Back in the late Eighties, I vaguely remember reading in Rolling Stone magazine that Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello were in the studio, quietly collaborating on songs that could end up on an album by the pair. Then, as the years passed, songs from that brief yet prolific time together trickled out, mainly on McCartney’s comeback to form album Flowers in the Dirt (1989), while a couple more ended up on Costello’s Spike album from the very same year, in addition to a couple more Costello albums from the Nineties. Unfortunately, most of the songs that saw the light of day did so in re-recorded versions by each artist. That is, not until 2017, when McCartney released Deluxe and Super Deluxe versions of Flowers in the Dirt. For better or worse, those songs were mostly released in their demo forms.
Both artists’ 1989 albums contained the last Top 40 hits of their careers. Elvis reached #19 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with his version of the pair’s song “Veronica”. That song represented the only Top 20 hit of Costello’s career. He came close in 1983 with “Everyday I Write the Book”, which, believe it or not, only reached #36. The only other song that came close to the Top 40, was his 1984 duet with Daryl Hall “The Only Flame in Town”, which stalled at a disappointing #56. Surprisingly, those three songs were his only Hot 100 hits in the USA. Still, Elvis is considered to be one of the greatest songwriter’s of our generation. And, I feel so fortunate that I finally got to see him in concert during the summer of 2017.
McCartney, on the other hand, had many hits with The Beatles, Wings, as a solo artist, in addition to a handful of hits he made in collaboration with the likes of Stevie Wonder (“Ebony & Ivory”, 1982), Michael Jackson (“The Girls is Mine”, 1982, & “Say Say Say”, 1983) and Kanye West and Rihanna (“FourFiveSeconds”, 2015). Yet, his last Top 40 hit song came in 1989 when “My Brave Face” peaked at #25 in 1989.
Outside of a bootleg album from 1998, entitled The McCartney/MacManus Collaboration, little from those much-discussed sessions between the two rock legends. That is, until the anniversary release of McCartney’s Flo,wer in the Dirt. As usual, McCartney’s comeback album was not only released in a double-CD remastered form, but also a deluxe 3 CD/1 DVD set and a Super Deluxe version in all different kinds of media forms. However, if you work from the Super Deluxe version, which I do NOT own, in addition to the 2001 double-CD release of Elvis Costello’s remastered Spike album, one could cobble together 16 songs that would represent all of the known songs the pair recorded during this time together in 1987 and 1988. The sixteen songs that the pair wrote together are as follows.
1. “Back on My Feet” (a B-side of “Once Upon a Long Ago”, a 1987 Paul McCartney single)
2. “Veronica” (Elvis Costello’s hit single from his 1989 Spike album)
3. “Pads, Paws and Claws” (an album cut from Spike, 1989)
4. “…This Town…” (another cut from Spike, 1989). Not really written together, but Paul did play bass on the song.
5. “My Brave Face” (Paul’s hit single from his 1989 album, Flowers in the Dirt)
6. “You Want Her Too” (an album cut from Flowers in the Dirt, 1989)
7. “Don’t Be Careless” (Flowers in the Dirt, 1989)
8. “That Day Is Done” (Flowers in the Dirt, 1989)
9. “So like Candy” (Mighty like a Rose – Elvis Costello, 1991)
10. “Playboy to a Man” (Mighty like a Rose, 1991)
11. “Mistress and Maid” (Paul McCartney’s Off the Ground, 1993). Reportedly written during a post-Spike/Flowers in the Dirt writing session the pair had during the summer of 1991.
12. “Lovers That Never Were” (Off the Ground, 1993)
13. “Shallow Grave” (Elvis Costello’s All This Useless Beauty, 1996)
14. “Twenty Fine Fingers” (unreleased until 2017)
15. “Tommy’s Coming Home” (unreleased until 2017)
16. “I Don’t Want to Confess” (unreleased until 2017). This song was the most obscure of all collaborative songs and was released as part of the download only batch of songs available when you buy the Super Deluxe edition of McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt. I still have NOT heard this song as of this writing.
Even if you are familiar with only a couple of songs, you can hear how serious Costello took the sessions by never becoming a Beatle worshiper, while McCartney actually took inspiration from Costello’s presence by raising his game out of his Eighties funk. All of this work together helped both artists as they parlayed the rich experience they had together that led to some of their most critically acclaimed albums since their Seventies-heydays. The experience gave McCartney the confidence to rediscover his muse and not simply attempt to follow trends, as he was beginning to do in the wake of the successes of his duet work with Wonder and Jackson. For Costello, he learned that collaborations with other artists can push him to have the confidence to write with the likes of the great Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint, to much critical acclaim.
The only downside was that we never got to hear the final, fully realized vision of these legends’ collaboration. Of course, we never thought we would ever get to hear The Beach Boys’ “lost classic” album SMiLE, but we did, first as a Brian Wilson solo album in 2004, then as how it should have sounded all along as an “unfinished” masterpiece by the original group when it was finally released in 2011. And, yes, all of us Prince-ologists are very excited to know that much of the music in his infamous Vault may see the light of day in the very near future. So, maybe several of his Purple Badness’ shelved albums, such as Camille or the rumored double album Dream Factory or the legendary original version of Crystal Ball, all allegedly recorded in 1986 and 1987, only to be held back in favor of his immortal double album Sign ‘o’ the Times. My personal hope is that Paul and Elvis will quiet finalize this epic album and release it to their adoring public because I honestly believe it could be just the hit album they both could use all the while maintaining their artistic integrity. I honestly do not think this would be their Chinese Democracy, that has tainted the reputation of the once mighty Guns N’ Roses.
I am very confident that Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello are sitting on one helluva album, an album that I had forgotten about until McCartney’s re-release of his 1989 hit album Flowers in the Dirt. I am keeping my fingers crossed since I think it would be so cool to have that album hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. I hope it is not a pipe-dream.