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Music

Why Wings were a better band than The Beatles

The first thing you notice about Wings at The Speed of Sound is just how tight it sounds. Wings are not performing in different parts of the mixing desk like most other rock albums from the 1970s. The instruments are nested within a few inches of each other, and they continue performing in such proximity to each other for the rest of the album.

Jimmy McCulloch might overdub another guitar pattern on top of the other, Linda McCartney might add a second ghostly harmony to cement the trembling vocal line, and Denny Laine might flit from guitar to piano to percussion, but Paul McCartney remains locked in the centre of the mix at all times, anchoring the fiery performances from flowing into free-fall. For most of the album, Wings are focused on each other, invoking the raw excitement of a live gig in a way The Beatles never quite managed on any of their studio albums.

It was Paul McCartney who bravely took initiative in 1971 to form a touring act in 1971, having spent much of the 1960s quietly hoping that John Lennon and George Harrison would crave for the stage as he did. The band’s first album, Wild Life, served as a training vehicle for the group as they explored the grooves, gear-changes and pummeling riffs that proved the backbone of their material as the quartet (soon to be quintet) prepared themselves for a tour around England.

What you experience with Wings then is a band that combines melody and technical excellence with the pizzazz of 1950s rock and roll, a reminder that the live stage was infinitely more intimate than the wafts of reverb that saturated psychedelic records of the 1960s. But in one way, Wings at The Speed of Sound captures the band more impressively than a live recording ever could. What we get isn’t torrents of laughter and applause, but focus and swagger, as the band thrust themselves into the roar of ‘Beware my Love’. The instrumental excursions are punchy; the harmonies are richly organised, and then there’s never a fear that the band are pivoting into other territories, washing their listeners in a series of trembling instrumentals.

A consummate professional of the highest order, Paul McCartney was keenly aware that attention was the focus of the work, and to never take the attention of the group for granted. There’s something punk like about the work, assimilating influences as far wide as turbo-charged rock and urgently written ballads, determined to bridge the gap between the worldly concerns of his generation, and the frenzied freneticism of his age group. The album also boasts the bass-heavy ‘Silly Love Songs’, where the 12-bar blues riff isn’t king.

How The Beatles inspired Paul McCartney and Wings on ‘Band on the Run’

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‘The Note You Never Wrote’ offered listeners a more mediative exercise to seep into, while ‘Let ‘Em In’, wet with punch and passion, showcased the bassist’s predilection for whimsy and pop. When they felt brave enough to turn their setlist into a live set, the process of integrating these disparate ideas began taking form, be it a tumbling bass pattern, or a towering electric anthem a la ‘Let Me Roll It’, the band were primed for the stage, their soapbox of intent.

The band were never eager to perform to a market that was never going to hear their work in its desired setting, so the tunes were structured in such an angular way that they could be produced with great attention to detail, with no compromises or shortcuts taken.

In many ways, Wings were the ultimate live outfit, creating a new form of expression for a generation that demanded visuals from their entertainers, as opposed to the more cerebral performances spearheaded by Lennon and The Beatles. Rehearsals were the engine of the band, which is why Band On The Run sounds so well presented, precisely because it was painstakingly pieced together in Britain before the album was recorded in Lagos. When the band reproduced the work, as can be heard on the superb Wings over America, the songs were performed with familiarity, frisson and fusion.

In Linda McCartney, the band had a keyboardist who could act as visual representations for the band, plastering the stage with a tidy collection of finely tuned solos that were frivolous, and fiercely good fun to listen to.
Her influence was immense, which likely explains why her husband doesn’t wish to revive the name in her absence. Denny Laine leads a Wings offshoot with some of the former band members, complete with the blessing of his former boss. “Working with Wings members Denny Seiwell and Laurence Juber on a Wings review, which Paul McCartney is very happy for us to do might I add,” Laine revealed in 2018. “It wouldn’t be a tribute band. It would be our own thing.” And then he added: “I don’t like living in the past.” How very Wingsesque of him!

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