Number Ones: #80


  • PAUL McCARTNEY Press (Parlophone)
  • Week Ending 16th August 1986
  • 1 Week At #1


The apex of McCartney’s jovial, “wacky Macca thumbs aloft” persona – gently mocked at the time – was probably this record, the lead single from his upcoming solo album Press To Play.

Like many of his peers, he was enthusiastically experimenting with all the new-fangled studio wizardy that was available, but like many of his peers he was finding that the critics (and the public to a certain degree) were not quite as enthusiastically embracing the results.

Press To Play is his Never Let Me Down, or his Dog Eat Dog. It’s playful and fun, without ever being quite as dumb as the Spies Like Us soundtrack song (“Ooh Ooh, whaddya do, no one else can dance like you” indeed). Perhaps its biggest mistake was the choice of sleeve artwork; a Thirties-style box-camera portrait of Paul and Linda taken by Hollywood legend George Hurrell that suggested a very different album to the one inside its cover.

Press, the single, had McCartney’s “stereo drawing” of the track on its sleeve; one of ten that featured inside the gatefold album itself (one for every song) – a neat, visually striking concept that matched the upbeat, inventive vibe of the music. In an echo of the situation he found himself in with The Beatles (there, I eventually mentioned them) during the second half of the 1960s, a studio-bound Macca – unwilling to tour in the wake of Lennon’s murder – took to opening up his box of tricks and indulging his imagination.

Of course, nobody is suggesting that Press To Play was on a par with Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, but it was arguably the last time McCartney sounded so at ease with himself, and keen to take artistic chances, rather than worrying about his legacy, or trying to make music that evoked his iconic past, or most depressingly of all, attempting to be down with the kids and seeking their approval.

It still had its Glass Spider moments of cack-handed hilarity; the bizarre monologues in Talk More Talk (musically a close relative of Press), and Footprints‘ clumsy vignette of a reclusive old man in a wintery hideout, but Pretty Little Head was also quite extraordinary in making Paul McCartney sound nothing like Paul McCartney. Its heavily treated, cod-tribal vocal refrains about Hillmen coming down from the mountains, and its “Ursa Major, Ursa Minor” hookline, were absolute nonsense yet it somehow worked.

Until someone decided it was the perfect second single from the album, albeit in an amended form to make Macca’s voice more recognisable in the mix , and it promptly peaked at #76. Only Love Remains, the one Press To Play track to really sound like typical, classic McCartney, was wheeled out to try and save the campaign but the damage had been done.

Unfortunately the critical backlash and commercial failure which followed Press To Play, coupled with the panning of his 1984 film Give My Regards To Broad Street, deterred him from continuing this rich-and-famous-rock-star-has-fun-in-the-studio approach. The much-anticipated arrival of The Beatles’ catalogue on Compact Disc in early 1987 also brought his past into renewed focus, and the spectre of Heritage Rock began to hover over all of his contemporaries (Dylan, The Stones, Neil Young).

McCartney got serious again, adding the studied, Wings-like wonder of Once Upon A Long Ago to a Greatest Hits package All The Best! in late 1987, revisiting his earliest Rock & Roll roots with the covers album Choba CCCP, before teaming up with Elvis Costello and Trevor Horn to painstakingly restore his credibility via the Flowers In The Dirt album.

Nothing wrong with that, and much of Flowers In The Dirt was excellent, but there were no more colourful studio drawings, no breezy videos on the London Underground, no naff missteps or odd sonic adventures. It wasn’t as much fun, basically.

Oaklahoma was never like this.


  1. Great post EG, totally agree, bar Macca still did experiment but more underground, Ou est le Soleil, Party Party spring to mind. Have you read the Unknown Paul McCartney by Ian Peel? Pretty Little Head is magnificent. Blaahh


    • Oh good shout, re: Ou Est Le Soleil! I forgot that’s at the end of Flowers In The Dirt. I also love the Flowers-era B-sides. It just felt like a change in direction, or focus, for Macca, after Press To Play. He was always being accused of frittering away his talents and mucking around with sub-standard material in the 70s and 80s, so I suppose eventually he just said “right, I’ll show them”.


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