‘Band on the Run’ is one of the key highlights from Paul McCartney‘s post-Beatles career. You would not be blamed for thinking it is Wings’ best song, as it captures the band at their pinnacle. It also represents a true show of arms from the band, who, prior to this song and its eponymous album’s release, had reached their most subdued point.
Their first two albums Wild Life (1971) and Red Rose Speedway (1973), were critically panned, and the original members, guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell, had left prior to its production, which left Wings’ core trio of Paul, wife Linda and Denny Laine in an artistic and logistical rut. However, they bounced back and produced a wonderfully meandering track that perfectly blends the elements Wings had been fleshing out since its inception.
Famously, the song is comprised of three distinct sections that incorporate folk, rock and funk at different points. It can be seen as Wings finding their magic formula – one that McCartney had started on his first solo number one, 1971’s ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey‘. Even more interesting about this iconic five-minute journey is the way it was partially inspired by a comment McCartney’s former bandmate, George Harrison, made during one of the Beatles final Apple Records meetings.
In a 1973 interview not long after Band on the Run was released, McCartney said that the lyrical motif “if we ever get out of here” had been spoken by Harrison at one of the penultimate Beatles meetings. McCartney remembered: “He was saying that we were all prisoners in some way… I thought it would be a nice way to start an album”. He continued: “It’s a million things… all put together. Band on the run – escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it, it’s there.”
In a 2010 interview, the former Beatles bassist dug further into the inspiration and meaning behind the rock classic: “It was symbolic: ‘If we ever get out of here… All I need is a pint a day…’ (In the Beatles) we’d started off as just kids really, who loved our music and wanted to earn a bob or two so we could get a guitar and get a nice car.”
He expanded: “It was very simple ambitions at first. But then, you know, as it went on it became business meetings and all of that. So there was a feeling of ‘If we ever get out of here’, yeah. And I did.”
Subsequently, all of the bad feelings that inspired Wings’ most successful song can be regarded as producing one of the finest examples of resilience that has ever been put to wax. It is a triumphant opus that earned all the plaudits McCartney and Co. deserved.
One of the most illustrious prizes McCartney has earned, The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, was bestowed upon him in June 2010. Reflecting the highly distinguished reputation of the prize, the award ceremony was performed in the East Room of the White House, “celebrating the music of Paul McCartney”. Not bad for a kid who wanted to earn a bob or two.
The ceremony featured a whole host of the world’s leading figures from different disciplines and backgrounds. President and First Lady Obama were sat front and centre of the stage next to McCartney, and other attendees included Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Emmylou Harris and Jerry Seinfeld.
However, the most significant attendee was Dave Grohl. A self-proclaimed number one fan of McCartney, he jumped on stage to perform a swaggering rendition of ‘Band on the Run’ with the house band. This was a fantastic exercise in thanks from one icon to another, as there would be no rock hero Dave Grohl without McCartney’s influence.
This is ironic as Grohl is somewhat of a modern-day equivalent to McCartney; both’s careers have brought about era-defining change. It is well documented that the pair are now great friends. However, thirty years ago, they were not, and Grohl’s band Nirvana were just another anonymous band massively influenced by the pop hooks of the Beatles.
Before too long, though, Kurt Cobain, Grohl and Krist Novoselic would take the Beatles ideas and masterfully rehouse them in a Generation X setting, with the release of the epoch-defining Nevermind (1991) and In Utero (1993).
When Grohl jumps on stage, guitar in tow, he humbly tells the audience: “You know I have to say I’m a native of the Washington D.C. area… I’ve probably played every club and every basement and every arena and every Stadium.”
He then looks in the direction of McCartney and the Obama’s are sitting and proclaims: “But, all of that has nothing on playing to Paul, you’re definitely my hero, and Mr. President, you’re my other hero”. Consequently, Grohl receives a round of approving laughter before launching into the classic track.
Watch Dave Grohl perform ‘Band on the Run’, below.