Classic Rock Review

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Paul McCartney & Wings Band On The Run (1973)

Band-On-The-RunFrom amazon.com

Review Many fans and critics alike will tell you that Paul McCartney’s 1973 Band on the Run and 1975 Venus & Mars are his best albums and near-equals. While I like Venus & Mars fine, I think this faulty comparison is due to one of two things: A) overestimation of V&M or B) underestimation of BotR. And strange as it may seem, the latter is much closer to reality. Band on the Run is terribly underrated the same way Abbey Road is underrated – respected, but not held in the awe reserved for “better” records like Sgt. Pepper’s or Plastic Ono Band. Yeah. Right. Ranking at a paltry #418 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums” list, it’s about time Band on the Run stands up and is accorded its rightful place as one of pop’s greatest achievements.

The album opens with a one-two punch of the title track, a grandiose mini-suite chronicling a bereaved prisoner and his jubilant escape (construe that how you choose), and the thrilling Jet, flying as high as its namesake. Amazingly, Paul manages to keep a comparable level of excellence up throughout the album. If you’ve heard these two tracks you’ll know how unlikely that seems, but it’s true: this is the most consistently awesome album the man has produced since the Beatles’ breakup. What made the Fabs’ best so great – the intricate-yet-accessible melodies, the imagistic poetry, the superb musicianship, the soaring harmonies, the thumping bass, the multi-tracked vocals and guitars, the glorious strings and brass – is all here.

Stylistically Paul creates an effervescent fusion of melodic pop, exhilarating rock & roll, and elaborate symphonic elements with touches of blues, jazz, music-hall, and folk expertly mixed in for colour. For instance, Bluebird is laid-back and jazzy; Let Me Roll both send-up and tribute to John Lennon’s distinctive post-Beatles style. As for subject material, freedom is the word. Right from the get-go Band on the Run is rife with the themes of liberation and release – the opening one-two punch sets it up and from there it’s all-out. This idea, this concept ties the album together, transforming it from merely a collection of brilliant songs into a monumental whole. Each and every song carries the thread, whether it be a literal prison break, the liberty of the open road, or even Death, the ultimate escape. Reprisals of themes, lyrics, and passages all act to unite Band on the Run until, at the very last, the roaring climax of the finale, we come full circle: “Band on the Run! Band on the Run…”

Review Two audio discs 41,34 minutes each approximately, and a DVD (1hr. 24 min. approximately) disc. The remastered sound, done at Abbey Road Studios, is clean and crisp without being harsh. The DVD contains videos, promotional clips, scenes from the album cover shoot, the TV special, and the McCartney’s in Nigeria. The discs are slipped into attached paper sleeves in a tri-fold holder. The attached booklet contains a number of photos, in colour and B&W, of the band and others during the recording in Nigeria. Of interest is a couple of photos of drummer Ginger Baker, who at the time lived and recorded in Africa. Also included are the lyrics, individual track times and disc totals. There’s a four page essay/interview by Paul Gambaccini, on the album and McCartney. Paul McCartney supervised the reissue, including the remastering, which was done using the same people who recently remastered The Beatles back catalogue.

This album, a Grammy winner, if not McCartney’s best post-BEATLES work, is certainly one of his best. Thankfully it has now joined the ranks of other great remastered albums. Plus the fact that there’s a second disc of music ( with several tracks from the TV special “One Hand Clapping”) makes this edition the one to own. You can also purchase another version with a hardcover book, another disc (an audio documentary from the 25th Anniversary Edition), downloads of the album, a new Paul McCartney interview etc., but it’s substantially more money aimed at fans/collectors who want everything. There’s a vinyl edition for record fans, and finally the original, stand alone album is also available. But whichever version you purchase, this is some of McCartney’s finest post-BEATLES work ever.

“Band on the Run” spawned several songs (“Jet”, “Helen Wheels”, “Let Me Roll It”, and the title track), that are still favourites of fans today. At this point most everyone is familiar with at least a couple (if not more) of the fine songs found on this album, so a track-by-track critique isn’t needed. On this album McCartney’s penchant for song craft is very evident. The melodies, the arrangements, the production work-all come together to produce some very fine, pleasing, and at times, rocking pop music. Too, this album was McCartney alerting the critics that he still possessed his musical talents, after the drubbing he received for some of his previous solo/WINGS work.

The album, recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1973, was McCartney’s idea (someplace different), but before the group departed, both guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell were out of the band. So when it came time to record, McCartney played drums, and both he and Denny Lane played the guitar parts, along with Linda McCartney on keyboards. Working through adversity-the “studio” was an ill equipped shed, and the WINGS demo tapes were stolen in a mugging, the band managed to record the basic album in a couple of months. Back in England McCartney added strings and horns to fill out the songs, and the album was finished. When it was released it shot to the top of the charts.

The tracks on the second disc are mostly from a TV special, “One Hand Clapping”, which showed the group performing and backstage. The songs from the special were recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1974, and include a number of fan favourites from the album. The sound and performance of the studio and “live” tracks aren’t that different, but it’s nice to have more from this era of the band nonetheless. “Bluebird” is a slower tempo pop song which shows McCartney’s voice very well, along with his arranging skills. “Jet” has a bit more energy and an edge about it than the studio version simply because it’s a live version, but that’s enough to raise the excitement level appreciatively. This song alone proves that McCartney could still rock within the constraints of pop music. “Let Me Roll It” (which has some fine guitar throughout), taken at the same tempo as the studio version, nonetheless has it’s own feel brought on by the live recordings for the special. “Band On The Run” is again very close to the original, but the vocal inflections by McCartney make this something special. You can hear the exuberance in his voice, and the excitement of the band as they energize the arrangement beyond the studio version. Even the synthesizer that weaves in and out of the song has a certain feel not found on the original. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”, with it’s piano intro, has a fine rough edged vocal from McCartney. “Country Dreamer” sounds as if it could have come from the “White Album”, with it’s use of acoustic guitar as sole backing for a winsome sounding McCartney vocal. It’s shortness, with no extraneous instruments to clutter up the beautiful vocal stands out from the other songs. “Zoo Gang” is a short (2 minutes) instrumental that sounds like it could have been a backing track without the vocal. Nonetheless it’s a fine way to end this collection of bonus tracks.

Apparently this is the first reissue of McCartney’s post-Beatles work, with more in the pipeline. By starting with “Band On The Run”, the bar has been set very high. Hopefully other reissues will meet the high standards found in this edition. If you’re a Paul McCartney fan-pick this reissue up and hear this good sounding edition for yourself. If you’re not-pick this album up and hear what you’ve been missing.

On Band on the Run not only are you able to experience the song writing genius of Paul McCartney at its finest, but you get an album that is more than an album. From the very first note it sucks you in and doesn’t let you out again until the last ringing chords of the reprised title track have evaporated completely, forty-five minutes later. And what a glorious forty-five minutes they are! They will take you on a wondrous journey, yet by the end you will feel the journey is only just beginning…

NOTES FOR THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

If you can, get this, the 25th Anniversary edition; it is far superior for the same price as the original pressing. The bonus disc here is not, as on many albums, a parade of rarities or a series of alternate takes on the songs proper. Live and alternate versions of certain tracks are included here, but they take backseat to what this disc is all about: the interviews. It is, for all intents and purposes, a radio show: a radio show about the making of Band on the Run. We get to hear Paul, Linda, Denny, and just about everybody involved with the making of this record (or, in many cases, its gorgeous cover) explain their part and the record’s enchanting story, giving sense of just how big a deal this album really was. The included booklet is equally superb. Replete with lyrics, photographs, chart placements, and Mark Lewisohn’s fabulous liner notes (quite possibly the best liner notes I’ve ever seen) it is the perfect companion to the record.

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May 5, 2013 - Posted by | Paul McCartney & Wings Band On The Run |

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