People ask if I feel an album’s incomplete without a ballad, and I do think that a little bit. I know there are people who like them who will inevitably gravitate towards that particular track… People who’ve heard the album say ‘That’s the McCartney I like’. So I sorta put it on for them, and for myself, because I’m pretty romantic by nature. It’s not so much the feeling ‘Now we must do the compulsory ballad’, it’s more that I can write them, and I like them. I like the quiet moment, and this song is that reflective moment – and it comes at the end of side one, so if you’re not in that mood, you can always take it off!
Sound On Sound, October 1986
The orchestral score was by Tony Visconti, who had previously fulfilled the same role on Wings’ Band On The Run album.
In the early summer of 1985 I was pleased to hear Paul McCartney’s voice on the phone. He was enquiring if I’d like to arrange a song for his new album. I drove down to his outrageously beautiful recording studio on the Sussex coast; it’s in a circular, disused old mock windmill. Paul and I went upstairs to a lounge room that had many instruments strewn around. Paul proudly pulled his ageing Hofner violin bass off the wall and showed me a set list taped to the rib of the bass; the once clear adhesive tape was by then old and dark yellow. The set list included ‘Twist And Shout’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and most of the songs recorded on the Please Please Me album. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
Before we got down to business Paul confronted me: ‘Why did you and Mary [Hopkin] split up?’ I was so taken aback by this and embarrassingly answered, ‘Er, we grew apart.’ Paul could see how choked I was in answering him and didn’t pursue it further. After a little more small talk Paul played me ‘Only Love Remains’, a gorgeous ballad. He said he wanted to record it live with a small orchestra of strings, woodwind instruments and a rhythm section. ‘I want to play piano and sing it live in the same room with the musicians.’
When the day came to record, Paul had the 30 or so musicians taken down to Sussex by coach. The plan was to try and record a rhythm track in the morning, to be safe, and overdub the orchestral instruments in the afternoon. Once that was achieved we had a go recording the entire ensemble with Paul singing and playing live. The musicians from the orchestra spent the morning and lunchtime in the local pub and were well lubricated by the time we sent for them around 2:30 p.m. We managed the overdub, then set up for the live performance. I stood next to him as he played piano and sang, while I conducted the orchestra; it was like having my own private McCartney concert. I would look over to Paul for a cue and he would smile and continue to sing to me. He never made a mistake and each take was a ‘keeper’.
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
‘Only Love Remains’ was released as a single on 1 December 1986. The single contained a remix of the song by Jim Boyer. The b-side of the 7″ vinyl edition was ‘Tough On A Tightrope’.
A 12″ single was also issued, which contained the Jim Boyer remix, a Julian Mendelsohn remix of ‘Tough On A Tightrope’ lasting 7:03, and a 5:56 remix of ‘Talk More Talk’ by McCartney and Jon Jacobs.
A double 7″ pack was also released, which contained a bonus copy of Wings’ ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ with no picture sleeve.
‘Only Love Remains’ peaked at number 34 on the UK singles chart, and number 9 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.
A video for the song was shot on 19 November 1986 at Pinewood Studios, and featured Gordon Jackson and Pauline Yates.
The 2022 box set The 7″ Singles Box contained a unique mix of ‘Only Love Remains’, containing a different saxophone part and more prominent drums.