Paul McCartney has been the most prolific of the former Beatles. Up until 1974’s Band on the Run his output never quite matched the quality of the best of his old band. Wings, his first post Beatles project had recorded two albums before, but were met with a lukewarm public and critical reception. Band on the Run changed that with considerable sales and critical success in Europe and America.
Throughout my childhood I had heard songs like “Jet” and “Let It Roll” without any real thought to where they came from. I would not discover the source until college, where it seemed all my post-hippie guitar playing friends had this album in their collections. It was easy to see why. Band on the Run has become my favorite recording associated with Paul McCartney – that includes any Beatles records. Just as fascinating as the music is the story behind its recording.
Before departing for Nigeria to record Band on the Run, two members quit, leaving Paul, his wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine to play during the recording sessions. The problems started soon after they landed in Lagos. A shabby studio was the least of their problems as Paul and Linda would be robbed at knife point. In another incident demo tapes were stolen and Paul suffered a bronchial spasm.
The whole ideal of going to Africa to record was to inspire the band in a sunny tropical environment. Nigeria would be the last place to come to mind to most people as it was as corrupt then as it is now. A local activist accused the Wings of coming to the Dark Continent to steal African Music. Interestingly enough, there were no tribal sounding influences on Band On the Run, although some Nigerian musicians were used in the recording process (mostly when the album was being wrapped up in London). Instead of being a disaster, some of the most memorable songs from Wings were the result.
Marked by tempo changes and dramatic transitions, Band on the Run had a distinct sense of drama about it. The movie theme was hinted at on the famous cover photo featuring celebrities like James Coburn. The album is marked of plenty of highlights including the mini-epic opener “Band on the Run”. It five minutes it actually sounded like Broadway review with three separate mini-songs. The structure reminded one of old prog rock Yes songs using a kind of prog rock structure with a conventional Beatlesque sound.
‘Bluebirds’ is a beautiful ballad with a more conventional structure. A saxophone solo ads a touch of class to it while the bluesy “Let Me Roll It” sounds as if it could have been sung by John Lennon. “Let me Roll It” features Linda McCartney on what sounds like some form of early synthesizer.
My favorite thing about Band on the Run is simple bass playing from both Paul and Denny Laine. Often it was the only thing tying together the complicated songs. In fact, it was the bass playing in ‘Let Me Roll It’ that attracted me to Wings in the first place. It would become a staple of their sound, especially in later recordings like 1976’s “Silly Love Songs”.
Band on the Run was a slow burner chart-wise. After the title track and “Jet” became big hits, the album rose to #1 in America on three different occasions. In Europe it stayed consistently at or near the top of the charts. Today tracks from Band On the Run are favorites on rock stations around the world. On any given day, some classic rock station is broadcasting “Jet”, “Let Me Roll” It or “Band On the Run”.