Paul McCartney and Wings: Band On The Run (1973)

Band On The Run, a triumph of musicianship, showmanship and artistry, the crashing crescendoes opening the album, the simmering brass closing the album. If Dark Side of The Moon intellectualised and seismisied its audience, ‘Run’ ensured they had a good time in their living room as any stadium rock band of the seventies guaranteed their live audiences. While ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘Plastic Ono Band’ had their strong qualities and moments of superb songwriting, it was ‘Run’ that proved the first (and perhaps, only) zeitgeist post Beatles record, McCartney aware of the listeners needs, hungry for melodic hooks, jaunty choruses, embellished writing, sensationalised pop, glam enough for the rockers, stately enough for the intellects and with enough quality to stand alongside The Beatles musical triumph ‘Abbey Road’.

And yet despite the optimism so evident on the record, ´Run´ proved an arduous album to record. Lead guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell walked out on the band just before recording began, forcing McCartney to divide the guitar and piano parts between himself and Denny Laine (McCartney recorded the drums himself) in Lagos, Nigeria. “At that moment it was one of those, ‘I’ll show you. I will make the best album I’ve ever made now. I will put so much effort into it because I want to just prove that we didn’t need you guys’ McCartney later admitted on his ambition. A near robbery left Paul and wife/keyboardist Linda in shocked condition, undeterred they ventured forward into the record.

And bang on does record start, starting with a hook Jimmy Page may have nicked for ‘Ten Years Gone’, enchanting its listeners in a way it hadn’t since ‘Something’. A fervent vocal line starts the song, before the tempo changes from glistening glam ballad to feverish rocker (complete with Linda’s synth work and Ringo like fills) as a wall of brass instruments turns the song completely into a chorus based rocker that had listeners swaying and humming for the song’s concluding three minutes. A mélange of styles, it was McCartney at his peak, tight without swaying into petty indulgence.

´Bluebird´, cut from the same cloth as ´Blackbird´, proved a more seductive number than its sixties political cousin, Dusty Springfield in its entree, harmonious in its coda. ´Let Me Roll It´, a nasty blues number, Lennonista in its delivery (John Lennon loved the album as a whole), it grew with age, McCartney in his autumnal years gave a blistery version of it while guesting on Jools Holland in 2008. ´Jet´ simmered as a stadium pop song par excellence, the standout on ´Wings Over America´, one of the greatest seventies live albums. ´No Words´ (a Laine-McCartney collaboration) came closest to a Beatles record, subtly orchestrated and driving in its guitar riffs, as worthy a love song as Rubber Soul’ s ‘Michelle’ or Revolver’s ‘Here, There and Everywhere’. ‘Mrs. Vandelbilt’, bass driven and loaded, proved the undeniable fact that McCartney was the finest English bass player of his generation (McCartney later said he thought ‘Sgt. epper’s Lonely Hearts Club band’ was his bass playing zenith. It wasn’t. ‘Run’ has lines of more character, depth, flair and attack. This was his opus!) A throwaway song of the finest order, it was bettered by ‘Mamunia’, a convivial tongue in cheek reggae based sing along, McCartney’s optimism on the growth of life that bit more infectious, Linda’s close harmonies giving it that extra joie de vivre.

So optimistic was the record, the only downer came in the whimsical downer ‘Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)’, a country ballad that would perennially pub haunts. Inspired by a challenge presented by actor Dustin Hoffman to write a song based on the first thing he read, it too presented McCartney’s foot in the world of pop culture, that cote d’azur quality of yesteryear turning into the inner year, that je ne sais quoi of a comedy record, French accordion and Jet chorus intact, post modernity before post modernity had become modern. Where his three Beatles comrades had been songwriters and musicians, none of them were pop expressionists. McCartney was, and ‘Picasso” put him in the same league as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Tony Curtis, Roger Moore, Adam West, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, tongue in cheek philanderers with a wink to their audience, belying brilliant art. The album’s celebrity filled cover (look out for James Coburn, Michael Parkinson and Christopher Lee) gave ‘Run’ that extra pop gravitas. Where others were singing mantras and sloganeering, McCartney and Wings knew well that it was the frivolity of the era that drew listeners in. No wonder it remains the most successful of the post Beatles records.

An indelible portrait of seventies rock, ‘Run’ proved McCartney’s grandest of his solo opuses, ending with Orwellian pastiche ‘1985’ that even McCartney basher Noel Gallagher gave thumbs up to (it undeniably provided Arcade Fire with a template for ornate keyboard playing and singing), giving 1973 that lift to the end of the decade, a lift that brought Queen, 10CC, Sparks and Roxy Music the gravitas to release their eccentric pieces to the ever hungry audiences.

Source by Eoghan M Lyng

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