In the studioPaul McCartney began recording ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ on 5 November 1970 at CBS Studios in New York.
On that first day he worked on the first section, known as ‘We’re So Sorry’. He was accompanied by Hugh McCracken on guitar and Denny Seiwell on drums.
The session was not a success, and they returned to the song the following day. The basic track had McCartney on acoustic guitar, McCracken on electric, and Seiwell on drums. The guitarists then overdubbed additional lines, McCracken replaced his original part, and Seiwell added a tambourine part.
That song represents 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 ‘Admiral Halsey’ section was also worked on during the 6 November session. McCartney played the tack piano he had previously used on ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’, while McCracken and Seiwell played electric guitar and drums respectively.
At that time the lyrics were unfinished. McCartney had only the opening lines, and the ‘Hands across the water’ and ‘Gypsy get around’ sections.
During the session McCartney also added an electric organ part, which was dropped during the final mixing session.
The song was then left until 6 December 1970, when McCartney recorded his lead vocals at another CBS Studios session.
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.
Following the 6 November session, McCartney had sent a rough mix to George Martin, requesting a score which would also bridge the two sections.
Martin’s contribution was not credited on the album, and was unknown by the general public for nearly 30 years. His score sheets for the orchestral arrangement, separated into two parts, mistakenly bore the title ‘Uncle Arthur’.
McCartney conducted the orchestral musicians; the recording took place in Studio A1 at A&R Studios in New York. According to producer Phil Ramone, “The funny thing is about 20% of the orchestra didn’t know who he was. They were classical players.”
The orchestral overdub session for the ‘Uncle Albert’ section took place on 27 January 1971. The overdub features 16 violins, four violas, four cellos, a double bass, three French horns, a bass trombone, and a harp.
‘Admiral Halsey’ was tackled the following day. This time the arrangement required three flugelhorns or trumpets, three French horns, and bass trombone.
The flugelhorn solo 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
On 1 February 1971 Paul and Linda added backing vocals to the ‘Hands across the water’ section. The track was then left for several weeks while McCartney worked on other songs, and finished the lyrics of the ‘Admiral Halsey’ section.
The song was eventually finished at Sound Recorders Studio in Hollywood. On 1 April McCartney recorded the lead vocals for the ‘Admiral Halsey’ section.
The session also involved a contribution from synth player Paul Beaver, who demonstrated how to apply a filter to the word ‘water’ during the ‘Hands across the water’ section, to sound as if it was submerged.
Beaver returned on 7 April to apply the effects. Studio engineer Eirik Wangberg also added the sound of rain and thunder to the track, which was then finally complete.
Yes, it’s really cool indeed. For this sound, I used a mono track which I got from a film studio, recorded it over twice and made an artificial stereo out of it. Then, in the mix, I panned the thunder over… I am particularly proud of this bit! It’s not often mentioned, but if you check the song out it was one of the first recordings where the synthesizers were used on the vocals. Listen to it carefully: it sounds like the choir was done beneath the water!
‘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.