The song, which was the second UK single from the album, was co-written with 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart.
‘Pretty Little Head’ began as a studio jam at Hog Hill Mill studio, with McCartney on drums, Stewart playing keyboards, and Jerry Marotta on vibraphone. It was initially titled ‘Back To Pepperland’.
‘Hillmen’ is a word I remember thinking about long and hard. Sometimes when I’m blocking out a song, I just sort of hear a word and I think, ‘Well, that doesn’t mean anything,’ and I keep trying to change it but it just keeps coming back, and in the end I go, ‘Oh, sod it, it doesn’t matter. It fits. I don’t know what that means.’ This ‘hillmen’ is a case in point. I’ve no idea where it came from.
I remember having a lot of fun thinking about tribesmen, and I’m calling them ‘hillmen’; I’m getting a bit Neanderthal here, even a bit Viking. I’ve become a sucker for Egyptology and the study of ancient civilisations, and I do read a lot about that and watch a lot of it on TV, so the idea of creating my own tribe and my own ancient civilisation must have appealed to me.
Next thing you know, it cross-fades into a love song. I’ve just created a big tribal picture and then thrown in that little line that just trips it up: ‘…don’t worry/Your prety little head’, which was very modern and very eighties, but actually quiet a contrast to the rest of the song. I’m sure the Vikings would have had an equivalent term.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
The song was reworked towards the end of of 1985, with McCartney adding new vocals, percussion, and bass guitar. It was remixed by John ‘Tokes’ Potoker, and became the single version.
That was done very quickly, without thinking too much about it. I had a new studio, a new producer, a new songwriting partner, so I wanted to try something different. We’d push it a bit further just to see what would happen. That was an old philosophy of The Beatles – particularly on things like Sgt Pepper – you’d just start off with a backwards track, something zany, then you’d make up something from what it suggested. It’s quite a nice way of working – a bit like abstract art…
For a long while ‘Pretty Little Head’ was an instrumental. I drummed on it, Jerry Marotta played vibes, and Eric Stewart played keyboards, so we all switched roles to send us off in a different direction. Eventually you pull it back and make some sort of sense of it.
Again, the lyrics on this one are pretty exotic. I see it as a tribe who live in the hills who descend from their caves once every blue moon to bring silks and precious stones, so that their princess doesn’t have to worry her pretty little head. What’s kinda nice is that it can also be an ordinary family, and the pretty little head is the kid. The father protecting his family so that you won’t have to worry your pretty little head.
Sound On Sound, October 1986
On 27 October it was issued as the second UK single on 7″ and 12″ vinyl. The 7″ contained a 3:50 remix by Larry Alexander, and ‘Write Away’ on the b-side. ‘Write Away’ was one of three additional tracks included on the compact disc edition of the album.
The 12″ contained a 6:56 remix by Potoker, a 3:36 remix of ‘Angry’ by Alexander, and ‘Write Away’.
A cassette single was also issued on 17 November, containing the same tracks as the 12″. Limited to 2,000 copies, it was McCartney’s first release on the format.
The single was not a commercial success. It spent just two weeks on the UK chart, peaking at number 76 and dropping to 85 the following week.
The ‘Pretty Little Head’ single was included in the 2022 box set The 7″ Singles Box, with ‘Write Away’ on the b-side.
The video for ‘Pretty Little Head’ was directed by Steve Barron, and featured a cameo by McCartney filmed in London on 18 October 1986.
It featured a girl, played by Gabrielle Anwar, running away from home after seeing her parents arguing. The video opened with an excerpt from The Beatles’ 1967 song ‘She’s Leaving Home’.
‘Living in the higher reaches’. What I’m thinking about is the higher reaches of spirituality, but higher can also be interpreted as taking the higher road. The moral high ground. Or looking at it another way, it could be a druggie thing. It’s fanciful, but one thing I’ve discovered, going through all of my lyrics, is that I’ve got quite a broad style and I’ll allow myself almost anything – including the techno feel of this song, techno being very big at the time.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present