The story of Paul McCartney‘s self-titled trilogy is that of legend these days. The first in the collection, ‘McCartney’, was recorded solo at home by the Beatle during the band’s turbulent final period, offering a lo-fi outlet and away from the spotlight. He’s since claimed that the then-rudimentary recording equipment (largely pieced together entirely by Macca on a four-track tape, with contributions from wife Linda) resulted in one of the first ever “indie” albums.
A decade later, a sequel followed. This time, ‘McCartney II’ was a freaky, out-there response to the arena-rock bombast of his next musical project, Wings. Holed up in his Sussex home he experimented with new song structures and synthesizers for an album that was largely scoffed at upon release, but contemporary revists hint at the direction that bedroom pop would end up taking today.
In the midst of a pandemic – a period he delightfully refers to as “rockdown” – McCartney revisited the mindset after some 40 years. The third in the trilogy, released last week, is a snapshot of his period of isolation, joining Taylor Swift, Charli XCX and more in their valiant efforts to record their emotions and creative ides in a year that’s pushed both to the limits. ‘McCartney III’, which NME said proves that over the trilogy’s half-century release that “he never stopped liberating”, is now poised to be his first solo Number One in the UK for 30 years.
It is a fascinating listen and period of experimentation, featuring some of his most inspired recordings as a solo artist in some time. Who better than the man himself to speak to NME about each and every track on the collection, going deep on the inspirations and process of piecing together a record as monumental as this…
‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’
“Long Tailed Winter Bird’ started as a piece of film music which I extended. The title came about because it was extended into a full length song, we just called it ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ – there is actually in my bird book I saw a long tailed duck, a long tailed winter duck I think, anyway, 5 facts.”
‘Find My Way’
“I started this on the piano and it was based on an idea that I’d had in the car, and I was listening to music and there was a beat on the radio that I liked, so I just started singing along with it but making up my own words and tune. So that was started in the car, then I wrote it when I got home on the piano, and took it into the studio and it actually had a whole other idea for the verses which I didn’t like, so I eventually put in a new idea which is the middle now, [sings] “you never used to be afraid of days like these”. So I think that was much better than the original idea.”
“I had read a newspaper article about some male models who’d got annoyed at a photographer who’d been too aggressive and a bit abusive, so I started to imagine a fictional tale about these male models. When I was walking along the street in New York, I saw a big line of bicycles and I thought ‘OK well that’s a nice idea; here come the pretty boys, objects of desire, a line of bicycles for hire’. So the idea is about male models being for hire.”
‘Women and Wives’
“I wrote this when I was in Los Angeles and I had just been reading a book on the Blues artist Lead Belly, so I was trying to get in this bluesy mood so I played on the piano, played some simple chords and started singing in what I imagined was like bluesy [sings], so that was that and then I recorded it at the studio in England.”
“‘Lavatory Lil’ is about anybody that you don’t like and that you didn’t get on with and I think in our lives we have a lot of people like that. It’s not about anyone in particular but it is a fictitious character, I just liked the idea of someone being called ‘Lavatory Lil’. It harks back to one of John’s old songs, ‘Polythene Pam’, and what you do is you take half an idea of someone, you just make a fiction about what they do and what they’re like.”
‘Deep Deep Feeling’
“This was from a kind of jam that I had done, I’d wanted to get in a particular mood, a very sort of empty, spacey mood so I did that and then the vocals on top of it, I just made up stuff so it was just a combination of ideas that became an eight-minute song. I was thinking of editing it down to a shorter, more reasonable length but when I listened through to it I liked it so much, he said modestly, that I kept it eight-minutes.”
“‘Slidin’ came from a soundcheck jam when we were playing in Dusseldorf in Germany. During soundchecks, when I’m checking my guitar, I like to try and make something up and the band will join in and the sound man then gets the sound of my guitar which I’m going to use later in the show. So I started jamming and this riff came out that I liked and so we developed that and I thought ‘I must do something with that’. I really liked it as a riff, it stayed in my brain, so we did and recorded it for ‘Egypt Station’ [his 2018 solo album] with my band but it didn’t work out, so I had it kind of half finished so I changed some things here and there and put lyrics on it and so it became this.
‘Slidin’ for me is… I would listen to the Olympics, the Winter Olympics and hear the announcers saying ‘sliding’, they kept saying the word ‘sliding’, when they meant Snowboarding or Skiing or Tobogganing anything with slides, I just thought that’s a great, nice name for all of those, a group name for all of that so I then started thinking of snowboarders and skiers and that became the song ‘Slidin’.”
‘The Kiss of Venus’
“A friend of mine gave me a little book which was a little hippy book which was fascinating because it’s all about the movements of the planets and Earth and Venus and Mars and the moon and in the book it shows you that if you look at all the orbits over time, they actually trace out really fascinating patterns and some of them like a lotus flower which is kind of wow, kind of magical. I got very into this book and I was reading it while I had started writing a song, so I was looking for ideas and it said the phrase ‘the kiss of Venus’, meaning when Earth comes closest to Venus they call that the kiss of Venus. I thought ‘well that’s a great idea for a song'”.
‘Seize The Day’
“I started that on the piano, at home on the farm and was just letting the words spill out so I didn’t know what the song was going to be about, but I eventually got to this line ‘Yankee toes and Eskimos can turn to frozen ice’. I thought ‘what is that about?’ But it’s best not to question too deeply a lyric. So instead of it making an amazing amount of sense it becomes a little bit surrealistic. Anyway, that lead to the chorus which is about the cold cold days and so then I thought ‘well when the cold days come we’ll wish that we’d enjoyed today’ so that became ‘Seize The Day’ which is basically English for carpe diem.
“That was just a jam I had. I had a beat I liked and chords that I liked and I didn’t really have much of an idea but I had had this thing that said “get deep down, wanna get deep down” as this idea. I didn’t quite know what I meant by deep down except I want to have a deep relationship with you or whatever so I just really kept going on it. Some songs you know you don’t quite know where you’re going; you’ve just got half an idea and it’s really just that you’re enjoying the groove and that one was one of those, I just thought of ideas as I went along.”
‘Winter Bird/When Winter Comes’
‘Winter Bird’ was the reason I went in the studio first of all to do a little bit for the opening titles of a short film and then I was doing the end titles, the credits, another little instrumental for that. I liked what I did so much that once I’d finished the film bit, which was less than a minute in length, I then thought ‘OK let’s keep going’ and I started jamming on the same ideas but I lengthened it and then I started putting it on a guitar and drums and bass.
I just extended the idea because it opens with the original little thing that was for the film, we called that ‘Winter Bird’ and then the film that it was for was for a short animation film about the song ‘When Winter Comes’ so this is all full circle, so I’d come from the beginning of the album to the end and then we had the song that had started the whole thing so that’s ‘When Winter Comes’.
It’s kind of a idealistic thing of like sort of a hippy existence on a farm, planting trees, mending fences and living the good life which is something I like – I love nature and I love that idea of getting down and getting your hands dirty so that’s what that song became about and that was it, it became the last track on the album.
‘McCartney III’ is out now