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Paul McCartney on discovering Reggae for first time: ‘a great adventure’

Artist recalls crate-digging in Jamaica in foreword to new box set, 'The 7" Singles Box'

By Kory Grow

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney (Picture: Alamy)

Paul McCartney‘s love of reggae has surfaced in the Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” and Wings’ “C-Moon” but he‘s rarely talked about his journey in discovering Jamaica’s music. In the foreword to the liner notes for The 7″ Singles Box — a collection of 80 45s spanning McCartney’s solo career, from 1971 to the present, out December 2nd — the artist talks about cratedigging in Montego Bay. “There were records you didn’t know what they were, they weren’t established artists,” he writes in this exclusive excerpt. “So it was kind of a great adventure, just asking the guy behind the counter, ‘What’s this like? Is it any good?’”

McCartney also writes about his affinity for B-sides from the Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” to St. Vincent’s reworking of McCartney’s III song “Women and Wives.” The box set, which starts with 1971’s “Another Day” backed with “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” comes in a bespoke wooden crate and contains 163 tracks comprising more than 10 hours of music; 15 of the songs never came out as 7-inches before. Many of the discs are reproductions of international editions of the singles. The collection also includes a 148-page book with McCartney’s foreword and an essay by Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield.

Here’s an excerpt from McCartney’s foreword.

I’ve always found there’s something exciting about flicking through the crates in a record shop, looking for that next discovery. I still love it and there are some cool independent record shops near my office in London. Some of my happiest memories of buying 7-inch singles come from the Jamaican record shop that we used to go to when we were on holiday in Montego Bay. In the town there was this place called Tony’s Records on Fustic Road. It was great. There were records you didn’t know what they were, they weren’t established artists. So it was kind of a great adventure, just asking the guy behind the counter, “What’s this like? Is it any good?” There would be songs with titles like “Lick I Pipe.” Another was called “Poison Pressure” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires written by Lennon & McCartney. I had to buy that one. Had they just recorded one of our songs? No. It was something completely different and we all presumed it might be a couple of guys called Tony Lennon and Bill McCartney. Either that, or it was a total scam.

Something we noted on those 7-inch singles in Jamaica is that they did the same thing as the early 1960s vocal groups: The B side would be the A side’s instrumental, titled something like “sing-along” –they would just take the vocal off. On these Jamaican records, they would call it “version.” I remember being in a club and some guy who was a little bit of a hustler was showing us around. This song came on and I said, “Oh, I love this. Did you just take the vocal off?” And he would not accept that they’d just taken the vocal off. He saw it as a completely blank canvas.

I still respect the B side – where else can you find songs like “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” or “Ode to a Koala Bear”? So, when my team suggested we put out this box of 45s, one of my hopes was that both sides of the record will be of interest to you. It includes my first solo single, “Another Day” b/w “Oh Woman, Oh Why.” And it includes my latest single, “Women and Wives” b/w St. Vincent’s great three imagining. Between those two singles are 78 others. It doesn’t include my last single because I haven’t written that one yet.

“Women and Wives” was inspired by Lead Belly, one of the blues singers we discovered as scruffs back in Liverpool. I’m now lucky enough to have a jukebox at home and in the office and, as you can see from the “Mrs. Vandebilt” single, we even released some of these 45s with the jukebox in mind adding the title strips on the sleeve artwork for fans to cut out.

The jukebox in my office is from a scene in the film Give My Regards to Broad Street. I liked it a lot, so I talked to the guy who had brought it along and I ended up buying it off him. It’s such a nice vintage piece and the songs on there – things like “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard and “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley – really take me back to my childhood. All these memories of when we were kids, back even before the Beatles.

I hope the songs in this box bring back fun and fond memories for you too. They do for me and there will be more to come….

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