When I wrote Blackbird Singing with Adrian Mitchell, I was doing a little tour with him, and I’d said, ‘Why don’t we resurrect that sixties thing where we’ll play a backing track and you recite a poem?’ He liked that idea, so we did it…
‘Lightning hits the house of wax’ – I remember saying these words to Adrian and being quite proud of the phrase. The phrase ‘house of wax’ has various references. It could be either a Madame Tussauds or a place where they make records – wax being records, as in ‘waxing a disc’. I suppose the best-known ‘house of wax’ is the one in the 1953 horror movie by that name, which stars Vincent Price and is as hair-raising as a film can be. I didn’t have a specific house of wax in mind, and I can’t imagine that I was inspired by the gruesome Price murderer – that’s just not my thing – but I did like the idea of a house of wax.
We had lightning, so we’re going to have thunder, and the thunder drowns out the trumpets’ blast. It’s kind of like a film; there’s a sort of heraldic score going on and the thunder’s blasting it out, so it’s like a soundtrack to a film. I wrote this on a piano, so I didn’t build it so much while I was writing it, but more when I was recording it. I would think, ‘Okay, it should get a bit more dramatic here; the accompaniments should be a bit more dramatic and we should start to build it that way.’
‘House Of Wax’ was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. The backing track features the sound of three drum parts, one of which was slowed to half speed.
The solos were a big deal for me. Those sections were blank; we didn’t know what we were going to put there. I heard ‘Taxman’ on the radio, for which he’d done the solo, and I thought how great it would be if he would just rip in those big breaks. So I asked, ‘Instead of making a more complex part, can you just play guitar solos?’ He said, ‘Okay,’ sat in the control room with his [Epiphone] Casino plugged into the Vox and just whipped it up, and literally, a half-hour later, they were done. I’ve never heard him play guitar like that. He just pushes the notes sharp perfectly at the right time.
Mix Online, 12 May 2008
Paul McCartney performed ‘House Of Wax’ on just six occasions, all in 2007. The first was at London’s Electric Ballroom on 7 June.
That was followed by performances at New York’s Highline Ballroom on 13 June, and LA’s Amoeba Music on 27 June. McCartney played it again back in London on 5 July at the Institute for Contemporary Arts for the iTunes Complete Festival 2007.
The final two performances were at Paris’s Olympia Hall on 22 October, and three days later at London’s Roundhouse.
We’ve played it live, but we had to have a large whisky and slap ourselves round the back of our heads to remember it. It’s moody. I like to play it, the band likes to play it, and some people in the audience like to hear it played.
In general, though, songs like this one don’t hang about in your repertoire, because you realise they’re the ones where people are going for a beer, and you think, ‘Well, let me just pull ’ em back with ‘Lady Madonna’‘… That’s what I tend to do, but if we’re in a little club situation we can pull out the lesser-known things and watch songs like ‘House Of Wax’ come to life again.
The lead single released from Memory Almost Full was ‘Ever Present Past’, issued on 15 May 2007 in the USA.
In the UK it was the album’s second single. It came out on 5 November, and the 7″ vinyl version contained a live version of ‘House Of Wax’, recorded at Amoeba Music on 27 June 2007.
On 6 November 2007 a two-disc deluxe edition of Memory Almost Full was released. It came with a DVD containing five live tracks recorded at the Electric Ballroom in London, plus videos for’Dance Tonight’ and ‘Ever Present Past’. The live tracks were ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Dance Tonight’, ‘House Of Wax’, ‘Nod Your Head’, and ‘Only Mama Knows’.
On 16 November 2012, premium members of Paul McCartney’s website were contacted with the offer of a 14-track download of the Amoeba Music show. It was one of the final offers for subscribers at a time when the membership tier was being ended. Titled Live In Los Angeles The Extended Set, it included ‘House Of Wax’.
The full Amoeba show was finally released on 19 July 2019 as Amoeba Gig, remixed by McCartney’s audio engineer Steve Orchard. The album was not a commercial success, spending just one week on the UK album chart, at number 82.
Another live version of the song was released on the digital EP Live At ICA, London, July 5th 2007. The EP was released on 21 August 2007.