PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS-BAND ON THE RUN.

PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS-BAND ON THE RUN.

Sometimes your memory plays tricks on you, and things that you’ve remembered from may years previously turn out to be very different. In a way, the memory is almost spoiled, when you revisit somewhere or something. Suddenly, it isn’t quite how you remember it, and sadly, your memory, or how you’ve chosen to remember something is shattered. There is a name for this, it’s called “false memory syndrome.” This can be applied to music. If you bought and loved an album many years ago, and for whatever reason, never heard it for a long period and eventually, decided to revisit it, your memory of that album could be shattered. It may not sound as good as it did, many years ago. A couple of years ago, I decided to risk having one of my earliest musical memories shattered. I wanted to discover whether  one of the first albums I ever received, was as good as I remembered it. Not long after this Band On The Run was released, I received a copy of it. Back then, there were no CDs’ and MP3s’, instead, we had to make do with vinyl, cassettes and 8-track. When I got the album, I remember playing it time after time, and knowing every track. Many years later, someone “borrowed it,” and I never saw it again. Last year, the album was rereleased yet again. This time it was remastered and repackaged, and came with assorted goodies, including a DVD. Having seen the album advertised, I decided to take the plunge, and risk having my childhood memories shattered. Shortly, I’ll tell you whether my memories were shattered, or did the album live up to expectations. Before that, I’ll briefly tell you about the making of Band On The Run.

After finishing their 1973, Paul and Linda McCartney headed to their Scottish home to start writing material for their next album. Quickly, they grew bored, and decided to head somewhere more exotic and interesting to record the album. Eventually, they hit upon the idea of heading to Lagos, in Nigeria. However, before they even set foot in Lagos, a problem arose. Lead guitarist Henry McCullough quit the band. To make matters worse, drummer Denny Seiwell folowed suit. So come August 8, when the band left for Lagos, only Paul, Linda and Denny Laine remained in the band. They were joined by Geoff Emerick, who previously, had been The Beatles recording engineer. This was the quartet that eventually departed for Lagos.

On their arrival in Lagos, they discovered that they hadn’t landed in paradise. At that time, Nigeria was run by a military government, corruption was allegedly rife and many people were suffering from various terrible diseases. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the studio left a lot to be desired. The equipment was either broken or basic. Suddenly, the McCartney’s must have rued their spirit of adventure. Now they were there, they had to make the best of things. 

So the band had established a routine. During the week they spent time in the studio, weekends were for relaxation. However, every day, the band had to travel an hour to and from their rented homes. Surely things couldn’t get any worse for them? 

It could. Paul and Linda decided to take a walk one night. They were warned again against doing so. That didn’t stop them though. During their walk, the couple were robbed at knifepoint. The robbers escaped with all the couple’s valuables. This included a book with lyrics in it. Probably by now, they felt that surely nothing else would happen. Wrong. One day Paul started struggling for breath, he was helped outside the studio for fresh air, and fainted. It was thought he’d suffered a bronchial spasm, brought upon by smoking too much. Again, they must have felt that would be the end of their misfortune. Not at all. 

The group decided to visit a club owned byFela Kuti the legendary African singer, musician and political activist. After their visit to the club, they were visited by Fela Kuti at the studio. He confronted Paul, accusing him of exploiting and stealing African music after they’d visited his club. To proved this wasn’t the case, Paul played the tracks to Fela Kuti. 

After this latest problem, Ginger Baker invited the band to record the whole album at his studio, ARC Studio, in Ikeja. Paul didn’t want to record the whole album there, but spent a day there, recording Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me) there. Ginger Baker guested on the track, his contribution being percussion played on a tin of gravel.

By the third week in September, recording was complete. They arrived back in London on September 23, and spent two weeks in October doing overdubs and adding orchestral tracks. This was done at George Martin’s AIR Studios. Finally, the album was complete.

When Band On The Run was released on December 7 1973, critics loved the album. After such turbulent times recording the album, praise was heaped upon it, and it’s included in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time. The album helped revive Paul McCartney’s career post Beatles. Band On The Run became Wings biggest selling album. On its release, it went triple platinum and spent seven weeks at number one in the UK album charts during 1974. That must be put in context. Back then, competition was much fiercer. Many artists and groups were releasing great albums, and to reach number one in either the singles or album charts, meant selling many more albums than is required now. Both singles released from the album did well. Jet, released in February 1974, reached number seven in the UK single charts, and Band On The Run, released in June 1974, reached number three. In the US, Band On The Run reached number one, and sold over one million copies.  

Now that I’ve told you about the making of Band On The Run, I’ll see whether my memory of the album is correct, or whether I’ve suffered “false memory syndrome.” If I have, these childhood memories will be shattered. So let’s hope the album lives up to my distant memories. Band On The Run begins with the title track, Band On The Run. This is a song of three parts. It’s a song with a story, one that’s about escape and liberation. It tells of band being stuck in prison, escaping and then going on the run. In the first part, An electric guitar and keyboard combine melodically. When Paul sings, his voice is soft, a sadness and sense of resignation is present, as he sings about being “stuck inside these four walls” and “never seeing no-one nice again”. Once the song reaches the second part, the arrangement is brighter and fuller. Guitars and keyboards again combine, but the bass is much more prominent. Even Paul’s voice is different, it becomes almost defiant, as he thinks about escaping. As the final and part begins, and the band escape, the arrangement really opens out, and becomes much “rockier.” That final part of the song is like a new song, it literally explodes at the “start.” Thereafter, a relieved and near joyous Paul sings, whilst behind him the sound is much brighter. Acoustic and electric guitars play a large part in the sound, some leak into and out off the song, whilst drums pound. By the end of this epic song, my admiration for Paul, Linda and Denny remains intact, and if anything, the song sounds even better than all these years ago.

The second single from Band On The Run was Jet, a song that is a favourite of many people. One person who loved the song was Alan Partridge, in the television series I’m Alan Partridge. Every time I now hear this song, I think of him playing “air bass” and falling of his bed whilst doing so. For anyone who hasn’t seen the clip, it’s on youtube and hilarious. However, getting back to the song, which was inspired by a pony he owned called Jet, it wasn’t recorded in Lagos. Instead, it was recorded by Paul while the rest of the band were in Lagos. As Jet begins, I the song’s familiarity washes over me. From the guitars that unite and sometimes chime, the band’s cry of Jet and Paul’s vocal enters this is one of the band’s finest moments. It’s a song that the a combination of all the parts make this such a great song. If you take a combination of Paul’s vocal and buzzing bass playing, screaming guitars, drums providing a steady backdrop, tight backing vocals and the saxophone solo that ends the song, then that’s what makes Jet such a perfect example of power pop at its best.

After two such energetic songs, Bluebird comes as a welcome relief, it allows the listener to gather their breath. It demonstrates Paul at his best. The song features some lovely lyrics, reminding listeners of how talented a songwriter he is. Here, his voice is much quieter, his phrasing perfect and his rendition of Bluebird is tender and thoughtful. Likewise, the arrangement is just as good. As the track begins, it’s just Paul, an acoustic guitar and subtle percussion. Backing vocals are provided by Linda and Denny. This continues until a tenor saxophone plays a gorgeous solo, which fills out the sound nicely. Unlike the two previous songs, Bluebird benefits from a beautifully understated arrangement, and the simplicity of the arrangement suits the song perfectly. 

Mrs Vandebilt is a very different song from the three preceding songs, but one thing it has in common is good lyrics, lyrics full of humour, but with a message. Paul’s message seems to be “what’s the use of worrying?” Okay, it’s hardly Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream,” speech, and as a message, maybe that’s okay for a multi-millionaire rock star. Regardless of that, Mrs Vandebilt is a good song, one that’s catchy, and full of hooks. Bass and guitar combine before Paul sings. His voice is higher, and like on other tracks, backing vocals accompany him. Sometimes, to highlight part of the song, drums are used almost like musical punctuation. When a saxophone plays, it really lifts the song. That addition, plus a great guitar midways through the song really start to fill the song out, and improve things greatly. Overall, Mrs Vandebilt is a good song, one that features some great bass playing by Paul, and a couple of brilliant guitar and saxophone solos.  

When Let Me Roll It begins, the tempo is much slower, the sound and mood seem darker. It’s only when the guitar plays a solo after thirty-seconds that the mood brightens. This doesn’t last, the darker mood seems here to stay. Having said that, it’s an observation, not a criticism. It doesn’t mean this is a bad song, quite the opposite, it’s just very different to previous tracks. Unlike other tracks, the lyrics are quite simple and lack the depth of other tracks. Like other tracks, Paul’s bass throbs away, in the depths of the mix, a contrast to the brighter chiming guitars. As Paul sings he’s accompanied by backing vocalists. They sound as if they’re hidden way back in the mix. Paul’s voice sounds happy, nearly joyous. By now the track is a dichotomy, a mixture of dark and light. Darkness is provided by Paul’s dark, moody and throbbing bass, light by guitars and Paul’s vocal. Once the track has opened up, it seems that darkness is defeated, and eventually, the victor is the brighter sounding part of the song. Overall, Let Me Roll It, is an intriguing and dramatic, dichotomy of a track, one part broody and moody, the other part light and bright. 

Mamunia is a song that has more in common with Bluebird, than many of the other tracks on Band On The Run. It’s a more gentle, quieter song, one with a subtle, spacious arrangement. A bright sounding acoustic guitar is strummed as the track begins. Behind it, a bass plays, its sound is spacious and gently throbs away as notes are played slowly and carefully. It plods pedestrianly and effectively away. Paul, however sings brightly, his voice not quite as high as on some songs. He leaves spaces in the vocal, and they’re thoughtfully filled by Linda and Denny. Sometimes, they sing over Paul’s vocal, combining beautifully. Occasionally, percussion plays, and towards the end, a keyboard joins the frae. What is a return to a more gentle, less “busy” track is a welcome departure after the joyous and jovialMrs Vandebilt, and the dichotomy that is Let Me Roll It. It’s a lovely contrast, and another great song from Paul, Linda and Denny, and by now, my memories of this album are still intact.

As soon as I hear the introduction to No Words I’m transported back nearly four decades. It emerges from my speakers beautifully, announcing it presence like the return of a long lost friend. Although the shortest song on the album, the best way to describe it is small but perfectly formed. From the opening bars where guitars unite, to when Paul sings, the song is masterful. His voice starts soft, almost gentle and towards the end it soars higher, and he nearly struggles to hit the notes, but gets there, just. Likewise, the arrangement transforms from a similar gentle start, and progresses to a much fuller, louder arrangement. It’s as if it’s aping Paul’s vocal. Parts of the arrangement even remind me of some the later Beatles music. Towards the end of the track, I was reminded how much I used to love this song, and today, the same is true. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, it’s a combination of Paul’s vocal, his lyrics and the arrangement. To me, it’s just one of those tracks that everything about it, works.

At the start of Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me). What’s instantly noticeable is how similar Paul’s voice sounds here, as it did back in his Beatles days. Like Band On The Run, Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me) is a track of epic proportions, and is made up of several parts. At the start of the song, it’s just Paul and his acoustic guitar, backed by the rest of the band on backing vocals. Only the occasional drum roll interrupts, that is, until just after a minute and a half. Then Picasso speaks, and the arrangement fills out. After two minutes the track is transformed, there is a short reprise of Jet, then a string section sweep in, giving the track a symphonic sound. From there, the track just keeps getting better, until, the what sounds almost like a good natured drunken sing-song at your local pub emerges, followed by Picasso’s reappearance. For the last minute, there is a mixture of strings and backing vocals. By the end of the track, you realize how complex a piece of music this is. It constantly changes, things enter and leave, only to reappear later, sometimes in a slightly different form. Some parts of the track are stunning, they’re lush and sound symphonic, and I wish that they’d been expanded upon, at the expense of other less worthy parts. Overall, it’s a good track, one that every time you hear it, reveals even more of its subtleties and nuances.

Band On The Run ends with Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five, a track that begins with a piano played, and bass buzzing away in the background. The track is uptempo and upbeat. From the start, Paul’s vocal is energetic and joyous. During the track, there are several breakdowns, where angelic sounding backing vocalists emerge. These breakdowns have the effect of building up the drama. As the track progresses, guitars scream, Paul’s vocal is excitable, he’s almost screaming and grunting. Around him the drama builds and builds, to an incredibly dramatic crescendo, one of totally epic proportions. The effect is just incredible. By the end you’re exhausted at the exertions of everyone involved. You’re almost glad the track is over. However, Paul fools you. Just as the track has ended, the familiar title track can be heard briefly. 

After revisiting Band On The Run my memories are still in tact, the album sounds just as good as all these years ago. If anything, I like the album even better. Maybe as you grow older, you appreciate the subtleties and nuances of the music. Band On The Run was always my favorite solo album by Paul, and my favorite of all the former Beatles’ solo albums. For too long, Paul’s work with Wings has been much maligned, people have been a bit sniffy about it, believing it “too poppy,” or lightweight. Obviously, comparisons are always going to be made with his work with The Beatles, and the other three members. The Beatles are a band who come along just once, their success and influence will never be replicated or repeated. Regarding the other three Beatles, apart from John, George and Ringo never released successful album after successful album. Granted, they released some good albums, but neither they nor John, released such a successful album as Band On The Run. Maybe if John’s life had not been so tragically cut short, the story may have a different ending. Sadly, that isn’t the case, and Band On The Run remains the best selling solo album by any of The Beatles. If you’ve never heard Band On The Run, it’s an album that belongs in any self respecting record collection. On the album, you’ll hear some of Paul’s best work after he left The Beatles. Standout Tracks: Band On The Run, Jet, Bluebird and Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.

PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS-BAND ON THE RUN.


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