‘Press’ was the lead single released from Paul McCartney’s sixth solo album Press To Play.

‘Oklahoma was never like this’. That can mean whatever you want it to mean. To me, when you’re writing songs, you often get a line you assume you’re going to edit later, you’re going to knock it out and put something sensible in. But every time I came to that line, I couldn’t sing anything else – just the scanning, the way it sang. People would have understood it if it was ‘Liverpool was never like this’, but it wouldn’t have sung the same. It’s a symbol for the provinces, the sticks, the out of the way places. The line just wouldn’t change, and when you meet such resistance from the lyrics themselves, you have to give in.
Paul McCartney
Sound On Sound, October 1986

I mean, who doesn’t like a back rub? There are some people who don’t, but I love them. It’s just right up my street, that kind of thing. So Linda was being nice enough to give me one one day, as they say. You can draw your own conclusions from that! Yes, a massage. Anyway, she was giving me a massage and it just felt so good, and I kind of got the words ‘Oh well that’s it, oh yeah, right there, ooh,’ you know. ‘Down a bit, up a bit.’ And the word ‘press’ started to run around in my mind as a kind of double-meaning thing, where you get the actual pressing.

So it then started to mean a little more than just a massage thing. That was the original inspiration. It started then to mean touching. I know sometimes when you’re a little bit nervous to meet someone, if you touch them it can make things better. It’s a great thing, I think, between people. Some people aren’t touchers, and I wouldn’t be the world’s greatest toucher. I know people like Johnny Carson, I’ve heard him say, he’s just not one of those guys that goes around, ‘Hey, how are ya?’ Huggy, huggy. But I know from my own experience that it can be a great thing. Even just shaking hands with someone, it just gives you something, some kind of contact.

So this song, then, I started to play around with this idea of a girl and a boy who actually want to touch each other, but there’s a whole big crowded room full of people. What are they gonna do? So he kind of says to her, ‘Anytime you want me to do that, just kind of say “press” quietly, and I’ll know what you mean.’ So it becomes a little secret message between the two of them.

Paul McCartney, 1986
102.5 WBEN-FM

In the studio

‘Press’ was recorded at Hog Hill Mill studio in the summer of 1985, with overdubs following later in the year.

Some of the tracks are completely live – with real people! But the bass on ‘Press’, for example, that’s a sequencer playing it. I messed around with stuff like that on the McCartney II album, but I never did it for real. It came more from a desire to familiarise myself with some of the newer recording techniques – using noise gates, synthesizers, sequencers, interfaces… Once you understand it, it’s not difficult at all; it’s like someone talking about a carburettor when there were blacksmiths. These days in the studio you can go up to 96 tracks, but frankly it gets cumbersome after 48 tracks, plus, how much sound can you actually get on a little groove?
Paul McCartney
Sound On Sound, October 1986

Carlos Alomar, best known for his work with David Bowie, performed on the song. He visited McCartney’s studio in July 1985, and his work on the song was his second take after hearing the song.

Carlos Alomar came in when we realised that there were certain types of guitar we wanted on some tracks that neither Eric nor myself could play. I actually played the guitar solo on ‘Press’ and guitar on ‘Pretty Little Head’. I play quite a bit of guitar, which is one of my departures on this album. Carlos played arpeggio guitar on ‘Press’, which really pulled the track together.
Paul McCartney
Sound On Sound, October 1986

The release

‘Press’ was released as a single on 14 July 1986. It was not a commercial success, peaking at 25 on the UK singles chart and 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

The video for the single, directed by Philip Davey, was shot on London Underground’s Jubilee Line on 16 June. McCartney is seen miming to the song as he takes the Tube from South Kensington to Piccadilly Circus stations, interacting with various members of the public on the trains and in stations.

A UK-only 7″ vinyl single contained a 3:55 mix of ‘Press’ by producer Hugh Padgham, and ‘It’s Not True’ on the b-side.

Elsewhere the 7″ contained ‘Press’ (Video Edit), a remix of the song by Bert Bevans and Steve Forward, plus the same b-side.

A 10″ single was also issued, and contained a slightly longer version of the Padgham mix lasting 4:20, plus a remix of ‘It’s Not True’ by Julian Mendelsohn, and ‘Press’ (Video Edit). Six thousand copies were released, with a circular fold-out cover.

There was additionally a 12″ single, which contained ‘Press’ (Video Soundtrack), another Padgham mix lasting 4:43; the Mendelsohn remix of ‘It’s Not True’; ‘Hanglide’, another outtake from the Press To Play sessions; and ‘Press’ (Dub Mix), another remix by Bevans and Forward, lasting 6:18.

Initial UK copies of Press To Play – 45,000 were made – included the Video Edit remix by Bevans and Forward. It was subsequently replaced by a second pressing which featured the original mix by Hugh Padgham.

‘Press’ was included on the 2016 compilation Pure McCartney.

McCartney’s 2022 box set The 7″ Singles Box contained ‘Press’ with its US artwork. The a-side contained the Video Edit of the song.

Paul McCartney’s mixing notes for Press

Previous song: ‘Only Love Remains’
Next song: ‘Pretty Little Head’
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