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One of my favorite duos only recorded two songs … and they did so 40 years apart. Call them Macca & Miller, or perhaps Sir Paul and the Joker.
As the story goes, Steve Miller was in London, working with the legendary producer Glyn Johns (part of his landmark signing deal with Capitol Records) laying down tracks for the album that would become Brave New World (the one with “Space Cowboy.”) Miller arrived that night at the studio — and ran into, of all people, Paul McCartney.
Paul was in the thick of the Abbey Road and Let it Be sessions. Relations amongst the Fab Four were famously acrimonious at this point, and this was the day that Paul had faced off against John, George and Ringo over their desire to hire Allen Klein as their new manager (McCartney was against it). As Paul later recounted:
Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. ‘Hey, what’s happening, man? Can I use the studio?’ ‘Yeah!’ I said. ‘Can I drum for you? I just had a f—-g unholy argument with the guys there.’ I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. So I did a track, he and I stayed that night and did a track of his called My Dark Hour. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There’s a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that’s all I can say about that. We stayed up until late. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It’s actually a pretty good track.
It was a very strange time in my life and I swear I got my first grey hairs that month. I saw them appearing. I looked in the mirror, I thought, I can see you. You’re all coming now. Welcome.
Here it is:
It is astonishing (and a measure of their talent) that these two musicians could come up with a song this good after having known each other for a matter of minutes.
(Rock and) Roll forward 40 years. McCartney, creating the best album of his later solo career, Flaming Pie, decided to look up his old friend and as him to join on yet another track. The result, if not as great as “My Dark Hour,” is still splendid — and much more accomplished. The singing of these two now-sexegenarians is better than ever. Here it is:
Macca is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times; and after decades of criminal indifference, the Hall this year admitted Miller. And though it has been suggested that Miller learned a lot that night about creating and recording a song, it’s hard not to hear in “My Dark Hour” some of the future sound of Wings. Miller, of course, would recycle the opening riff from that song for “Fly Like an Eagle” from the album of the same name that would make him a superstar. And if Sir Paul makes “My Dark Hour” work with his unexpectedly powerful drumming, you can say the same thing about Miller’s guitar fills in “Used to be Bad.” It seems an unlikely — yet somehow inevitable, pairing.
An even more unlikely post-script: Because McCartney was still a Beatle, he was listed on “My Dark Hour” as “Paul Ramon.” That became his pseudonym. A few years later another Fab Four adopted the name for their own: The Ramones.