‘Check My Machine’ was the b-side of ‘Waterfalls’, the second single from Paul McCartney’s second solo album McCartney II.

There’s no sample, it’s me singing live! That’s the crazy thing with that album, it wasn’t done like albums today. Like ‘Secret Friend’, I think it’s about eight minutes long, and I would stand there with the tambourine and maracas for eight minutes. Nowadays you’d just go chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka, and then loop it. So ‘Check My Machine’ is just me – the drumming is real and the singing is real. Old school? Ha! Well there was no other school at the time. I suppose we were inventing the new school.
Paul McCartney
The Quietus, 2011

McCartney II was recorded in the summer of 1979. Although ‘Check My Machine’ is believed by some to have been the first song recorded for the album, according to McCartney it was ‘Front Parlour’.

At the beginning of the track two voices say “Hi George”; “Morning Terry”, followed by “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” (the longer edit only contains the latter). They were sampled from a 1957 Sylvester & Tweety animated short titled Tweet Zoo, with voices by Mel Blanc.

There was a period when I was working in the studio by myself – my ‘mad professor’ period – around the late seventies. I would make a record, and when the time came to release it, someone at my office would realise that they needed the lyrics, so they’d just try to figure out what I’d said. I probably didn’t check what they came up with. I think it’s more likely that we all listened to the recording and thought, ‘I’m bound to say something sensible by the end of the line.’

There’s a great old tradition of scatting, and I always liked hearing it on Fats Waller or Louis Armstrong records. The greatest scatter of all was Ella Fitzgerald. The way scatters were able to find rhythms in nonsense words was so inspiring; you could tell they were having fun.

In this song I knew I’d got a lot of echo on my voice, and I knew, too, it wasn’t going to matter much to anyone what the words were. I just made it up. The one idea that comes across loud and clear is ‘check my machine’, and that’s all I wanted to get across.

There were a couple of kinds of machines I was thinking of. The computer was one. They said recording would be sped up massively with computers, but The Beatles would have done two songs by the time you got the computer up and running.

Paul McCartney's handwritten notes for Check My Machine

Paul McCartney’s handwritten notes for Check My Machine

The release

The ‘Waterfalls’ single was issued in the UK on Friday 14 June 1980, as Parlophone R6037, as the second single from McCartney II. It reached number seven in the charts.

In the US it was released on 22 July as Columbia 1-11335, and it peaked at number 106. The b-side in both countries was ‘Check My Machine’.

The song was edited for the single from 8:59 to 5:51.

The full-length version was released in 2011 on the Paul McCartney Archive Collection reissue of McCartney II.

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