“To me, the Unplugged set was the nearest thing I’ve done to a pub gig for a long time. And in my particular case, as I’m not a black blues singer from the ’50s, my stuff tends to have more humor when it gets like that. But I feel more comfortable not being serious.
The breakdown at the front of ‘We Can Work It Out’ was hilarious. It’s like something from a blooper tape. The album has that element to it, and I’m really glad we did it.” – Paul
Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) is a live (recorded January 25th, 1991 in Wembley, UK) unplugged performance by Paul McCartney, recorded and released on May 20th, 1991 (June 4th in the US).
Following the vastness of his world tour recently captured on Tripping the Live Fantastic, McCartney relished the opportunity to strip back his songs and appear on the newly launched acoustic-only show MTV Unplugged.
Consequently, McCartney was the first in a long line of artists to release an unplugged album.
Unlike other artists who appeared on the acclaimed show with acoustic instruments plugged into amplifiers (producing the sound heard), McCartney’s instruments were 100% unplugged. Microphones were carefully placed close to guitars, pianos, etc. to pick up the sound (this can be seen on the album cover, where a large rectangular microphone is pictured in front of McCartney’s acoustic guitar).
Using the same line-up that had recently backed him (except for Blair Cunningham who had replaced Chris Whitten on drums), McCartney used the opportunity to dust off some of his rarer tracks, including three from his 1970 debut album McCartney, alongside several covers and amid a helping of familiar Beatles hits.
This recording was one of the first in the famed MTV Unplugged series.
Numbers rehearsed by the band but not performed at all include: “Mother Nature’s Son“, “Figure of Eight“, “Cut Across Shorty“, “Heartbreak Hotel“, “Heart of the Country“, “She’s My Baby“, and “Mrs Vanderbilt”. “Things We Said Today” and “Midnight Special”
With McCartney in a loose and carefree context, critical response to Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) was very warm.
Initially released in a limited edition, individually numbered run in 1991, Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)—with artwork that recalls Снова в СССР‘s—was reissued in a more permanent fashion in the late 1990s. Upon its original issue, it reached number 7 in the UK and became McCartney’s highest-peaking US album in almost ten years, reaching number 14.
“I like any excuse to loosen up, and one of the attractions of Unplugged was that it was so loose. A lot of people liked the very informal, intimate atmosphere. I did – in fact, I was a bit surprised at how intimate and how informal it was. It was fairly nerve-wracking, though, not plugging into amps after all those years, using mikes for the guitars. It’s a completely different discipline – if you turn around to look at the drummer, the guitar sound goes.
We may well put some acoustic stuff into the next tour. A lot of people said that their favorite bit of the 1976 Wings tour was when we all sat down for the acoustic set.
For Unplugged we stood up, because we had sat down in 1976. Next time, we’ll be hovering above the audience.
Unless noted, each track features
Paul McCartney-Acoustic guitar, producer and lead vocals
Linda McCartney-Percussion, backing vocals
Robbie McIntosh-Acoustic guitar
Hamish Stuart-Acoustic bass, backing vocals
Paul “Wix” Wickens-Piano
“Be-Bop-A-Lula” An early rock and roll hit for Gene Vincent, and also The Everly Brothers, and a big favorite of Lennon and McCartney. Lennon even did his version on his 1975 album, ROCK AND ROLL. The band slows the pace making it a smoky charmer. A great little number to start off the album and the set. Macca really sexy’s it up, vocally. Rating – 8.5
“I Lost My Little Girl” The very first song Paul ever wrote, at age 14. He wrote “When I’m 64” at age 15, but this is his first. Basically a Buddy Holly rip-off, style and vocally, and only two short verses and a chorus. Paul added a verse about it being his first written song to lengthen it to 1:46. Wix moves over to shaker. Rating – 7
“Here, There and Everywhere” The classic from REVOLVER, recorded in 1966 by The Beatles. Linda adds on harmonium, and Wix on accordion gives it so much atmosphere. Hamish helps with vocal blending. Rating – 8.5
“Blue Moon of Kentucky” Written by and made famous by Bill Monroe and Elvis. Robbie adds tasty slide acoustic. Wix stays on accordion. It starts slow for the first half, then kicks in full speed till the finish, with Paul doing his best Elvis. Paul encourages more woo-hooing from the crowd! Rating – 8
“We Can Work It Out” The Beatles huge double A sided single (with “Day Tripper) from 1965, this one gets rolling after the hilarious false start as Paul gets the lyrics wrong twice (he uses a teleprompter today as this became more common as he aged). He still messes up on the third try but keeps going. During the first pause more woo-hooing is encouraged. Hamish and Paul’s blend in the John written middle eight is spot on. Wix again takes up the accordion. Rating – 8.5
“San Francisco Bay Blues” Written by Jesse Fuller and made popular by folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliot in the very early 1960’s. Done by Dylan, The Blues Band, Paul Jones, Jim Croce, The Weavers, Sammy Walker, The Brothers Four, Paul Clayton, Richie Havens, Eric Clapton, The Flatlanders, Hot Tuna, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Mungo Jerry, Glenn Yarbrough, George Ellias, Phoebe Snow, The Wave Pictures, The Halifax III and Eva Cassidy. Robbie plays amazing acoustic slide on this toe-tapper. Rating – 8
“I’ve Just Seen a Face” Another classic Beatles 1965 RUBBER SOUL track that gets cowboy’d up for this set, much in the way it was for the 1976 acoustic set of Wings world tour. Wix is back on shakers. Rating – 7.5
“Every Night” From Pauls debut solo album, 1970’s, McCARTNEY 1. Much slower and passionate, almost a gospel feel as Hamish and Robbie notch up the vocal harmonies big time. Paul again messes up the lyrics but doesn’t restart the song. Rating – 8
“She’s a Woman” Interesting tempo change on this 1965 track from The Beatles HELP album, as they turn a blues rocker into a country stomp. Damn, Hamish can harmonize. Rating – 8
“Hi-Heel Sneakers” Written and released by Tommy Tucker in 1963. Over 1000 artists have recorded this including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Ronnie Milsap, the Faces, Sting, Led Zeppelin, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, the Searchers, Sammy Davis Jr., Janis Joplin, Jose Feliciano, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, Tom Jones, John Lee Hooker, Cleo Laine, The Grateful Dead, Phish, Ramsey Lewis, Laura Nyro and George Thorogood. Four on the floor fun. Rating – 8.5
“And I Love Her” The 1964 Beatles song from A HARD DAYS NIGHT is slowed from the original into an EXTRA gentle ballad. Hamish (Paul comically calls him “Hamlish” before the start) adds vocal flourishes (and a bit of lead vocals) throughout. Rating – 8.5
“That Would Be Something” Another from 1970’s McCARTNEY, this time the band turns this into a haunting swampy New Orleans blues number. Hamish again adds wonderful vocal flourishes. Rating – 8
“Blackbird” Another classic moment from the show. Paul notices that the production assistant has called the song “Blackboard” during rehearsal and he gives her some good nature ribbing. As he is doing this she walks off with his bottled water much to Paul’s dismay. “Look, that’s her, and now she’s nicking (stolen) my water. Now she’s stealing my papers!” The audience loves this intimacy from Paul. Rating – 7
“Ain’t No Sunshine” The Bill Withers hit from the early 1970’s. Interesting instrument changes abound as Paul goes behind the drum kit for this one and Hamish takes lead vocal and acoustic guitar. Wix plays the acoustic bass, Blair adds percussion and Robbie plays piano. Strong playing troughout. Rating – 7.5
“Good Rockin’ Tonight” Everyone is back in their proper place on this Roy Brown written classic (made famous by Elvis Presley). Linda is back on shaker. Hamish adds his wonderful vocal flourishes one more time. Rating – 7.5
“Singing the Blues” They finish up the broadcast set and album with this one a spirited version of Melvin Endsley’s song. The song was a huge hit in 1956 for Guy Mitchell. Marty Robbins was the first person to record it with minor success. Tommy Steele also had a hit in England with his version. Linda’s on shaker, Hamish flourishes and Wix plays the hell out of that piano. Rating – 8
“Junk” (instrumental) Plays out to the closing credits and the band is not shown. Linda is on harmonium. Another from Paul’s 1970 McCARTNEY I. Rating – 7.5
This LIVE album grades out as 7.91 /10. We will review EVERY other live album at the end, as we will all of the classical as well as all of the Fireman releases.
THE UNPLUGGED SECRET SHOW MINI TOUR
Paul McCartney has always been keen on doing secret shows. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, rock tours would cover most of Britain, showing up in the country’s smaller cities to entertain fans.
More recently, with a dearth of major arena venues in the UK, big tours tend only to visit the bigger cities – a typical national tour, for example, will play London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool.
In 1991, Paul played a series of surprise shows, including a show in Barcelona and a set at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, London. The latter was the smallest venue Paul McCartney had played at since taking a final bow at The Cavern club in 1963 (he would then return to that venue in 1999).
He also played shows in Cornwall after his team realized that Paul had never played there, not with Wings, not even with the much-travelled Beatles. The shows were a way for Paul to connect with his audience in a more direct way than he would in a giant stadium.
These were impromptu concerts at mostly smaller clubs, inspired by the “MTV Unplugged” TV concert and subsequent album. A further concert at Paris L’Olympia was planned, but not announced. It was cancelled when Linda McCartney’s father, Lee Eastman, passed away during the tour. Paul felt that he owed l’Olympia a concert and eventually returned to play there in 2007 on that “other” Secret Gigs Tour.
At Cliff’s Pavillion, Paul and his band backed guest poet Adrian Mitchell on the recital of his poems “Song In Space,” “I Like That Stuff,” “Maybe May Time,” and “Hot Pursuit“. They also added “I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” to their set list
There they were, tucked away from blustery May winds in the barn with Paul and the band in rehearsal, checking out material and loosening limbs for a return to the road, of sorts, last left in Soldier Field, Chicago more than nine months before.
You might think that after 102 gigs, rehearsals would not be necessary, that chords and notes would be so deeply embedded that they would drop neatly into place at the twitch of a plectrum or stroke of a keyboard. Not so.
Number by number, though, in the barn, the sound of an exciting, tight 24-song set came together, with the odd jam thrown in for good measure just to underline that spirits were high and wavelengths tuned together. Thirteen acoustics and eleven electrics suggested themselves, a varied blend of styles and tempos. Then discussion about riffs and roles, song balance and sound balance.
Taking time out after rehearsals, Paul explained why the secret gig plan was finally being brought to fruition. “It’s really to keep the band active. Blair [Cunningham] played with us when we did Wogan [to plug ‘All My Trials’] and in the dressing-room after the show I thought we’d better invite him to join us, make it official. And Wix was funny, he said, ‘Yeah, welcome to the group, Blair, and a year off, because they knew I was going to do the Oratorio. And Blair was saying, ‘I love playing, I love playing’ so I thought, ‘I can’t get him in the group and then have nothing for him until October…’“
Paul reveals that Blair Cunningham’s joining was another good reason for playing on the MTV Unplugged show. “It kept the band’s hand in, gave us a little bit of a challenge and, yes, it introduced Blair. And now it’s an album, so suddenly he’s on an album, which settles him further, and now we must play. I can’t just be rehearsing the Oratorio all the time.”
Next, 1995 and beyond….