Paul McCartney was in need of a major boost in 1973. Ever since the press release for his debut solo album McCartney was interpreted as a breakup of The Beatles, McCartney had taken a beating from critics over his subsequent solo efforts. McCartney and Ram were met with negative reviews, and even his attempt to kickstart a new band, Wings, didn’t improve his standing.
Despite the negative critical reviews, McCartney had managed to land two number-one singles in the United States: ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ with his wife Linda and ‘My Love’ with Wings. Audiences were still interesting in hearing the music that McCartney was making, and it seemed as though Wings were finally starting to find their groove after Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway. Then, just as the band were set to fly out to Nigeria to record their third LP, guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell left the band.
Reduced to the trio of Paul and Linda McCartney plus ex-Moody Blues singer Denny Laine, Wings carried on with McCartney taking on most of the instrumental duties in the studio. The scenario reminded McCartney of an offhand comment George Harrison made during one of the business meetings that were deteriorating The Beatles at the end of the 1960s.
“It started off with ‘If I ever get out of here.’ That came from a remark George made at one of the Apple meetings,” recalled McCartney. “He was saying that we were all prisoners in some way, some kind of remark like that. ‘If we ever get out of here,’ the prison bit, and I thought that would be a nice way to start an album. A million reasons, really. I can never lay them all down. It’s a million things; I don’t like to analyse them, all put together. Band on the run – escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it; it’s there.”
Wings arrived in Lagos to find the EMI outpost studio in disrepair. McCartney and Laine were the only musicians on the basic tracks, often with McCartney on drums and Laine playing guitar. Just as they had recorded an adequate demo, the McCartneys were robbed at knifepoint while taking a walk one night. With their only material possessions being the demo tapes, the trio had to start from scratch once the assailants made off with the original version of ‘Band on the Run’.
The band had to recall all three sections of the song, from the gentle intro to the hard-rocking middle section to the triumphant finale. On top of the robbery, McCartney’s multiple run-ins with with the law for drug offenses also wound up inspiring some of the lyrics of the final version of ‘Band on the Run’. “We were being outlawed for pot … And our argument on [‘Band on the Run’] was ‘Don’t put us on the wrong side … We’re not criminals, we don’t want to be. So I just made up a story about people breaking out of prison.'”
When the song was finished, it became clear that Wings had a potential hit on their hands. However, McCartney had previously had a medley single with ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ and didn’t want to repeat himself. In fact, he hoped that there would be no singles at all from the Band on the Run album. Whether he didn’t want to dilute the full album or he was weary of the critical bashing that previous singles like ‘My Love’ and ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ got, McCartney was eventually convinced to put out ‘Jet’ as a single.
With the success of both the ‘Jet’ single and the Band on the Run album, McCartney was undergoing a resurgence that he desperately needed. Commerical success was never far away, but McCartney had finally won back the critical adulation that had eluded him for years. Now it was time to strike while the iron was hot, which meant releasing ‘Band on the Run’ as a single.
When ‘Band on the Run’ hit number one in America, it was validation for McCartney. He was back and bigger than ever, even if his previous drug charges was still making it difficult to tour outside of the UK. Eventually, McCartney would embark on the ‘Wings Across the World’ tour in 1976, finally bringing the majesty of ‘Band on the Run’ to audiences across the globe for the first time. It remains a staple of McCartney’s live shows and continues to epitomise McCartney’s singular talent for arranging and songwriting.