August 1966 saw the Beatles deliver what would be their final live performance. Shortly thereafter the Fab Four took a break of sorts — John Lennon flew to Spain to star in How I Won The War (Ringo flew over later to lend support), George Harrison traveled to India and, somewhere in all of this, Paul McCartney worked with George Martin on the soundtrack to The Family Way. Based on the 1963 play by Bill Naughton, All In Good Time, the Roy Boulting-directed picture starred John Mills, Hayley Mills, and Hywel Bennett. It is the story of two newlyweds who have a difficult time starting their new life as the real world seems only too happy to continue intruding.
The film emerged in late ’66, one month after the Beatles had begun work on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and about one month before the soundtrack record would make its way into shops and thus become — arguably — the first solo release by a Beatle. The story goes that Macca only finished the music two weeks before the film’s premiere, a close enough call that supposedly had Martin quipping that if the music sounded like it was completed in a rush it was because the music was completed in a rush.
The album sold poorly — failing to chart on either side of the Atlantic — but McCartney did win an Ivor Novello award for Best Instrumental theme via “Love In The Open Air”. This marks the record’s first official release on CD with a bonus track added — the stereo mix of “Theme From The Family Way” is credited to the Tudor Minstrels.
It’s not bad — Martin’s touch can clearly be heard throughout and McCartney’s appreciation for the sentimental remains evident, perhaps the very reason he was chosen for the score. Aside from the bonus track and “Love In The Open Air”, all other pieces are titled according to their cue name for the film, a sign of the original record’s slapdash nature.
There are a few cues that resemble a rock ensemble and they come off more like Ventures-lite than something McCartney and Martin would have done in their best moments. But, given the time at which the film was made, the sound is unsurprising. The music succeeds but it’s not the most memorable work from McCartney, perhaps the reason that the soundtrack has slipped through the cracks of time on more than one occasion.
Not that McCartney has really bettered himself in the classical/orchestral world since 1967 — the series of classical albums that he’s done since 1991’s Liverpool Oratorio have traditionally sold modestly well with tepid critical response and a familiar chorus of voices suggesting that the works are too sentimental and often driven by ambitions that fall outside the composer’s reach.
Beatles fanatics either already have this in one of its previous incarnations or will want to grab it before it slips back out of print. Less strange than George Harrison’s 1969 release Electronic Sound, this soundtrack is also far less interesting — more tuneful to be sure, but far less interesting.
Chip Madinger, co-author of Eight Arms To Hold You, a guide to solo Beatles’ work, delivers solid liner notes.