70's Pick of the Week
“Band on the Run”, Wings (1973)
Of all the post-Beatles stuff, this album is my favourite. It seemed to just fall together well with an unintended grace that is beautiful and simple.
When the needle hits the record we heard ‘Band on the Run’, transition to ‘Jet’ and then into the mellow ‘Bluebird’, ‘Mrs. Vanderbilt”, and finally “Let Me Roll It’.
Side 2 kicks it up a bit with the hit “Helen Wheels” (not in the U.K. version), “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty five”, and “Picasso’s Last Word’s’ (with a little help from his friend Ginger Baker at his studio).
Bored with recording in the U.K., McCartney asked EMI for a list of recording studios in the world. Intrigued by Lagos in Nigeria, off they went – without taking time to check it out.
The military presence and the ramshackle studio were alarming – not what they had expected. Two members of the original Wings left the band just weeks prior to their departure. That left Paul, Linda and Denny Lane (former Moody Blues member) and a recording engineer from the Beatles days, Geoff Emerick, to help with recording. Armed with a number of tracks they had come up with at their farm in Scotland, they made the best of it.
One night Paul and Linda went out walking against advice and were robbed at knife-point. The culprits got a number of note books of lyrics and some cassette tapes with demos. McCartney said of the incident that they probably had no idea of what they had and likely recorded over the songs on the tape. Idiots!
Another interruption came in the form of African musician and political activist Felta Ransom-Kuti, an ‘Afrobeat star’, who publically accused them of exploiting and stealing African music after they once visited his club. When Kuti came to the studio to confront Paul, he played him the tapes of what they had recorded to calm him down and prove they were making some unique music.
The cover, which has become famous over time shows Paul, Linda, Denny Lane and 6 celebrities in prison stripes, caught in the spotlight. They are all well known in the U.K. but the only one I knew was James Coburn of American film fame. (Freud’s grandson, Clement is also one of them).
The first single “Helen Wheels”, a tribute to Paul’s Land Rover he dubbed ‘Hell on Wheels’ was a hit in December of 1973. Paul never intended this song to be on the album, but despite his request the U.S. version had it on side 2, and CD releases after, contained it as well. The original U.K. version of the album did not contain the track.
I have always loved the clever 3-part structure of ‘Band on the Run’. It talks about freedom and liberation, which after being in the Beatles was something McCartney could never really have again – he yearned for it. McCartney found his freedom in the simple things in life and much of the Wings songs are just that – the everyday things that we all do and take for granted. There is no great Beatlesque drive to create the next great evolution of pop music here, but he somehow succeeded despite himself.
The critics do agree with me on this one, but this is for sure one of my favourite albums ever. I have a sealed ‘mint condish’ copy of it in a display case on the wall. I am sorry to say it is a re-release so not really much of a collector’s item unfortunately, but I like it.