Paul McCartney’s “Press To Play” Disaster! A Critical Re-examination!

“My Body Needs Attention My Mind Is In A Mess,
Oklahoma Was Never Like This.”

Paul McCartney Press song

30 years ago, Paul and Linda released this album…

Those Lyrics Say It All!

“Oklahoma was never like this” – OK then! And look at Paul in this studio photo: McCartney almost seems resigned to the disaster that was his album “Press To Play” – and why not? Here is what he said about the album at the time:

“When we started working on the record, Hugh came in one day and said he’d had a dream,” McCartney recalled when he visited New York in 1986. “He dreamed he woke up one morning and had made this really bad, syrupy album with me, an album he hated, and that it had blown his whole career. We took that as a little warning”.

paul-mccartney-press-to-play


Hugh’s Nightmare!

The “Hugh” that McCartney mentioned was Hugh Padgham, the Music Producer famous for recording with Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Genesis, The Human League, The Police, and XTC – and he produced Paul McCartney’s solo album “Press To Play”…and as for his other celebrity Musicians, Phil Collins would be joined on “Press To Play” by Pete Townsend, raising the stakes even higher!

hugh_padgham press to play

What’s Up With “Press To Play?”

So what went wrong? Paul McCartney teams up with a big hit Producer, celebrity Musicians join in…and it results in one of the most neglected of all of Macca’s albums!

Just HOW bad is “Press To Play?” Or is it just another of those McCartney albums that critics had their knives out for? Time for a critical re-examination!

First, let’s set the stage in the world of Macca:

Paul McCartney Tug Of War

At this point in the mid-1980’s, McCartney was coming off of two BIG hit albums: 1982’s “Tug Of War” and “Pipes Of Peace” in 1983.

Paul McCartney Pipes Of Peace

In 1984, McCartney made a movie, and released a soundtrack for – the critically panned effort “Give My Regards To Broad Street.” The film co-starred Ringo Starr, and the soundtrack album sold well, but the reviews were harsh…

As Roger Ebert said in his review:

“I think you can safely skip the movie and proceed directly to the sound track.”

Give My Regards To Broad Street

Time To “Press” On!

McCartney released music on a regular basis throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s, and so he pressed on from “Broad Street”, and began recording “Press to Play” in early 1985. In a bit of a twist, he co-wrote six of the songs with 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart, and it was in the early part of recording the album that he uttered his prescient comment:


“When we started working on the record, Hugh came in one day and said he’d had a dream,” McCartney recalled when he visited New York in 1986. “He dreamed he woke up one morning and had made this really bad, syrupy album with me, an album he hated, and that it had blown his whole career. We took that as a little warning”.

Did this nightmare come true? Is “Press To Play” a “bad, syrupy album?”

Press to Play album Paul McCartney

Perhaps the first warning sign came when the recording sessions lasted until the end of the year, with only one song from the recording sessions released – a song not even used on the album:

paul-mccartney-spies-like-us-parlophone

McCartney “Spies” A Movie!

“Spies Like Us” was recorded during the “Press” sessions, but wasn’t included on the finished album. Instead, it was released as a single, as well as the title track for the limp Chevy Chase / Dan Ackroyd comedy of the same name – but even though the movie bombed, the song was a top 10 hit, setting the stage for the release of “Press to Play” in 1986.

Paul McCartney Press song

Time To “Play” Some “Press!”

So here is what was finally released – ten songs that form the basis of “Press To Play.”

paul-mccartney-press-to-play

Like previous McCartney solo albums, it’s a beautifully produced album, with mid-tempo rockers, ballad and some experimental tracks as well, with the cover evoking a classic 40’s Hollywood picture of Paul and Linda.

Let’s begin by listening to the first song on the album:

Paul-McCartney-Stranglehold


“Stranglehold”!

Paul comes out rocking, with a tight, joyous song that has energy and rebellion and a catchy hook.

Here is the music video:

Paul McCartney Press To Play album review

First of all, that’s a fairly raucous music video for what is a classic Macca rocker – but it was the type of song he hadn’t been releasing much at the time…his previous big hits were pop-flavored, like “Say Say Say” and “Ebony & Ivory.”

“Good Times Coming / Feel The Sun”

Next up is a calypso bit called “Good Times Coming”, which segues into the catchy pop song “Feel The Sun.” Both songs last just over a minute or two, held together in an “Abbey Road” way. A nice “combo” that led into a song that is much derided:

Press to play album

“Talk More Talk”

“Talk” is a quirky song with spoken word passages and sound effects placed throughout…some fans hate this song, but I love the offbeat lyrics.

“Digital organ, finishing stretch
Instrumentation, analogGretsch
Not quite a thousand, lower than that
Possible bargain for listening at that

Talk, more talk, chat, more chat
Words of a feather are worn in a hat
Talk, more talk, chat, more chat
I’m happy to do it for you”

paul-mccartney-mini-cd-press-to-play-25.gif

“Footprints”

“Footprints” is a nice, melodic tune that evokes the story telling of “Eleanor Rigby”:

It’s Beautiful Outside, An Old Hand Gathers Wood,
Can He See Me Sitting Here? His Mind Is Somewhere Else.
His Friend Have Flown Away, He’s Left Out In The Cold.
He Won’t Sit By My Fire, He Says He Likes It In The Snow.
Where Footprints Never Go, He Likes It In The Snow.

paul mccartney only love remains

“Only Love Remains”

This is a classic McCartney love song, performed here with a simple piano..

Here is the video:

If anything, you can make the case that this is a slightly derivative song for Paul, a minor love song, but he comes right back with the first single from the album:

“Press”

“Press”, a slick up-tempo pop song, was released in July 1986 and went on to become the album’s sole top 30 hit.

Here is the music video:

Paul mccartney press album

This song is certainly as catchy as “Silly Love Songs”, a playful song that is easy to sing along to – but it barely registered on the charts, and nothing else from the album charted at all.

And as for the lyrics:

“Right There, That’s It. Yes. When You Feel The Stress
Don’t Just Stand There, Tell Me To Press.

You Can Give Me What I Want I Must Confess,
My Body Needs Attention My Mind Is In A Mess,
Oklahoma Was Never Like This.
Never Like This, It Was Never Like This,
Ever Like This, Say Was It Ever Like This?
Oklahoma Was Never Like This.
It Was Never Like This …”

If anyone has any idea why “Oklahoma was never like this”, please let me know!

The next three songs on the album – “Pretty Little Head”, “Move Over Busker” and “Angry” are album tracks, nothing offensive, but not memorable…

Paul McCartney However Absurd

“However Absurd”

The final song on the album is a bit of “Beatles” whimsy circa “Magical Mystery Tour”, a catchy song that finishes in a orchestrated crescendo that evokes “I Am The Walrus!”

Overall, “Press To Play” is an album full of catchy songs, nice production and the usual albums tracks that are fine if not memorable…

worst paul mccartney albums

The “Press To Play” Reaction!

The album came out and crashed almost immediately, peaking at number 8 in the UK, while in the US, it failed to go gold, peaking at number 30 and selling only 250,000 copies!

McCartney with Phil Collins and Pete Townsend

The Reviews Were In…

Even with Phil Collins and Pete Townsend sitting in on some songs, the reviews were unkind.

AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine admired the track “Press”, but gave the album a star rating of 2.5 out of 5, saying:

“McCartney is dabbling in each of his strengths, just to see what works. It doesn’t wind up as one of his stronger albums, but it’s more interesting than some of his more consistent ones, and those aforementioned cuts demonstrate that he could still cut effective pop records when he put his mind to it.”

However, the Los Angeles Times praised “Press” as:

“a sprightly, sunny delight – one of the most playful, positive pop songs ever written about the joy of sex and its link with love”, but finished by concluding that overall the album was “basically just another in a long line (over 12 years!) of post-‘Band on the Run’ letdowns by a once almost unimaginably creative artist.”

Paul McCartney Press To Play album review

Ouch! Is it really that big a letdown? By the way, as you can see from this re-issue, McCartney added three additional songs: “Write Away”, “It’s Not True” and “Tough On A Tightrope”, which are all nice album tracks. In general, I think “Press To Play” holds up well in the catalogue of Macca’s 80’s albums, certainly better than “Pipes Of Peace”…

Paul McCartney Press

More recently, Kit O’Toole of Blogcritics has contended that much of the album belongs among McCartney’s “most ambitious work” and that the adventurousness of the project is unfairly overlooked. O’Toole adds:

“Press to Play, along with McCartney II, arguably laid the foundation for his future musical experiments under the name The Fireman (particularly the first two albums, Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest and Rushes).”

So let’s take a amount to give “Press To Play” another listen, and appreciate that Macca kept releasing a steady stream of music, some terrific, and some just a nice friend to have around…

Here’s a look at another album that was much maligned upon release:

Wings-Back-To-The-Egg-175677

The Cracked “Egg!”

It was Wings final album, and was dismissed at the time, but this is a great collection of songs..read all about it here – and see the live “Rockestra Theme!”:

https://johnrieber.com/2015/09/30/paul-mccartneys-cracked-back-to-the-egg-the-all-star-rockestra-band-a-musical-farewell-to-wings/

Some of McCartney’s best songs were never released on his albums…just as “Spies Like Us” was a “Press To Play” recording, here are some of McCartney’s best “non-album” releases:


https://johnrieber.com/2015/09/12/paul-mccartneys-cold-cuts-classic-macca-one-beatles-legendary-single-gems/

And here is another terrific McCartney solo album, “Ram 2”:

Red_Rose_Speedway

Yes, some of the songs on “Red Rose Speedway” were recorded during the “RAM” sessions – read all about the double album that never was by clicking here:

https://johnrieber.com/2015/08/21/paul-mccartneys-brilliant-ram-2-wings-soar-with-red-rose-speedway/

And of course, McCartney’s greatest work is “RAM”:

paul-mccartney-ram

Read all about his greatest solo achievement, recorded in the midst of a heated battle with John Lennon:


https://johnrieber.com/2012/08/20/macca-ram-on-paul-mccartneys-masterpiece-john-lennons-fury-a-beatles-c-c-c-catfight/

Leave a message and let me know what you think of “Press To Play!”

paul-mccartney-press-to-play



Categories: 70's Music, Art, Awards, Books / Media, Classic Rock, London, Memoirs, Music, Obscure Music, Talent/Celebrities, The Beatles, Uncategorized

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14 replies

  1. “Oklahoma was never like this”…it was a musical, indeed the first made by, I guess, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Vide https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma!

  2. ‘If anyone has any idea why “Oklahoma was never like this”, please let me know!’

    Everybody seems puzzled by this. I always thought it was an allusion to The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy over the rainbow says ‘I guess we’re not in Kansas any more’ – in other words, he’s in love and in a different wonderland. Why Oklahoma? I think: because it picks up the echo of neighbouring Kansas, as above (and there is a town of Kansas in Oklahoma); because of the scansion and the sound; and because – this being Macca – ‘Oklahoma’ is a famous song and musical. So a combination of intention and word-association.
    Well, that’s a theory anyway!

  3. Press is a great album and I can’t understand the hate for it, even Macca seems to ignore it. You mention, Pretty Little Head as nothing special – man this is a superb track, very original and yes way out there. This track with some tinkering could fit nicely on Electric Arguments. Personally I’m glad Spies like us was left off, as that to me is a bad song with no meat on its musical bones. In my opinion Press is far better than Pipes of Peace which truly is Paul’s worse, most saccharine album. I have no doubt that one day Press will be recognised as a classic album

    • Did I not like “PLH?” Maybe I just moved past it, but I like it a lot and it does have a Fireman vibe to it…didn’t mean to suggest otherwise…in fact, my whole story was an attempt to remind people that it deserves more…you are right, Paul virtually ignores it, except for the recent compilation he released

  4. Press to Play is my least favorite McCartney album to date. Only one song on that album does anything for me, and that is “Angry”.

  5. Press to Play was a victim of Macca’s image at the time rather than a lack of quality, and the inclusion of Phil Collins shouts, ‘MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.’ I’m a huge fan and I think this is one of Macca’s best 80’s albums, certainly superior to the dreadful Pipes of Peace. Talk more Talk and Pretty Little Head are classic tracks that will one day be recognised.

  6. For me, press to play is one of the best macca’s albuns. Great songs! I love this album.

Trackbacks

  1. Paul McCartney Meets Elvis Costello! Raucous Macca Ensues On “Flowers In The Dirt!” – johnrieber
  2. “Pipes Of Peace!” Paul McCartney’s Rap! Ringo’s Drumming! Misunderstood Classic Or “Tug” Leftovers? – johnrieber

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