Tug Of War was recorded mostly at AIR Studios, owned by George Martin, which had studios in London and Montserrat.
AIR Studios, London: December 1980
The first recording sessions for Tug Of War took place in December 1980 at George Martin’s AIR Studios in London. On 7 December they taped ‘Ballroom Dancing’, ‘Keep Under Cover’, and the unreleased ‘All The Love Is There’. The following day, 8 December, they recorded ‘Rainclouds’ and ‘Ode To A Koala Bear’, both of which became b-sides.
Early in the morning of 9 December came the news that John Lennon had been murdered in New York. Not knowing what else to do, Paul McCartney went to the studio where he worked on overdubs for ‘Rainclouds’ with The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney. That afternoon he called Yoko Ono to offer his condolences. When he left the studio in the early evening, he was confronted by reporters. His offhand remark – “It’s a drag, innit?” – was considered cold and flippant, but McCartney was merely unable to articulate the breadth of his feelings.
The news of Lennon’s death effectively brought to an end work on Tug Of War for almost a week, but resumed on 14 December with the recording of a demo of ‘Ebony And Ivory’ and further work on ‘Ballroom Dancing’. On 16 December work began on the song ‘Tug Of War’, followed by more recordings two days later, including a birthday song for Linda McCartney’s father Lee Eastman.
There were also undocumented sessions around this time in Reading, Hastings and Eastbourne in southern England. These would have involved work on ‘Wanderlust’ and an early recording of ‘Take It Away’.
AIR Studios, Montserrat: February-March 1981
Following a Christmas break, McCartney’s musical equipment was flown to Montserrat on 28 January, and the McCartneys arrived on 1 February from New York. The following day they began recording at another branch of George Martin’s AIR Studios.
For the first week McCartney worked with Denny Laine and drummer Dave Mattacks. The first day was mostly taken up with jamming, but on 3 February they recorded ‘Average Person’, ‘Dress Me Up As A Robber’, ‘The Pound Is Sinking’, and ‘Hear Me Lover’. On the following day they recorded a Laine composition known as ‘Denny’s Song’.
Bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Steve Gadd arrived on 8 February, the latter replacing Dave Mattacks. In the next few days they worked on songs including ‘Somebody Who Cares’, ‘The Pound Is Sinking’, and early versions of ‘No Values’ from Give My Regards To Broad Street and ‘Hey Hey’ from Pipes Of Peace.
Ringo Starr arrived in Montserrat on 15 February, bringing his wife Barbara Bach and his Ludwig drum kit. He played alongside Gadd for several days, but only one song, ‘Take It Away’, was released.
Another special guest, Carl Perkins, came to Montserrat on 21 February. He and McCartney began recording three days later, performing oldies including ‘Honey Don’t’, ‘Lend Me Your Comb’, and ‘Boppin’ The Blues’. A duet, ‘Get It’, was also taped that day, and Perkins’ tribute to McCartney, ‘My Old Friend’, was recorded on 25 February.
I wanted to play with Carl Perkins. I have loved him since I was a boy. His songs were the first blues I ever listened to. ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, for example. We didn’t cast him in a track, I just rang him up and asked if he fancied getting involved. He said, ‘Why, Paul, I sure do,’ and he came down to Montserrat. He came down on his own, no entourage. He just turned up off the plane. He came down late at night.
We were in the studio and he came down and said, ‘My, it’s real pretty round here, Paul.’ He went to bed, got up the next morning and he obviously hadn’t seen the island. So he came back later that day and said, ‘Paul, believe me. This morning, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I woke up. It’s so pretty here and so beautiful.’ So while he was there, I wrote the track ‘Get It’. We had a bit of fun recording it. I can always see Laurel and Hardy dancing to this track.
Stevie Wonder arrived on 26 February, and the following day began recording with McCartney. They taped a series of jams before working on ‘Ebony And Ivory’ and co-writing ‘What’s That You’re Doing?’. Wonder remained until Monday 2 March, when an all-night session ended at 7am; he left Montserrat later that day, followed by the McCartneys two days later.
As if it was a film, once we had decided that this wasn’t going to be a Wings album, George and I chose the right performers for every track. I wanted to play with Stevie Wonder and we did two together instead. I wanted Steve Gadd on drums and Stanley Clarke on bass simply because they’re the best and I wanted the best. Why not?
AIR Studios, London: March-December 1981
With backing tracks for the songs mostly completed, work continued back at AIR Studios in London on 11 March, when a song known as Newt Rack was recorded. The following day a reprise of ‘Tug Of War’ was taped, and work continued on ‘The Pound Is Sinking’ and ‘No Values’.
Several unused songs were also recorded around this time, but on 23 March overdubs were added to ‘Take It Away’, ‘Dress Me Up As A Robber’, and ‘Keep Under Cover’. The sessions came to an end on 30 March with recording and mixing for ‘Get It’, ‘No Values’, ‘Ebony And Ivory’, ‘Tug Of War Reprise’, ‘What’s That You’re Doing’, ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Keep Under Cover’, ‘The Pound Is Sinking’, ‘All The Love There Is’, and ‘Sweetest Little Show’.
Absent from these sessions was Denny Laine, but around this time McCartney began collaborating with Eric Stewart, formerly of The Mindbenders and 10CC. McCartney and Stewart worked together extensively on Tug Of War, Pipes Of Peace and Press To Play, and Stewart’s technique of building a choir of backing vocals through extensive overdubbing was frequently utilised.
In May 1981 Michael Jackson and McCartney collaborated on two songs, ‘Say Say Say’ and ‘The Man’; work continued over the next two years. During June and July overdubbing and mixing resumed on all of the Tug Of War songs recorded to date, plus a new piece entitled ‘Simon’s Wigwam’.
Following a two-week break in August, McCartney worked on a range of non-album recordings, as well as further mixing for the album. This work continued until October; at this stage ‘Keep Under Cover’, ‘Tug Of War Reprise’, and ‘No Values’ were all under consideration for inclusion.
In the summer of 1981 McCartney worked on several tracks in the loft of The Mill at his Sussex home; the building was later renovated and became Hog Hill Mill studio. The songs included ‘Here Today’, his tribute to John Lennon which had been written earlier that year. It featured McCartney on vocals and acoustic guitar, plus a string quartet arranged by George Martin.
Work on Tug Of War came to a close in March 1981, by which time more than 20 songs had been completed. From this 12 songs were selected for inclusion on the album.
The cover for Tug Of War was designed by Hipgnosis and Sinc. It featured photography by Linda McCartney and artwork by Brian Clarke, who subsequently became a long-term collaborator with the McCartneys.
Tug Of War had originally been scheduled for release in October 1981, but by that time the recordings were still incomplete. It was pushed back to 15 February 1982, but further work again made this impossible.
Further dates of 12 March and 2 April were announced and cancelled, with the reason for the final delay given as “problems with the artwork”. ‘Ebony And Ivory’ was issued as a single in March 1982, with ‘Rainclouds’ on the b-side. It topped the charts in a number of countries.
Tug Of War was eventually released on 26 April 1982. The delays helped increase anticipation for the album, along with the reunion of McCartney and George Martin, the success of ‘Ebony And Ivory’, and speculation of how McCartney would respond in song to the death of John Lennon.
Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint, and the album became McCartney’s last to top the US charts until 2018’s Egypt Station. In Japan it was the first number one and the biggest selling album by a European performer since 1977.
In the UK it entered the album charts at number one, where it remained for two weeks. It spent a total of 27 weeks in the charts.
A second single, ‘Take It Away’, followed in June 1982. Its b-side was ‘I’ll Give You A Ring’. The video featured Ringo Starr and George Martin, as well as actor John Hurt.