‘Figure Of Eight’ is the seventh song on Paul McCartney’s eighth solo album Flowers In The Dirt.

I liked the philosophy behind the lyrics of this song. I like the idea of not being caught in a figure of eight. ‘Better to love than give in to hate,’ which now sounds to me like the US elections.
Paul McCartney
People, 24 March 2017

It was recorded twice by McCartney. The first version, which appeared on the album, was co-produced with Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson on 9 November 1987.

Very spontaneous, very rough; another two-day effort with Trevor…The vocal is live, which I like with all that rough-ness… There were certain conditions… that I put on them. And… they made me do stuff that they hadn’t heard me do recently… it was great, I really enjoyed it.
Paul McCartney
Club Sandwich, Summer 1989

According to Horn and Lipson, however, the sessions were altogether less cordial. The producers spent several hours after McCartney left the studio reworking ‘Figure Of Eight’, changing the chords and making it, in Horn’s words, “sound more modern”.

He came in the next morning and went berserk. He just went mad, like ‘what have you been doing? What have you done?!’ It was that sort of conversation and I remember at the time thinking that there are so many aspects to this that are interesting. Firstly, what is the problem? Yeah, we did a bit of work on it, secondly he was in a real mood. Maybe something had happened before he got to the studio, I don’t know. It was just a weird moment. It changes how you view someone.
Steve Lipson
SuperDeluxeEdition, March 2017

Eventually McCartney reluctantly accepted most of the changes, and the sessions proceeded, although he considered remixing ‘Figure Of Eight’ before the album’s release.

He said, ‘I always saw this as a rock ‘n’ roll kind of track, like an old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll’ and I said to him, ‘Well that’s great if you want to do it like that, but what I would suggest is you get on the phone and you get yourself some really good rock ‘n’ roll musicians because me and him don’t like rock and roll, you know me and Steve, we just don’t like it, we don’t do it, so there’s three of us, so you’re kind of outnumbered on this one’. He took it – that’s what I liked about him, you see, because he took it really well. He said, ‘All right, I get what you mean’. Because I wasn’t kidding, I wasn’t being awkward or anything. To me it was 1988, so going ‘do, do, do, do’ didn’t seem like a good idea. I remember he said, ‘Let me understand what you’ve done’. So we spent a while and he got the chords into his head that we’d come up with and he changed a couple of them and then we finished the track. But he was never totally happy with that track, Figure of Eight.

I didn’t know what he wanted from that track and I thought that where we’d got to with it, in two days, was really good. I didn’t think if we spent another week it would be any better and I didn’t know if, in the end, the version that he came up with [with Chris Hughes] was any better than the version that we did.

It was something he was looking for that he didn’t find and I didn’t want to go back to it. They sent it over to us at one point and said, ‘Do you think you could do a better mix of this?’ But I listened to it and I listened to the mix that we’d done of it and I didn’t think we could. We could do a different mix, but sometimes when you’re up against it – when we mixed it, we were up against it time-wise – you come out with a better mix and you go back and you’ve got loads of time and you go up your own backside, so I didn’t want to go there.

Trevor Horn
SuperDeluxeEdition, March 2017

McCartney evidently remained unhappy with the first version of ‘Figure Of Eight’. In February 1989 he re-recorded it with the members of his live band. The remake was produced by Chris Hughes.

Paul played it to me, and I thought it was okay, although I couldn’t really hear the Trevor [in it]. It may have bugged him slightly that I didn’t go, ‘wow, great, important track on the album, fantastic.’ Then later, I think probably when we were finishing up ‘Motor of Love’, he said, ‘you know, ‘Figure of Eight’, what do you think?’ I said, ‘to be honest, probably the song with a bit of work could be better than the version that you’ve done.’ He said, ‘well, yes, maybe that’s right.’

I didn’t know that it was rock ‘n’ roll to start with. I had no idea Trevor had done such a good job. I said, ‘it doesn’t feel it’s got quite the vitality. It’s not as vital as it should be. More band-like, more poppy’. I think he liked the idea of it being more band-like than what he ordinarily does. Then he called and said, ‘do you fancy having another go at it?’ And that was it. I said, ‘I’ll give it a go. How far it gets moved from what it is, or whether it just needs a bit of energy in it, I don’t know, we can try it.’

So we did sessions on that track. I think halfway through doing it, he said, ‘I’m really liking this, this could be a single’. And that was it. At that point I wasn’t going to go, ‘yes, it’s got to be a single Paul.’ I didn’t play it up. I got on with it, really.

Chris Hughes
SuperDeluxeEdition, March 2017

Hughes’s version was mixed by Bob Clearmountain for single release. At 5:13, the final mix lasted nearly two minutes longer than the 3:27 album version.

I don’t know why Bob Clearmountain remixed the single version of ‘Figure of Eight’. I think ‘Motor of Love’ went through some mixes and remixes too. I think Paul mentioned a few times that he was very aware that Neil Dorfsman was American. I think there was some sense of it sounding a bit more American, or something…
Chris Hughes
SuperDeluxeEdition, March 2017

A video for ‘Figure Of Eight’, directed by Andy Morahan, contained footage from McCartney’s concert at the Hallenstadion in Zurich on 29 October 1989.

The release

‘Figure Of Eight’ was released as a single on 13 November 1989. The 7″ vinyl and cassette editions both had ‘Figure Of Eight’ (7″ Mix), and ‘Ou Est Le Soleil?’ on the b-side.

There were a number of other formats. One 12″ vinyl single contained ‘Figure Of Eight’ (12″ Mix) and ‘This One’ (Club Lovejoys Mix), while another, released a week later, had ‘Figure Of Eight’ (12″ Mix), ‘Ou Est Le Soleil?’ (Shep Pettibone remix), and ‘Ou Est Le Soleil?’ (Tub Dub mix by Shep Pettibone).

There were also two CD singles. The first had ‘Figure Of Eight’ (12″ mix), a re-recording of ‘The Long And Winding Road’, and ‘Loveliest Thing’, an unreleased track from June 1987.

The other CD single, a 3″, contained ‘Figure Of Eight’ (7″ Mix), ‘Rough Ride’, and ‘Ou Est Le Soleil?’ (7″ Mix). The two CD singles were also collected as a limited edition double pack.

Despite the multiple formats, the single was not a commercial success. It peaked at number 42 in the official UK singles chart, and 92 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Live performances

‘Figure Of Eight’ was the opening song performed throughout Paul McCartney’s 1989–1990 World Tour.

A recording from Rotterdam’s Ahoy Sportpaleis on 10 November 1989 appeared on the live album Tripping The Live Fantastic.

Previous song: ‘Put It There’
Next song: ‘This One’
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