Press To Play (1986)

Album Cover

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No major work of Paul McCartney comes out in 1985. It is however a year of studio for Paul, since he decides to begin new recordings, and chooses to work with Eric Stewart with whom he will collaborate in the composition and in the realization of a new album.

Stewart, member of the group "10 CC", already worked with McCartney on several occasions, and in particular on the albums
Tug Of War , Pipes Of Peace and Give My Regards To Broad Street.
Actually, the two men have been knowing each other for a long time: indeed they played together at the Cavern Club at the very beginning of the Beatles (Eric Stewart then formed part of the
Midbenders band).

Paul in studio.

For this new project, collaboration between the two men will go further than previously.

Stewart and McCartney indeed write together 6 of the 10 titles which will be on the album, in its original version. Paul always affirmed his need to have somebody opposite him who can take a critical attitude towards his writing. Thus, with Stewart, Paul will rediscover this manner that he had to compose with Lennon, while playing face to face, guitar against guitar.

As for Tug Of War, Paul decides to invite some big names in music to work with him in studio. Thus some of his friends, Pete Townshend and Phil Collins inter alia, come to take part in the recordings which take place from March to May, and then from October to November of this 1985 year.

Phil Collins, Pete Townshend and Paul McCartney.

Probably because of the production entrusted to Hugh Padgham (producer of Genesis and Phil Collins), the album which results from these recordings is very sophisticated, very constructed and very technical. But it is also a little cold, the production of arrangements prevailing sometimes over the search for melody. The album contains nevertheless pieces of quality, but its approach is not easy and requires an attentive listening.

The album cover is made in an Hollywood style, based on a photograph of Paul and Linda taken in black and white by John Hurrel, the photographer of Clark Gable. The inner part of the booklet is illustrated by sketches drawn by Paul. Each sketch is devoted to a song of the album by representing its sound cartography in the space of the recording studio.

Press To Play comes out in September 1986. The promotion of the album is carried out using a video, probably the least expensive one in the history of pop music. Indeed, this video is filmed in the London subway with very few means, Paul singing among the passengers who are totally dumbfounded by the spontaneous appearance of the star. "Cinema vérité..."

Paul and Linda at the album release.

The release of Press To Play is a failure. The sales are weak and the album will only reach the first ten places in the English charts and #30 in the American charts. This failure is a consequence of the quite cold sophistication of the album. Despite everything, it should not hide the quality of the pieces carried out by Paul in his collaboration with big musicians.

The album starts with Stranglehold, a rock composition by McCartney/Stewart, with a solid and catchy rhythm, and with a good saxophone solo.

Then, the album moves on to a title by Paul, Good Times Coming / Feel The Sun, a composition gathering two unfinished songs end to end, like it was often done by Paul in the past. In this piece, Paul recalls three summers which are memories dear to his heart... and this leads to the joyful final melody of Feel The Sun, from which a much longer version can be found on some bootlegs (this longer version would have deserved to be fully included on the official album).

With the third title by Paul, Talk More Talk, the atmosphere becomes more sophisticated and colder, the song being the occasion to lead some vocal experiments. Among the spoken passages, one can hear the voice of a young child who is no one but James McCartney, Paul's son. First hand given by a son to his father's work... (but not the last).

After this quite singular piece, one returns to something more traditional, actually, to a very beautiful and sad acoustic ballad which is signed by McCartney and Stewart: Footprints. After the vocal experiments of the preceding piece, one is happy to recover Paul's qualities as a melody composer.

Paul, Linda and James McCartney in 78.

The first side of the album finishes with Only Love Remains, a ballad composed by Paul. Once again a beautiful melody is performed, first led to the piano, then accompanied by an orchestra.

Then the album goes on with a change of rhythm, with Press, a song by Paul, which is very rousing. This is a very energizing pop song  which will be the main title used for the album promotion. The rhythm is a little syncopated and the electric guitars are very efficient.

One of Paul's sketches about the sounds of the Press song.

Pretty Little Head, a McCartney/Stewart composition comes again. This track returns to the experimental and very elaborated line which already emerged in Talk More Talk. The result is a non-conventional piece whose atmosphere is very mystical and a little nostalgic at the same time.

The McCartney/Stewart composition which follows is indisputably one of the best pieces of the album. It is called Move Over Busker, a very good rock song with strong guitars and amusing lyrics. Paul's rocking voice works wonders. This is a piece of quality, enhanced by the skilfullness of its performers among whom one finds Phil Collins and Pete Townshend.

Paul and his mates, Pete Townshend and Phil Collins.

Return to experimentation with Angry, another McCartney/Stewart composition, which appears to be a very nervous and fast rock song, but whose very syncopated rhythm and interpretation come out of the usual rules. In some ways, this title recalls tracks like Spin It On on Back To The Egg.

The aggressiveness of Angry then makes room for a temporary moment of peace with the beginning of However Absurd, a new ballad written by Paul and Eric, which is backed by an orchestra. The rhythm of the ballad gradually speeds up with a harder tempo, sustained by a crescendo of the orchestra and by the rising power of the guitars. This piece finishes the original version of Press To Play.

The CD version of Press To Play, released in 1986, includes three bonus tracks :

Another McCartney/Stewart composition will not appear in any version of the album, nor in any single ever released by Paul after the issue of the album.
This composition, entitled
Yvonne, is a very beautiful ballad whose unfinished interpretation by Paul can be found in some bootlegs like Good Times Comin.
The song will be finally produced officially by Eric Stewart in his own interpretation.

Paul's photograph by John Hurrel.

The CD remastered version of 1993, in addition to the three preceding bonus tracks, reveals two more titles:

In this very year 1986, the release of Press To Play is followed by the production of 4 singles:

  • Press / It's Not True comes out in July and reaches #6 in the American charts.
    An alternate version of this single reveals a third composition,
    Hanglide, an instrumental which was recorded during the sessions of Press To Play.
  • Pretty Little Head / Write Away comes out in October with Pretty Little Head in a remixed version. It seems that this single was not issued in the United States.
  • Only Love Remains / Tough On A Tightrope comes out in Europe in December 1986 and in the US in January 1987.
  • Stranglehold / Angry comes out in the US in October 1986 and reaches #6 in the charts.

This year 1986 is also favourable to Paul's appearance on stage.

Indeed, in June, Paul takes part in the concert of Prince's Trust in the presence of Prince Charles and Lady Diana .
Accompanied by some other famous British pop artists like
Dire Straits, Elton John and Phil Collins, Paul performs some songs like Long Tall Sally, I Saw Her Standing There and Get Back.
The fully energetic version of
Get Back, sung in duet with Tina Turner, remains a memorable performance.

The three songs performed by Paul on that evening will be included in the concert album.

Paul and Tina Turner : an explosive cover of Get Back.

Paul will also make an appearance at the end of the year at the Royal Variety Show of November 24.

Last production of 1986, a double album against drug is recorded by the biggest stars of the British pop music and it comes out in November, called It's A Live-In World (The Anti-Heroin Project). The album contains Simple As That, a very good and new song by Paul, based on a reggae rhythm and recorded at the beginning of year.

Paul on stage at the Royal Variety Show.

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