Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom

McCartney does McCartney for McCartney.

The idea of a Paul McCartney collection of favorite standards was almost irresistible even before hearing a note.

At once nostalgic yet new, Kisses on the Bottom offers the opportunity to see McCartney the music enthusiast (symbolically) rummage through shelves filled with sheet music and old records, stopping repeatedly to say to us all: Have you ever heard this one? It goes like this.

We’ve seen McCartney revisit his roots before, most successfully on the rock side with Run Devil Run. Kisses on the Bottom takes a similar approach to that 1999 collection, finding some of Paul’s “old friends” and also including a couple of his own new compositions tailored to seamlessly slip in with the oldies.

Although this new release is from a different side of his musical brain, its elements have long been part of his personal show. After all, from the beginning, one of the draws of the Beatles was their uncanny ear for taking good music from any source, any era.

Rock. Rockabilly. Country. Rhythm and Blues. Soul. Girl groups. Indian riffs. Phil Spector. Mainstream pop.

There were plenty of slow, soft rock and R&B numbers in the group’s cover version repertoire when they appeared on their first Ed Sullivan Show, yet when Paul McCartney stepped to the mike it was to sing “Till There Was You,” from the mainstream Broadway show (and film) The Music Man.

You could easily picture a collective sigh of surprised relief in households throughout the U.S. watching that night as adults turned to younger members of the family to say: “I still don’t like the hair but, see, that’s a nice song.”

Yet that was not some calculated placement just for Ed Sullivan. It was choosing a mix of songs that worked for them, just like on the albums, just like on the Hamburg stage, just like on their BBC radio appearances.

In their respective solo catalogues, George Harrison and Ringo Starr showed an affection for the classic mainstream pop side of the music world (John Lennon, not so much), but it was McCartney who repeatedly embraced it, usually in his own compositions that evoked an old-timey era.

From “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Honey Pie” to the 1979 Wings “Baby’s Request” (appropriately pulled in as one of the bonus tracks for Kisses on the Bottom), McCartney’s been comfortably at ease with that style.

Given the chance, he’s also gone back to the originals that tickled his fancy. McCartney performed the 1959 film tune “The Honeymoon Song” on a 1963 BBC show and later plucked that same title when producing Mary Hopkin’s 1969 Post Card.

He also took that opportunity to squeeze in half a dozen other similarly hewed songs for Hopkin to perform, such as Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and Frank Loesser’s “Inch Worm.”

Bootleg moments from those Mary Hopkin sessions captured McCartney and backing guest Donovan Leitch (who authored three other songs on Post Card) exchanging light-hearted riffs, and included Paul doing a verse in quick, Danny Kaye verbal style, even describing it as such. Kaye sang “Inch Worm” in the film Hans Christian Anderson, so the allusion possibly came from a freshly rekindled memory.

There was more “love of the olde” months later, when McCartney served as one of the arrangers (for the song “Star Dust”) on Ringo Starr’s 1970 Sentimental Journey collection (which also contained the Kisses number “Bye Bye Blackbird”).

What these (and other) myriad threads underscore is McCartney’s obvious affection for such material over the years. Apart from his own pair of newly minted numbers (“My Valentine,” “Only Our Hearts”), he could have recorded and released Kisses on the Bottom anytime in the past four decades.

It is intriguing to imagine how McCartney might have approached this in different decades, reflecting not only his own vocal range, but also the expectations and styles of the times in selecting what to sing and how to present it.

Back in the 1980s there was the Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle approach to standards, with lush arrangements and soaring vocals. Over three albums, though, that started to fall into a formulaic pattern. Into the new century, Rod Stewart has met with great success in multiple releases that applied a showy Vegas sheen to the Great American Songbook.

Kisses on the Bottom feels different. While it is not quite McCartney sitting at the piano solo and running through an hour of his favorites at some intimate party, it’s close. He’s doing just the vocals, backed by Diana Krall’s close-knit band.

While “Always” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” would easily make a first cut on any collection of twentieth century standards, it’s clear they are there for a more basic reason: Paul McCartney likes ‘em.

That’s the real unifying thread for including those titles alongside the already mentioned “Inch Worm” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” as well as “My Very Good Friend the Milkman,” “We Three,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and the rest.

What they have in common is Paul. Think of it as Paul McCartney programming a Paul McCartney show for Paul McCartney.

Was this the best style for him to record and release these? Should he have gone with more fully produced pieces or (the opposite) no backing at all? Should he have “jazzed them up” more? Perhaps. But here, personally, I fall back to liking the idea of this collection so much that even if there are a few dusty moments, the overall effect works very well for me.

To that end, I’d suggest a few companion discs to “get into the mood.”

McCartney’s recording at Capitol instantly evokes Frank Sinatra’s heyday there in the 1950s. At the time, Sinatra confidently dared to showcase a unified mood for an entire album even if it meant eschewing his trademark upbeat ring-a-ding brass in favor of total saloon song sadness. The sixteen tracks on In the Wee Small Hours capture that mood.

Fast forward to 2003 and Elvis Costello’s North album (his own “Sinatra saloon songs” style release of originals), which is striking in its sparse, sad, and measured texture.

Ella Fitzgerald approached standards on a composer-by-composer basis for Verve Records with producer Norman Granz, filling well over a dozen discs in the 1950s and 1960s. The CD of The Best of the Song Books is an excellent sampler.

Then there’s Fred Astaire. Already McCartney has referenced Astaire in explaining his vocal approach on the Kisses album and it is easy to see that, especially if you look beyond the Fred Astaire of the 1930s and 1940s movie soundtracks.

In 1952, Astaire recorded a career spanning personal selection of covers (The Fred Astaire Story – also for Norman Granz’s Verve label). There were multiple highlights collections from that released on CD, with 1994’s Steppin’ Out: Astaire Sings one of the best.

On all of those, Fred Astaire’s “colloquial yet precise delivery” (as described in the liner notes) was accompanied by a small band, led by Oscar Peterson on piano.

The songs of Ringo’s Sentimental Journey eventually sent me exploring for background context on the original versions, developing a strong appreciation for that music history while searching the files of the Library of Congress.

Now such research online is far easier. Just click on a Danny Kaye clip of “Inch Worm” from the movie Hans Christian Anderson and you’ll see why there’s a children’s chorus in the background.

So with Kisses on the Bottom, my suggestion for maximum enjoyment is to give the relaxed recording a listen. Then use McCartney’s personal road map to find the originals and to glimpse a bit of music history. With names like Frank Loesser, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, and, of course, Paul McCartney, it’s hard to go wrong.

Copyright © 2012 by Walter J. Podrazik. This article also appears in edited form in the magazine Beatlefan.

Contents of Kisses on the Bottom

1. “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” (Fred E. Ahlert/Joe Young) 2:36

2. “Home (When Shadows Fall)” (Harry van Steeden, Geoff Clarkson, and Harry Clarkson) 4:04

3. “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg/Billy Rose) 2:35

4. “More I Cannot Wish You” (Frank Loesser) 3:04 (from Guys & Dolls)

5. “The Glory of Love” (Billy Hill) 3:46

6. “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)” (Nelson Cogane, Sammy Mysels, Dick Robertson) 3:22

7. “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) 2:32

8. “My Valentine” (Paul McCartney) 3:14

9. “Always” (Irving Berlin) 3:50

10. “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” (Johnny Burke/Harold Spina) 3:04

11. “Bye Bye Blackbird” (Ray Henderson/Mort Dixon) 4:26

12. “Get Yourself Another Fool” (Ernest Monroe Tucker/Frank Heywood) 4:42

13. “The Inch Worm” (Frank Loesser) 3:43

14. “Only Our Hearts” (Paul McCartney) 4:21

The deluxe release is a bit tricky. Not all copies labeled deluxe have the following two bonus tracks. Some have just a “download” card for a copy of a McCartney live streaming at Capitol later this month. These two tracks are available on an “exclusive deluxe edition” from Target stores and via iTunes (which allows purchase of just these individual tracks).

15. Baby’s Request (Paul McCartney) 3:30

16. My One And Only Love (Robert Mellin/Guy B. Wood) 3:50

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4 Responses to Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom

  1. It seems like u truly understand quite a bit about this subject and this shows thru this posting, labeled “Paul McCartneys Kisses
    on the Bottom | Walter “Wally” Podrazik”. Thanks ,Luis

    • HFM says:

      Thank you for this album description. It is great to experience your appreciation of music while reading this. I followed your advice to use this album as a guide to explore the original and different versions of the songs and enjoyed it immensely. Thank you!

  2. Great album and an excellent review. Nice tips at the end. Thanks Wally!

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