Paul McCartney’s third solo album was originally conceived as a Wings release. It was also his first long-player since the death of John Lennon, and contained the tribute song ‘Here Today’, as well as two collaborations with Stevie Wonder.
I wanted to work with George Martin again. I called him on the phone, asking him if he was interested, he accepted and we decided to make a very professional album. It was the first time that George Martin produced me since ‘Live And Let Die’. I really like him as a producer, and when you work with people who are really good like that it makes it easier for yourself. So after ‘Live And Let Die’ I didn’t do anything with George for a while and continued working with Wings and stuff, and on Tug Of War I just thought that it would be nice to have a change. He was interested in working with me again and we got together and made the album. It was as simple as that.
Following the recording and release of McCartney II, Wings reconvened in July 1980 for a series of largely unproductive rehearsals. They took place at Finchden Manor in Tenterden, Kent, and the purpose was an unspecified future project. Among the songs worked on was ‘Ballroom Dancing’, which eventually surfaced on Tug Of War.
Paul and Linda McCartney then flew to France with Wings’ guitarist Laurence Juber. There they spent 10 days working on songs for Ringo Starr’s album Stop And Smell The Roses. McCartney produced five songs at Super Bear Studios in the village of Bear Les Alpes.
Four of the songs were for Starr. Two – ‘Private Property’ and ‘Attention’ – were McCartney compositions. They also recorded a cover version of Carl Perkins’ ‘Sure To Fall (In Love With You)’ and the studio ad-lib ‘You Can’t Fight Lightning’. McCartney also produced an early eight-minute version of Linda’s song ‘Love’s Full Glory’, which was later re-recorded and released on her Wild Prairie album.
In August McCartney, and possibly Denny Laine, made a series of recordings at McCartney’s home studio in Sussex. These were intended for an album to be produced by George Martin, and included the following songs: ‘Ballroom Dancing’, ‘Take It Away’, ‘Keep Under Cover’, ‘Average Person’, ‘Dress Me Up As A Robber’, ‘The Pound Is Sinking’, ‘Sweetest Little Show’, ‘Ebony And Ivory’, ‘Hear Me Lover’, ‘Wanderlust’, ‘The Unbelievable Experience’, ‘We All Stand Together’, ‘Boil Crisis’, ‘Give Us A Chord Roy’, ‘Seems Like Old Times’, and ‘Stop, You Don’t Know Where She Came From’.
Although some of the material was strong, other songs were substandard and Martin told McCartney to write more, saying: “If it’s really going to work out, you’re going to have to accept some stick from me, and you may not like it, because you’ve been your own boss for so long.”
Wings undertook more rehearsals in October 1980 at Park Gate Studios in England. In the same month they convened at Pugins Hall in Tenterden, Kent to begin work on what became Tug Of War. Rehearsals for the album on 30 October were lethargic, tense and lacking any positive energy, and soon afterwards McCartney formally disbanded Wings.
George Martin produced the ‘We All Stand Together’ sessions in October and November 1980, and the following month work began on Tug Of War. Wings’ guitarist Denny Laine played on many of the sessions, but Steve Holly and Laurence Juber took no part. The grounding of Wings was announced on 27 April 1981 following Laine’s decision to leave.
McCartney and Martin wished the project to be a clean slate in terms of songwriting and production, wishing to be flexible and not rely on past methods or musicians.
We decided not to be as restricted, and just write anything and then get in anyone we thought could play it. So we started a new era, working with whoever we thought was most suitable for the tune. If it was a thing that needed [drummer] Steve Gadd’s particular kind of thing, we decided we’d get him, rather than just asking someone to be like Steve Gadd.
George Martin’s discipline and unwillingness to accept substandard material meant there was a great deal of surplus. McCartney had written a large number of songs, giving him enough for a double album, but it was decided that they should be split in two. The first of these, Tug Of War, was to focus on “the struggle of opposites”, while the next album, Pipes Of Peace, was “the answer to the struggle – peace, love, positive”.
Tug Of War was the stronger of the two. Martin sifted through the numerous songs and chose the best, while simultaneously introducing some much-needed discipline to the sessions. Both men were also aware that McCartney II had divided fans and critics, and a hit was needed if McCartney’s solo career were to take off.