PAUL McCARTNEY Press To Play (1986)

paul-mccartney-press-to-play-580x580Press To Play (1986)
Paul The Collaborator

I’ve been threatening to post this for years. It’s not among the best-selling of Paul McCartney’s albums, but I’ve always felt that some of the music on Press To Play ranks with his best post-70s work. There are a few outside factors at play here. One is 10cc’s Eric Stewart, who has a hand in the production and in co-composing 8 of the album’s 13 songs. More important to the overall sound and feel of Press To Play, however, is producer Hugh Padgham – best known for his work with Genesis & The Police (Ghost In The Machine). Padgham’s drum sound has a powerful, rhythmic emphasis, one that helped to propel Phil Collins to the top of the charts, anyway (this, being a year after No Jacket Required). As a result, this fresh, radio-ready mindset (80s radio-ready mindset, mind you) brings a new dimension to McCartney’s work, even a rare abdication of his own production authority. It’s the main reason Press To Play sounds different from any other McCartney album. Not radically enough to scare anyone off, but it’s noticeable enough to aficionados. A lot of the music itself is playful, spontaneous and inventive, though, like nearly all of McCartney LPs, it needs to be trimmed of fat. Side One sets the stage. Three rhythmic excursions, kicked off by a rockabilly variation, all capped by the gorgeous “Footprints” and the popular, “Only Love Remains.” Since the demise of Wings, McCartney has been his most interesting when he lets go of the control reins a little and collaborates, something I wish he’d do a little more often (e.g. Electric Arguments). I’m learning from comments that Press To Play wasn’t as universally disliked as my memory chip suggests I’m remembering. Maybe it’s been re-evaluated since I last sat around and talked about it, in a previous century. So, here it is for those still on the fence. Besides… Dave hasn’t heard it yet. Amazon’s got it, HERE.

Stranglehold (3:36)
Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun (4:57)
Talk More Talk (5:18)
Footprints (4:32)
Only Love Remains (4:16)
Press (4:43)
Pretty Little Head (5:14)
Move Over Busker (4:05)
Angry (3:36)
However Absurd (4:59)
Write Away (3:01) – Bonus Track
It’s Not True (5:53) – Bonus Track
Tough On A Tightrope (4:42) – Bonus Track


  • Willard
    July 26, 2011 - 10:55 | Permalink

    Search HERE

  • July 26, 2011 - 11:50 | Permalink

    While I don’t listen to it that much, I still like this album. It’s not among his best, but it’s not among his worst either. And as I hint in my review, “Only Love Remains” fulfills his obligation to have at least one song on every album that absolutely floors me.

    • Willard
      July 26, 2011 - 12:19 | Permalink

      Hey Wardo,
      Personally speaking – and I’m in the minority here – I’m not the biggest fan of his epic love songs. I can hear the quality in “Only Love Remains,” but its style is less interesting to me than other things he does. Tunes like “My Love,” “Let It Be” and others have always had a short shelf life for me. But… as I said, those are my tastes. Which is why I was so drawn to “Footprints,” which (probably because of co-composer Eric Stewart) is a different kind of McCartney ballad. Certainly MOR, but with more style and taste. I’ve always thought that people liked Paul McCartney albums for a couple of different reasons, but not necessarily for the same reasons. So, a consensus on his songs’ merits isn’t always agreeable, or maybe even possible.

      • July 27, 2011 - 07:37 | Permalink

        “So, a consensus on his songs’ merits isn’t always agreeable, or maybe even possible.”

        Very, very true.

  • Sean
    July 26, 2011 - 14:29 | Permalink

    I thought it was dreadful when it came out. Maybe it is time for another listen? I had liked the new tracks on Broad Street and even (at the time) like “Spies Like Us” so this was a big let down. I was ready to call it a day on him and even put together a solo career-spanning mix at the time. A mix that I would soon have to modify to try to find room for the “Flowers in the Dirt” tracks.

    • Willard
      July 26, 2011 - 14:43 | Permalink

      Now that’s the kind of disinterest I remember people having for this album.

      But… “Spies Like Us?” (shudder) (… it’s all relative… it’s all relative… it’s all relative…)

  • Dave
    July 26, 2011 - 15:01 | Permalink

    You do me honor, Captain!

    Long day today, won’t be home till late tonight. Looking forward to DLing this, pop open a beer, 45 minutes or so of mindlessly tagging a portion of my library, and see just how bad/good it is. I’ll let you know!

  • July 26, 2011 - 16:47 | Permalink

    I listened to “Stranglehold” all the way through and it definitely has a “sound” of it’s own. A factor in getting to the end, besides the obvious good qualities, was the mystification I felt that someone, somewhere, thought that “sound” was good. I believe Hugh Padgham is also responsible for the offputting production of XTC’s iffiest album, “The Big Express”.

    • Willard
      July 26, 2011 - 17:20 | Permalink

      I may have been put off by “Stranglehold” the first time, too. I learned to love its nuanced and distinct stereo separation, however. Paulie even drew a bunch of stereo separation pictures for the album’s artwork, so it was obviously some sort of priority.

    • July 27, 2011 - 09:48 | Permalink

      Didn’t Hugh Padham produce “English Settlement”, not “Big Express” for XTC?

  • Willard
    July 26, 2011 - 17:22 | Permalink

    I neglected to mention in the post… don’t forget the pot.

  • Art Ducko
    July 27, 2011 - 00:49 | Permalink

    Thanks, Cappy. Don’t forget what?

  • Art Ducko
    July 27, 2011 - 02:53 | Permalink


    And might I put in a plug for one of my favorite Paulie albums, ‘Run Devil Run’ which seemed to be slightly under the radar at the time, even though it got favorable reviews. This came out after Linda’s passing, & the sadness shows, but it’s a great little rocking thing all its own.

    • Willard
      July 27, 2011 - 03:14 | Permalink

      McCartney’s work has been surprisingly strong since the last century. Starting with Flaming Pie and Run Devil Run, there’s been a higher quality to his work. I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on the differences, but it’s surely no coincidence that it started around the time of Linda’s illness and death. There was a very subtle shift in his seriousness and tone, and his music of the last dozen years has been quietly touched.

  • July 27, 2011 - 09:52 | Permalink

    Thx as ever for sharing! I always thought side 1 of this album was stellar and side 2 forgettable. Looking forward to listening again.

    • Willard
      July 27, 2011 - 11:13 | Permalink

      That’s kinda been my unofficial take, too.

  • July 27, 2011 - 11:12 | Permalink

    The production on “Stranglehold” is actually quite inventive. The arrangement and pacing is exciting, and Paul is in fine form. The sounds are horrendously odd. I will probably nab it anyway. And my apologies to Hugh Padgham, for incorrectly attributing to him David Lord’s work.
    I have nothing bad to say about “English Settlement”.

  • July 27, 2011 - 11:13 | Permalink

    I agree that most of PM’s output since “Flaming Pie” has been top notch. I think one reason might be that Paul now uses his concerts as commercial vehicles and follows his muse on his records (which seem to sell fewer and fewer copies).


  • Willard
    July 27, 2011 - 11:30 | Permalink

    You might be right. His albums in this time period have been decidedly non-commercial, though… not alienating, and it IS almost like he’s leaving his crowd-pleasing obsessions on the stage.

  • Michael Hockinson
    July 28, 2011 - 10:24 | Permalink

    I may be in the minority here but I really liked the single, “Press” – the rest of the album hasn’t aged very well. For a sobering account of the making of “Press To Play” check out “Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney” by Howard Sounes, pp. 397-406 (“Pressing On”). Messrs. Stewart and Padgham relate very unhappy memories of the sessions.

    Agree with Mr Ducko about “Run Devil Run” – an excellent album. As for “Broad Street,” I could never take Macca’s comments about Spector’s version on “Let It Be” serious again after hearing his excreable remake of “The Long and Winding Road.”

    • Willard
      July 28, 2011 - 10:27 | Permalink

      Interesting. Is there anything you can remember from the book that you can relate here?

  • Ian of Cornwall
    July 28, 2011 - 12:35 | Permalink

    Hi, Willard. Think I had it on cassette n thought it was rubbish. I enjoyed Tug of War & Pipes of Peace & possibly Broadstreet – maybe a refresher is needed on that too. But after reading everyone’s comments I feel obliged to give it another go. Cheers! Peace.

    • Willard
      July 28, 2011 - 13:33 | Permalink

      Rubbish… that’s the talk I remember. We’ve got those sound players there for a refresher, if you need it.
      I don’t think I ever listened to Broad Street more than twice.
      Should I?

  • Michael Hockinson
    July 29, 2011 - 11:46 | Permalink

    (From “Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney,” page 399):

    “At first Eric (Stewart) had been delighted with the songs he and Paul had written at Waterfall, songs which came easily and sounded fresh to his ears. Then he started to have misgivings about the quality of the tunes. ‘I thought, Are they really good enough. Are they finished? I always thought when we get them in the studio we’ll finish them, but as we got in the studio and we started to record, I said, “This is not good.”‘ One day Eric clicked the talk-back button and said: ‘Paul, that vocal’s not right.’
    Paul asked Hugh Padgham his opinion, ‘Well, it’s OK, but I’m a sound man, Eric’s the musician.’
    ‘But what do you think?’
    Hugh agreed with Eric. Privately, Hugh had been worried that the material was on the weak side, but assumed an artist of Paul’s stature, working in tandem with someone as experienced as Eric, would improve the songs in the studio. Unfortunately, this wasn’t happening. ‘I don’t think it’s good enough,’ he said, suggesting some more writing might be required. Paul’s response shocked both Hugh and Eric.
    ‘Hugh, when did you write your last number one?’ McCartney asked, nastily.
    As Padgham says, ‘That one was a real kick in the balls, which you don’t forget.’

    (About a week after this incident, Eric left the project.)

    (Page 406):

    When Eric Stewart received (‘Press To Play’), he felt he knew why it had failed. Fragments of their original collaboration were audible, in songs like ‘Angry’ and ‘Footprints’, but the simplicity of the demos was buried under 18 months of overdubs, with the result that ‘the album became meaningless’. Eric wished he’d been strong enough to stand up to Paul when he’d snapped at Hugh Padgham in the studio; ‘When did you write your last number one?’ That was the key moment. John Lennon would have challenged Paul and resolved the problem; George Martin could have stood up to the star; but Eric had been cowed by Paul’s status as a former Beatle, a legacy so enormous it inhibited both the star and those around him. ‘Where do you go from there?’ asks Eric rhetorically. ‘What can you achieve from there?’

    • Willard
      July 29, 2011 - 12:09 | Permalink

      Fantastic. Thanks for that.

  • Leon
    July 29, 2011 - 21:37 | Permalink

    Yes! I’m so glad you posted this. I recently read an impassioned piece that placed this particular album in the unlikely spot of this writer’s desert island discs. The reason was mainly that it hit him at a certain moment in life where it meant a lot, so it carries extra weight that way.

    Anyway, I got it on vinyl from my local record shop and sure enough, the thing is darn fine!

    And now I can listen to it on my iPod now too, thanks to you. Thanks Willard!

  • Anonymous
    July 30, 2011 - 17:27 | Permalink

    This was a big album for me back in the day, even though I already saw it as a guilty pleasure at the time – probably didn’t hurt that I lost my virginity the week it came out. Spent alot of time listening to “However Absurd”, in particular, which I saw as an even better John Lennon parody than “Let Me Roll It”, perhaps because it sounds like it had already been rolled and smoked by the time of Absurd. The pure Lennon vocal melisma in the “With our han-ah-ah-ah-ah-ands on our ears” always jazzed me. Also considered “Pretty Little Head” sub-Gabrielesque, the same summer “So” was making Peter Gabriel enough cash to do as he pleased with African musicians for another 5 years (and, I suppose, also as Graceland was earning Paul SImon the same). Stranglehold still puts me in an alleyway that led to my girlfriends apartment with my walknan on and a big fro spilling out of my hat in the summer of ’86, though. I recall wishing that Pete Townshend had been given a better song to work on than “Angry”, though. Also fond memories of coming down with a gentle snowstorm falling outside my university res,. while Footprints played that winter. Good times coming in. Have sevreal CD versions, of course, but still happy to see it find a champion here online.

    Colin H, Cambridge, ON, Canada

    • Willard
      February 3, 2013 - 14:52 | Permalink

      I know it’s been awhile, but nice comment.

  • greggery
    March 23, 2013 - 17:50 | Permalink

    Just revisited this hoping it’d be available again now – any chance of a re-up please? I can’t believe someone said this was rubbish! Got to read all the comments later as I’m too busy wormholing at the mo, so much great stuff here and I can’t say how grateful I am for it all… discovering and rediscovering loads of great music :-)


    • Willard
      March 23, 2013 - 21:15 | Permalink

      New link up, Sorry it took so long. Been taking some time off. Appreciate your rooting out the dead links. Thanks Greggery.

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