We actually thought of ‘Average Person’ as being a stagey sort of thing – at one time we thought of making the album sound like a stage production – it was Paul’s idea, that theatrical aspect. We even tried him doing the vocal like a stage – I lined up a lot of mikes, and he actually did a funny walk on ‘I say, I say…’ kind of thing…
Club Sandwich, 1983
The song is in the McCartney tradition of writing about everyday people’s lives, the roots of which go back to 1966’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’, and which can also be seen in ‘Another Day’, ‘Treat Her Gently’, ‘Lonely Old People’ and others.
I’m interested in the idea that people have these hidden sides and ambitions. I think writers are drawn to people like that. If you’ve got someone who’s just purely glorious, it’s not quite as interesting as if they’re glorious but they’ve got a little Achilles’ heel somewhere. All of these people are tarnished in some way. All of these people want to be something else.
I think my interest in these stories comes partly from growing up in such a tight-knit working-class community. We’d always be there for our family and our neighbours, helping out. Dad used to make me and my brother Mike go round door-to-doo, canvassing for new members for the Speke Horticultural Society, where he was secretary. Knock, knock. ‘Would you like to join the gardening club?’ ‘Piss off.’ So we really got to know whose door to knock on and whose to avoid. But you’d get to hear about their lives, their troubles; this was post-war, remember, and we’d been bombed and gone through rationing. And that makes you realise we all have our stories, our own worries. It gets a little poignant, and it’s about being empathetic.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
McCartney recorded a demo of ‘Average Person’ in August 1980, and Wings rehearsed it in October that year, but it was shelved until the Tug Of War sessions in Montserrat.
An initial attempt was taped on 4 February 1981 with Dave Mattacks on drums, but the final version was laid down on 16-18 February with Ringo Starr.
The song was arranged by producer George Martin in the old music hall tradition.
When I was growing up, there was a tradition in the music hall to have a stage act with a song that involved various people. ‘If I Were Not Upon The Stage’, I think it’s called. It appealed to me as a kid. ‘If I were not upon the stage, someone else I’d like to be/If I were not upon the stage, a window cleaner me/You’d see me all day long singing out this song/Running up ladders, running up ladders…’ And that’d be one person’s song.
Then another person would come on. ‘If I were not upon the stage, someone else I’d like to be/If I were not upon the stage, a midwife I would be/Delivering babies, delivering babies…’ And that ‘delivering babies’ fitted with the first guy’s ‘running up ladders’. It was a craft song, which is what ‘Average Person’ is supposed to be. It was like a music hall thing. In the end, you’ve got five people all doing mimes and bits of songs, and it all fitted. Then at the end, as everyone was so busy, there’d just be someone, ‘If I were not upon the stage/An opera singer me/La la la la’, so that fitted with ‘running up ladders’, Musically, it all fitted.
Uncut, October 2015
McCartney performed ‘If I Were Not Upon The Stage’ during his 1989-90 world tour. A recording can be heard on the album Tripping The Live Fantastic.
Another inspiration for this song was an old music hall routine having to do with the identity of a window washer that I saw on telly as a kid. My dad came from that music hall era, and the family were kind of steeped in that; we listened to it and sang all those songs at the piano… So, because of my dad, these old music hall references sometimes make their way into my writing. I knew of Noël Coward’s music because of my dad, and Noël was obviously hugely famous. His songs appealed to my songwriting ear…
But we were sometimes a little weird about meeting people like that. We were likewise very weird with Marlene Dietrich, who was a colossal star… With a song like Dietrich’s ‘Lilli Marlene’, you have the struggles of a couple in love being torn apart by war. The longing and the heartache are what make it such a poignant song. And, I think, it’s this sort of pathos that I’m drawn to and that people relate to in characters like Eleanor Rigby or Father McKenzie. So that’s also why, in ‘Average Person’, we meet the former engine driver whose ambition was to work with lions in a zoo; the waitress who had the Hollywood audition; and the boxer who always felt he lacked that little extra height. Ordinary people with ordinary problems.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present