Sunday, February 20, 2011

Band On The Run - Paul McCartney and Wings

Band On The Run
Paul McCartney and Wings
Apple SO-3415

Another seminal record in my life.  It was the second album that I ever bought.  It came out during a difficult time in my life, my parents had divorced and my mom had uprooted us from California and moved us to Salt Lake City, a place I absolutely loathed.  During this miserable period, I discovered the solace of pop music.  I knew about the Beatles, but this was when I became a real fan of them.  I saw "Help" on television and was enthralled by it and then I heard "Helen Wheels" on the radio.  I was still listening to top 40 AM radio and hearing lots of crap.  With its propulsive melody and joyous chorus "Helen Wheels" sounded so fresh and exciting to me, I was thrilled whenever it came on and I was disappointed when it was not a chart-topping hit.  I did my part, calling in to request it with some frequency.  When I saw this album in the store, I spent my allowance money and bought it.  By then "Jet" was on the radio and I loved that even more.  Its mixture of rock thunder and pop smarts blew me away.  I couldn't believe it was not number one on the charts either.  Back then stuff like that actually mattered to me.  I was offended that Elton John ranked higher than McCartney.  Finally the "Band on the Run" single made it to the top of the chart and I felt vindicated.  None of the kids I knew liked McCartney, they liked Elton John, the Eagles, Chicago or if they were a little bit cool, Lynyrd Skynyrd or Led Zeppelin, it made me feel special and triumphant when Paul finally succeeded.  Such a terrific song.  Its dynamic shifts in tempo and clever lyrics made the song really stand out among all the dreck on the radio at the time.  I really loved this album, it is still my favorite McCartney record.  I played it all the time and it helped me through a difficult year.  I had the poster from it hanging in my room for many years.  I stared at the snapshots on it and wondered about the stories behind them.  I still consider this basically a flawless record, I like every song to varying degrees.  I saw McCartney in concert during his last tour and he performed most of the songs on here and I was impressed at how fresh and vital they still sounded even in comparison with the Beatles songs he was doing at the show.  Besides the three singles, there are plenty of good songs on the album.  "Let Me Roll It" is a majestic song that employs heavy reverb reminiscent of John Lennon's records with Phil Spector.  "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" is my favorite song on the record after the 3 singles.  It is driven by a rollicking piano line in classic rock and roll style upon which McCartney layers synthesizer lines and brass to create a powerful conclusion to the album leading in to a brief reprise of the title tune as a coda.  "Mrs. Vanderbilt" has a jaunty tune that mixes music hall with world music with surprisingly good results.  "Mamunia" is similar but more laid back.  It is typically McCartney-like in its outlook as it emphasizes focusing on the positive when confronted with the negative.  "No Words" was written by McCartney with fellow Wing Denny Laine.  It has a nice riff but is otherwise little more than filler.  I didn't like lyrical "Bluebird" very much as a kid, but I like it better now, especially the lovely vocal work.  The music hall sing-a-long "Picasso's Last Words" appealed to me even less back then, but I appreciate its warmth and sentiment now that I'm more mature.  I'm pretty sure I didn't even know who Picasso was back then.  In fact as a young teenager a lot of the lyrics on this record were over my head (I even had to look up what a "suffragette" was) but as I got older I came to realize that they are some of McCartney's finest lyric writing.  With their recurring themes of escape and freedom and their consistent craftsmanship and sophisticated imagery, they are an outstanding example of the artistry that the rock album is capable of.  I will always be grateful to Sir Paul for this record, it taught me the power and comfort in pop music and his cheery vision made a lot of bad days seem not so bad.  Recommended to Elton John fans who wouldn't recognize a pop genius if he hit them over the head with a copy of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

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