Paul McCartney and Wings: Wings At the Speed of Sound (1976)
It’s never easy being in a band with Paul McCartney. This is the man who wrote the first stadium sing a long (She Loves You), the highest selling UK.no 1 (Mull of Kintyre), the best James Bond rocker (‘Live and Let Die’), the greatest love song of the seventies (‘Maybe I’m Amazed’) the superb Michael Jackson pop duet (‘Say Say Say’), the perfect disco number (‘Silly Love Songs’), the most covered song of all time (‘Yesterday’), the most accomplished of the many John Lennon tributes (‘Here Today’), the Beatles biggest hit (‘Hey Jude’) and the 21st century Kanye West zeitgeist (‘Four Five Seconds’). So, when you write an album with him, you’re sure to come out the loser. So is the summary of Wings’ fifth album, an album that assured its listeners and that Wings’ were a true band- but suffered from the hands of democratic leeway.
And its no fault of the band. They all tried their hand at writing (yes, Linda did too). They all took turns to sing, they all took turns to express themselves, they all worked. But they were in the company of Paul McCartney, who with ‘Let Em In’ and ‘Silly Love Songs’ alone, battered the band senseless with their lesser works. Little wonder these songs became the choice hits, the first a piano ditty par excellence, the second one of the most accomplished bass laden disco works of the seventies (the Bee Gees caught onto the act the following year).
With mainstays Denny Laine and Linda McCartney complete with guitar wizard Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English each spotting a lead vocal, ‘Speed’ proved the only studio album where the entire unit had a chance to perform; with mixed success. ‘Wino Junko’ brewed with acute honesty, but smelt of seventies excess. Joe English’s spot on ‘Must Do Something About It’ had an interesting opening line, but nothing else. Linda’s ‘Cook of The House’ did little to dispel the rumour she couldn’t sing, write nor dance. Only Denny Laine provided anything of worth, his ‘Time to Hide’ a worthwhile song, but that too paled in comparison to ‘The Note You Never Wrote’, McCartney’s song for him. Floydian in its atmosphere, Beatly in its delivery, ‘Note’ featured McCartney’s finest set of lyrics on the album, reminiscent of the chilling images he brought to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘She’s Leaving Home’, brought further to life by McCulloch’s sterling guitar solo.
The rest of the album was pure McCartney, embellished with his pop genius, simmering rock guitar lines, disco beats and ersatz pop. ‘Let Em In’, the album’s opener, sullied with pop perfect horns not heard since ‘Lady Madonna’, Wings’ greatest album opener after the unsurpassable ‘Band On The Run’. ‘She’s My Baby’ oozed in fifties pastiche that nobody bar McCartney could pull off. ‘Warm and Beautiful’ happily joined ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and ‘My Love’ as one of McCartney’s best post Beatles love song, lovingly rearranged for string quartet to commemorate Linda McCartney’s untimely demise in 1998.
‘Silly Love Songs’, a pulsating dance track, brought credibility to sixties musicians disco hopping (Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger followed suit). McCartney’s most indelible and enduring bass line, ‘Silly’ drove itself from ersatz funk, a natural stadium anthem and one of the highlights of the ‘Wings Over America’ album.
A very strong half an album, it is all the more disappointing how much better it might have been had McCartney written the entire thing (unlike ‘Red Rose Speedway’, which may have benefited from a second writer).
When McCartney writes, the album’ s a strong seventies rocker, a fine four star follow- up to ‘Venus and Mars’. When the others write, the songs sound like a two star amateur record. ‘Speed’ finds itself centered in the middle, a three star album, befitting of greater potential than the album released.