30 years ago: Once Upon A Long Ago

Thirty years ago, in 1987, McCartney's fortieth single since the Beatles’ breakup was released: Once Upon A Long Ago. The song was originally intended as a duet with Queen singer Freddie Mercury.

Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury have known each other for a while in the mid-Eighties, due to their common love for Buddy Holly: from time to time Mercury visits the events that McCartney organizes, celebrating the music of the 1950s rock star. But after socializing at LiveAid in 1985, they become friends.

According to the book Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013) by Luca Perasi, McCartney wrote the song with Mercury in mind and also with the intention to record it together. Mercury rejects the request, because he is too busy. However, in 1987 both Queen and Mercury solo are not very active. Possibly it was only an excuse and the rejection has to do with the illness of the singer. Freddie was told in April of that year that he is suffering from AIDS, although he will confirm this officially just one day before his death in 1991.

Whatever the reasons are, it doesn’t happen and a disappointed McCartney decides to record the song on his own. At the end of the year Once Upon A Long Ago is released in Europe as a single taken from the compilation album All The Best. The song will prove to be McCartney's last top 10 hit in the UK; until 2015 when he returns with FourFiveSeconds thanks to the successful collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna.

Once Upon A Long A Go is a bit of a dreamy song. The lyrics seems to be about making music, but the real meaning of it has never become clear to me. And somewhere I've always felt that McCartney actually does not know it either, given the line "Tell me darling, what does it mean?". The highlight of the song is McCartney's great guitar solo, which seamlessly flows into a violin solo, played by the  bit eccentric violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Video: Once Upon A Long Ago

Also special is the single’s B-side. In 1987McCartney entered into a partnership with Elvis Costello, and the song Back On My Feet is the first result of their cooperation to be released.

Video: Back on my Feet

For some unknown reasons, the single has never been released in the United States, not as a single and it wasn't included on the American edition of All the Best! as well. In 1993 Once Upon A Long Ago appears as a bonus track on the remastered version of the album Press To Play, but that one also hasn’t been released in the US. Therefor the song is still quite unknown over there, despite of being a hit single in Europe.

Related Posts:
Macca's Eighties

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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