Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
|"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"|
|Single by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney|
|from the album Ram|
|B-side||"Too Many People"|
|Released||2 August 1971 (US only)|
|Recorded||6 November 1970|
|Songwriter(s)||Paul and Linda McCartney|
|Producer(s)||Paul and Linda McCartney|
|Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney singles chronology|
|Ram track listing|
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is a song by Paul and Linda McCartney from the album Ram. Released in the United States as a single on 2 August 1971, it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on 4 September 1971, making it the first of a string of post-Beatles, McCartney-penned singles to top the US pop chart during the 1970s and 1980s. Billboard ranked the song as number 22 on its Top Pop Singles of 1971 year-end chart. It became McCartney's first gold record as a solo artist.
Elements and interpretation
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is composed of several unfinished song fragments that McCartney stitched together similar to the medleys from the Beatles' album Abbey Road. The song is notable for its sound effects, including the sounds of a thunderstorm, with rain, heard between the first and second verses, the sound of McCartney's voice with a "telephone" effect heard after the second verse, and the sound of chirping sea birds and wind by the seashore. Linda's voice is heard in the harmonies as well as the bridge section of the "Admiral Halsey" portion of the song.
McCartney said "Uncle Albert" was based on his uncle. "He's someone I recall fondly, and when the song was coming it was like a nostalgia thing." McCartney also said, "As for Admiral Halsey, he's one of yours, an American admiral", referring to Fleet Admiral William "Bull" Halsey (1882–1959). McCartney has described the "Uncle Albert" section of the song as an apology from his generation to the older generation, and Admiral Halsey as an authoritarian figure who ought to be ignored.
Despite the disparate elements that make up the song, author Andrew Grant Jackson discerns a coherent narrative to the lyrics, related to McCartney's emotions in the aftermath of the Beatles' breakup. In this interpretation, the song begins with McCartney apologizing to his uncle for getting nothing done, and being easily distracted and perhaps depressed in the lethargic "Uncle Albert" section. Then, after some sound effects reminiscent of "Yellow Submarine," McCartney claims that Admiral Halsey - who had died on 16 August 1959 - notified him that he (Admiral Halsey) needed a "berth" in order to get to "sea" (mixing up Uncle Albert, not an admiral, and who would need a berth to get to sea, with Admiral Halsey, an admiral who would not need a "berth", but rather a "command" to get to sea), although McCartney remains more interested in "tea and butter pie." Although McCartney may have been aware of butter pie as a Lancashire dish he makes a literal interpretation of the term as a nonsensical joke, stating that he put the butter in the pie because it would not melt at all. The "hands across the water" section which follows could be taken as evocative of the command "All hands on deck!", rousing McCartney to action, perhaps to compete with Lennon. The song then ends with the "gypsy" section, in which McCartney resolves to get back on the road and perform his music, now that he was on his own without his former bandmates who no longer wanted to tour.
Paul McCartney won the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 1971 for the song. The single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales of over one million copies.
According to Allmusic critic Stewart Mason, fans of Paul McCartney's music are divided in their opinions of this song. Although some fans praise the song as being "one of his most playful and inventive songs" others criticize it for being "exactly the kind of cute self-indulgence that they find so annoying about his post-Beatles career." Mason himself considers it "churlish" to be annoyed by the song, given that the song isn't intended to be completely serious, and praises the "Hands across the water" section as being "lovably giddy."
In a contemporary review for RAM, Jon Landau of Rolling Stone gave "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" a negative review, saying the song is "a piece with so many changes it never seems to come down anywhere, and in the places that it does, sounds like the worst piece of light music Paul has ever done."
On the US charts, the song set a milestone as the all-time songwriting record (at the time) for McCartney for the most consecutive calendar years to write a #1 song. This gave McCartney eight consecutive years (starting with "I Want to Hold Your Hand"), leaving behind Lennon with only seven years.
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" appears on the Wings Greatest compilation album released in 1978, even though Ram was not a Wings album (both this song and the Ram album are credited to 'Paul and Linda McCartney').
The song appears on several solo Paul McCartney compilations; the US version of All the Best! (1987), as well as Wingspan: Hits and History (2001), and on both the standard and deluxe versions of Pure McCartney (2016).
- Paul McCartney – lead, harmony and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, bass, xylophone
- Linda McCartney – harmony and backing vocals
- David Spinozza – guitar
- Hugh McCracken – acoustic and electric guitar
- Denny Seiwell – drums, percussion
- Marvin Stamm – flugelhorn
- New York Philharmonic – orchestral arrangement
- The song was used in the episode "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle" of the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses, where the character of Uncle Albert leaves home.
- Harry Shearer uses a looped sample of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" for the "Apologies of the Week" segment of Le Show, with emphasis on McCartney saying "sorry".
- The film Greenberg includes a scene in which the character Florence, drunk on champagne, sings along to the song which Greenberg included on a mix-CD for her.
- Jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard covered the song on his 1971 album First Light.
- A portion of "Uncle Albert" is sampled in The Avalanches song "Livin' Underwater (Is Somethin' Wild)" on their sophomore album Wildflower.
- In season one of the Seth MacFarlane sci-fi comedy-drama show "The Orville", one of the characters goes by the name of Admiral Halsey.
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- McGee 2003, p. 196.
- Benitez, V.P. (2010). The Words and Music of Paul McCartney: The Solo Years. Praeger. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-0-313-34969-0.
- Jackson, A.G. (2012). Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles' Solo Careers. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810882225.
- Drury, Bob, Halsey's Typhoon, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007, page 283
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- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
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- McGee, Garry (2003). Band on the Run: A History of Paul McCartney and Wings. New York: Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 0-87833-304-5.