Paul McCartney – Flowers in the Dirt (1989)

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Here at Pierce’s Press I reconstruct an album, with benefit of time, steering it toward what the artist may have originally intended. Why not!  

Flowers in the Dirt was a repudiation of the Macca we love/hate: no imperialist odes to salamanders, loads of silly love songs, arena rockers, and a few excellent Elvis Costello collaborations, including the spectacular My Brave Face, one of the best should-have-been-a-hits of the last 20 years. The album certainly had an interesting inception, and what was released way back in 1989 is a far cry from the original concept of the album.

The 1980s had not been kind to Paul. He had received a critical savaging for the ill-advised folly of Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984), even the follow-up album Press to Play (1986) failed to garner a hit – a rare circumstance for the ex-Beatle and hit making machine of the 70s. In 1987 it was recommended to Paul he dig out his Hofner bass, team up with Costello and compose eyeball to eyeball, just like he did with Lennon in the early days. Those sessions, at McCartney’s rustic Hog Hill Mill Studio in East Sussex, England, were intended to yield enough songs to constitute a full collaborative record. And they did.

fitd-recon.jpgThe partnership, however, was not to endure. Sessions with Costello, while producing some very good songs, didn’t go as expected and Paul quickly sought out other options, bringing in a bevy of producers (Mitchell Froom, David Foster, Steve Lipson, and Trevor Horn) to help cast as wide of a net as possible with these songs and more. He dropped the idea of a collaborative album and spent a year and a half perfecting tracks, using only a small handful of the Costello numbers and adding in a whole host of new materiel. McCartney always excelled in familial love, so new tracks We Got Married (featuring Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on guitar) and Put It There work well, but the deliberate proto-digital gloss flattens the album somewhat, and some sub-par material was added (eg: the horrible Rough Ride) which softens the edges of the Costello collaborations and diminishes the power of what could have been.

What we have here is a reconstructed version of the album, including most of the Costello work (which would show up on multiple albums by McCartney and Costello from 1987 until 1993) excellent demos and early versions, plus the pick of the new materiel used to fill out the album.

  1. My Brave Face – early McCartney/Costello demo.
  2. You Want Her Too – terrific Paul 1988 demo featuring Costello on guest vocal. Superior to the final Flowers version.
  3. Twenty Nine Fingers – early 50s-type rocker McCartney/Costello demo.
  4. Mistress and Maid – McCartney/Costello demo. This very good song would end up on Paul’s 1993 album Off the Ground.
  5. Veronica – Costello demo for Spike (1987) hit single.
  6. So Like Candy – superb McCartney demo for a song that wound up on Costello’s Mighty Like a Rose (1991).
  7. The Lovers That Never Were – raw demo of Paul and Elvis. Another song ending up on Off the Ground.
  8. That Day is Done – early Paul demo of a song that made it onto Flowers in the Dirt.
  9. Playboy to a Man – left off the album, finally made it on Mighty Like a Rose.
  10. Back on My Feet – Costello co-write, originally released as a B-side on McCartney’s 1987 single Once Upon a Long Ago.
  11. Distractions – post-Costello McCartney demo.
  12. This One – post-Costello McCartney demo.
  13. We Got Married – post-Costello McCartney demo.
  14. Put it There – post-Costello McCartney demo.
  15. Figure of Eight – live version off scintillating Tripping the Live Fantastic (1990) which documents the Flowers in the Dirt supporting tour.

Albums That Never Were: Flowers in the Dirt

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