Monday, August 28, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run

Release Date: December 5, 1973

Lineup: Paul McCartney (vocals, bass, guitars, piano, keyboards, percussion); Linda McCartney (vocals, keyboards, percussion); Denny Laine (vocals, guitars)

Produced by Paul McCartney

Side One: Band on the Run; Jet; Bluebird; Mrs. Vanderbilt; Let Me Roll It

Side Two: Mamunia; No Words; Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me); Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five

Band on the Run bookended a challenging and prolific year for Paul McCartney and Wings which began with the release of Red Rose Speedway. In search of creative inspiration, McCartney with band members Linda McCartney and Denny Laine recorded most of the record at EMI studios in Lagos, Nigeria. Planning for days on the beach and recording at night, they instead found the country in political turmoil following a civil war that had ended in 1970 with a military dictatorship in charge. The change of scenery and some of the dangers that came with making the record resulted in a record even McCartney's most begrudging critics praised. 

The album also bore a striking resemblance to the concept records of the late Beatles period, although McCartney never intended it as such, although are recurring romantic themes of escape and adventure. "Band on the Run" opened the record with one of Paul's best songs since the Beatles breakup. Conceived as a mini suite opening with weary guitar melodies, then into a crescendo of resolve, and transitions into an anthemic pop song.

Another FM staple, "Jet" was inspired by the McCartney family dog. The non-sensical lyrics and big production were primed for arena rock shows. "Bluebird" is wonderfully produced and performed, both subdued and fantastical. "Mrs. Vanderbilt" also spans genres from rock-pop to Paul's fondness for writing singalongs. Many noticed "Let Me Roll It" sounded like a John Lennon pastiche, even with lyrics possibly aimed at his old bandmate. Musically, McCartney was proving he could still write rockers with the best of them.

Inspired by a famous hotel in Marrakesh, "Mamunia" has drawn comparisons to "Rain", also similar in sentiment to "Mother Nature's Son." Co-written with Laine, lyrically "No Words" could be on a lounge singer's repertoire but works fine as a pop song. Reportedly written on a dare by Dustin Hoffman, "Picasso's Last Drink" is another mini suite with a reprise of "Jet" and "Mrs. Vanderbilt" tying both sides of the record together (and works as a quirky tribute to the legendary artist). There's a Sci-Fi edge to "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" to close out the record, a bit of prog rock on the fadeout.

Band on the Run never ceases to be entertaining, a retro extravaganza and celebration of '70s pop.

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