‘Single Pigeon’ is the sixth song on Wings’ second album Red Rose Speedway.
The song was written by Paul McCartney, who used the titular bird as a metaphor for loneliness.
One of my hobbies is ornithology. In fact, I’m a keen ornithologist and always have been. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favourite pastimes as a child was to take my Observer’s Book of Birds, sit in the fields and lose myself in nature. I like me birds, as they say.
I had seen a single pigeon, just pecking around – a blue-grey pigeon on its own near some railings – and I thought the combination of those words was quite winning: ‘single pigeon’. I began to think about why the pigeon might be single.
The minute you decide to make up a story about a pigeon, it’s not just a pigeon. It’s a character in a play. It’s a guy who’s had an argument with his girl the night before, and he’s got chucked out of the house. So here he is. He’s single now. All because of the ‘Sunday morning fight about Saturday night’.
Second verses are always interesting because you’re going somewhere else but you want to retain the feeling of the first verse. Now that I’ve established the single pigeon, the second verse introduces a ‘single seagull’ – another character in my little play. I’d often see a seagull gliding over Regent’s Park canal, but it’s also possible he flew in from Chekhov. The seagull in Chekhov’s play isn’t just a seagull but a symbol of a character, Konstantin, and his relationship to Nina.
The idea that the protagonist of the song is ‘a lot like you’ suggests that he, too, has been chucked out. He’s relating to the pigeon and seagull because he, too, has been turfed out into the cold morning rain. So, I’ve changed it from being just an ornithological observation to a representation of me. That pigeon is me, or that seagull is me, or a version of me.
The irony is that this song was written at a time when I was actually very happy in my personal life. People listening to the song might have recognised that the corner of my mouth was raised ever so slightly in a smile because my relationship with Linda was a very happy one. That’s why it was so lovely to have her singing backup on ‘Me too/I’m a lot like you’.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
In the studio
‘Single Pigeon’ was recorded at Olympic Sound Studios on 9 March 1972. Paul McCartney was on piano and vocals, Henry McCullough played an acoustic guitar, Denny Laine played drums, and Wings’ normal drummer Denny Seiwell was on bass guitar.
Overdubs were added at Abbey Road on 29 January 1973. It was an unusual session, involving the members of Wings playing unconventional instruments: McCartney played a trombone, Laine was on saxophone, and Seiwell played a cornet.
I went to Portobello Road, where they have a big flea market, and I bought this beautiful old Besson cornet. It came in a beat-up old leather bag, and it was really screwed up. And I said, ‘How much do you want for that?’ And I gave him a couple of pounds and went home, and had it worked on a little bit, so that it played OK. I brought it to the session one day, and it’s on ‘Single Pigeon’.
Red Rose Speedway Deluxe Edition, 2018