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2007: Memory Almost Full

When McCartney reached the age of 64, he was certainly not doing the garden, digging the weeds, as he sang  forty years before on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. On the contrary, McCartney is still very active. Just before his 65th birthday the remarkable retrospective album Memory Almost Full is released. Obviously, he doesn’t think of retirement yet.

The recordings for Memory Almost Full started already in September 2003, before the recording sessions for its predecessor Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. Because this project came in between, the thread got picked up again in 2006:
I realised I had this album to go back to and finish off. So I got it out to listen to it again, wondering if I would enjoy it, but actually I really loved it. All I did at first was just listen to a couple of things and then I began to think, 'OK, I like that track – now, what is wrong with it?' And it might be something like a drum sound, so then I would re-drum and see where we would get to. (…) I took it from there and built it up. I went through, track by track, making changes as I went along. I fixed things I wasn't too keen on and it just evolved from there. Without me knowing, or really trying, it started to get its own theme, a sort of thread that holds it all together. So I suppose it's about half new stuff and half old stuff from 2003.
Paul McCartney




As the title indicates, the album is about memories. Reminders of his youth and time with The Beatles during the track That Was Me, memories of his deceased wife Linda in You Tell Me and of his unsuccessful marriage with Heather Mills in Gratitude. McCartney looks back on his life, and he does that with, not surprising, a positive view.
The album title came after I had finished everything. For me, that's when they normally come, with the exception of maybe Sgt Peppers, otherwise I don't think I have ever made an album with The Beatles, Wings or solo where I have thought of a title and a concept. I was thinking about what would sum the whole thing up and Memory Almost Full sprung to mind. I’d seen it come up on my phone a few times. It's a phrase that seemed to embrace modern life; in modern life our brains can get a bit overloaded. 
Paul McCartney

Memory Almost Full starts cheerfully with Dance Tonight, a song described by British pianist and television host Jules Holland as "so simple, why didn’t we think of that?" Dance Tonight is McCartney at its best; A very simple song, but so catchy it stays in your head. It is also such a typical example of the experimental McCartney looking for new sounds. In this case, he bought a mandolin and while teaching himself to play the instrument, this song was created. The fact that it was added to the album at the last moment is due to McCartney's daughter Beatrice:
As I was playing this, I have a 3,5 year old daughter who came in running into the kitchen dancing. It was so lovely that I just thought I’m going to finish this off and this is going to be on the album.

Paul McCartney

Dance Tonight also became one of the public favorites during the live concerts; And not only because of the hilarious dance by drummer Abe Laboriel jr.

Video: Dance Tonight Live



The  second track is Ever Present Past, which, like Dance Tonight, was released as single. It's the first song on the album where McCartney looks back on his past, about the years that “went by in a flash” and the lack of time to be a “decent lover”. Watching the accompanying video clip, given the large number of red-haired dancers, you may think that the song is about McCartney's first fiancée, the red-haired Jane Asher, although McCartney himself never made any connection between her and the song. 

Video: Ever Present Past

The album is full of gems and one of the most striking is Mr. Bellamy. The track is a kind of mini-operetta about a man standing on a roof, apparently ready to jump, with downstairs firemen who want to catch him. It is such a typical narrative McCartney song, in which he sings, while playing with his voice, the various vocal parts; Namely those of the narrator, the man on the roof and those of the firemen. Beautiful is also how at the end of the song the jump downwards is reflected musically.
Besides, I once read on a forum that someone thought the song was about a cat, who does not dare sitting high in a tree anymore, but is too scared to jump. I like that point of view; It makes the song more fun, less morbid.

Another favorite is That Was Me, in which Macca looks back on his past by glancing through a photo book. It's a rockabilly-like track with an excellent bassline: 

Video: That Was Me, live

That Was Me is part of a five-song medley consisting of the songs Vintage Clothes, That Was Me, Feet In The Clouds, House Of Wax and The End Of The End. In my opinion, I think medley is a big word. It is definitely not comparable to the ones on Abbey Road or Red Rose Speedway. In this case, we’re talking about five full-bodied, complete songs that just blend in handy. Another difference is that the songs are written specifically for this 'medley' and all with a retrospective theme. Vintage Clothes is a pop song with characteristic McCartney-hooks and House Of Wax distinguishes itself by a great guitar solo.

Video: House of Wax, live



The medley’s last track is The End Of The End, a striking song because McCartney brings on his own death. And although not a cheerful subject, here too an optimistic McCartney performs the headline. Because if it’s time, we shouldn’t mourn too much:

On the day that I die I'd like jokes to be told
And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets
That children have played on
And laid on while listening to stories of old


I kind of surprised myself with this one. I was glad it came out celebratory instead of being morbid.  
Paul McCartney

Almost Memory Full ends with the rocking Nod Your Head, a true McCartney nonsense song, in the spirit of Why Don’t We Do It On The Road?

Video: Nod Your Head

With Memory Almost Full McCartney has made an very strong album. And although this album is retrospective, it also contains a clear message: Macca really isn’t thinking about his retirement.

Related posts:

Chaos And Creation In The Backyard
Electric Arguments: McCartney’s 21st Century Masterpiece


André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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