. Paul and Linda both have a strong covenant with at least the concept of inner truth and, while not overtly religious, cling to a kind of convoluted hippie philosophy that rules out nothing. Denny Laine insists that Paul, especially, is quite the closet mystic, voraciously plowing through book after book on reincarnation, pyramids, karma and the like:
We were all involved in that. Right back from the early Moody Blues days we were into the mysteries of life, not to the point where we would do anything more than have the odd seance though ... I was frankly a little bit surprised that Paul was into it all as much as he was ... He was always open minded, he ... didn't slag things off without knowing more about them: he's an intellectual in that way ... He came to me once with this book on the pyramids and I was amazed he knew as much as he did, but there again, he obviously spends a lot of time composing songs and looking for material to write about. From that day on I saw a different side to him; he'd shown me the depths he was capable of.
Ever since the Beatles' introspective Maharishi days, McCartney has been very much the silent supporter of many similar spirit-centered pursuits. Located, as he is at MPL, just steps away from the London Radha Krishna Temple and their top-drawer vegetarian restaurant, Govinda's, the ex-Beatle has become a kind of devotee from afar, often yelling out "Hare Krishna" to the gentle saffron-robed yogis as they scoot across Soho Square. On his birthday each year the local Krishna kids generally drop off an inscribed cake at his office. "It's just a neighborly, good-natured relationship," says senior devotee Dhananjaya Dasa. "Paul understands the philosophy of our movement and appreciates the teachings of our spiritual master, Srila Prabphupada. Both he and Linda are especially interested and knowledgeable on the doctrines of vegetarianism, meditation, and what we call "ahimsa," or nonviolence to all creatures — all tenets every aspiring devotee holds dear."
Musically, too, McCartney has made note of his interest in Krishnaism on several recordings both past and present, including a rare Beatle demo of the "Hare Krishna Mantra" done in 1969 as part of the group's marathon Let It Be sessions, as well as the masterful "Man Who Found God on the Moon" on the 1973 collaboration album, with brother Mike, entitled McGear. "Paul was going into the studio on the day of the session and had no idea what we were going to do," Mike told me in 1984.
But I had these two or three stories I had to link together somehow. Mainly it was about this little Krishna girl who came into Island Sound while I was sitting there waiting for a taxi. Just an ordinary little girl in a tartan skirt and flowers in her hair. She said, "Do you want to know about Krishna?" So the doorman said, "No, no, get out of here." "Do you want to buy a book for Krishna? Do you want to buy a flower or something for Krishna?" He said, "Get on your way." He was going to kick her out, but I said, "It's all right." I might have bought a flower off her. As she was leaving, she turned around, looked at both of us, and very quietly, very innocently, said, "Hare Krishna," and walked out the bloody door. That's the way to get out aggression in this life: disarm with complete honesty.
Perhaps McCartney's most direct nod to his secret admiration for this playful, rain-cloud-colored incarnation of the great god Vishnu was the picture cover for his "This One" single culled from the 1989 Flowers in the Dirt album. Right there, in blazing Hindu blue, a blissfully smiling baby Krishna (known officially as "Gopal") is seen flying over a deeply calm ocean, riding a giant white swan. After McCartney had hundreds of billboard-sized posters of the eye-popping artwork plastered all over London, even the most die-hard Krishna haters were forced to take notice. Sad to say, the single was still only a hit in heaven.
Perhaps McCartney's most enduring connection with something beyond his own life's drama is through Mother Nature. For years now, just walking through the countryside on his own, or riding his favorite horse along the beach up in Scotland, has helped ground the singer spiritually. "Things mystical rule his life, I can tell you," says Laine. Once again, each time you think you've pegged him, McCartney eludes detection with yet another quick change of personality that leaves observers scratching their heads.
Paul's second post-Wings musical adventure (after Tug of War) was the flaccid and unfulfilling Pipes of Peace released in Britain on October 31, 1983. A haphazard collection of eleven painfully trite and uninteresting compositions, it couldn't be salvaged even by such superstar contributors as Ringo Starr, Andy McKay, Stanley Clarke, Steve Gadd, and the androgynous Michael Jackson. Both Laurence Juber and Steve Holly recall rehearsing much of the material included on the album during the final days of Wings, giving credence to the suggestion that the record was basically a throwaway mix of leftovers McCartney had lying around.
Masterfully produced by George Martin, perhaps the biggest break for the album came when Michael Jackson (then impossibly popular) rang up McCartney out of the blue and asked if they might consider working together. "He just said, 'I wanna make some hits,'" remembers Paul. "I said, 'Sounds good.' So he came over. We sat around upstairs on the top floor of our office in London and I just grabbed a guitar and "Say Say Say" came out of it. He helped with a lot of the words on that actually. It's not a very wordy song, but it was good fun working with him because he's enthusiastic. But again, it's nothing like working with John." Another McCartney/Jackson collaboration, "The Man," was just plain silly, sounding more like the theme song to the "Care Bears" than anything resembling a proper piece of music.
From there things begin to disintegrate so badly, to say any more would be pointless and cruel, like torturing a defenseless animal, or deliberately tripping an old man. Nevertheless, McCartney seems to have a hard-core audience ready to purchase every last piece of vinyl issued under his name, no matter how vacuous or obscure. Heading the list of Billboard magazine's most unexpectedly disappointing albums of the year, Pipes of Peace also held the rare distinction of being the only McCartney studio LP ever to miss making America's Top 10. Finally, it should also be noted that this was the last McCartney record on which Denny Laine appears. It is possible to see the dissolution of their partnership as the beginning of the end of Paul's amazingly prolific and successful recording life. The post-Lennon-and-Laine musical liaisons can't honestly be said to have maintained the magic. Despite his still enormous popularity both as an outstanding performer and larger-than-life celebrity, McCartney's best work as a recording artist may well be behind him. One always hopes, of course, but judging from the only sporadically interesting Press to Play and disappointing Flowers in the Dirt it doesn't really look too promising.
Life in the passing lane has not always been easy, and in 1983 this unhappy truth was brought all too close to home with the uncovering of a deadly serious plot to kidnap Linda from the McCartneys' Sussex home and hold her for $12.5 million ransom. It was masterminded by former Brit soldier Allan Gallop, who, along with two additional unnamed co-conspirators, planned to snatch Paul's unsuspecting missus in a Rambo-style military raid on the McCartney compound. Said to have spent the better part of a week stalking the famous pair, Gallop had intended, after the abduction, to hold Linda at a remote farmhouse until the always tricky transfer of funds could be accomplished. "I could have done it easily," he later bragged to London's Sun, "despite McCartney's state-of-the-art security measures." Fortunately, the would-be kidnappers never got the chance, foiled by local cops before they could make their big move. A McCartney spokesman would say only that too much was being made of the affair, noting that by the time the story reached the attention of the media, the incident was already more than a year old.
On July 13, 1985, Paul joined with the creme de la creme of the pop world to perform live for the first time in eight years at Live Aid, Irish rocker Bob Geldof's all-star bid to help feed the starving masses of Ethiopia. Although McCartney's name was not included on the first bill issued to the press, Geldof eventually managed to convince him that his participation in the event would ensure expanded TV coverage around the globe. The more people who saw the high-energy concerts, of course, the more money would be raised, thus helping to save thousands more innocent lives in Africa. The logic was unarguable.
Slipping out onto the darkened stage, Paul felt a thin tingle of electricity racing up his spine as he sat down at the all-white grand piano to perform the day's grand finale, a full ensemble rendition of "Let It Be." Just prior to McCartney's set, Freddie Mercury and Brian May had performed, and one of their road crew accidentally pulled out Paul's mike jack, thinking the cable was theirs. As a result, although the crowd picked up on the first plaintive chords of the sentimental favorite, McCartney's vocal was inaudible, something the incurable perfectionist probably couldn't have envisioned in his worst nightmare. "My mind was saying, 'Well, we haven't got the monitors, but I bet the sound's great on the telly,'" McCartney recalls in his 1989/90 tour program.
Suddenly the terrible moment came, after the first verse, when the monitors came in, voices going, "You've got the wrong plug; that's not your plug!" "Oh dear," I thought, "I wonder if that's coming over on the BBC." Meanwhile, this other half of me is singing "Let It Be," trying to remember the words. And I went, "There will be an answer" and I heard the crowd go "Yey!!" I thought, "It's OK, we're cool." The speakers had come on for a moment. Then it started to feed back. Another nightmare. And I had this sudden thought I should sing "There will be some feedback, let it be." Then I thought, "No, you can't do that, this is Ethiopia. Don't be so facetious ..." The truth of it was that this guy Geldof has set out to raise a lot of money for people who were dying, and it didn't really matter if my mike went out.
Paul McCartney's search for a friendly collaborator after his falling-out with both Lennon and Laine says a lot about his need to work closely with someone whose musical instincts mesh cohesively with his own. His great love for Linda aside, his so-called songwriting partnership with her was a bad joke, more a cagey business maneuver than any sort of artist-to-artist simpatico.
Far more interesting and productive was his spell as one half of the creative consortium of "Mac and Jac" (or McCartney and Jackson respectively). Meeting Michael first at a Wings party aboard the Queen Mary, and then later at yet another hip Hollywood soiree, Paul told the wiry singer/dancer that he had only recently composed what he thought would be the perfect song for Jackson to record, entitled, simply, "Girlfriend." When Jackson teamed up with fabled producer Quincey Jones to record his first solo album, Off the Wall, for Epic, the idea of including the sultry "sand through silk" number came up, which led to a flurry of transatlantic calls between the two artists. The connection was now solidly made.
By the time Jackson's landmark Thriller came around Michael had written a number called "The Girl Is Mine" which he, in turn, felt would be a perfect McCartney/Jackson duet. Recorded in L.A. between sessions for Tug of War, the tangled love song was issued as a single in both the U.S.A. and Britain, reaching the top five in both countries. Publishing on the tune was split between the two as McCartney had helped with a few finishing touches upon his arrival in the States.
In 1983, this roving black-and-white minstrel show got together once again, of course, to work on Pipes of Peace. Two years later, Jackson cast the successful bid of $50 million in an on-going war of numbers to purchase the rights to ATV Music, which included the Northern Songs catalog of Beatles classics. McCartney reflects:
Michael's the kind of guy who picks brains ... I don't think he'd even had the cosmetics then ... He's had a lot of facial surgery since then, as I think most people on the planet know. He actually told me he was going to a religious retreat — and I believed him. But he came out of that religious retreat with a smashing new nose. The power of prayer, I guess ... I gave him a lot of advice, and you know, a fish gets caught by opening its mouth. I advised him to go into publishing. And, as a joke, he looked at me and he said, "I'm going to buy your songs one day." And I just said, "Great, good joke." I really treated it as a joke . . . Then someone rang me up one day and said, "Michael's bought your ..." "What?!?"... I haven't spoken to him since. I think he thinks it's just business. But I think it's slightly dodgy to do things like that — to be someone's friend and then to buy the rug they're standing on.
Without question Brian Epstein's greatest folly as a manager was allowing his young charges to sign away their publishing in the first place. In those days the Beatles left literally all their business affairs to him, trusting in his ability to do the right thing. It was a near-fatal mistake.
As the Beatles were busy tuning into their inner voices high in the hills of Rishikesh with the Maharishi in 1968, Dick James, the group's first music publisher, sold Northern, in a surprise move, to Sir Lew Grade and his ATV Corporation. Paul attempted to buy back the tunes in 1969 but eventually lost out to Australian magnate Robert Holmes a Court.
When the publishing came up for sale again, some sixteen years later, both Paul and Yoko were seemingly anxious to "bring home" the many Lennon/McCartney compositions, if only to keep them from being "cheapened" by their potential commercial exploitation as background music to sell everything from maxi-pads to dog food. "Paul and Yoko want to keep the songs in the family," Linda commented at the time. "Morally, it is madness that Paul does not own any of the songs he wrote with John. To Paul they are a part of him just as his children are."
Banding together for the first time ever, Paul and Yoko discussed making a wide range of offers for the portfolio, but Ono always drew back, trying to convince McCartney that the songs could be had at bargain basement prices if only they hung together and bided their time. McCartney and Ono, however, weren't the only players interested in acquiring the valuable property: big leaguers CBS, Warner Communications, Paramount, EMI, and the powerful Entertainment Company were all circling the waters, sizing up the competition. When Jackson secretly entered, and actually scored the prize on August 10, 1985, McCartney was left with a lot of egg on his face and more than a few suspicions.
According to industry sources, Paul later became aware of the little-known provision in American copyright law which stated that if a composer passes away during the first twenty-eight-year phase of a copyright, his or her heir can claim an additional term of the same duration, regardless of any preexisting publishing agreements. As a result, McCartney may have some right to feel that Ono intentionally short-circuited his bid to control the tunes, knowing that the copyrights would eventually revert back to the Lennon estate without her having to lay out a penny. Paul explains: "In publishing in America, you have renewals; we don't have them here. After twenty-eight years — and, believe it or not, twenty-eight years for some of the Beatles songs is imminent — you, as a composer, get the chance either to go with this publisher again or not. And so, John's renewals will all be coming up, and Yoko can get the rights back. But my renewals don't come up, because I'm still alive, and we signed our renewal rights away for life. So, pretty soon, I think Yoko will own more of 'Yesterday' than I will."
To add insult to injury, the suggestion has even been made that Ms Ono may have actually assisted Jackson in putting the deal together, if true, a very nasty trick to have played upon her late husband's former partner. Sam Havadtoy, meanwhile, Yoko's on-call spokesperson and almost instantaneous stand-in for Lennon following his murder in 1980 (Havadtoy moved in with the supposedly grieving widow just weeks afterwards), told the New York Post: "Paul and Yoko may have had a phone conversation about the catalog, at which time she said she wasn't interested, but if McCartney wanted the publishing rights he could have bought them himself. Yoko does not control Paul McCartney."
In the end McCartney just had to grin and bear it, knowing that his one real chance at truly holding onto the Beatles' great songwriting legacy was probably gone forever. The unhappy episode, though, certainly nixed any chance of Paul and Yoko's remaining anything more than quasi-congenial adversaries. And even in that, a bitter enmity lies perpetually bubbling just below the surface.
By the early summer of 1986 McCartney was once again itchy to get back up on stage before a live audience, a pastime always particularly close to his heart. Issued an invitation to appear at the Prince's Trust Birthday Party at Wembley Arena on June 20, Macca graciously accepted, performing alongside Tina Turner (in a wild rendition of "Get Back") as well as in a grand slam superstar jam of "I Saw Her Standing There" and the inevitable "Long Tall Sally." Featuring such regal rockers as Eric Clapton, Elton John, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, Howard Jones, Bryan Adams, Ray Cooper, and Midge Ure, the show was a great success. It was first transmitted over the BBC a week later. "The audience was great, it was an incredible back-up band, and I enjoyed every minute," McCartney later remarked.
Paul's next album release, Press to Play, was a definite departure for the singer, in many ways more like a far-out Pink Floyd LP than the usual bubbly McCartney fare. Not exactly a barnburner commercially, artistically it was just unusual and oblique enough to challenge the listener a bit more than his previous few offerings. Well constructed and flawlessly produced by the team of Hugh Padgham and Paul McCartney, the ten-track opus contained the mature fruit of what appeared to be a lot of creatively intensive soul searching by the artist. Tunes such as the mystically inclined "Good Times Coming/ Feel the Sun," the otherworldly "Talk More Talk," and the majestic "Only Love Remains" work well alongside such instantly likeable numbers as "Press" and the lyrically surreal "Pretty Little Head."
Issued in England on September 1, 1986, Press to Play also boasts cameo appearances by a who's who of celebrated rock 'n' roll greats including Pete Townshend, guitar wizard Carlos Alomar, Phil Collins, Eric Stewart, and old standby Ray Cooper, among others. Of his relationship with ex-Mindbender and 10CC member Stewart (who along with McCartney co-wrote six of the cuts on the album), Paul had this to say. "It didn't really work out as well as I wanted it to, although we did a couple of nice things. But it wasn't a very successful album. It all got a little bit sticky because he thought I'd wanted him to co-produce the album with me and I must have led him to believe that. . . Then I said, 'Oh, we're getting so and so to produce it,' and he went into shock. So that fell through mainly because of that production misunderstanding."
Of Apple's many Beatle and post-Beatle employees over the years Alistair Taylor was one of the very few to become close friends with Paul. Let go by strongman Allen Klein during an almost all-inclusive house cleaning at the classy Savile Row address, Taylor soon lost touch with his former boss, moving on to an only moderately successful career managing local pop groups and doing freelance PR out of his suburban London home. In the early eighties, while clearing out some old books from his library, Taylor accidently came upon Paul's original design sketch for the famous 1968 Apple want ad depicting Taylor as a perfectly bizarre one-man band performing under the legend "This Man Has Talent!" And below: "One day he sang his songs into a tape recorder (borrowed from the man next door). In his neatest handwriting, he wrote an explanatory note (giving his name and address) and, remembering to enclose a picture of himself, sent the tape, letter and photograph to Apple Music, 94 Baker Street, London, W.1. If you were thinking of doing the same thing yourself — do it now! This man owns a Bentley!"
Realizing that such a supremely historic Beatle document would be worth a lot of money, Taylor decided to try to sell it back to his old mate after hearing that Paul was then into collecting Beatles memorabilia in a big way. "I thought, 'Shit, this is priceless!'" Taylor told me at a New York Beatles convention in September of 1984:
I was unemployed and I had this pop group I was trying to manage [the Actors], and I wrote and said, "Hey, I found this old sketch you did. Do you remember being in my flat? We were drinking coffee until two in the morning." We must have thrown dozens of these away ... It literally dropped out of a book after fourteen years. The next thing, his manager rang to say Paul wasn't interested. So I said, "Fine." The next thing, Paul himself rang and just dived straight in by saying, "It's not yours to sell and you've no right, you know." I haven't spoken to the guy for fifteen years and we were once so close that I was taken aback. So anyway, I ended up by saying, "It is mine, it was in my house and I need the money, so I'm going to go ahead and put it into Sotheby's." So he said, "You go ahead if you want to. It's up to you. I don't want to know." So I put it into Sotheby's, and the next thing there was an injunction from McCartney's lawyers, so I had to settle out of court. I sold it back to Paul at an agreed figure which was about a tenth of what it was worth.
It is truly incredible just how many people once close to McCartney tend to walk away with a bitter taste in their mouths. Why is it? Surely not everyone is lying. There's just too much smoke for there not to be at least a spark of truth somewhere. Almost all of these horror stories in one way or another revolve around money. I asked Taylor why he thought that was. "I don't know. I think he's just rather selfish and resents anyone making anything, however little, from him. He believes we milked him during the Beatle years, but he forgets what we did for him."
Occasionally, though, McCartney does try to spread things around a bit by engaging in projects designed primarily to help others. A good example of his late-blooming philanthropy was his involvement in the all-star remake of Let It Be in aid of the 1987 Zeebrugge ferry disaster in Belgium, as well as his on-going support of various environmental and vegetarian causes around the globe.
Perhaps his most generous (and astute) move of late was his 1988 foray into the Russian music market with the release of a rock-solid collection of fifties oldies such as "Kansas City" and "Ain't That a Shame." The germ of the idea was planted in the summer of 1987 when Paul approached his manager, Richard Ogden, with a plan to issue a batch of recently recorded rock standards in England as if they had been smuggled in from Russia on the underground market. The idea of Paul McCartney bootlegging his own record, however, didn't really appeal to the straightforward businessman who quashed the concept but went ahead on his own and had a couple of dozen copies of the sessions pressed and packaged in Russian-looking jackets as a Christmas present to his famous employer.
After the cold war began to thaw out a bit with the first warm glow of Mikhail Gorbachev's ground-breaking perestroika and glasnost, MPL sent Ogden packing off to Moscow for a heavyweight meeting with officials from the state-run Melodya record label. Following a fair bit of wrangling, a licensing deal was struck, allowing the Soviets to press an initial 400,000 copies of the record, aptly titled Back in the U.S.S.R.
The plan was never to release it anywhere in the West, making the disc a special present from Paul to his many loyal Eastern Bloc fans. Immediately after its release, though, the thirteen-track album started turning up for sale in both England and America fetching upwards of two hundred dollars a copy among collectors. Bootleg versions (issued not only on record but also on CD and cassette as well) were far better value at a mere ten- to twenty-dollars apiece. Everyone back at Soho Square, of course was astounded. "We're trying to decide how to deal with this," Ogden commented to reporters at the inception of the controversy.
We still have absolutely no plans to release the record elsewhere, but we're not happy about Paul's fans having to pay so much if they want a copy. We are mailing members of our fan club a letter telling them not to pay those prices because if we can find a way of sorting it out with the Russians, we'll make the record available to them ourselves . . . From our point of view, this was never meant to be a commercial venture. We're earning virtually nothing from it, and we are donating part of what we earn to the Armenian earthquake appeal. The record is something Paul made for fun ...
Back in Russia, meanwhile, rock fans from Georgia to Siberia were lining up to score a copy of the hot new release which reportedly sold out completely within forty-eight hours of first hitting the streets on October 1. In yet another sweeping gesture McCartney agreed to promote the album not by train-stomping in the Soviet Union but rather by sitting down for a live transcontinental satellite give-and-take with the Russian people via the BBC World Service in London that January. For fifty-five minutes, callers chatted with McCartney about not only the new album but his long-dead original group as well. "We [the Beatles] always heard the young people were buying our records and were interested in the music we made, so that always made me very optimistic about the relations between our countries. It didn't put us off Russians. We love you — madly." Paul's amazing power to PR, it seems, has now become truly global.
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