When I was fifteen years old, I was crazy about The Beatles (actually, I still am, but in a much more placid, adult way). However, my knowledge of their music was fairly incomplete as I had yet to hear every single Beatles album and, as far as solo albums went, I had only heard Paul McCartney's 1987 compilation, "All The Best" and John Lennon's early best of, "Shaved Fish", plus "Double Fantasy", all albums owned by my parents. At this point in my life, I had yet to hear Abbey Road in its entirety or, indeed, The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album). During a school assembly, my teacher played an incredible song which I didn't recognise but was unmistakeably Paul. I asked him afterwards at it turned out to be "We Got Married" from the "Flowers In The Dirt" album and, naturally, I wanted it. He played several tracks from the same album over the following weeks, which only whetted my appetite for owning it.
Of course, being a penniless teenager, I couldn't afford to go out and buy any music, so the only thing I could do was to, when asked what I'd like for my birthday, plead for Paul McCartney's latest album. My Nana dutifully obliged, but when I tore open the wrapper off the cassette (remember them?), instead of his 1989 studio album, there was "Tripping The Live Fantastic... Highlights!". I was so disappointed (but I hid it well, naturally) as my Nana explained that the 'man in the shop' had told her that it was the latest album and that it was very good. Reluctantly, and ready for more disappointment, I put it in my Walkman during my next commute to school and pressed play. Unbelievably, I was absolutely blown away by it. I don't think it left my cassette player much for several months.
This was the very first time I'd heard "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" and it was an absolute revelation to me. The "Flowers In The Dirt" tracks were performed superbly, there were excellent re-inventions of songs I knew well such as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" which featured a fantastic guitar solo in the middle of it, "Coming Up", which had a completely different rhythm and contemporary break in it, "Things We Said Today" finished with an absolutely beautiful guitar solo which then led into "Eleanor Rigby" - the highlights were so plentiful and the Beatles' music seemed so urgent, vital and alive. All of sudden, it was no longer "old" music, it was something from here and now. Paul's excellent band seemed to have a great character to them, Macca himself was in absolutely sensational form, vocally, and hearing this brilliant live album acted as the catalyst for my near-obsession with McCartney and The Beatles thereafter. Oddly enough, when I finally got round to buying the full version of the album, I felt that it lacked the punch of the edited "Highlights!" and if I want to listen to it these days, I still tend to opt for the single disc edition. Naturally, I replaced my worn-out cassette format with a CD quite a number of years ago and was pleased to discover that I still got the same pleasure listening to it a couple of decades later as I did as a fresh-eared teenager.
Of course, now, as a McCartney fan over twenty years later, I fully realise why fans may have been annoyed with this release at the time, as the UK version of the single disc "Highlights!" is the only way you could get hold of Paul's version of "All My Trials" (unless you had the single), meaning that McCartney completists had to buy the full and abridged versions of the live album which many people, understandably, found to be a little bit rich. However, for both musical and sentimental reasons, I can't fault this album at all. Knowing that it has played such a pivotal role in opening my mind to Paul's catalogue, all I can do when I listen to it is to sit with a smile on my face, a swelling of emotion in my heart and enjoy everything this great album means to me.