‘Pie’ push: A Capitol idea

LONDON — Paul McCartney may not tour to support the release of “Flaming Pie,” his first solo disc in four years, so execs at Capitol Records are leaving no marketing stone unturned in its multimillion dollar campaign to herald the album’s arrival.

Even though McCartney hasn’t released an album in some time, he hasn’t been far from the minds of record buyers thanks to the three highly successful “Anthology” series sets, the highly-touted compilations of never-before-released Beatles tracks.

It is that awareness that execs at Capitol Records are hoping will spark those who got their first taste of the Beatles over the past 18 months to go out and buy the new album.

Capitol is backing the release with a well-planned campaign, a component of which featured McCartney fielding questions in a town hall format meeting Saturday at the Bishops Gate Foundation in London. The chat was broadcast live in the U.S. over VH1, as a cornerstone of a “McCartney Weekend,” and the Internet.

“I think it went real well,” McCartney told Daily Variety. “I enjoyed doing it.”

Only a fraction of the 3 million questions sent in by viewers were put to McCartney during the hour-long chat, which was attended by radio contest winners and included song previews and vidclips.

But he also wasn’t initially expected to go along with the town hall promo though he eventually did. So label execs are hopeful that the success of Saturday’s event will translate into future promotional opportunities to help tout the disc.

McCartney said he “probably” won’t tour to support “Flaming Pie” as he did in 1993 for “Off the Ground” his last solo outing. That disc followed McCartney’s widely praised “Unplugged” appearance for MTV in ’91 and his series of collborations with Elvis Costello that brought into the good graces of the critical community.

McCartney had been a hit-making machine following the Beatles’ break-up in 1970, putting 17 albums into the U.S. top 40 over 21 years. Naturally, Capitol execs are hoping for a return to form that would build on 1989’s “Flowers in the Dirt,” an album that launched a spectacularly successful world tour.

“This is an incredible album and a lot of people are going to get into it,” said Gary Gersh, prexy of Capitol Records. “With the success of the ‘Anthology’ albums exposing Paul to a new group of younger fans, we believe that both the hardcore fan and the Beatles novice are going to want this album.”

“Flaming Pie” boasts several rock-tinged tracks with wide-appeal potential and buffered by solid riff work by Jeff Lynne, who produced most of the album with McCartney and Steve Miller. Ringo Starr plays drums on a pair of songs and producer George Martin contributes a sweeping orchestration to a tune. McCartney’s 19-year-old guitar-playing son James makes his debut.

Good timing

The release comes at a good time for Capitol, which has some solid rock releases on the boards from Meredith Brooks, Foo Fighters, Radiohead and Luscious Jackson. It’s also a particularly propitious time for Gersh, who is in the middle of contract renegotiations with execs at parent EMI.

Gersh declined to comment on the status of his deal or whether he has been approached by other companies.

But sources at other labels have said they have made casual overtures to Gersh, an A&R exec during the halcyon days at Geffen Records before inking with Capitol, in the event he cannot close a pact with EMI chieftains.

“Flaming Pie” will be released in the U.S. on May 27 — a week later than initially planned as McCartney didn’t want to go against Michael Jackson’s “Blood On the Dance Floor” disc set for Tuesday. The album is the result of songwriting that was no doubt inspired by the discovery that McCarthy’s wife Linda has breast cancer. He also wasn’t under any pressure to churn out an album.

“I enjoyed making the album,” McCartney said. “It came easily and I’m proud of it.”

He said the two years during the “Anthology” releases, the first of which coincided with a highly successful three-part docu on ABC, allowed him to create songs “just for fun, not for an album.” He plays most of the instruments on the album and recorded it at his home studio.

While the reaction in the U.K. to the new disc (it was released abroad May 5) has been mixed, “The World Tonight,” the disc’s first single, is catching fire among pop and classic rock radio stations in the U.S, such as the influential WPLJ in New York and 99X in Atlanta.

Even a handful of talk radio stations, including KABC in L.A., took the highly unusual step of previewing snippets of the album for its listeners between the morning show banter.

Lou Mann, veep/g.m. of Capitol, who is leading the marketing charge for the label, believes there is sufficient interest in the album that even without a tour it should sell well.

“In a perfect world, we would like a tour,” Mann said. “But Paul has decided he doesn’t want to do one. So we will make the most of whatever opportunities he gives us and do what we can to make sure this album has the long life we believe it deserves.”

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