A tap on each shoulder with the legendary sword of King Edward the Confessor was enough to knight Paul McCartney on the morning of March 11, 1997 at Buckingham Palace. The same place the Beatles boasted of smoking a joint of marijuana when they were made members of the order of the British Empire in 1965.
Although from now on he could use the very noble “Sir”, along with his name, the artist cared little for the honors. That year he intended to return to music, after four years, with new material. And more than ever, his past as a member of the Beatles was going to be important.
Two years earlier, Paul led the project The Beatles Anthology, in which, along with the other surviving members, he returned to the huge archive of recordings recorded by the band in his career; They released three double albums with rarities, produced a television series, a book with wedges from their interviews and also met in the studio to record two new songs (“Free as a bird” and “Real love”) from home tapes. from John Lennon.
Reencountering the past gave McCartney a new creative impetus. “It reminded me of the standards of the Beatles and the standard of the songs,” he tells in an interview with EFE. It was a good refresher course, and it gave me a framework for this album. Anthology it brought out all these memories that I had had no reason to think about for a long time. ”
Those days listening to the old melodies of the Fab Four, refreshed his memory and in this way he had a floor to start. “One of the things I always used to do with the Beatles was listen to our last album before moving on to the next one,” he says. For example, I was listening Rubber Soul. He put it whole, like he was a fan. That is where we are. There is the bar. Now, let’s try to skip it. ”
That is why the new album had a name that found it, at least on paper, with its former creative partner. Decided to call him Flaming Pie. It was the memory of an old joke. In 1961, prior to the Beatles’ second voyage to the German port of Hamburg, Lennon was commissioned by the editor of the magazine Mersey Beat to provide a brief overview of the group’s history. When he explained the origin of the name of the band, he went off on a tangent and reached for his fertile imagination. “A man appeared in a burning cake [‘flaming pie’, en inglés] and said: “From this day on you are the Beatles with an ‘A'”.
So the inspiration for the album Flaming Pie He came from those days composing at John’s aunt’s house in Mendips, or at the piano at Paul’s house on Forthlin Road. Much of the material from the early Liverpool band era (such as “From me to you” or “She loves you”) was created in 3-4 hour sessions with the constant reinforcement of cups of tea. Other times, like “The Ballad of John & Yoko”, they would meet in the morning, finish the song, and then go straight to the studio to record. In one day, they already had a single.
“Flaming pie It had an element to it, ”says Paul. It had quite the Beatles flavor. There are always echoes. You can not avoid it. When you write, it’s you. And when you’ve just reevaluated your life’s work, you get an idea of where to go next. “
Always restless, McCartney self-imposed the idea of working a new group of songs just as he did in those years; fast, with spark. Search the Beatles’ work for the Anthology It had made him want to recreate the spontaneity and the feeling of fun in the group study ”, Phillip Norman details in his extensive book Paul McCartney, the biography (Malpaso, 2016). And little by little, in his daily life he found spaces to do it.
The time it takes to cook a lunch. That was what took Paul to write “Young boy”, a simple song that was the first single from the album. “I wrote it on Long Island in the time it took Linda to make lunch (vegetable soup, eggplant casserole, and applesauce pie) with Pierre Franey for an article in The New York Times.” In the video clip she comes out with Linda and in the end she does – of course – the classic greeting to the public as the Beatles did in their shows. About the 2020 reissue of Flaming Pie, a promotional EP of the song was released, which includes the original demo played on acoustic guitar.
The routine also provided the musician with some unexpected moments that, of course, he took advantage of to put into practice the (old) new method. “Sometimes I would take Linda on one of his cooking commissions, and on one particular day, I would take him to a photo shoot on a farm in Kent. I got out of the way, went upstairs and made up a little fantasy to write a song -remembers in the interview mentioned. I knew it would take Linda about two hours to shoot, so I put a limit to writing a song in that time. And in ‘Somedays’ it happened like this. I wrote the whole song in that time. “
Once he wrote it, Paul decided to record it. But instead of gathering session musicians or his touring band, he decided to go it alone. Just as he had when he recorded his first LP as a soloist (McCartney, 1970), he himself played all the instruments. At least on that recording.
“I recorded it alone, I played it all, as in [el disco] McCartneyBut when I was working on the final version I thought maybe I could use a little fix, so I called George Martin. Who better to do it? ”
He was not the only guest to come from the past. During sessions for The Beatles Anthology, Paul’s main ally was Ringo Starr, since George Harrison soon withdrew from the project and refused to participate in the recording of a third unreleased track by Lennon.
The complicity paid off. In May 1996, Starr met with “Macca” in the studio at his home in Hug Hill to record two compositions under the production of Jeff Lynne, the man from the Electric Light Orchestra.
One was titled “Beautiful Night”. It was a piece that dated from the mid-eighties that was half finished. “I felt like I didn’t have the right version, so I put this song out when Ringo arrived, and it was just like the old days,” Paul recalls. I realized that we hadn’t done this for many years, but it was really comfortable. ”
The other was “Really love you”. After finishing “Beautiful night”, the musicians were eager. So they decided without further ado, to play. Without a plan, without pressure. In the manner of rookies who start playing in a garage, but in the personal study of a well-known millionaire rockstar. “I grabbed my bass Hofner, he [Ringo] he started playing the drums and Jeff Lynne entered the guitar. The three of us started playing some rhythm and blues. When we did it, I played it to Ringo and he said: ‘It’s intense.’ ”
Somehow, the old Beatle method, that one of the hits that were baked in one go, began to work for a 55-year-old senior rocker, with many victories, some defeats, but with other very difficult tests ahead.
In addition to the songs he worked for Flaming Pie (which eventually had Jeff Lynne as producer and guitarist Steve Miller as guest), McCartney recorded two others that he composed during the 1990s and that were waiting for an opportunity at the bottom of his archive.
The acoustic ballad “Calico skies”, which seems to be a discard from the White Album and is related to other songs from his discography such as “Blackbird” and “Jenny Wren”, was created during a forced closure in 1991. It happened that Paul had to travel with his wife Linda to East Hampton, on Long Island, to his father-in-law’s funeral.
However, upon arrival they were surprised by Hurricane Bob with such force that they had to spend a day as if they were in another time: without electric light, lit only with candles and with firewood for cooking. Always optimistic, Paul hung out on the acoustic guitar. “I wanted to write something acoustic, something simple that would stand on its own and where I didn’t have to put in the drums or an arrangement.”
The other is a tribute. In December 1995, Ringo’s first wife, Maureen, died of leukemia. Moved, Paul decided to write him a ballad titled “Little Willow”. “I was very affected by the death of Maureen Starkey and I remember walking into a room and putting those feelings into that song. The fragility of life is in that song. “
That same month, as Maureen was buried, the McCartney family received devastating news. Linda, the wife, the photographer, the keyboardist for Wings in the 1970s and the promoter of a vegetarian food line, was seriously ill. The diagnosis left no room for doubt: breast cancer. For the musician it was an extremely brutal blow; It was the same disease that had taken her mother when she was a boy of 14 years.
So while working on your projects as The Beatles Anthology and then in the sessions of Flaming PiePaul desperately searched for the best specialists he could afford. But time began to run against him. The first chemotherapy treatment did not yield good results, and although she still had some public appearances (she attended her daughter Stella’s debut as a talented fashion designer for the Chloé house), the energies gradually began to falter. Somehow, that regret about the inevitable ending can be heard on the album.
“In Flaming Pie there were some clues to the underlying unease, ”writes Phillip Norman. Linda’s cover photo was a black and white portrait of Paul looking uncharacteristically stark and distraught. ” Furthermore, unlike other albums, LInda’s musical participation was very limited. “In the credits she only appeared in the choirs, as if she no longer had the energy to continue playing the keyboards,” he adds.
The album was released in May 1997. It was a success. It reached # 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 and UK Albums Chart, the best brand it had achieved since Tug of War (1982). Unlike the bad reviews her previous album had received,. Off the ground (1993), this time the appreciations were somewhat more positive. “In Flaming PieMcCartney’s backward glance is a genuine search, as if he wasn’t sure what he might find there. The confusion turns into him, complicating his typically overly established view and giving Pie a necessary advantage, ”Anthony DeCurtis wrote for Rolling Stone. He rated it three stars out of five.
But the success did not entirely make up for a difficult year for the McCartney clan. Despite her ailments and her increasingly limited energies, Linda remained as active as she could; She managed her food line, recorded some songs and even planned in detail the first Christmas her family would spend without her.
In April 1998, she couldn’t take it anymore and had to stay in bed. Cancer had branched out to the stomach. One afternoon the doctor informed Paul that the end was imminent. After talking it over, they decided not to tell her (later she would be strongly reproached). Death took her on the 17th of that month.
It took McCartney a year to return to a recording studio, but again, he had the answer on his hands. In Run Devil Run, an album of rock & roll covers that he listened to in his teens, repeated the formula of recording in short, fast sessions, as the Beatles did. Somehow, he realized that he could no longer escape. They were always going to be there.