Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) is one of Paul McCartney's most influential solo albums. The songs on the album were all performed for an MTV television show called Unplugged that Paul McCartney recorded on Friday, 25 January, 1991, broadcast in April 1991. The album was released as a special limited edition on 20 May, 1991, four months after the concert.
Paul McCartney's Role in the Evolution of Music Videos
Paul McCartney was a proponent of music videos long before Queen put their heads together and came up with Bohemian Rhapsody. As early as November 1965, the Beatles made a series of promotional films specifically designed to be broadcast by television companies throughout the world. Videos of 'We Can Work It Out', 'Day Tripper', 'Help!', 'Ticket To Ride' and 'I Feel Fine' were filmed, followed by 'Paperback Writer' and 'Rain'. 1967 marked a real breakthrough in the evolution of the music video with 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane'. The music video for 'Hello, Goodbye' was directed by McCartney in November 1967. The culmination of his music video work with the Beatles came in 1967 when Paul was the driving force behind the Magical Mystery Tour project, the closest thing the Beatles made to a feature-length music video.
McCartney would continue to make influential and ambitious music videos in the 1970s and 80s, including 'Band On The Run' in 1973, the award winning 'Pipes Of Peace' in 19831, Rupert the Bear and the Frog Song in 19842, as well as the less successful 1984 feature-length music video Give My Regards To Broad Street.
With MTV quickly becoming the dominant player in the world of music videos, it was inevitable that Paul's natural interest in the medium would place him in a position to collaborate with the channel.
Unplugged – The Concept
Unplugged was an MTV television series where famous musicians, usually but not always rock or pop stars, would perform acoustically, without electronic backing or amplification, in front of a small audience. Paul considered this prospect an intriguing challenge, and was one of the first big names to sign up to appear.
Although the idea behind the Unplugged series was to perform purely with acoustic instruments, it was common for the rules to be slightly bent and for guests to use electric pick-ups and even amplified instruments. Robbie McIntosh has stated,
Paul decided this was cheating and [we] would do it absolutely straight, which was technically very challenging. There were no pick-ups, everything was done on microphone.
Hamish Stuart agrees, stating,
I had an acoustic bass. I had to be very static; if you move that much away from the [microphone] the bottom would drop out of the band.
The recording took place at Limehouse Studios in Wembley, London, a location that Paul had recorded television shows in with the Beatles.
Paul McCartney – Six-string acoustic guitar, drums, lead vocals.
Linda McCartney – Indian harmonium, percussion, vocal harmonies.
Robbie McIntosh – Lead guitar. Six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars, steel guitar, bass guitar, dobro, piano and vocals. He was in Paul's band between 1989 and 1993 having been in Chris Thompson And The Islands with Paul 'Wix' Wickens in the late 70s. He was in The Pretenders 1982-1987.
Hamish Stuart – Acoustic bass guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals and harmonies. Guitarist in Marmalade who first came to Paul's attention when he almost joined Paul's Apple signing Badfinger but was prevented by his manager. He first collaborated with Paul in 1987 and spent six years and two world tours performing with Paul.
Blair Cunningham – Drums, triangle and other percussion. Replacing Paul's previous drummer, Chris Witten, this was his first appearance with Paul McCartney. He had previously drummed with Echo and the Bunnymen and the Pretenders and was Paul's drummer in 1990 and 1991.
Paul 'Wix' Wickens – Stand-up piano, accordion, vocal harmonies, acoustic bass guitar. A good friend of Douglas Adams, Wickens has been McCartney's pianist and keyboard player since 1989, including at the 2010 Isle of Wight Festival. He also composed the music for the Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential phases of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy radio series.
When choosing the songs for the Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album, Paul realised that many of his greatest hits regularly sung would not be suitable, and so chose a selection of his own and favourites by other artists. Although 21 songs were sung for the concert, 17 were released on the Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album and only 14 broadcast on the television special. The four songs not released on the album were 'Matchbox'3, 'Midnight Special', 'The Fool' and 'Things We Said Today'4.
As well as five popular Beatles songs, Paul included a selection of other, less well-known songs. Three came from his first solo album, McCartney, an album that had been written when he was in his Scottish farmhouse with little access to high-tech equipment. Others came from Paul's childhood, the songs he learnt to play on his first guitar as well as the very first song he ever wrote. Curiously, Paul did not play his most famous acoustic song of all time, 'Yesterday'.
Gene Vincent/Tex Davis – 4:05
This was the very first record that Paul bought, and has remained a lifelong favourite. 'Be-Bop-A-Lula' was also covered by John Lennon on his Rock 'n' Roll album, and appears on the soundtrack to Nowhere Boy, the biopic about the young John Lennon's life.
2. 'I Lost My Little Girl'
Paul McCartney – 1:45
The first song Paul ever wrote, at the end of 1956. This was the first song of his that Paul played to John Lennon. The version on Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) was the first public performance of this song for over 30 years, and the first time it was recorded. The song was inspired by Buddy Holly, and includes a Holly hiccup, a singing technique made famous by Buddy. Paul describes the song with the words,
I wrote that when I was 14 just after I'd lost my mother. I don't think that song was about that but of course any psychiatrist getting hold of those two bits of information would say it was... I must have played it to John when we met and we decided we would get together and see if we could write as a team.
3. 'Here, There and Everywhere'
Lennon/McCartney – 3:16
A Beatles song from Revolver and also on Paul McCartney's Give My Regards To Broad Street, Paul Is Live and Back In The US/Back In The World5 albums. Paul has said he was inspired by the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' and wrote it sitting by John's pool. John described it with the words, Paul's song completely, and one of my favourite songs of the Beatles. The version on Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) was the first time it was performed live. The version on the album is a perfect first dance at a wedding song; romantic, intimate and short.
4. 'Blue Moon of Kentucky'
Bill Monroe – 4:21
Wings performed this song made famous by Elvis Presley during their initial 1972 University tour.
5. 'We Can Work It Out'
Lennon/McCartney – 2:48
A Beatles song available on the The Red Album: 1962-1966, 1 and Past Masters: Volume 2 albums, that Paul also released on his Paul Is Live and Back In The World/Back In The US live albums. Paul wrote 'We Can Work It Out' at his father's house 'Rembrandt' in Heswell, when he hit a difficult patch in his relationship with Jane Asher. She had decided to join the Bristol Old Vic Company to pursue her acting career, moving away from Paul and London. Paul and Jane did not work it out. This was the first time that Paul had performed the song live since December 1965. The original Beatles release of 'We Can Work It Out' was number 1 in both America (in January 1966) and the UK (1965 Christmas Number 1).
Appropriately, the first attempt at singing this song broke down when Paul became confused and sang the wrong words. Fortunately the band worked it out and the second attempt was flawless. Unusually, the first, flawed attempt is included on the Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album. Paul 'Wix' Wickens plays the accordion to surprising effect here, replacing John Lennon's harmonium.
6. 'San Francisco Bay Blues'
Jesse Fuller – 3:29
A single by Ramblin' Jack Elliott that Paul was fond of. This version has superb slide guitar playing by Robbie McIntosh. Although this song appears on the album, it was not broadcast as part of MTV's Paul McCartney Unplugged television show.
7. 'I've Just Seen a Face'
Lennon/McCartney – 3:01
A song originally on the Beatles' Help! album, recorded on the same day as 'Yesterday'. This was the second of Paul's live albums that this song has appeared on, having also been on 1976's Wings Over America album. It was written in Jane Asher's house and Paul's Auntie Gin loved the tune so much it was nicknamed 'Auntie Gin's Theme'.
8. 'Every Night'
Paul McCartney 3:24
A Paul McCartney song first released on the McCartney album, although this version is almost 30 seconds longer. A deceptively simple tune from 1970 that had its origins in the Beatles' Get Back sessions. 'Every Night' would again appear live on Paul's Back In The World/Back In The US albums.
9. 'She's a Woman'
Lennon/McCartney – 3:40
Only Paul McCartney could write a song with the opening lyrics 'My love don't give me presents, I know that she's no peasant' and get away with it. The Unplugged performance of this Beatles B-side was its first since 1966. It also appears on Past Masters: Volume 1, Anthology 2 and Live At The BBC. Paul has described the song, saying, This was my attempt at a bluesy thing.
10. 'Hi-Heel Sneakers'
Robert Higginbotham – 4:08
A song which was in the American top 20 the week that the Beatles were at numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 31, 41, 46, 58, 65, 68 and 77 in the singles chart, and one and two in the album chart. This was another song that appears on the Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album but was not broadcast on the Unplugged television show.
11. 'And I Love Her'
Lennon/McCartney – 4:16
Another Beatles song, this one recorded in 1964 for A Hard Day's Night, and Paul had not sung it again until Unplugged. It can also be found on The Red Album: 1962-1966, a live version appears on On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 and an early, demo version is on The Beatles Anthology 1. This was the first acoustic song that the Beatles released.
12. 'That Would Be Something'
Paul McCartney – 4:02
A simple song written in 1969 and released on Paul's McCartney album, the original was an acoustic home recording. The original version on McCartney was two and half minutes long, so the version on Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) is much, much longer.
Lennon/McCartney – 2:06
A Beatles song from The White Album. This is one of Paul's favourite acoustic numbers to perform live, and versions have also been released on the Wings Over America, Back In The World/Back In The US, Good Evening, New York City and Live In Los Angeles live albums. Paul has said the song was a metaphor for the American Civil Rights movement: 'A veiling took place, so rather than say "Black woman living in Little Rock" and be very specific, she became a bird, became symbolic,' although early versions of the song existed when Paul was in Rishikesh before the death of Martin Luther King provoked the April 1968 riots.
14. 'Ain't No Sunshine'
Bill Withers – 4:08
For this song only Paul played the drums whilst Hamish sang the lead vocals. This was the third and final song from the album that had not been broadcast on the television programme.
15. 'Good Rockin' Tonight'
Roy Brown – 3:42
A song made famous by Elvis Presley that has also been released by Roy Brown, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and Gary Glitter. This has long been a favourite of Paul's, who recorded, but did not release, a medley of this song with 'Shake Rattle And Roll' in 1980 during the Tug Of War album sessions. This song later appeared on the Paul Is Live live album.
16. 'Singing the Blues'
Melvin Endsley – 3:47
The last song played on the night of the performance, but the album order was changed slightly to make this the penultimate track. In January 1957, the year Paul met John Lennon, this song was at number 1 for four weeks in the UK, with versions by two different artists: Guy Mitchell, and Tommy Steele and the Steelmen. The Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album is to date the only album by Paul to include a cover of this song.
Paul McCartney – 2:27
The final song on the album. This song was first released on Paul's McCartney album twice; an instrumental version and one with lyrics. The version on Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) is the instrumental only version, also known as 'Singalong Junk'. Paul kept returning to this song during the White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road sessions, and a demo version of the song sung with The Beatles can be heard on The Beatles Anthology 3.
The Album's Release
The inspiration for releasing the songs recorded for the television show apparently came on the car ride home. Paul has said,
I figured that as Unplugged would be screened around the world, there was every chance that some bright spark would tape the show and turn it into a bootleg. So we decided to bootleg the show ourselves. We heard the tapes in the car driving back. By the time we got home, we'd decided we'd got an album – albeit one of the fastest I've ever made.
It was a good laugh because, just like the bootleggers, we didn't mess with the tapes and try to clean it up – as a producer would with a proper album. We're just putting it out as it happened.
The album was a limited edition initial release, with only 45,000 copies available in Britain. It went straight in to the album chart at number 7, the second highest position a Paul McCartney live album has reached in the UK6. Due to the limited number of records available, it was only able to stay in the chart for three weeks, but late in the 1990s the album was rereleased for general distribution due to fan demand.
The Album's Name
The original name for the album was simply to be 'Bootleg'. Despite bootlegging7 being illegal in Britain, Paul has long had a fascination with bootlegged records. He mentioned them in the lyrics to his banned song 'Hi Hi Hi' and the plot of Paul's disappointing film Give My Regards To Broad Street8 involved missing recordings that Paul was worried might be bootlegged. Although officially Paul and his company, MPL, are opposed to bootlegs, he has admitted to having recorded concerts that he has attended for his own personal use.
Several Beatles9 and Paul McCartney bootleg albums have been circulated over the years. Paul has discussed these, especially Beatles bootlegs, saying,
Well, the thing is, we were never really very careful. I mean, we went down to EMI to record, and when the recording was done, we went home. You know, we didn't watch where they put the tape. So all you needed was one engineer to let a friend in one night or even take a little copy for himself. You'd be surprised how kind of available that stuff is.
The album cover, showing Paul playing his acoustic guitar with a green acoustic guitar shape in the background is quite similar to the cover of McCartney's 1988 album Снова в СССР10, also known as the Russian album. This shows McCartney singing into a microphone with a red star shape in the background. Paul's name and the album title are written in similar fonts on the same coloured background to Unplugged (The Official Bootleg). Paul has explained that this was deliberate.
This is number two in a series of 'bootlegs'. The Russian one was a good experience, so I'm happy to be doing it again.
This album, despite its modest success, has had quite an effect on the music world.
Influence on Paul McCartney
The experience of recording and performing unplugged was one that Paul enjoyed so much that he went on to repeat the experience. Between May and July 1991, Paul performed six Unplugged concerts across Europe, in Barcelona, London, Naples, the English towns St Austell and Southend, and Copenhagan. Paul would also include more acoustic numbers in his forthcoming 'Paul Is Live' tour, with 'Good Rockin' Tonight', 'Here, There And Everywhere' and 'We Can Work It Out' becoming part of his staple show after their success at the Unplugged concert.
Paul would also continue to try and recapture the live feel in some of his subsequent studio albums, in particular on Run Devil Run, and would continue to release albums 'bootleg' style. Perhaps the best example was 2010's release Live In Los Angeles, another live album whose cover was a grainy photograph inspired by the poor-quality images associated with bootleg records.
Paul and the rest of his band enjoyed the experience of appearing on MTV's Unplugged television show. In fact, they were eager to return and in December 1992 the same band appeared on a new MTV show, entitled 'Up Close'. When Paul McCartney was introduced on 'Up Close' with the words, Ladies and Gentlemen: please welcome Paul McCartney!, Paul jokingly replied Thank you. Good evening Unplugged! No, sorry, Up Close, a new MTV series before launching into an acoustic version of 'Twenty Flight Rock'.
Influence On Other Artists
Paul's enthusiasm for MTV's Unplugged and his decision to release an album from the recordings has had a large impact on the show. Although not the first big name artist to appear on the Unplugged series, he was the first to subsequently release an album from it, something that has since become common practice. To date, over thirty artists have followed his lead and released albums from their Unplugged appearance, although not all have been as strict in adhering to the unplugged format as Paul McCartney. Most of these artists have followed Paul's lead and also included the word 'Unplugged' in their album's title. These artists include: Bryan Adams, Tony Bennett, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, The Corrs, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Kiss, Korn, Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, REM (twice), Shakira, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart.
There have been three Unplugged compilation albums released so far, and Paul McCartney's performance of 'Every Night' appears on the first of these, Very Best Of MTV Unplugged.