Band On The Run
Paul McCartney And Wings
Released: December 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 116
Certified Gold: 12/7/73
Having decided it might be far out to cut a new Wings album in Lagos, Nigeria, Paul had already made all necessary arrangements when guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell announced that he could make the trip without them. Apparently they felt they were being turned into McCartney-programmed robots, and didn't like it any more than George and Ringo had. In their absence, Paul pulled himself together to create an album that picked up where Abbey Road left off. In doing so, he combined a sense of urgency with his renewed self-confidence; as Mrs. McCartney told Sounds: "Paul thought, I've got to do it, either I give up and cut my throat or get my magic back."
Supported only by his two unplucked Wings, Linda and faithful rhythm guitarist Denny Laine, Paul painstakingly overdubbed guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, Mellotrons, and some highly competent drumwork, on top of the most lyrical McCartney bass runs in years. (Occasionally Wings were joined by a smattering of local percussion, which led to charges that they had swooped down on Lagos in order to rip off Nigeria's musical heritage.) The process recalled that first do-it-yourself McCartney solo LP, but the results were incomparably more successful on every level. Band On the Run more than sufficed to dispel the stigma of all than intervening wimpery. And the aging hippies all said: McCartney Is Back.
Some of the songs seem to use escaping from prison as a metaphor for McCartney's determination (finally realized) to break out of the rut he had landed himself in when the Beatles broke up. He revealed that a key phrase on the song "Band On The Run" -- "if we ever get out of here" -- was a remark George Harrison had made during one of those interminable Apple board meetings; and in "Helen Wheels" -- the punning name he gave his Land Rover -- Paul chronicles that first post-Beatles free-wheeling English tour he undertook in early 1972. (This song, in an odd reversal of tradition, was added to the American version of Band On the Run; elsewhere it was available only on a single.) The LP jacket depicts the remaining three Wings as outlaws, up against the wall in the bad company of James Coburn, Christopher Lee, Kenny Lynch, and John Conteh.
One of the most talked-about tracks was "Let Me Roll It," win which many critics discerned an affectionate tribute to John Lennon and his Plastic Ono sound -- and one more sign than the Beatles were pals again. Another focus of attention was McCartney's musical interpretation of Cubist painter Picasso's last words, which reportedly were "Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink any more." When Dustin Hoffman originally brought the quote to Paul's attention with the suggestion that it might make a good lyric, the ex-Beatle responded by whipping out a guitar and setting Picasso's last words to music on the spot, much to the actor's delight. In Lagos, McCartney decided to "cut it up, edit it, mess around with it, like he [Picasso] used to do with his pictures," and wound up weaving other Band On the Run melodies and snatched of French dialogue in and out of the recording.
Band On the Run did not really catch fire until two more of its numbers hit the big time as singles: the supersonic "Jet" and the five-minute, five-part title song (which Capitol hype dubbed "a mini-rock opera"). Finally, four months after its release, the album made itself at home at Number One; three years later and five million copies later, it was still on the charts, making Band on the Run the most popular of any of the Beatles' solo LP's and one of the seventies' biggest and most consistent sellers. while paul would soon abandon some of the sense of adventure that helped turn Band on the Run into as much of a smash with the critics as the public, he would never again forget how to make records.
Band on the Run first appeared on the Billboard charts on December 22, 1973, reaching #1 and spending a total of 116 weeks.
- Nicholas Shaffner, The Beatles Forever, pp. 165-66.
"Jet" is a song with strong overtones of the Beatles -- more so than on any previous McCartney effort with his band. The vocal overdubs, the thumping drums and the solid guitar strumming, sparked with voice popping in and then disappearing, reminds one of the sophisticated kinds of tunes the Beatles created in the studio. This LP, cut in London and Lagos, is artistically an impressive work. McCartney and Linda team on the simple, innocuous tune, "Bluebird," and their harmonic construction turns the tune into an infectious listening experience. There's an interesting sax solo but the musician isn't credited. "Mrs. Vanderbilt" is another head-bobbing fun tune. Concern and care are the hallmarks of this outstanding package.
- Billboard, 1973.
Band on the Run finds Paul McCartney walking a middle ground between autobiographical songwriting and subtle attempts to mythologize his own experience through the creation of a fantasy world of adventure -- perhaps remotely inspired by his having recently written "Live and Let Die." He does it by uniting the myth of the rock star and the outlaw, the original legendary figure on the run.
Up until now, the critical assumption has been that McCartney's lyrics mean little if anything, that he is a mere stylist, playing games with words and sounds. And it is of course possible that the words on Band on the Run don't mean (or weren't intended to mean) as much as I think they do. But I'll take a chance, and say that Band on the Run is an album about the search for freedom and the flight from restrictions on his and Linda's personal happiness. It is about the pursuit of freedom from his past as a Beatle, freedom from the consequences of the drug busts that have kept him from the United States and forced him into thinking of himself as an outlaw (witness the album cover, as well as the title). It is also about two people becoming what they want to be, trying to decide what they want to do, and asking to be accepted for what they are now rather than what they were then.
If the listener were to ignore the music and the skill with which McCartney has developed his theme, the entire enterprise might seem banal. But he holds the record together through the continual intimation that he enjoys the search for freedom more than he might enjoy freedom himself. In the best tradition of outlaw mythology, he makes being on the run sound so damned exciting.
I'm surprised I like Band on the Run so much more than McCartney's other solo albums because, superficially, it doesn't seem so different from them. It's superiority derives from a subtle shifting and rearrangement of elements running through all of his post-Beatles music, a rounding out of ideas that had previously been allowed to stand half-baked, often embarrassingly so. Band on the Run is no collection of song fragments (McCartney, Ram), nor a collection of mediocre and directionless songs (Wild Life, Red Rose Speedway). Band on the Run is a carefully composed, intricately designed personal statement that will make it impossible for anyone to classify Paul McCartney as a mere stylist again.
A lesser talent would have taken the escape concept and perhaps woven a simple story around it. But, consistent with his own past, the songs overlap both in their content and sentiments (some are even reprised), the album forming a unit without ever becoming too schematic, literal, overbearing or overtly accessible.
On Band on the Run, there are two separate searches going on: McCartney's for himself and the listener's for McCartney. The title song begins soberly, its narrator in jail, his music depressed. Both he and the album explode at the moment of his escape, the newfound exhilaration suggesting that there could have been no such pleasure without the preceding pain and that while McCartney prefers the former to the latter, he has learned how to cope with both.
From the moment of escape, everything on the album eventually evokes the notion of flight. "Jet," a superb piece of music with an obscure lyric about the McCartneys' dog, suggests an overwhelming desire not only to get away but to get away to someone. It ends up a love song, a tribute to both a person and a state of mind, propelled forward by a grand performance.
"Helen Wheels" (which wasn't supposed to be on the album) is about the McCartneys' Land Rover and is another travel song, more upbeat, and feeding the fantasy of a rock band looking for action. Even on a simple love song, "Bluebird," we find the narrator "...flying through your door" to take his lover away, "...as we head across the sea/And at last we will be free."
"Mrs. Vandebilt," which evidences some of Paul's healthy propensity for playfulness and nonsense, is vaguely about the outlaw's need for a haven, in this case the fantasy world of carefree jungle life (presumably inspired by their recording the LP in Lagos, Nigeria). In an album that contains a number of subtle and sometimes (perhaps) unintended comments on the Beatles, his innocent questions, "What's the use of worrying?/What's the use of hurrying?/What's the use of anything?" might be construed as a comment on Harrison and Lennon's continued high-mindedness and overbearing seriousness.
In point of fact, Band on the Run is closer to the Beatles' style than Ringo, which, though it utilized all the members of the group, is more Richard Perry than Ringo Starr. McCartney's emphasis on amplified acoustic guitars, double-tracked vocals, and a generally thin sound in the middle range, places much of the LP in the Hard Days' Night-Beatles VI mold. Despite the presence of pure McCartney elements (the lovely strings, so well done by Tony Visconti, the elaborate percussion so superior to Ram's) references to the Beatles make an important contribution to the album's mythic undercurrents.
"Mrs. Vandebilt" fools with McCartney's own excesses of style from Ram, sounding vaguely like (although far superior to) my least favorite of his records, "Monkberry Moon Delight." "Mamunia," a lovely song about accepting nature as unalterable, begins with a guitar intro suspiciously like Harrison's on "Give Me Love," though all similarity ends when the vocal begins.
But there is no mistaking McCartney's intention on "Let Me Roll It." A parody of and tribute to John Lennon's Plastic Ono style, he re-creates it with such precision, inspiration, enthusiasm and good humor that I am hard pressed to remember whether Lennon has recorded even a handful of songs that better it, McCartney goes all the way: a perfect vocal imitation, duplication of the Lennon-Spector production style, use of Lennon's lead guitar punctuations and the simple arrangement (complete with tacky Farfisa organ). "Let Me Roll It" is McCartney joyfully asserting that he can play his former partner's music as well as Lennon can, at the same time that it stands on its own as a perfectly satisfying piece of work.
"Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)" is the album's most personally revealing and one of its most moving songs. Dylan mythologizes cowboys; McCartney idealizes artists. But his celebration of Picasso's life at the moment of his death quickly turns into a fantasy about his own death. He asks only that his woman sing the same words to him that he sings for Picasso: "Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink any more." His approach to death is remarkably good humored and a segue into "Jet" now suggests an even more grandiose escape than the one from jail.
Perhaps McCartney can face death with humor because, as the hilarious rock & roll of "1985" suggests, he plans to stick around for some time. It would have been easy to end Band on the Run with the cut's happy projection of the future, but McCartney doesn't take the easy way out this time around. At the exciting conclusion of "1985," he segues into a short reprise of the title cut, a move suggesting once again that he isn't really sure that he wants to give up the search and the fight. They have become ends in themselves, part of his life, part of the mythology he has built up around himself, part of the fantasy he helped to create about the life of rock stars.
The album's abrupt and surprising ending suggests that the McCartneys are afraid they may find what they are looking for only to discover that it, too, fails to satisfy them. Thus they end with only one commitment: to remain a band on the run. That decision has resulted in (with the possible exception of John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band) the finest record yet released by any of the four musicians who were once called the Beatles.
- Jon Landau, Rolling Stone, 1/31/74.
It's been such a long time since anyone of the mighty foursome has given us something to really scream about. I mean, sure, by comparison with most of the stuff that comes out of John, Paul, George and Ringo have been excellent, but, compared to their united efforts of yesteryear, they've been nothing.
Now, Paul fans, you may scream, screech, and yes, rejoice. Band On The Run is absolutely brilliant. From the first strains of the title track there is an obvious difference. Suddenly all the subtleties of McCartney melody lines are back. And the vocals? Not since Abbey Road has Paul delivered such clear and satisfying performances. The album is credited to Wings, but for the first time this is a Paul McCartney album and no one gets in his way or mars the full effect.
"Jet" roars in, leaving little time to notice the transition from "Band On The Run." All of a sudden the room is filled with soaring harmonies, raunchy, rocking riffs and clever, distinctly McCartneyesque lyrics. Then there's "Bluebird," a delicate ballad with tasteful choruses and a lovely percussion section.
The album was recorded in Lagos, Africa and there has to be a touch of the native influence. "Mrs. Vandebilt" spans the spectrum of McCartney's songwriting styles. Skipping lightly between the African tribal dance sounds and the majestic chord changes of earlier masterpieces, the band is flawless as is Paul's performance. Denny Laine fills in on Harrison-like guitar solos. This is not reactionary music, it's just damned good music. Lyrically the album is not strong, musically it meets and surpasses everything this kid from Liverpool has ever done before.
Band On The Run is an album to be amazed at, to tell people about, to buy for your friends and to play constantly.
- Janis Schacht, Circus, 3/74.
The trick for an artist of Paul McCartney's popularity isn't in putting an album in the Top 20, but in keeping it there. It must be sufficiently listenable to continue selling week after week through word of mouth, exposure at freinds' homes, parties, and on car tapes, as well as through regular FM airplay. In addition, it may require some monster singles to spread the message to the suburbs and younger audiences still listening to AM radio. Band on the Run succeeds on all counts. It grew steadily, and is remarkably catchy -- the kind of album people come back to over and over again. The single, "Jet," transformed the LP from a mere hit into a giant seller, possibly destined to become the most popular album yet released by an ex-Beatle. In a year of moribund AM music, "Jet" came on like a blast of fresh air. The new single, "Band on the Run," will add more commercial life to the LP, and Capitol hasn't even gotten to "Let Me Roll It."
Aesthetically, McCartney may not sing with the clarity of voice he displayed in the heyday of the Beatles. But he sings more freely. He is still playful but now sounds less forced. Best of all, his distinctive British sensibility now touches on things without belaboring them, and he and Wings make musical statements without beating them or us into the ground.
- Jon Landau, Rolling Stone, 6/6/74.
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The best McCartney and Wings album. Yet even Band on the Run only barely manages to avoid the mawkish and plain bad -- the cloying sentiment and out-of-tune harmony vocals on "Bluebird" take a bit of stomaching when revealed in awesome clarity by CD!
Recorded in EMI's studios in London and Lagos, Band has a slightly dated "flat" complexion to the sound, lacking the glittering digital highs and tight-ass bass of modern recordings. Compact Disc pulls apart the layers of the sound in a slightly unflattering manner. The back-tracked guitar strumming in "Drink to Me" sounds particularly effective and voices and acoustic guitar have a welcome projection. Hiss and a tinny characteristic enrobe "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" on the Japanese-sourced review copy.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
Easily, McCartney's most successful and listenable outing, Band on the Run was recorded in Nigeria and reflects both his fine pop sensibility and production acumen (most of the sounds that make up the recording were, in fact, done by McCartney alone in the studio). It does contain some strong Seventies pop product, "Band on the Run," "Jet," and "Let Me Roll It" being the highlights. While it goes beyond mere aural wallpaper, it isn't any masterpiece either. The CD's sound, marred by some hiss as well as harshness and distortion, is more open, dynamic, and warm than that of the LP. B
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
On his best post-Beatles album, McCartney uses his mastery of studio technique and gift for musical juxtaposition -- from symphonic touches to hard rock to melodic acoustic music -- in a wonderful collection of well-constructed songs, including the Top Ten hits "Helen Wheels," "Band on the Run," and "Jet." * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Wings' Band on the Run was the best conceived, least embarrassing album of Paul McCartney's solo career. With just he, wife Linda and Denny Laine comprising the band, it was recorded in Nigeria, where the rhythms helped give the tunes a sunny disposition. * * * *
- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Paul McCartney proves himself a fab instrumentalist and songwriter with talent that far surpasses his cute Beatles image on this fresh, fun and still listenable disc that flocks of fans feel is the only album that comes close to his legacy with "the lads." Recorded under duress in Nigeria, this multiplatinum No. 1 is an unmitigated catchy pleasure thanks to the title hit, "Helen Wheels" and "Jet," chart-topping tunes that make it work incredibly well for parties and long drives. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Paul McCartney and Wings trekked to EMI's studio in Lagos, Nigeria, for seven stressful weeks to make Band on the Run, regarded by many as McCartney's finest post-Beatles hour. Opening strongly with the one-two punch of "Band on the Run" and "Jet" (named after Paul's dog), it proved that McCartney still knew how to rock.
Band on the Run was chosen as the 418th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Paul McCartney's post-Beatles output reached a critical and commercial peak on Band On The Run, which brought him to the closest point of reaching the quality threshold of his Fab Four days. His fifth album since quitting The Beatles just three years earlier, this 1973 release avoids the lightweight pitfalls of many of McCartney's solo projects, capturing instead a re-invigorated artist confident again in his abilities.
Mostly created in Lagos, Nigeria, the album's success came despite two members of his band, Wings, quitting on the eve of recording, then Paul and Linda were held at knifepoint in Lagos with their possessions, including the album's demos, being stolen.
The departures left a tight nucleus of the McCartneys and Denny Laine, with Beatles veteran Geoff Emerick engineering and other musicians drafted in where needed. McCartney also called upon a series of famous associates for the front cover shot, including the likes of film star James Coburn and horror actor Christopher Lee dressed as convicts.
Topping both the UK and US chart in the spring of 1974, the album's many highlights include the completely structured title track, a US chart-topper in its own right in June 1974, the powerful "Jet" and the laid-back "Let Me Roll It." "Helen Wheels," which reached Number Ten on the singles charts, was inspired by Paul McCartney's nickname for his Land Rover.
As of 2004, Band On The Run was the #84 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
Paul McCartney's early solo work did little to suggest he could make timeless music outside The Beatles. He delivered solitary gems -- notably "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Live And Let Die" -- but full albums such as 1973's Red Rose Speedway were not Beatlesque killer.
Morever, McCartney, who had recently garnered headlines for a drugs bust, went to work on this album with more than a few feathers missing -- drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough split a week before the band flew out to record in Lagos, Nigeria. And when they got there, McCartney and wife Linda were robbed at knifepoint. But out of adversity...
McCartney dominated every inch of what was essentially a solo record. Band On The Run kicks off with its rollercoaster of a title track -- a kind of mini-suite actually, recalling the heavily nuanced arrangements of the side-two Abbey Road song cycle. He immediately makes good on that high-flying start with the punchy "Jet" and continues to soar through the sunny "Bluebird." The work momentarily stumbles on "Let Me Roll It," a misguided answer to Lennon's scathing "How Do You Sleep?," but again finds focus thanks to solid side-two tracks like "Mamunia" and "No Words."
Six (mainly British) celebs co-starred on the prison break cover, half suggesting a scaled down Sgt. Pepper... Fittingly so, as Band On The Run also proved a critical and commercial hit, and one that stands as the singer/songwriter/bassist's finest post-Beatle hour.
- Jim Harrington, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
(2010 Deluxe Edition) The title track to Band on the Run is Paul McCartney's most gangsta moment. Who else could hit Number One with a prison-break epic starring the Jailer Man and Sailor Sam? This remastered three-CD/one-DVD version of McCartney's best-loved post-Beatles album adds extras like a 120-page book and footage of McCartney recording in Nigeria. But the real action still lies in the original LP's revved-up pleasures: After the sketchy experimentation of his early solo career, which produced highs ("Hi Hi Hi") and low-low-lows ("My Love"), McCartney returned to rocking like he'd never left. "Let Me Roll It" and "Helen Wheels" are his shaggiest guitar grooves. "Jet" is a gloriously daft Bowie takeoff -- and Bowie seems to have returned the compliment by turning the spacey New Orleans pastiche "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" into "TVC15." After Band on the Run, nobody ever again claimed Macca couldn't rock. * * * * *
- Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, 11/25/10.
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