Eighteen months after the release Tug Of War, Paul McCartney’s follow-up album hit shelves. Leading off with the huge smash single with Michael Jackson “Say Say Say,” expectations were high for Pipes Of Peace. The single, which spent six weeks at the top of the chart starting in mid-October of ‘83, had been recorded in 1981. However, it didn’t see release until nearly two years later. If it were released as a single today, it would still rise up the charts. There is an obvious chemistry with the duo’s trading of lines in the verses, and the rhythm guitar’s presence, while slight, is exemplary. Add in some well-arranged horns and an always-welcome harmonica, and you’ve got a hit that has stood the test of time for 30-plus years. While Jackson’s vocals are the most impassioned of the two, McCartney’s steadying vocal presence provides a needed balance that helps keep the track overall in the pocket.
Certainly by late 1983, it was a Michael Jackson world the music industry was living in. What even most Michael Jackson fans forget, however, is that the pair recorded another song aside from “Say Say Say” and “The Girl Is Mine” (from Thriller) called “The Man.” That track, which ended up being shelved as another single from Pipes Of Peace, finds the pair in a different mode. Compared to the rhythmic and funky “Say Say Say” and the—at times—corniness of “The Girl Is Mine,” “The Man” leans into straight-ahead pop territory. The track glides along a tick above a midtempo pace with some light orchestration and even an electric guitar solo in the middle. “The Man” is a better-than-average song, but the other two compositions by the pair were and are still better suited to be hits.
Let’s be clear, though, that Pipes Of Peace is more than a couple Michael Jackson songs and a bunch of filler. The title track, while never released as an official single in the US, was a No. 1 hit in the UK and had a video filmed for it (which is included on the DVD in the deluxe edition of this reissue). It stands firmly as a strong composition in its own right with an excellent vocal arrangement and a nice use of tabla to boot. “So Bad,” a ballad, found moderate success at the end of ‘83 and early ‘84 on the charts, reaching as high as No. 23 on Billboard’s pop chart. McCartney climbs the register into almost uncomfortable falsetto territory, although it’s a well-arranged vocal that both McCartney and longtime studio producer/friend George Martin had a hand in.
“Sweetest Little Show” is another fun number. Starting with a slightly bluesy lick, it switches gears into a singalong ditty with a light hop to it. With 90 seconds remaining in the track, it moves into a charming instrumental acoustic guitar breakdown that has a second guitar to embellish the melody before getting one final chorus reprise. Two songs later, “Hey Hey,” an instrumental with a fun party vibe, has the feel of a jauntier version of The Beatles’ “Birthday” guitar riff, although it’s not an all-out copy of it. Even though it’s panned by naysayers, “Hey Hey” is a feel-good song that feels less forced than a track like “Average Person” or “The Other Me.” To that end, it’s a refreshing piece of music.
A bonus disc collects three demos from the sessions of songs that would appear on the album (“Average Person,” “Keep Under Cover” and “Sweetest Little Show”). Of those, “Sweetest Little Show” shines brightest, although it helps that it’s the best song of the trio. Its tempo is slowed ever so slightly, and curiously the demo is longer than the final version even without having the one-minute instrumental break that is found on the album version. Two other demos are included as well: “Simple As That,” a rather uninteresting previously unreleased track and “It’s Not On,” a song that sounds finished as is and that features multiple odd character-style voices. It’s certainly a grower, but it could have been an interesting b-side, if nothing else.
Also included is a new remix of “Say Say Say” that features some alternate vocal takes where verses previously started by McCartney are now covered by Jackson. As confident as Jackson is through most of the song, McCartney gives a better vocal take in the replaced lines. Still, it gives us an alternate reality of what was envisioned for this track. Various other ad libs are sprinkled throughout the last four minutes over an instrumental bed. The original b-side to “Say Say Say” entitled “Ode To A Koala Bear,” an ‘80s song over ‘50s-styled triplets that is truly as straightforward (and head-scratching) as its title implies; the title song to the soundtrack of Twice In A Lifetime from 1985; and a previously unreleased instrumental called “Christian Bop,” which dates to 1981, round out the bonus disc.
For the deluxe set, a DVD gathers the three music videos filmed for the album (“Pipes Of Peace,” “Say Say Say” and “So Bad”), and home video from McCartney’s personal collection —ncluding locations such as Montserrat, where some of the music was recorded, and the UK with Jackson horseback riding with the McCartney family—round out the media. As with previous releases in the Archive Collection, a beautiful book is included that has interviews with various members involved with the making of the album and a bountiful collection of photos as well as another full book of shots from the “Pipes Of Peace” music video.
Pipes Of Peace as a whole isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch. There are songs that drag the album down, but there’s also a bevy of material with enough meat to make it a hearty collection. Giving it a nice remastering and including it in the Archive Collection series, which is now five years in (and still going), helps to shine a spotlight on an album that may have only otherwise been remembered for one song. It’s worth revisiting for more.