I played Scott at snooker on Monday and, all modesty aside, I was on fire. In so many ways, it was excellent to beat him. My glorious victory was made more pleasurable because the last time we played each other at sport, he beat me at pool and I had to wear a badge that said “Scott Beat Me At Pool” around the Sixth Form College in Brighton where we worked, for a week. He is 32 years old and I am 68 years old. When I stopped being Head of Maths in 2016, he was the obvious person to succeed me. He is the most brilliant teacher I worked with at the College; he is a really nice guy; he has loads of excellent ideas; he is great company. However, when our roles were reversed and he was suddenly my boss, I didn’t always find it easy and there were times when my behaviour was regrettable.
The producer of “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard” is Nigel Godrich and when the album was recorded, Nigel Godrich was 32 and Paul McCartney was 61. No, I’m not comparing myself to Paul McCartney, but when I was reading about the relationship between these two geniuses, I was curious as to how it worked, on a personal level.
Here’s a brief summary of Nigel Godrich up until this point. Early in his career, Nigel Godrich worked as the house engineer at RAK Studios, London, under the producer John Leckie. He met Radiohead while working at RAK on their second album, “The Bends” (1995), for which he received his first production credit. Radiohead hired him to produce their next album, “OK Computer”, which was a major success and brought him attention from other artists, including Beck, Air, U2, R.E.M., Pavement, Roger Waters and Arcade Fire.
And, in case anyone needs it, here’s a brief summary of Paul McCartney, up until this point. “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard” was Paul McCartney’s 19th solo album, having released eight albums with Wings and 13 albums with The Beatles. On this album, Paul McCartney plays the following instruments: piano, electric piano, Baldwin spinet, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, classical guitar, drums, drum machine , violin, maracas, tambourine, flugelhorn, güiro, acoustic guitar loops, cello, vibrachimes, B3 organ, tambourine on snare, melodica, recorders, tubular bells, 12 string guitar, autoharp, harmonium, gong, triangle, toy glockenspiel, percussion, woodblock, moog synthesizer. He was Paul McCartney; he had been in The Beatles; he could write songs; he could play any musical instrument.
When he was asked to produce “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard”, Nigel Godrich recalled that “My initial reaction was one of terror, not only because it’s a very important person, but I really wasn’t sure how willing he would be to get his hands dirty”. He defined his job as to “make him make a record that I would want to listen to. I had to be a mild fascist and focus on his strengths. I think he’s very talented but I think he had lost some focus and maybe wasn’t being told the truth by people around him. “
Paul McCartney, talking in 2013, said this about Nigel Goodrich. “On purpose he was not deferring to me, in order to draw something out. I don’t mind people not deferring to me but at the same time I was bringing in something that I thought was pretty good. When he didn’t like it, that’s like being shunned, a sort of rejection and it’s not easy to take.” In another interview, he acknowledged that he can be “a bossy old buggar”. Whilst The Beatles existed, “it sort of fell to me a bit more to take charge”. After The Beatles split, he worked with a number of producers but “it’s been me very much at the helm. I’ll be working on something and a producer or someone will tell me it’s not good enough. That’s when my back goes up. It’s hard for people to stand up to me like that, it’s all too easy for me to say, “piss of, it’s my record. I’ll do what I like. I’ll make as many mistakes as I like I think it’s good enough and I’m better than you. I’d sooner not play the ‘I’m Paul McCartney’ card, but it does happen.”
Bearing all this in mind, I am full of admiration for Nigel Godrich and how he achieved such a brilliant album by being brave enough to challenge Paul McCartney, without being told to “piss off, it’s my record“. In the YouTube clip for “How Kind Of You”, it’s apparent that there is a huge amount of mutual respect between the artist and producer. Nigel Godrich is shown fading tape loops of chords in and out as Paul McCartney sings the song. Occasionally we can see them exchanging glances which betray their appreciation of the strengths of each other.
The opening lines of “Too Much Rain” are “Laugh when your eyes are burning. Smile when your heart is filled with pain”. One of Paul McCartney’s favourite songs was “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin which he wrote for the film, “Modern Times”. The idea of putting a positive face to the world, regardless of what is going on behind the façade, is one that appealed to Paul McCartney. In contrast to a sunny disposition are the negative connotations associated with rain. Paul McCartney acknowledges that most of us have a certain amount of misfortune (“rain”) in our lives but “it’s not fair that some people should have so much to cope with when the rest of us have so much to be grateful for.” He has said that he was never encouraged to show his feelings as a boy, growing up in the Fifties. “We were just too busy trying to be macho, and we didn’t realise that it might make you a tad thoughtless, sometimes.” He says that, over time, he has learned to express his feelings, mainly through his music and he hopes that he has been able to provide healing for other people. “I’d like to think that some of my songs have made people feel something that they did not know was even there.”
As well as being a bird that Paul McCartney thought about when he went for a solitary trip to a canyon near Los Angeles, “Jenny Wren” is a character from Charles Dicken’s novel, “Our Mutual Friend”. Despite her poor physical health, she cares for her family and her “pleasant fancies of flowers, bird song, numbers of blessed, white-clad children” allow her to treat life with good humour and optimism. In Paul McCartney’s mind, he remembered that Jenny Wren was also a nickname given to Jenny Lind who was a Swedish opera singer. He created a story in which Jenny Wren stopped singing as a form of protest after “she has seen our foolish ways and the way we cast love aside.” In the song she is looking forward to the day when “this broken world mends its foolish ways.” Paul McCartney remembers that hearing a song from a little bird when he was in Liverpool gave him hope and made him feel happy. “But now I’m the guy saying ‘Look things aren’t always that bad’. It gives me somewhere to go in a song and it also gives me somewhere that I’d like to be. This is really like the Charlie Chaplin song, “Smile”. It’s OSS – Optimistic Song Syndrome.”
“Fine Line” is the opening song on the album and, as a single, it reached Number 20 in the UK Charts. He hasn’t had a Top 20 hit since. It’s a dazzling, pacy song built on a hammering piano riff. It’s the type of pop song that Paul McCartney seems able to construct at will.
Paul McCartney has written a number of songs about birds. “Long Tailed Winter Bird” is the opening track on “McCartney III“; “Bluebird” is from “Band On The Run”; “Blackbird” is on “The Beatles“; The Great Cock And Seagull Race” is on the box set of “Ram“; he never recorded “On The Wings Of A Nightingale” but gave it to The Everly Brothers. Finally, he named his band, Wings.
Here is a one hour video of Paul McCartney playing a range of songs, including several from the album.
3:19 Friends To Go
7:26 How Kind Of You
13:01 Band On The Run pre-production
16:24 Band On The Run
18:46 In Spite Of All The Danger
22:24 Twenty Flight Rock
24:30 Lady Madonna
29:23 English Tea
32:48 Heartbreak Hotel
34:38 To Abbey Road (improvised song)
36:22 Strawberry Fields Forever (intro only)
39:15 Jenny Wren
43:05 I’ve Got A Feeling
50:56 That’s All For Now/Blue Suede Shoes pre-production (looping)
56:25 That’s All for Now (improvised song)
58:03 Blue Suede Shoes