Although it was officially Paul McCartney’s second solo album, McCartney II was actually his 11th post-Beatles long-player. Between the April 1970 release of McCartney and the May 1980 release of McCartney II there had been nine other albums, by Wings or with his wife Linda.
McCartney II was made during six weeks in the summer of 1979. The recordings began in a farmhouse on the McCartneys’ estate in Peasmarsh, East Sussex, and continued at the Spirit of Ranachan Studio at his farm in Campbeltown, Scotland.
Paul McCartney hired a 16-track Studer recording studio and, with the help of engineer Eddie Klein, taped a number of song ideas. Microphones were plugged directly into the Studer without using a mixing desk, just as he had begun the McCartney album 10 years previously.
He began each day by recording a drum track, onto which a series of overdubs were added. Although the working methods were similar to his first solo album, the results were quite unlike anything McCartney had previously recorded.
Although he had only intended to keep the Studer machine for two weeks, he enjoyed the process of recording with it. The experimental nature of the songs provided an escape from the stultified atmosphere in which Wings had often found themselves; McCartney later described the purpose of the recordings as to “blow the cobwebs away”.
In 1979 Wings were still very much active, although their commercial peak had passes since the successes of Band On The Run and ‘Mull Of Kintyre’. Intra-band relations were often strained, and the group’s seventh studio album Back To The Egg – which turned out to be their last – was recorded with their seventh line-up.
McCartney II was begun less than four months after the completion of Back To The Egg. McCartney wanted some time away from Wings – he expressed a desire to record some fun songs “to play at parties”.
A total of 20 songs were recorded by Paul McCartney in June and July 1979, some which were improvised on the spot, and others which emerged from incomplete compositional fragments. McCartney used sequencers and synthesizers as well as the conventional guitar, bass and drums, and made heavy use of vari-speed tape recording to alter the pitch of vocals and instruments.
The results were largely experimental and inconsistent, and divided audiences upon release. Although the recordings were largely improvised, McCartney relied too heavily on conservative songwriting techniques, making the results a strange blend of conservative and unconventional. If nothing else, it proved that the most successful songwriter in pop history was unable to leave behind his talents as a melodist.
McCartney initially assembled a double vinyl version which contained almost everything of note from the sessions, but eventually agreed to trim it down to a single disc. The only song missing from this period was ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, which had been a solo hit for McCartney in November 1979.
|Side one||Side two||Side three||Side four|
|‘Front Parlour’||‘Temporary Secretary’||‘Darkroom’||‘Check My Machine’1,2|
|‘Frozen Jap’||‘On The Way’||‘One Of These Days’||‘Waterfalls (I Need Love)’|
|‘All You Horse Riders’1,2||‘Mr H Atom’1,2||‘Secret Friend’1,2||‘Nobody Knows’|
|‘Blue Sway’1,2||‘Summer’s Day Song’||‘Bogey Music’||‘Coming Up’|
|‘You Know I’ll Get You Baby’1,2|
1 Included on the 2011 reissue Special Edition
2 Included on the 2011 reissue Deluxe Edition
Of the excluded tracks, ‘Check My Machine’ became the b-side of the ‘Waterfalls’ single in the summer of 1980. ‘Secret Friend’ also became a b-side, issued on the 12″ single of ‘Temporary Secretary’. At over 10 minutes in length, it became McCartney’s longest commercially-available track.
‘Blue Sway’ was perhaps the best of the unreleased tracks, but ‘All You Horse Riders’ and ‘You Know I’ll Get You Baby’ were unremarkable improvisations. ‘Mr H Atom’ was influenced by New Wave and featured Linda McCartney on backing vocals, and ‘Bogey Wobble’ was a companion piece to ‘Bogey Music’.