Paul McCartney – Tug Of War (1982): Review


Produced by George Martin
Label – Parlophone/Columbia CBS

“Tug Of War” brought about a return to form in both artistic and critical recognition, realized by more consistent songs, sumptuously produced by Beatles cohort George Martin. It was the first album release following the death of John Lennon, and the official dissolution of Wings. In many ways the album feels like the start of a new chapter, and yet much of the material was written with support from Denny Laine, in sessions during 1980 just before Lennon’s death. The possibility of a reformation of the great songwriters was far from assured, but the pair were back on speaking terms and discussing their own projects, sparking off each other as Lennon quipped that the “househusband needed to go out and make a living”. Most are of the opinion that that McCartney’s method of dealing with the loss of his musical soul brother was to bury himself in work, and much of 1981 was spent perfecting not only “Tug Of War” but a number of songs that would appear on 1983’s “Pipes Of Peace”.


Most will remember “Tug Of War” as the album that paired McCartney with Stevie Wonder. The partnership provides two songs, the white hot, funky sizzler “What’s That You’re Doing”, and the insipid, sickly “Ebony And Ivory”, which remains a tragic reminder that Stevie’s own songwriting was on the rocks by this period. The album reveals at least one of McCartney’s greatest ever singles in “Take It Away”, which opens like a calypso lilt and closes out in a magnificent George Martin arranged big band horn crescendo and in between, effortless harmonies and crisp, driving pop mastery. The eulogy to his greatest inspiration, Lennon, on “Here Today” is one of the most tender and personal ballads of his career. The lyrics never once show the rose tinted wallowing and self sentimentalism one would expect, but the yearning for the complexity of their relationship, all played over a stunning string arrangement reminiscent of “Revolver” era Beatles. “Wanderlust” remains one of McCartney’s unsung classics; a powerful ballad illuminated by an orchestral melody, richly expansive and gloriously elaborate. Rolling Stone magazine would say of “Tug Of War”, “only “Band on the Run” comes close to touching “Tug of War” in the richness of its style and the consistency of its songs”, and one can only agree.

“Tug Of War” remains one of McCartney’s most accomplished works, and for all the hit and miss performances before and since, is possibly his greatest solo collection.


Track Listing
1.”Tug of War” – 4:22
2.”Take It Away” – 4:14
3.”Somebody Who Cares” – 3:19
4.”What’s That You’re Doing?” – 6:19
5.”Here Today” – 2:27
Side two6.”Ballroom Dancing” – 4:07
7.”The Pound Is Sinking” – 2:54
8.”Wanderlust” – 3:49
9.”Get It” – 2:29
10.”Be What You See (Link)” – 0:34
11.”Dress Me Up as a Robber” – 2:41
12.”Ebony and Ivory” – 3:46

Ebony And Ivory

Take It Away

Tug Of War

4 responses to “Paul McCartney – Tug Of War (1982): Review

  1. Nice to see a review that is objective. I have seen too many reviews where it is obvious that the critic has an anti-Paul agenda. Ironically, I think the 2 Stevie duets are the weakest tracks and they aren’t bad. Just want to add that Tug of War (the song), take it Away, the Pound is Sinking, Someone Who Cares and Ballroom Dancing are also great and Beatle quality songs.

  2. I re-visited the album a couple of days ago. It surprisingly still sounds as fresh and relevant today, and given the trauma’s of the previous couple of years (the break up of Wings, Paul’s marijuana bust, Lennon’s death) is still a great achievement.

    • Couldn’t agree more with your comment above Hackskeptic. The irony of the Tug of War album is that the song that catapulted Tug to the top of the charts (Ebony & Ivory) is the song that keeps the album as a whole from being considered great by many people. While I like E&I as a song, I have to admit that the production on the song is grating to the ear. While the rest of the album uses George Martin’s fantastic production techniques using various players and instruments, E&I is basically Paul and Stevie alone. Their 80’s synthesizers are so out front that after a few listens, its gets very tiresome and as I said, grating in my opinion. In contrast, songs like Wanderlust, Tug of War (the song), Ballroom Dancing etc. sound very rich and fresh. Because E&I has aged so poorly and there is so much active dislike for the song, many people (and critics) just don’t give the full album a chance. That is a shame because as you say, Tug of War is such a great achievement. Getting back to E&I, I still think the song has a good melody and the lyrics are clever with a good message. Unfortunately, the production is the main killer. Once people don’t like the sound, then it is easy to nitpick and find other reasons you don’t like the song. E&I is still relevant considering the current state of race relations.

  3. Some great points Bernard, couldn’t agree more. It’s very easy for critics to dismiss an album when the most commercial song is so widely different from the remainder of the recording. As you said, George Martin’s input is crucial in making Tug Of War such a great album. He understands what Paul is trying to achieve and steers the production using his versatility in generating classy arrangements. I only wish more artists had approached Martin (maybe they did and he turned them down). For me, he was the glue that bound The Beatles music.

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