Paul McCartney – Unplugged: The Official Bootleg (1991)
This was one of my first Paul McCartney purchases, bought on the “wonderful” cassette format on the day it was released when I was a mere sixteen years old. Directly after I bought it, I went on holiday to a friend’s house in Scotland and played it for the first time on their very good stereo system. The first thing I was struck by was just how warm it was, both in terms of sound and presentation; it was like having Paul and the band in the same room as me. It was recorded strictly “unplugged”, in the respect that none of the instruments were plugged into an amplifier, unlike many other bands who appeared on the MTV Unplugged series. For Paul’s performance, microphones were placed in close proximity to each acoustic instrument, providing a beautifully sounding mix. Also, McCartney and his band seemed to be completely at ease with each other, making funny little between-song comments and generally seeming to have a great time which, seeing as they’d just come off a massive world tour together (with the exception of drummer Blair Cunningham who had newly joined the McCartney band and went on to record and tour “Off The Ground” with him) was a good sign for a man who, since the Beatles, had got through quite a lot of band-mates and collaborators.
This album is a testament to just how good the Paul McCartney band was at this moment in time. Wix’s piano solos are both impressive and fun, Hamish Stuart’s soulful vocals complimented Paul’s wonderfully and Robbie McIntosh’s guitar work is impeccable. There is a really great mix of Beatles, solo songs and covers, with Paul revisiting a few tracks from his 1970 solo debut, “McCartney” (“Every Night”, “Junk” and “That Would Be Something”), arranging, re-working and performing them lovingly – the harmonies on “Every Night” are exquisite. “Unplugged” was the first time I’d heard those three songs and I loved them so much that it led to me buying “McCartney” as soon as I could afford it, shortly afterwards. All of the vocal performances on this album are absolutely fantastic; the slower Beatles numbers (“Here, There & Everywhere” and “And I Love Her”) are soul-meltingly gorgeous, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “She’s A Woman” are toe-tappingly infectious (the latter has probably never sounded so good) and “Blackbird” (or should that be Blackboard?) is performed perfectly with a few genuine laughs prior to the performance.
Including the first song Paul ever wrote, “I Lost My Little Girl”, is a cute touch, but you can tell that it was written by a fourteen year old and why it hadn’t surfaced before this album. The choice of covers work really well with the exception of “Hi-Heel Sneakers” which, personally, I really don’t like. “Be-bop-a-lula” kicks the album of with style, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” is very enjoyable, especially during the hoe-down at the climax of the song, “San Francisco Bay Blues” is great fun, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Singing The Blues” are more than decent and the best of the bunch, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, features Macca on the drums and Hamish on lead vocals, which he handles superbly. Paul is in such great form throughout this performance that it feels as if this project came at the perfect time in his career. The entire album is just so likeable and has such a great positive feeling running right through it that listening to it is enough to put you in a great frame of mind for the rest of the day and there aren’t many albums which can do that. Simply put, I love this album. I wonder how many times I’ve played it since I first bought it twenty-two years ago? Much be at least a hundred. I never tire of it though, which tells you just how endearing it truly is. Maybe one day it’ll be re-released with the other songs he performed during this session (“Things We Said Today”, “Matchbox”, “Midnight Special”, “Mean Woman Blues” and “The Fool”). That’d be good. However, until that point, it’s just about perfect the way it is.