Press to Play – 1986

Press to Play is the sixth post-Beatles studio album by English musician Paul McCartney (outside of Wings’ body of work), released in August 1986. It was McCartney’s first album of entirely new music since Pipes of Peace in 1983, and his first solo album to be issued internationally by EMI following a six-year alliance with Columbia Records in the United States and Canada. Keen to re-establish himself after his poorly received 1984 musical film, Give My Regards to Broad Street, McCartney enlisted producer Hugh Padgham to give the album a contemporary sound.

On release, Press to Play received a mixed critical reception and it was McCartney’s poorest selling studio album up to that point. Although it failed to make the top 20 in America, the album peaked at number 8 on the UK Albums Chart and achieved gold status from the BPI in September 1986. Four singles were issued from Press to Play: “Press”, “Pretty Little Head”, “Stranglehold” and “Only Love Remains”. “Press” was a minor success, peaking at number 21 in the US. The music video for the song featured McCartney walking around Piccadilly Circus tube station in London, catching a tube train and speaking with members of the general public.

After the box office flop of the musical film Give My Regards to Broad Street, McCartney decided that it was time for a change of pace in his solo career. In an attempt to give his music a more contemporary sound, he joined forces with Hugh Padgham, an in-demand, multiple award-winning producer famed for having recorded Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Genesis, The Human League, The Police, and XTC. Beginning in March 1985, McCartney began recording Press to Play, having written several new songs, many with current collaborator, 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart who co-wrote six of the album’s ten songs, McCartney claimed that “When we started working on the record, Hugh came in one day and said he’d had a dream,” McCartney recalled when he visited New York City in 1986. “He dreamed he woke up one morning and had made this really bad, syrupy album with me, an album he hated, and that it had blown his whole career. We took that as a little warning”.[2] Guesting on the album would be The Who’s lead guitarist, Pete Townshend, Genesis’ drummer and lead vocalist Phil Collins, Split Enz’s keyboard maestro Eddie Rayner and Eric Stewart himself. Carlos Alomar also overdubbed electric guitar on several tracks, including “Press”, “Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun”, “It’s Not True”, “Tough on a Tightrope”, “Write Away” and “Move Over Busker”, according to his recollections included in the book Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969–2013).

The album would not be finished until the end of the year, by which time only one song would see release from its sessions – the title track to the film Spies Like Us, joined by Phil Ramone in the producer’s chair. “Spies Like Us”, a non-album single backed by Wings’ 1975 recording “My Carnival”, proved to be a US top 10 hit, setting the stage for Press to Play. In 1993, Press to Play was remastered and reissued on the CD as part of The Paul McCartney Collection series with his 1985 hit “Spies Like Us” and an alternate mix of impending 1987 UK success “Once Upon a Long Ago” as bonus tracks. In this edition “Press” (4:25) was replaced by the 4:43 remixed version.

The album’s cover features Paul McCartney and his then-wife, Linda McCartney. The album cover’s photograph was taken by George Hurrell, using the same box camera that he used in Hollywood in the 1930s and the 1940s. Hurrell was renowned for his photographs of movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s like Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, to which the album’s cover was meant to pay homage.


“Press”, a slick up-tempo pop song, was released in July 1986 and went on to become the album’s sole top 30 hit. Press to Play itself appeared on 25 August in the United States[6] and 1 September in the United Kingdom. It received lukewarm reviews and proved to be McCartney’s weakest-selling studio album up to that point. Peaking at number 8 in the UK, its chart life was brief, while in the US, Press to Play failed to go gold, peaking at number 30 and selling only 250,000 copies. The follow-up singles, “Pretty Little Head” and “Only Love Remains”, performed poorly on the charts. As a result of this disappointing commercial reception, author Howard Sounes writes, McCartney appointed a former Polydor Records executive, Richard Ogden, as his manager, “to help revive his career”.

Track listing

All songs written by Paul McCartney and Eric Stewart, except where noted.

Side one

No. Title Length
1. “Stranglehold” 3:36
2. “Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun” (McCartney) 4:44
3. “Talk More Talk” (McCartney) 5:18
4. “Footprints” 4:32
5. “Only Love Remains” (McCartney) 4:13

Total length:

Side two

No. Title Length
1. “Press” (McCartney) 4:43
2. “Pretty Little Head” 5:14
3. “Move Over Busker” 4:05
4. “Angry” 3:36
5. “However Absurd” 4:56

Total length:


Paul McCartney – lead vocals, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, piano, keyboards, synthesizers
Additional musicians
Neil Jason – bass guitar
Eric Stewart – acoustic and electric guitars
Pete Townshend – electric guitars on “Angry” and “Move Over Busker”
Carlos Alomar – acoustic and electric guitars
Eddie Rayner – keyboards
Nick Glennie-Smith – keyboards
Simon Chamberlain – piano
Linda McCartney – keyboards, backing vocals
Phil Collins – drums on “Press”, “Angry”, and “It’s Not True”, percussion
Jerry Marotta – drums, percussion
John Bradbury – drums, percussion
Graham Ward – drums, percussion
Ray Cooper – percussion
Dick Morrissey – tenor saxophone
Lenny Pickett – alto and tenor saxophone
Gary Barnacle – saxophone
Gavyn Wright – violin solo on “Once Upon A Long Ago (Long Version)”
Kate Robbins – harmony vocals
Ruby James – harmony vocals
James McCartney – spoken word
Steve Jackson – spoken word
Eddie Klein – spoken word
John Hammel – spoken word
Matt Howe – spoken word
Tony Visconti – orchestral arrangements on “Only Love Remains”
Anne Dudley – orchestral arrangements on “However Absurd”


Paul McCartney – producer
Hugh Padgham – producer
Bonus tracks: “Once Upon a Long Ago” produced by Phil Ramone, “Spies Like Us” produced by McCartney, Ramone & Padgham


Hugh Padgham – engineer
Tony Clark – assistant engineer
Jon Kelly – assistant engineer
Peter Mew – assistant engineer
Matt Howe – assistant engineer
Steve Jackson – assistant engineer
Haydn Bendall – assistant engineer
Hugh Padgham – mixer except “Press” mixed by Bert Bevans and Steve Forward; and “It’s Not True” mixed by Julian Mendelsohn. (And on CD reissue, “Once Upon a Long Ago”, mixed by former Beatles producer George Martin.)