Following on from one of the hottest new releases of 2020, it's time to roll back the years again to one of the obscurer albums in Paul McCartney's back catalogue, Thrillington, from 1977.
You'd be forgiven for never having heard of Percy Thrillington and this rather obscure orchestral record, complete with a cover of Paul and Linda McCartney's RAM from 1971. It's one that passed a lot of people by, even some of the most hardcore Beatles fans at the time, and to any unassuming buyers (of which there were very few when Thrillington released), it was just easy-listening, orchestral versions of the RAM album. McCartney was only briefly mentioned in the sleeve notes as a friend of the character of Percy Thrillington, and he sat on the identity for 12 years, until an interview in 1989 where he revealed that he was in fact Percy Thrillington. McCartney was, of course, no stranger to the world of character creation, having done it some ten years prior on Sgt. Pepper with The Beatles, yet this one went completely under the radar.
As a cover of RAM, the melodies present on Thrillington as are smooth and bouncy as the original and there's a great charm to the sheer wall of sound that any orchestral arrangements provide. The likes of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey are especially pleasing, given the song's original swaying notion in the interludes. It's comparable to arrangements from composers such as James Last, who was famed the world over for upbeat and accessible orchestral versions of popular songs, some by The Beatles. Listening to Thrillington slots right in with the music of James Last and other contemporaries, offering an album with classics you know, but with a completely different spin on them.
That smoothness and light sprinkling of swagger is something that's repeated throughout, from 3 Legs' sauntering back-and-forth brass and truly sublime piano licks to Heart Of The Country's subtle brushed drums, woodwind and barbershop-quartet levels of harmonisation. It's the sheer variety of arrangements and melodies that has kept me hooked to this record, as well as its place as one of the more accessible LPs in McCartney's vast collection. There's no doubts that this is by far and away one of McCartney's most ambitious and experimental projects to date, but like a fine wine, it's got better with age, and especially with 2018's reissue, can be enjoyed even more now than ever before.
The back-end of Thrillington is certainly where it gets a bit weirder. The likes of Monkberry Moon Delight are a lot darker and more sinister sounding than their predecessors, especially given the little interludes of muted trumpets mixed in with typical brass and strings. In a way, it sounds like John William’s Cantina Band music from the first Star Wars film, also released in 1977. The following Eat At Home takes on a completely different sound, embarking from the sinister and turning to something more upbeat, with a bassline borrowed from one of McCartney’s signature songs, Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da, from 1968’s White Album. It’s a properly head-bouncing tune and this light sprinklings of organ amongst the horns and percussion make this a standout.
As closers go, Back Seat Of My Car is a lesson in how to get it right. Whilst it's got the now signature orchestral sounds of this LP, there's inflections of McCartney in the harsh drums and subtle guitar on this track. It's one of the standouts on Thrillington for sure, especially given the variety present over the course of the suite. The silky smooth and alluring sound of the brass is one of its standout moments, along with its upbeat and melodic sentiments; it sums up what's brilliant about Thrillington in just under five minutes.
Thrillington is one of those albums that excels due to its variety and left-field nature. Sure, it might not be to everyone's tastes, but as orchestral renditions go, it's hard to find something better. There's really something for everyone here, and the orchestral sounds here are a sound that everyone can get behind, especially given its smooth and somewhat romantic feeling.
If you want to pick up a copy, I'll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2X5Ra8a
Or if you'd prefer, here's a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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