Thursday, 9 January 2020

Paul McCartney - Solo Seventies & Wings (1970-1976)



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The albums covered here are:-

McCartney (1970)
Ram (1971)
Wild Life (1971)*
Red Rose Speedway (1973)*
Band On The Run (1973)*
Venus and Mars (1975)*
and Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976)*

* with Wings

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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McCARTNEY (1970)

1. The Lovely Linda
2. That Would Be Something
3. Valentine Day
4. Every Night
5. Hot As Sun/Glasses
6. Junk
7. Man We Was Lonely
8. Oo You
9. Momma Miss America
10. Teddy Boy
11. Singalong Junk
12. Maybe I'm Amazed
13. Kreen-Akrore          

Paul McCartney's first solo album was something of a strange affair. It was recorded just after his acrimonious split from the Beatles and was accompanied by a lot of media hoo-hah and some perceived arrogance from McCartney himself within the hype.  The album features just him playing various instruments in his own house, almost as if to prove that after The Beatles he could record anything he wanted to and get away with it. There are unfinished-sounding songs and instrumentals on there. That is putting a slightly too simple a sheen on it, however. Yes, it is indulgent and the question "he left The Beatles to do this?..." is a perfectly understandable one. Nevertheless, there is some good, enjoyable material on here as well as some underwhelming, throwaway stuff. It is also a bit of a misnomer to say the album is "lo-fi", as it has been described over the years by many. The sound, for me, is very good - full, warm, bassy and with a nice stereo separation. Yes, it was recorded in rudimentary fashion, but it still sounds perfectly acceptable to me, in a down-home, folky sort of way, which definitely has an appeal. The contemporary reaction to it, however, was one of shock. It was highly-anticipated and to say it was perceived as a colossal let-down was an understatement. It was nowhere near as good as Lennon'Plastic Ono Band or Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

Listened to now, all these years later, allows it to be re-assessed, positively. I have always quite liked it, I have to admit. My opinion is a typically contemporary one, though, as the album has been re-assessed positively on regular bases as the years progress.

 
                                 
As for the material - The Lovely Linda is a short, tribute to the love of his life, while That Would Be Something is a catchy number featuring an infectious guitar riff. The short instrumental, Valentine Day has some excellent guitar. Every Night is a proper, accomplished song, no question. It has a great melody and hook. If it had been a Beatles song, everyone would have loved it. Hot As Sun/Glasses is a lively, once again catchy instrumental. The gently tuneful "Junk" is a fetching, typical McCartney song in many ways, and is certainly one that sticks in the mind. It dated from the Let It Be Beatles sessions in 1969. Man We Was Lonely would not have sounded out of place on 1973's Band On The Run, to be honest. There are also echoes of the late sixties Beatles material in its melody too and Harrison-esque guitar parts.

The rocky Oo You has a Lennon-esque guitar intro and a definite sound of Lennon on the vocal. It almost seems as if McCartney was trying to write a Lennon-style song here. Momma Miss America has a sumptuous bass line and McCartney plays some Ringo-ish drums and contributes some Lady Madonna-style piano to this entertaining instrumental. He adds some excellent guitar at the end too. Fair play to him. It's a good one. Teddy Boy is, however, an irritating leftover from The Beatles late sixties period that has slight echoes of Maxwell's Silver Hammer and Rocky Racoon in it, for me.  I have to say I find it pretty awful. This sort of thing is the worst of McCartney.

Singalong Junk is the instrumental version of Junk (allowing one to singalong to it). It is superfluous and not really worthy of its place on the album, although the melody is still a nice one. Then there is the album's one true copper-bottomed McCartney classic - the fully-formed proper rock of Maybe I'm Amazed, which will always find its way on to a "best of McCartney" playlist. His voice goes all Helter Skelter throaty on the choruses. It has some excellent rock guitar, organ and piano too. Kreen-Akrore is another instrumental, this time a bit of an indulgence, with the kitchen sink thrown in and McCartney showing off somewhat on the drums, unimpressively. That old joke about Ringo "not even being the best drummer in The Beatles" may not have been true, if this is anything to go by.

I have to say that one cannot deny that there is some lightweight material on here that, if it wasn't Paul McCartney, would not even get released and, as a cohesive, meaningful album it comes up considerably short. For some reason, though, and I accept all the criticisms of it, I cannot help but like it. I know that it doesn't deserve it, but what the heck.



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RAM (1971)

1. Too Many People
2. 3 Legs
3. Ram On
4. Dear Boy
5. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
6. Smile Away
7. Heart Of The Country
8. Monkberry Moon Delight
9. Eat At Home
10. Long Haired Lady
11. Ram On (reprise)
12. In The Back Seat Of My Car      

After the deliberately "home-made" feel of 1970's McCartneyPaul McCartney continued in the same vein, to an extent, although this album benefits from a much fuller, more powerful production - more electric guitar, for example. It did still have that ramshackle feel to it, though, as if it were recoded in one of McCartney's farm buildings (it had not, see above). The whole "folk rock" laid-back thing was de rigeur at the time - Dylan, CSNY, The Byrds, Van Morrison, they were all at it. Why not McCartney? He ad a ten year legend to de-construct, after all. I am being facetious, but you certainly got the impression he just wanted to do some carefree, enjoyable music under no pressure. That is exactly what this album is. It doesn't really beggar too much analysis.
                  
Too Many People is a confident, solid rock song, with potent drums and electric guitar and a memorable hook. 3 Legs is a light, folky and vaguely bluesy, enjoyable but inessential number. Ram On has McCartney in Beatles-style vocal tone, but is a pretty throwaway short piece of innocent, unthreatening fun. It doesn't really get anywhere, neither it supposed to. Stuff like this sounds like something laid down in a spare few minutes in the studio, with no real intention release.

  

The wistful, Beatles-esque Dear Boy has a hint of the material that Wings would put out over the subsequent years. It is, like all the album, cheerful, melodic and unashamedly unchallenging. McCartney still also had time for a bit George Martin-style orchestrated whimsy in the irritating but annoyingly memorable Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. The former with its Yellow Submarine silly voices and the latter with its cheery brass and more haughty voices give Beatles followers their dose of McCartney silliness. Personally, I have always hated it, but still find myself singing along to it. It is another very Wings-like prototype. You almost expect it to launch into "ho hey ho" near the end.

As I said at the beginning, though, there is a fuller, rockier sound to some of this album, and we get some more rock with the chunky introductory riffs, electric guitar backing and doo-wop of Smile Away. If this had been on Abbey Road everybody would have said it was great. As it was, the public at the time remained underwhelmed by McCartney's output, which was a bit of a shame because, if one forgets about The Beatles, this isn't a bad album. Then again, though, if it hadn't been for The Beatles, he wouldn't have got away with an album as quirky as this.

Heart Of The Country is blissfully pleasant and endearing, McCartney expressing the pleasures of his bucolic life. Lyrically and musically, it is enjoyable. "I want a horse, I got sheep, I want to get me a good night's sleep...". 

Monkberry Moon Delight is another Wings-ish jaunty rocker. It is more proof that this is a more fulfilled, credible album than its predecessor. I have always quite the rock 'n' roll groove of Eat At Home. "Let's eat in bed" declares McCartney, as if he were singing to Yoko. Long Haired Lady is musically inventive, atmospheric and credible. It amazingly manages to eke six minutes out of not much at all though. The brass part at the end is appealing, however, but the track is two minutes too long. Ram On is briefly and pointlessly reprised before the album's final and possibly best track, In The Back Seat Of My Car. It is a bit indulgent in places, but it is full of good points as it veers tunefully here and there.



** It is a shame the heavy Oh Woman Oh Why from the bonus material didn't make it on to the album, or the seriously powerful rock of Rode All Night. It would be a totally different album, and perceived so differently. Another fine non-album track was the single Another Day, which was one of those McCartney "stories of ordinary people" songs.

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WILD LIFE (1971)


1. Mumbo
2. Bip Bop
3. Love Is Strange
4. Wild Life
5. Some People Never Know
6. I Am Your Singer
7. Tomorrow
8. Dear Friend                                            

This album has not been included in the Paul McCartney remaster series, and it is now only available for ridiculous prices. (This situation has now changed - 2018) A pity as it is a rather pleasant pre-big rock band Wings outing. Dating from 1972, and like his first two solo albums, it sees Paul McCartney just messing around a bit, enjoying himself, as the first two tracks, Mumbo and Bip Bop show. They are just jams, really, but enjoyable ones at that. The organ/backing vocal riff from Mumbo is surely taken, magpie-style, from Sly & The Family Stone’s 1968 track Soul Clappin’, however. Bip Bop has a nice bass backing rhythm throughout. Then we get the quite convincing reggae of Love Is Strange (a cover of an old hit from 1957). It is one of my favourites of McCartney’s. I would always put this in a “best of Wings” compilation.



Wild Life has more than a hint of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Almost Cut My Hair about it. A six minute impassioned song in support of the rights of animals, always one of his causes. Some People Never Know is a beautiful, late Beatles-ish laid back song, nothing wrong with it whatsoever. If it had appeared on The White Album, people would have hailed it is a work of genius. It was fashionable to turn on McCartney now, however. Funny how things had changed. I Am Your Singer is certainly not the best song he ever wrote, but it is innocent enough I suppose, as he goes “back to basics”. Again it is nowhere near as bad a song as some would have you believe. Nice flute part there too. 

Tomorrow is a song similar to many that Wings would put out over the next six or seven years. Nice harmonies in it. McCartney’s voice now sounded like his Wings voice, which was actually quite different to his Beatles voice, I think. Some lovely backing vocals and melodic, quiet bass on this most pleasant song.

  

Finally, Dear Friend is his moving attempt to smooth things over with John Lennon after a few years of sniping at each other in song. Rather reasonable of him, actually. It’s a nice song too. Genuinely sensitive. Nice saxophone/piano/strings ending. Rather sad, though, that McCartney always seemed sensitive in his songs directed at Lennon, whereas the latter was acerbic and scathing in his often puerile, needless attacks on McCartney.

The sound on the 1993 remaster is perfectly acceptable and the 2018 one is even better. There is a real laid back pleasure to this album. Most enjoyable. Just enjoy it for what it is. It is no Band On The Run, of course, the key is not expect it to be. At the time it was critically panned, with some saying that McCartney’s songwriting was never at a lower ebb, and just when he needed to gain back respect (after the patchy McCartney I guess) he released this somewhat underwhelming album. Quite why McCartney needed to gain back respect is unclear to me. He was only a few years on from Abbey Road.



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RED ROSE SPEEDWAY (1973)

1. Big Barn Bed
2. My Love
3. Get On The Right Thing
4. Only One More Kiss
5. Little Lamb Dragonfly
6. Single Pigeon
7. When The Night
8. Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)
9. Medley: Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands Of Love/Power Cut
10. Hi Hi Hi
11. C Moon                       

After a quirky series of solo releases in the experimental, somewhat indulgent McCartney, the slightly better "Ram" and the bucolic Wild Life, this was Paul McCartney's first "proper" rock album made with a full band and featuring a lot more power and attack in comparison with the airy, whimsical nature of parts of the earlier albums. This was the first album to properly establish "Paul McCartney & Wings" as a credible entity - a valid band.
                          
Big Barn Bed is a loose, bluesy rocker that has a bit of feel of a studio jam about it, but it has some appeal, including some impressive acoustic guitar interplay and a thumping rock ending. It dated originally from 1971' Ram sessions. The beautiful My Love is next and is well known by all by now. It is still plaintively enchanting though, one of McCartney's best Wings-era songs. It has a sumptuous percussion and bass sound to it as well, plus its killer guitar solo. Get On The Right Thing has an addictive bass intro and a Beatles late sixties rock groove to it, in a sort of Abbey Road way. It rocks, quite considerably. It is another Ram session song. Linda's backing vocals are a bit screechy, it has to be said, though. Only One More Kiss is a catchy, country-ish number in what was by now a typical McCartney style, but it remains the right side of whimsy to retain a reasonable amount of credibility.

  

Little Lamb Dragonfly is another one seemingly trying to catch that Abbey Road vibe. It is the last of the three Ram sessions numbers. It is like three songs in one, with several changes of pace and the bit where he sings "see me waiting" just sounds like something from Abbey Road's old "side two". It is a beguilingly attractive piece though, and no doubt had it been recorded by The Beatles in 1969 it would have been hailed as a work of genius. As it is, it was seen by many as poor old Paul McCartney vainly trying to recapture the past, which was a bit of a pity. Even the "la-la-la" fade out refrain is just somehow effortlessly singalong, showing that he still had it, despite the many contemporary critical doubts.

  

Single Pigeon is a pleasing short melodic tune. Yes, it does have a bit of a feeling of a throwaway studio demo about it, but it works its way into your consciousness before you know it. Then it finishes, unfortunately. When The Night has that sound that would soon become that of "typical Wings". It provides hints as to what was to come on Band On The RunLoup (1st Indian On The Moon) is a thumping, sonorous instrumental, featuring some weird sounds half way through, almost reggae in places and some powerful John Bonham-style drums. You can't help but think, however, that it was just the band jamming in the studio, and it shouldn't really have found its way on to the album. Despite that, I still find myself singing the monk-like chant refrain hours after listening to it.

The final track, is another Abbey Road nod in that it is a medley - the upbeat, rock of Hold Me Tight, the trippy, Beatles-esque Lazy Dynamite, the acoustic, lively and catchy Hands Of Love, complete with a voice imitating a kazoo, and Power Cut. The latter is the best of the four and is contemporarily relevant (the country had enforced power cuts at the time). This has not been a bad album at all, and is worthy of more than a few listens.



** I do feel, though, that the bonus tracks - the rocking, sexually saucy Hi Hi Hi and the appealing cod-reggae of the lilting C Moon should both have been on the album, possibly at the expense of Loup. Other non-album material from this period included the now iconic James Bond theme from the movie of the same name, Live And Let Die.

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BAND ON THE RUN (1974)

1. Band On The Run
2. Jet
3. Bluebird
4. Mrs.Vandebilt
5. Let Me Roll It
6. Mamunia
7. No Words
8. Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me)
9. Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five    
            
By far Paul McCartney’s most famous post-Beatles album. It is pretty much perfect. No instrumentals, jams or short, lyrically wanting songs, such as on “McCartney”, “Ram” and “Wild Life”. The songs on here are all fully-constructed big, powerful compositions with impact. From the perfect Band On The Run with its beautiful bass intro slow build up, to the storming (although lyrically nonsensical) single in Jet to the full on Beatles-ish rock riff of Let Me Roll It - this is an excellent album.

Recorded under trying circumstances in Nigeria, (poor quality studio, a knifepoint robbery and some health problems) the album is played mainly by McCartney, his wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine, the results are quite remarkable, all things considered. 

  

Beatles influences appear for the first time for a while. The closer Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five has a Lady Madonna piano riff and A Day In The Life mass orchestrated ending, while No Words  almost sounds like it should be on Rubber Soul. It was the most Beatles-ish song McCartney had written since the split. 

The melodic, catchy Mamunia, with its early T.Rex style bongos, the simply beautiful Bluebird,  the singalong “Ho, Hey Ho” part of of Mrs Vandebilt and Picasso's Last Words, with its Beatles-style clarinet instrumentation on its bridge and French background chattering, all add to a piece of work that has not been bettered in the forty-odd years since by McCartney, both commercially and critically. Why, even John Lennon liked it.



** While the non-album single from 1973, Helen Wheels, is an enjoyable typical McCartney & Wings rock song, it would have been a bit out of place on the album. Country Dreamer is a pedal steel guitar-driven country song, very Beatle-ish too. Standard 70s “B” side fare. Again, no need for it to appear on the album. I bet Ringo loved it, though. Another absolutely killer rocking single was Junior's Farm. Its b side was another likeable country song, Sally G

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VENUS AND MARS (1975)

1. Venus and Mars
2. Rock Show
3. Love In Song
4. You Gave Me The Answer
5. Magneto And Titanium Man
6. Letting Go
7. Venus And Mars (Reprise)
8. Spirits of Ancient Egypt
9. Medicine Jar
10. Call Me Back Again
11. Listen To What The Man Said 
12. Treat Her Gently (Lonely Old People)
13. Crossroads Theme                                     
Originally released in 1975, after the monumental success that was Band On The Run this was a somewhat patchy album, but the good patches were very good.

Listen to What The Man Said is still one of my favourite Wings' songs, a perfect summer single, and Love In Song is one of those beautiful slow songs McCartney seemed to be able to produce at will every two years or so. The upbeat Spirits Of Ancient Egypt and the bluesy Medicine Jar are also up there. You Gave Me The Answer, while being from When I'm 64 territory, is impossibly catchy and, however much, I am not a fan of "McCartney whimsy", I have a weakness for this and often find myself putting on a ludicrous 1920s voice and singing it.

  

Magneto And Titanium is silly, lyrically, but it has an appealing, full, warm sound to the backing. Great guitar and keyboards sound on it. Again, its melody and refrain sticks in the head. The same applies to Rock Show, which I have always felt was spoiled by its irritating "Mademoiselle Kitty" bit in the middle. The "alternative version" of this included in the second CD of extras is much better, fuller and bass-driven with a better McCartney vocal. Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People is a sensitive song, the sort McCartney does so well. It would not have sounded out of place at the end of Band On The Run.

Letting Go is another of my favourites - a powerful, bassy, rumbling slow burning rocker, with excellent horns and a sharp lead guitar throughout the song. Possibly the best song on the album. Call Me Back Again is a heavy-ish number with echoes of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road.



** Of the non-album material from this period, the instrumental Bridge On The River Suite is interesting, as is Lunch Box/Odd Sox and while Crossroads is certainly inessential, it is just so nostalgic. Soily is a great rocker and there is more whimsy in Baby Face and the jaunty Walking In The Park With Eloise. The extras here are probably the best bunch of such material in the McCartney remasters. Junior's Farm and Sally G appear too, but I have mentioned them in the Band On The Run section, as I identify them more with that album.

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WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (1976)

1. Let 'Em In
2. The Note You Never Wrote
3. She's My Baby
4. Beware My Love
5. Wino Junko
6. Silly Love Songs
7. Cook Of The House
8. Time To Hide
9. Must Do Something About It
10. San Ferry Anne
11. Warm And Beautiful            
                        
Best known for its two massive hit singles, the quirky Let ‘Em In and the melodic and catchy Silly Love Songs (the extended album version is much better), this is a pleasant, laid-back album. Its success was probably due, however, to the presence of those two tracks on it. Paul McCartney decided to show that the band was not just him, but a co-operative, and allowed free rein to his mates to sing on various songs. This attracted criticism at the time (despite previous criticism being that the band was a vehicle for McCartney). Personally I don’t mnd. I don’t feel it spoils the album particularly. The songs still sound like McCartney & Wings songs.

The Note You Never Wrote (featuring Denny Laine) and She’s My Baby are by now standard Wings easy listening fare. Beware My Love is a bit of an underrated treasure with its rocking last half, probably the only true “rock” song on the album*, although Wino Junko (featuring Jimmy McCullough) has its heady, rock moments too, over a shuffling, semi funky beat.

  

With regard to wife Linda’s Cook Of The House - it is a fun, jazzy upbeat piece, but the dishes mentioned are decidedly unappetising! Time To Hide is again a competent but relatively unthrilling rock-ish song. Must Do Something About It has a nice bass line and some pleasing Hawaiian-sounding guitar together with a catchy chorus. San Ferry Anne is another jazzy number and the final track Warm And Beautiful is a classic McCartney ballad, worthy of inclusion in any “Best of Wings” playlist.

All these songs are extremely appealling in many ways, but in other ways they don’t really stick in the mind much. The album is a perfectly acceptable listen, but no more, really. It is a very summery album, almost easy disco-styled for daytime radio in places. 



** An extra on the two CD version is a version of Beware My Love with Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham on drums, typically pounding away.

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