Of the classic-era of Wings albums, Venus And Mars is the most well rounded and complete, a record that’s not as instantly infectious as Wings at The Speed of Sound yet winds up making a greater impression by virtue of its balladic output. It isn’t that Paul McCartney isn’t necessarily interested in the chorus oriented material, as it’s more that the rockers provide context to the love songs, of which ‘Love In Song’ is the most impactful. Arriving after the spirited, albeit stadium-oriented, ‘Rockshow’, the pastoral ballad comes as a bit of a surprise, as the orchestral flourishes wash over the vocals, with the power and passion of a tidal wave coming over its favourite surfer.
Venus and Mars is quintessentially 1970s in tone and feel, yet it never falters- instead, it floats urgently to its intended destination. Key to this change of pace is Jimmy McCulloch, all jagged riffs and sparky enthusiasm, bringing passion and youth to the proceedings. He sounds energised, particularly on the propulsive ‘Call Me Back Again’, a turbocharged rocker laced with gumption, guitars and brass.
Behind him sits Joe English, an animated, American drummer who flits in and out of the work, pulling it all together under one tidy banner. For an album that is so clearly McCartney’s, English’s percussion can be heard loudly, filling in the air holes that permeate in ‘Spirits of Ancient Egypt’, a jaunty tune ably sung by bassist Denny Laine. Elsewhere, Laine’s backing vocals demonstrate a mood-shaping backdrop, leaving Paul and Linda McCartney the chance to sing the more indelible melodies.
The harmony vocals give the album, on occasion, intensity and depth, but that’s not to say the album is a difficult one to listen to. ‘Magneto and Titanium Man’ stemmed from the former Beatle’s fascination with superhero comics, and the result – complete with a galloping bass in the middle – aims to bridge the gap between the more childlike and the angular aspects of Wings work.
The tune also makes the album more accessible for more conservative listeners to engage with, whereas those searching for something more licentious could do far worse than ‘Letting Go’, a creamy sounding rocker that puts the emphasis on the smouldering vocal line. McCulloch sings ‘Medicine Jar’, and does so quite well, bolstered by English’s cymbals and McCartney’s helium backing vocal. The tune thunders along, making it a shoo-in for their live set, as the band grew more and more confident in their abilities to create a song set that was as powerful onstage as it was on record.
Wings were tighter than The Beatles, and in every iteration, Paul McCartney’s holistic vision rang true, pieced together by the strength of character and brute will. Everything the band did rest on their ambition, their swagger and their polish. The band had created three albums under one version of Wings, and following the departure of bandmates Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell, McCartney felt satisfied with their efforts to transform the burgeoning act into a stadium outfit.
The band played stadiums, competing with Led Zeppelin in an effort to capture the heard of the American people. Their culture was beginning to seep into McCartney’s work, and the shimmering ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ proved as welcoming, and as wise, as many of the gospel tinted tracks that were parading the radios at that moment in their history.
The album proved harder to replicate, and wisely McCartney changed direction for London Town, to create an album that was more intimate, intuitive and English in its outreach. By that point, McCulloch had left the band, although he did play the guitar on ‘Mull of Kintyre’, an Autumnal ballad soaked in his native Scotland’s influence. McCartney was bringing some of the more Irish elements of his life’s work, celebrating his mother’s homeland with a selection of impressive sound paintings. Yet it lacked the groove, the style or general sense of bonhomie of Venus And Mars. For their bandleader, Wings’ fourth album came naturally, and indeed, quickly to him.
“It’s really a total fluke. I was just sitting down and started singing ANYTHING and some words came out,” he recalled. “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. 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 & 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.”
Stream Venus And Mars on Spotify below.