The Beatles were a ubiquitous part of my childhood, as was likely the case for any musically-sentient kid in the 1960s. My favorite album of theirs when I was young was Beatles VI (1965), culled from my Dad’s record collection. That was one of Capitol Records’ kluge releases for American and Canadian markets, combining album cuts and singles from what’s now known as the “core catalog” as released by EMI in the United Kingdom. (It was not until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that the catalogs on both sides of the Atlantic aligned). Beatles VI was released near the tail end of the era when the Beatles were still recording cover songs in the studio and playing increasingly futile live shows, where the primitive amplification of the era wasn’t up to the task of drowning out a stadium full of screams. There aren’t (m)any widely-loved classics of the Beatles canon to be found within Beatles VI‘s grooves, but it’s still a favorite record of mine. As with so many things, our positive childhood moments resonate differently than those we experience when we’re older and, nominally, wiser.
I remember riding in the car with my mother sometime in 1970, listening to the radio, when the disc jockey played “Hey Jude,” then discussed the recent break-up of the Beatles. I asked my Mom to explain exactly why that happened and what it meant, as it seemed somehow dark and ominous to me, like a friend’s parents getting divorced in days when there was still a strong stigma associated with that. I didn’t have any concept of how musical groups formed, and I didn’t have experience with how and why they imploded. I don’t really recall the specific explanations she offered, but I do remember thinking about it a lot, eventually having my ideas of what constituted a musical group rearranged and re-calibrated, as I began to understand that individual artists had agency within the collaborative whole, for better or for worse.
A year or so later, the demise of the Beatles seemed a moot point when “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” by Paul and Linda McCartney topped the charts. Paul was my favorite Beatle, and I loved that song. It had so many things going on, and different movements, and loads of whimsy and absurdity perfectly suited for my own creative temperament. I didn’t know it at the time, but the McCartneys were already in the nascent stages of forming Paul’s post-Beatles band: Wings. The first couple of albums and related singles from the group didn’t really register much with me, but 1973’s Band on the Run certainly did, chockablock with huge breakthrough hits and deep radio classics as it was. I received the record for Christmas that year, and it instantly became one of my all-time favorite discs, a stature it holds to this day.
McCartney expanded the core Wings trio (Paul, Linda and Denny Laine) in 1974 to include hot-shot guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (RIP) and drummer Geoff Britton, who was then replaced by Joe English during the recording of their next album, Venus and Mars. The Paul-Linda-Denny-Jimmy-Joe lineup of Wings only lasted through 1977, but that’s absolutely the quintessential incarnation of the group for me, and I believe that they issued several of the very best albums of Sir Paul’s post-Beatles career. They were also commercially monstrous while doing so, as the epic 1976 live album Wings Over America so ably demonstrates. After McCulloch and English departed during the final recording stages of the London Town (1978) album, the McCartneys and Laine rebooted the band again and managed one more album and tour, but that all ground to a halt permanently after Sir Paul’s marijuana arrest in Japan in 1980. While he has actually played with his current touring band longer than he played with the Beatles and Wings, never again did Paul McCartney bill himself as a member of a group, instead opting to brand himself solely as a solo artist.
I’m well aware that Wings are viewed in hindsight as something of a joke or a farce, though I’ve never fully understood that evaluation, nor appreciated it. They were great, and it’s without a shred of embarrassment or remorse that I can categorically state that I listen to Wings far more often these days than I do to the Beatles. Wings were certainly not as transformational and influential as the Beatles were, obviously, but few artists can lay claim to such exalted status, and using that comparison to discredit or devalue McCartney’s 1970s output is reductive bordering on stupid.
I know that there has always been a whole cohort of cruel Linda debasers out there, but when you read the narrative of what Paul was thinking about in having her as a songwriting collaborator and onstage musical foil, it ultimately boils down to him wanting to do something with the woman he loved, and to keep his family close to him when he toured. Can’t fault an artist for that, can you? (If interested, this is a great book on that topic). I’m also a big fan of Denny Laine, who served fairly selflessly as a tremendously supportive studio and on-stage foil on guitar, bass and vocals for Paul and Linda from the inception to the demise of Wings. He deserves more accolades than he actually receives for that role.
There’s another cohort that dismisses McCartney’s songwriting of the era as flabby or insignificant, with “Silly Love Songs” perhaps being the donkey upon which Wings haters most often choose to pin their pointed tails. But I love that song too. For a bass player, it’s a veritable master’s class on how to do something spectacular within a nominally simple structure. And its core sentiment — “Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs / What’s wrong with that?” — is also one I don’t find offensive in any fashion, especially when McCartney sang it with his beloved wife onstage with him. The world has so much angst swirling within it that I find it hard to disapprove of an artist who chooses to write a simple paean to a complex sentiment like love, especially when he plays the bass guitar like that on it.
And so to the favorite songs list! All ten of my top Wings cuts are culled from the period between Band on the Run (recorded just by the core trio) and the demise of the McCulloch and English incarnation of the band. They are glorious, if you can set aside critical snark long enough to embrace them.
#10. “Junior’s Farm,” from “Junior’s Farm” / “Sally G” Single (1974)
#9. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” from Band on the Run (1973)
#8. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” from London Town (1978)
#7. “The Note You Never Wrote,” from Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)
#6. “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” from Venus and Mars (1975)
#5. “Medicine Jar,” from Venus and Mars (1975)
#4. “Band on the Run,” from Band on the Run (1973)
#3. “Silly Love Songs,” from Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)
#2. “Magneto and Titanium Man,” from Venus and Mars (1975)
#1. “Let Me Roll It,” from Band on the Run (1973)
Note #1: Click Here for an after-the-fact summary of this series, with a convenient listing of links for all articles contained within it.
Note #2: For those who stream your music, Marcia has created a Spotify playlist with all of the songs discussed in this series. Note that the browser embed link below is limited to 100 preview songs. We have confirmed that all 120 songs included in the series are available when you open the playlist in the Spotify app.