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Wings Over America

Capitol 11593
Released: December 1976
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 86
Certified Platinum: 12/20/76

Paul McCartneyWhen Paul McCartney and his band Wings flew to America for their long-awaited debut tour last May, everyone seemed to be eagerly waiting for the former Beatle's act to be grounded. Critics had given his solo albums rather mixed reviews and, as is our habit with superstars who seem to think they are too super, we were ready to subject his every move to a cynical scrutiny. He had become, for many, rotten with success, more a music "personality" than a person who plays music.

But the tour changed all that. As Stereo Review's Steve Simels reported back then, "I came out [of the concert] almost ecstatic. I got chills [McCartney's] so... endearing." Most critics agreed, and the twenty-one-city, thirty-four-performance cavalcade (airplanes have horsepower too) was a triumph. The keepsake of that tour, the memory book of that triumph, is a fancy-cover album containing three records, a poster printed on both sides, twenty-eight songs, and -- oh, yes -- some very exciting performances. A pleasant switch from McCartney's seven other solo albums.

Wings - Wings Over America
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Those albums were often marred by painful pretentiousness and a sappy, sentimental self-consciousness. The songs seemed to be overcooked and saccharine, like outtakes from a breath-mint jingle. But those some songs, oddly enough, removed from the studio candy box and set on the stage of the concert hall, work brilliantly, displaying some hard, rough edges that make us think more of sandpaper than of sandcastles. Moreover, McCartney sings them to communicate, not just to sound pretty. The result is a concert album of such realistic immediacy that you can almost smell the sulfur of the audience's lighted matches (yes, they do that for McCartney too).

A good "live" concert album is, I think, always more exciting than a studio project. It's hard for a listener to imagine himself in the studio while the music is going on (granted that he would want to), but quite easy for him to imagine himself part of an audience that is already part of a recording. The performer has a lot to do with this. McCartney doesn't do a lot of talking on these six sides, but that doesn't matter. What he does do is concentrate on transfer of energy, picking it up from the audience, giving it back to them, and picking it up again in a warmly playful process of feedback that is almost palpable.

The album has fortunately avoided the pitfalls that await live-in-concert albums. Worst of these is the Greatest Hits trap, usually baited with enough sweetened laughter and applause for a Lucy rerun. This album does contain McCartney's hits, but there are also enough never-before-recorded songs to make the whole thing a new dish rather than a platter of leftovers. One of them is "Soily," the album's second track and last encore. It sounds like a rousing cross between an Elton John rocker and an Indian war dance, but it is pure McCartney, energy-filled proof that the man can rock and roll.

We didn't really need that proof, I suppose. Everybody knows McCartney is a rock-and-roll star. But it's nice to learn from this album (and, of course, the tour that produced it) that he is such an accomplished performer, an entertainer who can keep an audience entranced for two and a half hours and a producer who can transfer all that excitement to disc. Nearly every concert on the tour was recorded, and McCartney himself listened to all the tapes, choosing five (!) versions of each song. Then he spent about six weeks (seven days a week), fourteen hours a day) making the final selections, mixing, and mastering. The finished product is a complete concert without a noticeable splice, but McCartney wisely refrained from adding any cosmetics -- all the cracks, groans, and rough edges of his voice are intact.

The highlight for me is his performance of that unique Beatles classic "Yesterday." Eerie, haunting, even a little chilling, it comes about as close as we're ever going to get to a reunion of the Beatles: a reunion of the old Paul and the new McCartney. If this album proves anything, it is that this Beatle has grown up, that he has come of age as a solo artist. His tunes may still be a little to predictably sweet-and-sour, but when he sings them right, when he reaches to the bottom of his performing gifts, then he does the impossible: he makes us forget about the Beatles.

- Rick Mitz, Stereo Review, 3/77.

Bonus Reviews!

For such an expensive, three-record concert souvenir, made by an artist as commercially astute as Paul McCartney, a consumer-conscious review seems appropriate. The Wings fan with all the studio albums, for instance, may find Wings over America a legitimate alternative; excepting the single side of acoustic material, these performances are rawer and more driven than the original recordings and, in many cases, much the better for it. "Rock Show" is placed in its natural habitat; "Magneto and Titanium Man" becomes more sinewy and sinister; "Time to Hide" is reborn and simply wonderful. "Soily," the encore original, is a perfect climax, one of the best fast songs McCartney has written. In other words, there is probably enough novelty here to make Wings over America worth owning. From the above, non-Wings fans -- particularly those who find them wimpy -- can infer that this is as good and tough as you'll get this particular band.

On the debit side, the acoustic set is unremittingly maudlin. Many of Wings' mediocre songs -- "My Love," "Listen to What the Man Said," "Silly Love Songs" -- successfully resist transcending mediocrity.

There isn't much stage patter; crowd noise is kept at an unobtrusive but effective level; the cover painting compares favorably to a witty James Rosenquist, but the poster inside is downright cheesy. Caveat emptor.

- Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone, 2/10/77.

This year's premiere U.S. tour by Paul McCartney's post-Beatles group was one of the best-attended and best-put-together concert jaunts ever mounted. McCartney is one superstar who instinctively understands the importance of adding entertainment to live musical appearances, and his painstaking mixes of tapes made all along the tour represent the many original programming concepts in this show. The three disks are packaged in a clever split double-pocket jacket with a poster taking up the fourth compartment. Just about all the great songs written by McCartney either for the Beatles or Wings can be found here in intensely performed versions that cleverly take maximum advantage of the excitement of playing before big arena audiences. One unique bonus found on this LP is Wings guitarist Denny Laine, original singer of the Moody Blues performing that group's early hit "Go Now," which was only in the show at LA. But McCartney live with this well-honed group is an endless fascination. He remains the ultimate pop-rocker whether singing with his solo acoustic guitar, driving the group with his bass, rocking full-out with the travelling horn quartet or riffling off piano arpeggios for his haunting ballads. No LP in the future is likely to deliver us this much of McCartney in so many effective settings. Best cuts: "Jet," "Band On The Run," "Magneto & Titanium Man," "Silly Love Songs," "Let 'Em In," "Blackbird," "Yesterday," "Live And Let Die," "Lady Madonna," "Listen To What The Man Said," "Long And Winding Road ," "Hi Hi Hi," "Richard Cory."

- Billboard, 1976.

In the combustible amalgam of talents that was the Beatles, it was always clear that Paul McCartney was the moptop with the commercial instincts that struck for the jugular. In the early days, it was Paul who pushed them into coordinated jackets and, predictably, it is Paul who has achieved the greatest commercial post-Beatles success. With the release of Wings Over America, a three-record document of the Wings show that sold out in every city it played last year, the reason for that success is put into a clear perspective. Wings exudes the concept of professional entertainment that has characterized McCartney from the beginning, and its playing here is perfect for the silly love songs with which Paul tickles our fancy.

Wings supports McCartney's melodic flights on both ballads and rockers, supplying deftly executed harmonies and punchy instrumental precision. Standout touches include the complex harmonic arrangement on the sprightly pop-rocker "Magneto and Titanium Man" an Jimmy McCulloch's roughhouse lead guitar, which produces the grit that is often missing from Paul's music. Paul's flair for arrangement is also displayed through his use of a spirited four-man horn section.

The exhaustive concert repertoire boasts a number of jewels, ranging from faithfully re-created tunes from McCartney's Beatles past to highlights of his recent solo incarnations. Sung and played with professional aplomb, these live tracks display the sure craft that has kept McCartney in the pop mainstream, and if his recent work has rarely reached for the sky, as the Beatles did, these live tracks show that sheer talent can be a worthy substitute for inspiration. McCartney quipped before the album was released that if three quarters of the people who saw the live show bought the album they'd have a million seller. And while this is already true, what is most impressive is that though the concerts were themselves as much "events" as rock shows -- after all, McCartney hadn't performed in America since 1966 -- the record proves that the music justified the excitement.

- Playboy, 4/77.

McCartney made a favorable impression on his 1976 U.S. tour, convincing skeptics he could rock out when he chose and effectively mixing solo hits with Beatles oldies. This live album, originally issued on three LPs and now on two CDs, was more than a souvenir, containing an entire concert (edited from various shows), and finding McCartney performing effective versions of everything from "Lady Madonna" and "Yesterday" to "Hi Hi Hi" and "My Love." "Soily" is otherwise unavailable. "Maybe I'm Amazed" became a Top 10 hit, and the album was McCartney's fifth straight #1. * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

(2013 Deluxe Edition) Wings Over America was Paul McCartney's bold arena-rock (as opposed to pop) move of the 1970s -- a triple-disc live set, complete with vocal showcases for the backup guys. It was also the first time he remade Beatles oldies -- "Blackbird" and "Bluebird" fit together well. There's something daft and touching about how McCartney strives for band democracy: Whenever Denny Laine sings lead, you can almost hear the fans stampede for their bathroom weed break. Now reissued with a variety of bonus goodies, Wings Over America is a time capsule from a neglected phase of the Macca saga -- an artifact for Seventies stoners who thought Wings were heavier than the Beatles. * * * 1/2

- Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, 6/6/13.

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