1982 was an important year for Paul McCartney. It had been two years since he released the experimental McCartney II to mixed reviews and, in the interim, John Lennon had been murdered. Perhaps sensing the need of another alpha male type to help focus his new album's material, McCartney called upon George Martin to produce for the first time since "Live And Let Die" and for his first full-length album since The Beatles broke up. The resulting album, Tug Of War, was a critical and commercial success, aided by his duet with Stevie Wonder on "Ebony And Ivory." The album has been remixed for 2015 as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. This review focuses on the two CDs from the Special Edition, as well as the DVD included in the Deluxe Edition.
The album opens with the title track, mixing acoustic guitars, a subtle George Martin score and a rock bridge into a style of pop music McCartney practically invented, if not perfected. McCartney is in fine voice here and throughout, still sounding and looking very much like Beatle Paul at this point. The song merges into the bouncy pop of "Take It Away," a strong single that features Ringo Starr on drums (and also in the video, along with Martin).
Two duets with Wonder feature on the album, the first being "What's That You're Doing?," a funk tune that has Wonder's fingerprints all over it and a brief reprise of the "She Loves You" at the end. The other, of course, is the ballad "Ebony And Ivory," a huge hit for both artists. Disc two includes two additional versions of the song, McCartney's original demo and a fully produced, McCartney-only version.
McCartney took a beating in the press for his initial reaction to Lennon's murder, but more than makes up for it here with the heartfelt, acoustic "Here Today." The song is a poignant reminder of their friendship and songwriting partnership and has become a staple of McCartney's live performances. Another important influence in McCartney's life, Carl Perkins, duets and adds guitar on the fun rockabilly of "Get It." If there's a misstep on this album at all, it would be "Dress Me Up As A Robber," a track with a disco-era vibe and one better left on the cutting room floor. Still, it is easy to overlook one dud on an album with so many gems.
The bonus disc includes demos for a number of the songs, including separate tracks for "The Pound Is Sinking" and "Something That Didn't Happen." It's interesting to hear these songs in this form as they were, of course, combined on the final release. There's also a fun, if sloppy, version of "Take It Away" that always seems on the verge of collapse but never quite makes it. Many of these demos have a McCartney II feel to them, which is not surprising given that they were recorded during that era. Also included are the B-sides "Rainclouds" and "I'll Give You A Ring."
The DVD includes two videos for "Tug Of War," along with the videos for "Take It Away" and "Ebony And Ivory." It is curious that McCartney's solo video for "Ebony And Ivory" was not included, but there is an interesting behind the scenes look at "Take It Away" on the disc.
The album has been remixed. For those familiar with the original mix, it is noticeable in some instances, with many of the songs sounding clearer, with better separation. The remix does sound good and the casual fan will likely not notice the difference, but it would have been nice to be able to get the original mix without having to splurge for the Deluxe box. Still, the sound here and throughout, as on all of these McCartney reissues, is top notch.
Tug Of War is essential listening for any McCartney fan. It is easily in his top five best albums and it featured a reunion with Martin and Starr. Add in the guest stars, top-notch songwriting, and an excellent bonus disc, and Tug of War Special Edition ranks among the very best of these reissues.