(AND THE NEW WORLD TOUR)
This review will be a bit different. I apologize for the LENGTH of it. Instead of me commenting on every aspect of the song I re-listen to each under headphones we are going to review/discuss each song, from the voices that created it. Paul, his band and the people behind the glass booth. My personal rating will come as usual after each song.
After planning another world tour simply entitled The New World Tour in 1993 to promote the album, McCartney opted to record Off the Ground with his touring band. Blair Cunningham joined on drums to replace Chris Whitten, who departed to join Dire Straits.
McCartney decided to record the album “live in the studio”, meaning that the band would rehearse an entire song then record it in one take, instead of recording each vocal track and instrumental track separately. This approach gave a new, raw and direct feel to the work, but was not overly liked by critics. The compositions also seemed less complex than on Flowers in the Dirt, with some of them having been out-takes from the earlier album.
“Mistress and Maid” and “The Lovers That Never Were“, which emerged from McCartney’s songwriting collaboration with Elvis Costello, made their appearance on this album. Unlike Flowers in the Dirt, however, Costello did not appear on Off the Ground.
The first two song taped were Biker Like an Icon and Peace in the Neighborhood, both derived from some album rehearsals in November 1991.
McCartney’s increased interest in social issues came to prominence on this album, with the anti-animal cruelty rocker “Looking for Changes” (McCartney and his wife Linda, both being long-time vegetarians by this time) or paeans for a better world (“Hope of Deliverance” and “C’Mon People“). The B-side “Big Boys Bickering” lambasted politicians, with the lyric “Big boys bickering, fucking it up for everyone” showed a more aggressive McCartney.
The lead single, “Hope of Deliverance“, was released in the last week of December 1992 and the album followed on 2 February 1993.
Off the Ground was the first Paul McCartney album to not contain a BIG U.S. hit single since Wings’ Wild Life in 1971.
The album’s first single barely reached number 18 in the UK, where “C’Mon People” became a minor hit as well. In the US, the album’s title track also entered Adult Contemporary chart at number 27. Singles from Off the Ground floundered on the US and the UK charts.
However, “Hope of Deliverance” achieved commercial success elsewhere. It became McCartney’s first international hit single since “Say, Say, Say” with Michael Jackson in 1983, cracking the top 5 on the charts in over five European territories except his homeland and selling over 250,000 copies just in Germany.
In the United Kingdom, the album itself debuted at number 5 and quickly fell off the chart, spending only 6 weeks inside the top 100. In the United States, it peaked at the number 17 on the Billboard 200 with the first-week sales of only 53,000 copies, managing to receive Gold status.
Although it met with mixed reviews from critics and suffered from lackluster sales in the UK and North America, the album fared better in other key markets such as Spain. In some countries like France and Japan, it was able to surpass its predecessor Flowers in the Dirt in cumulative sales.
In Germany, Off the Ground has been McCartney’s best-selling album there, spending 20 weeks on the top-ten and eventually achieving Platinum for shipments of over half a million copies.
The Cast Of Voices
PAUL McCARTNEY -PRODUCER/BASS +
HAMISH STUART – GUITAR +
ROBBIE McINTOSH – LEAD GUITAR +
BLAIR CUNNINGHAM – PERCUSSION +
PAUL “WIX” WICKENS – KEYBOARDS +
LINDA McCARTNEY- BACKING VOCALS
CARL DAVIS- ORCHESTRATION
My own feelings about this was excitement. I enjoyed the documentary on PBS on the making of LIVERPOOL ORATORIO, and was super excited when I heard that the U.S. part of the world tour was STARTING in May in my hometown, Las Vegas.
We all waited outside the Thomas & Mack Arena with wristband lottery numbers to be drawn and my dear friend Koko Duran number was picked way ahead of me and kindly she bought my tickets for the 10th row center stage for the show at The Silver Bowl, and she took my much higher number for her seats. What a doll….
Producer – Julian Mendelsohn
Engineer – Bob Kraushaar
“Off the Ground”
The video was shot by Industrial Light & Magic. The video features “Soggy Noddle“, a short acoustic piece played as an intro which can be found as a B-side on the single release. In the US, it reached number 27.
Off The Ground is a song where Paul McCartney used computers during the recording.
“Well, right at the end of doing the album Wix said to me “We’ve worked very naturally on this album but there’s one thing we haven’t tried and that is a computer thing”. And I said “Well, I don’t really want to waste a lot of time on it” and he said “You might want to spend a day on it, though, for a change, just to do something a bit different now that we’ve already got most of the album”, so I thought yeah, it might be fun, actually.
So we gave the rest of the band a day off, and just me, Wix and the production team went into the control room for the day – that’s where you mainly do computer stuff.
One of the songs that had been on my list but hadn’t got onto the album was ‘Off The Ground’, which at that time was a little folk song. I liked it but it didn’t really fit onto the album so I thought that if we were just going to play around and experiment, maybe even waste a song, we might as well do it with that one. So I brought it in and we started to kick it around. We soon started to get a rhythm track in the computer that changed the song’s direction a bit and made it more exciting. Then I said “OK, let me go in and put a little heavy guitar on it”. So we really started enjoying it: we put a bit of machine bass on, which started to make it more funky, then percussion, then I sang on it and it really started to come together as a track. By the end of the day we’d pretty much finished it, with just a few little harmonies and a solo from Robbie still to come.
After I got home that night I happened to be speaking to one of my daughters on the phone and she asked what I’d done that day, and when I said ‘Off The Ground’ she said “That’s a great album title!” and it made me think of it in that way for the first time. So it became the title of the album.”
“You should have heard the demo. It’s nothing like the album version. I thought, Oh my God, how am I going to do this? It was nice from my point of view because if you’re not familiar with technology it can seem a hassle, time-consuming and breaking down all the time. Computers are trouble, you know. But technology’s not a problem in music. It’s a matter of how you use it.” – Paul Wix Wickens
Different mixes (the Radio Remix by Bob Clearmountain, the Radio Remix by Keith Cohen, the AC Edit by Larry Walsh) have been created and made available for US radios, in an effort to boost diffusion and sales. A promotional video has been shot in San Rafael, California, early December 1992 and completed in February 1993, directed by Matthew Robbins. This video includes “Soggy Noodle” as its intro.
Rating – 8
“Looking For Changes”
This song is about cruel treatment of test animals used for science experiments.
McCartney has been a vegetarian for nearly 40 years and a very active member of PETA. This song was inspired by a montage video McCartney saw of animals being treated cruelly in test labs.
A more abbreviated version appeared at the end of McCartney’s concerts in 1993. This shocked many fans and critics because the video was very gruesome and graphic. For his 1994 VHS release Off The Ground Tour 1993, he put the disturbing montage at the end of the tape. The tape even came with a disclaimer on the back warning people of disturbing images. McCartney later commented, “I showed this clip because people need to see the truth as disturbing as it may be. To me what’s more disturbing is people trying to pretend this isn’t happening.“
When Linda and I met we discovered that we’d both been nature lovers as kids, and still were. Then we became vegetarians, which makes you even more aware of animals and their rights, and makes you want to explain to other people how you feel about seeing animals being carted off to the slaughterhouse. Protest songs are quite hard to do. Love songs come easier, at least to someone like me, but in this case I’d been looking through magazines like The Animal’s Voice and Animal Agenda, pretty heavy magazines that show some of the experimentation that goes on in the name of cosmetics, and started to write the song after I saw a picture of a cat with a machine implanted in its head. They just took off the top of its skull and plugged in a machine to find some data. I’m not sure what they were expecting to find inside a cat’s head. So I started to write the song and came up with the line “I saw a cat -with a machine in his brain” and just made it up from there – how the bloke who fed him didn’t feel any pain so I’d like to see him take out the machine and stick it in his own brain. You know, if you need the information so badly, do it to yourself.
The rest came quite easily.
I had another couple of verses about rabbits and then used a bit of poetic license about monkeys being taught to smoke. They normally use beagles for smoking experiments but it doesn’t matter -it’s still some poor defenseless animal with no rights in the world. Then I got the hook looking for changes, which sort of sums it up in my mind.
It really is my feeling that we are all here on this little ball in the universe, humans are the dominant species and we tend to despise everything else. I think it’s “change or die” time for this planet.
I don’t usually use swear words in a song because it can sometimes seem a bit gratuitous, like you’re just trying to shock, but then again I don’t normally go for songs about animal experiments and when you’re in that hard area these words start to creep in. I’m certainly not a great user of swear words in front of the kids but occasionally – like in ‘Looking For Changes’ – it’s essential to the plot. – Paul
In 2019, the song was used by PETA to support its campaign against experimentation on animals and an animated video was produced. Rating – 7.5
“Hope Of Deliverance”
It became a hit in his native UK, reaching number 18. It did not fare well on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 83, but did better on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, hitting number 9.
It also did very well in Germany, reaching number 3 there. Remix versions were released on 15 January 1993, and picked up massive airplay in clubs. The song went on to become the 11th biggest worldwide hit of 1993.
“I went up into the attic of our house, just to get away from everyone. There’s a trap door, you go up a little ladder and then close it and no one can get at you, so then you know you’ve got a couple of hours to yourself. So I went up into the attic and took with me a Martin 12-string guitar and, just for a bit of fun, I put a capo on it – the little bar that comes half way up the strings and changes the length of the guitar neck. On a 12-string it makes for a very jingly sound, which reminds me of Cathedrals and Christmas.
So that led me into the field of hope, of deliverance, and then I added about the darkness that surrounds us. You know, if you’re involved in rescuing people in Somalia then that’s the deliverance – you want to get out of there safely, if you are involved in poverty then that’s your deliverance, to get out of that trap.
Homelessness, disease, whatever, big or little, we’ve all got them. So that was it really, it just became a kind of optimistic song, either to, perhaps, a girlfriend, or to a God-figure. I do like leaving things ambiguous – I’ve often done that in my songs, so that people say to me “I always thought it meant something else…” – Paul
“Hope Of Deliverance was a try-this, try-that track until one sunny day I said, It sounds Caribbean, calypsoey, out on the beach. Paul could hear that so it happened.” -Blair Cunningham
“I’ve noticed that with a lot of the songs what’s coming through is me saying something like don’t go down under the prevailing despair and gloom, you know, the (moans) Woooo-aaa. It’s a sort of, Don’t bottle out, we can do it!” – Paul
Three Latin percussionists were involved on this track, during an overdub session which took place on July 17, 1992.
One of those, Maurizio Ravalico. ‘We were invited to McCartney’s private studio in Sussex. They had us to hear the track, that was already completed and mixed, giving some generic instructions. We only learned that they wanted a Latin flavor on the song and so we brought to the studio an entire instruments’ van! We were in the studio for half a day. Everything went smoothly and quickly, but without any pressure. Both McCartney and Mendelsohn were wide-open to our suggestions and they did not give any indication about our instruments or the playing style.” Rating – 8
“Mistress And Maid”
A track co-written with Elvis Costello. A fifteen-piece orchestra was used to enhance the song, conducted by Carl Davis, who previously collaborated with Paul McCartney on the Liverpool Oratorio.
“That one’s a little complicated. Paul and Carl Davis took tapes of my guitar and Robbie’s guitar and wrote horn arrangements around the lines we were playing — and it really works because it’s a matter of embellishing what’s already there.” -Hamish Stuart
“This was really reversing our relationship, because Paul had a very clear idea of what he wanted, the song was already written and recorded. For me, it was simply a job. He said to me, ‘I would like to have this brass ensemble and I’ll tell you exactly what I want it to be’. He came not to me as a composer.” -Carl Davis Rating – 8.5
“I Owe It All To You”
“I’d been to a place in the south of France. The kids took us there for Linda’s birthday. I drove past this sign which said Cathedral Des Images. It turned out to be this huge place carved out of the rock, you’re this big (finger and thumb apart) and the walls are this big (arm’s width). They have dozens of projectors and they throw these images on the walls suddenly the whole place lights up and it’s an Egyptian temple, next thing (finger snap) it’s all stained glass, and so on. It’s a trip, like UFO was back in Pink Floyd’s time. I came back and wrote “I Owe It All To You” (‘I stood inside Egyptian temples/ I looked into eternal gardens’). -Paul
“I felt very involved in that song, played a lot and sang, and it came out very straight forward.” – Hamish Rating – 6.5
“Biker Like an Icon”
It was released as 7″ and CD singles. Commenting this song, Paul McCartney stated that the line “Biker like an icon” came from a conversation about photo cameras with his wife Linda McCartney.
“The phrase “I like a Leica” became “I like a Nikon” and the lyrics were built around that line with a story of a girl loving a biker like an icon.” – Paul
The music video for the song first aired on MTV’s First Look television show. The clip was repeated the following day.
“Linda was talking about cameras, and she said, I like a Leica, which became I like a Nikon. I started messing with that and it became a biker who had a girl who loved him like an icon – Biker Like An Icon. I like confusing titles. I remember when John and me would always look at the new titles in the American charts and get intrigued by things like Quarter To Three by US Bonds — what could that be about? It was very important to us to get a title that had that buzz. Think of our titles after, I dunno, I Wanna Hold Your Hand – Hard Day’s Night, Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, Fixing A Hole”. – Paul
“Biker Like An Icon was the first thing we recorded after Paul first played us the songs. All we were doing was getting sounds. We took about 15 minutes to learn the shape of it, then we just did it.” Robbie McIntosh
“A few weeks later we listened back to it, looked at one another and thought, Are we going to spend a day trying to better this? No Point. The magic is there.” – Hamish
“Biker Like an Icon” was the first song recorded for the album. As Paul explained in an interview, this was a very spontaneous recording: ‘Biker Like An Icon’ is a first take and there are a couple of others too [on the album]. It’s such a simple little song that you can ruin it if you go over it 50 times. Everyone understood how it went, and Robbie must have had some idea what he was going to do on slide guitar because he just delivered a solo – I didn’t tell him when to do it, he just felt it. This, I think, is the secret of the album.
With Flowers In The Dirt I experimented with computers, and working with producers who take a long time over everything. There are some interesting aspects to working like that but not enough to excite me. That’s what happened with something like ‘Biker’ – we just did it and got lucky. And the more you listen to the album the more you get to feel that we were enjoying ourselves. – Paul.
“Peace In The Neighborhood”
The second song of the album recorded,
‘Peace’ is a rehearsal take.
“We were just kicking numbers around, so that the band would get to know how they went, and we just got a really nice casual take of ‘Peace In The Neighborhood’. We thought later that we could make it a little bit more professional and did try a couple of times but never got the same vibe again. It was getting a little bit too stiff so we listened again to the rehearsal take and it was fine. I really love the drum sound on it.” – Paul
“We went into the studio the day we were supposed to record it ‘properly’ and Julian Mendelsohn said to us, I don’t think you need to bother. He played the original rehearsal tape and it was all there. It had a nice looseness, little imperfections that actually feel good. I kind of feel that from the ’60s on as the recording process evolved people started trying to make records perfect. And now the technology is there to make absolutely perfect. But I listen to that kind of music and it just goes right by me, I don’t hear any humanity in there, only machines, no character. I’d rather hear some string noise, mistakes, human beings sparking. We all love to play. Why should we give it up to technology?” -Hamish
“Robbie lets rip a bit at the end, though in a subdued style. Strapping a guitar on, going out there and doing it, that’s what he’s about, that’s when he’s at his best.” – Paul
“That was a good one for me, that guitar outro. We were rehearsing, arsing about really, so I wasn’t thinking, Woo, I’ve got the chance to show off now! It was aimless in a way and yet it ended up sounding quite nice.” – Robbie
(The dialogue heard during the track was a conversation between engineers Keith Smith and Eddie Klein about Britain’s Council Tax legislation). Rating- 7.5
“Golden Earth Girl”
“Paul was thinking of doing that with an orchestra and I don’t quite know how it became a band number. But it works. All we added was a flute and an oboe playing the melody in the solo section.- Hamish
The orchestra part was arranged by Carl Davis, and Gordon Hunt played oboe and Susan Milan flute.
“Paul was able to say, ‘I want to add a flute here and there’, and this is what I want them to play. The score was done by me, but very dictated by Paul.” – Carl Davis
“The music was all written down. Carl was in the studio when I got there. Paul came out from the recording box and talked to us, me and Susan Milan on flute. He knew exactly where he wanted it to go… He got a very clear idea about the solo: how it should be phrased, how it should be sounding. I was very impressed by that.”
-Gordon Hunt Rating – 8
“The Lovers That Never Were”
“I’d say the rough recording of “The Lovers That Never Were” is one of the great, unreleased performances of Paul McCartney’s solo career.” -Elvis Costello
It was the first true collaboration between Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello, written in the Summer – Fall of 1987 along with eight other songs. Those demos – including “The Lovers That Never Were” – leaked in very good quality, and were finally officially released as part of the Flowers In the Dirt reissue in 2017.
“The real lost gem from that batch of songs – one of these days one of us should cut it – is The Lovers That Never Were. In its original condition, it’s like something Dusty Springfield or Jackie DeShannon would have recorded. Paul straightened it out in the studio and wanted it to go a different way, but the demo is, I’d say, one of the great vocal performances of his solo career.
He’s standing up playing a twelve-string guitar and, weirdly enough, I’m playing piano, just thinking, “Don’t fuck up!
He’s really singing this!” He’s singing a ballad in the voice of I’m Down! He’s right over my shoulder singing all this wild, distorted stuff! I had never heard him do that before. One of the best songs that Paul and I wrote together was written at the piano. It was a sweeping, romantic tune that could almost have been an epic Bacharach ballad. I know you’ll just have to take my word for this, but I was playing the piano when Paul opened up behind me in a wild, distorted voice that was almost like the one he used on “I’m Down.”
I just kept staring down at my hands at the piano, saying to myself, Don’t mess this up, while trying to remember to chime in on the few lines that we’d agreed I’d sing.” – Elvis
“A few years ago Elvis and I got together to see if we could write a few songs. First of all, just to see if we could stand the sight of each other, or if we annoyed each other too much, I fixed one of his songs up, then he fixed up one of mine. That led us to find that it was quite easy and we enjoyed it, so one day we decided to write one from scratch. The question then was, where do we start? We had the whole musical universe to choose from – a rock and roll song, a love song, what would it be? – so I said, “Well, let’s start with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Let’s think of them”, so we started off and ‘The Lovers That Never Were’ came out. It was our first song together.
We did a nice but very, very rough demo of it, just Elvis and me, but when we tried to record it properly it didn’t really work out. So I ignored it for Flowers In The Dirt and decided to try it again for this album. And we thought of bringing in a 4/4 bass drum over a 3/4 song ~ this is for the musicians among you – which just makes it swing. It’s an old rhythm trick but it made it come alive, and we then had a version that we liked.” – Paul
“It was a waltz and not working, until Paul said, How about putting a 4/4 on top of this thing. And that was so complicated, waltz and 4/4 at the same time, but I tried and Paul’s looking at me saying, You all right? I’m struggling (claps in fours, stamps in threes), but I say, Just give me five minutes. A real head twister, but it was such a groove. Made the song happen.” -Blair Rating – 9
“Get Out Of My Way”
That was really an attempt at writing a straightforward rock and roll song. A lot of people will tell you that they’re often the hardest songs to write, even though they sound very simple. To get them to sound authentic is difficult. So I just put the character in a car and he’s basically talking to the blues – saying “get out of my way, don’t tell me what to do, I know what’s happening, I’m going to see my woman tonight”. So it’s a kind of rock and roll love song. -Paul
“The big thing about the album for me was that nearly everything I did was done live on the backing track — and the band wouldn’t let me change it! On Get Out Of My Way I did a guitar solo when we were bashing through it which I thought was only all right, so I had another couple of cracks at it and they all said, Naah, leave it. So it’s the original on the record.” -Robbie
“I was locked in the box for that one, playing rock ’n’ roll on the Magic Piano, the painted one, beside the toilet. They built an acoustic box round me to stop sound spill. Good fun. – Wix Rating – 7
“Winedark Open Sea”
Paul started to write it ( “Sailing On The Winedark Open Sea” was the current name) in August 1991 while on holidays and recorded a demo a month after.
“That’s a nice track, simply played and underproduced as well. I know I would have added more to it, but it’s a case of the magic’s in there and you’ve got to leave it alone.” -Hamish
In 2020, a film clip directed by award-winning surfing filmmaker Jack McCoy used “Winedark Open Sea” as its soundtrack, to gather funds for Surfers For Climate. Rating – 6.5
“C’Mon People”/“Cosmically Conscious (snippet)”
“I was on holiday in Jamaica. I love the people there, it’s very laid back and I feel very musical when I’m there, so I always try to get a piano or something in case I want to write. Often, in the afternoons, I sit around and see if I fancy writing a song, and one day I just started chugging on this little riff and ‘C’mon People’ came out. I think of it as very Sixties, a bit Beatley; I used to resist any Beatles influences in my writing, thinking that I’d done that bit in my career and that maybe I should now do something completely different, but that means denying some stuff that might be very good. I mean, I’ve got a reasonable claim to the Beatles’ style, so there’s probably nobody out there who’s going to bother if I or George or Ringo do stuff in the Beatles’ style.
So that’s the way I left ‘C’mon People’ – I finished it up and it became, I think, a very optimistic song. It’s the same idea: that if enough people get together and tell the politicians how we want this world to progress – and I think it is beginning to happen, by the way -we can make a difference. George Martin was involved in the recording of the song, by conducting an orchestral overdub at Abbey Road.
We’d recorded the track of ‘C’mon People’ and we’re quite pleased with it. It came quite naturally. Our engineer, Bob Kraushaar, was ill, he had the flu, so Julian Mendelsohn – who used to be an engineer – did both jobs that night. We thought we’d fix it when Bob got back but, as so often happens in these situations, we got a good take.
Then we thought we’d like to have an arrangement done on it. It was one of the only songs on the album that felt like it could take an orchestra. The rest of them, felt right with just the band, but this one felt like it needed to go a touch bigger, to make it a bit more of an anthem.
So I called George Martin and he was very sweet. He said, “Are you sure you want to use me?”, because he’s almost trying to retire now, and I said “Of course I want to use you! It would be brilliant. We’ll work the same way we always did – sit down together and decide what to do, then you’ll write and conduct it.”
So we did just that, and held the session at Abbey Road. He got up on the rostrum and conducted like a young man, he put all his spirit into it. And it was lovely – halfway through the session he just leaned over to me and said “Super song, Paul”. That is praise indeed”.
Later, Wix noticed that on the score George had written ‘”C’mon People’, arranged by Paul McCartney and George Martin, 30 June 1962″, which he’d then crossed out and changed to “1992”. It was like a Freudian slip – he went right back. I think he did a great job and really enhanced the track.” – Paul
“C’mon People was an interesting track. I remember playing it on this Friday, lovely, sunny day. One of the machines broke early in the afternoon and we were just thinking, Yes! Long weekend! In our heads we were already driving down those lanes heading for home. Paul says, ‘tell you what, we’ll just bash through this one, tape it, come back on Monday and do it properly’.
One take, that’s all we did. Julian, the producer, got on the intercom and said,
Uh, come and have a listen to this.
This track comes out, right in your face. We’re all looking at one another grinning, and I’m thinking, I’ll never be able to play it like that again, no way. It just didn’t sound like me somehow, because my mind was somewhere else.” – Paul
“The only thing that happened after that was that strings were added and that was nice because we did it at Abbey Road where The Beatles recorded, with a string arrangement by George Martin. At the end of his score he’d even written 1962 instead of 1992, then noticed and crossed it out.
“C’mon People” was released as the 2nd single of “Off The Ground” in March 1993. In the UK, it reached #41 in the charts ; it failed to chart in the US. A video was shot to support the single, directed by ex-10cc member Kevin Godley. Rating – 8
The album grades out as 7.625/10. Not bad…
Some weeks after OFF THE GROUND’s release, McCartney launched “The New World Tour“, taking in many successful shows across the globe during the summer months. When I saw him, I was with friends Carrie Cowart, his girlfriend, and Jim Burns. The show was good, but better when it got dark…. McCartney was his usual self, but since this was the FIRST show after a break, Paul’s voice was not in the best of shape. In fact, in relation to how he sounded on record, it was the worst of all the times I saw him. He has since taken better care of his voice, but being almost 80, the voice today is nowhere close to his peak, but it is as he sounds on the records he still makes…
These gigs were documented on the album Paul Is Live, which followed at the end of 1993.
Next, the remainder of the recorded tracks that were released as bonus tracks on CD singles and 12” singles….