Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)

Paul McCartney

Capitol Records, 1991


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's not often that I choose to review rare albums - those which have been pressed in limited quantities as special treats for the diehard fans. Usually, if you miss your chance to buy them in the stores, you're pretty much screwed.

So when I received a second chance at one of these, I snapped it up - Paul McCartney's Unplugged (The Official Bootleg). One of the first of a plethora of "unplugged" shows, this is also one of the best. I recently went back into the Pierce Memorial Archives (moving day 48 days away) and dusted it off - damn you, VH1 for subliminally affecting me!

This album could have been a disaster - McCartney could have relied on old standards of his touring catalog such as "Hey Jude" or "Maybe I'm Amazed." He could have chosen songs from the low points of his solo career. He could have relied solely on old Beatles songs.

Instead, McCartney did a 180-degree turn and chose to perform songs mostly from - gasp! - other artists, with a slight peppering of Beatles tracks. Many of the songs on this one are songs that McCartney has not performed in several years - and in some cases, they are the first recorded performances by the ex-Beatle.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In one sense, you have to question this choice - who else with a 30-plus year music career could get away with opening a live album with a cover of Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula?" But for McCartney, it works, thanks in no small part to the solid backing band he has behind him.

The looseness of the session is evident throughout the album - included in the performance of the Beatles's "We Can Work It Out" is a mistake made in the first verse. To his credit, McCartney not only leaves it on, he laughs it off. In fact, all the Beatles songs included here are performed especially well, though my personal favorite is "I've Just Seen A Face," a performance which makes me wonder why this track isn't more famous.

Some of the covers McCartney performs on Unplugged are interesting choices. After a by-the-book performance of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky," the band plays it again, this time with a shuffle tempo. Scott McKenzie owes a lot of credit to McCartney (as well as Eric Clapton) for bringing to people's attentions again his song "San Francisco Bay Blues." And while Hamish Stuart does a decent job on "Ain't No Sunshine" (with drums provided by McCartney), I'll always prefer the original by Bill Withers.

McCartney chooses to concentrate only on his first solo album here, taking three songs - "That Would Be Something," "Every Night" and "Junk" - and breathes new life into them. It would have been interesting to have heard McCartney take a song from his then-recent studio album Flowers In The Dirt and give it the acoustic treatment.

What is interesting is that there is nothing here from the Wings period of McCartney's career. I guess it was too easy to fill an album of this magnitude with acoustic versions of "Band On The Run" or "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey." Thankfully, he chose to make things a little more difficult, creating an album that would have greater appeal for the older fans than the ones who knew only the songs overplayed on the radio.

I don't remember how many copies of Unplugged were released (I have the tape numbered 18782), but this one will probably be the hardest album we've featured on "The Daily Vault" to find. But I've always found that the more difficult searches produce the most satisfying prizes. And this album definitely falls into that category - but don't ask me for my copy.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.