‘Spirits Of Ancient Egypt’ is the eighth song on Wings’ Venus And Mars album.
It was inspired by McCartney’s 1974 conversations with guitarist Chet Atkins in Nashville. Atkins gave McCartney a copy of Peter Tompkins’ 1971 book Secrets Of The Great Pyramid.
After dinner he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Are you interested in Egyptian mythology?’ It was abrupt, a real non sequitur, but I’m not easily fazed, so I said, ‘Well, kind of,’ and he started talking about it.
He then gave me this book by Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid, and it was fascinating. There were some great theories in it, including that the Egyptians knew much more than people thought they did, and that the measurements around the base of the pyramid are somehow connected to the circumference of the Earth. How did they know the circumference of the Earth? You couldn’t go around it with a tap measure, but they’d figured it out. So I devoured the book, and I treasured it all the more because it had Chet Atkins’s ex libris.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
The UK’s currency had moved from pounds, shillings and pence to a decimalised system in February 1971. The following year a government white paper signified a move to metric units of measurement. McCartney was among those who struggled with the new units (“You can take a pound of love/And cook it in the stew”).
I was reading a book about Egypt recently, some of it has gone into the new album (‘Spirits of Ancient Egypt’). Apparently a measurement almost exactly the same as the inch was used in the construction of the pyramids. I’d hazard a guess that the millimetre isn’t even that clever a measurement. I understand that it’s more modern and it’s easier, being in tens, but it’s not for me. We had enough invaders and we finally got the British language straight, except for the normal amount of slang. I don’t think we need to immediately go over to kilometres, hectares, kilos, litres, and to tell you the truth, I haven’t even bothered to go to the trouble to learn all that stuff, it annoys me so much.
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini
McCartney’s love of surrealism also found its way into ‘Spirits Of Ancient Egypt’.
I always thought I didn’t do quite enough with the title. ‘Spirits of Ancient Egypt’ could have been intriguing and mystical, yet I somehow went the opposite way. ‘You’re my baby/And I love you/You can take a pound of love/And cook it in the stew.’ There are very lyrical moments – ‘Spirits of ancient Egypt/Shadows of ancient Rome’ … ‘Echoes of sunken Spain’ – all great epic legends, but then set against those moments you’ve got just a love song. It’s the ordinary pitched against the extraordinary. On one hand you’ve got the spirits of ancient Egypt, but suddenly there’s a Cadillac and someone cooking up a pound of love, and then there’s Geronimo. What’s he doing in Egypt? Or Rome? Or Spain? How does a Cadillac drive across the Irish Sea? It’s a surrealist picture. I had this belief that you could throw words together and they would attain some meaning, that you didn’t need to think it out too much, that it might just be better to chuck it out there and see what happens.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
In the studio
‘Spirits Of Ancient Egypt’ was recorded on 23 January 1975, at Allen Toussaint’s Sea Saint Studios in New Orleans. Overdubs followed on 18 and 20 February.
The song was completed on 17 March at Wally Heider Studios in Los Angeles.
The guitar solo was played by McCartney using a Gizmotron, a device invented by 10cc’s Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, which attached to a guitar and bowed the strings to simulate the sound of orchestral string instruments.
Wings performed ‘Spirits Of Ancient Egypt’ throughout their Wings Over The World Tour in 1975-6.
A live performance of the song from Seattle’s Kingdome on 10 June 1976 can be heard on that year’s live album Wings Over America.