Wings had proven their ability to rock in front of a paying audience in 1972, but now they were hungry to bring that edge to vinyl. And there was no shortage of material, as Paul McCartney – the band’s musical director and lead singer – was overflowing with ideas, having pieced together an album that was equal parts vibrancy and whimsy, making it the most impressive Wings recorded.
Of course, the general public didn’t get to hear that album, as McCartney opted for the safer route, downsizing a double LP into a more compact album, robbing the record of much of its edge. Guitarist Henry McCullough was deeply upset by the decision, feeling that it bore much in common with the Irish showbands he had long wanted to escape from. By the time Wings readied themselves to record Band On The Run, McCullough had left the orbit, drummer Denny Seiwell hot on his tails, leading McCartney to record the album almost entirely alone.
And although the record was brilliant – it is definitely deserving of the critical notices that it has notched over the years – McCartney’s cachet could well have been very different if he had chosen the original route, and released the unvarnished version of Red Rose Speedway, which showcased some of McCullough’s wildest guitar hooks and backing vocals. Indeed, ‘Night Out’ stands as one of the most energetic rock numbers in the band canon, laying the groundwork for Roger Moore monster ‘Live and Let Die’.
‘Night Out’ had its foot in metal, while ‘The Mess’ (recorded live onstage), tipped its hat at the punk records that were waiting around the corner. But McCullough was capable of performing with great soul, as was evident from his county style workouts on ‘One More Kiss’ and ‘I Would Only Smile’ (the latter penned by bassist Denny Laine). Paul McCartney was happy to let others contribute to the material, which is why ‘Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)’ sounded so vast and dense, all five people chipping into the track, giving texture to the sound painting.
McCartney’s wife, Linda, tackled the vocals on the jaunty ‘Seaside Woman’, a piece that furthered the band’s interest in reggae after the trippy ‘Love Is Strange’, which was heard on Wild Life. Scintillatingly produced and mixed with great interest in the playful drums chiming away in the backdrop, the song was later re-packaged as Suzy and The Red Stripes in 1977.
Many of the tunes that were discarded from the official Red Rose Speedway album made their way to the public, although why McCartney decided to keep ‘Mama’s Little Girl’ to himself is a mystery, especially since the hackneyed ‘Big Barn Bed’ was chosen to up the album in its place. But if Red Rose Speedway could claim a masterpiece, in both iterations, it was ‘My Love’, a polished piano painting that showed the erstwhile Beatle abandoning his ties to the band of the 1960s for the arms and heart of a woman who bore him a family.
McCartney’s credentials were dipping, and although ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ brought him the notoriety that was nominally John Lennon‘s domain, he was being pencilled as a soft melodist, an attribute dippy ballads like ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ did little to dispel. It’s an even greater pity that he didn’t have the courage of his convictions to release Red Rose Speedway as a double effort, precisely because it was so raw and rollicking, and diverse in its outlook. His bandmates were certainly disappointed by the outcome.
“That was EMI’s decision,” Seiwell admitted to CultureSonar in 2019. “I think they might have thought we were too new a band for a double album. Paul called us and told us of EMI’s decision, so we thought let’s make a single album and sequence it as well as we can. The other stuff we can release at another time. I remember recording ‘Mama’s Little Girl’ in Olympic Studios with Glyn Johns. There were African drums. There’s a lot of great material from that period.”
“I thought Red Rose Speedway was good as a double album,” concurred Denny Laine, “So when it came out as a single album, I didn’t like it as much as Ram“.
McCullough was probably the most disappointed by the outcome. The greatest pity regarding the official release of Red Rose Speedway was its decision to highlight Paul McCartney alone. He was the only one to grace the cover, he was the only one to sing any of the numbers heard on the 1973 release, and in a move that was designed to hurt his bandmates, even more, his name appeared above Wings on the promotional materials. It’s ironic that Band On The Run should sound like a group effort when a bonafide group effort sounded little more than a mushy solo album.