What does it sound like?:
Paul McCartney was sore and licking wounds when he made these two records in 1971 and 1973 respectively. The film, Let It Be, had shown him in a poor light, his promotional material for his first solo album provoked the headline, “Paul Breaks Up The Beatles” and it was his lawsuit, launched as he recorded Ram, that finally dissolved The Beatles partnership. He was seen as the bad guy and the critics hated his music, comparing it unfavourably to John’s and George’s early solo output. No wonder he ran off to Scotland and indulged himself in a prodigious pot habit.
Ram had been recorded with the help of a couple of guitarists and Denny Seiwell on drums. He decided he needed to be in a band again, bringing Denny Laine from The Moody Blues as permanent guitarist. Thus, with the addition of his ever present, adoring wife, Wings was formed.
Under his cloud of pot, Paul continued to write prolifically, usually strumming his acoustic guitar as his family sang along and played around him. He still had a winning way with a tune but his lyrics almost completely dried up. Detached as he was from the real world, both physically and psychologically, he could only focus on his domestic bliss. Some songs consisted of a simple phrase or two repeated over and over, chosen purely because of the sound of the words. Most lacked structure or any real musical development. The result was invariably a thin, static, pencil outline of a song.
Wild Life is the sound of a band getting to know each other, wading it’s way through nonsense lyrics and aimless melodies towards a signature sound. Its cover is unfortunately similar to Plastic Ono Band. On the new remaster, Paul’s bass has a beautiful round tone, his lead vocals bring a variety of colour and the harmonies are exquisite. Side one slips by nicely, like an unassuming wine, the mention of politics in the title track is barely noticed. There is a smidge of angst in Some People Never Know but it’s difficult to hear under the sweetness of the tune. It does, however, include a middle eight and, pleasingly, deploys a corrugaphone in its closing bars. The last two tracks, both essentially piano ballads, carry some genuine emotional heft. Tomorrow is weighed down with grief, longing for a simple worry free day. It also has a satisfying coda as a conclusion. Much is made of Dear Friend being a rueful response to John’s How Do You Sleep? but it was actually recorded earlier during Ram. Consisting of just eight lines in a song that lasts six minutes, it is an olive branch of sorts, leavened with strings and horns to disguise any barbs.
Over half of the second disc are home recordings. Paul is the sole musician, acoustic guitar or piano, while children run around and occasional additional voices join in. You can almost feel the warmth of the fire and smell the freshly baked bread. It’s understandable that he tried to capture the same vibe in the studio. There is a studio recording of When The Wind Is Blowing, the single version of Love Is Strange and the execrable Give Ireland Back To The Irish. Whatever you think of the sentiment of the latter, the lyrics could have been written by a schoolchild. At least it’s better than The Plastic Ono Band’s Luck Of The Irish, which features a fantastical Yoko interlude.
For the first time in a decade, Paul did not issue an album in 1972. With the addition of a second guitarist, Hugh McCullough, Wings went on a tour, released a couple of singles and spent a lot of time in the studio, gathering enough material for a double album. The trouble was that Paul was still fully dedicated to pot and the songs remained generally weak. Wild Life and the singles had sold poorly. Pressure from the record company forced Paul to come up with a more commercial single album.
Red Rose Speedway’s cover is one of Paul’s best, featuring a rather fetching Linda photo of a Harley Davidson shovel head engine and something blocking up his gob. Its first side is a very pleasant, if unchallenging listen. The band sounds confident, the production more fleshed out. Big Barn Bed skips along on alliteration, enthusiastic vocals and a nice groove. My Love is a judiciously paced soft rock ballad with a passionate McCullough solo and no small debt to Something; a deserved number one in the US, a success that dragged the album to the top spot too. Get On The Right Thing is another song full of colour, with an engaging ebb and flow and great vocals. Little Lamb Dragonfly closes the side with at least three delicate melodies neatly folded together and a vague lyric that could be about vegetarianism. Side Two is where the problems are, full of incomplete songs and sketchy lyrics, ending with a medley that is an anaemic imitation of the Abbey Road one.
The second disc includes all the 1972 singles and B sides, two versions of Live And Let Die plus the tracks that were intended for the double album. The punter can easily recreate the double LP or make more judicious choices to improve the released version. Country Dreamer is an endearingly frank description of where Paul’s head was at the time. Mama’s Little Girl is a beautiful tug on the heart. I Would Only Smile is a Denny Laine composition, as well constructed as any of Paul’s, and his lead vocal on the cheerfully lush I Lie Around would have brought some welcome variety to Side Two.
With the addition of George Martin’s dramatic orchestration and production flourishes, Live And Let Die was as big a hit as My Love. Paul’s rehabilitation was in full swing and the scene was set for his biggest success, artistically and commercially, Band On The Run.
There are expensive super deluxe big box sets available for both these albums. They are for the well off Paul McCartney fanatic. These 2CD versions are where the value is.
What does it all *mean*?
This era of Paul McCartney’s career is best approached at face value. He was a man adjusting to life outside of the greatest band that has ever existed, overcoming the shock, recharging his batteries, taking joy from the simple things in life and preparing himself to step back into the spotlight of the music industry with all its demands. He does so by making mainly singalong tunes with no real point other than to remove your brain, forget your troubles and sing along too. The sophistication quotient increases slightly for Red Rose Speedway and its second disc is much better than Wild Life’s, but the listener’s intellect remains largely undisturbed.
Goes well with…
Pot. Lots of pot.
Might suit people who like…
The musical equivalent of a pair of comfy slippers and a cup of cocoa. There are days when we all need just that. Enjoy.