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*12.17-UNCLE ALBERT / ADMIRAL HALSEY (Paul & Linda McCartney)

Linda & Paul McCartney
Linda & Mary & Paul McCartney

LISTEN

We're so sorry Uncle Albert.
We're so sorry if we caused you any pain.
We're so sorry Uncle Albert
But there's no one left at home
And I believe it’s gonna rain.

We're so sorry
But we haven't heard a thing all day.
We're so sorry Uncle Albert.
But if anything should happen
We'll be sure to give a ring.

[Break: telephone ringing]

We're so sorry Uncle Albert
But we haven't done a bloody thing all day.
We're so sorry Uncle Albert
But the kettle's on the boil
And we're so easily called away.

     [Break]

     Hand across the water
     Heads across the sky
(2x)

          Admiral Halsey notified me.
          He had to have a berth or he couldn't get to sea.
          I had another look and I had a cup of tea and butter pie.
          (The butter wouldn't melt so I put it in the pie.)

     [Chorus]

               Live a little, be a gypsy, get around.
               Get your feet up off the ground.
               Live a little, get around.
(2x)

          [Break]

     [Chorus]

[Coda]


Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey was Paul McCartney’s second single released in the U.S., and his first number one hit in the country. It was released on the McCartney’s second album Ram, which reached #2 on the American charts (#1UK). Ram, like the previous album, was largely a love letter to his wife Linda, and further extolled the virtues of country living. Unlike the album McCartney, however, he recorded Ram with studio musicians. According to Wikipedia, the New York Philharmonic was employed on Uncle Albert, as well as bebop musician Marvin Stamm, who played flugelhorn. It wasn’t until his third album, Wild Life, that McCartney assembled the band known as Wings.

With the possible exception of the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, when it was the first of its kind, Uncle Albert is probably the most successful of musical pastiches to make it to the top of the U.S. singles charts. The Beatles had done a few such album cuts, most recently on the B side of the album Abbey Road; the song is strongly reminiscent of that particular effort. Other artists had made agglomerations of tunes--the Mothers of Invention (Brown Shoes Don’t Make It), Incredible String Band (A Very Cellular Song), the “Who” (Rael), The Doors (When the Music’s Over), Buffalo Springfield (Bluebird)--but they were rarely thought to have a popular enough audience for the radio. Maybe the times were changing—Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, a pastiche by Stephen Stills while in Crosby Stills and Nash, had done fairly well, getting so far on the U.S.charts as #21. But it was surprising that such a silly tune as Uncle Albert would be so enthusiastically embraced—probably because it sounded so much like the defunct Beatles, which the public was still sorely missing.

There is also the whimsical quality of Yellow Submarine in Uncle Albert, a quality that lends itself to cartoon characterization and is perfect for the various sound effects employed in the song. I imagine he wrote the song to entertain his adopted daughter, Heather, who would have been about eight years old at the time, and his first child with Linda, named Mary, who was about two. The lyrics are disjointed but, as Thomas Ryan of American Hit Radio writes, “The atmosphere and production techniques change so rapidly that the song holds your interest while McCartney’s impeccable melodic sense pulls us in further.” Stewart Mason of allmusic calls it “loveably giddy”.One can sense the pleasure of an artist, who had previously believed in the freshness of vision afforded by LSD, in being given living examples of childhood perception daily in his own home.

The public was accustomed to family members and friends showing up in songs. No one seemed to have a problem with learning that Paul McCartney’s Martha had been named after his dog, or that Julia had been written to John Lennon’s deceased mother. But the audience was a bit thrown by having a historical personage thrown into silliness that resisted meaning. (It’s true that Bob Dylan, in the early psychedelic period, sprinkled his poetry with historical personages, but these were meant to be evocative, even if sometimes absurd.) The fact that Admiral Halsey was an American famous for fighting the Japanese in World War II spread speculation that the song was about Pearl Harbor or perhaps a swipe at Yoko Ono. Given the whimsy in the song, this would be quite a stretch, but it shows how much people still believed (like Charles Manson believed about Helter Skelter) that there was an esoteric message hidden in popular music. And McCartney played up the history of Admiral Halsey upon the song’s release, emphasizing that Halsey was an American. He explained that he did not release the song as a single in the UK for that reason.

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