In the studio
Security was tight, and each day Paul and Linda would come up the back elevator with their kids and a playpen, which we set up in the front of the control room. I was a part-time nanny since Mary would often be crawling around the console and sitting on my lap! The interplay between Paul and Linda was sweet, especially when they were on-mic. Linda actually came up with some parts on her own – the entire backing vocals on ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ consists of the two of them – but when she needed a hand, Paul was great with her.
We used a combination of U87s – if we were working on something smooth – and Shure SM57s for the rockier stuff throughout the album. Paul didn’t care what mic you put on him, although he did like the U87. He’s such a great singer. I know that the vocals they cut over at CBS are Paul singing live right off the floor with the rhythm section into an Electro-Voice RE20, which was a relatively new mic at the time. They recorded the telephone section over at CBS, as well. That character voice was also Paul, with a simple highpass filter engaged to give the telephone effect.
From around 1966 onwards, McCartney tended to arrive at the studio with clear ideas of how he wanted his songs to be recorded. This often bred dissatisfaction or resentment from his fellow musicians, who occasionally felt their suggestions were being dismissed by the single-minded McCartney.
Although McCracken he had previously worked under McCartney’s close supervision, on ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ he was given free rein to compose his own parts.
This song represented a breakthrough in our musical relationship. Paul is a genius. He sees and hears everything he wants, and would give specific instructions to me and the drummer. But he didn’t know what he wanted the guitar part to be like on this song. I asked him to trust me, and he did. After I came up with the parts, he was very pleased. For the rest of the record, Paul let me try things out before making any suggestions.
The flugelhorn solo, meanwhile, that marks the beginning of the ‘Admiral Halsey’ section, was performed by American bebop trumpeter Marvin Stamm.
When Paul decided he wanted a short solo from one of the horn players – me, Snooky Young, Mel Davis, Ray Crisara – someone in the section yelled out, ‘Let the kid do it!’ Paul must have liked the idea, because he asked me to go ahead with it.
By the time this session occurred, I had been in New York for about four years working as a studio recording musician, so I felt very comfortable within the community, although I was only 31 years old at the time. Paul was very relaxed in the studio, he did not try to cause any tension. He was also very open and respectful of everyone. We were going to do the brass for three different songs in three separate sessions, completely apart from the strings overdubs.
For ‘Admiral Halsey’, we listened to the backing track, that had a scratch vocal on it and the solo was the last thing we recorded for the track. There was nothing terribly difficult to play. The most difficult thing was to make the music sound the way Paul wanted it to sound. It was a challenge. He sat on a chair and sang the part, that he would have like to sound as much as possible close to the old radio days.
Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013), Luca Perasi
‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ was released as a single in the United States on 2 August 1971, as Apple 1837. Its b-side was ‘Too Many People’.
The song was included in our album Ram, and it was released as a single a few months later. It became my first post-Beatles number one in the US.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1971, becoming the first in a string of McCartney’s number one singles throughout the 1970s and 80s.
‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ was an epic thing, a Number 1 in America, surprisingly enough. I like the little bit that breaks in: ‘Admiral Halsey notified me, da-da-da, had a cup of tea and a butter pie.’ It’s a bit surreal, but I was in a very free mood, and looking back I like all of that. It must have freaked a few people, ’cause it was quite daft.
McCartney received a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists for ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ in 1971.
Fascinating detail about that filter effect on the final fake telephone ring – it functions just like a sudden cut in a movie, unintended or not. A “happy accident” worthy of the Beatles!