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Spins: Paul McCartney & Wings • Band on the Run – 50th anniversary LP

| January 29, 2024

Paul McCartney & Wings

Band on the Run 50th anniversary LP

(MPL/Apple/UMe)

Paul McCartney scattered enduring pop singles across the seven albums made with post-Beatles group Wings, but few fans would dispute identifying Band on the Run as the bands peak. Furthermore, Band on the Run is commonly cited as McCartneys best overall work outside the Fab Four. The album now receives pristine reissue treatment for its 50th birthday, with a deeper dive than given to the anniversary editions for predecessors Red Rose Speedway and Wings debut Wild Life.

In addition to reissuing the original LP with improved high-end response via half-speed mastering, Band on the Run is available in versions that offer a glimpse into its evolution. The 2xLP editions second platter includes every track except for rocker Helen Wheels” (a single not included on the original UK release of Band on the Run) in an underdubbed” version as captured by engineer Geoff Emerick’s rough mixes prior to the album’s completion. Although these are not new mixes, Emerick’s roughs strip away production and recall the peek behind the curtain offered by the BeatlesLet it Be … Naked reissue, which removed Phil Spectors wall of sound” production. Unlike The Long and Winding Road,” its easy to think that McCartney may have had orchestral bombast in mind when composing epic pop suite Band on the Run.” The riff following the songs If I Ever Get Out of Here” movement is missing the intended power of the familiar album version with its 60-piece orchestra. McCartney sings in unadorned voice in the rough mix, without the dramatic enhancement of reverb.

Anyone who ever wondered whether album-closing piano anthem Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” would have been more potent without Viscontis Live and Let Die”-styled orchestral coda, Supertramp-y clarinet solo, and reprise of the Band on the Run” theme can now judge by playing the underdubbedinstrumental version.

Reclaiming ground with the press and public was important in 1973 following the subdued reactions to Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway. Wingstwo prior albums had only resulted in one major hit – Red Rose Speedways sentimental gem My Love.” Despite losing guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell at the eleventh hour prior to recording in Lagos, Nigeria, McCartney and Wings triumphed with Band on the Run. The album is packed with charting songs and fan favorites that remain staples of Paul McCartney set lists. The title track begins in lonely confinement but bursts into euphoric freedom across its three movements. The album was initially slow to gain traction, but the release of the Band on the Run” single carried both the song itself and the album to #1 in the US.

Driving rocker Jet” was a fictionalized McCartney tale spun from the intimidating experience of first meeting spouse and bandmate Linda McCartneys father, lawyer Lee Eastman. The “underdubbed” counterpart reveals the extent that the song was transformed by Tony Visconti’s orchestral arrangement and the contributions of Liverpool saxophonist Howie Casey, who would become a regular component of Wingslive show. Caseys sax is also featured during Bluebird” and the rollicking Mrs. Vanderbilt” with its ho, hey ho” crowd chant and laughing coda.

Bluebird” is a wistful bossa nova and another ode to unfettered freedom, this time set in the company of a loved one. Linda McCartneys off-key background vocals are a distraction to an otherwise endearing song, but keeping the family involved was always part of Wingsaim and inherent charm. Auto-tune was decades away.

The loping and John Lennon-ish Let Me Roll It” is a muscular pop song with McCartneys sharp guitar riff and slap-back vocal echo. The structure recalls the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” with inspiration rooted in Fats Dominos music. The romantic lyric carries its songwriters intentional double entendre as a pot-smoking anthem of camaraderie. The “underdubbed” version features McCartney’s scratch vocal, with additional sounds and background chatter not heard in the final mix.

Love song No Words” was co-written with bandmate Denny Laine, who passed away in December. The song is reminiscent of Badfingers harmony-laden power-pop. Emerick’s rough mix emphasizes McCartney’s piano and the double-tracked guitar solo at the song’s fade-out.

The album does have its excesses. The Afro-pop influenced Mamunia” is a comparatively inessential trifle, although its ode to the rain exceeds the filler heard on the prior Wings efforts. The folksy strummer Picassos Last Words (Drink to Me),” allegedly written to prove to Dustin Hoffman that McCartney could write a song on the spot about anything, overstays its welcome by a couple of minutes with a florid lounge-pop callback to Jet” and noodling orchestration that produces inadequate bang for the buck. The further callback to Mrs. Vanderbilt” prominently features percussion by Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who shook a tin can full of gravel. The song was recorded at Baker’s studio in Lagos.

Helen Wheels” was a savvy addition to the North American release of Band on the Run, with its big beat reminiscent of Gary Glitters Rock and Roll Part 1” and Laines charming guitar boogie. The song was a top ten hit in the US. The lyric captures the scenery along a road trip from the McCartneys’ Scottish farm into London.

The 2xLP edition collects the main album and underdubbed” platters in a slipcase, and includes a pair of poster collages with Linda McCartneys Polaroid snapshots from Lagos. The half-speed master offers an audible enhancement to anyone with a well-loved original copy.

Jeff Elbel

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