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Tug of War

If you want to hear how the Beatles could have sounded without John Lennon and George Harrison, just put on Tug of War, McCartney's most Beatles-like album. Not entirely coincidentally, because for the first time since Abbey Road in 1969, he is making an album again with Beatles producer George Martin. And also Ringo Starr is drumming on one track. The result is one of McCartney's best albums of his career.

Purely laudatory comments on its release in 1982: "Tug of War is the masterpiece everyone has always known Paul McCartney could make," wrote Rolling Stone. The magazine assesses the album even higher than that other masterpiece, Band on the Run. The strength of the album lies in the piece by piece strong compositions and the variation you may expect of a McCartney LP: The majestic opening march Tug of War flows effortlessly into the pop-rock song Take It Away; Thereafter, the one gem follows after another, such as the stately hymn Wunderlust or the special mix of rock 'n' roll and English Music Hall in the swinging foxtrot Ballroom Dancing. A personal favourite is the duet with McCartney's childhood hero Carl Perkins, to me this acoustic rockabilly is the hidden gem of the album.




The highlight of the album is the poignant Here Today in which McCartney retrieves personal memories of his murdered friend Lennon. He describes it as the never-written letter to his former partner. Thanks to the typical string arrangement by George Martin Here Today fits in the list of McCartney classics as Yesterday, Here, There and Everywhere and For No One.

Video: Making of Here Today

The only song that doesn’t seems to have stood the test of time, is remarkably enough hit single Ebony and Ivory. Perhaps because the duet with Stevie Wonder was played way to much on the radio at the time, but especially the synthesizers sound pretty dated nowadays.

Video: Making of Ebony and Ivory

Tug of War was originally intended as the new Wings album. Between July and October 1980 a couple of practice sessions took place, but it doesn’t really rafts. It's the ending of Wings. After the  McCartney's arrest in Japan earlier that year and the thereby failed Japanese tour, his interest in the band is waning. During the sessions, there is an apathetic atmosphere, there are palpable tensions and it doesn’t lead to positive results. It all will have contributed to the decision by McCartney to team up again with George Martin after many years.
I wanted to work with George Martin again. I called him on the phone, asking him if he was interested, he accepted and we decided to make a very professional album. It was the first time that George Martin produced me since Live And Let Die. I really like him as a producer, and when you work with people who are really good like that, it makes it easier for yourself.
Paul McCartney

With the arrival of Martin it’s finally done with Wings. For the band members, it becomes clear soon that he wants to work with McCartney especially and not with the whole band. Wings guitarist Laurence Juber saw what was coming:
George Martin didn't want to do Tug Of War as a Wings album. He wanted to do it purely as a solo McCartney album. So, not needing to have a live band and wanting to be able to be completely free, George Martin wanted to be free just to choose whoever he felt like having play on stuff. Then, as soon as I saw the writing on the wall, I moved to New York.
Laurence Juber

When in October 1980 in London the recording sessions for Tug of War finally starts, Wings drummer Steve Holly and Laurence Juber take no longer part. But the recordings don’t last long. In the morning of December 9 McCartney and Martin received the message that John Lennon was killed the night before in New York. Deeply shocked they decide to temporarily interrupt the sessions.
In February, the recording resumes. This time in George Martin's Air Studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. And as foreseen by Laurence Juber big names from the pop industry are flown in to play on the album. Besides drummer Steve Gadd famous musicians like bassist Stanley Clark, 10cc frontman Eric Stewart and Roxy Music multi-instrumentalist Andy Mackay are playing along.
We decided not to be as restricted, and just write anything and then get in anyone we thought could play it. So we started a new era, working with whoever we thought was most suitable for the tune. If it was a thing that needed Steve Gadd's particular kind of thing, we decided we'd get him, rather than just asking someone to be like Steve Gadd.
Paul McCartney

Video: Take It Away

Tug of War’s high level, is largely due  to George Martin. Because when he starts the renewed cooperation, he is not satisfied with the already existing material. There are few in the music industry who have the guts to offer McCartney really quite counteract and propel him to greater heights, George Martin is one of them. He urges McCartney to write additional songs, with eventually enough songs to fill a double album as a result. The idea for a double album is dropped by the duo rapidly; instead, they decide to make a diptych. Part one has the theme of a struggle between opposites. Part two is Pipes of Peace, published a year later, and has the theme the solution of that struggle, namely love and peace. Ultimately, it appears that the two albums itself are each others opposite: as strong as Tug of War is, so moderate is Pipes of Peace.


Tug of War is McCartney's most rigid and stylized album to date. And that is the merit of George Martin. But perhaps that is also the only downside: what’s missing are the raw, ragged edges that have been found on previous LP's. It is all very smoothly, on Pipes of Peace even a bit too much. Fortunately, on Tug of War there’s one exception: that other duet with Stevie Wonder, the sexually explicit What's That You're Doing ?, a song originated from a spontaneous jam session. Two legends at their best.


Related posts:
Macca's Eighties
André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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