I doubt many people consider 1972 the creative highpoint of Paul McCartney’s now five decade-spanning career (I say “many people” because I’m sure there’s that one weirdo out there somewhere who would). It was the first year since 1963 that Paul hadn’t released a full-lenght LP, opting instead to put out a handful of mediocre-to-awful singles beginning with the quicky Bloody Sunday reaction song in reggae arrangement, “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, followed by the cringe-inducing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (Lennon, when asked to comment, said, “Why should I? What could I possibly add? The fact that he put it out is comment enough.”), and then the dippy by-the-numbers rocker “Hi, Hi, Hi”. Of this time, McCartney would later state, “Looking at it purely bluntly, there was sort of a dip for me and my writing. There were a couple of years when I had a sort of illness.”
These songs followed the previous year’s album, the first Wings LP, Wild Life, which was generally viewed as a disappointment . Of course I love it and rate parts of it alongside some of his non-Beatles best, but it is totally thrown together—and, by the way, do read that Rolling Stone review of Wild Life, that goddamn rag has seemingly always had an agenda against McCartney. To them, his chief crime is his not having been born John Lennon, though this paragraph rings true and finds the magazine offering a few uncharacteristic negative words against their beatle John:
“In many ways Paul is slowly regaining the upper hand, mostly by making many fewer hard-to-live-up-to significance-reeking pronouncements about his own life and society at large. Note, for example, that he credits Linda as co-composer on all of Wild Life’s new compositions, as well as co-producer, while Lennon, after going out of his way to sympathize with the feminist movement in “Power To The People,” scarcely allows Yoko to complete a sentence on national television.”
Anyway, while Paul was releasing his lightweight 1972 singles it seems as though he was keeping some of his more interesting material to himself. Case in point: the never officially released song “1882.” I have two home demos of this track, a bizarre narrative set in the titular year, and in my opinion the song ranks alongside his best work–not just his best solo work, I’m including fabs shit in this possible hyperbole. I found these demos on a bootleg album entitled “Wild Life Sessions” so I’ll trust the bootlegger that these tracks date from some time in 1971. Paul home demos from this time often give the listener a little bit of a glimpse into his home life: children and dogs can sometimes be heard carrying on in the background and, of course, Linda is often present.
The first “1882” demo is predictably the less complete of the two. It’s a simple Paul-on-piano track and some of the eventual lyrics aren’t yet present but the vocals are very strong. So strong in fact that Paul indulges in a chance to vocalize the guitar solo much like he did on the Kinfauns “Back in the U.S.S.R.” demo (that mouth-guitar solo by the way is nearly identical to the one on the finished record). I suspect that one’s tolerance for Paul making guitar solos with his mouth largely hinges on one’s level of admiration for him, but there is no denying the drama that he creates in the song’s bridge (or “middle eight” as the fabs called it). Roll up your sleeve while listening (play loud) and watch the goose bumps come out.
If the first version is only a Macca warm up, he’s absolutely on fire in the second. He’s brought Linda in for some backing vocals and she, too, vocalizes the guitar bits. The results are amazing. This may be the among the last gasps of Paul’s knack for marrying his extreme pop sensibilities and his more oddball tendencies—not to mention the last gasp of the hippie dippy style of songs that he’d been writing since he was in India in 68—before reinventing himself as the stadium-rock monster that he and Wings would become within a few years time. Wings in fact played “1882” during their first tour but the song was given a bland “classic rock” arrangement with lazily delivered vocals. I usually refer to the live “1882” as the bullshit version (I’ll look for a live version and post it here later for the curious). Evidence exists (here, for instance) that Wings recorded a studio bullshit version, but I haven’t been able to track that down (if anyone reading this has it, please make me aware of where I can download it). I can’t encourage you enough to download or at least listen to these two tracks (you can do either by clicking the links)—they are seriously McCartney at his best. If this song were the only thing that he ever did, I’d still give him a lifetime pass and forgive all of the “Mary Had a Little Lamb”s and “Spies Like Us”es that litter the McCartney years that follow.
As a bit of a bonus, Here’s another bootlegged track from around the same time as “1882.” It’s an in-the-studio fuck-about instrumental version of “Tomorrow,” the original of which on the Wild Life LP. This rendition finds Paul messing around with some sort of synthesizer. It sounds like something off of a robot Tighten Up album from Mars and is one of the better weirdo McCartney one-offs this side of Thrillington (stay tuned, I’ll post that one eventually). It’s great weird stuff. (Don’t miss this either.)