Paul McCartney “Memory Almost Full”
IN HIS OWN WORDS
This was the last track I recorded for the album. I was on my way into a meeting, but before I actually got there, I had a bit of a walk to experience life for a minute. There’s a guitar shop that I always drop in on and I was chatting to the guy in there. He mentioned that he had a left-handed mandolin that he wanted to show me. I ended up getting it. The great thing about it was that I didn’t know how to play. It’s tuned like a violin, so I had no idea what the chords were. It took me back to when I was a teenager being presented with an instrument. I had to figure out how to play it. I found one chord, then another, then a real strange chord. I still don’t know what it is, but it sounded great. With this little instrument at home over the holiday, I started stomping in the kitchen, just enjoying myself, trying to find chords. I start singing ‘everybody gonna dance tonight.’ Every time my little girl would come running in and start dancing, so I fell in love with this song and with the mandolin. The song kind of wrote itself. I thought I’m just gonna keep it simple. I liked it so much I ran into the studio to record it and stuck it on the album. It seemed like a good atmospheric opening.
Ever Present Past:
Sometimes I just sit down and try and write a pop song. I’ve done it throughout my life and it’s an interesting thing to do, to make something kind of catchy that might be attractive. It starts off, ‘I’ve got too much on my plate.’ The way I write I just follow that thought and think, ‘what did I mean by that? Explain yourself.’ So I think ‘well what I meant was…’ After I’d got the verse this idea of my past, my ‘Ever Present Past’ came about. No deep meaning in it. I think what happens with me is I just write a thing and people read into it. I like that because I think often you do things in a subliminal way you don’t actually realize what you are doing. So something that I might think is a simple statement, somebody might go, ‘yeah but it means that.’ I like multiple meanings to these things even though I often start it off as a phrase that’s really to help me write the song, to get me to the next bit.
See Your Sunshine:
I’d already recorded most of the songs, but when it came to put the bass on it I did it fairly straightforward. Then just for my own pleasure I started goofing around, playing way too much, going over the top and I joked with the producer at the end of the take, ‘whoa that was way over the top!’ He said, ‘no that’s great, do another take like that. I think that’s exactly what the song needs.’ That was dangerous because I pulled out every lick in the book and just had fun playing. But when I listened back it all seemed to make sense. I was going where I wouldn’t normally go, throwing in notes, but somehow it fit. I think I only did two takes, it’s mad like that, but those were the ones that we used.
Only Mama Knows:
“Only Mama Knows” really is like a short story. I’ve done that in the past, not always writing from a personal perspective. So it’s kind of nice because you get more into your imagination and that’s something I enjoy. Writing about Eleanor Rigby; I don’t know a woman who picks up rice in a church, nor do I know anyone who was stranded in the transit lounge of an airport, as in ‘only mama knows,’ but I like to get into those imaginary stories and then just follow them through and become that character. So the lead character who’s singing is someone who was left by his mother, doesn’t know why she left him and doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his father’s face. It’s interesting because it gets you out of yourself. You can become an alter ego. It doesn’t have to be me singing it. It can be this other guy singing. It’s good to do, it let’s you have another vocal and emotional approach.
You Tell Me:
I started off just remembering summers. ‘Were we really there?’ ‘Was it real?’ Sometimes for a lot of people your memories, particularly childhood memories, seem so golden and you think ‘did it really never rain all summer or am I just imagining the sunny bits? And then the phrase, “you tell me,” began to be the theme of the song. I wrote it out in Long Island, during one of those summers. I was just looking at red cardinal. For someone English it’s magical, seeing a bright red bird coming out of a tree, so he appeared in the lyric. A lot of it was actually just there as I was writing. It became a tribute to golden summers.
Who is Mr Bellamy? I never know who these people are. ‘Who are Chuck’n’Dave from “When I’m 64.” ‘Who is Eleanor Rigby?’ ‘Who’s Desmond and Molly from “O?” I don’t know. I make them up. I like giving characters names, just making them up and trying to make them fit. I had a little piano riff that is behind the verse. I wanted some lyrics that would poke in and poke out of this piano riff so I began with “I’m not coming down, no matter what you say.” “I like it up here.” Sometimes I don’t actually know where I’m going, so then I look at just what that verse is and in this case I got a picture of a guy sitting on top of a skyscraper and all the people in the street, the rescue team, the psychiatrist, the man with the megaphone shouting “don’t jump” and the people shouting “jump.” So I fished around for a name and came up with Bellamy, which just sounded like someone who might want to jump. And I just followed the story through. The end is like a pull back on a camera, there he is, little Bellamy sitting on the ledge, enjoying it up in the clouds. And that’s how we recorded it, as a sort of film.
I’ve always had a couple of voices. Originally you’re just a kid at home, like everyone else and then you start to dream this dream of maybe being a singer. My heroes then were Elvis Presley, so my ballad voice I think was based on Elvis and the screamy voice was me trying to be Little Richard. I loved him so much. When I got in the Beatles, John used to like that and it’s remained with me as something I enjoy doing, that sort of gritty souly voice. So on this track I was just thinking of how much there is to be grateful for in life and I wanted to put that into song and use this voice to do it with.
For me Vintage Clothes is about my clothes from the 60s and the fact that what’s out comes back, fashion going round in circles. I meet quite a few guys in young bands and a question they always ask is ‘did you keep the clothes?’ As a matter of fact I have. The Beatles’ tailor Dougie Millings is in a scene in A Hard Day’s Night. Instead of just going to get a suit as you used to before that, for a job interview or whatever, suddenly you were going to get epaulettes and fancy buttons, materials and linings. To me, that is where Vintage Clothes comes from. It’s sort of saying don’t hold onto the past. The message of; vintage clothes are great but don’t live in the past.
It’s (“Vintage Clothes”) is the opening of a medley. The next four songs are designed, with this as the opener. I hadn’t done since Abbey Road and I thought it would be quite nice to flirt with that idea again. It just means it’s a slightly longer form, you’ve got to think ‘what came before’, ‘what statement are you going to make now’, ‘how’s this going to lead on?’. It’s not that different from just sequencing an album but you suddenly think of them as a suite of songs and it becomes interesting to write them in that way.
That Was Me:
One of those things that I hear people say often is that they can remember more from their childhood than they can from a month ago. I think that is a fact of life, I don’t know why. So all I had to do for this song was to think back. And immediately I go back to Liverpool where there was a little place we could escape to, beautiful little woods. Come spring time there would be these carpets of bluebells. It was a magical place. There’s something about me at the bus stop that’s a big part of my memory, going to school, coming home from school, going to the pictures, going to your friend’s house. So all of these things got in there, in the cellar, which is the Cavern; Royal Iris, which is a ferry boat they used to have, they’d call them River Boat Shuffles, and some of our earliest gigs were on these. So these are just exciting memories of mine. And when I connected them, ‘on a blanket, in the bluebells, at the bus stop’ and then eventually get into the Beatles ‘that was me, on TV, sweating cobwebs in a cellar.’ It was great to revisit it.
Feet In The Clouds:
Because of the retrospective look of this medley, it then goes back to school and teachers. I had a real motley bunch of teachers at the Liverpool Institute High School For Boys. Some of them were complete maniacs. School was very dark and gloomy, the building itself wasn’t the lightest of buildings, it was an 1825 building. This seemed to affect the attitude of the teachers. They were quite a dark bunch of people. So the song is like a therapy session for me. I wanted to go robotic on some harmonies, to do a vocoder type thing because it’s kind of a nostalgic sound and yet it’s robotic. It could be from the future but in fact it’s from the past so I liked that.
House of Wax:
There’s something about chords in a song that can take you to a place. In this song they are not complex but there’s something in the tonality of them that takes you to what the vocal becomes. And I like the lyrics. ‘Lightning hits the house of wax, poets spill out on the streets, to set alight the incomplete remainders of the future.’ It’s quite surreal lyrically. So I enjoyed singing them because of those chords and the mixture of the melody and the lyrics. I think this will be a good to do live. It’s another one that the band was on. In fact the medley was conceived early on in this album and the band is featured on a lot of it.
End of The End:
I’d read something somebody had written where they were talking about dying and I thought, ‘that’s kind of brave.’ It seemed a brave subject to deal with rather than just shying away from it. So I fancied looking at this as a subject of myself. And then I thought, well I like the Irish approach of a wake, where it’s celebratory. I remember once an Irish woman wished me well by saying ‘I wish you a good death’ and I was like, ‘Say what!?’ I thought about it and thought actually it’s a great thing to wish someone. It was quite a brave subject for me. I thought, ‘well what would I like?’ Jokes, wake, music, rather than everyone sitting around glum saying ‘he was a great guy’, though they can do a bit of that. So that led into the verse ‘on the day that I die I’d like jokes to be told and stories of old to be rolled out like carpets.’ I have played it to my family and they find it very moving because, you know, it’s dad. It’s a strange combination because you’re talking about a very serious subject. But I’m dealing with it lightly.
Nod Your Head:
Well that ‘End of The End’ brought the party down didn’t it? End of The End was going to be the last track on the album but then we thought we can’t leave everyone going ‘oh god, I’m not going to listen to that again.’ So we had a little stompy rocker called ‘Nod Your Head’ and we thought, we’ve just got to let them off the hook. So it goes into this much more abrasive rocking thing.
I think it’s good to talk about difficult subjects and then to get off it and just rock out. So that was the feel of making the album. Get some personal thoughts out (“Gratitude”); (“End of the End”), talk about that subject; (“Vintage Clothes” and the medley) talk about my childhood, talk about love, about beautiful memories. Try and get it all said, but at the same time with a feeling of optimism and enthusiasm. I thought if I could accomplish that then that would be a good thing to do.