CK Retro Review: Band On The Run by Paul McCartney & WingsPosted: October 11, 2016
The making of Paul McCartney & Wings 1973 album Band On The Run featured a little bit of everything: band departures, exotic locales, theft, health scares. At a time when his solo career was being run down by everyone from critics to ex-Beatles, McCartney didn’t really need the extra pressure. But he rose to the occasion brilliantly, overcoming all the obstacles and finding his rock and roll pocket for one of the great albums of the decade. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “No Words”- Denny Laine, the last Wing standing on the album, received a co-writing credit on this interesting little shapeshifter. The modulations from section to section are the best part of it, which I’m guessing is where Macca had the most input.
9. “Bluebird”- Again with the birds! Band On The Run succeeds largely on its rockers, but the ballads have an ease about them that’s alluring; it doesn’t sound like Paul is trying so hard to please on them as he had in some of the slow ones from just before this release. Guest players Howie Casey (on sax) and Remi Kebaka (on percussion) make solid contributions on this one, and the sleepy little melody works its magic without pushing too hard.
8. “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)”- The folky part was written on demand from Dustin Hoffman, and it’s quaint and lovely in a “Michelle” kind of way. It then spins off into an orchestrated medley of the rest of the album’s songs, which hasn’t aged all that well but still doesn’t torpedo the dreamy beginning.
7. “Mamunia”- Note how the stretched-out lines of the verses are contrasted by the short, sharp punches of the refrain. The countermelodies that show up in the final verse are sumptuously pretty, while the message of keeping spirits up in adverse conditions is rendered nicely.
6. “Mrs. Vandebilt”- McCartney uncorks a sinuous bass line here that plays perfectly off the acoustic rhythm guitars. There’s a Beatles-y electric guitar interlude to sweeten the pot, and the “Ho-Hey-Ho” chant that coaxes involuntary fist pumps. it may not have too much on its mind, but, as he sings, “What’s the use of worrying?” Especially when there’s effortless fun to be had on a track like this.
5. “Let Me Roll It”- There’s toughness in the electric guitar flicker that drives the music and tenderness in the vocals as McCartney rolls his heart to his lover. His bass keeps taking us where we need to go, from the yearning verses to the cathartic chorus. The comparisons of this song to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band were knee-jerk and off-base; whereas Lennon’s stark music was more about getting out of the way of the message, McCartney uses the elements, sparse though they may be, to set the tone here.
4. “Helen Wheels”- After all those years of America messing up The Beatles’ albums, a U.S. release finally did McCartney right, as this indelible chugger was only (originally) included on the version of Band On The Run released in the states. McCartney learned well from Chuck Berry how important meter was to writing a good rock lyric, and he uses that skill to give this one the forward momentum that fits the theme of the song to a tee. Great guitar work at the end of the song from Macca as well, even after everybody says bye-bye.
3. “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five”- After the opening line, McCartney pretty much abandons the futuristic theme in the lyrics. But the music manages to communicate it quite well, from the driving piano to the spaced-out vocal interludes. This is a good point to remind you that Band On The Run was largely a one-man show, which makes tracks like this, which keeps you on your toes for the entire running length right down to the title track reprise, even more impressive. And he sings the stuffing out of it, absolutely freaking out during the cacophonous outro. Fantastic closer.
2. “Jet”- It’s quite unfair how many hooks McCartney crams into this high-energy rocker about, well, I have no idea but I get it, you know. Nobody has ever been able to marry rock propulsion to pop tunefulness as well as this guy, and “Jet” is one of his best examples of how to do it. The instrumental touches are all right on point, from the stately brass to Linda’s wobbly keyboard solo. And the Lady Suffragettes and Sergeant Majors all make perfect sense in the context of the thrilling music. There’s nary a moment in the song that doesn’t demand your full attention.
1. “Band On The Run”- McCartney’s signature solo song works on a lot of levels. Obviously it’s a musical tour de force, a song suite assembled with ambition and grace to signal every stop on a prisoner’s journey, from incarcerated doldrums to tense planning to glorious escape, which finally comes in the pristine strums of Paul’s acoustic guitar. Lyrically it could certainly be read as McCartney’s nod to the shackles that his Beatle reputation had placed on his solo career, shackles that he finally shook off by focused force of will and sheer talent. And once the fans heard this song, they had to finally grant him that freedom, while the critics couldn’t help but tap their feet as they ate their crow-and-humble pie hoagie. You could listen to it every day and never tire of it.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Macca’s “other” band, check out the link below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available in March 2017.)