“I think most bands on tour are on the run.”
With these words, Paul McCartney sets the stage for perhaps his greatest album ever – “Band On The Run” – a brilliant album that was as dramatic behind the scenes as the cover suggests!
In 2005, Paul McCartney released his album “Chaos & Creation In The Backyard”, but it was more than 40 years earlier that he released an album that was ALL chaos in the midst of its creation!
First, let’s set the stage for “Band On The Run”:
McCartney’s self-titled solo debut marked the end of The Beatles…here are stories behind the release of this album:
Next up for McCartney was the only album credited to both him and Linda:
This was a period of heavy fighting between the Fab Four, especially Paul and John Lennon – here are those stories:
Paul then decided to form a new band, Wings:
Their first release was roundly panned by critics and many fans – here is the story of “Wild Life”:
Paul and his band spent a lot of time on the road, and then released this album:
Many of the songs from “Red Rose Speedway” were actually recorded during the “RAM” sessions…read about that here:
The album included the smash single “My Love”, and the band seemed poised for greatness…until some “chaos” interrupted the “creation”…
As you can see from the back cover, Wings had shrunk – and there is where the amazing story of “Band On The Run” begins…
“Wings” Over Nigeria!
As Wings prepared to record their third album tougher, McCartney asked his record label EMI for a list of all their international recording studios. He selected Nigeria – thinking Africa would be an exotic place to make music. The band began rehearsals in Scotland – Wings were McCartney and Linda, ex-Moody Blues guitarist and pianist Denny Laine, Henry McCullough on lead guitar, and Denny Seiwell on drums.
Unfortunately, things weren’t going well and during one rehearsal, McCullough and McCartney argued, and McCullough quit. Then, Seiwell left a week later, the night before the band was set to fly to Nigeria.
Wings were no more!
Paul’s “Solo” Wings Album!
At that point, things were dire. As McCartney told Word magazine in 2005:
“I was on drums and guitar a lot, mainly because the drummer decided to leave the group the night before and one of the guitar players decided not to come! So we got that solo element into an otherwise ‘produced’ album.”
This left just the core of the band – Paul, Linda and Denny Laine – to record in Lagos, assisted by former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. McCartney assumed that Lagos, Nigeria would be a glamorous location where he and the band could lounge on the beach all day and record at night – but boy was he wrong!
McCartney discovered that the studio was awful, and Nigeria was incredibly dangerous and unstable – in fact, Paul and Linda were robbed at knife-point, and a bag with unfinished song lyrics and demo tapes was taken! Talk about chaos!
Still, Paul maintained his positive approach – in fact, look at this original promotional video that McCartney later included on the deluxe remastered album:
The Chaos That Created “Band On The Run!”
So the recording of the album was dangerous, the band was in disarray, and “Band On The Run” is more of a solo album that team effort, which leads to this question: just HOW good is this album?
Shortly after the album was released, McCartney told Melody Maker:
“The basic idea about the band on the run is a kind of prison escape. At the beginning of the album the guy is stuck inside four walls, and eventually breaks out. There is a thread, but it’s not a concept album.”
Asked if this was a reference to Wings escaping from The Beatles, he replied: “Sort of – yeah. I think most bands on tour are on the run.”
Here is the pop masterpiece that is “Band On The Run”.
Here are a newly formed Wings performing the title track live from their 1976 tour:
The title track is one of rock’s all-time greatest songs, and then Paul launches into one of his greatest crowd-pleasing rockers:
Here is a fun promotional video for the song:
The gorgeous ballad “Bluebird” is next, then the fun, upbeat pop song “Mrs. Vandebilt” – so far, side one of “Band On The Run” is flawless, and the last song is no different:
“Let Me Roll It” was considered McCartney’s answer back to John Lennon’s caustic “How Do You Sleep?” – but in an interview with Clash magazine in 2010, McCartney cleared that up:
“‘Let Me Roll It’ wasn’t to John, it was just in the style that we did with The Beatles that John was particularly known for. It was really actually the use of the echo. It was one of those: ‘You’re not going to use echo just cos John used it?’ I don’t think so. To tell you the truth, that was more [about] rolling a joint. That was the double meaning there: ‘let me roll it to you.’ That was more at the back of mind than anything else. ‘Dear Friend,’ that was very much ‘let’s be friends’ to John.”
Here is a great live version of the song, with a much older McCartney still playing great guitar:
Side two continues to deliver great songs:
“Mamunia” is a gentle, upbeat pop song, with a vibe that could feel a bit “African” – then next is the mid-tempo pop song turned mini-rocker “No Words” – McCartney’s songwriting is top notch!
Bring On “Helen Wheels!”
The party rocker “Helen Wheels” was next, the hardest rocking song on the album – with a “Get Back” vibe – but at that time the song was only included on the US release!
Here is the band’s fun promotional video – with Paul playing almost all of the instruments!
“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” was next, and then the album climaxed with one of Paul’s greatest rock songs:
“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” is the final track, which build to a Beatles-like crescendo before completing a 360 turn back to the title track…here’s the promotional video that was included in the album’s special edition:
So, from start to finish, “Band On The Run” is a masterpiece.
And of course, so is the album cover:
The album cover shows Paul, Linda and Denny plus six other well-known people dressed as convicts caught in the spotlight of a prison searchlight. Here is whose on the cover: Michael Parkinson, British Talk Show Host; British Actor and Comedian Kenny Lynch; the great Actor James Coburn; British Politician Clement Freud; Legendary Actor Christopher Lee, and John Conteh, a boxer who later became World Light-Heavyweight champion.
“Band On The Run” was nominated for Album Of The Year, and won Grammys for Engineering by Geoff Emerick, and best pop performance for duo or group….
“Band On The Run” Gets Even Better!
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”.
A contemporary review by Jon Landau in Rolling Stone described the album as “with the possible exception of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, the finest record yet released by any of the four musicians who were once called the Beatles”.
The great McCartney collection of reissues gives fans a ton of great extras, including live versions of the songs, promotional videos, and a few extra cuts as well!
Let me know what you love best about McCartney’s chaotic masterpiece!
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