I got married on May 1st, 1982. The #1 song in America on that day was “Ebony And Ivory.” So it was with much enthusiasm and excitement to me that it was on the new album, and on its release day.
I went into Tower Records, located on the Las Vegas Strip, near Sahara Avenue. I bought both the vinyl and the cassette to listen to in my car. But I held off listening until I could get home… ———————————————————————————-
This album marked the beginning of a new phase in the career of Paul. Now he was strictly a solo artist, and with his slow and re-emerging love of his Beatles past.
The death of John Lennon has made many give him saint like status, and all the accolades that come with it. John was the leader. John was the creative one. John was the experimental one. John was the rocker of the band, etc….
The things in Lennon’s past which were less than saint-like in behavior and action were now swept aside emotionally by most of the world press. All of his bad life and musical decisions, swept under the rug for the most part.
Paul has now spent the last forty plus years trying to rewrite this impression of his place in the entire Beatles lore. From this point in time he began as accepting and embracing his past, instead of turning his back on it, as he had for the most part during the last twelve years.
He only played oldies the Beatles recorded (“Long Tall Sally” etc..) during the initial Wings tour, and only a handful of Beatles songs during his 1975-6 world tour, and added a just a few more Beatles songs during the short 1979 Wings tour. Paul was intent of proving himself in the same way “post Fabs” as he had in the Beatles.
Starting with this album, the past was now becoming as important to him as the present and the future. TUG OF WAR was produced by his former Beatles producer, George Martin. Paul had only had a one off recording session with Martin in the recording of “Live And Let Die” In 1973.
On this album he also brings Ringo Starr in to play and perform on music videos. He had also recorded with George in 1981, and jammed with him and Ringo at his old drummers wedding reception. Thus began a thawing of their unusually cool relationships since the LET IT BE sessions.
So Paul took his time with the release of the album. He realized how much scrutiny would occur on its release. What would he say, if anything, about the tragic death of his writing partner, and dearest friend?
I sat at home and prepared myself mentally as I opened up the new album. The front cover is very nice, with a photo of Paul in the studio taken by Linda. Both the front and back covers color palette are both cool and soothing (mostly reds, blues and some whites), and the interesting use of space and shapes I thought worked very well.
I followed along with the included lyrics on the record sleeve, absorbing all of the recording information as the needle was placed on the turntable.
“Tug Of War” The title track is a song about the struggles of opposing sides. We think of this as a game played at picnics, but I think here, after Lennon’s murder, it’s more symbolic, as in good fighting evil. The peace loving John to be killed as he was being kind to his killer….
After the breezy approach to McCartney II, the slick production of Martin brings McCartney back to his Beatles days. Paul wears many hats and inputs musically, but the responsibility of the final vision of the sound now belongs to Martin.
It opens with sounds of struggles and flows into acoustic and vocals and orchestration. The backing vocals with Eric Stewart, Linda and Paul are as equal to Wings best, with the touch of 10cc added to the mix. A bit too much echo in the mix, but a nice way to open the album. Denny Laine adds guitar. Rating – 8
“Take It Away” Another single pulled from the album. It features Ringo, Eric, Linda and George Martin (electric piano). A tasty bass line drives this mid tempo toe tapper. A great little music video of the band playing for a record contract and awaiting “the man” (played by John Hurt). Steve Gadd plays drums. More great Wings/10cc like backing vocals. The horns add a very nice touch on the fade out. Rating – 8
“Somebody Who Cares”. Written the night before recording it. Lathered in a bit too much echo. Great acoustic work by Paul. Denny Laine adds guitar and synthesizer. Eric and Linda vocals are perfect. Steve Gadd on drums and percussion, and Stanley Clarke on bass round out the mix. Rating -8
“What’s That You’re Doing” The first Stevie Wonder/Paul collaboration. Paul basically plays all except for Wonder on synthesizer. Eric and Linda’s backing vocals are limited but effective. A bit of talking by Stevie during breaks in the vocals. Paul even let’s out a Beatles “Whoooo..” They even let out a “we love you, yeah yeah yeah, we love you, yeah, yeah yeah.” They trade lines and verses, much like “Ebony and Ivory.”
Paul’s voice is in top shape, on this and the whole album. A bit of funk from Paul, a nice change. A tad too busy at points, but a nice set up for…. Rating – 7
“Here Today” A song written as a conversation with John, if he were still alive. Paul knows he will never get a chance to say these things anymore, so he does so in this tender, heartfelt tribute to his forever best friend and writing partner.
Paul on multi-vocals and just a string section are needed. It sure brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it, and he plays it in every concert he has done for the last two decades. I’ve seen him cry onstage after he is done. Beautiful words written by Paul…. “For you were in my song” is as good as it gets. I’ve seen him struggle to get the words out as he performs it. It has lost its effect slightly over the years, but it is a lesson to all of us. Tell the people that you love that you love them while they are “here today”…. Rating – 8.5
“Ballroom Dancing” A toe tapping ballroom style dance number… Linda, Eric, Ringo, Denny fill out this excellent arrangement by Martin. The mid song tempo change is perfect, as is Paul’s delivery. Paul would redo this song and add a verse a few years later, but this song is just fine as it chugs along. Even the narration by Peter Marshall adds to that 1950’s ballroom style dances and contests he may have seen on television that Paul remembered from his youth. A nice pick up emotionally after “Here Today.” Rating – 8
“The Pound Is Sinking” This is a song about the financial crisis that was happening world wide at the time. Linda, Denny, Eric are aided by Stanley Clarke on bass. Great production by Martin, with sounds of coins in the beginning and the end add to the sonic environment. Many of the currencies noted don’t exist in modern day.
An interesting song that only Paul can come up with. A series of tempo shifts in the middle keeps you guessing. The “hear me my lover” part, which was another song he linked up with “Something that didn’t happen” part. Very 10cc at parts. Rating – 8
“Wanderlust” A true story of the 1978 boat adventure while recording LONDON TOWN. It’s about them being warned they all might be busted at sea. Ringo’s drumming is just as you would imagine. Denny plays a very discreet bass. The middle eight has that nautical feel. Linda and Eric add backing vocals. Very nice arrangement of the verses to end the song. Rating – 8
“Get It” Another song to stretch out the feet and pop around a bit. Carl Perkins adds his trademark electric guitar sound and vocals. Recorded at the same time they did the amazing “My Old Friend.”
They sound like they are having a blast on this one. They trade lead verses as well on this one. Synthesizer work by Paul add that fun steel guitar sound. Carl’s laugh at the end leads into…. Rating – 7.5
“Be What You See (link)” Trippy little link with Paul alone… Hey, it has vocorder on it, right! Rating – 7
“Dress Me Up As A Robber” A slightly odd song, featuring Paul going in a few directions, with different vocal styles… Linda, Eric on backing vocals and Denny on guitar and synthesizer. Rating – 7.5
“Ebony And Ivory” The song you love, or the song you hate. I know the concept is old (Spike Milligan had a song with the lyrics “Black notes, white notes, and you need to play the two to make harmony, folks!” The figure of speech is much older. It was popularized by James Aggrey in the 1920s, inspiring the title of the pan-African journal, The Keys, but was in use from at least the 1840s).
“Ebony and Ivory” is a song about keys on the piano (black and white) compared to the state of world race relations. There is even a version of this by Paul alone, but if you love this version, then this is the proper version. Stevie plays drums and he and Paul handle all the rest of the instruments and vocals.
Interesting, that on all songs that had special guest stars sing, no Linda, Eric or Denny. It was like Paul was saving these superstars for his own pleasure. A massive hit single, featuring a music video with Stevie and Paul (the video was filmed apart) sitting and hopping around a giant keyboard. They again swap verses, as Paul would do with Michael Jackson the next year.
Some people think this should have been a stand alone single, and the excellent tracks still on the shelf at this point like “Rainclouds” and “I’ll Give You A Ring” should have been added, but after “Robber” ends I must hear Stevie’s drum roll into this fine closer….Rating – 7.5
The album, which I hadn’t listened to in quite a while still sounds fresh and inspired and worthy of the praise it got upon release. Did it get too much praise, which it got a lot of?
The overall rating comes to 7.75 out of 10.
Not the highest rating we’ve had, but should end up in the upper end when we finally arrive at present day…. It sure brings back good memories of the those days, from John’s passing to my marriage, which received a lot lower rating, in retrospect.
Next, songs left off of TUG OF WAR, and what was to come after WAR?….it was peace.