wax Poetics

Paul McCartney

“Check My Machine”

Released 1980
record label Columbia
Written by Allen Thayer

Check my Machine
Check my Machine

Question: How many roadies does it take to smuggle Paul McCartney’s weed into Japan?

Answer: None, he does it himself and gets caught.

Listening to “Check My Machine,” one of Paul McCartney’s oddest and most intriguing recordings, it’s not difficult to imagine that the song was created under the influence of copious quantities of cannabis. The loping reggae riddim, the strange choice of samples, the nonsense lyrics, and the sped-up, echo-enhanced vocals all suggest a serious amount of studio tomfoolery not unlike a classic Lee Perry session or, logically, a playfully spacey Beatles track. Had it not been for Mary Jane, this song and all nineteen other songs from these stony sessions might not have ever been released.

During the summer of 1979, Paul began recording some tracks at his Scottish farmhouse after finishing what would be the last Wings album, Back to the Egg. Like his first solo album from nearly a decade earlier, Paul wrote, played, and programmed everything on the sessions that would result in the album, McCartney II, using drum machines, tape loops, and found sounds. He even manipulated his vocals by slowing and speeding the tempo, creating some bizarre effects.

“Check My Machine” was the first of nearly twenty songs he recorded during these dubbed-out and smoky sessions, and the legend goes that the song was the outcome of a test-drive of his new equipment. The first song released from these sessions was “Wonderful Chistmastime,” so, come next holiday season when you invariably hear the holiday classic, listen for the subtle drum machine and sparse production that identify it as being from the same recording sessions as “Check My Machine.” It’s possible that the rest of those sessions would still be lingering in the vaults and only spoken about in hushed tones by McCartnerati worldwide, if not for the aborted Wings tour of Japan in January 1980.

Having been banned from Japan since 1975 because of his multiple narcotics possession charges in Europe, McCartney deboarded the plane for a sold-out Japanese tour with nearly a half pound of marijuana in his luggage. The canceled tour precipitated Wings’ breakup, and, without a new project to work on, Paul prepared McCartney II for release.

Evidently, “Check My Machine” was even too weird to make the cut for the album. Maybe it was its overtly druggy tone, or it could have been the bizarre combination of a banjo playing the melodic main riff to the thudding backbeat of synth drums that kept this tune hidden on the B-side of one of the only typical McCartney tunes from the album, “Waterfalls.” A commercial success and critical failure, the album is bizarre and, at times, difficult to listen to, but “Check My Machine” still remains a relatively unknown song by the biggest pop star of all time.