Paul McCartney Sheds Light on Meaning Behind His 1971 Hit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”

The latest episode of Paul McCartney’s McCartney: A Life in Lyrics podcast offers a deep dive into what inspired him to write “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” the enigmatic, multi-part tune that became his first post-Beatles single to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

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Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” appeared on Ram, his second album after The Beatles’ breakup, which was released in May 1971 and was credited as a collaboration between him and his first wife, Linda.

In interview segments with the podcast’s host, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, McCartney explained that the first part of the song, the “Uncle Albert” section, was partly inspired by the sadness he felt about leaving behind his family and hometown of Liverpool, as his life changed and he experienced fame as a member of the world’s biggest rock band.

McCartney noted that he actually had an Uncle Albert, who was very funny, and who would get drunk with his father at family gatherings.

“Uncle Albert would stand on the table and recite the Bible for some reason,” McCartney recalled. “You know, keep everyone straight and in the way of the light.”

McCartney also remembered how he began seeing family members less frequently after he moved to London, and maintained that that feeling of losing touch with his loved ones influenced his writing of the song.

“[Gatherings with my family] became less and less as time went on. They became less and less, they died,” McCartney noted. “They were the older generation, my dad’s generation, and they’re all gone now. So … there was a nostalgic feeling … and also this feeling of ‘I’ve moved myself so far out of what you know, what Uncle Albert knows.’”

[RELATED: Watch: Paul McCartney Signs an Australian Fan’s Piano During His Current Tour]

As the song proceeds, McCartney delivers a spoken word section, putting on a posh British accent, as he talks to Uncle Albert over the phone, being somewhat dismissive of him while apologizing that he might not have time to chat with him.

“I’m not really saying I’m sorry, but I’m saying, ‘You wouldn’t get where I am now,’” McCartney suggested. “‘I’m like in the Beatles, I’m like living in a big house in London.’”

The song then shifts into the “Admiral Halsey” section, beginning with the upbeat refrain “hands across the water, heads across the sky.” McCartney said that this section was inspired by his relationship with his then-new wife, the American-born Linda.

“[‘Hands across the water’ is] me and Linda,” he explained. “You know, American and British.”

McCartney then sings a verse in a snobbish British accent about how after a character named Admiral Halsey has told him that he’s trying to get to sea, he goes and enjoys a cup of tea and a butter pie.

Muldoon points out that Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, was a real person who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but McCartney explained that he wasn’t really familiar with him.

“I don’t know where I got Admiral Halsey from,” he revealed, “I would’ve just read it or heard it somewhere. And then, now I’m this arrogant, upper-class person who’s gotten into the song, and I’m just having fun with it.”

The song later moves into an even more upbeat segment featuring the lyrics live a little, be a gypsy, get around, get your feet up off the ground.

McCartney said that, in the wake of The Beatles’ bitter breakup, this part reflected his desire to get away from the stress of the music business and have rural adventures with his wife.

“This is me and Linda at that time, and this is sort of what we did,” he noted. “[W]e wanted to escape the rigid systems we were living in … [W]e were rebellious, rebels with a sense of humor … We were involved with, like, the animal activists, getting our own Christmas tree … [going] vegetarian.”

As previously reported, the McCartney: A Life in Lyrics podcast was inspired by McCartney’s 2021 book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, which features profiles of 154 of his songs. The podcast incorporates audio interviews that McCartney did with Muldoon that served as the basis for the book.

McCartney: A Life in Lyrics is co-produced by iHeartPodcasts and the Pushkin audio-production company. The podcast can be heard at iHeart.com, Pushkin.fm, and on various popular streaming services.

Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

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