Kisses On the Bottom

Imagine a New Year’s Eve in England in the late 1940s. The rugs are rolled back in a modest Liverpool home, women smoke their cigarettes and sip their drinks waiting for a man to approach and ask for a dance. One man sits down at the piano and begins to play songs that have drifted across the Atlantic, courtesy of Mercer, Berlin, and Arlen. Standing next to the piano is a boy of five or six. He takes in the scene, soaks up the music, allowing it to fire his imagination. Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s; the boy, now an international star, is writing some of the defining songs of his generation, “Michelle,” “Yesterday,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Let It Be.” Fast forward once more. Sir Paul McCartney is nearing his 70th birthday. Now is the time to revisit those songs from long ago and a few of his own, inspired by the classics.

Kisses On the Bottom features Diana Krall at the piano, accompanied by her superb jazz band, and is produced by Tommy LiPuma, who’s musical lineage includes Miles Davis, Al Jarreau, and Barbara Streisand. Sir Paul allows the band to take the musical reins, only occasionally picking up the guitar for a few licks here and there. His focus is vocals, adapting them to match the lovely and delicate arrangements of the ballads. This isn’t an easy chore, as these songs are based in jazz and feature more complicated chord arrangements than rock. The album was recorded at Hollywood’s legendary Capitol Records Tower Building, in the studio used to record Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and McCartney stood before the very mic used by Nat King Cole. Undaunted, Sir Paul approaches the songs with an easy grace and warmth. He’s not out to knock your socks off, instead he eases you into your comfy chair, and practically hands you a cup of tea with lemon to the side.

Many of the songs on the album are well known including “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and “Always.” Other are surprising and lesser known choices including “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” and “Home (When Shadows Fall).” “More Than I Can Wish For You” was written for Guys and Dolls but did not make the film. Particularly sweet is his take on “The Inch Worm” a song you might remember from grade school. His vocals move to an upper register and is joined by a choir of children. The album’s title is taken from a line in the opening track, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” a song that was a hit for Fats Waller in 1935.

McCartney includes two new songs of his own, the best of which has all the markings of a new classic. “My Valentine” was inspired by and written for his new bride Nancy while they vacationed in Morocco. It’s both romantic and optimistic, and features the pristine guitar work of Eric Clapton. “Only Our Hearts” brims with strings from the London Symphony Orchestra and is accented by a harmonica interlude from Stevie Wonder.

Kisses on the Bottom is most definitely a sentimental journey but it is also Paul McCartney’s tip o’ the hat to a generation of songwriters who defined an era in music and inspired musical awakenings in a new generation of artists.

Rosemary Welsch (afternoon host)