In the studio
The album was recorded at McCartney’s East Sussex studio Hog Hill Mill, with production by McCartney and Julian Mendelsohn, who had previously remixed the 1986 b-sides It’s Not True and Tough On A Tightrope.
In October 1991 McCartney gave Mendelsohn 25 demo recordings. The running order was as follows:
Work began the following month, and continued until October 1992. Full band rehearsals took place from 25 November to 6 December 1991, during which the backing tracks for Biker Like An Icon and Peace In The Neighbourhood were recorded.
The core musicians were most of those from McCartney’s recent world tour: his wife Linda on keyboards and backing vocals, guitarists Hamish Stuart and Robbie McIntosh, and keyboard player Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens. Drummer Chris Whitten had left after the tour to join Dire Straits, and was replaced by Blair Cunningham, who had also appeared on the Unplugged album.
Recording started in December 1991, with the musicians working to a schedule of 12-8pm, Monday to Friday. Most of the songs were recorded as a live band rather than painstakingly layering tracks, with McCartney singing during each take.
I said to my co-producer on the album, Juliam Mendelsohn, ‘My most pleasant, easiest memories of recordings were with The Beatles.’ In those days, we would record from ten-thirty to one-thirty, in one session, and then we’d go for lunch. Then, from two-thirty to five and this was the next session. And that was practically all we did. We’d do a couple of songs in each of those three-hour sessions and you’d do three or four songs a day. The songs didn’t suffer; you just had to be more prepared. You had to do your homework. You really had to know your songs. So I said to Julian, ‘How do you fancy me recording that way?’ And he was quite up for the whole idea. So we went for feel instead of perfection. Some of the songs on this album were first takes, like Biker Like An Icon. That didn’t take us long to record.
Following a break for Christmas, recording resumed in January 1992 and concluded in July. Following a summer break, mixing took place in September and October, and the album was mastered at Abbey Road Studios on 12 December.
Although most songs featured just the core six musicians, a number of extra performers appeared on the album. Mistress And Maid featured a horn arrangement by Carl Davis, and more brass – played by the Midnight Horns – was added to Get Out Of My Way. The most elaborate production, however, was C’mon People, which had a 43-piece orchestral arrangement written and conducted by George Martin.
During the final month of recording, a 27-minute film titled Movin’ On was made in the studio. It was first shown in the UK on Channel 4 on 18 April 1993, and also included footage from the creation of videos for the songs Off The Ground and C’mon People.
The name Off The Ground was suggested as the album title by one of McCartney’s daughters.
I happened to be speaking to my daughter, who was working in London, and she said, ‘What did you do today, Dad?’ And I said, ‘Well, we did this song,’ explaining how I did it. And she said, ‘What’s it called?’ And I said, ‘Off The Ground.’ She said, ‘Oh, that’s a great album title.’ Then I thought, ‘Yeah, I never thought of that.’ She saw it immediately as an album title, whereas I hadn’t even considered it. So when the question of an album title came up, I said, ‘I’ve got one.’ We thought of a couple of others but they weren’t so good.
The compact disc edition was accompanied by a 28-page booklet, while the vinyl version was packaged in a gatefold sleeve, and featured cover photography by Clive Arrowsmith and collages by Eduardo Paolozzi.
I had an image to go with the Off The Ground title, which was a picture where people accidentally cut heads off whenever they try and take a picture. So I thought, ‘Perhaps we should try and cut the whole thing off and just have feet disappearing off the top of the CD.’ It would just be the band’s feet. That was the image I kept seeing. You can explain it, ‘Well, we didn’t quite get a picture of the band but here is their feet.’ I then thought that if everyone were barefoot, it would be quite good because our drummer is black and it would be quite a funny image to see five pairs of white feet and one pair of black feet. But when we came to shoot it, you can’t actually tell which pair of feet belongs to our black drummer. His feet and legs are very tanned. We all looked the same, which I liked even better.
Off The Ground was released in February 1993. It failed to top any country’s album chart, but went top 10 in Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In the US it peaked at 17 on the Billboard 200 chart.
A two-disc set titled Off The Ground: The Complete Works was issued in Japan and the Netherlands. The second disc contained a further 11 tracks recorded during the album sessions, as well as the full version of Cosmically Conscious.
Off The Ground – The Complete Works features the extra tracks Long Leather Coat, Keep Coming Back to Love, Sweet Sweet Memories, Things We Said Today, Midnight Special, Style Style, I Can’t Imagine, Cosmically Conscious, Kicked Around No More, Big Boys Bickering, Down to the River and Soggy Noodle.
Each of the songs was also included as a b-side on the three singles to be taken from the album. The first was Hope Of Deliverance, which was released in the UK on 28 December 1992, and on 12 January 1993 in the US. the bonus tracks were Long Leather Coat, Big Boys Bickering and Kicked Around No More.
The second single, C’mon People, was released in the UK on 22 February 1993, but not until 20 July in the US. The extra songs were I Can’t Imagine, Keep Coming Back To Love, Down To The River, Deliverance, and Deliverance (Dub Mix).
The third single was due to have been Biker Like An Icon, but was scrapped. Promo copies were issued, and contained three unreleased performances from the Unplugged recording: The Beatles’ 1964 song Things We Said Today, and cover versions of Midnight Special and Mean Woman Blues.
In place of Biker Like An Icon, it was decided that the title track Off The Ground should be the final single to be taken from the album. The b-sides were Sweet Sweet Memories, Style Style and Soggy Noodle, the latter a 28-second guitar instrumental.
Shortly after the release of Off The Ground, McCartney and his band embarked on the New World Tour. The live album Paul Is Live was issued at the end of 1993, and contained a number of songs from Off The Ground.