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How Bob Dylan inspired Paul McCartney to create Wings album 'Wild Life'

If the Get Back series proved anything, it’s that Paul McCartney was anxious to return to the live stage, but it was growing increasingly difficult to organise with George Harrison’s reticence and John Lennon’s disinterest. And although he took the break up of The Beatles that bit harder than the other three, he eventually recognised that the best way to move forward was to form another live outfit. 

Ram demonstrated the bassist’s interest in working with another drummer (Denny Seiwell) and two new guitarists (Dave Spinozza and Hugh McCracken). Impressed with their contributions, McCartney invited Seiwell and McCracken to his home in Scotland in an effort to form a band. McCracken declined the invitation, but Seiwell expressed an interest, although as an American, it proved harder to realise. In an interview with Culture Sonar, Seiwell described the passion that the bassist exuded as he fought for his position in what would become Wings: “It wasn’t easy at the beginning, the British Government didn’t want me to play,” he said. “They thought it should be a British drummer. Paul and his team of barristers had to say ‘I get to choose who plays drums’. It took a long time before I got a work permit”.

Eventually, Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine took on the role as guitarist, although Wings would later invite Irish musician Henry McCullough to the fold in 1972. From then on, Wings would tour as a quintet, although Wild Life – the band’s riotous debut – was written and recorded by four people in a room. Unlike the more lushly produced Ram, Wild Life holds a rawer, more rollicking soundscape, earmarking its place as a blueprint album. Listening to it 50 years later, it sounds like the map to the band’s 1972 setlist. 

“I’m not sure if we were playing live,” the drummer recalled in 2019, “Just a new way of showing a band that wasn’t a clean, polished record. Different to a Beatles album or even, say, how Ram was. We weren’t even a proper band then, it was just the four of us. Paul, Linda and the two Denny’s.”

Yet it worked, and although only the most perverse fan would call it Wings’ finest hour, Wild Life is nonetheless a refreshing listen, not least in that it carries none of the trappings of the Beatles oeuvre. And in many ways, Wild Life fulfilled the ambition McCartney envisioned for Get Back (eventually released as Let It Be), by exposing a band at their most exposed and rabble-rousing. 

But according to the songwriting bassist, the impetus for the album didn’t arise from any unrealised plans he held for The Beatles, rather, it came from a songwriter Harrison would regularly concede as superior to The Fab Four: Bob Dylan. 

“Dylan inspired Wild Life, because we heard he had been in the studio and done an album in just a week,” McCartney recalled. “So we thought of doing it like that, putting down the spontaneous stuff and not being too careful. So it came out a bit like that. We wrote the tracks in the summer, Linda and I, we wrote them in Scotland in the summer while the lambs we gambolling. We spent two weeks on the Wild Life album all together. At that time, it was just when I had rung Denny Laine up a few days before and he came up to where we were to rehearse for one or two days.”

If Dylan influenced the album, it’s not heard in the music, but instead, the album opened listeners up to the joys of reggae. Rather than record “Love Is Strange” in a strip-backed form, the band (yes, Wings were a band) decided to record it in a style later spearheaded by The Clash, 10cc and The Police. If the album holds a masterpiece, this is it, but if Dylan (who later released the reggae-rock track ‘Jokerman’ track) helped to inspire the album, then he could walk proudly into the uncertain waters of ’70a rock, knowing that his shadow still loomed over McCartney. 

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