Paul thought, ‘I’ve got to do it, either I give up and cut my throat or [I] get my magic back. – Linda McCartney
Like many of my generation – and not a few afterward – I am a diehard, lifelong Beatlemaniac. I never saw them but we did see McCartney at Fenway Park about 10 or 12 years ago. All you could hear was “Paul! I love you! Marry me!” And that was just me.
All that said, my feeling is that you can count on one hand the number of great post-Beatles solo albums. Many people love Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. I do too and it is my second favorite solo Beatles album. Band on the Run is my favorite.
First, a little history:
When the Beatles broke up in 1970, according to the book Man On The Run, “For the first time in his life, he felt utterly worthless. Everything he had been since the age of fifteen had been wrapped up in the band. Now, even though he couldn’t tell the world, that period of his life was almost certainly over.
It was as if he’d suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job, been made entirely redundant. He was twenty-seven and of no use to anyone anymore. Even the money he’d earned up to this point was no comfort, made no real difference. This was an identity crisis in extremis: who exactly was he if he wasn’t Beatle Paul McCartney?”
He drank, he got high, he was often wasted by early afternoon. As so often happens with the wreckage known as men, it took a good woman to save him. “Linda saved me,” he says. “And it was all done in a sort of domestic setting.” Maybe this is why he gave her co-writer credit on Band on the Run.
But more to the point, let’s face it, McCartney had no other skill set but music. And if he was to have any purpose, he had to get back to pumping out albums.
He cranked out his first solo album McCartney, in 1970, and what was essentially a Paul/Linda album, Ram in 1971. There’s some pretty good stuff on both these albums – “That Would Be Something,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Smile Away,” and the incredibly goofy but fun “Monkberry Moon Delight.”
After the release of Ram, McCartney decided to form a new group and asked drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Hugh McCracken to join. Seiwell accepted, but McCracken declined, so McCartney invited Denny Laine, whom he had known since the early 1960s, to join.
The first Wings album released was 1971’s Wild Life. I guess the band was still trying to figure itself out. Of this album, AllMusic says, “If this is a great musician bringing his band up to speed, so be it, but it never seems that way — it feels like one step removed from coasting, which is wanking.” Ouch.
In 1972, McCartney – not wanting to recreate the pandemonium of phony Beatlemania which by now had bitten the dust -said he just wanted to “get into a van and do an unadvertised Saturday-night hop at Slough town hall or somewhere.”
And so they did. Wings hit the road, playing colleges and such throughout the UK. The big joke became “Did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?” which was funny the first 10,000 times I heard it.
In 1973, the band released Red Rose Speedway, an album I would have forgotten about except for the tune, “My Love.” This schmaltzy number is the kind of song that Lennon would never have allowed Paul to put on a Beatles album. The best thing I can say about it is it’s better than “Sometimes When We Touch.” If Paul had not released “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” and “Live and Let Die,” I would have pretty much given up on him.
Bored with Abbey Road and eager to record outside the UK, McCartney asked EMI to send him a list of all their international recording studios. He selected Lagos, Nigeria. The band started rehearsing but in short order, both Seiwell and McCullough quit, the latter after exchanging a couple of hearty “Fuck you’s” with McCartney. The loss of both can be attributed to creative differences, McCartney’s apparent tightness with a buck, and his well-known control freak tendencies.
Wikipedia: “This left just McCartney, Linda and Laine to record in Lagos, assisted by former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. McCartney had chosen Lagos, as he felt it would be a glamorous location where he and the band could sun on the beach during the day and record at night; the reality, however, was that after the end of a civil war in 1970, Nigeria was run by a military government, with corruption and disease commonplace.” (And so, suboptimal – ME.)
“While out walking one night against advice, McCartney and Linda were robbed at knifepoint. The assailants made away with all of their valuables and even stole a bag containing a notebook full of handwritten lyrics and songs, and cassettes containing demos for songs to be recorded.” Apparently, the only reason they weren’t murdered is that they were white and most Nigerian robbers believed that white people found it impossible to distinguish between or accurately describe the features of black criminals.” (At that point, I would have gotten the fuck out of there – ME).
On another occasion, McCartney had suffered a bronchial spasm brought on by too much smoking. Another incident was the confrontation with “local Afrobeat pioneer and political activist Fela Kuti, who publicly accused the band of being in Africa to exploit and steal African music after their visit to his club. Kuti went to the studio to confront McCartney, who played their songs for him to show that they contained no local influence.”
After six weeks of what I suppose they figured would be Morocco or Jamaican-like fun in the sun smoking ganja with hippies, the band made its way back to the UK. And, one supposes, kissed the ground.
Band on the Run was released in December 1973. It took a little while for the album to catch fire as, frankly, Paul’s previous solo stuff had been hit or miss and there were plenty of other things to listen to. Gradually as the singles were released (the title tune, “Jet,”) the thing started to take off.
It hit number one on Billboard by April 1974. Band on the Run was eventually certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America; it would go on to sell 6 million copies worldwide and become EMI’s top-selling album of the 1970s in the UK.
In 2000, Q magazine placed it at number 75 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2012, Band on the Run was voted 418th on Rolling Stone’s revised list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” It was McCartney’s last album issued on the Apple record label.
Fun facts – After a dinner with Dustin Hoffman, with McCartney playing around on guitar, Hoffman did not believe that McCartney could write a song “about anything”, so Hoffman pulled out a magazine where they saw the story of the death of Pablo Picasso and his famous last words, “Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.”
McCartney created a demo of the song and lyrics on the spot, prompting Hoffman to exclaim to his wife: “…look, he’s doing it… he’s doing it!” Ginger Baker plays percussion on the tune and Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti did orchestrations.
Critics said that “Let Me Roll It” was Paul’s tribute to John given its un-McCartney-like sound. Macca denies this but maintains that he might have done it unconsciously. I got busted once at the Jersey shore for being drunk and disorderly. When I got out, this is the song I remember playing everywhere at the beach.
The guy on the cover in the back with his hand up in the air is actor James Coburn.
Doyle, Tom. Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.