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The 1989 comeback album Flowers in the Dirt

There he is, just a couple of yards away from me. Paul McCartney, live on a small stage of a television studio in the tiny Dutch town of Bussum, visiting the Dutch music show Count Down. It's June 1989 and ever seeing him perform live is just about my biggest dream. But this setting goes even beyond my imagination: an audience of less than fifty and a complete new band, with Chris Whitten (drums), Hamish Stuart (guitar), Robbie McIntosh (guitar), Paul 'Wix' Wickens and of course Linda. The mood is great as Paul and the band started to jam prior to the tv recordings.


Video: Paul McCartney at Dutch tv-show Count Down, 1989



With his latest album Flowers in the Dirt, McCartney is back in the spotlight. He has put a lot of effort in making the album, as there is reason for a proper comeback after the less successful second half of the eighties. More than two years have taken the recordings, with several producers, including Mitchell Froom (Crowded House) and Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood). Some of the songs have multiple versions before they were recognized as good enough, My Brave Face for example. Only the third version has made the album. Another reason to spend extra time producing the album is the announced new world tour, the first one since 1976.


It wasn’t an accident. I think mainly because we’re going out on tour, we probably took a little bit more care over this one. I just don’t want to be stuck out in America somewhere, plugging an album that you don’t really like. … We concentrated on kind of what the songs were, and probably a bit more than we usually would to get them right.

And so the album is also heavily plugged, with performances like the one I’m attending in Bussum. Paul and the band play two songs including My Brave Face, which has ended up in the Dutch top ten, and the reggae song How Many People, which is announced as the next single. That doesn’t happen in the end, because the album has much better candidates to be released as a single. Eventually, the much stronger This One and the rocking Figure of Eight are the successors.

Video: Figure of Eight

Along with Tug of War, Flowers in the Dirt belongs to McCartney’s best work in the eighties. And that's partly due to Elvis Costello, with whom McCartney begins a collaboration. During several sessions they write together about twenty songs, most of them can be found on as many as four albums: Macca's Off The Ground (1993) and Spike (1989) and Mighty Like A Rose (1991) by Costello. And thus, for the first time, on this one, Flowers in the Dirt. My Brave Face is the best known, others are That Day Is Done and Don’t Be Careless Love, both belonging to the better songs of the album. You Want Her Too is a duet , containing the same theme as McCartney’s and Michael Jackson’s The Girl Is Mine: two men claiming the same woman. But what a difference between the two songs: You Want Her Too got everything The Girl Is Mine hasn’t. 


Remarkably about the cooperation is the Beatles-like songs that come out. In the way of writing songs together McCartney sees obvious similarities with John Lennon. Something that frightens him at first.


I started writing the bridge of My Brave Face, that Beatley descending 'Ever since you've been away...' We were doing a vocal rehearsal in the kitchen and he sang the line 'Take me to that place.' I hit the low harmony on 'place' and he went, 'Oh no, no. This is getting to be too much. That's exactly like There's A Place or I'll Get You'.
Elvis Costello


I said, ‘We can’t do this, man. This is me and John.’ But Elvis said, ‘It’s your style. There’s nothing wrong with it.’ He really drew me a bit toward the Beatles thing. He made me think, ‘Why am I being resistant to it? What is the resistance?’ You know, you don’t want to be seen to be trying to be a Beatle again. It isn’t seemly.
Paul McCartney

Video: My Brave Face




Elvis Costello is also due to the return of the Hofner bass. McCartney hasn’t been using it for years, especially since the instrument has become unreliable and quickly out of tune. But Costello insists to try it anyway. It will prove a definitive return, in the studio as well as live:


I had resigned myself to not working with it again because it’s not very precise, but he said, ‘Oh, I love the sound, and you must be able to get it in tune.’ So, we fiddled around, and we did a bit of work on it. We just about got it so it was in tune everywhere on the neck, so that was great after all these years. You’ve got to have the bridge at a very acute angle to get it to work. But anyway, it started to sound really good and he was very happy with it.

Flowers in the Dirt contains two older tracks: We Got Married, with a great guitar solo by David Gilmour, has been recorded in the autumn of 1984. In 1988, there are additional overdubs added. Even older is the last track, the bonus track on the CD, Où Est Le Soleil. A first demo was recorded by Wings in 1976:

Video: Où Est Le Soleil - Wings demo 1976

One of the gems on the album is Put It There, a typical McCartney song on acoustic guitar with subtle knee-percussion. The title comes from a phrase of Paul's father: "Put it there, if it's weights a ton." Another highlight is Distractions, a jazzy song that could have been on McCartney's jazz album Kisses From The Bottom as well.
Flowers in the Dirt turned out to be the comeback album McCartney wished for. And with the World Tour, starting later that year, he was back where he belongs: at the top of the music scene.


Related posts:

Flowers in The Dirt Quiz
Macca's Eighties




André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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