Not the Pazz and Jop 1973 #13

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run

The Beatles were the first band I loved, so I can’t really say why I had so little interest in their solo work. I definitely want to blame one of my younger uncles – I can’t remember which one, so all are both tarred and unsullied by this comment – who said we couldn’t play his Beatles records anymore after they broke up. I usually liked their singles that I heard on the radio, but only bought two of their records: a 45 of John Lennon’s “Imagine” years after it was released, and George Harrison’s “Somewhere in England”, which I wanted for his John tribute “All Those Years Ago”. Later, I owned Paul McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt” on cassette, but that arose not out of fealty to Paul but because I wanted to hear what his collaboration with Elvis Costello had wrought.

Over the past year, I’ve started to make up for this lack. It turns out “Somewhere in England” is not a very good record, but George’s “All Things Must Pass” is brilliant. John’s “Imagine” annoyed me immensely but I was floored by “Plastic Ono Band”. Ringo Starr’s “Ringo” was a frothy delight. And now, we come to Paul.

I had measured expectations coming in. As a solo artist. Paul always felt to me as someone who too often accepted mediocrity. For every great single (“Live and Let Die, “Band on the Run”, “Let ‘Em In”), there would be treacle (“Silly Love Songs”), silliness (“Coming Up”), or whatever we want to call the utter abomination that is “Ebony and Ivory”. And that Costello collaboration? Meh.

So my absolute joy over this album is beyond reason. I won’t call it perfect, but there isn’t a skippable track here, and that’s the next best thing.

“Band on the Run” has always kicked ass, and I have a new appreciation for “Jet”. But what’s really fun about listening to an album like this is discovering songs you never even realised existed. Why isn’t “Bluebird” a staple of easy listening radio? It’s a wistful and delicate love song with a jazzy horn break and an air that is so tropical you can almost feel the warm breeze. “Mamunia” has a similar feel, but more uptempo so that you’ll be bobbing your head in pace with the music by the end. I love the guitar in the chorus to “No Words” and the rollicking piano of “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”, which ends with saucy horns before sending us off with a snippet from the title track. And the old-timey “Picasso’s Last Words” is probably the most Beatlesesque track, the kind of song that manages to be both simple sounding and pretentiously complex at the same time.

The standouts for me are “Mrs Vandebilt” and “Let Me Roll It”. The former is a bouncy romp (kitchen dancing!) that is the most fun song here, with the “ho hey ho”s of the chorus and snappy horns. (The cackling at the end was sort of creepy, though.) The latter has my favourite vocal on the record – an impassioned and committed tear through the song, joined by uncomplicated guitar work that cuts through you and pairs well with the emotion in the singing. My favourite moment comes with the addition of subtle bass picking and light snare drum leading up to the three-minute mark, which filled me with delight.

If there is one trend in these listening sessions, it’s learning, week after treacherous week, that I formed some flawed ideas about music earlier in life and, despite my belief that I am open to the new, I am as stuck in my listening patterns as the next guy. With every new record, I am taught anew that I need to try to abandon expectations before hitting “Play”. Today, it’s Paul McCartney. Others will soon follow, I’m certain.