WINGS-VENUS AND MARS.
WINGS-VENUS AND MARS.
Although their first two albums had been a commercial success, Paul McCartney and Wings’ third album, Band On The Run, was a game-changer. It was released on 5th December 1973, and reached number one in America, Australia, Britain, Canada and Norway. This resulted in Band On The Run being certified triple platinum in America, and platinum in Britain and Canada. Band On The Run had surpassed the commercial success of 1971s Wild Life or 1973s Red Rose Speedway. That however, wasn’t the end of the accolades that came Band On The Run’s way.
In 1975, Band On The Run was nominated for three Grammy Awards. At the Grammy Award ceremony, Band On The Run won Grammy Awards, for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. For Paul McCartney, Band On The Run was a turning point.
After Band On The Run, Wings as the group became, would enjoy five consecutive platinum albums in America. The first of these albums was Venus and Mars, which was recently released as a double album by Universal Music Group. Venus and Mars was the first Wings album to feature Wings expanded lineup.
When Band On The Run was recorded, Wings were a trio, featuring Paul and Linda McCartney and guitarist Denny Laine. The following year, 1974, Paul McCartney decided that now, was the time to expand Wings lineup. In came lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton. The new lineup of Wings started recording Venus and Mars.
Some of the earliest sessions took place in Nashville. That’s where it became apparent that lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton didn’t get on. There was a personality clash, one that couldn’t be resolved. After six months as a member of Wings, Geoff Britton left Wings. American drummer, Joe English was auditioned and became the new Wings drummer. Geoff Britton’s contribution to Venus and Mars was just three songs. Another three songs were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London.
By the time Wings arrived at Abbey Road Studios, in November 1974, Paul and Linda McCartney had already written a number of the new songs that featured on Venus and Mars. This included Letting Go, Love In Song and Medicine Jar. These were just there of the Paul and Linda McCartney compositions.
Eventually, Paul and Linda McCartney penned eleven of Venus and Mars’ thirteen tracks. New member, Jimmy McCullough, cowrote Medicine Jar with Colin Allen. The other track was the musical faux pax that was Tony Hatch’s Crossroads Theme. These thirteen tracks would eventually, become Venus and Mars, which was recorded at a variety of studios, including Sea-Saint Recording Studio, New Orleans.
With some of the material for Venus and Mars written, Wings headed to New Orleans. Their destination was Sea-Saint Recording Studio, New Orleans. That’s where overdubbing of the tracks recorded at Abbey Road took place between January and February. Right through to April 1975, Wings recorded songs for Venus and Mars at spent the Sea-Saint Recording Studio. However, that wasn’t the only studio they used in America.
The other studio Wings used, was Wally Heider’s Studio, in Los Angeles. This was a studio used by the great and good of music. It was highly regarded within the music industry, and many a classic album was recorded there. One night, at Wally Heider’s Studio, a familiar face visited Paul and Linda.
This was none other than John Lennon. His relationship with Yoko Ono was on hold. He was now in a relationship with May Pang. John was also in the midst of “lost weekend,” where he ran wild with Harry Nilsson. One night, however, he decided to visit the McCartneys at Wally Heider’s Studio. The two old friends tried to get repair their fractured friendship. This seemed to work. John told May Pang he was thinking about writing with the McCartneys. Sadly, this never happened, as John was reunited with Yoko Ono. Meanwhile, Wings released their fourth album.
By April 1975, Venus and Mars, Wings’ fourth album, was completed. It was scheduled for release on 27th May 1975. Before that, Listen To What The Man Said was chosen as the lead single from Venus and Mars. This was a masterstroke. When Listen to What the Man Said was released, it reached number one in the US Billboard 100 charts. For Wings, they looked like building on the commercial success of Band Of The Run.
When critics heard Venus and Mars, the reviews were mixed. They ranged from favourable to disappointing. Rolling Stone, still perceived as panacea of music criticism, weren’t won over by Venus and Mars. It was, they believed a mixed bag of songs. Classic McCartney songs sat side-by-side with filler. For Wings, the critical reception to Venus and Mars was disappointing. However, the people that mattered, record buyers, thought otherwise.
On Venus and Mars’ release on 27th May 1975, it reached number one in America, Britain, Canada, France and Norway. It also reached the top ten Australia, Japan and the Netherlands. In total, Venus and Mars sold over four million copies. This resulted in Venus and Mars was certified platinum in America, Britain and Canada. Although Venus and Mars wasn’t as popular as Band On The Run, Wings were well on their way to becoming one of the most popular bands in the world.
This wasn’t apparent when Letting Go was released as the second single from Venus and Mars. It was released in October 1975 and stalled at just number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 100. Over the Atlantic, Letting Go reached number four in Britain. The third and final single from Venus and Mars was Venus and Mars/Rock Show. Although it reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100, it failed to chart in Britain. However, overall, Venus and Mars had been a commercial success, and showcased Paul McCartney’s skills as a singer and songwriter.
There’s thirteen tracks on Venus and Mars, which features Paul McCartney is accompanied by the newly expanded lineup of Wings. Although many critics referred to Venus and Mars as a musical mixed bag, that’s somewhat unfair.
Venus and Mars starts with the wistful title-track. Then Rock Show explodes into life. Love In Song is a heartfelt ballad, but is far from a McCartney classic. The jaunty You Gave Me The Answer sees Paul roll back the years mixing hooks and humour. Magneto And Titanium Man sees the hooks keep on coming, as Wings mix perfect pop and rock. Closing side one is Letting Go. It’s moody, rocky and cinematic. Letting Go which is the perfect way to close side one, sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to a James Bond film.
Side two opens with a reprise of Venus and Mars. Its familiar melancholy sound is comforting. Spirits Of Ancient Egypt, which features Denny Laine’s lead vocal proves a disappointment. The live version on Wings Over America is the definitive version. Medicine Jar sees the vocal change hands again. Jimmy McCullough delivers the lead vocal. Sadly, after a driving, dramatic, rocky and funky introduction Jimmy’s vocal proves too weak. It can’t carry the song. If Paul had taken charge of the vocal, Medicine Jar would’ve been transformed. Thankfully, Paul takes charge of the next three vocals.
This starts with Call Me Back Again. He delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of drama and power, on what’s always been an underrated track. It features some blistering guitar licks. They’re the perfect replacement for Paul’s vocal, as the newly expanded Wings kick loose. This continues on Listen To What The Man Said, which is without doubt, Venus and Mars’ best track. From the opening bars, right through to the closing notes, it’s Wings at their very best. The medley of Treat Her Gently and Lonely Old People is a reminder of Paul McCartney’s skills as a singer and songwriter. He breaths, life meaning, emotion and beauty into the lyrics. That would’ve been the perfect way to close Venus and Mars. However, Paul had an idea.
The story started when Dick James sold The Beatles publishing company, Northern Songs to Lew Grade. As a result, they became part of ATV Music. At first, Paul McCartney was angry and frustrated. So Paul and Lew Grade met to discuss the situation. At the meeting, Lew Grade agreed to administer Northern Songs at favourable rate. He also agreed to give Wings a television show that would help promote Wings in America and Britain. As the two men parted, Lew Grade jokingly asked Paul if he’d consider rerecording the theme tune to Crossroads, a low budget British television show. Little did he realise, that a few years later, he’d do just that.
At the Venus and Mars sessions, Wings rerecorded the Crossroads Theme. It was given a modern makeover, and closed Venus and Mars. Since then, the Crossroads Theme has been one of the most controversial songs that Wings ever recorded. However, the truth is, the Crossroads Theme, which closes Venus and Mars, was merely a quid pro quo.
On the second disc of Venus and Mars, there’s another fourteen tracks. This includes rare and unreleased tracks. Some of the tracks were recorded at the sessions in Louisiana and Los Angeles. Apart from the unreleased tracks, there’s the singles Junior’s Farm and Walking In The Park With Elois and B-Sides like Bridge On The River Suite, My Carnival and Lunch Box/Odd Sox. There’s also another version of Rock Show and the single version of Letting Go. These fourteen tracks show the newly expanded lineup of Wings evolving as a band. They’re an interesting and intriguing musical document, as Wings became one of the seventies’ supergroups.
Whilst Venus and Mars never replicated the commercial success of Band On The Run, it cemented Wings reputation as one of the most successful bands of the seventies. Venus and Mars was the start of a run where Wings enjoyed five consecutive platinum albums. They could do wrong. Right up until 1979s Back To The Egg, Wings enjoyed commercial success and sometimes, critical acclaim.
Band On The Run had been the start of this. Venus and Mars saw the commercial success continue. After the release of Venus and Mars, Wings embarked upon the Wings Over the World tour. It started in 1975 and finished in 1976. During that period, Wings criss crossed the world, showcasing their latest album, Venus and Mars.
Although Venus and Mars isn’t as good as Band On The Run, it’s an album that’s matured with age. Critics weren’t impressed with Venus and Mars upon its release. However, of the thirteen songs, nine of them are of the standard you’d expect from Paul McCartney. Ironically, Paul’s decision to make Wings a democracy backfired.
On Venus and Mars, Paul allowed Denny and Jimmy to take charge of the lead vocal on a track. This backfired. Neither Denny nor Jimmy were able to bring out either song’s potential. Spirits Of Ancient Egypt, featured Denny Laine’s lead vocal. It proved a disappointment. So does Medicine Jar, which sees the vocal change hands again. Jimmy McCullough delivered the lead vocal and didn’t have the power to make the song come alive. Two other tracks on Venus and Mars disappoint.
Love In Song may have been a heartfelt ballad, but was far from a McCartney classic. The controversial Crossroads Theme was the wrong song, on the wrong album. Instead, the medley of Treat Her Gently and Lonely Old People would’ve been the perfect way to close Venus and Mars, Wings’ fourth album, which was recently rereleased as a double album by Universal Music.
Venus and Mars may have not found favour with critics upon its release, but it’s a reminder of just how talented a singer, songwriter, musician and bandleader Paul McCartney was by 1975. While Wings were far from The Beatles, they were a talented group, who were one of the most popular groups of the seventies. They took three albums to find their voice. After 1973s Band On The Run, there was no stopping Wings. They spread their Wings, and released five further commercially successful albums, starting with Venus and Mars, which has matured with age since its release, back in 1975.
WINGS-VENUS AND MARS.