Press to Play is the sixth solo studio album by Paul McCartney, the former bass guitarist for The Beatles. the album was released in late August 1986 on Columbia Records in the United States, and on Parlophone in the United Kingdom. It is notable for being his first solo album of entirely new music since his 1983 album Pipes of Peace and his first solo album released internationally by long-time label EMI after a brief alliance with Columbia Records in the US and Canada. The album achieved gold status by the BPI in the UK in September 1986.
On release, the album was received favourably by the majority of music critics, although opinions have become more negative in subsequent decades. The album was still a minor commercial success nonetheless, the album reached number 8 on the UK Albums Chart. Four singles were issued from Press to Play: "Press", "Pretty Little Head", "Stranglehold" and "Only Love Remains", the album's first and leading single, "Press" was a minor success peaking at #21 in the US. Its music video featured McCartney walking around the Piccadilly Circus tube station, 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 multi 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 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". 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 (and McCartney's last), 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 1930's and the 1940's. Hurrell was renowned for his photographs of movie stars of the 1930's and 1940's 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 became the only Top-30 hit in the UK and US. Press to Play itself appeared in September to the most positive reviews McCartney had received in years; however, it proved to be his weakest-selling album of his solo career. Peaking at number 8 in the UK, its chart life was brief, while in the US, Press to Play failed to even go gold, cresting at an underwhelming number 30 and selling only 250,000 copies. Follow-up singles, "Pretty Little Head" and "Only Love Remains" performed poorly at retail.
Writing for AllMusic, critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine highly complimented the track, Press, but gave the album a star rating of 2.5 out of 5 (meaning "Average") and wrote of the album "McCartney is dabbling in each of his strengths, just to see what works. It doesn't wind up as one of his stronger albums, but it's more interesting than some of his more consistent ones, and those aforementioned cuts demonstrate that he could still cut effective pop records when he put his mind to it."
Writing for Chicago Tribune, critic Lynn Van Matre wrote of the album "No doubt about it, this is McCartney's most rocking album in ages. Much of it's catchy, most of it's fun, and it's superior to McCartney's efforts of recent years."
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.)