Thursday 2 November 2023

The Thursday Album #3 - Wings - Band on The Run

Step 3 on my musical journey through the albums I've bought.

Like many people, my siblings were massively influential on my musical development. My sister Val was a child of the 60's, a hippy. She loved both the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and I recall her crying when Jimi Hendrix died. In May 1973, for reasons I cannot recall, in May 1973, when I was ten years old, she took me to see Wings at Hammersmith Odeon for the Red Rose Speedway tour. I'd never really liked the Beatles and Wings had passed me by. However the show as good. The highlights was Live and Let Die, a song I think may be McCartney's best. It was the first time I saw a mirror ball and it was spectacular. The support was Brinsley Scharwz. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have paid more attention! They didn't make much impression, but I guess if the first ever band you see has Nick Lowe in, you won't go to far wrong.

After that I became a Wings fan. I would wind up my cousins, who loved the Beatles by saying Wings were far better. I rather liked Hi Hi Hi, which is a fantastic piece of Rock and Roll silliness. For Xmas, Val bought me the recently release Band on The Run. To this day, I think it is the best album from Wings and I vastly prefer it to any Beatles album as well. It has an Iconic cover, with all of the biggest stars of the time, including Michael Parkinson, John Conteh, Christopher Lee and Clemet Freud. I guess it is a mark of McCartneys stature that such figures got involved.

So what about the music?

Side one

"Band on the Run" – 5:12 - A brilliant tune. One of McCartneys best. A great way to open the album. The lyrics intrigued me. I didn't really know about such things at the time, however it is about McCartneys feeling of persecution for enjoying the odd spliff. Apparently it was John Lennon's favourite Wings song. The first single off the album.

"Jet" – 4:09 - The follow up single. It is a brilliant rock and roll single. I had no idea what it was about, perhaps McCartneys love of the occasional spliff was somewhat responsible for that. It had an immense chorus that is very musically clever and some wonderful riffs. For all aspiring siongwriters, it provides a great structure for a rock and roll song. I've never minded nonsense lyrics if they fit the music. 

"Bluebird" – 3:23 -  A very pleasant, nice, tuneful song. More reminiscent of McCartneys later work with the Beatles, perfectly fine, but I prefer the rockers. One of my cousins told me that it was the only decent track on the album, purely because it sounded like the Beatles. I never trusted his musical judgement after that but it is a nice track. 

"Mrs. Vandebilt" – 4:40 - I've always loved the intro to this track. Just a powerful bass line and a drums. The intro could almost be a new wave band. Got to be honest and say not overly keen on the verses and choruses, my least fave track on side one. It is OK, but it is deffo my teabreak track.

"Let Me Roll It" – 4:51 - This is an amazing track. Someone once told me that it was McCartneys riposte to Lennon's jibe "How do you sleep". McCartney sounds like Lennon and the guitar has a very Lennonish slap echo on. McCartney later denied this, but I tend to think this was more about the fact they got back on good terms and decided that slagging each other off was stupid. This was the B-Side to Jet, but would make a worthy A side. 

As for side two, one of the advantages of Vinyl was that if one side was better than the other, you wouldn't bother listening to it. When I was putting this together, I listened to the album on Spotify (I lent my copy to Pete Conway in 1976 and never got it back and never replaced it). I realised that whilst I knew every phrase of side one, I'd only listened to side two a few times and didn't like it much. It is a side of fillers. I debated whether to go through the numbers, but as my musical journey didn't include them, it would not be in the spirit of this feature. 

Side two

"Mamunia" – 4:51

"No Words" – 2:35

"Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)" – 5:49

"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" – 5:28

So what did I personally take from this? As a songwriter, there is so much to learn from McCartney. Side one is almost almost the perfect album. His arrangements are clever and his sense of melody is unmatched. When I write songs for other artists, I tend to default to the McCartney Structural arrangement of Jet as a framework, and work around it. A good example of this in my work is Spotlight, that I co-wrote with Connie Abbe.  The chords, melodies and key are different, but if you chart it, you'll see the influence

I did a professional songwriting course in 1985 and it was only when proper structure was explained to me, I was able to understand how good a songwriter McCartney is. If only I'd listened properly before. 

One last thing, although I don't relaly like side two musically, I admire McCartney being creative and doing it. Bowie is another great who'd do very different sides at his best. These albums work better on vinyl than Spotify. With a new Beatles track being dropped tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how it sounds. 

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