Paul McCartney reflects on Beatles reunion, how it inspired ‘Flaming Pie’ album

Paul McCartney is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-MPL Communications MANDATORY CREDIT

It’s been more than 23 years since the release of Sir Paul McCartney‘s critically acclaimed, 10th studio album Flaming Pie and to celebrate the Gold-certified record, Universal Music is re-releasing it as part of the former Beatles bassist’s lengthy and ongoing Archive Collection.

Flaming Pie serves as the 13th instalment in the Grammy Award-winning archive series and will be reissued on various physical formats — including a  5CD/2DVD/4LP Collector’s Edition boxset — at the end of this month, on July 31.

The 14-track album was first released on May 5, 1997, and features many of McCartney’s non-Beatles fan-favourite hits such as Young BoyThe World Tonight and Beautiful Night. 

Not only that but it was co-produced by the now-78-year-old musician, late Beatles producer George Martin and Jeff Lynne, of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and the Traveling Wilburys supergroup — which happened to include George Harrison, the former Beatles guitarist, before his death in 2001. The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr was even invited to appear on a few tracks, along with Steve Miller.

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Before writing, recording and releasing Flaming Pie, McCartney worked alongside Martin, Harrison and Starr to compile three individual anthology albums which are comprised of much of the legendary British rock band’s material from their ten-year spanning career.

In a brand new interview, the Yesterday songwriter recounted his experiences of reuniting with Martin and the surviving Beatles bandmates and spoke of how those studio sessions inevitably shaped and inspired what would soon become Flaming Pie. He called the making of the Beatles Anthology a “refresher course that set the framework for” Flaming Pie.

The full interview with McCartney can be read below:

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What is the origin of Flaming Pie, and how did you settle on that as an album title?

Paul McCartney: When we had started off as The Beatles in Liverpool, there was this local music paper called Mersey Beat. John (Lennon) was asked to do a little explanation of where we were at at the time. He did this typical Lennonese thing and said, “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.” And so it was. That was always the explanation when people asked us, “Well why are you called The Beatles?”

And so I just thought, I’m the man on the flaming pie! I’ll write a song about that. It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek. The character who is the man on the flaming pie, he’s quite cool. He’s quite mad. Anyone I mentioned it to just smiled.

And there’s a lot of heritage with it coming from that Mersey Beat article. John’s right there in it, so it had a lot of resonance and fond memories for me. John and I used to place great value on titles — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Rubber Soul, people’d go “What!?” So I really liked this left-field idea of Flaming Pie.

So were The Beatles on your mind when making this record?

PM: I came off the back of The Beatles Anthology project with an urge to do some new music. The anthology excited me because it reminded me of The Beatles’ standards and the standard of the songs. It was a good refresher course, and it sort of gave me a framework for this album.

Anthology threw up all of these memories that I hadn’t had any reason to think of for so long. All of the Beatles memories. It was a very joyful period talking to Ringo and George endlessly about all the things we’d done. Particularly talking to George, who went back even further with me. I remembered all our old jokes, our old songs. The small things. Even before The Beatles. Back when he was just my little buddy who I got in the band. Off the end of that project, I was able to more easily see where I might go next.

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The Beatles: (L-R) Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Central Press / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

How did you know where to start?

PM: One of the things I always used to do with The Beatles was play our last album before we went into our next. So I would play, say, Rubber Soul. I would play it in its entirety, just taking it in like a fan. And realize, that’s where we are up to. There’s the bar. Now, let’s try and jump it.

So Flaming Pie had an element of that. It was quite Beatle-flavoured. There are always echoes. You can’t help it. When you write, it’s you. And when you have just reassessed your life’s work you get an idea of where to go next.

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How would you describe the songwriting process for the material on Flaming Pie?

PM: Songs can come from anywhere. Sometimes, I would drive Linda (McCartney) to one of her cookery assignments, and on one particular day, I had driven her to a photo session at a farmhouse in Kent. I kept out of the way, went upstairs and made up a little fantasy for myself to write a song.

I knew that Linda would be about two hours doing the shoot, so I set myself a deadline to write a song in that time. And Somedays was it. I wrote the whole song in that time. Normally, you might get most of it down and think you’ll finish it up next week. But I thought I’ll finish it up so that when Linda had finished the shoot and would say, “What did you do? Did you get bored?”, I could say, “Oh I wrote this song, wanna hear it?” It’s just a little game that I sometimes play with myself. John and I used to play this game and I don’t think it ever took us more than three or so hours to write a song.

You play a great deal of the parts on the record yourself. What was your thought process when planning the recording sessions?

PM: I don’t really think about it too much. The good thing is that I have always got the option. I mean, the absolute extreme scenario is just doing everything. And there are songs on Flaming Pie where I do that. Like on Somedays, I recorded that by myself, played everything, just like on McCartney. But when I was working on the final version, I thought that maybe it could use a little arrangement, so I rang up George Martin. Who better to do it?

What differences do you notice when you do it all yourself? Are there particular things that stand out?

PM:  I don’t have a formula of how to make a record. And it’s a luxury that I don’t have to have the formula. But there’s always some sort of trigger that sends me in a particular direction.

It might be listening back to the spontaneity of old Beatles stuff, or it might be listening to one of my records, or it might even be listening to a bit of Stevie Wonder — he records a lot of his records himself too. But for instance, when I came to make what turned out to be Chaos And Creation In The Backyard with Nigel Godrich, he said, “Can we do it without your band?” So that was the reasoning behind that.

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There’s always some sort of trigger that makes me think, I fancy a bit of that. And I’d say for the Flaming Pie album the trigger was probably Jeff Lynne.

(L-R) Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, Olivia Harrison and Dhani Harrison pose for photos at a ceremony for Beatles legend George Harrison who posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, Calif. on April 14, 2009. Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

How did working with Jeff Lynne come about?

I knew he made good records. We’d made Free As a Bird together as part of The Beatles Anthology and I enjoyed working on that with Jeff. He’s very good on harmonies, and he’s very good at being precise with his production. You don’t get too many rough edges. It’s his style.

He’s a fun guy and we share a similar school of thought. Despite the success of The Beatles, none of us could ever read or write a note of music. And Jeff was the same. He quite rightly said, “We all just make it all up, don’t we?” And that’s it. That’s our skill. We make it up. For example, something like Here Comes the Sun has quite complicated time signatures, but we couldn’t name the time signatures. We wouldn’t be interested in that. We would just absorb it, know it and then play it. And that’s why Jeff said, “We just make it all up, don’t we?”

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That kind of person is very good to work with. We have a similar non-training. Obviously, we work like mad. We put in our 10,000 hours, and that’s the equivalent of going to the Berkeley School of Music.

You also worked with Steve Miller, how did that come about?

PM: I’d known Steve for a while. We met towards the end of The Beatles days. I was in a Beatles session at Olympic Studios in London that had ended in a big row, and I was hanging around in the studio after everyone else had walked out. Steve poked his head around the door and asked to borrow the stereo. We got talking and decided to do something together, so I joined in on the drums, furiously, on one of his tracks, My Dark Hour. I just wanted to drum, and it was great because this helped me let out all that frustration, in tom-tom fills!

So I knew him from that, working together in the 60s. Years later I rang him up and said, “I have a couple of songs, do you want to record together?” He said, “Come out to our studio”.

It was really cool, we went out to his place in Sun Valley, Idaho. I love Steve’s music. He’s a great singer, guitar player and songwriter, so I thought it would be nice to work with him again.

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Do you remember the thought process to get Ringo involved?

PM: I’d been saying to Ringo for years that it’d be great to do something because we’d never really done that much work together outside The Beatles. One night Jeff suggested, “Why don’t you get Ringo in?” and I said, “OK!” It just sort of happened.

I had this song Beautiful Night which I’d written quite a few years ago. I’d always liked it but I felt I didn’t quite have the right version of it.

So I got this song out for when Ringo was coming in, and right away it was like the old days. I realized we hadn’t done this for so long, but it was really comfortable and it was still there. So we did Beautiful Night and we tagged on a fast bit on the end which wasn’t there before. And as we were coming away out of the studio into the control room, Ringo’s doing like an impression of a doorman… “All right then, on your way…” if you listen closely you can hear we left that in.

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Once we had done Beautiful Night it wasn’t enough, I’d had too much fun and I didn’t want it to stop. So as Ringo was there, playing great and we’d got the sound, I said, “Why don’t we do a bit of jam or something?”

So I grabbed my Hofner bass, he started up on the drums and Jeff Lynne came in on guitar, the three of us getting a little R&B thing going. And then I did the actor’s worst dream — he’s on stage and he doesn’t know what play he’s in — when you do a jam like that, doing the vocal is exactly that dream, you can just go anywhere, you can sing anything. But you’ve really got to clear your mind, forget everything — at the same time as playing the bass — and let your head go to some mystical place. Just totally ad-libbing it all.

Anyway, when we’d done it I played it back to Ringo and he said, “It’s relentless”. That was Really Love You.

You did most of the drumming on this record, but what did Ringo bring to the table?

PM: Magic. You know, to sit down with Ringo is always a great thing. It’s always worthwhile. It’s always fun. In 2019, when I finished touring in Los Angeles, Ringo got up on stage and we were doing Helter Skelter together. And he’s drumming away and I’m singing facing front because I was on the mic. But when I wasn’t on the mic, in the solo breaks and stuff, I really made a point of turning round and watching this guy drum. And I’m thinking, my god, you know the memories across this 10-yard gap here, him on the drums and me on the bass, the lifetime that’s going on here.

It’s a sort of magic. And he and I these days get quite emotional about it, because we should. We ought to. It’s a bloody emotional thing, the years. If nothing else.

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[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
(L-R) Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr perform onstage during the 30th Annual Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Hall on April 18, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

McCartney’s Flaming Pie Archive Collection will be released worldwide on July 31 through Universal Music. All variants of the limited and exclusive reissue can be pre-ordered here.

Original Flaming Pie tracklist:

  1. The Song We Were Singing
  2. The World Tonight
  3. If You Wanna
  4. Somedays
  5. Young Boy
  6. Calico Skies
  7. Flaming Pie
  8. Heaven On A Sunday
  9. Used To Be Bad
  10. Souvenir
  11. Little Willow
  12. Really Love You
  13. Beautiful Night
  14. Great Day

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