‘My Brave Face’ is the opening song on Paul McCartney’s eighth solo album Flowers In The Dirt.

I remember meeting up with Elvis [Costello] and thinking, ‘Can we hit it off writing together?’ But we did, we enjoyed our time together. ‘My Brave Face’ was one of the early things we did, and it became a single. I felt that Elvis was pulling it in a little bit of a Beatle-y way – a Beatle-ist direction – but it was fine by me. And then I remember the video was quite crazy: some guy trying to steal my Höfner bass.
Paul McCartney
People, 24 March 2017

It was the first single from the album, released on 8 May 1989.

The first single off our album is going to be one called ‘My Brave Face’, which me and Elvis wrote together… We started writing songs from the ground up that neither of us had any pre-conceptions about, and one of those was called ‘My Brave Face’ and it was good…it’s got a kind of ’60’s-ish feel: the best thing is to listen to it.
Paul McCartney
Club Sandwich, Summer 1989

The song was co-written by McCartney and Elvis Costello. They recorded an acoustic demo on 23 October 1987.

I started writing the bridge of ‘My Brave Face’, that Beatley descending ‘Ever since you’ve been away…’ We were doing a vocal rehearsal in the kitchen and he sang the line ‘Take me to that place.’ I hit the low harmony on ‘place’ and he went, ‘Oh no, no. This is getting to be too much. That’s exactly like ‘There’s A Place’ or ‘I’ll Get You’’.
Elvis Costello

During the writing session, however, McCartney vetoed a particular harmony line for sounding too much like John Lennon.

There was a nice kind of equal collaboration on it. We’d just sort of throw words about and stuff and where I thought he was getting maybe a bit too cryptic or whatever, I’d just say ‘I don’t like that, we should go a bit further here, or we should maybe take it there’, and it was nice. If he spotted an idea he liked then we’d go that way, or similarly with me.
Paul McCartney
Club Sandwich, Summer 1989

In the studio

Three different versions of ‘My Brave Face’ were recorded, in addition to McCartney’s demo with Elvis Costello.

Work on Flowers In The Dirt began in October 1987, when Paul McCartney invited producers Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson to record a song, with the proviso that they do it in a mere two days. The duo were used to spending up to three painstaking months on a single song.

‘Rough Ride’, an unfinished song fragment based on a 12-bar blues structure, was chosen by Horn. True to their promise, the track was recorded and mixed by the end of the second day. The trio then recorded a version ‘My Brave Face’, again in two days, followed by ‘How Many People’ and ‘Ou Est Le Soleil?’.

We had such a good experience on ‘Rough Ride’ that he wanted to do it again. There was a lot going on and it caused a little bit of friction at one point because Simple Minds suddenly wanted to be finished and I had to cancel a couple of sessions and put them back a couple of months. I was surprised at the time that ‘Rough Ride’ wasn’t a single. I didn’t think ‘My Brave Face’ was as good as ‘Rough Ride’.
Trevor Horn
SuperDeluxeEdition, March 2017

In January and February 1988 McCartney and Costello co-produced at least five songs at Hog Hill Mill: ‘My Brave Face’, ‘You Want Her Too’, ‘Don’t Be Careless Love’, ‘That Day Is Done’, and ‘The Lovers That Never Were’. ‘My Brave Face’ was recorded on 1 February.

A third and final version of ‘My Brave Face’ was recorded towards the end of the year by Mitchell Froom and Neil Dorfsman, at Olympic Sound Studios in London.

McCartney, at Costello’s suggestion, used his Höfner 500/1 violin bass on the song. The overdubs included David Rhodes, playing an electric guitar with an EBow.

I was just starting as a producer. I obviously came of age during the Beatle era, and those recordings are pretty much unmatched and have been unmatched since, and so I was mostly attracted to that feeling. I was a huge fan of his when I was very young, so I was a little intimidated when I first spoke to him, but I couldn’t say no to it. First of all, I liked the songs that I was going to get to work on, and so I felt like it was part of something exciting. And of course, the joy of my job is you get to be in the room with people. I will never forget Paul on that single My Brave Face, Paul picked up the Höfner bass, and I was right next to him, and he started playing it, I will never forget it. Through the mixing and whatever at the time, it got somewhat diluted, but boy at his best he is incredible.
Mitchell Froom
SuperDeluxeEdition, March 2017

The release

‘My Brave Face’ was the first of the Flowers In The Dirt songs to be released.

The single was released on 8 May 1989, with a cover photograph by Richard Haughton. The 7″ vinyl edition had ‘Flying To My Home’ on the b-side.

The 12″ vinyl and CD single both had the same tracklisting: ‘My Brave Face’, ‘Flying To My Home’, and covers of ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’, and ‘Ain’t That A Shame’.

‘My Brave Face’ was a top ten hit in Ireland and Norway. In the UK it peaked at number 18, and on the US Billboard Hot 100 it reached 25.

Promotional video

The video for ‘My Brave Face’ was filmed on 10 and 11 April 1989. The director was Roger Lunn.

It depicted a fanatical McCartney memorabilia collector from Japan, plus footage of McCartney and his band performing the song, and archive material including shots of The Beatles and Wings.

The video was nominated for the British Video of the Year award at the 1990 Brit Awards, but lost out to ‘Lullaby’ by The Cure.

Live performances

Paul McCartney performed ‘My Brave Face’ throughout his World Tour of 1989-90. A recording from London’s Wembley Arena on 19 January 1990 can be heard on his first solo live album, Tripping The Live Fantastic.

It was also performed on four occasions during McCartney’s Unplugged 1991 Summer Tour, after which McCartney never returned to the song.

Previous album: Choba B CCCP
Next song: ‘Rough Ride’
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