Paul McCartney and Wings – Band on the Run (1973)

History: Wings lost Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell as rehearsals went on for their follow up to Red Rose Speedway. Paul was determined to record the album in an “exotic” locale, and made the poor choice of Lagos, Nigeria, which was suffering as a country after a civil war a few years prior. The equipment was poor and Paul and Linda were robbed at knifepoint during a night walk, but the two of them and Denny Laine recorded most of the base tracks for the album there before returning to London to finish out the album at George Martin’s studio, AIR. Saxophonist Howie Casey was brought in during this period, as well as musical arranger Tony Visconti. While the commercial success was slow to catch on, this was the album that finally won the critics back over to Paul’s side.

My own personal history and initial prediction: The moment I look at the title the song is playing in my head. Probably one of the best well known of Paul’s solo work and certainly of Wings’s catalogue. I’m also familiar with “Jet” and “Let Me Roll It.” Knowing how strong that title track is and having really enjoyed the last two Wings albums, I have pretty high hopes for this one.

What I worked on while listening: This post was brought to you by the number 17, as that’s the paint number I filled in while listening.

Review: I have to say I continue to be completely baffled by music critics. This is absolutely a good album, but to say it’s head and shoulders above everything Paul had done before this would be a mistake. I feel like he’s been largely consistent for the most part, and they just finally figured out that what he was doing wasn’t so bad. We’ve once again got a lot of strong ballads with folk and blues influence. Some songs are more or less multiple small songs strung together. Some are a little more experimental and strange, others are straight up pop. I honestly don’t see too dramatic a difference between this and Red Rose Speedway beyond the fact that the medley is gone.

Whenever “Band on the Run” gets stuck in my head, it’s always the chorus in the last portion of the song, so that I often forget that it starts with two rather different movements. I do like the way it slowly builds between them. “Jet” is also a really strong song and it’s understandable to see why it was a hit single. There’s something about the production of it that stops me personally from loving it though. “Let Me Roll It” is probably my personal favorite on the album, the one I want to sing along with the most. I’m amazed it was chosen to be a B-side because I feel like it’s strong enough to be a single in its own right.

I suppose the main difference between this album and the previous ones is there really isn’t a song I actively dislike on it. I’m not the biggest fan of “Picasso’s Last Words” just because it feels like it goes on a bit long, and I’m confused about the insertion of bits of “Jet’ in it as well as the reprise of “Band on the Run” in “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.” I also find the chorus of “Mamunia” a bit repetitive, but that’s about as much criticism as I can throw at the whole thing.

“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” is really fantastic, with this sort of disco beat to the percussion and a great dramatic feel to it. “Helen Wheels,” the American only track that was just a single in the UK, is also pretty great, a fun rocking number as well as a fun play on words. I have to say I love that John has already dropped an f-bomb in his songs and here’s Paul avoiding saying the word hell just so he can release it as a single. There’s something so right about that.

With the departure of their drummer and lead guitarist, Paul took the reins for both instruments on most of the recordings here, and he does a great job on both, though I think his basslines (particularly on “Mrs Vandebilt”) and keyboard playing are his best performances. “No Words” is the first song that has co-writing credit between Paul and Denny Laine, and it does have a slightly different feel than some of the other songs but still feels largely like a McCartney number. I also really like Howie Casey’s contributions on sax. I have to say, listening to all this 1970s music is making me want more saxophone in rock and roll all the time. It held on into the 80s but I’m kind of sad it largely went away after that.

This is a great album and definitely worth a listen if you’ve never heard it before. The main thing I would say for those who love it, don’t be afraid to go back and give Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway a chance if you heard this was where Wings got “good.” There’s plenty to enjoy in those too.

Next time: John manages to release Walls and Bridges in the midst of his “lost weekend.”

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