Band On The Run

Paul McCartney & Wings

Capitol Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


At least once every decade, former Beatle Paul McCartney does something that makes me sit up and take notice. His recent Super Bowl halftime show performance comes to mind immediately for the ‘00s. And in the ‘90s, it was the Grammy nomination for his top-notch album, Flaming Pie. His high-water mark in the ‘80s had to be Tug Of War, which was co-produced by Paul’s old friend and mentor, George Martin. When it comes to the ‘70s, the hands-down choice for Paul McCartney’s greatest artistic triumph is his fifth solo studio effort, Band On The Run. With a little help from his friend Denny Laine and wife Linda, Paul produced this stunning album all by his lonesome. Unbeknownst to him at the time, it proved to be a trial-by-fire experience he would not soon forget.

The recording of this album was not a particularly smooth affair. Choosing Lagos, Nigeria as a location was a mistake; once Paul and his small entourage saw armed guards at the airport, they should have turned right around and flown straight back home. As a military state, Lagos was a violent and unsanitary city. Wisely, the band members all got immunized before their decampment. The studio facility was found to be a ramshackle mess, but Paul was determined to still make a go of it. He knew it would not be easy right from the start, especially when two of his former bandmates quit before traveling to Lagosmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 . Wearing the producer’s hat, taking over on drums, and supplying all of the vocal parts would have been a daunting proposition for any other artist, but for Paul, the extra work only added more fuel to his creative fire.

McCartney’s inspiration shines through the most on “Mamunia,” a bright and shiny ode to the dark and perilous African territory he had suddenly found himself contending with.  Despite the unbearable heat and the fact that he and Linda were mugged on the street, Paul was determined not to let anything damper his enthusiasm for the music project he was fervently attempting to put together. One song, “Picasso’s Last Words,” had long since been completed, having been written at the suggestion of actor Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman met with McCartney at a café in Jamaica and asked him to write a song right then and there. Used to working spontaneously, Paul had Hoffman open to a random page in the most recent Time magazine. Landing on an article entitled “Picasso’s Last Days And Final Journey,” Paul wrote a masterful, multi-part tune that became one of the best tracks on Band On The Run.

The album’s other multi-parter is the title song. It starts out sounding a bit sluggish and somewhat annoying, but then morphs brilliantly into the #1 single it truly is. The second track, “Jet” is even better, a propulsive rock tune that picks up where Paul’s James Bond theme “Live And Let Die” left off. After a rather dopey, throwaway song about a bird (“Bluebird”) we are treated to “Mrs. Vandebilt,” which contains what sounds like the memorable Seven Dwarfs’ chant, “Heigh Ho.” The “ho hey ho” refrain is so catchy that it is later reprised as the finale to “Picasso’s Last Words.” The synth ballad “Let Me Roll It” also reverberates as a definite standout. It’s got a strong pop hook and some impressive guitar licks as well. The echoing vocal makes it sound like nothing Paul has ever attempted before. In fact, it doesn’t even sound like a Paul McCartney song when you first hear it. With so much chaos surrounding him during the recording of this record, it is unbelievable he was able to turn in incredible songs such as this.

Though the upbeat blues number “Helen Wheels” was chosen as the lead-off single for Band On The Run, a better choice would have been the apocalyptic “song of the future” that closes out the album so strongly, “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five.” Even though it is my selection as the best song on the album, it only made it as far as the B-side of the “Band On The Run” single. Oh well, when an album is this good, singles tend to become irrelevant. If ever there was an argument for keeping the album format alive in this new digital age of downloading we’re now living in, Band On The Run is it.

Rating: A

User Rating: A



© 2008 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.