(Side Projects, Solo Albums, and Other Detours)
Percy “Thrills” Thrillington - “Ram On”
As we all know, Paul McCartney’s Ram is the best1 post-Beatles solo2 album, so it makes sense that McCartney would want to take a victory lap after completing that record. And so he did by recording a full-length instrumental cover of his own album under the name Percy “Thrills” Thrillington. Yes, he took a page out of George Martin’s book and created a far far far less essential version of his own music. Before Ram was even released, McCartney was already working with conductor Richard Anthony Hewson to arrange new versions of his songs. The recordings began less than two weeks after Ram hit shelves, and were completed within the month. That was June 1971. Thrillington was released in April 1977, nearly six years later. Apparently forming the band Wings distracted Paul enough to neglect his most outlandish creation for more than half a decade.
But in the run up to the album’s release, McCartney seemed to dive headfirst into creating the character of Percy Thrillington. He sent rogueish valentines to female reporters under that name, and regularly took out personal ads detailing adventures in exotica locals that Thrillington had supposedly recent experienced. Naturally, since Thrillington was going to working with his music, McCartney had to create a space for himself within the life of this fictional playboy. He cast himself as a sort of mentor figure for Thrillington, taking the young and talented musician under his wing and helping to arrange the lad’s first album.
Here’s the inside of the album, which details Thrillington’s life and rather unconvincingly denies that Paul and Thrillington are the same person:
Yet, despite Paul’s involvement and his attempts to drum up interest in Thrillington, the album went utterly unremarked upon when it was released, save a passing mention in the Random Notes section of Rolling Stone. Perhaps Paul was great at convincing people of the existence of a fictional person, but not so great at convincing them to buy that fake person’s albums. So, Thrillington became a sort of, kind of collectors item, hampered somewhat by the nebulousness of Paul’s contributions. It took until a November 27, 1989 press conference for Paul to publicly admit that he was behind the record, which revitalized interest in it and turned it from a footnote in his career to a slightly larger footnote in his career.
But, beyond it’s undeniably amusing backstory, the question remains as to whether Thrillington is actually worth a listen. While this is far from a ringing endorsement, I will say that it’s a far more interesting listen than George Martin’s easy listening Beatles cover records. However inferior these renditions may be, at least they’re not boring. He turns “3 Legs” into a sleazy saxophone number, and nearly converts “Dear Boy” into a doo-wop track. Most, though, are given horn-heavy instrumental makeovers. None of the tracks manage to outdo the originals, but then again, they’re not really trying to. This record is a low-stakes lark, not a true McCartney album by any stretch of the imagination. Ultimately, Thrillington is an utterly inessential record, but also never an unpleasant one.
1. Yes, better than All Things Must Pass, and yes, better than John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. (The runners up.)
What? Ringo Starr? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure who that is.
2. Yes, Ram is credited to “Paul & Linda McCartney” but we all know that all projects by former Beatles will be lumped together under the title of [That Beatle] Solo Works. It’s not isolation from all people that matters; it matters that they’re away from The Beatles.