People Music: Jordan Runtagh: March 28th 2017
Though his music can be heard in all corners of the globe, Paul McCartney’s songwriting process is impressively homegrown. When he teamed with Elvis Costello for sessions that would ultimately yield his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt, the pair met at McCartney’s personal studio: a converted corn mill dubbed Hog Hill Mill, a short drive from his farm in rural southern England. Armed with nothing more high-tech than a pencil, paper and acoustic guitar, two of the world’s most influential composers climbed the steps to a small office tucked above the studio and pulled tunes out of thin air. That was the tough part.
“For us, the best bit from the writing sessions was literally after we’d finished,” McCartney tells PEOPLE exclusively. “We’d get our words written down and then we’d just take our guitars downstairs to the studio and record ’em.” Flush from the high of creativity, these primitive takes possess an excitement all their own. “It was great, coming really hot off the skillet. That’s my expression—it feels like we just cooked something, bang, right to your plate! There’s an immediacy of just a couple guys going, ‘There’s a song!’ and banging it out. It’s immediate and I think it makes it really believable. I like the performances too, because we hadn’t really thought how to perform it other than upstairs writing it. It’s just so quick.”
These early versions are included on a new expanded reissue of Flowers in the Dirt. While managing to pack an impressive array of rarities and special features, the acoustic duets with Costello form the centerpiece of the collection. “Because they’re demos, you never really do much with them,” McCartney, 74, explains. “You just carry on as normal, making the album and doing the songs a bit differently. But having put the demos to one side for a while, I suddenly thought, ‘I wonder how those sound?’ So I dug them up and was really pleased with them.” More than a fascinating insight into the working relationship between two musical giants, the tapes stand on their own as truly electrifying performances.