Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

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Flaming Pie by Paul McCartneyAfter spending a few years working on The Beatles Anthology project, it was clear that Paul McCartney wanted to continue revisiting the sounds and styles of the past when he resumed his solo career. Flaming Pie, McCartney’s tenth solo album, was a success in achieving this goal as it features an array of styles which pinpoint musical moments with and without the Beatles. This was also an album where McCartney collaborated with Ringo Starr as well as a couple of his own immediate family members.

Coming into the decade of the 1990s, McCartney was one of the highest grossing rock acts. Still, he decided to branch out into orchestral and opera music with Liverpool Oratorio in 1991 and electronica music the final year with Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest. In 1993, McCartney released the pop/rock album Off the Ground, which would be his last studio album for the next four years.

Following the completion of the Anthology project, McCartney teamed up with co-producer and multi instrumentalist Jeff Lynne with the intention of producing something “pure and easy”. The album was recorded over the course of two years and included new material as well as some songs initiated in previous years. These sessions also produced excess material, most notably the “Oobu Joobu” series of rare tracks.


Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney
Released: May 5, 1997 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin, Jeff Lynne and Paul McCartney
Recorded: Sun Valley, Idaho and Abbey Road Studios, London, September 1992 – February 1997
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Song We Were Singing
The World Tonight
If You Wanna
Somedays
Young Boy
Calico Skies
Flaming Pie
Heaven On a Sunday
Used to Be Bad
Souvenir
Little Willow
Really Love You
Beautiful Night
Great Day
Paul McCartney – Lead Vocals, Bass, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Percussion
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Steve Miller – Bass, Chapman Stick
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 
Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney

 

The album’s opener, “The Song We Were Singing”, is instantly rewarding and pleasant as it alternates between softly picked acoustic folk verses and the strong, Scottish-folk influenced choruses. Philosophically it centers around the core of McCartney’s existence, the “song”, and it appears to allude to his relationship with John Lennon. The pop radio hit “The World Tonight” features verses with interesting harmonies before McCartney breaks out vocally in the pre-chorus as well as a slight but excellent piano later.

As the album settles in, we have “If You Wanna”, an acoustic rocker with some strong late seventies, early eighties pop elements along with some excellent lead guitars, followed in contrast by the picked acoustic ballad “Somedays”, the first of two tracks produced and orchestrated by Sir George Martin. “Young Boy” is a standard, but pleasant, pop / rock track where McCartney teamed up with the legendary Steve Miller. Later on the album, the duo returns on the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” where Miller shares lead vocals and proves that he has the better blues pedigree as McCartney’s lines sound more like a novelty.

The acoustic picked “Calico Skies” was written in 1991 during a hurricane blackout while the title track, “Flaming Pie” features a sound that is pure late-era Beatles, with boogie piano accented by crisp, distorted guitar riffs. “Heaven on a Sunday” takes a soft jazz approach with pleasant melodies, backing vocals by Linda McCartney and a great contrasting, whining rock lead guitar by son James McCartney.

Paul McCartney

The album’s final stretch features some of the more interesting tracks. “Souvenir” is a sonic masterpiece from beginning to end, using some classic rock motifs and a melancholy ballad approach, while “Little Willow” is a sad ballad which McCartney wrote for the children of the late Maureen Starkey, wife of Ringo. Next comes a unique composition by Paul and Ringo,”Really Love You”, with a kicking rhythm focused on the strong bass and drum beat and a classic blues / soul / R&B feel. “Beautiful Night” is a grandiose song with grandiose production by Martin and soaring vocals and lyrics by McCartney. His strained vocals through the later half of this power ballad makes it an instant classic. Wrapping up the album is “Great Day”, acting almost as the reciprocal of “Beautiful Night” with simple finger-picked guitar and hand percussion. This closing track features Linda McCartney joining on backing vocals, which would sadly be her last collaboration with Paul as she passed away a year after the album’s release.

Flaming Pie was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at number two in both the UK and US. It has grown to become one of McCartney’s most critically acclaimed albums of his long solo career.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Fly Like An Eagle by
Steve Miller Band

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Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller BandWith his ninth studio release, Steve Miller struck commercial gold in the quadruple platinum selling 1976 album, Fly Like An Eagle. The music on the album moves through phases of psychedelic-folk, acid-blues, soul, blue grass and other types of roots genres, while the lyrical melodies and hooks help to maintain a pop-centric sensibility which results in a very accessible, catchy and easy listen throughout.

Miller formed the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco in the late 1960s as a psychedelic/blues group and soon negotiated a fairly lucrative five album deal with Capitol/EMI in 1967. Those five albums were recorded and released within a relatively short period of time (1968-1971) to mixed commercial success. The better tracks from these five were rolled into the 1972 double album compilation, Anthology. The following year, the group went through a major change in personnel as well as musical approach for the chart-topping album The Joker.

As producer of Fly Like An Eagle, Miller entered the studio in 1975 with bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber and ultimately recorded enough material for a double length LP. Miller instead opted to release two single albums concurrently, with Book of Dreams following a year later in May 1977.

 


Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 20, 1976 (Capital)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1975-1976
Side One Side Two
Space Intro
Fly Like an Eagle
Wild Mountain Honey
Serenade
Dance, Dance, Dance
Mercury Blues
Take the Money and Run
Rock n’ Me
You Send Me
Blue Odyssey
Sweet Maree
The Window
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums, Percussion

 

Miller’s synth arpeggios using an ARP Odyssey machine set the mood for the title track, “Fly Like an Eagle”. Slow and soulful, the track musically features Miller’s slightly funky intro guitar riff and the choppy Hammond B3 organ by Joachim Young. Miller’s lead vocals and hook carry this Top 5 song best with a soaring sensation to match the song’s title and the slightest recurring synths for effect. Written by Steve McCarty, “Wild Mountain Honey” enters from the dissolve of a previous track as a psychedelic folk song with Eastern influence. A synth lead over subtle percussion, with the slightest flavoring of sitar. this song is a bit elongated to absorb the full vibe and complete this smooth but psychedelic opening sequence.

“Serenade” is a transition tune, as an adventurous, driving strummed folk/rock song with harmonized vocals throughout, which works to ease the album’s sound down towards the roots music to follow. On “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the album takes a radical turn away from the mid-seventies space/pop towards a pure blue grass diddy with multiple acoustic instrument textures. This track was co-written by Joseph and Brenda Cooper and features an authentic lead dobro by John McFee as the musical highlight of this hoe-down. The cover of the 1940s song “Mercury Blues” follows and is delivered in an effective way which maintains its original R&B feel while subtly adding mid-seventies rock elements. The popular “Take the Money and Run” commences side two by continuing the “down home” sequence. An anthem for the slacker outlaw, this catchy and upbeat tune features slight chanting lyrics and excellent drumming by Mallaber throughout, with Miller delivering a thick and chorded guitar which works with the sharp and dynamic beats.

Steve Miller Band in 1970s

The aptly titled pure pop/rocker “Rock n’ Me” flew to the top of the charts as an inversion of Free’s earlier hit “All Right Now”. The rock guitar riff sets the edge before the song proper utilizes deadened classic rock chord patterns all under the exceptional vocal melodies and a traditional tourist effect lyric, which names several American cities along the way. After a forgettable rendition of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”, the album recovers with a couple of interesting tracks. “Sweet Maree” is an authentic acoustic blues with a wild harmonica by James Cotton. This song keeps a very basic arrangement through several distinct sections with only some fine electric blues guitar and slight tambourine percussion joining the ever-present acoustic and harmonica. The closing track, “The Window”, slowly swells into a soulful organ/acoustic groove with sonic textures similar to the title song, book-ending the album in a fine, consistent way.

Fly Like An Eagle was a hit worldwide, peaking at #3 in Miller’s native USA. The following year’s Book of Dreams was a similar success, making the mid-to-late seventies the most successful phase of Miller’s long career.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Book of Dreams by Steve Miller Band

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Book Of Dreams by Steve Miller Band Steve Miller forged his reputation as a Chicago blues man, immersing himself in that scene during the 1960s and playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Berry. Still, his most popular and enduring records came in the mid-to-late seventies and featured a blend of pop-rock songs and quasi-psychedelic pieces with synthesized effects. Book of Dreams fell right in the heart of this era and, along with its predecessor, Fly Like An Eagle, demonstrated this approach as well as any album. In fact, much of both these albums were recorded together in 1975. Miller produced both of these albums and considered releasing a double album but instead opted for two single albums that were released in May of consecutive years (1976, 1977).

Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller BandFly Like An Eagle was a great success, spawning many radio hits and three singles which reached the Top 20 including the #1 hit “Rock n’ Me”. That album peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts. Book of Dreams fared even better as an album, peaking at #2 on Billboard. This pair of albums represented the peak of Miller’s commercial career.

The diversity of style is what makes the whole of this album far greater than the sum of its parts, although most fans only really know those parts as individual songs long heard on classic rock and AOR radio. Book of Dreams provided a nice blend of the fundamentals of blues-rock and the indulgences of prog rock.
 


Book of Dreams by Steve Miller Band
Released: May 1977 (Capitol)
Produced by: Steve Miller
Recorded: CBS Studios, San Francisco, 1976-1977
Side One Side Two
Threshold
Jet Airliner
Winter Time
Swingtown
True Fine Love
Wish Upon a Star
Jungle Love
Electro Lux Imbroglio
Sacrifice
The Stake
My Own Space
Babes In the Wood
Primary Musicians
Steve Miller – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizer
David Denny – Guitars
Greg Douglass – Guitars
Lonnie Turner – Bass
Gary Mallaber – Drums

 
The album starts off with “Threshold”, a minute-long, pure synth-effect track which almost sounds like a distant air patrol alarm and acts as defacto into for “Jet Airliner” (in fact, most classic radio stations play these songs together). “Jet Airliner” was composed by Paul Pena for his album in 1973, but when that artist encountered label problems the album and song went unreleased. The song was presented to Miller by a former band mate and Miller developed it using a variation of Eric Clapton’s guitar riff on Cream’s version of “Crossroads”. This method of using a synth-heavy piece to introduce a proper song was commonplace with Miller during this era as he did the exact same thing to start off Fly Like An Eagle and uses this method again later on Book of Dreams with “Electro Lux Imbroglio” and “Sacrifice”.

A couple of Miller’s moody, prog rock-influenced songs are “Winter Time” and “Wish Upon a Star”, which each make heavy use of keyboards for a surreal backdrop. “Winter Time” also features a simple, acoustic folk motif and features some harmonica by Norton Buffalo. The song later breaks into a nicer groove led by double-tracked lead guitar.
 

 
“Jungle Love” was written by guitarist Lonnie Turner and bassist Greg Douglass and may be the best pure pop song on the album, in spite of despite some annoying whistling effects. It features a crisp but heavy guitar riff out front and slightest tinge of reggae in the underlying rhythm, all working in tandem with Miller’s steady, melodic vocal line. Another good pop song on the album is “True Fine Love”, which executes the perfect seventies songwriting formula of – intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/lead/verse/chorus/fadeout.

“Swingtown” is an excellent song built on a beat (which is actually more of a “shuffle” than a “swing”) by drummer Gary Mallaber. The intro builds instrument by instrument – first drums, then bass, then rhythm guitar, then piano, then second guitar, then vocals. It is a potpourri of sonic candy especially from the deadened-note guitar and ending synth section. “The Stake” was written by guitarist David Denny and is actually the closest to the classic blues with which Miller cut his teeth, with its riff, harmonica, and harmonized guitar lead – but with a much “hipper” seventies feel, especially with the vocal effects.

The remarkable 1975 sessions at CBS Studios in San Francisco gave us Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams, a unique confluence of sound which worked perfectly for the era and held up well through time. While both of these are excellent albums, Book of Dreams marks the absolute pinnacle of the Steve Miller Band.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1977 albums.