Electric Arguments was the third album credited to The Fireman – Paul McCartney’s experimental side project with Youth.
The original idea of The Fireman was to feel completely free in a studio atmosphere and this is something I’ve been interested in since Sgt Pepper, where we gave ourselves alter egos to achieve the same effect. It gives you the feeling that anything is possible and stops you being too serious.
Electric Arguments was the first Fireman album to be publicly acknowledged by McCartney, with both his and Youth’s names appearing on the cover. The debut album had been released anonymously, and by the time of Rushes his involvement was something of an open secret.
The lack of anonymity was not the only departure. Whereas the first two albums had been ambient electronica, Electric Arguments contained vocal performances and conventional songs, which included elements of hard rock, blues, country, bluegrass, piano ballads, and gospel.
The first two Fireman albums were instrumental. Youth suggested to me, ‘how about a bit of vocal?’ And I said, ‘well I haven’t got any songs, I’ve got no idea’. And because it’s The Fireman and anything goes, I said, ‘yeah sure’. So I just ad-libbed it and eventually a song came out of it.
Despite the improvisational nature of the recordings, Electric Arguments was the most conventional Fireman release to date. Indeed, ‘Sing The Changes’ and ‘Highway’ were added to McCartney’s live set after its release.
We had creative freedom to make this album any way we wanted. It could have been very carefully considered but that wouldn’t be The Fireman.
I like working with someone. I like giving up control. It’s more fun than sitting in a room on your own all day.
The title Electric Arguments was taken from the poem ‘Kansas City to St Louis’ by Allen Ginsberg.
The truth behind the title is that it’s a phrase I pulled out from an Allen Ginsberg poem. It’s as simple as that. It seemed to fit the spirit of the album.
The improvisational nature of the sessions led to other sources being used: ‘Light From Your Lighthouse’ was built around the chorus and melody of the gospel blues song ‘Let Your Light Shine On Me’, while ‘Two Magpies’ was influenced by the nursery rhyme ‘One For Sorrow’.
We had a ball making this album, and it was a great departure because it seemed more like improv theater. In the improv spirit, there are William Burroughs-type cut-ups in the lyrics. I came to ‘Sing The Changes’, as well as all the other songs in the album, with absolutely no concept of what the melody or lyrics would be about. So it was like writing on the spot, which I think lent an electricity to the whole sound.
It’s kind of what happens when you write a song… but on speed. You’ve just got to think of the idea there and then: ‘First thought, best thought,’ as Allen Ginsberg said. Instead of spending the next two hours molding it, I would just step up to the mike and go [singing] ‘Ooohhhawowahhasingthechanges,’ like throwing paint at the wall, and then you just stand back and take a look at it and see whether some of it looks good.