PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS
BAND ON THE RUN (50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
On December 12, 1973, Paul McCartney released the third Wings album (his fifth solo since leaving The Beatles), Band On The Run. The album was a critical and commercial success and would go on to be one of the biggest albums of the 1970s and of all time. It spawned two top ten singles (“Jet” and “Band On The Run”) and is still the only album to make it to number one on the Billboard charts on three separate occasions. Therefore, a 50th Anniversary edition of the album was to be expected. However, because the album had already received the box set treatment in 2010, McCartney had another idea up his sleeve. Included with this release is ‘The Underdubbed Mix’. This means that McCartney presents the album before the strings, horns and other overdubs were added. It is sort of Band On The Run stripped down to its bare bones.
The album itself has a fascinating history. McCartney decided to leave the comforts of London, where he had recorded the previous two Wings albums, and randomly picked Lagos, Nigeria to utilize EMI’s studio there. But things didn’t work out as planned for Wings. Prior to the band leaving, two members, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough decided to quit the band. This left McCartney, his wife Linda, and Denny Laine. McCartney would play drums, bass, and lead guitar, Linda on keyboards, and Laine on guitars. The trio left for Lagos.
While in Lagos, McCartney and his family had a lot of interesting and disturbing experiences, but from all those struggles come great art. No one can dispute that Band On The Run is a classic album, full of well-crafted and extremely well-played rock songs. “Jet” is one of McCartney’s best rockers, while “Bluebird” is a worthy sequel to “Blackbird”. A beautiful, acoustic based song with a great sax solo courtesy Howie Casey, an old friend of McCartney’s. “Mrs. Vandebilt” is a clever song that incorporates a chant long before The Lumineers were ever formed. The title track is a classic mini rock opera with fantastic harmonies and one of McCartney’s strongest melodies. The album ends with the epic “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five”, which concludes with a very short reprise of the title track.
Denny Laine also co-wrote one of the most Beatley post Beatles songs McCartney ever recorded, “No Words” and McCartney proved he could rock out with blues based songs as good as anyone with the phenomenal “Let Me Roll It”. It features one of McCartney’s best screams on record. The bottom line is that this is a classic album, with not one weak moment.
After McCartney recorded the basic album, he returned to London for overdubs. This included some great orchestration from famed producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie). Here, McCartney lets fans go behind the curtain to hear what the album sounded like prior to the added material. This is an incredible chance to hear the album, not in demo form, but stripped down to the bare bones. Hearing the album in this way is a very odd experience. The songs sound very different, yet very familiar. In fact, at times it is near impossible to listen to the album without filling in the orchestration and horn arrangements. “Jet” is a great example. Here, stripped down one can hear the band clearer and McCartney’s heavy drumming is outstanding. But as you listen to it one’s brain fills in the brilliant horn arrangement.
The ‘Underdubbed’ mix, as McCartney calls it, also allows the vocals to be more front and centre. One can hear the warmth in “Bluebird”, and without the saxophone solo, one can hear the incredible harmonies from the McCartneys and Laine. The same with “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five”. It is an incredible experience and McCartney’s lead guitar can be heard loud and clear and it is stellar. The ‘Underdubbed’ mix for “Band On The Run”, for example, is a good example of how the orchestration fills the song out into the classic it is. However, here it sounds a bit more edgy and a bit more exciting.
Band On The Run was McCartney and Wings’ second number one album (Red Rose Speedway topped the charts earlier in 1973), and from here on Wings would be one of the biggest bands of the 1970s. But Band On The Run proved to be one of his benchmarks by which all of his future albums would be measured. It may not be his best solo album, but it is the one album people tend to remember and the one that gets played a lot on classic rock radio. And deservedly so, it is a perfect rock album. This new version of it goes a long way to explore and explain the appeal of the album.
Quick note, one might notice the absence of “Helen Wheels”, which was part of the album. That song was added to the North American version of the album, but for the rest of the world, it was a standalone single and never intended to be on Band On The Run. Since 2010, McCartney decided to unify the album and utilize the original U.K. track list, thus removing “Helen Wheels” from the album.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BAND ON THE RUN (50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION)