Wings At The Speed of Sound is the moment Paul McCartney felt comfortable enough with his bandmates to let them play their own material, which, admittedly, only lasted for one solitary album before the group downsized one more time for the more pastoral sounding London Town. It’s also an example of Wings as a rock band, tailoring the material to meet the demands of a 1970s stadium gig.
Indeed, the startling thing about ‘Let ‘Em In’ is that the band throw themselves into the work with an angular, visceral backbeat, lacing the work with meta-contextual elements that push the tune along. There’s nary a guitar heard on the track, but the drums push the tune along, making it as easy to jive to as hum along with.
The album was recorded quickly, and although the song-craft lacks the dizzying spontaneity of Band On The Run, or the diverse treasures heard on Venus and Mars, Speed of Sound is nonetheless a tidy portrait of a band in the middle of creative renaissance, enjoying the treasures of the work that was destined for the live-stage. As it stands, although McCartney only wrote half the album, the finished result is definitely infectious and decidedly hummable.
‘Wino Junko’ is the most impactful tune, demonstrating Jimmy McCulloch’s predilection for substances, and unlike the barrelling ‘Medicine Jar’ – heard on the Venus and Mars album in 1975 – the song is slow, sombre and mature work for such a young composer. Maturity isn’t the adjective I’d use to describe ‘Cook of The House’, but it’s to Linda McCartney‘s credit that she tackled the tune with great gusto, even if the words were lacking.
Guitarist Denny Laine, meanwhile, sings ‘The Note You Never Wrote’, a ballad Paul McCartney personally wrote in his style. The band were whizzing through the tracks, and no matter the fact that he was a Beatle fronting his second orbit, Paul McCartney regularly asked for guidance from the technical department.
“I remember one of my first engineering jobs,” engineer Peter Henderson recalled, “working with Paul McCartney on Wings at the Speed of Sound — he’d do two vocal takes and ask, ‘Which is the better one?’ And when he played the guitar, he’d really lean into it and give it everything he got.” The guitar performances are lively, particularly ‘Beware My Love’, a raucous rocker written in the style of 1960s monsters ‘I Can See For Miles’ and ‘Helter Skelter’. But the album’s most memorable moment came in the form of a piano ballad, that featured Paul McCartney virtually alone. He sings ‘Warm and Beautiful’ with great tenderness, celebrating the virtues of love, regardless of the way it presented itself to the person in question.
McCulloch plays a gentle song, embellishing the yearning that attaches itself to the number, and the song proved one of McCartney’s more accomplished ballads. It was the voice of ‘Yesterday’, now happier and more contented in himself, bringing great resonance to his life as a balladeer par excellent. And if you want to know this writer’s opinion, ‘Warm and Beautiful’ is an even finer ballad than ‘Yesterday’.
The album isn’t perfect: There are too many disco hooks, McCartney’s vocal on ‘She’s My Baby’ invokes the images of his inner-dad being levelled at the unsuspecting world, and drummer Joe English struggles to deliver a committed vocal on ‘Must Do Something About It.’ The production is definitely flat, and there’s a sense that the band could have done with a technical wizard a la Glyn Johns, to oversee the technical side of the album.
But the tunes are strong, and ‘Silly Love Songs is the fourth out and out classic heard on the record (‘Let ‘Em In’, ‘Warm and Beautiful’ and ‘Beware My Love’ are the other three). Deeply enjoyable, and bolstered by a melodic bass hook, the tune finds Paul McCartney on fine form, thrown into the middle of a brass-laden backdrop that cements his soaring, smitten vocal delivery.
He sounds spritely, as does Denny Laine, who mimics the chorus line as the tune reaches its exhilarating final third. In some ways, the tune’s central ambiguity helps to seal the conviction, because the famously garrulous bassist is lost for words when it comes to describing his loved one. He would find himself at a similar impasse in the Millenium when he wrote ‘Heather’, a jaunty instrumental that was heavy on spirit and low on vocabulary. Like Linda Eastman before her, Heather Mills held a great impression on the former Beatle.
Speed of Sound is the last time Wings played in such a fashion, as the following two albums flitted from low key to lo-fi. Wings would produce a better album (London Town), and a worse album (Back To The Egg), before calling it a day in 1981.
Stream the album on Spotify below.