Paul McCartney Reacts to 'Egypt Station' Topping Billboard 200: 'You Can't Get Much Higher Than No. 1'

 Mary McCartney
Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney is no stranger to having No. 1s on the Billboard charts. But this week, the living legend racked up his first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (dated Sept. 22), with Egypt Station, and the set also happened to be his first chart-topper in more than 36 years. In total, it marks his eighth leader, and his first since Tug of War led the list for three weeks in 1982.

Billboard hopped on the phone with McCartney on Wednesday (Sept. 19) to get his reaction to the big news and also chatted about how much he enjoyed doing promotion for the album (which saw him doing everything from touring his hometown of Liverpool, England, with James Corden in a Carpool Karaoke episode to playing a surprise show at New York’s Grand Central Station that was live-streamed on YouTube), what he’s been hearing from fans and friends about the album, how there are a number of tracks that didn’t make the project, and playing new songs live on tour.

First off, congratulations are in order, because your new album, Egypt Station, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart this week. How does it feel to be No. 1, especially with this album?

You know, it feels really great. 'Cause you can't get much higher than No. 1, you know? It really feels great. We put a lot of really hard work into it. Me and all the guys on the team. Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder, all our engineers. We've got a great little team. Everyone really worked hard. We put our heart and soul into it. 'Cause we really wanted to make something that was worthwhile, you know, that we could be proud of. So it's just great that it's actually got the results. And I must say the people involved in the campaign too. My manager Scott Rodger. My publicity guys. We've had a really fun time. I said to everyone originally, "Look, let's try to enjoy this. Let's not just think, 'Oh my god, we gotta go promote an album.' Let's try and think of ideas that will actually excite us. Because I think, you know, if we enjoy it, that'll kind of communicate itself and makes it less of a laborious process." So we [had] a lot of fun. From the James Corden [Carpool Karaoke segment on June 21, and an hourlong CBS special on Aug. 20] right through to the Jimmy Fallon [appearance on The Tonight Show on Sept. 6] and to the Grand Central show [which was live-streamed on YouTube on Sept. 7] and the Abbey Road…

I was gonna say, you've been promoting the heck out of this album. You know, from James Corden… you really went the extra mile with him in Liverpool and taking the tour [of the city]. … I mean, you clearly really wanted to get the word out about the album. What made this album so special for you that you really wanted to go the extra mile and really get out there and kind of put the pedal to the metal?

Well, you know, I think the difference is that we always do want to actually get people to know about it. 'Cause that's the thing. The worst thing is if people say, "Oh, you've got an album out? I didn't know."

Yeah! "Oh, you do?" "Yes, it came out a month ago, you didn't know?"

Yeah, exactly. That's like the worst. So, we just sorta said, "Look, you know, we're gonna do this, but we want to do it in a very cool way. I don't wanna really look like we're kinda selling our souls to promote this. We want to do it in such a way that we actually enjoy it ourselves," you know? So with James Corden, at first I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it, to tell you the truth. And then when I eventually agreed to do it and got into it, and then James' ideas started to come out, like, OK, we'll do it in Liverpool and we'll do this… And I started to think, particularly when I got in the car with him, I started to think, "You know, this is fun!" I love driving 'round Liverpool. I love showing off my hometown and saying, "Oh, you know, that's where we did our first gig, and that's where my brother got married…" I love that. I do that with people even when we're not on a show. … That's what we tried to do, with all the things. We played a little gig at Abbey Road. And it was so cool going back there. The idea was a good one. You know, I said to my guys, "I wanna just do a little gig somewhere before we go out on the big tour. Let's do a few little gigs." So we started thinking, "Well, where would we want to go, ideally?" And that was the trick, I think. You know, instead of just saying, "Oh, we'll go anywhere, it doesn't matter, they're all the same." [We said] "No, no, let's go to Abbey Road, that'd be fun." 'Cause I'll be able to tell stories about having a smoke in the backroom there, you know, and all the little kind of tales you can tell. The same thing with when we went back to my old school. We did a little gig there. And then we went to the Cavern in Liverpool. That particular time was quite nostalgic for me, you know. 'Cause I was going to all these places I loved, playing little gigs, and oh, incidentally, they were promotion. 

Oh, by the way, yes, there was a twofold aspect to these things!

Yeah, yeah! Yeah, exactly. I think we were gonna just enjoy it anyway, even so. So I think the nice thing about that is, we enjoy it, and that comes over. You know, I think people can sort of tell, "Oh, you're not grinding it out; you're actually enjoying yourself." So all this promotion, it's all been something that I've really wanted to do. … In the old days, your record label would send you into Europe, in Cologne, in the middle of Germany. And you'd say, "Why are we going to Cologne?" They'd say, "Well, you know, it's in the middle of Germany, and we can get all the people from France, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, et cetera, to come and interview you." So you spent this day -- and I love Cologne -- but you spend this day… where you just was answering the same questions, in the same room, and it was just a nightmare, you know. So I said to them…

The press junket from hell, Paul, that's what it sounds like.

You know, it really was. I'm sure those interviews came over like that, you know. So I said to my guys, "Look, guys, we're not doing a Cologne. We're just not doing it. We gotta think of stuff that's fun." So we sat 'round in meetings, you know, and just … everyone just kind of [pitched ideas]: "Well, what about that?" "Yeah, yeah! No, not that…" And we managed to get together a little program [of promotional activities] that was, you know, really interesting. So that's it. So we had a lot of fun promoting it. And I think, you know, because we felt the album had turned out well. You know, the decision early on to make a kind of album-album, rather than sort of, you know, a collection of potential singles kind of thing; we felt it was time to go back to the album format. 

Were you particularly jazzed to see how fans were reacting to the album?

Really! You know, fans and friends! And… people on the streets! You know, it's really fabulous. I'm getting lots of sort of texts from people, friends who said, "You know, I heard it was OK, the album. I bought it. I really think it's great!" And then people are kind of going through it, track by track, saying "oh, I love this one!" So…

I love "Caesar Rock," by the way. You didn't ask me, but I'm just gonna volunteer that to you.

Well, now, there you go. See, it's funny, I was thinking about that. 'Cause that's not the kind of thing that people will pull out. There's sort of other more obvious tracks on there. But I was so glad to put in "Caesar Rock." 'Cause it's a little more experimental. It's a little bit more me goofing 'round in my home studio, you know. And I think that turned out OK, so that's how it got on the album. We actually had sorta 10 more tracks that didn't get on the album… 

Wow.

…That I think are pretty fair tracks, you know. But we just hoped to try and choose the stuff that would flow as an album, and then when I came up with this title, Egypt Station, I tried that out on Greg Kurstin, the main producer, and he said, "Oh, I like that, what's that about?" And I said, "Well, that's just the title of a painting." But we realized it would a little bit intriguing, a little bit exotic, and so we started to make the album 'round that idea, of a kind of journey, you know. And hopefully people will just stick their headphones on and sit down and listen to it.

That's what I did.

Did you? … Well, I'm glad you did, man.

Thanks so much for doing this. I know you're on tour. You're in the middle of tour dates, and you're playing some songs from the new album on tour. I think you're playing, like, three or so? Will they change each night?

We're doing three at the moment, 'cause you know why? 'Cause we didn't have that long to rehearse, and we're putting other things in the show. So it's a question of learning 'em. 'Cause you know, you write the thing, and then you go and record it. And when you record it, obviously it's a certain arrangement, so now you've got to reproduce it faithfully, you've got to learn that arrangement all over again. So we've learned three. We've got another one that we've nearly got. So they're gradually coming onboard. And then we may be able to change them up in that case.