James Paul McCartney will always be remembered for being the other half of the most inspirational song writing partnerships of the twentieth century rather than his involvement in vegetarianism, saving the seals, or for that matter… Wings. It could be said that the basis of his own music through Wings, was merely a back catalogue of all the styles of music that he wanted to have played whilst a member of The Beatles, but couldn’t due to the dominating forces of John Lennon. Being the ultimate pleaser, even as a child growing up after losing his mother very young, he was the do gooder of the band when Lennon’s short temper and head strong character would rise over the other four with the greatest of ease. Through marrying Linda Eastman, an American divorcee with one daughter in 1969, a year before the Beatles split, he connected to the American train of thought quickly and thus was able to introduce his solo music to the American public with the same easiness.
It’s definitely a real asset when you’re an ex Beatle. Even Ringo Starr’s short solo career was still well received even though he really couldn’t sing and all he could do was play drums, primitively, yet still, the public went wild, simply because he was an ex Beatle. So, can we put McCartney in the same category? Obviously his previous musical history with one of the greatest bands in the world did have its advantages, and so we must then ask is it fair to say that still, Paul owes and owed in Wings, his entire career to John Lennon? I guess, he certainly did play a big part in it…and beside, they did have an enormous connection after The Beatles; they both married women how couldn’t sing a note…
In the same vein, both wives had taken fifty per cent of the credit for their husbands’ talents. Either wife did actually very little other than a few bits of percussion and backing vocals, but they were both solid Trojan horses pushing each husband from behind. Forming Wings with wife and Denny Laine, a former Moody Blues guitarist, they embarked on a quiet tour around colleges and local towns, believing that the aim was to start small. It was at this that we can see McCartney fully aware of not wanting to be seen riding on the back of the success of The Beatles, but yet, hoping, in a humbling sort of way, to be accepted and appreciated by new fans and public without listening to shouts from the crowd of ‘Where’s John?’ These small town venues were probably a wise move. The McCartney’s already professional and self promotional in their own right and each move form there on in was going to be calculated and an organised manoeuvre.
The birth of the McCartney’s, musically, didn’t experience the failure of every other band, past and previous, go through before their first big hit. They didn’t need to. What did happen though was changes behind the scenes. In their private lives, they had to endure a handful of drug busts that were largely covered by the press and several appearances in court followed for the pair. Names of the band changed. Immediately after the break up of The Beatles, Paul set himself up, like a small, one man business after being made redundant. Introducing themselves, simply as Paul and Linda McCartney, they released two albums and three singles. In late 1971, came the launch of Wings, eventually changing again for a few more singles and albums calling themselves, Paul McCartney and Wings. Perhaps the public had forgotten that an ex Beatle was actually present in this new band that he had felt the need to put his name back up there, or indeed was it a little dig at Lennon as he too had penned his name on the tag of his own band? When we speak of these so called rough and tumbles between the two powerful songwriters like it was the great Cold War, it is if we were willing fights to break out at concerts. The general public love a good slanging match ever since the Victorians loved to watch people being hung, drawn and quartered. Personally, I don’t believe that either songwriter gave the other a second thought. I believe that it was merely media hype and that the two were far to busy doing their own thing to care about what the other camp thought.
Still, we reach the point in the saga of the solo career that was McCartney. With the release of ‘Band On The Run,’ in December 1973, he had reached the very pinnacle of his career as a ‘solo’ performer. It was both number one over here and over there simultaneously. The ‘middle of the road’ entertainer and no longer referred to as an ex Beatle, was born. What really had taken off was his irritating ability to be totally unfazed by anything. Whilst Lennon was self dissecting himself in his agonising existence, McCartney was happily skipping down the road without a care in the world. Unaffected, his tuneful, yet meaningless songs won over the public, making him the one and only commercially successful asset, excluding Beatle records, that were still selling in their millions. McCartney, could not put a foot wrong.
With two gold albums behind them, they set about recording ‘Band On The Run.’ The impressive cast on the sleeve of the album quickly tells us how influential McCartney was. Not any other band, in their infancy could declare that they have been able to get Christopher Lee, Michael Parkinson, James Coburn and Sigmund Freud on their album cover. Among a handful of musicians borrowed from other bands or who were friends of friends, the main line up of the band was simply Paul, Linda and Denny ‘knights in white satin’ Laine.
What we got, was Paul McCartney’s most successful album in his entire career, and yes, just as irritatingly and perfectly produced, recorded and written.. Get ready to grab yourself a bucket as I will guarantee you to be tapping your feet and singing along and hating yourself in the morning..
Gentle, dull and yet still slightly engaging, the opening to the title track, ‘Band On The Run,’ is pretty disappointing, as this album had received so much press at its pre release. With dire lyrics it is rather like taking a sleeping pill, or a laxative, one of the two, still, it lightens and the tempo picks up to a Lennon theme, ‘if we ever get out of here…’ yes, that sounds like Lennon, but not long before we hear McCartney, all acoustic and jolly with his teeth itching perfect voice, let’s face it, he was the only Beatle who could really sing. This goes on for a few more straining minutes and we wonder what sort of subject this song is actually about, we haven’t got a clue about the theme, and neither has Wings got a clue about the genre that this song is to be put in to. It was an interesting hit, abit on the same theme as the impressive, Live And Let Die’ that came from the Bond film a few years before. The distorted idea of songs that told a story was a general popular theme in the early seventies. It was an era of not knowing what really to do, listen to or dress like. I perhaps would have enjoyed the persona of Wings a lot more if they looked more like Slade…It is hard to respect an artist when they are all comfy cardigans and cords. Give me spandex and platforms any day of the week…Besides, I didn’t feel that ‘..stuck inside these four walls..’ was a very optimistic opening line for such a teeth grindingly happy album by a equally matched band. Released in July 1974, it reached number three and became quite the epitome of all Wings records. This song, however, will unfortunately spawn a lot of head wiggling amateur McCartney impressions…
Suitably impressed with its introduction, we persevere with ‘Jet.’ It does, it would seem, gather enough gritty sound in its form to manage to hold its audiences attention. Released as a single in March 1974, it took its place at a comfortable number 7. I am not sure about the over done sax theme and Paul seems to be in a certain amount of pain from what I can hear in the background. A lot of cymbal shimmering, but still, our lyrics are hardly awe inspiring. We are not talking ‘Hey Jude,’ here, in fact its more, ‘Grandad’ by Clive Dunn than anything else. But we do pick up on a certain historic subject of the suffragette movement at the turn of the twentieth century, if any one can remember back that far,, some silly woman of the name, Mrs Emilinne Pankhurst, launched herself in front of the Kings horse at Epsom. If she had bothered to burn her bra instead, it would have been far less messy…and it would have had the same desired effect. Perhaps, we should be impressed with the line, ‘I thought the major was a lady suffragette…’ the first time I heard this track and even at my tender age of a very small thing, I thought it was about transvestites. I am sure I’m not alone in this assumption, albeit, over thirty years ago.
What on Earth was going on with ‘Bluebird’? With its soft, mellow, ‘cha cha cha’, there is a waiter stuffing the wine list in your face and immediately we are transported to some tacky Hawaiian restaurant somewhere near Streatham, South London. The sound is somewhat plastic and fake. Whilst the repetitive lyric chants to us, ‘.. I’m a bluebird, I’m a bluebird, ‘I’m a bluebird…’ we think that maybe, Paul may be thinking he can fly off. Its perfect backing music for a retro cocktail party, but only so it is turned so much that you can barely hear it. The backing vocals by our lovely Miss Linda are about as familiar with our memory of poor singing qualities as we can get. You’ll be pleased to know that the lyrics are easy to pick up and will need no rehearsing. A short track, it will not offend too much, and at the same time, will not be memorable. Id o feel that throughout the album, there is an over usage of sax solos, an instrument normally used to make a track sound sexy and alluring, it only distracts and whines like strangled cat in Wings records… best leave it to Roxy Music I feel…
‘Mrs Vanderbilt,’ is the next track on this album, and thankfully, the opening line…’down in the jungle, living in a tent…’ is chanted at such a speed that it will pass you by wonderfully quickly. What I do feel puzzled by is the ‘ho, ho hey, ho’ and the Elton John, ‘haaaaaa’s’ like on the classic ‘Goodbye Yellowbrick Road.’ (oh how I wish I’d have picked that album instead…) The acoustic chords are straight and non messy. The lyrics will not give you reason for thought and the sax appears too much. ‘what’s the use of worrying…?’ another line that pops up as much as the ‘ho, ho, ho’s.’ I am not quite such what its all about, whatever it is, it was obviously an ‘in’ joke as the track ends with some hysterical laughter.
The opening to ‘Let Me Roll It’, is somewhere between Bowie and Velvet Underground. It has a over powering organ effect on lovely Linda’s keyboard that urges us to take a pew and have a good pray. With its effect of McCartney singing at the far end of an aircraft hanger, (which probably isn’t’ a bad idea) it is a slight imitation of Lennon’s, ‘What ever gets you through the night,’ but slowed down to an unbearable listening speed. One noted bass and dead paced drums aren’t so bad, but it’s the short burst of guitar riff with happens on a regular basis through this track that will really get on your nerves…I do believe that this track goes on for too long. It could have been cut in half and the end product wouldn’t have been so bad…A good track in itself, but I do feel as though we are asking a question of the chicken and the egg variety. Did Macca do this first or Lennon? You will definitely experience a strong Lennon quality here in its electric guitar theme and echoed vocals. The lyrics don’t stand proud too much, but I do believe that was because Mac was going through a time in his life when he actually had nothing to say, whereas, Lennon had everything to say, and I think that’s was what made Lennon so big. He was an opinionated character and although Mac made more money in his solo venture than Lennon, it was the latter, that was far more popular on a scale that McCartney could only dream about…
The next in this painful album, is actually a pleasant surprise, ‘Mamunia’ is a strange title and answers on a postcard please if anyone can tell me what it means. Rather like the earlier B side in his career called, ‘C Moon.’ This track, (careful) is beautifully produced, (its is Macca, after all…) the acoustic, seventies style, is set in the right pitch and doesn’t encroach on the vocals, which, incidentally, are harmonised and arranged to perfection, I do believe we can here Linda actually sing, or at least, she has been drowned out enough so we can’t focus on her voice only. Every now and then, Mac would come out with the perfect song that would make any critical listener stop and listen intently, and this was one of them.. Not released as a single, which surprises me even more. Joyful but not irritating. Gentle but not sleep inducing, it is a very pretty tune, although very repetitive, but in this form, repetitiveness works, and boy, does it work here.
Blending in with all the grace of Swan lake, ‘No Words,’ appears to be a George Harrison track. The vocal really is spot on for GH, its winding and slightly slurry in its sound. The electric guitar is also a Harrison inspired piece, and hardly Mac at all. It could be seen as a tribute to an absent friend. If it is then it is touching, but if someone had said, that Harrison, had just stepped in because it was raining outside, he was bored, picked up a handy guitar and started to sing, then I wouldn’t be at all shocked. This is the least un Macca ish song I think I have ever heard.
If the previous was Harrison then please tell me this was also meant to be a tribute to the great Beatle song, ‘When I’m Sixty Four,’ but slowed down to the extreme. We hear those even more familiar horns used in its predecessor. Titled, ‘Picasso’s Last Words,’ it fills our minds with all sorts of intriguing ideas. A peculiar, ‘..when I grow older…’ style like a drunken pub song, it has a strong familiar sound of long lost days of The Beatles. It is hard to come out of a period of your life that was so intense and leave every little thing behind. When living in each others pockets like that over years, the people around you become you and you become them. This sectioned track incorporates virtually every other song from the track. Every much pieced together with fairly mediocre editing, it is listenable but a little distorted as a whole piece of work. We start with the old 64 theme which quickly turns its jolted head to a Roxy Music synthesiser sound. What we get is Bryan Ferry mixed with the lyrics of ‘Jet.’ Very bizarre and who thought of doing that must have had a skinful the night before. We turn again to the chorus of the title of this track with a tonne of violins thrown in to obviously drown out the next dire piece of editing. Stand by and wait for the ‘When I’m Sixty Four,’ slow, aging ‘almost on its last legs’ track again with hidden French chatter in the backing. Back around the block with Ferry once more for luck, then, hang on, where did this come from? God, not those ‘ho, ho, hey, ho’s’… is it time to go home yet?
After we have taken a moment to lie down after the quick tour of the album in one minute flat, we are subjected to a flat version of ‘Lady Madonna’ piano. Mac is certainly signing this, as his voice is open, rocky and experimental. Linda is hard fast at not letting anyone else have a go with those maracas. I wonder why Mac always has to use this disjointed theme of shoving ‘oo’s’ and more ‘oooos’s’ where they are really not needed. There is, however, a contemporary theme to this track, (in bits, mind) that sounds so up to date and of today’s sounds. I think it’s the fusion of synthesiser drawn out chords and lots of percussion. This odd title is, ‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five.’ A tribute, albeit a year out to George Orwell? Probably not. A crescendo of an ending featuring every single instrument from the album including the thundering sounds of ‘Jet,’ and ‘Live And Let Die.’ (even though this single does not appear on the album.) We end this album with a whispered echo of ‘Band On The Run’, giving the impression perhaps, of a band now fleeting quickly away into the night from fear of being caught. No matter, what we have done now, is gone full circle. A global tour of the most successful album of his career..
It appears that Mac has pulled out all the stops for this album, cramming together every piece of himself that he could find, making damn sure that this album, or any one of them in the future for that matter, were going to fail him. Well, it worked. December 1973 saw it go straight to number one, also allowing this album to stay in the charts for a massive 124 weeks in total. A feat, he was never to do again.
A man that has annoyed and left us seething in his perfection of music and above all, his bank balance over the last, definite, thirty five years and we say we loathe him? May I perhaps leave you with two thoughts….
The ever unpopular ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ sold over two million copies….
The even more unpopular ‘We All Stand Together,’ by Mac and The Frogs Chorus got to number three.
So who bought them then?
1973 EMI records.
Written and produced by McCartney and Wings
©michelle duffy 2006
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