The Meaning Behind “Take It Away” by Paul McCartney and the Ex-Bandmate for Whom He Originally Wrote It

Paul McCartney released “Take It Away” as the second single from his Tug of War album in 1982. The song soared into the Top 10, which wasn’t bad at all considering that it was one that McCartney had originally intended to give away to an old Beatle buddy.

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What is “Take It Away” about? For whom did McCartney originally write the song? And why did he end up playing most of the instruments himself instead of with his band Wings? Here’s the skinny on one of Macca’s truly wondrous pop confections.

Sorry, Ringo

Even with all the tumult surrounding the death of John Lennon in December 1980, the surviving Beatles still entered into a flurry of recording activity in and around that time. Ringo Starr planned a new album, and he reached out to both George Harrison and Paul McCartney for songs. As McCartney explained in an interview for Club Sandwich around the time of the album’s release, “Take It Away” was one of the songs he wrote for his buddy:

“Well, there were a couple of songs that we ended up recording which Ringo asked me to write at a certain period. I was writing some songs for Ringo and ‘Take It Away’ was in amongst those songs. I thought it would suit me better the way it went into the chorus and stuff; I didn’t think it was very Ringo.”

McCartney did an early demo of the song in August 1980 for his next album release. He had recently completed McCartney II, which was his first purely solo effort since his debut post-Beatles album 10 years previous. As for the new material, he knew that we wanted to record with Beatles producer George Martin He also originally envisioned this upcoming album as a return to Wings, the group that he had founded and played with throughout the ’70s.

Going Solo … Again

When McCartney assembled Wings to rehearse the new material, including “Take It Away,” little got done. Whether lingering resentments among the members caused this lack of progress, or it was just simply a case of the band running its course, it became clear to McCartney that he would have to go in another direction.

He decided that he would simply call on whomever he wanted to play on individual songs on the album. This essentially served as the death knell for Wings, who officially disbanded in 1981. Tug of War, which would be released in 1982, would be a kind of Paul-and-friends record.

In the case of “Take It Away,” McCartney did most of the instrumental work himself, playing guitar, bass, and piano. Backing vocals were provided by Paul and his wife Linda along with Eric Stewart, and studio musicians added the brass. As for Ringo Starr, he did get to play drums on the track, forming a twin-percussion attach with session legend Steve Gadd.

What Does “Take It Away” Mean?

“Take It Away” is one of those McCartney songs where the lyrical dots can be tough to connect, as the words are more suggestive of themes and vibes than closely linked in a narrative sense. The song seems to comment on the nature of the relationship between audience member and performer, as well as on the power of music itself. The title refers to the common command given by an emcee to a musician right before they’re about to play.

Phrases like some important impresario show off McCartney’s available to put words together that create a memorable sound. In the verses, the lyrics hint at isolation and longing. In the first verse, a driver on a long, lonely trip switches on his radio. The same man arrives to watch a show in the second verse, and then he lingers long after the show is over in the third verse, his only companion being faded flowers, suggesting a romantic tryst gone unfulfilled.

For all those subtly sorrowful snapshots, the choruses spring to life with energy and hope. McCartney seems to be saying that all is forgotten when the music starts to play. “Take It Away” started as a song-for-hire effort. But it ended up squarely in Paul McCartney’s wheelhouse as a piece of sophisticated, engaging pop.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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