‘Old Siam, Sir’ was the lead single from Wings’ final album Back To The Egg in the UK.
The song originated as a 1976 demo titled ‘Super Big Heatwave’, based on a keyboard melody by Linda McCartney. The song was worked on by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine, and later by the rest of Wings, all of whom contributed to the songwriting. Despite that, only Paul McCartney received a composer credit.
I wrote a bit of a melody on ‘Old Siam, Sir’ and Paul and Denny were there and they just started making up the song. They later brought it into the studio. The whole riff came about when we were rehearsing to go live.
The Beatles – The Dream Is Over: Off The Record 2, Keith Badman
According to guitarist Laurence Juber, a portion of the song was the work of drummer Steve Holley.
A lot of the time it was a finished song, but not always. In the case of ‘Old Siam, Sir’, we were jamming one day and Steve Holly was playing keyboards and had this chord sequence. I’m not sure if Paul was playing drums or if it was Linda because we’d trade off in a jamming situation, but what ended up happening was that ended up in the instrumental section of the song. I always felt that Steve should have received some sort of nod for that. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the process in that you don’t always get full credit for what you contribute as a musician, especially as the song-writing is traditionally words and melody, not chords, licks and grooves. If you could copyright a rhythm, Bo Diddley would have been very happy.
Daytrippin’ Beatles Magazine, August 2010
‘Old Siam, Sir’ was recorded in July 1978 at the McCartneys’ Spirit of Ranachan Studio in Scotland, although Steve Holley’s drum part was re-recorded in December at Abbey Road Studios, along with additional guitar.
The rather fancy-sounding Spirit of Ranachan studio was basically a barn with a control room window at one end of it. Wackiness was the order of the day during this period – garish outfits and the punk and disco era – and they don’t come much wackier than ‘Old Siam, Sir’. If I had to rate the elements of it, I think the lyric would come third to the feel of the song and then the attack of the vocal. I’m doing a bit of alliteration here, playing around with the words – ‘waited’ and ‘Walthamstow’, ‘scouted’ and ‘Scarborough’. I think the reason I’m ever so slightly embarrassed by it is that it doesn’t really make much sense.
Maybe I should just relax, though, because it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. There’s a nonsensical aspect to it, but when you’ve read things like Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’, it gives you licence to do pretty much anything. Another consideration is that the song is a representation of an Asian immigrant in the UK, and the song gives a sense of her culture shock.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
Wings performed ‘Old Siam, Sir’ during their 1979 UK tour.
It was not a commercial success, and peaked at number 35 on the official charts.
‘Old Siam, Sir’ was also the b-side of the ‘Arrow Through Me’ single in the USA. It was released on 14 August 1979 and peaked at 29 on the Billboard Hot 100.