‘Riding To Vanity Fair’ is the ninth song on Paul McCartney’s 13th solo album Chaos And Creation In The Backyard.

McCartney initially conceived it as an up-tempo song, but producer Nigel Godrich persuaded him to make changes.

It was a very different song when I brought it to Nigel and during one moment on the sessions he said, ‘I really don’t like that song.’ It really brought me down. It was one of our crisis moments. I was about to do what I thought was a great bass part and he says, ‘I really don’t like that song.’ Thanks! It totally did me in. I couldn’t do any more work that day. I had to go home. So we had to have a few discussions about that: ‘Come on, Nige, what’s going on, man?’ ‘Well, I don’t like it too much.’ One day I went into the studio and just changed this and that, we made it a song that we both liked. And because we did that, I think it’s a really good song now, with a bit of depth to it.
Paul McCartney
Conversations with McCartney, Paul Du Noyer

‘Vanity Fair’ I originally had as quite an up tempo sort of thing… It was all kind of staccato and very fast and, came in one evening where things had all kind of laid back a bit more like, and we said, OK, let’s just [plays and sings] ‘I bit my tongue.’ I sort of swamped it right out, just took it right down which changed the mood completely but this was particularly the one that Nigel didn’t like that, [sings] ‘I bit my tongue…’ It was all these little short phrases so he encouraged me to try and go somewhere else so I ended up with keeping the first line which was what he liked so it was, ‘I bit my tongue. I never talked too much…’ And got those run much more smooth, those next couple of lines, and knocked out the ‘Where did it get me? Where did it get me?’

I just knocked that out. Kept the kind of meaning about you’re approaching someone for friendship and they just kind of don’t want to know. They’re just kind of rejecting you and it’s not about any particular person, it’s about anybody who’s like that which I think we all meet in life, you know, you’re in a great mood with somebody and, ‘Well, I bit my tongue. I didn’t talk too much,’ and it’s one of those songs where you get your own back on those people by writing a song about them and whoever it applies to, people who are just generally a bit sort of, you know, a bit yuck.

We’d done the backing track but we didn’t like the basic song. We liked the track. It was nice and dark and quite moody. Nigel had messed around with some sort of echoey things, got kind of quite spooky but yeah, we re-worked it here, right here in the studio and kept working at it till we liked all the words and all the tune and finally I said, ‘OK, wait a minute. This is an OK song now’. Because it was getting blown off the album. It wasn’t going to be on and by the time we’d finished working with it it was like, ‘OK, we like this one now,’ and it made its way back onto the album so it was worth all that work.

Paul McCartney
Chaos And Creation In The Backyard interview, July 2005

McCartney denied that the song was written about his then-wife Heather Mills. They separated in May 2006, within a year of the album’s release, and divorced acrimoniously in 2008.

Yeah, an own-up song. Now it’s become more elegant, but it’s still a pissed-off song. When you’re trying to to reach out to someone, and it’s rejected, that’s a hurtful thing. That happened to me at a particular point. It wasn’t Heather. It was about some other relationship that I had, and this was my therapeutic way of releasing myself.

You know me. I’m generally trying to reach out in my songs. And when it doesn’t happen, it is more sorrow than anger.

Paul McCartney
Conversations with McCartney, Paul Du Noyer

Previous song: ‘A Certain Softness’
Next song: ‘Follow Me’
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