Over the course of 2020, my friend Matthew Restall, author of the brilliant Blue Moves book in the 33 1/3 series & I (Hope) started spontaneously breaking down Paul McCartney’s entire post-Beatle discography as if we were writing an actual essay (like you do, if you are a nerd). Well, turns out we were. Welcome to The Wonder Of It All, a 4-part series featuring our endlessly unspooling, unhinged, proudly contrarian, ridiculous & heartfelt correspondence regarding the Macca solo catalog. Ram On…
So Glad To See You Here: Just a note on the format of this essay, Matthew and I are going to be taking turns spilling our McCartney guts and our names will appear before our respective comments. Our album rating system is the classic best of 10, the pinnacle being 10 (it’s brilliant), the bottom being 1 (it’s terrible). Our opinions will diverge at points but we remain as one in our eternal love for Macca.
HOPE: By 1976, something weird was brewing in Beatle world. Thanks to the consistent radio plays, latter-day exposure to the Beatle movies and the influence of millions of older siblings, cousins and babysitters, a new generation of fans were starting to discover them. And so began the first pop music perfect storm. These newbies were kids who’d been born in the late ’60s and beyond and hadn’t experienced the band in real time. They were frequently referred to as “Secondhand Beatle Fans”, a short-lived, semi-official moniker that was both condescending and lovingly true.
One of the best parts about becoming a Beatle fan in the mid-’70s was that not only were there innumerable older albums to consume and catch up on, but a constant stream of new releases by the now solo Beatles to look forward to. This was something of a divine gift for the Secondhand fans, for while they couldn’t experience the excitement of buying a newly recorded album by The Beatles and being part of the cultural zeitgeist that surrounded them, they could still enjoy something that felt like theirs, something new. And when it came to kicking out new music, the most motivated and driven ex-Beatle by far was Paul McCartney aka Macca. He proved to be staggeringly prolific out of the gate, kicking out 9 studio albums plus a triple lp live album between 1970 and 1979 alone, as well as a stellar array of stand-alone singles.
Paul was just plain unavoidable in the ‘70s, which is to say, he was f-ing everywhere, emanating from every radio, appearing on countless magazine covers, invading every city to rock every coliseum and filling the charts with a continuous stream of, well, stuff. Paul’s star wasn’t flatlining, it was manically ascending, his music becoming as omnipresent as that of The Beatles as the decade unfolded. This goes some way toward explaining and understanding why the post-Beatle Paul McCartney catalogue meant so much to the latter day generations of Beatle fans. It was as close as they could get to experiencing the Fab Four in real time. Like the tagline for the short lived 1977 Broadway show Beatlemania so hopefully and desperately declared, “Not The Beatles, But An Incredible Simulation!”. That was Paul McCartney in the ‘70s. And as it happened, it was a damn good simulation…so good that you could sometimes forget about that other band he was in, especially if you were a kid at the time.
And with that, welcome to THE WONDER OF IT ALL : Paul McCartney’s Solo Years !! Join Secondhanders Matthew and I (Hope) as we bravely trek through 50 years worth of the post-Beatle Macca discography, dissecting its contents, grading the albums and generally over-sharing for context (half truth, it’s mostly because we get exceedingly emotional when discussing Macca). We will be exulting the underdogs, nudging the sacred cows and venturing into the darker corners of the catalogue fearlessly, heartlessly exposing what lives there (yes “Mumbo”, consider that your official warning). And oh yes, one last thing, we will occasionally spew cutting references to the McCartney Archive Collection, the ongoing deluxe reissue project begun in 2010 in regards to their nonsensical, non-chronological order of release which has been a major source of frustration for Macca nerds ( feel free to turn it into a solo drinking game). Yes, there’s something here for everybody, young and old, dabbler and obsessive and we hope you like it.
MATTHEW: Yes, throughout the 1970s, the Beatles were omnipresent and inescapable. There was always something in the papers, on the TV, or on the radio from or about the Four, either from when they were Fab or from their post-Fab musical and personal lives. As Bob Stanley noted in his book Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, for most of the ‘70s, “the States were still pretending the Beatles hadn’t split” (p.247, also see my 33 ⅓ book on Elton John’s Blue Moves, p.61; forgive shameless plug). Although Beatlemania (and that Beatlemania show) was, ironically enough, bigger in the US than the UK, the phenomenon was similar on both sides of the Atlantic. Re-released Beatles songs and new solo releases charted quickly and sold well.
At the top of that heap of new music was everything by Paul, Linda, and Wings. Between 1970 and 1979, they released ten albums (two under the McCartney name, seven studio albums under Wings, and a Wings live album; we are not including the Wings Greatest compilation). Eight of the ten reached #1 or #2 in the US and Canada (five of them did in the UK), charting and selling millions all over the world. In terms of quantity—the number of albums and the number of units moved—Paul outdid his former bandmates many times over. In our view, he outdid them too in terms of quality. All those albums and singles yield hours of melodic pop marvels. But critics were less generous. Many of them were unenthusiastic, if not downright rude and derisive, about most of these albums; in fact, with the exception of Band on the Run, all these records were generally given a rough ride by reviewers. Why?
Much ink has been spilled on that question and on similar ones, but we are going to stick to one, simple theory that helps take us to the task at hand (rating the albums): Paul refused to release a perfect album, and that got under the skin of critics. The first trio of albums were so obviously and blatantly LPs that Paul wanted to make, for himself and Linda—without giving a monkey’s about anyone else or what they might think or want. According to this theory, nothing on these first three albums pandered to bandmates, managers, producers, record company suits, fan clubs, record store buyers, or critics. Some people in that last category took it personally. The fourth album did, at last, seem to be reaching for critical and commercial approval, but it wasn’t good enough for the critics. Then, when the fifth album did prove to be perfect (at the very least, close to it), that only enraged them more. As if Macca could have made a Band on the Run every year, and he was deliberately, bloodymindedly choosing not to!
Well, the critics were right—in a way. The albums weren’t perfect. As Rob Sheffield notes a couple of times in Dreaming the Beatles, some of the songs, even whole albums, had an unfinished feel to them. And I must admit that I found that a little confusing at the time. I was a kid during this decade and missed the early albums in real time. I was 6 and living in Madrid when McCartney came out, so I was already a Beatles fan but was oblivious to their breakup and the solo sequels. But in the five years between Band on the Run and Back to the Egg I was in school in England—and increasingly obsessed with pop music. I loved the steady stream of Wings hit singles, and acquired the albums as I could, at first a year or two behind their releases, and then—with the last two of the decade—in real time. By then I had accepted the imperfections of these albums as part of their charm. Their flaws were minor, endearing, and above all forgivable, considering that the other ex-Beatles had, by 1979, produced so little—and so much of it total shite—by comparison. After all, if Wild Life was Paul being selfish and inconsiderate to fans, what about (as of 1979) Ringo’s dismal seven albums, or George’s failure to make anything close to All Things Must Pass, or the fact that John gave up mid-decade completely?
1970-1979: From Cherries to the Egg
MATTHEW: The first three post-Fab Paul albums always seemed like a trilogy to me. Although released under three different names (McCartney; Paul and Linda McCartney; Wings), they all came out within a 20-month period in 1970-71, and they seem to stem from that short creative period (even if some songs had late-60s origins). They also bear that period’s unfiltered hallmark—for better or worse. Without John, Ringo, or the Georges (Harrison and Martin) to reject, rework, develop, or approve his draft compositions, Paul clearly felt deliriously free to simply jam out the bits and pieces constantly emerging from his fertile mind, pop them onto acetate, and let Bob be his uncle.
When it works, it feels thrillingly like sitting in Paul and Linda’s kitchen, drinking their wine, while they make up songs. The invention of Indie Rock? That more likely emerged from the use by multiple artists of cheaper, smaller recording technology. But I see why some critics (and fans) have given Macca that credit.
As for the trilogy: not as bad as many critics claimed in the ‘70s, but also frustratingly flawed. Each one has a handful of songs that are not only among Paul’s best, but hold up well in the catalogue of pop’s greatest, full stop. But then Macca can’t resist tossing them in with tracks that should have gone straight into the B-side bin—or the bucket of half-baked ideas to be revisited later.
HOPE: McCartney (1970), 6/10: I know for a long time people thought this album to be the product of clueless hubris, but honestly its homespun sloppiness feels so genuine and heartfelt to me; it’s the sonic embodiment of muddy boots, wet dogs, worn wool sweaters and Linda’s home cooking…which is to say, it’s an unbelievably warm and cozy record. And I should add, it’s aged surprisingly well. But, but that’s not to say it isn’t scarred by filler. While it’s home to blindingly beautiful romantic constellations like “Every Night” and “Junk”, it also contains some outright shiz, namely “Ooh You”, “Momma Miss America” and the exceptionally awful “Kreen-Akrore”. No matter how much of a Macca contrarian someone is, no one should be willing to die on a hill for those 3 demons. And I know it’s semi-blasphemous to say but here goes; I prefer the raw emotional live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” that came later on 1976’s Wings Over America over the original here with its fat, intrusive organ.
At the end of the day though, the bad tracks are outnumbered by the good. “Man We Was Lonely” is a total sweetheart of a song, a soundalike sibling to The Beatles’ “The Two of Us”. And I quite like the acoustic, candy-coated instrumental “Hot As Sun” though admittedly it has something to do with a weird, sentimental childhood memory. At some point in the late ’70s, one of our local TV stations in NY started using it as the theme music for the Popeye cartoon show that was on at 7 am before we went to school. Yes, “Hot As Sun” was the daily prelude to an hour of spinach-fueled revenge scenes…which is both utterly bizarre and strangely perfect.
MATTHEW: McCartney (1970), 8/10: Cherries (as I’ve always called it) is for me the best of the first three: a half-hour of beautiful, tuneful, whimsical pop (“Every Night” and both versions of “Junk” are Paul-pop bliss), culminating in the insta-classic “Maybe I’m Amazed” (yes, the live version is better, but it doesn’t replace this one). If only he’d stopped there or waited until a couple of the better songs from the next album were already written (or included “Another Day,” which had been written during the Let It Be sessions the previous year). Instead, he takes us to the 35” mark with a stunningly crappy final track (was he taking the piss? Having a laugh? He must have been, right?).
Two of the themes that run through our whole blog essay are the issue of track selection and sequencing, and the impact on the listener of her/his personal history with an album. Both of those come together for me with Cherries, as my father gave me the pre-recorded cassette of the album when I was a boy; it was a cherished item in my small, fledgling tape collection, and I still have it. But the tracks were re-sequenced by the label (“Amazed” on Side A, the two “Junks” together on B, etc.). When, near the end of the ‘70s, I heard the proper sequence and made a tape from the record, I realized how much of a difference it made; a beloved but admittedly bumpy album became smoother and better.
HOPE: Ram (1971), 10/10: I love Ram. Love it. Okay, I will admit there is one song I don’t really care for and yes I’m talking about you “3 Legs” you freakin’ monster, but since it’s short and sandwiched between 2 stellar songs, “Too Many People” (anxious, angry and devilishly beautiful) and “Ram On” (delicate and swoonworthy), it’s easy to ignore. But I have nothing but endless adoration for the rest of Ram. For one thing, it’s home to one of my absolute favorite McCartney songs ever (Beatles included), the plush, gorgeous and semi-carnal “Back Seat of My Car”. It’s simply off the charts on the swoon-meter (and majorly so on the mono version that’s included as part of the deluxe Archive edition of the album, listen here). “Smile Away” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” are batshit crazy, and I love songs where unhinged, old school rock ‘n roll Paul crashes into melodic and tuneful Paul ( more of that to come later). And throughout Ram, Paul cements his status as the KING OF CODA. “Back Seat”,”Long Haired Lady”, “Too Many People” and “Uncle Albert”, all end with completely new hooks and twists. I mean who on earth has ever, will ever do it as well ??? No one, that’s who.
MATTHEW: Ram (1971), 7/10: For me, Ram is neither front nor end loaded. It scatters its great songs throughout the album, making it easy to overlook the weaker ones. As with Cherries, there’s a full half hour of music on here that sustains countless listens (“Dear Boy,” “Uncle Albert,” “Heart of the Country,” and “Back Seat of My Car” among the highlights—yes, the latter is indeed gorgeous and romantic and freakin’ perfect)! And a riveting example of the melodic codas or outros that Paul does SO well. That means it (just) makes my favorite 10 Macca albums. But unlike Cherries, savoring that half-hour requires skipping tracks. Or doing the digital equivalent of what I did decades ago with a C-60 cassette, on which I put 11 of Cherries’ 13 tracks on one side, and 7 of RAM’s 12 on the other. A killer hour.
Wild Life (1971)
HOPE: Wildlife (1971), 2/10: All that talk about this being one of the worst Macca albums of his career ? It’s true. I cannot comprehend why this was given the deluxe Archive treatment over London Town or Back to the Egg, 2 far superior records ( Archive Collection complaint # 1). Out of the ten songs on offer, I only listen to 2 with any regularity; stunning, bitter rainy day ballad “Dear Friend”, and gorgeously poptastic “Some People Never Know”. Both are superb Macca songs by any standard. The only possible way I could imagine enjoying the other 8 tracks would be if Paul and I were sitting on a porch on a breezy afternoon and he was strumming his acoustic guitar and singing them to me and me alone. That’s the only scenario in which “Bip Bop”, “Mumbo” or “I Am Your Singer” might sound “good” or at least marginally appealing ( doors open Paul, in case you want to try changing my mind).
MATTHEW: Wild Life (1971), 4/10: this has a pretty great Side 2, culminating in a pair of fine Macca songs, “Tomorrow” and “Dear Friend.” But then it is followed by another absurd piss-take closer—this time, mercifully short, but unfortunately a reprise of the painful track that opens the relatively weak Side 1 (ok, weak is being nice; its atrocious; I can never get through “Mumbo” without lunging for the skip button). I’d rate Side 1 a 1/10 and Side 2 a 7/10; so my final ranking splits the difference. That’s probably being too generous as, in the end, there are only two true keepers on here; and considering the plethora of perfect pop songs that Paul penned in the 70s, that’s pretty sad.
The next two Wings albums, in my mind, are a pair—most obviously because they both came out the same year (1973), but also because they came to me on the opposing sides of a C-90 cassette about a year later (when I was 10, courtesy of Carol, an honorary teenage cousin—I called her parents uncle and auntie). Band on the Run overshadowed Red Rose Speedway commercially and critically—and on my tape deck. Carol had added “Live and Let Die” to the end of the BOTR side of the tape (for years I assumed it was actually the album’s final song). 007 is a hard act to follow; “Red Barn Door” ( aka “Big Barn Bed”) just didn’t cut it. So, nine times out of ten I didn’t flip the tape, but pressed rewind or put on something else.
Red Rose Speedway (1973)
HOPE: Red Rose Speedway (1973), 7/10: I have a real affection for this album and while it’s not entirely successful ( “Loup” is pure evil), it’s infinitely superior to Wild Life. And it’s home to another one of my all-time fave Macca songs, “Little Lamb Dragonfly” ( I will take as many epic hook-filled ballads from Paul as he can serve up). I confess I’m a complete sucker for Macca tracks where he employs his trademark improv quirk; all those “do-do-do’s” on The Beatles “Mother Nature’s Son”, “ooh-ooh-oohs” on “Back Seat” and “la-la-la’s” on “Little Lamb” and on and on. I even like the ham-fisted medley (“Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut”) that closes this album which is clearly bits of other potential songs awkwardly sewn together. Plus there’s another wonderful “tuneful screamy” here,”Get On the Right Thing” that I can’t get enough of. The album is slick and slight but its hidden gems justifiably kick up the score for me. And though I know it was the thing back in the day in the UK to release stand alone singles that didn’t land on actual albums, I think the double A-side from ‘72 featuring “Hi Hi Hi” and the candy-coated “C Moon” would’ve fit quite nicely on RRS, the latter in particular.
MATTHEW: Red Rose Speedway (1973), 6/10, lacks history for me, and although it has grown on me through many recent listens, I still find it rather flat. It has ups and downs, like its three predecessors, and there’s nothing awful on it. For some, it is probably as good as Ram. For me, it’s a notch or two above Wild Life but falls short of Ram. I understand why EMI opposed making this a double album; with the exception of one or two tracks (I rather like “Country Dreamer,” for example), the rejected numbers were even less memorable. It’s as if instead of developing unfinished songs further, Paul just kept writing more of them. The “Kiss/Dragonfly/Pigeon” trio in the middle of the album have particularly grown on me, but they need something more compelling around them. For example, with many of these Macca ‘70s albums, one wishes in retrospect that some of the between-album singles had been substituted for the weaker tracks. RRS, for example, had one big hit (“My Love”), but (as Hope says) imagine how much better it would have been had it included the earlier single “Hi Hi Hi” and its B-side “C Moon,” and the later single “Live and Let Die”!
Band On The Run (1973)
MATTHEW: Band on the Run, (1973), 10/10, on the other hand, deserves its accolades. It is one of those albums that simply works. The Paul & Wings ingredients are the same, but the formula is tweaked, and the result is finally the record that one imagines the previous four might have been. Play the late Beatles albums to someone who (somehow) has never even heard of them, then play BOTR and say it was the Fab Four’s 1973 record, they’d surely believe you (they might ask why only one Beatle sang, but musically they’d accept it). As a result, it thus never ages. Like Abbey Road, it is immortal. RRS sounds like the early 70s. BOTR sounds like a great rock/pop record. I admit I’m pretty much over “Jet,” which has become tiresome after a thousand listens; and the original UK album version without “Helen Wheels” is better. Nor is it my absolute most-loved Wings album (that’s still to come). But there’s surely no doubt that it’s the best album Paul made in the 70s (and one of his best two or three ever).
HOPE: Band On The Run (1973), 9/10: BOTR is like Sgt. Pepper to me. As in the first Beatle album I owned as a kid was Pepper and in turn BOTR was the first Macca solo album to find its way into my meager collection. I played it endlessly, front to back and it invariably became the gauge by which all other Macca records I got would be compared to. But as Pepper has gradually descended down the Beatle album-ranking lists over the years making way for the likes of Revolver, White Album (and lately Abbey Road), somewhere along the way the charms and virtues of other Macca albums, including Ram, came to knock BOTR off the top spot as far as frequency of listening and overall love for me. In fact, there are at least 5 other Macca albums from the ’70s I listen to with more frequency than BOTR. But my feelings are driven solely by over-familiarity, it is still a ridiculously wonderful pop album and is deserving of every accolade it gets!
I think the real stars of BOTR are not the piano pounders, but the gentler animals, specifically “No Words” and “Bluebird”; both are melodically stunning and I absolutely adore them to this day. Still, I have to offer a true confession that you ain’t gonna like Matthew… which is that the song I play the most is, okay, it’s freakin’ “Jet”. Ah Mater, I’ll never get tired of yer.
I do think though, that the overwhelming praise for BOTR did a bit of a disservice to what came both before and after it release-wise. For years critics held to the claim that every post-Beatle Macca release was significantly inferior to it. Patently untrue but they clung to that opinion for eons, cutting Paul no slack until the release of Tug of War in 1982. It still kind of irritates me, it felt like there was a concerted effort to drag him down, but I digress! BOTR deserves a near perfect score and if I were to offer one artifact to a space alien unfamiliar with solo Paul to investigate, it would unquestionably be this.
Venus And Mars (1975)
MATTHEW: The next three Wings albums are very much a trio that go together, all released between May ’75 and December ’76, with the third being a live album that promoted the previous two. For some reason, I don’t remember listening much to Venus and Mars and At The Speed of Sound at the time; but I still have my cassette tape of Wings Over America, which I played a lot. Looking back, that kind of makes sense, as WOA arguably renders its two predecessors redundant.
HOPE: Venus and Mars (1975), 6/10: Nerd fact, when iPods were launched in the early ’00s, you could get the back of the device engraved with whatever personal wording you wanted. I chose the lyric “Venus and Mars are alright tonight” because what the hell else was I going to do; like christening a boat, I had to bestow my new precious, incredible life-altering device with an equally meaningful “name”. V&M is not my favorite Macca album but I do find a lot of it to be exceedingly embraceable. But bad news first. “Rock Show” is a bit silly, not the tune but it’s genuinely cringeworthy lyrical content, “behind the stacks you glimpse an axe” being a particularly egregious line. I think Paul was aware that he wasn’t perceived to be as hard and tough soundwise as The Who or Led Zeppelin at that time but still reeeeally fancied the idea of the proverbial “kids” thinking Wings ROCKED ( of course by the time they did officially, convincingly ROCK on 1979’s Back to the Egg the kids could not have cared less).
When I was kid I loved kitschy retro “You Gave Me the Answer” which I find completely insufferable now (I would actually play act Paul and I dancing to it which is as humiliating as it sounds ). I do adore “Love in Song”, think it’s a total sleeper, so handsome and full of rain. And the sad soul of “Treat Her Gently-Lonely Old People” qualifies it as a keeper as well. At the end of the day though “Listen To What The Man Said” is the indisputable star of V&M, just an unimpeachable melody and production (and it still has the ability to make me sigh out loud). If I’d have been rating this album as a kid I would’ve awarded it a 10/10 solely because of the stickers and poster it came with. That stuff was as important to me as the actual record. I immediately slapped the stickers on my school notebooks and while they served as a nice compliment to my masterfully drawn ELO logos, I feel an insane, undeniable twinge of regret that I no longer have them.
MATTHEW: Venus and Mars (1975), 6/10: I see why “Rock Show” flopped as a single; it doesn’t rock well, it lacks the charm that imbues so many Macca songs, and it wears thin very fast. I suspect it put me off the album back in the day. But even now, Venus and Mars strikes me as a very mixed bag. I like “Love in Song” and “Letting Go,” but there is simply nothing great here until the end. The closing cluster is REALLY great (“Call Me Back Again,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” and “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”; I’m going to pretend the “Crossroads” TV theme was not tacked absurdly on the very end). But those fine 15 minutes remind me of how disappointing the rest of the album is. And to return to my point earlier about between-album singles: “Junior’s Farm” would have made a great substitute for “Rock Show”!
Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976)
MATTHEW: At the Speed of Sound (1976), 7/10: For decades, in my mind this was as good or bad as Venus and Mars, but I recently realized how much better Speed of Sound is. For starters, Sides A and B kick off with great singles—“Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs.” The whole of Side A stands up well. It closes with a nice pair of mellow Macca ditties. And as for Paul’s controversial inclusion of songs written and sung by other Wings band members: when it works, it works really well (“The Note You Never Wrote” is excellent, perhaps the best Denny Laine song on any Wings album); but when it bombs, it bombs big (“Cook of the House,” cute enough as a B-side, as it was to “Silly Love Songs,” where it should have remained).
HOPE: At the Speed of Sound (1976), 7/10: I’m pretty sure this is the first Macca album I bought in real time. And to be frank I wasn’t sure what to make of it with its overly democratic song distribution. Which meant it didn’t rank highly for me in the beginning because all I wanted was Paul. But like you Matthew, as years went by I came to love it especially the cryptic and cloudy “The Note You Never Wrote”. There is something very overcast and gloomy about the whole record that appeals to me, I feel the presence of a very particular sonic vibe on tracks like “San Ferry Anne”,”Time to Hide” and “Wino Junko”, as well as the 2 stellar singles “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs”. And I think “Beware My Love” is a total powerhouse, one of his best ever rockers, I mean the construction of it is just so clever. And Paul’s vocals on those “I must be wrong’s” are absolutely killer! All hail screamy Paul.
Wings Over America (1976)
HOPE: Wings Over America (1976), 5/10: While WOA is generally fun I have problems with how the setlist is arranged as well as some of the actual choices. There are at least a dozen tracks from post-Beatle Paul that are more worthy of inclusion than the dreaded “You Gave Me the Answer”,“Richard Cory” or “Spirits of Ancient Egypt”. Having said that, the version of “Listen To What the Man Said” on offer here is absolutely smokin’ and I especially love when Paul introduces the Thaddeus Richard sax solo with a “take it away Thaddeus”. And what is there to say about “Maybe I’m Amazed” at this point, I mean what an absolutely spectacular vocal good lord.
MATTHEW: Wings Over America (1976), 7/10: comparing live albums to studio ones is always an apples/oranges challenge (and a cliché to point that out!), especially a triple live album to single studio ones. But this one is so closely tied to specific studio albums that the task is made easier. Although it came out of the summer 1976 tour that promoted Speed of Sound, WOA overwhelmingly favors Venus and Mars above all others. If we count the V&M title tracks as one, and we discount the 1-minute “Crossroads” outro, WOA includes almost all of V&M, 9 out of it’s 11 songs. In contrast, there are only 4 songs from Speed of Sound (and 5 each from Band on the Run and from the Beatles catalogue). But here’s the thing: the live versions of the V&M tracks are better than the original ones; even the dodgy “Rock Show” is elevated by being in a medley with “Jet.” The use of songs written and sung by band members other than Paul somehow works better live than in the studio. And there are just the right number of Beatles songs. Ok, the result is not amazing (don’t hate me if I prefer the other big hit live album from 1976, Frampton Comes Alive!), but it is pretty damn good. My old cassette got played hard (admittedly it was an Indonesian bootleg with the tracks muddled up and tracks like “Answer” and “Egypt” missing), and I’ve gotten my money’s worth from the 2013 Archive Collection CDs too.
London Town (1977)
MATTHEW: We both recognize how much our—and anybody’s—appraisal of an album is tied to our personal history with it, to deep-rooted emotional connections and associations that interfere with our vain attempts to be objective. Well, that factor plays more of a role with my feelings—yes, FEELINGS—about the last two Wings albums than with any other albums in the entire Macca post-Beatles catalogue. London Town came out right after my 14th birthday; I was 15 the summer that Back to the Egg was released. I bought them both right away, flogged them without mercy, and absolutely adored them. I still do. They are, hands down, my favorite Wings LPs and my favorite Macca LPs. I listen to them now, trying to understand why they have reputations as reflecting the decline and collapse of Wings, why Paul has slighted them by not releasing Archive Collection editions, and I just can’t. It makes no sense. They are full of energy and creativity and melody and so many masterful pop music moments. Why, Paul, why? These records are so freakin’ GOOD!
HOPE: London Town (1978), 7/10: I think LT is a stone-cold crazy record. It’s the most disparate bunch of songs Paul had ever assembled on any of his solo albums to that point and despite the title has no discernible theme. The weirdest and most disturbing thing is that the song I think most about on this album, find myself mindlessly singing to myself most often, isn’t even one of the genuinely good tracks, it’s “Cafe on the Left Bank”, an insidious piece of filler I refuse to accept that I like. But then again that’s part of why I’m so completely charmed by LT as a whole. It’s like a bunch of TV commercials gathered together masquerading as a pop album. All that isn’t to suggest that it isn’t home to some stunners. “With a Little Luck” remains eternally gorgeous and I love “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” with its dark melody tied to what’s meant to be an uplifting lyric…but cherry-picking songs does LT a disservice. These songs quite literally need each other, 90 % of them can’t stand up on their own. No, LT sounds best when listened to in sequence, each song leaning against the other like the bunch of sloppy drunks they are. Please Paul, time to top up and let the endearingly problematic LT into the Archive room ( Matthew and I will get the door).
MATTHEW: London Town (1978), 10/10: I am incapable of being objective about this album. It is so deeply familiar, and every single track just right and in the right place. Giving it less than a 10/10 would just be pandering to you, Hope, or (God forbid) to the cretinous critics who trashed it with knee-jerk derision just because it was made by happy Paul not angsty John. Like Speed of Sound, it’s two sides begin with smooth, well-crafted, comfort-food singles (the title track and “With a Little Luck”). But LT is better than Speed of Sound for being all-Paul (9 tracks) or Paul co-writing with Denny Laine (5): tuneful, inventive, varied in style but not overly so, quirky but not whacky. It isn’t even missing a non-album single (“Mull of Kintyre” stay where you are). Intellectually I can accept that Band on the Run is better, but if I could only take one Macca album to the proverbial desert island, it would be this one.
Back to the Egg (1979)
HOPE: Back to the Egg (1979), 10/10: Egg is a loud, beautiful, blazing down the highway, mess of an album and I think it’s the most criminally underrated release of Paul’s post-Beatle career: the catalogue’s true sleeper. With its fat riffs, sludgy chords and throat-shredding vocals, Egg is most certainly Satan’s favorite post-Beatle Macca album. Okay, let’s just call it what it is, PAUL’s METAL ALBUM. Out of all the grungy noise-makers, I feel most worshipful toward the maniacal “Spin It On” and Cheap Trick-ish “So Glad To See You Here“. But I also love the dirty power pop of “Getting Closer”, which I think is one of his most underrated singles. And let’s talk about “Arrow Through Me”, one of the all-time greatest McCartney songs ever ever ever, a sublimely melodic lament and deep catalog dark horse which can never be exalted and appreciated enough. That hook is positively sublime.
The album was the recipient of some savage reviews which has led to Paul distancing himself from it, talking it down, and most significantly from a hardcore fan perspective (as of this writing) depriving it of the deluxe treatment within the acclaimed and exhaustive Archive series (wishing you took us up on that suggestion of a drinking game now right?). In what universe is Wild Life more deserving of the fancy pants treatment than Egg? Egg is loud, lyrically cartoonish, romantic, weird, occasionally somber and staggeringly melodic; what’s not to love ? It’s one big confusedly-beautiful piece of noise. And for the record, I loved the freestanding single that came out just prior to Egg featuring the lush disco-lite “Goodnight Tonight” as well as it’s perky b-side “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”. I know Paul didn’t feel they fit the vibe on Egg and hence didn’t include them on the finished album but honestly I don’t think anything is “missing” from Egg as a result of their exclusion. To be frank, at the time, it didn’t occur to me that they could or should have been on there. I was just happy there were multiple new Paul records to get! And, added bonus, Egg is also the ideal gauge for verifying whether someone shares the same worldview as you and is ultimately worthy of your lifelong friendship.
In the late ‘80s, I had a job at the CBGB Record Canteen, the decidedly sleazy and noisy shop located next door to the club. One day, my boss asked me to help train a new girl they’d hired. She and I were both very young and cynical and so circled around each other music nerd style, tentatively dropping band names and monitoring one another’s reactions. We somehow got on the subject of McCartney ( though to be honest, I’m sure I brought him up), and without prompting, she said that she particularly loved Egg. That was it. Egg was the magic sign that let me know she was cool and we are still friends to this day. It is truly magical.
MATTHEW: Back to the Egg (1979), 9/10: The fact that you & I agree on this, Hope, but Paul and his critics apparently don’t, logically makes us wrong. But here’s the thing: we’re not! Because this is a weird and wonderful Wings concept-album experiment that simply works; despite being far more varied and quirky than London Town, Egg has a momentum and energy that holds it all together and carries it breathlessly through its 42 minutes as if it were half the length. It’s nod to the punk/New Wave movement that was peaking at the time is just right: neither forced nor half-hearted, it infuses the album with a hard rocking edge that no other Macca album before or since matched. As Hope notes here (and in a stirring ode to the album elsewhere on Picking Up Rocks), some of Egg is HEAVY. But the hints of metal don’t mean it skimps on melody. The riffs are hefty but buoyant, driving multiple singalong moments. “Getting Closer” and “Arrow Through Me” are primo Paul pop singles; the bass line and hook in “Arrow” are like a shot of bliss right to the heart.
Having gushed thus, I can’t resist one caveat. Macca albums almost always beg to be resequenced or edited, as there were usually non-album singles far better than his dodgier album tracks. Exceptions are Band on the Run (the UK version is perfect) and London Town (for me, if not for many others, perfect as is). But Egg is not an exception, as it’s sessions also birthed non-album Top 5 (US & UK) hit single “Goodnight Tonight” and it’s also excellent B-side, “Daytime Nightime Suffering.” In 1980 I made a tape with both those on the album instead of the non-songs “Reception” and “The Broadcast.” Ok, I still listened to the original version more. But my edited version is pretty great. (In case you’re curious, “Tonight” follows “Arrow,” starting Side B, and the Grammy-winning “Rockestra” closes the album.) By the way, I also think Egg suffered from a record label change and competition with back catalogue: in the US, Paul switched from Capitol to Columbia after LT; Capitol’s response was to release Wings Greatest, which was packed with hits, five of them previously unavailable on an album. It thus competed with Egg, released only six months later. (Elton John’s Blue Moves suffered similar competition for the same reason; that’s the last plug for my book, I promise.)
End of Part 1
Coming in Part 2, we examine Paul’s ’80s discography. You might wanna put on a seatbelt. Ready? Read it here