Could McCartney at least come close to the pace and quality of top pop music, that characterized the whole Beatles' reign? Would he be a "retro" attraction, capitalizing mainly on past fame? He surely could have chosen that route. He would never have any holes in his shoes.
McCartney was not about to be so confined. He innately sought to create music that would get in front of the world's masses. What power! I have long been mesmerized by the sheer power that songwriters have. I am in awe of Paul McCartney, even in spite of some of the sloppiness he showed post-Beatles. At his best he was good as ever.
It was after "Red Rose Speedway" that the iconic Paul set out to make an album that would reach higher heights. These heights, he and his associates hoped, would parallel what the Fab 4 did in their glory days. We read that Paul and wife Linda began writing songs at their Scottish retreat. We don't know how much real input Linda had. We have to give her the benefit of the doubt unless shown some real evidence to the contrary. I question whether she had the real background to create music at the highest commercial level.
They say "politics ain't beanbag." Well, to create music at the highest commercial level isn't nearly as easy as it might seem. The songs themselves can seem so simple. Consider some lyrics by Hal David. You might look at that material, shrug and say, "oh, I could write stuff like that." Just try. It ain't "beanbag."
Paul McCartney was the consummate professional who with his fellow Beatles had "paid their dues" in Hamburg, Germany, gaining professionalism that would prove absolutely essential.
In the post-Beatles period, Paul faced a new and awesome challenge. Part of the Beatles' success was that it came from four individuals, each of whom could contribute something special. Remember, Ringo contributed the title for "A Hard Day's Night!" Let's give Linda McCartney the benefit of the doubt, at least in the sense she may have contributed good raw ideas. The "Wings" group had just completed its 1973 tour.
Music from when we're age 19
1973! That was the year I graduated from high school. "Wings" was about to ascend to its apex year, and this was in my first year after high school. The popular music of one's freshman college year - or, if you didn't attend college, music at age 19 - is seared permanently into one's consciousness. It is our first year of meaningful independence. We stretch our legs having fun. My friends and I would go to the bowling alley in Morris and hear Wings sing "Jet" on the juke box. Equally popular was the title song from that album, "Band on the Run."
This was the album that demonstrated that Paul wasn't going to be any retro act. He plunged forward with new music that riveted us. He lived life "on the edge" as he embarked on this recording project. We learn that he had become "bored" with recording in England. Why? I can't understand his thought process. There were times when John Lennon couldn't either.
Paul wanted an exotic place to go and record. He chose Africa: Lagos in Nigeria.
Denny Laine became like "a new Beatle." He was a fixture in Wings. Outside of Paul, Linda and Denny, there would be much turnover in the group. The guitarist and drummer both quit just before the trip to Africa. Why? Were they wary of traveling to Africa? That might be justified.
The core group members arrived in Lagos. A military government reigned. Oh my, there was corruption and disease. The studio had a ramshackle quality. Paul started playing drums and the lead guitar parts.
The musicians could have been killed during this stay. "Living on the edge," Paul with Linda took a walk one evening contrary to advice they'd received. They were robbed at knifepoint. The thieves even made off with some musical material on paper and tape. Did this represent a permanent loss of valuable musical material? My research doesn't answer this.
The perils don't end here, as Paul suffered a very serious self-inflicted calamity. He began gasping for air while singing. He turned white and complained of not being able to breathe. A heart attack? Would fresh air help? He was taken outside into the hot air. Now he seemed worse and he keeled over. Linda feared a heart attack but it was determined that Paul had been smoking too much! The diagnosis was a bronchial spasm. Why would a singer engage in this filthy habit at all? He's lucky he can still sing as well as he does.
Which reminds me: I should check Paul's discography and try to catch up on what he's been doing. At his age, he can't expect to captivate the mass (primarily young) audience anymore. The time to have "your run" as a popular musician is when you're in your 20s or early 30s.
Undaunted by all the scary and perilous stuff, Paul and Linda hosted a beach barbecue to celebrate the end of recording. They would be thankful still being in one piece, when they flew back to England in September of 1973.
The single "Helen Wheels" got released but at that time, it was not tied to the new album. My generation was of course notorious for thinking the name of this song was "Hell on Wheels." Whatever. The song was soon placed on the album against Paul's wishes, although I can't imagine why this was an issue. People in professional music can get into the most intense and sometimes unfathomable arguments. Remember Paul vs. Phil Spector on the "Let It Be" project?
Listening to "Jet" at the bowling alley
The "Band on the Run" album needed some time to gain traction commercially. I'm not sure why. McCartney was no diamond in the rough, he was simply a diamond. In 1974 this album really flowered. The music projected from boomboxes and juke boxes everywhere. And, at the Morris bowling alley. Unruly and somewhat crude boomer youth poured in and out of that place. The intense song "Jet" serenaded us.
The album came out during 8-track times! We learn that the 8-track tape version of "Band on the Run" is one of the few 8-tracks to be arranged just like the vinyl album.
Remember "quadrophonic?" This dinosaur was still walking the earth at that time. "Band on the Run" got released in quadrophonic. In 1996 it was released on 5.1 Music Disc.
The album's four singles were: the title song along with "Helen Wheels" (not "Hell on Wheels"), "Mrs. Vandebilt" and "Jet."
"Jet" was so popular, the Maynard Ferguson big band decided to record it, seeking (cynically, I guess) to get on the McCartney bandwagon and sell a few more copies. Maynard Ferguson fans (like myself) learned that the band did "Jet" purely as a studio project, not having their hearts in it, and the arrangement was never played again. It really was a pretty good arrangement. Some ambitious college jazz band instructor should try to track it down.
Maynard Ferguson played the trumpet. Paul when a boy received a trumpet as a birthday present. How this might have changed history! Paul wasn't about to play music without words. He traded the trumpet for a guitar. I played the trumpet myself but I wish I'd picked up the guitar. The guitar is a lifetime instrument. With the trumpet you're just a "slave" in a band where the director is dictator. If you're lucky you escape that setting for jazz.
At age 19, I enjoyed listening to the "Band on the Run" album with friends like Scott "Scooter" Long and the Cruze boys of South Street in Morris. "The South Street kids." I have suggested before that this would be a good name for a movie.
We never forget the music that was popular in our first year out of high school. It occupies a place in our brain where it can never be replaced.
I greatly liked some of the non-singles on "Band on the Run." I remember selecting "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-five" on the juke box at the Pizza Place, several times. The Pizza Place was located out near where Jerry's U-Save is now. Many of us raved about that place but I just thought it was an ordinary pizza restaurant - nothing wrong with that. I remember the juke box with its highlighted singles in a display at the top, including "When the Snow is on the Roses" by Al Martino. Anyone else remember that?
Just now I checked the lyrics for the "1985" song and was going to paste them here, but they have a weird start. It is not a typo. If I wrote such lyrics, people would wrinkle up foreheads. "On no one left alive in 1985." "On no one left?" I double-checked in other places and this is right. I remember Scott Long was just amazed at how Paul's voice seemed to morph from his normal for this song. (What I remember most about Scott is that he couldn't control himself laughing at the Bill Murray character in "Caddyshack.")
I liked Paul's song "Mamunia." I liked "Bluebird," "Let Me Roll It" and "Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)". Still, it wasn't as if the Beatles still existed. Paul and John had a chemistry that would never bless the world again. We all moved on. There was plenty of music to serenade us. You're only age 19 once. And, "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-five" was a long time ago! Back then we could be "Hell on Wheels." We're more stable today - knock on wood.