Behind the Album: ‘Flaming Pie’ by Paul McCartney, an Embrace of Fab Four Nostalgia

Paul McCartney had to put his solo career on the back burner for a time in the 1990s while he tended to the legacy of his former band. But once he finished up his Beatles obligations, he returned with Flaming Pie in 1997, which now stands as one of his beloved albums.

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What made McCartney take such a break? And how did the album’s sporadic recording sessions lend to the overall effect? Let’s go back to find out what makes Flaming Pie so tasty.

Pie Baking

It’s fair to say the break required to put together The Beatles Anthology project came at a good time for Paul McCartney. His previous album (Off the Ground in 1993) had lacked a bit of spark, as if he was spinning his wheels a bit while looking for inspiration. Going back to consider the work of The Fab Four helped him find it.

To ensure the Anthology project would make as big an impact as possible, McCartney put his solo career on hiatus so as not to dilute the market for Beatles fans. While doing interviews for the documentary and poring over unreleased material for the albums, he remembered how high the standards of his former band were, as he explained in an interview at the time Flaming Pie was released (as reported by Beatles Bible):

“I was checking the songs in my own mind against some of the early Beatles stuff, because I had just been doing the Anthology and it surprised me how simple, and yet complete, some of the early Beatles work was. I didn’t see any reason why my new stuff shouldn’t be just as simple and complete. So whereas I might have been a little bit lazy in the past, and just thought, ‘Ah, near enough,’ which is very tempting to do, I made it a point to go in and sharpen the chisel and get it a bit tighter.”

Immersing himself in old Beatles records also reminded McCartney of the fun the band tended to have making albums. As such, he tried to approach the record he was making with those same lighthearted vibes. Because he had a lot of time to spare due to the hiatus, it allowed him to call in many old friends over various sessions to help him, including George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Steve Miller, Jeff Lynne, and Ringo Starr.

As if that weren’t enough nostalgia, McCartney named the album Flaming Pie. That came from a story John Lennon once wrote about how The Beatles got their name. Savvy fans picked up the reference, and some who had bailed on Macca’s solo career might even have been drawn in by it.

Pie‘s Ingredients

I go back so far, I’m in front of me, Paul McCartney sings on “The World Tonight,” the driving opening track off Flaming Pie. It’s a clever line as it is, but it’s also a winking acknowledgment this will be a record where McCartney is just fine with waking up the echoes of the past. In fact, he’d be embracing them.

There’s a pervasive ease and goodwill that rolls through the uptempo tracks. On “Used to Be Bad,” old pros McCartney and Miller get down hip-deep into a sultry blues groove. “Really Love You” is nothing more than a glorified jam session with McCartney and Starr, but the fun they’re clearly having is infectious. Ringo even contributes blustery vocals to “Beautiful Night.”

That’s not to say Flaming Pie is devoid of melancholy. One of the album’s high points is “Little Willow,” a touching ballad featuring Lynne’s pillowy production effects that McCartney wrote in memory of Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s first wife. Love songs “Calico Skies” and “Somedays” don’t steer away from the rocky times that make finding that special someone even more transcendent. The fact Linda McCartney received her cancer diagnosis during the making of the record somehow renders the sentiments expressed in those songs more profound.

Flaming Pie was a perfectly timed album, as the waves of affection for The Beatles that were wafting through the air during the Anthology’s extended release just seemed to carry over to the solo record. Give credit to Paul McCartney for recognizing the standards he once set with his Beatle buddies, and then working these songs into the proper shape to meet those standards.

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Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images

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