Paul McCartney’s Buried Treasures: “A Love For You,” “Secret Friend,” “Girls School” + others
BY BILL DEYOUNG
JUNE 17, 2015
Part of Paul McCartney’s genius is the way he makes records. Sometimes the arrangement and the recording transcend the actual song. Ram has some of the dumbest lyrics anybody ever wrote, but man, is it a fun album. The melodies, the way he sings them, the way he plays. It rocks and it rolls. It hits mountainous highs. It encapsulates all that I love about pop music.
Like millions of people, I like many of the hits, too, and there are a handful of relatively “deep cuts” that I think hit the sweet spot.
This, however, is a list of my favorite little-known Paul McCartney songs, buried away on b-sides, or as CD bonus tracks, or hidden away on soundtracks, or issued under a pseudonym. No. 2 is the only one from an album proper, but the album is so bad, I like to think of the song as a standalone.
I’ll take these, thanks:
“SECRET FRIEND,” (McCARTNEY II sessions, 1979): Recorded solo, at home, during the sessions for McCartney II, this 11-minute slice of synthesized tropicalia is both bizarre and intoxicating. McCartney’s experimental material usually gets derided or forgotten, unfairly, but “Secret Friend” is better than anything on the album from which it was hived, and that’s saying something. Its hypnotic groove and midnight-in-Havana melody are singular in the canon. Released in 1981 in the UK, as the b-side to the “Temporary Secretary” 12-inch single; now on the McCartney II Archive Collection bonus disc.
“STRANGLEHOLD,” (PRESS TO PLAY, 1986): A catchy rocker with acoustic guitars and a cool saxophone break, this rollicking track opens Press to Play, the worst-ever McCartney album; it was all WAY downhill from here. Nothing else on the LP was in its neighborhood, which makes me suspect it originated in a different period.
“MAMA’S LITTLE GIRL,” (RED ROSE SPEEDWAY sessions, 1972): The early Wings catalog is full of twee acoustic songs that celebrate home and family, but this one rises above the pack with a gorgeous melody, sweet harmonies and lyrics that effectively capture what a dad feels watching his young daughter toddle around. When the clarinets come in, the hook is set. Released in the UK in 1990 on the “Put It There” CD single.
“BACK ON MY FEET,” (b-side to “ONCE UPON A LONG AGO,” 1987): The first one off the assembly line for (temporary) co-writers Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello, “Back on My Feet” is a brilliant pop song with a lyrical through-line you can actually follow (it’s sung from the perspective of a prideful homeless man). Macca sings his arse off, and the bassline bubbles. Released in the UK as the b-side to “Once Upon a Long Ago” (which is itself a nice tune). Neither track has ever been released in the USA.
“BRIDGE ON THE RIVER SUITE,” (b-side to “WALKING IN THE PARK WITH ELOISE,” 1974): Because he is such a great singer, Paul McCartney’s instrumental tracks (and there are many) tend to get overlooked. Too bad, because as one of history’s premier melodists, and record producers, some of them are as evocative as anything else in his catalog. This moody, Peter Gunn-like piece pokes along seductively, with a sinewy horn section giving it a dangerous, midnight-rendezvous feel. I happen to prefer a bootlegged early mix — probably from the Red Rose Speedway sessions in ’72 — that features a smoky acoustic guitar in place of the horns, which were clearly overdubbed at a later time. The b-side of “Walking in the Park With Eloise” (credited to the Country Hams) and now available on the Archive Collection Venus and Mars deluxe.
“RAINCLOUDS,” TUG OF WAR sessions, 1982): Really nice for no other reason that it features dynamic layered harmonies over a galloping acoustic-guitar beat, and a happy Uilleann pipes solo by Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains. Moloney was in the studio cutting this on the morning of December 9, 1980, just as Paul McCartney and producer George Martin were commiserating about John Lennon’s murder the night before. That information has always lent “Rainclouds” a bittersweet taste for me. The b-side of “Ebony and Ivory,” it should show up on the upcoming Tug of War archive reissue.
“DAYTIME NIGHTTIME SUFFERING, (BACK TO THE EGG sessions, 1979): The last Wings album, Back to the Egg, had way too many weak (and weakly delivered) songs; it was pretty obvious that Macca’s heart just wasn’t in it any more. This insanely catchy pop song — Linda always said it was her favorite-ever Wings track — was left off the album. Great melody, driving bassline, cool harmonies and lyrics that … well, don’t suck. The b-side of “Goodnight Tonight,” it’s available on the Wingspan anthology.
“FLYING TO MY HOME,” (FLOWERS IN THE DIRT sessions, 1989): There’s something about this strange little track that pulls me in every time. He sings it in one of his “obnoxious voices,” the slightly nasal one, but somehow it works. I suspect that’s him playing the electric guitars, which counter the melody beautifully and make “Flying to My Home,” ultimately, more memorable than half of the album it was left off (that’d be Flowers in the Dirt). The b-side of “My Brave Face.”
“A LOVE FOR YOU,” (RAM sessions, 1971): A joyous, uptempo Ram outtake, “A Love For You” was well-known to diehard fans long before it appeared on the soundtrack to the 2003 re-make of The In-Laws (reportedly, the film’s producer had the song on a bootleg, and persuaded Macca to dust it off and let him use it in his movie). The original mix is on the Ram Archive Collection set, while the In-Laws mix (featuring later overdubs) is on the soundtrack album. Both are great. It’s Ram-tastic either way!
“GIRL’S SCHOOL,” (LONDON TOWN sessions, 1977): I can’t swear to it, but it sounds like Jimmy McCullough’s fleet fingers playing the searing lead guitar here, so I believe this heavy rocker originated from the early London Town sessions, before McCullough and drummer Joe English walked away from Wings. After “Junior’s Farm” and “Call Me Back Again,” this is my choice for the Paul McCartney rocker to beat. It seems to be about a training camp for young girls who desire to get in the pornography business (now, there’s something you don’t hear every day!), and it absolutely sizzles from start to finish. “Girls’ School” could have replaced ANY track on London Town and made it a better album. B-side of “Mull of Kintyre.”