Tug of war, Pipes of peace. Archive sets, a review (kind of).

tug-deluxe

Something big was shifting and changing for Paul in the nineteen eighties. By late 1979 Wings were struggling, he was facing having to try and reheat a souffle with the band. How to repeat the success of 1976?. For me, the 1979 incarnation of Wings just didn’t have that ‘spark’. Tho technically good, neither Steve nor Lawrence really moved, or struck a chord with me. Paul himself has hinted that deep down he felt Wings at that point weren’t working.

Nineteen eighty dawned, Paul greeted the decade in handcuffs, in jail, and in a foreign land. Wings somehow pulled themselves together later that year for rehearsals, a cursory listen to those tapes, and you can tell nobody’s hearts were really into playing.

Steve and Lawrence last played with Paul in October, when they recorded some overdubs for the Cold Cuts project.

Later that month, sessions for what would become the albums ‘Tug of war’, and ‘Pipes of peace’ began, working with George Martin, and at this stage, Denny Laine. Did Paul feel some loyalty to Denny, but knew Lawrence and Steve weren’t the right fit?. Paul says they decided to ‘cast’ the musicians for each track, instead of using a band, and by April of the next year, Denny was also gone.

Then came December the 8th.

That’s a pretty crazy year to start a decade, a decade which i think of as Paul’s ‘aimless’ years. This was a time where Paul was still in a mindset where a pop artist released an album a year. That’s a pretty punishing work ethic, and one which i think, at least artistically, would have benefited, if Paul had dialed it back a bit.

I’m not sure what else was coming into play in Paul’s life, that caused the ‘Eighties wobbles’, but we can speculate. Paul had gone from being an active, touring performer, with a band, and the lifestyle that brings. By 1982, Paul was forty, not touring, his kids were all at school, and i feel the ‘Funky years’ were transforming into the ‘Pipe and slippers’ years. Traveling the world touring, was now being replaced by domesticity, and folly such as the Broadstreet project. It was at this point i feel Paul began to drift, and his career became a bit aimless.

pipes-deluxe

Right about now the idea of an album a year should have stopped. Imagine for a minute (or five) that Broadstreet didn’t happen, and Paul released a rejigged Pipes of peace in late 1984.

Side one

1) Pipes of Peace
2) Say Say Say
3) The Other Me
4) Keep Under Cover
5) So Bad

Side two

1) The Man
2) Sweetest Little Show
3) No more lonely nights
4) Not such a bad boy
5) Through Our Love

Now THAT is an album that would be a lot harder to criticize (okay, harder for ME to criticize). Holding over Average person, Hey Hey, and Tug of peace as ‘B sides’ (at best).

But the eighties malaise shrouded Paul. The the Pipes of peace album had two massive hit singles on it, but the critics were circling, and Paul’s ‘free pass’ and good will from the public was fading. I can’t really describe it, but around this time, there was a slight air that something was going amiss.

As a super fan i always found joy in all of Paul’s projects, but, i remember taking ‘Tug of war’ to a party, and people were into it, and it was cool to do it. By the time Pipes of peace came around, it was definitely not okay to play at a party.

Moving further along, Paul was busted for drugs twice in 1984. The cool factor on a street cred level was one thing, but in hindsight, i think it highlighted a bigger problem. Paul was in a wacky thumbs aloft bubble, disconnected from the live scene, from working, and gigging as a musician. Paul was isolated with family life on the farm, the legend of The Beatles was rising, but Paul’s stocks in being able to ride along, on the good faith of the Fabs, was dwindling fast.

Broadstreet came along in October 1984, and the critics pounced, and pounded, and tore at Paul like never before. The one success from the project was the song ‘We all stand together’, a big hit in the UK. I have no issue with the song, and i’ll defend it to the hilt, as a children’s song, which is what it was, it was a brilliant piece of work.

I guess the drubbing Paul took from Broadstreet shook him up. Next came ‘Press to play’, which showed Paul trying to be contemporary. What it showed, was Paul was just a voice, on an album in which his character could not be heard. No distinctive Paul bass, guitar, drums or even piano. It was a sterile album, and the brain worm melody’s just weren’t there.

By now the album sales were faltering, and it was a very weird time to be a fan. Over the next two years Paul recorded a lot of material with Phil Ramone producing. In my opinion, these recordings are the absolute nadir of Paul’s recorded output. I’m so thankful Paul came to his senses, and these weren’t released as an album, i’m not sure how Paul’s career could have recovered from that.

I think Paul realized something major had to give, he was spiraling out of control, he had to have known his output was aimless, and seemed without conviction.

Then, something happened. Paul got a new manager, who got Paul in touch with Elvis Costello. Someone who would challenge Paul, and maybe relight the fire in his belly. No one (not even Paul) could have missed the critical savaging from Broadstreet, or the giant yawn that greeted ‘Press to play’. Thankfully Paul has a healthy ego, and there is nothing like a scare, and a bruising to it, to shake him up a little. From ‘Press to play’ we got ‘Flowers in the dirt’, and from ‘Driving rain’ we got ‘ Chaos and creation in the backyard’, let us all be thankful for bruised ego’s.

My fears were not allayed when i put the single ‘Once upon a long ago’ in my cd player, it was more ‘Macca mild’, but, once ‘Back on my feet’ came on, i just ‘knew’ Paul was back, i knew it, and i knew something great was going to follow.

Thankfully nothing like the eighties malaise has struck Paul since, there have been one or two ‘minor’ bumps, but since 1989’s ‘Flowers in the dirt’, it’s been an upward trajectory, unmatched by any of his contemporary’s.

I’m loving the archive series of re releases, at last we can reappraise Paul’s songs and melodies, unencumbered by the era of their original release. When it comes down to it, that is all that’s really important, the songs.

Music being subjective, for every five people that can’t stand ‘Tug of peace’, somewhere out there is someone, who absolutely loves it (I haven’t met that person yet, but i think i’d like to).

As with all these sets, the sound is great, and as good as it is going to get without being remixed, which, strangely, Tug of war has been.

The one critique i have, there are a few quality control issues this time, with obvious dates being incorrect, and musician personal credits being wrong.

In a world full of hardships, and day to day life sometimes hard to bare, these sets from Paul are a treat, a real gift to the fans, full of photos, and just the right amount (for me) of outtakes and rarities, but not so many that they overwhelm the original album, which is what is being highlighted.

The nineteen eighties started with Paul in handcuffs, they ended with Paul unshackled, finally soaring, and he didn’t need Wings for that.

20 Responses to “Tug of war, Pipes of peace. Archive sets, a review (kind of).”

  1. Tammy says:

    Before anyone shits on ‘The other me’, any possible shittery is thrown out the window once the middle eight kicks in. Paul’s voice on the line, ‘But if i ever hurt you’ is enough to make me cry with Macca joy.

  2. Hitachi says:

    But sadly, in my book, one great line does not a great song make no matter how good it is. “The Other Me” and “Average Person” are amongst the nadir of Paul’s “proper” songs. I don’t consider “Tug of Peace” a proper song so its in its own “below nadir” category. “Sweetest Little Show”, “So Bad”, “The Man”, the title track and maybe “Through Our Love”are the absolute highlights of POP. The rest is filler. So basically its half a good album. “Tug of War” had about 6 excellent songs so its a shame he didn’t just pick the cream of the crop from both and release one stellar album.

  3. mcarp555 says:

    Funny, my own take is almost the other extreme. “Press To Play” marked the beginning of a downward spiral for Paul that he’s never recovered from. His voice started to sound strained, with a ripping sound replacing the effortless reach of youth. And the writing just became boring, covered up by production tricks. I don’t see much difference between “Flowers In The Dirt” and “Off The Ground”. “Driving Rain” and “Chaos” are one-play albums, like most of Ringo’s the past decade.

    The only bright spot has been “Flaming Pie”, when he set out (perhaps with Jeff’s help) to sound like a Beatle again. Yes, there are great songs sprinkled here and there on these records, but by and large they’re just ‘treadmill’ albums, the kind George vowed he’d never do. It depresses me that one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century now feels the need to play second fiddle to Kayne West, of all people, shaking his dyed locks and pretending that people who weren’t even born when Wings broke up find him relevant. It would be like watching Irving Berlin jam with the Rolling Stones.

    I love Paul, and always will, but he churns out way too much material for his own good, and he’s always been his own worst editor. “Tug Of War” was the last great album from the Maestro, but even that suffers from “Ebony and Ivory” being tacked on.

  4. Jonathan says:

    I agree with everything mentioned in this review of Paul’s output in the 1980s – some of it is great but most of it is formulaic material that ranges from average to downright bad.

    If you want to get an insight as to what was going on in Macca’s mind during this time I would encourage you to pick up the book Fab by Howard Sounes. The chapter devoted to the Press to Play sessions is most interesting – that album took 18 months to complete – what?! Somehow, some way, Paul became distinctly “uncool” at this point and while he’s still revered around the world, he’s never really regained his stature in the UK. The combination of John’s tragic death (and subsequent canonization) with this material may be why Paul still wrestles with stuff like song credits from the Beatles days.

    Having said all of this, I remain a huge fan and admire Paul immensely. I do wonder, though, are we going to see reissues of Broadstreet and Press to Play?

  5. Who exactly is gonna tell a Beatle that his songs suck? That’s always a problem whenever any of them record a solo album. And after John died, did Paul have a peer left in music to compete against and raise the bar, like he did with John?

    Paul had recorded ALOT of albums (Beatles & solo) by the time the 80’s rolled around. I’ve often wondered if by then he just decided to hell with it and just record whatever he felt like. Honestly you couldn’t blame him. The man has given ALOT and has been thru alot too.

  6. Kwai Chang says:

    I liked it better when he spoke with a ‘Studer’.

  7. Nick_L says:

    Well said Tammy. Sometimes I wonder if the prevailing trends of the time had something to do with it as well. Eighties production was crap and don’t get me started on the synthesizer. Still, he obviously put his career on cruise control. Who knows? At that point he may have thought I’ve got nothing left to prove. The biggest band every to walk the planet? Check. Successful post Beatles band? Check. Wife and family? Check. Time to go on holiday and phone it in. Sometimes I wonder if this period would have looked any different had John still been around. A little friendly competition never hurts…

  8. MarkC says:

    I think the success of Cloud Nine and the Travelling Wilburys pushed Paul to do better.

  9. Drew says:

    I’m sorry but why would anyone would recommend that Howard Sounes book. He’s a tabloid hack and it’s a dreadful book. The guy has zero understanding of Paul as a person or as an artist. He has zero appreciation of Paul’s music. And Sounes’ slut shaming of Linda for being a woman who liked sex is utterly appalling. Lousy book. There is no good biography of Paul that exists other than Many Years From Now, which remains a terrific read.

    (Press to Play is a terrible album but that is as much the fault of the producer as it is Paul’s fault, although I notice the producer has always refused to take responsibility for his own role. Can you imagine George Martin blaming a bad album entirely on the Beatles? Paul sounds like he acted badly during that album but clearly so has the producer ever since in badmouthing Paul publicly. If things were so bad why didn’t the producer quit? No he just waited till the album tanked and then blamed Paul after the fact. I call that cowardly.)

    I agree with much of this review. I think the 80s and early 90s were a bad period for Paul but also for many other aging legends. That said, in listening to Tug of War and Pipes of Peace, both albums were far better than I remembered, especially Tug of War.

    Paul definitely got his mojo back with Flaming Pie, and, with a few exceptions, his work as mostly been consistently good to great. Anyone who can’t appreciate Chaos and Electric Arguments and New does not appreciate McCartney.

  10. I’m looking forward to rediscovering these albums again, as I have with each archive release. There is no real Paul song I can’t really stomach, and have to skip, but some, if I can, I do, but this is only the smallest of handfuls.

    I love both these albums, but, with the distance of time and perspective, I’d make a few minor tweaks, but then, so would most fans, for every solo album by all the Fabs.

    Make no mistake, to my mind and ears, Paul has been rocketing skyward since 1989, with albums like ‘Rushes’ and ‘Chaos’ in my top five Macca albums.

  11. DaveO says:

    One reason I hope “Broadstreet” is reissued in a deluxe package is what could be included. I remember reading an interview Paul gave before Broadstreet was released (I think the interview was in late ’83). The interviewer asked Paul about his plans to tour/play live. Paul didn’t know when he’d tour, but he said that during one the scenes the band (in between takes) would play a bunch of rock & roll oldies to the hundreds of actors & crew. He said it was “like a concert”. My guess is he was referring to the Ballroom Dancing scene. A CD of live rock oldies with Ringo, Dave Edmunds and Chris Spedding in the band would be very cool. Hopefully it got recorded (and filmed?)

  12. I’m hoping every album gets the deluxe archive treatment, but Broadstreet will be the hard sell.

  13. Drew says:

    I hope Paul has buried Broad Street under a large rock on the Mull of Kintyre. :)

  14. Bill C says:

    There are 5 songs from Press to Play I love -but it’s probably because it happened to be part of the soundtrack to a great time in my life .

  15. Kwai Chang says:

    Broadstreet was originally released on CBS…
    at that time, the LP, Cassette, and CD were all different running times.
    I think post CBS CD issues are a 4th running time…
    ETCETERA…
    So, there’s some decisions to be made…
    Wave the sword during the cha cha cha
    and No More Lonely mixes
    not such a bad boy
    no more no more…
    and, don’t get frugal about delivery of MasterTape

  16. debjorgo says:

    Press to Play is one of my favorites. There’s maybe one or two songs I have to skip. I can’t listen to the bonus tracks either. Phil’s drums sound a little too ’80s but at least the album doesn’t have all of that echo that was on so many album of the time (i.e. Clapton’s Forever Man).

    Paul and Harry could have gotten into a car chase with a big explosion at the end of Give My Regards to Broadstreet but that’s a different movie. The Blu-ray is not out yet so that could be a big tie-in.

    I think I’d rather see a Broadstreet Deluxe before Flowers in the Dirt. I’d certainly rather see Wings Wild Life, Red Rose Speedway, London Town and Back to the Egg before Flowers.

  17. Kwai Chang says:

    Ears twitch like a dog
    breaking eggs in a dish
    I’ve been breaking up dirty dishes
    and then throwing them away
    you’ve only got my heart on a string
    and everything aflutter
    Bury my head in your pillows
    ETCETERA…
    What the hell??? WHERE’s Boil Crisis?
    What the hell gives you the right to tell me what to do with my life?
    I said I’m ANGRY…(Was Boil Crisis from Press To Play sessions?)

    Flowers In The Dirt already has more extra stuff than a deluxe edition.

  18. debjorgo says:

    Prick the Blighter!

    The Beatles Rarity says Boil Crisis was started in ’77 and finished in 1980 Tug of War sessions.

  19. Kwai Chang says:

    “Cut its head off”
    Thanks, debjorgo! I can’t believe I didn’t notice its omission until a couple days ago. Boil Crisis is included in the RUDE Studio Demos which were mostly ToW stuff. I’m pretty sure there are two versions that were booted. A big opportunity missed on this deluxe edition.
    Too bad…it would have been the perfect B-side for Goodnight Tonight.
    …(Disco ends–PUNK begins)…
    KC

    Sid Vicious as Sally G

  20. debjorgo says:

    I got my copy of Boil Crisis on the Alternate London Town, one of those Russian albums released in Japan. A friend of mine put it on a cassette for me quite a few years back. Great song, maybe my favorite unreleased.

    At least ToW gave us Stop, You Don’t Know Where She Came From. It’s not quite as rocking but it’s still a good one.

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