Paul McCartney – Tug of War (1982; 2015 reissue)

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The latest releases in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection represent two turning points in McCartney’s career. Tug of War emerged in the wake of personal chaos: John Lennon’s death and McCartney’s pot bust in Japan. A year after the critically acclaimed album, McCartney released the followup Pipes of Peace, which represents his attempt to embrace 1980s pop.

Best remembered for “Say Say Say,” the hit duet with Michael Jackson, Pipes of Peace received a lukewarm critical reception, unlike its predecessor. The remastered Archive Collection releases allows listeners to revisit this turning point in Paul McCartney’s career, determining his place in the 1980s musical landscape.

Tug of War finds McCartney in a reflective mood, embracing his Beatles past and paying tribute to his best-known songwriting partner. Beginning the album with the title track, Paul McCartney gently sings words of turmoil and conflict, longing for a better world (“In another world we could stand on top of the mountain, with our flag unfurled”) but recognizing that only through struggle and change can we achieve such lofty goals (“In a time to come we will be dancing to the beat, played on a different drum”). Until a more positive world emerges, he must endure an emotional “tug of war” and knows that if he simply gives up, “the whole thing is going to crumble.”

The haunting strings give way to pure nostalgia with “Take It Away,” Paul McCartney’s fond look back at the Beatles’ early days. He recalls playing in dingy clubs until “some important impresario” discovers the band, none-too-subtly evoking images of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Cooing and sighing, the lush harmonies provide the soundtrack to McCartney’s sentimental journey. But the emotional tug of war draws him back to the present, with the moving “Somebody Who Cares” allowing fans a rare peek into the singer’s life. He assures listeners that he too has felt like “somebody has taken the wheels off your car, when you had somewhere to go.” He repeats “I know how you feel,” but urges fans to draw strength from friends and family.

Initially saying little about John Lennon’s death, Paul McCartney finally makes his statement through the lovely but fragile “Here Today,” reminiscing about his complicated friendship with his former collaborator. Now a staple of McCartney’s live shows, “Here Today” reveals his vulnerability, his lilting voice crying “I love you.” Like “Somebody Who Cares,” “Here Today” lets Paul McCartney bare his soul musically, an all-too-rare occurrence in his music. But nostalgia returns with “Ballroom Dancing,” McCartney’s charming ode to dance and young love.

The singer’s ultimate “back to his roots” moment is his playful duet with childhood hero Carl Perkins, “Get It.” As they trade lines on the country-tinged track, the two legends clearly enjoy performing together, punctuated by Perkins’ laughter giving way to the next track, “Be What You See.” Other joyful moments include Paul McCartney’s duets with Stevie Wonder, the incredibly funky “What’s That You’re Doing” and the huge hit “Ebony and Ivory.” Unfortunately, the latter track has been lampooned in recent years, but it stands as a genuine ode to racial harmony.

The one track that best summarizes the complicated Tug of War is “Wanderlust,” the epic ballad that remains one of Paul McCartney’s most underrated tracks. “Take us from the dark,” he pleads. “Help us to be free.” Through music, McCartney longs to transcend the emotional tug of war he has endured for two years. Yet, he ends the sweeping track on a hopeful note: “What better time to find a brand new day?” he asks listeners.

Tug of War has aged well over 33 years, with George Martin’s clean production style avoiding the excesses of some 1980s recordings. Viewed through the lens of John Lennon’s tragic death, the album tracks have gained deeper meaning, chronicling Paul McCartney’s journey from fond reminiscing to grief to artistic rebirth.

As with previous Archive Collection releases, Tug of War comes in several configurations. The Deluxe Edition comes with the remixed album (the remastering most evident in the title track, with the strings and horns in the forefront), the original version, and a third CD of demos (the outstanding track being the early version of “The Pound Is Sinking”) and the B-sides “Rainclouds” and “I’ll Give You a Ring.”

A bonus DVD includes the original videos for “Tug of War,” “Take It Away,” and “Ebony and Ivory,” along with a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the “Take It Away” film. A second video for “Tug of War” contains footage of Paul McCartney and George Martin recording in the studio.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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  • Joe Dee

    I love these archive sets. I always go for the deluxe. They are great for reacquainting me with the Macca albums that I usually don’t play that often. I know some people knock ToW & PoP but I’m not that critical. Sure Pipes may not be as strong as Tug but It’s still enjoyable. I’m of the opinion that Paul is always worth checking out, cause there is always a gem or two tucked in each album. Through Our Love was a song I totally forgot about but it’s really great, a great album closer. The bonus discs also get slagged, but they too have turned up some good stuff for me, I really like “It’s Not On” and “Ode to a Koala Bear” 2 goofy tracks of Paul just messing about but fun listens!. And the “Tug” B sides “Rainclouds” & “I’ll Give You a Ring”. More proof of Paul’s ability to get a song stuck in your head! I only ever had these albums on the ’93 cds, so this is my first time hearing those and I love ’em! Sure I wish he filled up more of the run times on the bonus discs but I have to believe that he’s saving stuff for a career encompassing box set of out takes. (fingers crossed) My only complaint about the series is that I wish it moved faster!

    • Kit O’Toole

      That’s a good point, Joe Dee, about saving up material for a possible career-encompassing box set. Fingers crossed indeed!

  • Michael J Hockinson

    More of an overview than a review. C’mon Kit, geek out on me here! Aren’t you disappointed that the bonus disc offers no outtakes, just the Rude Studio demos that have been available on bootleg for years? What’s the Deluxe book like? Any major revelations, or is it just a fancy press kit?

    • Kit O’Toole

      Unfortunately I didn’t get the booklet to review–just the version for the press. I agree that the extras could have been more extensive, particularly alternate versions and takes. Essentially it’s consistent with the other Archive releases, and they’re never enough for us geeky fans!

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