The Beatles

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The 40th anniversary of Mull of Kintyre

For the one, Mull of Kintyre is the epitome of Paul McCartney's genius, for the other, it's just a compelling example of how McCartney can be completely wide of the mark sometimes. But whether you like it or not, it's impossible to deny that Mull of Kintyre is an extraordinary song. Today, Nov 11,  it’s forty years ago that the non-album single was released.

McCartney wrote Mull of Kintyre together with Wings partner Denny Laine, at his farm in Scotland, enjoying a good glass of whisky, after having played the base of the song to Laine a day before. 
I don’t consider my input to that song to be as big as Paul’s. Because he came up with the, singing: ‘Mull of Kintyre, lalala lalala…’ I didn’t. I just helped writing the rest of it.  (…) So we sat down and wrote the words. Then we worked out the arrangements a little bit, it was only three chords. It was dead easy, only three chords. It were the words that were important.

Denny Laine
Video: Mull of Kintyre

The song is an ode to the area where in 1966 McCartney bought the farm, and where he spent a lot of time with his family during the seventies.
I certainly loved Scotland enough, so I came up with a song about where we were living: an area called Mull of Kintyre. It was a love song really, about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was travelling away and wanting to get back there.
Paul McCartney
Who came up with the idea is unknown, but according to Denny Laine, "the song just asked for bagpipes" and so McCartney approaches the local bagpipe band, the Campeltown Pipe Band, to play along on the record. But that doesn’t prove to be easy. The key in which the song is written and recorded is one that can’t be played by bagpipes. A problem, but eventually the solution turns out to be unexpectedly well:
When we came to put the actual pipes on it, the tone of the pipes was in another key to the way we’ve written it. It was actually in D, while we’ve written it in A. So we had to transpose to the D for the pipes to come in. That was faith, we didn’t plan it. (…) But it gave it that boost, a change of key when they came in, and I think that was the selling point really.
Denny Laine
As Mull of Kintyre is written in the same-named region, it is also recorded there. Out in the open air, because the volume of all bagpipe players combined made a recording in the studio difficult:
We’ve recorded the song actually live, outside up in the mountains, outside the studio with all the natural echoes of Scotland. (…) It was so much fun. Making the video in Scotland was a laugh too. You’re working with all these great guys, farmers and stuff, who could play, they were playing in the Campbeltown pipe band. Can you imagine them, having fun,  the drinking…
Denny Laine

Recording and later listening back to it in the studio is a great experience for the local bagpipe band. They are also deeply impressed with the end result. According to them, McCartney has made a new number one hit and they insist that he has to release it as a single:
When we finished it, all the pipers said, 'Aye, it's got to be a single, that.' It was up to them, really, to do it. I thought it was a little too specialised to bring out as a single, you would have to bring out something that has something with more mass appeal. But they kept saying, 'Oh, the exiled Scots all over the world. It'll be a big single for them.' Yet I still thought, 'Yeah, well, but there's maybe not enough exiled Scots,' but they kept telling me, after a few drinks.
Paul McCartney

A Scottish waltz as a single? McCartney has his doubts. The alternative is Girls School, a solid rock song. In the end, he chooses to release both as double A-sided single. But the promotion is focused on Mull of Kintyre.
The single becomes an unexpectedly great success. In Britain, it stays for nine weeks at the top of the charts and it is the most successful single ever, breaking a record by The Beatles. Also in Europe and Australia, Mull of Kintyre becomes Wings' biggest hit single. This is not the case in the United States and Canada where only Girls School is a modest hit.

From time to time McCartney is playing the Scottish waltz live, in cities where there is a bagpipe band available, so usually in Scotland or Canada. Fortunately, McCartney did not choose to let keyboardist Paul Wickens play the bagpipes parts. Because, if you like the song or not, there really is a need for a real, live bagpipe band.

Video: Mull of Kintyre Live

Related Posts:

Girls School
London Town
André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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2 opmerkingen :

  1. Listening to 'Mull of Kintyre' and than to the performance of 'Cut Me Some Slack' during the 121212 concert. Says so much about the depth of Macca's music.