Album Review: Wings At The Speed Of Sound By Wings
With half of the Wings world tour already done, the band decided to take a break and record their follow up to Venus And Mars . McCartney spurred on by the youthful enthusiasm for Jimmy McCulloch's "Medecine Jar", decided to give all the band members a stab at the lead vocals on this album.
This idea was nothing new and it stemmed from McCartney's days with the Beatles where he and John Lennon would write songs for the other two to sing. Usually, it would be songs that could not fit either of their persona or maybe even slightly second rate for them to consider singing (ie George Harrison singing "Do You Want To Know A Secret, or Ringo singing "Yellow Submarine"). The result here is that McCartney allowed an individuality aspect of the group to come out and shine. It would help endear Wings as a group to a new generation of younger fans.
Let Em In
If Paul McCartney ever decided to teach a course on writing a pop song, this track would be a master tool in achieving the lesson plan. Starting off with a door bell, (Joe English had given McCartney a door bell as a present), Wings lead off its fifth album with a brilliant song.
The track is anchored by its simple piano playing most notably two chord variations that almost seem mundane. McCartney must have had America bi-centennial celebrations at the back of his mind when he would be touring there - for he put in marching snares and miltary flutes. All this combined with great "old man blues" singing, excellent backing vocals, and great brass back up and trombone solo, results in the track actually being a tight cohesive sound.
Of all the highlights of this track, one cannot understate the power of Joe English's drumming. Like McCartney's melody, English drums very simply and economically. His drum sound is so crisp and clear that it unintentionally stands out. "Let Em In" is further proof that McCartney had finally found his genius in writing an unforgettable musical hook. For some reason, the track conjures up an Eleanor Rigby rainy British afternoon without the heavy lyrics. Even the fade was genius fooling us into its finality only to come back full volume to pronounce the last chord.
The Note You Never Wrote
Much like "Junk" from McCartney , this track has incredible sad, reflective textures that beg for an equally deep marriage of lyrics. Sung beautifully by Denny Laine, the real shame here is that the lyrics are so disjointed. What does the mayor of Baltimore have to do with a note, or being arrested on the shore? Sadly, the lyrics are a distraction of the music that was pulled off here. Jimmy McCulloch rips an achingly beautiful guitar solo. McCartney's bass used very sparingly here, jumps in, giving the track a surprise injection of dynamic feel. Lovingly dressed in a warm Fender Rhodes, "The Note You Never Wrote" was more destined to be "The Lyrics You Should Have Wrote". In 1976, there were many prevalent subject themes that could have been explored with this music. Unfortunately, McCartney as he frequently does, choses to take the light road and in doing so junked a track that was worthy of so much more.
She's My Baby
From the swirling depths of "The Note You Never Wrote", we come back down to McCartney reality where he presents us "Silly Love Songs" junior. Great bass playing working off another solid drum effort by Joe English, the track is almost disco pop. Jimmy McCulloch also does some nice rythmic guitar sounds plus sporadic nice light soloing to accentuate McCartney's vocals. The instrument interaction here is just plain fun. The track is glued together again by a fender rhodes this time with more stereophonic tremolo. The track fades into a wandering synth that ultimately brings us to:
Beware My Love
A lost McCartney gem, this track starts off with an acoustic lick and features one of the better Paul/Linda harmonies. McCartney starts off the rock portion almost a little uncertain before he dives deep with his rock voice. There is a good buildup here with sliding guitars and the chorus really rocks with the bass and distorted wah-wah guitars. The excited anguish in McCartney's vocals makes the track stand out as does the obscure piano pounding rhythm. Another example of proof that Jimmy McCulloch could really rock when he put his mind to it. Unlike the previous solo albums, McCartney finally got around to having the vocals mixed properly as not to diminish the quality of the track's offerings.
Jimmy McCulloch takes command here writing and singing this bluesy song about what else - drugs. The track here whether intentionally or not, invokes the spirit of Jim Morrison who had died several years earlier. Sad to say that Jimmy followed Morrison not only musically but also by leaving this world the same way via drug overdose. It is too bad that "Wino Junko" failed to make the live performance listings, probably being vetoed by the ever public conscious McCartney as being too extreme. Musically the track here is very tight with great playing by the band and an almost subdued bass performance by McCartney which makes this all the more admirable. The use of the vocoder here was probably because at this time it was more of a novelty. Vocoders at this time were more prominent in funk tracks. In another three years, McCartney would revisit the vocoder to use it on his disco/flamenco song "Goodnight Tonight".
Silly Love Songs
Starting off with a C, Em, Fmaj7 chord progression, McCartney adds some industrial Frankenstein walking sound to the intro before launching into one of his most famous, innovative bass playing runs ever. The piano, drums, bass and vocals all work extremely well here. Add in some horns, disco era strings and voila - you have a number one hit and the most popular song in 1976. The stops and starts of the song make Silly Love Songs an enjoyable listen. A daring move in the song was the almost lengthy three part harmony between Paul, Linda, and Denny that calms the song down before parading on to its final conclusion.
Silly Love Songs has an endless amount of joy mixed with a few quiet moments which had contributed to its appeal. Ultimately, though it suffered from its own existence. It was overplayed and probably overstayed its welcome. It was a monstrous hit which proved McCartney lyrics to be quite correct. However by 1977, people truly had "had enough of Silly Love Songs".
Cook Of The House
Linda's contribution here is the light rock n roll "Cook Of The House". Paul plays a nice stand up bass here (possibly the one he owned that was used in Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel). The track is just okay. There is no real vocal faux pas here. The music is well done here but the track can only be considered for what it really is, a light slightly jokey tune. This was part of Paul McCartney's effort to give everyone in his group a chance to sing a song and that included his wife. Considered the weakest track on the album, the frying sounds at the beginning and the end probably did not help matters.
Time To Hide
After singing brilliantly on McCartney's "The Note You Never Wrote" on side one, Denny Laine returns on side two with his own "Time To Hide". A nice fade in with great guitar work from Jimmy McCulloch (again) and prominent bass playing from McCartney, Denny does a great John Lennon-style of vocals/harmonica combination. The live performance from Wings Over America has a more loose performance and is slightly superior to the recorded version here. The track here at times feels a little empty, maybe something was missing? However, "Time To Hide" was a very decent by Denny Laine and gave McCartney a break from the writing/singing duties. This track then pours right into:
Must Do Something About It
Originally a McCartney song with a McCartney vocal, the track was given over to Joe English who surprisingly exceeded everyone's expectations of him as a vocalist. Again the performances here were tight. Having heard the version with Paul's vocals, the decision to let Joe sing the lead on this was the right one. Too bad that Joe did not sing this live during the tour. Perhaps, he felt he could not deliver the soulful effect of his voice while drumming. However, McCartney is a more than capable of drumming and could have been up to the task. The track adds yet another dimension to Wings as a group.
San Ferry Anne
That three tracks had gone by on this album without a lead vocal from Paul McCartney is a surprise that could not be overstated. George Harrison made it clear that Paul would always do his best on tracks that were not his own but one had to do endless McCartney songs to get him to do one that wasn't his. "San Ferry Anne" has got that little McCartney charm, and as endearing as it is, probably much too short. It has a twenties swing to it with a flute straight out of a Jethro Tull album. It's over before you know it and that is another clue that although McCartney had a great idea to come up with the tune, he was not able or couldn't be bothered to properly finish it.
Warm And Beautiful
McCartney chose to close out the album with one of his better post-Beatles piano ballads. While the melody here is top-notch the arrangement is slightly too thin. Perhaps it is because his piano follows too closely to his vocal melody line, giving the lack of depth wanting from the track. By the second verse, more instrument is added. The guitar solo in the second verse sounds like it could have been played by George Harrison. "Warm and Beautiful" could have been the "Yesterday" of the seventies for McCartney had he slightly tweaked the arrangement and released it as a single. Sadly, like much of his solo material, McCartney was content to move on.
Despite some mixed criticism of the album upon its release, "Wings At The Speed Of Sound" is very well produced and a solid album effort not only from McCartney but from Wings as a group. Although it may be uneven in places, it does demonstrate exactly how tight Wings were as a unit which would carry over to their live performances. Only four of the eleven tracks were performed live on the world tour. That is a shame because there are a few more gems here that would have gone over well.
"Wings At The Speed Of Sound" represents the height of the group participation of Wings in the recording studio. Both Joe English and Jimmy McCulloch would leave the band in 1977, forcing McCartney to take back creative control in writing, singing and producing the remainder of the Wings projects. This album therefore is a surviving testament that McCartney did long for a vibrant group that could flourish with each of its individuals at the helm. Silly Love Songs ended up being Billboard's song of the year and went on to win a Grammy for McCartney. "Wings At The Speed Of Sound" finished third overall in the Billboard album charts of 1976. It would be a full two years for the next full Wings album which would culminate with London Town in 1978
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