Mention a Paul McCartney song with drums and vocals by Ringo Starr, and an orchestral arrangement by George Martin, and you might think we’ve landed at some unspecified moment in Beatles history. In fact, we’re talking about an underrated moment in Paul’s solo catalogue, and the elegant ballad ‘Beautiful Night,’ which made its UK top 40 debut on the chart of 27 December 1997.
The track was the third and final single from McCartney’s Flaming Pie album, which had already yielded the ‘Young Boy’ and ‘This World Tonight’ releases. ‘Beautiful Night’ stands as something of a hidden gem in Paul’s solo career, with its pretty melody and evocative lyrics such as “I won’t need a castle, they’ve got castles in Versailles…and I’m still stranded, wondering why.”
The song had been around for a decade, with a version cut in New York in 1986 but shelved. The new take was co-produced by McCartney and Jeff Lynne, with whom Paul had worked on The Beatles’ Anthology project of 1995-96; it was after the two former bandmates were reunited on Anthology that Paul suggested he and Ringo record something new together.
The day after they cut the track, the pair collaborated again on ‘Really Love You,’ also featured on Flaming Pie. That gave trivia fans a fascinating new question, since it was the first time a song carried the writing credit “McCartney/Starr.”
‘Beautiful Night’ also had backing vocals by Linda McCartney, its release as a single coming only four months before her tragic death from cancer at the age of 56. Martin’s gorgeous orchestration was recorded, as seemed only right, at Abbey Road Studios, on St. Valentine’s Day 1997. The Beatles’ connection was further enhanced by the presence on that date of engineer Geoff Emerick.
The song had a false ending followed by an uptempo coda, on which Ringo’s backing vocals can clearly be heard; after some closing studio banter, he pretends to be ushering the musicians out of the studio by saying “on your way, thank you.” Surprisingly,’Beautiful Night’ didn’t become a major chart item, entering the UK chart at its No. 25 peak before falling to No. 37 in a four-week run in the top 75.
‘Beautiful Night’ is on Flaming Pie, which can be bought here.
Follow the official Paul McCartney Best Of playlist.