After hearing that tidbit ending of the song “Band On The Run” that December morning I excitedly ran to record store (Sam Goody’s?) and picked up my copy of the album, on its December 5th release date.
Looking at the the cover as I opened it up I am struck by the fantastic artwork. One of the most iconic album covers of the rock era, it immediately gave me a sense of something new and improved.
Long before the days of minute by minute social media information I became aware that Wings had now become a trio. I wondered why James Coburn, John Conteh, Christopher Lee, Michael Parkinson, Kenny Lynch and Clement Freud were on the cover along with Paul, Linda and Denny. They all looked so great and I excitedly tore open the album.
Inside was a beautiful poster which featured polaroids taken by Linda and the band and assembled.
The back cover shows passports, photos of the three and the itinerary of their African jaunt. Also a nice cup of English tea and maybe a partially smoked….ciggy?
I slipped the disc on to the turntable, and loved the special label made for the release. This would be Paul’s last official “Apple” release and he did not let me down.
I had not heard anything other than the tidbit of the title track, not even the first single (“Helen Wheels”), so I anxiously read the lyrics as the first guitar strains set in…
“Band On The Run” Another of those classic McCartney multi part songs… starting and finishing in different parts of the universe. The themes of the album are quite simple…. escape, love and staying happy (not stressing the little things). He was so motivated after all that had gone down the last three years, both musically and personally.
The song’s opening segment made you feel the weight of being locked up….sad, frustrated and filled with longing to be anywhere but there. Then suddenly Tony Visconti’s (who did the orchestration for the songs on the album that had it) dramatic fills comes at the moment of the breakout. Once free the “band” eludes all attempts to be caught and returned to its prison.
One can take these metaphors in so many ways, such as creative or personal or any kind of freedom that previously was withheld from Paul. I got chills as the entire song played out.
Musically it is magnificent, from Linda’s old school basic synths to Pauls homemade drumming to Denny’s fantastic slide guitar. Paul vocals has never sounded better than on this song, and on this album.
Holy cow….this is not “Mary Had A Little Lamb”…..
Rating – 9.25
“Jet” Paul doesn’t let up a bit with this rocket fueled homage to one of his dogs, Jet. Visconti’s scoring makes the hair stand up on my neck and drives the song to the finish. Well done Wings.
Paul was later convinced to release this song (with an edit) as a single and it brought the album back to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. In fact, this album was the FIRST album in history (I’m not sure if its happened since) to be a number #1 and then drop and come back an additional two more times to #1 as singles and radio airplay filled the airs. Paul had his hit album….the fans loved it, the critics loved it and at this time (and probably for the next three or four years) he was at the height of his solo career fame.
Rating – 9.25
“Bluebird” Paul discovered one of the early versions of the beat box and used this as the rhythm section in this acoustic devotion to love.
The backing vocals on this and the album were stripped down slightly from RED ROSE levels and the three of them harmonizing on this and throughout this album remains one of the strongest aspects of BOTR. This song is lovely and draws images of walking hand in hand on an empty beach, isolated from all, his love all consuming and only thing necessary for survival.
Rating – 8.5
“Mrs. Vanderbilt” The song that deals with those who let things, and worries (wealth, comfort etc..) consume their thoughts and their lives. This song feels Lagos inspired and moves along with ease, riding Paul’s magnificent bass line like the wind. A gentle backhand to those Paul felt had their priorities in all the wrong places. The Howie Casey sax solo is another standout moment on this track which keeps the flow constant and the band avoiding capture.
Rating – 8.5
“Let Me Roll It” Okay…..in the ultimate tribute to the sound and style of his former band member, John Lennon, Paul offered him the gift of the song, and maybe a certain hand “rolled” jazz cigarette to speak and share as friends. The guitar lick is from John’s playbook, as is the the echoed vocals and final growl at the end. Paul plays this song in almost every tour he has had. Another song about making peace, ending feuds and telling those you love that you do.
Rating – 8.5
“Mamunia” The song with the most Lagos inspired sound. Ginger Baker helps out with a bucket of “stones.” Another song based on enjoying the day, the moment, and savoring the simple things that some people consider as problems. In this case…the rain. Don’t run, don’t hide from it…take off your clothes and dance around in it. Linda’s simple moog frills sound dated but add to the charm to this acoustic number. Rating – 8.5
Side two opens with my favorite song on the album,
“No Words” Started by Denny and with Paul’s contributing the middle break, this song affected me the most of any of the albums tracks. My girlfriend at the time had just started a play in her high school and left me quickly for the “leading man.”
This song spoke to me in a healing and cleansing way. Unable to get answers from one that they love…. I cried, listened again, and cried some more. My first heartbreak at age 17 was a tough time and this song eased me through it. Someone else is feeling the same feelings as myself. The harmonies on this may be the best on the album, as the three voices do become one. Paul and Denny share the lead on the verse, with Paul tearing my heart out during the refrain (“Your burning love…sweet burning love…. It’s deep inside…you mustn’t hide your burning love….sweet burning love…)
Rating – 9.5
“Helen Wheels” Adding to the initial pressing only on the US version of the album, this is a 1950’s style rocker that was dedicated to Paul & Linda’s land cruiser. They did a charming silly music video for this song. It is an excellent toe-tapper, but doesn’t really have a feel like the rest of the album, and this is why Paul didn’t want it to be on the album, but released as a stand alone single. Now it must follow “No Words” when I listen to the album as a whole and all subsequent released on CD had featured it as track number eight. This must have been included to give the vital US market more bang for their buck, like they do on most Japanese releases.
Rating – 8
“Picasso’s Last Words (drink to me)” Inspired by a visit to see Dustin Hoffman on the set of Papillon. Dustin was asking Paul how he came to write songs and showed him a copy of the days newspaper. There was an article on the death of Pablo Picasso, who’s last words before heading to bed for the last time was “drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore….”
Paul whipped out his guitar in hand and just strummed out the basic melody then and there. Dustin started leaping around the room, screaming for his wife to come see what Paul was doing.
Paul took this basic track and then he Picasso’d it, adding words spoken by Pablo himself, twists and turns of the melody, counter melodies and a bit of “Jet” reprised. Much like the art of Picasso, the song has bits of this and that to achieve the whole. Odd, but vital song on the album which leads us wonderfully into the albums perfect wrap…. Rating – 8
“1985” Picking a year that had to rhyme with “alive” this is another song about lifelong devotion and continued escape from those seeking capture. Back then the year 1985 seemed so far away, and now I barely see it in the rear view mirror.
Piano driven monster of a song that pauses twice to give us lush harmonies and finishes in a flare that ranks with Paul’s best album closers. Visconti’s orchestration again propels the song through the air until it drops into another bit of reprise of “Band On The Run” to bring the album to its perfect conclusion and round the circle of conception of the albums themes.
Rating – 9
The album lost a bit of its luster with the critics over the years, not even making the top 500 albums of all-time by Rolling Stone (while it was in nearly every list of 20th century best of…). But after listening today after a break of a few years of not listening to it as a whole, I am so happy to say it sounded fresh and exciting as the day the broken hearted 17 year old tore off the cellophane and dove in emotionally.
Paul has done many albums of many genres since then but BAND ON THE RUN will forever serve as a beacon and a lamppost for all fans to start their musical journey for this genius among man.
\The overall rating of the US album came to 8.7, which again confirmed the feeling that this release was indeed very special.
Next up….other songs recorded around the time, not on the album, and for other artists and what Paul was up to in 1974…..