I ignored most of Paul McCartney’s solo work apart from “Venus And Mars” and “Band On The Run” until the last couple of years. I’m now exploring “London Town” from 1978 but before I get going, I want to put Paul McCartney’s 70s releases into a chronological perspective.
“McCartney” by Paul McCartney. (Released April 1970. Highest UK Chart Position: 2) . All instruments: Paul McCartney. “There is sheer banality in all the tracks apart from ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’” – Richard Williams (Melody Maker).
Standalone single: “Another Day” (February 1971, 2)
“Ram” by Paul and Linda McCartney (with Denny Seiwell, David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken). (May 1971, 1). Single from album: “The Back Seat Of My Car” (August 1971, 39). “It contains not one worthwhile or lasting piece of music” – Alan Smith (NME).
“Wildlife” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell). (December 1971,11). “Deliberately second rate” – John Mendelsohn (Rolling Stone).
Standalone single: “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” (February 1972, 16)
Standalone single: “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (March 1972, 9)
Standalone single: “Hi Hi Hi/C Moon”(December 1972, 5)
“Red Rose Speedway” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Denny Seiwell and Hugh McCullough). (May 1973, 5). Single from album: “My Love” (March 1973, 9). “Listening to it takes about as much as going ten rounds with a marshmallow fairy” – John Pidgeon (Let It Rock).
Standalone single: “Live And Let Die” (June 1973, 9)
Standalone single: “Helen Wheels” (October 1973, 12)
“Band On The Run” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine). (December 1973, 1). Singles from album: “Jet” (January 1974, 7); “Band On The Run” (April 1974, 3). “A failed experiment” – Robert Christgau (Village Voice).
Standalone single: “Junior’s Farm” (October 1974, 16)
“Venus And Mars” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English and Geoff Britton). (May 1975, 1). Singles from album: “Listen To What The Man Said” (May 1975, 6); “Letting Go” (October 1975, 41) “Another pile of sheep dip” (NME)
“Wings At The Speed Of Sound” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch. Joe English). (March 1976, 2). Singles from album: “Silly Love Songs” (March 1976, 2); “Let ‘Em In” (July 1976, 2)”Another duff LP” – Steve Clarke (NME).
“Wings Over America” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English). (December 1976, 8). Single from album: “Maybe I’m Amazed” (February 1977, 28). “Wings were never a particularly gifted band and nowhere is that more evident on ‘Wings Over America‘” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music). A triple album containing 28 songs which were recorded live on tour in the USA.
“Thrillington” by Percy “Thrills” Thrillington. (April 1977, did not chart). An instrumental version of “Ram”, produced by Paul McCartney under the name of Percy Thrillington.
Standalone single: “Mull Of Kintyre” (November 1977, 1). This is till the highest selling non-charity single in the U.K.
“London Town” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English). (March 1978, 4). Singles from album: “With A Little Luck” (March 1978, 5); “I’ve Had Enough” (June 1978, 42); “London Town” (August 1978, 60). “Wings represent The Beatles as softies would like to remember them – minus much of the wit, the aggression, the weirdness and the insights of the original model.” – Bob Edmands (NME).
“Wings Greatest” by Wings (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English, Denny Seiwell, Henry McCullough and Ray Cooper). (November 1978, 5). A greatest hits compilation of 12 songs.
Standalone single: “Goodnight Tonight” (March 1979, 5)
“Back To The Egg” by Wings. (June 1979, 6). Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Laurence Juber and Steve Holley. Singles from album: “Old Siam Sir” (June 1979, 35); “Getting Closer” (June 1979, 60). “Nothing inspiring” – Ray Coleman (Melody Maker).
Standalone single: “Wonderful Christmastime” (November1979, 6)
There is a marked contrast between the reviews that this music got and the consistently high chart placing. Why would I ever believe a review?
In a MOJO music guide to Paul McCartney, Michael Bonner describes “London Town” as “a confused mix of rock’n’roll, rockabilly, folky ballads, country rock and a synth-reggae hybrid“. This completely misunderstands the genius of Paul McCartney. In fact, it completely misunderstands the appeal and genius of The Beatles. There was no uniform musical style that permeated any of their albums. It is the variety and not knowing what might come next that makes the music so compelling. Suppose The Beatles had split up after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” and Paul McCartney had released an album called “Helter Skelter” at the end of 1968 with the following songs: Side One: “Lady Madonna”, “Martha My Dear”, “Blackbird”, “Birthday”, “Rocky Racoon”, “I Will”, “Helter Skelter”. Side Two: “Back In The USSR”, “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”, “Honey Pie”, “Wild Honey Pie”, “Ob La Di Ob La Da”, “Mother Natures Son”, “Hey Jude”. Would Michael Bonner have described this album as “confused”? It’s the variety and lack of a consistent musical style that defines Paul McCartney’s genius.
As is evident from the list of Wings’ albums, the lineup of Paul McCartney’s band changed many times during the course of their eight studio albums. Having recorded “Wings At The Speed Of Sound”, Paul and Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English embarked on a 65 date tour in 14 months, taking in Britain, Australia, Europe, the United States and Canada. The American leg of the tour saw them play 31 concerts to 600 000 people in 51 days. After a four month break, they recorded a few tracks in Abbey Road and Scotland before decamping to The Virgin Islands where Paul McCartney hired three yachts: one for Paul and Linda McCartney, one for the rest of the band and the third for a recording studio. At this point Joe English and Jimmy McCulloch left the band leaving the remaining three members of Wings to finish the album.
Joe English had become homesick for America and returned to Georgia, where he formed his own band; in 1990 he joined The Word Of Faith fellowship in North Carolina and he is still involved in music within this church. Wikipedia describes this fellowship as “an abusive cult”. The founders of the church have denied that they beat members of the church to remove destructive spirits or that they surround one year old children and pray, loudly, for many hours at a time to drive out demons. Members of the church are not allowed to celebrate birthdays, grow beards, watch TV, read papers or drink alcohol. My application is not in the post.
Jimmy McCulloch had played with “Utterly Incredible, Too Long Ago to Remember, Sometimes Shouting at People” at The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream Event at Alexandra Palace in April 1967. He subsequently joined Thunderclap Newman, who had a huge hit with “Something In The Air” in 1969. In 1972, he joined Stone The Crows after the death of Les Harvey, who had been electrocuted on stage. He joined Wings in 1974 and sung two of his own songs, “Medicine Jar” on “Venus And Mars” and “Wino Junko” on “Wings At The Speed Of Sound”. When he left Wings, he joined the re-formed Small Faces but only stayed with them for a couple of months. In September 1979, he died of heart failure due to morphine and alcohol poisoning at the age of 26.
There are two very pleasant songs on “London Town”. One is called “Children Children” and the other is called “Deliver Your Children”. They are beautifully played with interesting lyrics and sung well. As it happens, they are sung by Denny Laine, who co-wrote the songs with Paul McCartney – he has a good voice. However, it isn’t Paul McCartney’s voice and including these songs on the album illustrates one of the key reasons why Paul McCartney’s (or Wings’) albums are so special. Paul McCartney’s voice is wonderful. Whether he is singing angry rock songs like “I’ve Had Enough”, beautiful ballads like “I’m Carrying”, Michael Jackson-esque R’n’B like “Girlfriend”, rockabilly tunes like “Name And Address”, Seventies MOR like “Cafe On The Left Bank” or unique wistful songs like “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, his voice is versatile, emotional and melodic.
“Girlfriend” was written for Michael Jackson, who included it on his 1979 album, “Off The Wall” and also released it as a single. “London Town”, the title track is a classic Paul McCartney song with a great melody, wonderful singing and an always interesting arrangement.
“I’m Carrying” is a beautiful song and one that I had never heard until a couple of days ago. The melody and the simplicity of the arrangement puts it alongside “Love In Song” and “Somedays”. “Backwards Traveller” and “Cuff Link” are listed as separate songs but can be considered as yet another two-song medley. The former is just over one minute long and is followed by the two minute instrumental of the latter. “I’ve Had Enough” is an up-tempo, angry rocker in which Paul McCartney has reached the end of his tether and can’t put up with any more.
“With A Little Luck” was the first single to be released from the album, which means it was the follow up to “Mull Of Kintyre”. It reached Number Four in the U.K. charts. It is the sort of brilliantly crafted pop song that leaves Paul McCartney open to criticism from those who like their songs to contain more imperfections. The album version is two minutes longer and includes an extended instrumental break near the end.
The album ends with two strong songs. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is not the song of the same name by Neil Young but is a complex song with pipes, subtle harmonies, simple lyrics which encourage a positive outlook and a sound not dissimilar to early Fairport Convention. “Morse Moose And The Grey Goose” is almost prog-rock with a heavy sound and ridiculous lyrics which detail a conversation between a submarine (Morse Moose) and a warplane (Grey Goose).
If genius is the ability to make something complex sound simple, Paul McCartney’s genius is to the fore on this incredible album.