Paul McCartney & Wings
Band on the Run
[Special Edition / Paul McCartney Archive Collection]
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2011, Volume 18, #1
Written by John Metzger
Wed January 12, 2011, 06:30 AM CST
Like many artists, Paul McCartney has often done his best work whenever he has had someone who challenged his authority. Consequently, in the absence of The Beatles, McCartney faltered. Sure, his debut (known simply as McCartney) was a charming, low-key endeavor. Likewise, Ram offered a new beginning as his band Wings started to take shape. Alas, with Wild Life and, to a lesser extent, Red Rose Speedway, it became clear just how lost and adrift McCartney was. These albums had their moments, of course — some more than others. Nevertheless, they also felt surprisingly routine. As such, they hardly achieved the feats that were expected of a former Beatle.
Band on the Run was the album on which McCartney finally got himself back on track. The process of crafting the endeavor, however, was anything but easy. In a foreboding sign of things to come, guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell abruptly left Wings as the group was preparing to commence work on Band on the Run. After arriving in Africa, where he and his outfit were planning to record the effort, McCartney not only found that the studio he had rented was in serious disrepair, but he also endured extreme weather conditions, was mugged at knifepoint, and had his motives called into question by a popular local musician. Considering the stress he was under, it’s no wonder that McCartney collapsed in the midst of it all.
Forever the optimist, McCartney somehow managed to transform his troubles into the joyful music that fills Band on the Run. Glimmers of his professional entrapment in a post-Beatle world — as well as his travails during the recording of the effort — surface, however cryptically, within his lyrics. The prevailing mood, though, is one of whimsical, free-spirited playfulness that sometimes masks the sorrow and pain that lurk beneath the surface of McCartney’s desire to escape.
McCartney has always had a tendency to micro-manage his projects, and Band on the Run wasn’t an exception. In the One Hand Clapping documentary that is included in the inaugural edition of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection — a planned upgrade of the former Beatle’s entire solo catalogue — he guides saxophonist Howie Casey through his solo on Bluebird. In fact, after Seiwell and McCullough departed, McCartney was forced to take a greater role than, perhaps, even he had initially intended to take. Given the pressure he was under, however, he also didn’t have time to second-guess himself. As a result, McCartney simply had to trust his instincts, which freed him to take greater risks.
In some ways, while crafting Band on the Run, McCartney fell back on old habits. The Beatles may have been gone, but successful solo projects by John Lennon and George Harrison gave him something to which he could respond. Let Me Roll It leans on Lennon; No Words draws on Harrison. Nevertheless, neither song is meant to be mere mimicry. Instead, McCartney uses the constructs of his former colleagues’ material to build songs that sound like full-fledged collaborations. This, of course, suited the style he was developing for Band on the Run. It also gave Wings its identity. Falling into line as an extension of The Beatles’ output, Band on the Run pushed McCartney outside of his safety net as he distilled mini-rock operas — most notably the title track and Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me) — into potent pop tunes.
All of the demos that McCartney had compiled during the recording of Band on the Run were stolen when he was mugged. Consequently, in assembling the latest expanded version of the endeavor, he had to turn to other sources for material: The One Hand Clapping documentary and the home movie footage of the cover shoot for the outing are fun to watch, though neither is particularly riveting entertainment. Save for the standalone single Helen Wheels — which appeared on the American version of Band on the Run — as well as its delightful b-side Country Dreamer and the instrumental Zoo Gang, the rest of the extra audio tracks on the Paul McCartney Archive Collection edition of the outing were plucked from One Hand Clapping. These selections aren’t architecturally different from their studio counterparts, but on them, McCartney and Wings embrace an edgier approach, one that is more akin to a concert performance. Finally, falling somewhere between Yellow Submarine and Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python, the videos that were made to promote Band on the Run were compiled to complete the package.
Band on the Run was a natural starting point for reevaluating McCartney’s canon. Although it long has been heralded as the best of his solo endeavors, it also has remained underappreciated within the greater landscape of rock music. Over the years, though, the set has slowly gained in stature. At long last, Band on the Run finally seems to be getting its due.
Of Further Interest...
Band on the Run: Special Edition / Archive Collection is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box