The Paul McCartney song “Pipes of Peace” was released as a single on December 5, 1983 on its way to topping the charts in the UK for two weeks. While “Pipes of Pipes”, a song from the album of the same title, was a # 1 song in the UK, the song’s performance in the U.S. shows how some songs can be hits on one side of the Atlantic and then be totally invisible on the other side. The song was released in the U.S. as the B-side of “So Bad”, a song that was the B-side to “Pipes of Peace” in England. The single of “So Bad”/”Pipes of Peace” spent eight weeks in the Top 40 and only reached # 23. MTV, which was only two years old at the time, did not give the level of play to the video of “Pipes of Peace” as one would expect them to give to a rock legend. The video received minimal rotation on MTV, likely because the song was not released as an A-side single and received scant notice as the B-side to “So Bad”.
Despite the song’s invisibility in the U.S., this UK # 1 hit also topped the charts across the Irish Sea in the Republic of Ireland. “Pipes of Peace” is also significant in the UK because it represented the very first solo number # 1 hit that Paul McCartney ever scored in the UK after 17 chart-toppers with the Beatles, one with Wings (“Mull of Kintyre”) and one with Stevie Wonder(“Ebony and Ivory”). The song marked the 25th # 1 hit in the UK that was penned by McCartney, five of which were performed by other artists.
As is well known, the ex-Beatle has appeared on five charity singles that have hit number one on the UK charts over the years, beginning with Band Aid in 1984. The others are Ferry Aid (1987), Ferry Cross the Mersey (1989), Band Aid 20 (2004), and The Justice Collective (2012).
The video for “Pipes of Peace” told a story of the famed 1914 Christmas Day truce between British and German soldiers when the troops had cordial conversations, exchanged photos of loved ones, gave each other chocolates and played soccer. McCartney played both a British soldier and a German soldier. The good will of the soldiers in the No Man’s Land ‘s that day ended with a blast that sent them back to their respective sides, while each of the two soldiers played by McCartney realize afterwards that they have the other one’s family photo.
At the time, the video was said to have been inspired by the movie Oh! What a Lovely War, directed by Richard Attenborough. However, the 1969 movie did not depict an exchange of photos between German and British troops. Of course, in 2005 the French movie Joyeux Noel told the story of the 1914 Christmas truce.
Before Christmas 2014, McCartney fans felt that a Christmas advertisement for Sainsbury’s was intensely similar to the 1983 video for “Pipes of Peace”. The ad was controversial for other reasons as well as is evident in this article from the Daily Mail.
The 1983 Paul McCartney album Pipes of Peace was the quick follow-up to his 1982 album Tug of War. As was the case with Tug of War, it featured Ringo on drums and George Martin as both producer and pianist on some tracks. This album marked that last time that McCartney worked with Denny Laine, the guitarist who was the only member of Wings to be with the group from its 1971 inception until its 1981 demise.
Billboard magazine cited the album on its list of unexpectedly disappointing albums of 1983. Pipes of Peace ranked as the only McCartney studio album to fail to make the top ten in America.
Five of the songs on Pipes of Peace were actually recorded during the sessions for Tug of War. In addition to the album’s title track, the other four were “The Other Me”, “So Bad”, “Tug of Peace”, “Through Our Love”.
The big hit on Pipes of Peace was the Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson duet “Say Say Say” which topped the charts for six weeks in the U.S. in December 1983/January 1984. While the song is not considered part of McCartney’s great body of work since the break-up of the Beatles, it did amazingly well throughout the world. In addition to the U.S. “Say Say Say” was a # 1 hit in Canada, Norway, Sweden and a host of other countries. This song marked the last number one song for the ex-Beatle on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be the last # 1 Billboard song produced by George Martin until the wildly successful “Candle in the Wind: 1997” by Elton John.
The 1983 collaboration of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson on “Say Say Say” ironically preceded by two years Jackson’s surprise purchase of ATV Music, the song catalog of Northern Songs Limited. When the Lennon/McCartney song catalog was available for sale, McCartney was unable to purchase it on his own at the time due to legal boundaries that were still intact at the time from the binding Apple Records settlement. If McCartney had wanted to buy the song catalog in 1985, he could have only done so with Yoko Ono. Those restrictions ended long ago.
“Pipes of Peace” is one of many examples of how a hit song in the UK may not get on the radar screen in the U.S. With such a telling video by a major rock heavyweight, one wonders why the song was virtually unnoticed in the U.S. As a result, the statement on war and peace that McCartney wanted so desperately to make with the song and video never was able to impact the U.S. as he had hoped.
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