Paul McCartney admits to pressure-filled moments during sessions for Kisses on the Bottom

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Recording a collection of well-known standards for the forthcoming Kisses on the Bottom, despite its cheeky title, was something of a challenge for Paul McCartney.

There was living up to the dizzying successes of the songs’ previous interpreters. There was making the album stand out after a series of other famous pop stars — including Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams — had already issued similar projects. There was holding your own in front of a working jazz band led by pianist Diana Krall.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Laurence Juber takes over our One Track Mind feature to discuss key songs from his tenure with Paul McCartney and Wings, along with favorite sides from his solo career and Al Stewart projects.]

The ex-Beatles co-founder spoke candidly about all of that and more during a newly released 15-minute promotional video for Kisses on the Bottom, set for release on Feb. 7.

“I was in the vocal booth and a bit intimidated by the whole thing, because I’ve normally got a guitar or a piano in front of me to protect me,” McCartney says in the video, which you can stream below. “This time, there was nothing. I was just standing up at a mic.” Later, he adds: “I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing and then the engineer said to me, ‘You know … that’s Nat King Cole’s mic.’ So, I went, ‘Aah.’ So, that really put the pressure on.”

One of the more demanding elements of the sessions was trying to find a suitable vocal approach for the material, after years of big-gesture rock singing. Ultimately, McCartney chose a more intimate style — one that required him to move very close to the microphone.

“I know recording-wise the engineers like (a quieter vocal) ’cause the mics like it,” McCartney says. “Microphones like you to be nice. You know, if you go, ‘Waaa!,’ (the) microphone goes, ‘Blehhh!'”

Once all of that was settled, McCartney, Krall and producer Tommy LiPuma set about song selection and arranging the material, a process which McCartney said was as improvisational as the jazz music that Krall has become so well known for playing.

“While I’d be learning it and trying to find my way into the song,” he recalled, “Diana would be figuring out her part and an intro, and we said, ‘Should we start with the guitar or … with stride piano … So, it was very spontaneous and kind of organic, which then reminded me of the way we worked with the Beatles. We’d bring the song in, kick it around. When we found a way to do it, we’d say, ‘OK, let’s do a take now.'”

Here’s our sneak peek at ‘Kisses On The Bottom,’ set for release on February 6 in the UK and February 7 in America. Click through the title for complete review …

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: PAUL McCARTNEY – KISSES ON THE BOTTOM (2012): This is not just a love letter to a lost era of songmaking, but one of the most evocative, deeply ardent records that McCartney has ever issued. Working in a higher vocal range that remains largely untouched by age, or his rugged third-act touring schedule, the ex-Beatle stirs up a spectacular range of emotions: The hushed, crepuscular melancholy of Peter van Steeden’s “Home (When Shadows Fall)” is matched only by the stirring resolve found on Haywood Henry’s “Get Yourself Another Fool” from this now thrice-married soon-to-be-70-year-old. McCartney’s trembling rapture throughout Irving Berlin’s “Always” finds a balancing moment in his impish hat-tipping joy during Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Thcu-Ate The Positive.”

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  • Sam

    I hope people give this new McCartney record a chance. I’ve heard it a few times now and I think it’s so impressive. Artists challenge themselves in different ways and this was a stretch for him, first, because his voice isn’t what it was, and, second, because he’s taken so much grief over the decades from the rock snobs for loving this genre of music. It’s like he’s playing right into his detractors’ hands by releasing this (and exposing himself to the usual granny music slams).

    But damn, if he didn’t do it well and work with the right people. It’s a spare, classy, intimate album.

    • S. Victor Aaron

      I don’t think I could have put it better than you did, Sam. Great observations.