Paul McCartney: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drums
Linda McCartney: vocals
Denny Laine: electric guitar
Eric Stewart: vocals, electric guitar
Campbell Maloney: snare drum
Patrick Halling, Laurie Lewis, David Ogden, Alan John Peters, Michael Rennie, Kenneth Sillito, Galina Solodchin: violin
Ken Essex, George Turnlund, John Underwood: viola
Keith Harvey, Alexander Kok, Dennis Vigay, Peter Willison: cello
Nicolas Reader: bassoon
‘Tug Of War’ is the title track of Paul McCartney’s third solo album.
‘Tug Of War’ doesn’t let you off the hook. There’s been plenty of things in my life that have been tugs of war. I think for me I’m always very aware of opposites: day and night, black and white, darkness and light, dull and bright. Maybe because I’m a Gemini. I’m very aware that there’s always two sides to things. And life’s very much made up of that. To make a baby you’ve got to have a man and a woman. To me, it’s what life’s to do with – these two elements coming together and becoming one, becoming whole. So ‘Tug Of War’ is about that. If things are two-sided, then there’s a pull always between these two sides. But I always try to alleviate things. I actually do have our ‘flag unfurled’ on top of a mountain in it, so I try to put a little ray of hope somewhere in all this doom.
Billboard, 17 March 2001
The backing track was recorded at AIR Studios in London on 16 December 1980. It was the first new song to be worked on by McCartney after the death of John Lennon.
The song was written before John’s death in December 1980, but when the album came out in April 1982, people thought it must be about him, that it was about our trying to outdo each other, that ‘We were trying to outscore each other/In a tug of war’. Meanings are often attributed to something that creates a convenient narrative, though, of course, they aren’t necessarily valid. But I don’t mind. The song belongs to the listeners once I release it. It’s theirs to do with whatever they want, and I don’t normally go around saying, ‘Well, no, that’s not what it means.’
Of course I can see how it could fit that interpretation, because John and I did try to outscore each other – that was the nature of our competitiveness – and we were both very up front about it. But it’s also important to realise that our work benefitted from this tug of war in so many ways. I always like the story that someone told me of how John’s hearing ‘Coming Up’ prompted him to get back in the studio to record Double Fantasy. ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ is a real favourite of mine. So, it’s trye that if he wrote a good song, I’d feel I had to write a better one, which is no less a form of inspiration than anything else.
Work continued on the song on 18 December, after which it was left until the new year.
The beginning of the song contains the sound of the National Indoor Tug of War Championship, recorded on 7 December 1980 in Huddersfield by audio engineer Eddie Klein.
I wanted to start ‘Tug Of War’ with sound effects, to help set the scene. Then, by serendipity, I heard about a national indoor tug of war contest taking place nearby. I sent Eddie, my engineer, who always had a twinkling sense of humour, to record it, and the grunting you hear on the opening of the track – that sound collage – is the sound of a real tug of war. So the song segues wonderfully from the literal into the metaphorical.
A reprise of ‘Tug Of War’ was recorded on 12 March 1981 but was left unused.
It [the album project] had a bunch or stuff that was ready, as you nearly always do for an album. You’ve got a few songs you’ve been working on, you’re waiting to record, and in the middle of them was this song called ‘Tug Of War’, and as that had started by me liking the title and the idea, and seeing that it applied to more than just a sport, I did the song and started just to kind of plonk that in amongst these others that were, you know, ready to go anyway. Any lyrics I had to finish up a little bit would be governed by the new idea of a theme, so I didn’t really want to get too hung up on a theme, ’cos it’s like everything regimented, and nothing flowing, and I wouldn’t have wanted that really, ’cos I like the idea of a little bit of regimentation but a lot of stuff that was just kind of free-flying amongst it all. That’s why I kind of say this is a sort of loose concept, sort of starts with a concept, flows into some stuff that you could vaguely say was in the concept, but it starts sort of free-flowing all over the place. But eventually, by the time it gets to the end of the album, it sort of returns to the concept. So you know it’s just like a very loose one.
Club Sandwich, 1 August 1982
‘Tug Of War’ was released as a single on 6 September 1982, with ‘Get It’ on the b-side. It peaked at number 53 in both the UK and USA, and reached number 11 in Poland.
The promotional video for the song was directed by Maurice Phillips.
The tug of war was a very popular event when I was growing up. In fact, it used to be an Olympic sport, and in 1908 a Liverpool police team won a medal in the Olympic Games. There were two teams of big rugby-playing types at either end of a big rope, and they’d just keep tugging until one of them pulled the other team past a marker and won. That seemed like a nice metaphor.
When you’re a kid you think things will be straightforward, but when you’re older and you’ve experienced more, you realise it’s an everlasting war between good and bad. I thought everyone had great families, but they don’t. I thought the sun would always shine, but it won’t. I thought that life would always be nice, but sadly, it isn’t. So, what with one thing and another, it’s a tug of war. You’ve got to try your hardest for other people because they may fall if you don’t.