[Review] Paul McCartney: Press To Play (1986)

Paul’s best album in years. Also, his only album in years. Macca strikes a modern sound, Phil Collins lurks suspiciously in the background.

Kronomyth 16.0: A refreshing pause.

“God knows what happened, but by the time it was finished there were four producers involved and they’d messed up those songs, like ‘Angry,’ totally changed them, a great song called ‘Stranglehold,’ which was a beautiful song we’d written together, buggered it all up with blipping saxes going all the way through the verses.” – Eric Stewart, recalling the magic of making Press To Play in a 2017 interview.

With producer Hugh Padgham (Phil Collins, The Police, XTC, etc.) to give his music a tug in the right (read: modern) direction, Paul released his best album in several years, Press To Play. Unfortunately, after two mediocre records (Pipes, Broadstreet), people weren’t buying the idea of a new Paul McCartney album. It had been almost three years since his last album of new material, and while Paul clearly hadn’t spent all of that time writing songs (one can only assume he wrote the title track for “Spies Like Us” on the ride over to pick up the check), the fact that the three original CD bonus tracks were anything but filler suggests that Paul was still very much alive.

The opening pair, “Stranglehold” and “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun,” are classic McCartney, and the arguably overproduced “Press” is still a personal favorite of mine. Paul has always been the most forward-looking of The Beatles, and the decision to adopt an edgy, modern sound on Press To Play is gimmicky to the point of distraction sometimes (“Talk More Talk,” “Pretty Little Head,” “Angry”). Better left to Andy Partridge and XTC, I say, though leftover relics like “Move Over Busker” reveal that living in the past wasn’t an option either.

Honestly, the ten elpee tracks themselves are slightly underwhelming on their own; it’s the three “bonus” tracks that push Play into the context of a comeback. “It’s Not True,” originally pressed into service as a B side, “Write Away” and “Tough On A Tightrope” are the sort of smart and winning songs that bolstered many a McCartney album in the past, and it’s here especially that Paul makes a last, favorable impression. The 1993 remaster brings more of Play’s mechanical habits to the fore and includes a pair of bonus tracks that manage to add nothing.

Original LP Version

A1. Stranglehold (Paul McCartney) (3:35)
A2. Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun (Paul McCartney)
A3. Talk More Talk (Paul McCartney) (5:17)
A4. Footprints (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (4:31)
A5. Only Love Remains (Paul McCartney) (4:12)
B1. Press (Paul McCartney) (4:42)
B2. Pretty Little Head (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (5:12)
B3. Move Over Busker (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (4:04)
B4. Angry (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (3:35)
B5. However Absurd (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (4:55)

Original CD bonus tracks
11. Write Away (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (2:59)
12. It’s Not True (Paul McCartney) (5:52)
13. Tough On A Tightrope (Paul McCartney/Eric Stewart) (4:42)

CD reissue bonus tracks
14. Spies Like Us (4:45)
15. Once Upon A Long Ago (long version) (4:37)

The Players

Paul McCartney with Carlos Alomar, Gary Barnacle, John Bradbury, Simon Chamberlain, Phil Collins, Ray Cooper, Anne Dudley (orchestra arrangement on B5), Nick Glennie-Smith, John Hammel (spoken word), Matt Howe (spoken word), Ruby James (harmonies), Eddie Klein (spoken word), Jerry Marotta, James McCartney (spoken word on A3), Linda McCartney (harmonies, spoken word), Dick Morrissey, Lennie Pickett, Eddie Rayner, Kate Robbins (harmonies), Eric Stewart (special contribution, harmonies), Pete Townshend, Tony Visonti (orchestra arrangement on A5), Graham Ward, Gavin Wright. Produced by Paul McCartney and Hugh Padgham; engineered by High Padghma, Steve Jackson; additional engineering by Haydn bendall, Matt Butler, Tony Clark, John Hammel, Matt Howe, Trevor Jones, Jon Kelly, Eddie Klein, Peter Mew; mixing by Hugh Padgham, Bert Bevans (B1), Steve Forward (B1), Julian Mendelsohn (12).

The Pictures

Photography by George Hurrell. Illustrations by Paul McCartney.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on September 19, 1986 in the UK (Parlophone, PSCD/TCPCSD 103), the US (Capitol, PJAS 12475), Argentina (EMI, 58453/68453), Australia and Germany (Parlophone, PCSO 240598), Brazil (EMI/Odeon, C-066 240598), Colombia (EMI, 111076), Japan (EMI, EPS-91180), Mexico (EMI, SLEM-1408), the Netherlands (EMI, 062 240598-1) and Yugoslavia (Jugoton, LSPAR 11160) with gatefold cover and lyrics innersleeve; reached #8 on the UK charts and #30 on the US charts. Also released on expanded compact disc on September 19, 1986 in the UK and the US (Capitol/Parlophone, CDP 7 46269) and Japan (EMI, CP32-5156) with 3 bonus tracks.

  1. Re-released on extra-expanded, remastered compact disc in August 1993 in the UK (MPL, CDMCOL 15) and the Netherlands (MPL/Parlophone, 89269-2) with 2 extra bonus tracks.
  2. Re-issued on extra-expanded, remastered compact disc on September 30, 2002 in Japan (EMI Toshiba, TOCP-65516) with 2 extra bonus tracks.

1 thought on “[Review] Paul McCartney: Press To Play (1986)

  1. In an earlier review, you suggested that perhaps Paul wrote the theme to Spies Like Us on the way to pick up the check for writing it. Horrible song, indeed.

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