McCartney: from Apple Corps to App Store

Do you want to buy your record collection (again and) again? The stuttering hi-res audio movement has designs on your cash, but perhaps there’s another way to keep the royalties ticking over. The ‘deluxe’ reissue is a common marketing tool, but as a vehicle for adding value to re-releases the app looks, in some ways, even better value. Certainly Paul McCartney thinks so.

The first five McCartney albums to get the iPad app treatment are, unsurprisingly, among the biggest sellers of his wildly productive 70s (McCartney opened his account in April 1970; McCartney II, the most recent of the five, was released in May 1980).

In each case, the remastered album is embedded in a tasteful and extensive app, with a wealth of photographs, loads of interviews with the relevant and the peripheral (from Tony Visconti to John Conteh, from Geoff Emerick to Dustin Hoffman), as well as with Paul and Linda. Video content, mini-documentaries, examinations of the specifics of the artistic process as it relates to recording, packaging, promoting...

There’s more than enough in each app to last at least the length of each album (sample snippet: McCartney on being mugged at knifepoint in Lagos during the Band On The Run sessions. ‘I thought “they’ve followed us. They’re gonna do us.” You know how you think. It’s not rational.’). Even listeners entirely familiar with these recordings will find fresh perspective offered by the accompanying material.

In musical terms, all five albums intermittently demonstrate McCartney’s otherworldly melodic gifts and instinctive songwriting talents. Both McCartney and, especially, Ram (1971) are the homespun, pastoral sound of a man doing exactly as he pleases – songs like Maybe I’m Amazed and Too Many People sound relaxed and (in the best way) effortless.

The home-made vibe is equally strong on McCartney II, but the sound is influenced by the appearance of one of the UK’s very first sequencers. Temporary Secretary, for example, is a weirdly contemporary listen (it’s a shame Check My Machine, an out-take included in the most recent round of McCartney reissues on CD, is omitted here. It could pass for a 2014 recording).

It’s the two Wings albums that top and tail these reissues, though. Wings were never the most credible ‘band’ (though obviously a necessity where performances and tours are concerned), and the reputation of Band on the Run barely survived Alan Partridge’s endorsement. But taken objectively (and even without the fascinating context the app content presents, especially involving the celebrated sleeve photograph) Band on the Run is an ambitious, action-packed and, above all, strange album. At times it’s a little too virtuoso, too clever-clever for its own good, but the title track, Let Me Roll It and Nighteen Hundred and Eighty Five manage to be smart-arsed and complicated while sounding simple, catchy and hummable.

Only Wings Over America, the 1976 triple-album document of Wings’ only U.S. tour, sounds a particularly false note. There’s too much of it, for a start, and the band (drums, bass, keyboards, two guitars, three horns, the kitchen sink) is too big, too busy and altogether too anxious to make its presence felt. The light and shade that’s at the heart of many of McCartney’s best songs is buried beneath the need to project into the Dallas Enormodome or wherever, and at this remove it’s hard to imagine Wings Over America being of interest to anyone who wasn’t actually at one of these shows.

At £5.49 a pop these apps look like overt value for money, and there’s absolutely no arguing with the sheer amount of material each one includes. The sound quality, though, is probably best described as ‘marginal’. Certainly a 256kbps file of Band on the Run purchased from the iTunes store has a deal more dynamism, space and detail than the version embedded in the app – but then Band on the Run (Remastered) purchased from the iTunes store costs £10.99 and doesn’t come with any of the exciting extras the app is crammed with. Neither McCartney Publishing Limited nor Apple are exactly making with the details, but we’re confident these apps are not the last word in out-and-out fidelity. But maybe that’s to miss the point somewhat. If you consider the music as simply one element of the apps, they’re each one fascinating to a lesser or greater extent.

Extra Features

– Promotional videos

– Films and photographs

– Interviews

– Press releases

– Album artwork

– Lyrics

– Documentaries

– Tour itineries

– Sketchbooks

– Concert programmes

– Publicity material

Paul McCartney - McCartney (1970): 4 stars

Paul McCartney - McCartney II (1980): 4 stars

Paul & Linda McCartney - Ram (1971): 4 stars

Paul McCartney & Wings - Band On The Run (1973): 5 stars

Wings - Wings Over America (1976): 3 stars

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as GQ, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others.