In the 50 years since The Beatles split, Paul McCartney has released 66 albums and 111 singles. That includes live albums, compilations and box sets as well as 33 studio albums of newly recorded material. Many reviewers consider “Wild Life” to be his worst album. They are wrong. It’s excellent. It’s not full of melodic songs like “Eleanor Rigby” or multi sectioned songs like “You Never Give Me Your Money” or out and out rockers like “I’m Down”. Instead, it has 8 interesting, enjoyable songs that map out the formation of the band that he was to tour and record with over the subsequent 9 years.
Jason Carty, the co-presenter of the outstanding “Nothing Is Real” podcast reckons that we should consider each Paul McCartney album as one part of a body of work. In 1971, this album might have seemed disappointing because there were very few songs that sounded like The Beatles but, when listening back to it 50 years later, knowing that excellent songs like “Love In Song”, “Mull Of Kintyre”, “Somedays” or “Save Us” will form part of his legacy, we can appreciate the artistry and imagination that has gone into this work.
Paul McCartney once addressed this issue, comparing Bob Dylan and Picasso when he encouraged us not to think of particular periods in their artistic life but to take all their art as one complex, sophisticated whole. When making this album, he was inspired by the way that Bob Dylan had recorded New Morning, most of which was recorded in 5 days in 1970.
Paul McCartney’s first band, The Beatles, recorded most of their first album, “Please Please Me”, in under 10 hours on 11th February 1963. In 1969, Paul McCartney tried to encourage The Beatles to perform live or to travel incognito from place to place, performing at small venues as they had done at the start of their career. Although each of the other members of The Beatles did perform live in 1969 or 1970, it wasn’t with Paul McCartney. They were happy to perform live but not with him. When he formed his new band, Wings, he tried to replicate the early days of The Beatles. He recorded “Wild Life” very quickly with 5 of the 8 songs being first takes. He subsequently embarked on a 2 week tour of Universities, playing unannounced gigs.
When Linda McCartney gave birth to her third daughter Stella, in September 1971, Paul McCartney started praying for a safe delivery and a vision of angels with wings appeared to him. He decided to call his new band Wings. Danny Seiwell was an American session drummer who had played on “Ram”, Paul McCartney’s second solo album, released in May 1971 and was subsequently invited to join Wings. Denny Laine had been a member of The Moody Blues who had been friends of The Beatles since the mid Sixties and he was enlisted to play guitar and keyboards and contribute lead and harmony vocals. Linda McCartney had not been a musician but she was a New York artist (photographer) with an associated sensibility. She was game to learn keyboards under her husbands tuition and while her playing and singing were not top notch quality, what she lacked in musicianship, she made up in depth of feeling and there is no doubt that she made a significant contribution to the likeable homespun sound of Wings.
Apart from a couple of short links, there are four songs on each side of the album. The development of the band is described musically by the increased sophistication of the songs. “Mumbo” sounds like a four minute improvisation by a group of musicians getting to know each other. There are no meaningful lyrics, just an energetic groove with Paul McCartney scat singing. “Bip Bop” is another four minute song, based on a little ditty that Paul and Linda McCartney would sing to their children. It’s charming. This means the third album by Paul McCartney starts with two throwaway (but great) songs. Talk about defying expectations. There’s no wonder that the Rolling Stone review wondered if the album was “deliberately second rate” and Tony Tyler described Paul McCartney’s songwriting skills to be “at an absolute nadir”.
So what does a new band do after jamming together? It performs a cover version and the third song is “Love Is Strange” which was written by Bo Diddley and was a hit for Mickey and Sylvia in 1956. The original is a great R’n’B song and Wings modify it by generating a reggae feel to the song. There are two criticisms of this album that I’ve heard on podcasts. One is that the running order is misguided but the “Trunkworthy” website has suggested the theory that the running order accurately reflects the coming together of the band and this makes perfect sense to me. It’s not as if Paul McCartney was a novice at deciding on a running order. The longest Beatles session at Abbey Road was the 24 hour session where they decided on the running order of “The Beatles”. Also, this is the man largely responsible for Side 2 of “Abbey Road”. The running order of this album was decided by an expert. Another criticism of the album is that the songs are too long. That’s just a matter of personal preference. It’s nearly 2 minutes before the vocals appear on “Love Is Strange”. I like it but I can see that someone might feel that this five minute song could have been cut down by a couple of minutes. The musicianship on this track is sublime. Danny Seiwell’s drumming is phenomenal, the bass playing is inventive (no surprise there) and Paul McCartney’s singing is sensational. No surprise there either but it’s too easy to take the emotional and musical range of his voice for granted.
The best song on the album (in my opinion (as is everything I write (Andy))) is the title track. It’s nearly 7 minutes long and it’s astonishing to me that, up until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never heard it. It’s slow and menacing with great guitar playing and simple but effective keyboard playing. The astounding aspect of this song is the virtuoso singing by one of the two greatest pop/rock voices of all time. Over the course of the song, his voice changes from the sensitivity of “For No One” to the manic desperation of “Oh Darling” or “Long Tall Sally”. Lyrically, the song concerns mankind’s poor treatment of animals. What is the lasting legacy of these four ordinary lads from Liverpool? The music, obviously. The cultural changes, of course. But consider also John Lennon’s lasting impact on bringing Peace to the forefront of society’s consciousness. Then there is George Harrison’s contribution to making the Western world more spiritually enlightened. His efforts in incorporating Eastern attitudes into The Beatles’ world should not be underestimated. Ringo Starr’s continued emphasis on “Peace And Love” is not insignificant (but maybe not as profound as the others). Then there is Paul and Linda McCartney’s passion for animal rights and care for the environment. Peace, love, spirituality and environmental care. Not bad. I’m not suggesting these four guys single handedly effected great change but their legacy, in this respect, is pretty amazing. Anyway, it’s a wonderful song.
Side One of the album is now finished. The band have warmed up with a couple of jams, covered a Bo Diddley song and the lead singer has flexed his muscles. Turn over for four increasingly sophisticated and well developed songs.
“Some People Never Know” is a whimsical Paul McCartney song and is over six minutes long. For a lot of people, this is the best song on the album. The harmonies, melody and acoustic guitar are all lovely and the percussion is great. The lyrics are open to (mis)interpretation. The album was released at the time when Paul McCartney and John Lennon were writing to each other via the pages of Melody Maker. All was not right between them and the vitriol climaxed with John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep”. This song (and “Dear Friend”) was written before he had heard “Imagine” but it was released afterwards. It’s easy to assume that lines like “Some people can sleep at night time believing that love is a lie” is a rejoinder to John Lennon but, in the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s a lovely song.
“I Am Your Singer” is just over two minutes long and is another lovely simple sweet McCartney-esque ballad – Linda McCartney’s voice is to the forefront here. I think the best thing about this song is the joy that Paul McCartney feels when he sings with his wife.
“Tomorrow” is a substantial song and it has been compared with “Yesterday”. Not just in the the title but in the chord progression. Is there any significance in the phrase “Don’t let me down tomorrow” which is sung 11 times? It’s too easy to look for lyrical clues and references to Beatles songs. Possibly, some of these are deliberate and some are accidental.
The last song, “Dear Friend” is nearly six minutes long and this is definitely a song that is addressed to John Lennon. Paul McCartney is quoted as saying “‘Dear Friend’ was written about John, yes. I don’t like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So after John had slagged me off in public I had to think of a response, and it was either going to be to slag him off in public — and some instinct stopped me, which I’m really glad about — or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote ‘Dear Friend’, saying, in effect, let’s lay the guns down, let’s hang up our boxing gloves.” Another time he said “With ‘Dear Friend’, that’s sort of me talking to John after we’d had all the sort of disputes about The Beatles break up. I find it very emotional when I listen to it now. I have to sort of choke it back. I remember when I heard the song recently, listening to the roughs in the car. And I thought, ‘Oh God’. That lyric: ‘Really truly, young and newly wed’. Listening to that was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s true!’ I’m trying to say to John, ‘Look, you know, it’s all cool. Have a glass of wine. Let’s be cool.’ And luckily we did get it back together, which was like a great source of joy because it would have been terrible if he’d been killed as things were at that point and I’d never got to straighten it out with him. This was me reaching out. So, I think it’s very powerful in some very simple way. But it was certainly heartfelt.“
It’s a fittingly emotional and beautiful way to show that his new band, Wings, is ready to go out and conquer the world.