Flaming Pie took its name from a piece of writing by John Lennon. Bill Harry, the founder of Liverpool music newspaper Mersey Beat, commissioned Lennon to write a biography of The Beatles, which Lennon completed in March 1961, just before the group set off on their second trip to Hamburg.
The piece, which Harry titled “Being A Short Diversion On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles (Translated From The John Lennon)”, was printed on the second page of issue one of Mersey Beat, published on 6 July 1961:
Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together they wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they grew guitars and fashioned a noise. Funnily enough, no one was interested, least of all the three little men. So-o-o-o on discovering a fourth little even littler man called Stuart Sutcliffe running about them they said, quite ‘Sonny get a bass guitar and you will be alright’ and he did – but he wasn’t alright because he couldn’t play it. So they sat on him with comfort ’til he could play. Still there was no beat, and a kindly old man said, quote ‘Thou hast not drums!’ We had no drums! they coffed. So a series of drums came and went and came.
Suddenly, in Scotland, touring with Johnny Gentle, the group (called the Beatles called) discovered they had not a very nice sound – because they had no amplifiers. They got some.
Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.
And then a man with a beard cut off said – will you go to Germany (Hamburg) and play mighty rock for the peasants for money? And we said we would play mighty anything for money.
But before we could go we had to grow a drummer, so we grew one in West Derby in a club called Some Casbah and his trouble was Pete Best. we called ‘Hello Pete, come off to Germany!’ ‘Yes!’ Zooooom. After a few months, Peter and Paul (who is called McArtrey, son of Jim McArtrey, his father) lit a Kino (cinema) and the German police said ‘Bad Beatles, you must go home and light your English cinemas’. Zooooom, half a group. But before even this, the Gestapo had taken my friend little George Harrison (of speke) away because he was only twelve and too young to vote in Germany; but after two months in England he grew eighteen and the Gestapoes said ‘you can come’. So suddenly all back in Liverpool Village were many groups playing in grey suits and Jim said ‘Why have you no grey suits?’ ‘We don’t like them, Jim’ we said, speaking to Jim.
After playing in the clubs a bit, everyone said ‘Go to Germany!’ So we are. Zooooom Stuart gone. Zoom zoom John (of Woolton) George (of Speke) Peter and Paul zoom zoom. All of them gone. Thank you club members, from John and George (what are friends).
McCartney’s work on The Beatles’ archive reissues may have reminded him of the passage; it was included in the Anthology book, published in 2000.
In the studio
Sessions for Flaming Pie were spread out over seven years, from 1992 to 1997. The first songs recorded were ‘Calico Skies’ and ‘Great Day’, which were taped at Hog Hill Mill studio in Sussex on 3 September 1992, during a break in mixing Off The Ground. The two songs were produced by Paul McCartney and George Martin, with Off The Ground’s engineer Bob Kraushaar at the mixing desk.
Nothing further was recorded until February 1995, when McCartney went into the studio with Steve Miller at the latter’s home studio in Sun Valley, Idaho. The pair had first recorded together in May 1969, when McCartney played drums on Miller’s ‘My Dark Hour’. This time, they played a number of golden oldies before beginning proper work.
They started recording on 22 February, and continued for a week with Geoff Emerick engineering the sessions. They are known to have started work on ‘Young Boy’, the first single from Flaming Pie, although the song was completed in Sussex some months later.
In May 1995 McCartney and Miller reconvened at Hog Hill Mill. They worked on seven songs together: ‘Young Boy’, ‘If You Wanna’, ‘Used To Be Bad’, ‘Broomstick’, ‘(Sweet Home) Country Girl’, ‘Soul Boy’, and an unknown title. Emerick and Jon Jacobs engineered the sessions, with McCartney producing.
A six month break followed until McCartney resumed recording in November 1995, again at Hog Hill. From 1-3 November he recorded ‘Somedays’, again with Emerick and Jacobs.
Working to a regular 1-7pm schedule, they recorded ‘The Song We Were Singing’, ‘The World Tonight’, and ‘Little Willow’, spending around a week on each. Lynne then temporarily left the project, but McCartney continued work until 5 December, when Linda McCartney learned she was suffering from cancer.
Lynne returned to Hog Hill in February 1996, and work continued on songs recorded in November and December. However, by the end of the month only ‘The Song We Were Singing’ was considered complete. Two new songs, ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Flaming Pie’, were also recorded at the end of the month.
The McCartneys took a break of sorts between February and May, although Paul found time to record a song for Carl Perkins with George Martin, and to work on music that eventually emerged on 1999’s Working Classical.
Ringo Starr joined the sessions in May, and four new songs were recorded: ‘Really Love You’, ‘Beautiful Night’, and ‘Looking For You’, plus an unknown song. Overdubbing also continued on the previously recorded songs. ‘Really Love You’ became the first track credited to McCartney-Starkey.
The last group recording sessions took place in September and October 1996. Lynne produced one new song, ‘Heaven On A Sunday’, and the rest of the works in progress were completed. ‘Heaven On A Sunday’ featured McCartney’s son James on guitar, the first time the pair had collaborated professionally.
The final overdub was a 38-piece orchestra, conducted by David Snell on 14 February 1997, playing a score by George Martin for the song ‘Beautiful Night’. Final mixes were completed in early March 1997, and Emerick brought the master tapes to New York for mastering on 7 March.
Flaming Pie was released on 5 May 1997 in the United Kingdom. It was preceded by the single ‘Young Boy’ on 28 April, on 7″ picture disc and two CD singles, which peaked at number 19 in the UK Singles Chart.
The album was well received by critics, and peaked at number two, his highest new entry since 1989’s Flowers In The Dirt. It was held off the top spot by the Spice Girls’ debut album Spice.
Its US release was three weeks after the UK’s, on 27 May 1997. As a result, many American fans bought imported copies, affecting McCartney’s first-week sales. As in the UK, Flaming Pie peaked at number two, again held off the top by the Spice Girls.
The album also went top 10 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. It was certified gold in Japan, Norway, the UK and US.
Flaming Pie was nominated for Album of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards, although it lost out to Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind.
There were no tours in support of the album, although McCartney hosted an online chat to promote its release. The event made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people in an internet chatroom at once. A film about the making of the album, In The World Tonight, was also shown in the UK and US, and an hour-long radio documentary about the album was broadcast by BBC Radio 2.