Wings, a group hailed by radio broadcaster Alan Partridge as “the band The Beatles could have been”, have been the object of fun for a long time now. For whatever reason, they’ve been in the bad books of critics for decades and have divided music fans for just as long.
In a way, I can’t blame people for feeling a little nervous about approaching their catalogue. The uninitiated should be prepared for a hefty dose of undiluted Paul McCartney mixed with a potent sprinkling of 1970s cheese. Having said that, there’s plenty to enjoy about Wings. The group’s LPs are full of hidden gems, and none more so than their fourth studio album Venus And Mars.
Released in 1975 and marking McCartney’s first non-Beatles release on Capitol Records, Venus And Mars is a perplexing record; a cabinet of curiosities linked by a selection of otherworldly synths, sentimental lyrics, and jangly 12-string guitar lines. McCartney decided to engineer the tracklist in such a way that songs flowed into one another, a trick he’d picked up whilst recording Abbey Road with The Beatles. Indeed, Venus And Furs’ captures the same transcendental, pastoral ambience contained within that legendary Beatles record, brimming with eastern-scales played on resonant sitars and soaring electric guitars in the vein of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’. But where Abbey Road looked inward, Venus And Mars – as the title suggests – looks up to the stars, conveying a sense of optimism that could only have emerged from Paul McCartney.
Speaking in an interview after the album’s release, Paul described how the title track from Venus And Mars was written almost entirely by accident. “It’s really a total fluke,” he began. “I was just sitting down and started singing ANYTHING and some words came out. And I got this whole idea… well, the bit on the second side came first.. and I got this idea about a fellow sitting in a cathedral waiting for this transport from space that was going to pick him up and take him on a trip.”
Adding: “The guy is a bit blotto and he starts thinking about ‘a good friend of mine studies the stars, Venus and Mars are all right tonight.’ And the next bit was ‘your ruling star is in ascendancy today,’ but ‘Venus and Mars are all right’ was better, it flipped off the tongue. I thought, well I know Venus and Mars are planets so I can’t go wrong there.”
The track is fleeting, but certainly one of the highlights of the record. It seems to disappear almost as quickly as it arrives; a flash of light in the night sky. The flute-like synth line played by Paul is space-age in its artificiality but almost pastoral in its melody, imbuing the track with a hazy warmth, as though McCartney is performing it from inside a cosy space capsule millions of miles from earth.
The song’s association with space travel convinced the British soprano Sarah Brightman – who was preparing for a trip into the stratosphere at the time – to record a cover of ‘Venus And Mars’, which featured on her 2013 album Dreamchaser. She later cancelled the voyage, but not before she was asked about her decision to perform the cover: “You’re either a Beatles fan or a Stones fan, and I was definitely a Beatles fan,” she began.
“When you think about the space area, there is a very playful romantic area within it, when we think about. I wanted a piece that took up this area, and I thought that ‘Venus and Mars’ very much did. There’s something fun about it, something a bit tongue-in-cheek about it, and it just felt right.”