The final song on Wings’ 1973 album Band On The Run, ‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five’ was based on an idea that Paul McCartney had for some months prior to its recording.
McCartney’s starting point was the opening line, although it took some time for the rest of the song to be written.
With a lot of songs I do, the first line is it. It’s all in the first line, and then you have to go on and write the second line. With ‘Eleanor Rigby’ I had ‘picks up the rice in the church where the wedding has been.’ that was the one big line that started me off on it. With this one it was ‘No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty-five.’ That’s all I had of that song for months. ‘No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty… six?’ It wouldn’t have worked!
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini
As with ‘Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)’ before it, the song refers to other moments on Band On The Run, giving the impression of a unified body of work. In this case, ‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five’ ends with a reprise of the album’s title track.
When I read George Orwell’s 1984 I was just a kid, and I thought it was so far into the future I mightn’t live to see it. Like the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey – impossibly distant. Now they’re well behind us.
The idea behind the song is that this is a relationship that was always meant to be. No one in the distant future is ever going to get my attention, because I’ve got you. But when this was written, 1985 was only twelve years away; it wasn’t the very distant future – only the future in this song. So, this is basically a love song about the future.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five’ was never performed live by Wings, and only became part of McCartney’s live set in the 21st century. Footage of McCartney performing the song was made in 1974, although it was unseen until the 2010 reissue of Band On The Run.
The 16mm film was part of One Hand Clapping, a 55-minute documentary shot at Abbey Road’s Studio Two which captured Wings’ August 1974 rehearsals for their forthcoming live appearances.
The sequence for ‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five’ begins with McCartney performing solo at a piano, and features no other members of Wings. From the middle eight onwards, McCartney is filmed singing along to the studio backing track while smoking a cigarette. The footage ends before the reprise of the song ‘Band On The Run’.