Marshall Fish is a remote trivia writer who also enjoys writing and reviewing albums.
It’s been over a decade since Paul McCartney began issuing super deluxe editions of his albums. The thirteenth selection in the series is his first record released following the successful "Beatles Anthology" projects, Flaming Pie. The disc was McCartney’s most successful album of the 1990s, and in this new box set, it still packs an emotional punch.
The Archive Collection Deluxe Edition
The Flaming Pie Archive Collection Deluxe Edition contains the original album remastered at London's Abbey Road Studios, 32 bonus audio tracks including a disc of home recordings and another of alternative studio cuts, two more CDs of B-sides, and two DVDs. Other content includes a 128-page book featuring unpublished images by Linda McCartney, handwritten song lyrics, the "Flaming Pie" issue of Club Sandwich, the McCartney Fun Club newsletter, and much more. All are all housed in a numbered, cloth-wrapped clamshell box.
The Inspiration Behind the Album
In 1995, "The Beatles Anthology" project energized McCartney to record some new music, and Flaming Pie was the result. As he mentions in a note attached to the inside of this new box set, “The Anthology was very good for me because it reminded me of The Beatles’ standards and the standards that we reached with the songs. So in a way, it was a refresher course that set the framework for this album.” Jeff Lynne, the producer of the Anthology reunion tracks “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love," was behind the mixing desk with McCartney for 8 of Flaming Pie's 14 tracks.
The "Jeff Lynne Sound"
Initially, McCartney didn’t want what he felt was the “Jeff Lynne sound," heard on the albums produced for George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Dave Edmunds, and of course, ELO. As mentioned in the box set’s book, before recording together, McCartney told Lynne, “Hey, you’ve got a sound, and we should subvert it. It’s going to get boring if the whole album is 'A Jeff Lynne Album.’…I’m not going to do that, I’m going to throw in some other stuff.” There was no need for concern, as McCartney and Lynne ended up working so well together.
Production of the Album
Beatles producer George Martin assisted on one Flaming Pie track and handled the orchestration for two others. Steve Miller, who last recorded with McCartney in 1969 on “My Dark Hour," joined in on three Pie songs. McCartney’s son James started getting into Miller’s music in the '90s and provided the impetus for his dad and Miller to collaborate again. Ringo Starr also appears on two songs.
During the recording of the album, McCartney’s wife, Linda, was being treated for cancer, which took her life in 1998. Thus, there’s a reflective undercurrent to several of the Flaming Pie songs. “Somedays," the album’s fourth track, was actually written in 1994, a year before Linda McCartney received her medical diagnosis. But, the lyrics were pertinent, including the lines “Sometimes I laugh/I laugh to think how young we were/Sometimes it’s hard/It’s hard to know which way to turn.” The chorus of “Heaven on a Sunday" expresses the feeling that ”If I only had one love/Yours would be the one I’d choose.” Plus, “Calico Skies," composed in 1991, includes the verses, “It was written that I would love you/From the moment I opened my eyes…/I will hold you for as long as you like/I’ll hold you for the rest of my life.”
Then there’s “Little Willow," a track McCartney wrote to express his sadness and help comfort the children of Starr and his ex-wife Maureen Starkey Tigrett, following her passing in 1994. The song’s poignant lyrics include the line, “Sleep, little willow/Peace gonna follow/Time will heal your wounds.”
Further Analysis: Track By Track
There’s no lack of uptempo songs on Flaming Pie, either. The tracks with Miller are prime examples. “Used To Be Bad” is a nice helping of Texas blues. The drums in the song seem to have more kick in the 2020 remastered CD than the 1997 CD. “If You Wanna” is a lively song that McCartney describes as a “driving across America” tune. The strumming, acoustic guitars sound nice, with a tasty lead electric guitar solo by Miller in “Young Boy." Miller’s backing vocals can be heard clearly in the 2020 Flaming Pie remastered CD.
"Young Boy" Music Video
Flaming Pie's title track possesses a Lynne/ELO feel in the chorus. The tune's funky piano, drums, and Lynne’s harmony vocals are noticeable in the new 2020 remastered disc. The Wilson Pickett inspired “Souvenir” adds some soul/R&B to the album.
A bit of that Beatles musical magic occurs on “Beautiful Night," as McCartney takes a song he performed in the studio with Billy Joel’s band in 1986, and records a new version with Starr on drums and an orchestra arrangement scored by Martin. Lynne and Linda McCartney are on hand, as well.
The album ends on a hopeful note with the acoustic-based “Great Day," which has a “Ram," early '70s quality. That’s no coincidence, as Paul and Linda McCartney used to sing the song to their kids when they were very small.
Most of the tracks date back to 1993 and 1994 and were taken from McCartney’s cassette tapes. The total running time is 35 minutes. It’s interesting to hear the tracks in their earliest stage of development. “The Song We Were Singing” has a couple of uptempo sections with lyrics not in the finished song. “The World Tonight” is similar, as it has lyrics that were later deleted.
McCartney plays some tasty acoustic guitar licks in “If You Wanna.” Unfortunately, in a few of the tracks, the vocal seems distant or not picked up well by the mic. At the beginning of “Souvenir," we hear a telephone ring, too. “Beautiful Night” ends up being the 1995 studio demo, not a home recording. So, obviously, it boasts a fuller sound. It’s still McCartney solo, singing and playing the piano.
In the Studio
Ten tracks make up the box set's third CD, clocking in at 34 minutes. It’s quite an enjoyable listen, spotlighted by the last two tracks. “Whole Life” is a scorching Stones-ish track recorded with Dave Stewart (but it's no “Flaming Pie,” pun intended). This would have made for a fine single, if released at the time. Bluesy guitars leap out of both audio channels during the song. An alternate version of "Whole Life," featuring McCartney’s touring band, was recorded in 2003 for a charity album benefiting Nelson Mandela’s AIDS Awareness Campaign. The Rude Cassette version of “Heaven On A Sunday" begins with what sounds like backward tape noise followed by a heavy, drum machine beat and an alternate McCartney vocal from the "Flaming Pie” album rendition.
A run-through of “Beautiful Night” has a bit of studio chatter between McCartney and Starr before beginning, with a mix featuring the piano and drums out front. Martin's orchestration hasn't been added yet. “Little Willow” is close to the finished song, but consists of a different McCartney vocal and no overdubs.
"Whole Life" (Rough Mix)
The B-sides to the Flaming Pie singles are gathered together on the fourth disc, nearly filling the CD with 74 minutes of audio. More than half the disc is made up of six excerpts from McCartney’s 1995 American “Oobu Joobu” radio show, issued on Flaming Pie's CD singles and recently re-released on digital/streaming platforms.
Among the “widescreen radio” segments are some McCartney songs recorded in the 80s, and receiving their first broadcast airings on “Oobu Joobu.” “Love Mix” is a bright, bouncy tune with just McCartney and his 1989–1993 touring band guitarist, ex-Pretender Robbie McIntosh. McCartney sings in falsetto, similar to the Wings London Town track “Girlfriend,” in "Don't Break the Promise," a reggae-tinged tune penned with 10cc’s Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman. “I Love This House” has a heavy '80s synth sound, similar to “Spies Like Us."
As for the other tracks, “Same Love” is one of those ballads McCartney is so adept at writing, with excellent vocals, and backed by Hamish Stuart (also from McCartney’s 1989–1993 touring group and the Average White Band) on guitar and Nicky Hopkins on piano. “Broomstick” is one more track recorded with Miller, and “Looking For You” is another collaboration with Lynne and Starr.
Besides the "Oobu Joobu" segments, the longest track on this CD, at nearly eight minutes, is 1995’s “The Ballad of the Skeletons.” The music is credited to McCartney, composer Philip Glass, and Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg. Produced by Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye, “Skeletons” features McCartney on guitars and drums. Ginsberg recites his "Skeletons" poem as the artists play a melody in the background. The lines in the poem are relevant today, mentioning the Downsized skeleton, the Tough-on-Crime skeleton, and the Media skeleton. “The Ballad of the Skeletons” is unique, but I don’t know if it makes for repeat listening.
The remastered Flaming Pie album has a warm sound to it. The 1997 release is much louder and hotter when compared to the 2020 disc. Alex Wharton, who did the remastering at Abbey Road Studios, says on their website that, “We have given depth and warmth to all tracks while increasing dynamics from the original, to let the songs breathe and speak for themselves.”
Flaming Pie at the Mill
In this one hour CD, McCartney shows “Oobu Joobu” producer Eddy Pumer around his Hog Hill Mill recording studio, and points out the notable musical instruments in his collection.
McCartney talks about and demonstrates the Epiphone guitar he used on the Beatles numbers “Paperback Writer” and “Taxman," the stand-up bass played by Bill Black in the recording of Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel," a mellotron (early synthesizer) similar to the one played during “Strawberry Fields Forever," and much more. It’s quite engaging, but would work much better as a TV special. In fact, a couple of minutes from this program are shown as part of the In the World Tonight documentary that’s on a DVD in the box set. So, while it’s nice to have the audio tour on CD, a video visit to the studio would be even better.
In the World Tonight DVD
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Flaming Pie is the main focus of the documentary In the World Tonight, found in the box set’s first DVD. Geoff Wonfor, who directed The Beatles Anthology, performed the same duties here. Moving scenes include Linda McCartney sitting next to Paul as he sings “Calico Skies” and the couple riding horses while “Somedays” is played in the background.
Portions of the June 1997 VH1 “McCartney’s Town Hall Meeting” make up another part of In the World Tonight. Additional short segments picture McCartney outside Buckingham Palace after his March 1997 knighting ceremony, performing “Coming Up” in Brazil before 180,000 fans in 1990, and the 1991 premiere of his “Liverpool Oratorio.” Starr and Martin appear in the last segment devoted to the recording of “Beautiful Night."
Bonus Film DVD
Remastered promos for “Beautiful Night," “Little Willow,” “The World Tonight,” and “Young Boy” are found on the second DVD. A pair of videos accompany the latter two titles. One of each was directed by Wonfor and the other by Alistair Donald, Paul, and Linda's daughter Mary McCartney’s first husband.
The rest of the DVD is comprised of three electronic press kits followed by a video of Paul and Linda McCartney meeting with a graphic designer to go over the Flaming Pie artwork. Finishing out the DVD is McCartney performing to the backing track of two songs on the UK Channel 4 entertainment program TFI Friday, and a section of a November 1997 TV interview with David Frost.
No subtitles or captions are provided for both DVDs, and no language other than English is available for them.
"Beautiful Night" Music Video
The Flaming Pie book is chock full of great photos and text by Chris Heath. Additionally, a page from the July 6-20, 1961 Mersey Beat newspaper is reprinted, in which John Lennon humorously wrote about the origin of The Beatles name and thus, the future inspiration for McCartney’s song and album title. “It came in a vision-a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’ “ Lennon noted.
Two pictures of “The Threetles” (McCartney, Harrison, and Starr) promoting the Anthology, stills from a McCartney appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, shots of Miller and McCartney together in Idaho, and a lot more noteworthy images are displayed in the book.
The Flame is a four-page newspaper covering 1997 McCartney activities with typeface that makes it look like a British tabloid. The reprint of the full, 16-page "Flaming Pie" issue of the Club Sandwich newsletter from the McCartney Fun Club, is a real treat. Some more exclusive photos are in the publication, as Linda McCartney was the picture editor. Many of the details about Flaming Pie recording dates and musician credits, found in the box set, were first printed in Club Sandwich.
Additional Flaming Pie Archive Collection Releases
The Flaming Pie collection is also available in a 2 CD format (remastered album and 21 bonus audio tracks), 2 LP’s, 3 LP’s, a 3,000 numbered copy 4 LP/5 CD, and 2 DVD Collector’s Edition, and on streaming platforms.
Many McCartney fans were anticipating the final Wings albums, “London Town” and “Back to the Egg," to be his Archive Collection albums released this year. That wasn’t the case, but you would think they will be next in the series. In the meantime, enjoy an audio slice of "Flaming Pie," and as the song says, it’ll be a “Great Day.”
© 2020 Marshall Fish