On September 3, 1992, Paul McCartney entered his home studio, Hog Hill Mill (aka “The Mill”), on his farm in Sussex, England, and recorded two songs, “Calico Skies” and “Great Day,” with former Beatles producer George Martin at his side, co-producing. But it would be another five years before the tracks would see release on the album Flaming Pie. The long wait would be worth it. One of McCartney’s strongest works, Flaming Pie peaked at No. 2 in the U.S., becoming his first album to hit the Top 5 in 15 years, and selling over half a million copies stateside.
It was McCartney’s first album released after the massive Beatles Anthology project, and there were reflections of The Beatles era in a number of tracks, most notably the title song. It was also the last album released before the death of McCartney’s wife, Linda, in April 1998; her photographs for the project (including the cover shot), giving the release an additional poignancy.
Flaming Pie is now the latest in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection series of reissues, with the album being issued on vinyl, CD and in two box sets, a Deluxe Edition and Collector’s Edition (both reviewed within this feature).
The box sets have the most bonus material: a CD of home demos; a CD of alternate studio recordings (both these CDs having plenty of previously unreleased material); a CD of B-sides and other tracks recorded during the same time period (including “Ballad of the Skeletons,” his collaboration with Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass), and the first six episodes of McCartney’s radio show Oobu Joobu; and a CD with an hourlong interview with McCartney, titled Flaming Pie at the Mill. The two DVDs feature the album’s videos and the “making of” documentary In the World Tonight. And then the extras that have become de rigueur for pricey box sets, the most notable of which is a 128-page book about the making of the album, with new interviews, and lavishly illustrated with Linda’s photos. Facsimiles of the studio notebook kept at the time and the Flaming Pie edition of the official fan club magazine, Club Sandwich, are also entertaining. The Collector’s Edition also adds the album on vinyl, and a set of Linda McCartney art prints. The box sets give you the most in-depth look at the creation of this impressive album, but the 2-CD set does serve up 21 bonus tracks. It’s another strong addition to the Archive series, due in no small part to how good the album is.
When those first Flaming Pie songs were laid down in September 1992, McCartney was actually preparing Off the Ground for release, and “Calico Skies” and “Great Day” might have ended up on that album. The former song was written in 1991, in the middle of a power outage while McCartney was vacationing in Long Island. He entertained his family by playing guitar to pass the time, and “Calico Skies” was one of the impromptu melodies that became a proper song. “I wanted to write something acoustic, in the vein of ‘Blackbird,’” he later explained. He ultimately decided the gentle, acoustic-based number — which doesn’t differ greatly from the home demo — would be out of place on the more rock-oriented Off the Ground. It’s the only true solo number on the album, with McCartney accompanying himself on guitar and providing “knee slap” percussion.
“Great Day” was a playful number that Paul and Linda used to sing to their children when they were young. “I’ve always liked the song, but never really had an opportunity to record it,” McCartney said, “so during the ‘Calico Skies’ session with George Martin, since it had been so easy to record that one little acoustic thing, I told George that I had this song, too.”
Recording was then put on hold for a few years, as McCartney was involved in a variety of other projects. Off the Ground was released in February 1993, followed by a world tour. The same year saw the U.K. release of Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest, an album of ambient music McCartney created with Youth (bassist for the band Killing Joke), credited to The Fireman; U.S. release followed in 1994.
Then The Beatles took center stage, with Live at the BBC released in 1994, while 1995 and 1996 saw the release of The Beatles Anthology albums, TV series and video series. The deep dive into his past provided McCartney with plenty of inspiration for Flaming Pie. “The early (Beatles) tapes were so simple and direct and easy to listen to, and yet they were good little songs,” he told USA Today. “I thought I should try and do the same thing on this album and just keep things simple.”
Two weeks after sessions for the second Beatles reunion single “Real Love” in February 1995, McCartney headed for Sun Valley, Idaho, to record with Steve Miller. The two musicians had a history, having recorded the song “My Dark Hour” together on May 9, 1969, at Olympic Studios in London, following a Beatles session that had broken down due to an argument. The song was later released on the Steve Miller Band’s Brave New World album.
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