Paul McCartney – Part One of Two: Before Wings [Part Two follows immediately.]

Paul McCartney is a man who is known world-wide and whose success with the Beatles is legendary by now. His collaborations with John Lennon during the 1960s remain unmatched in the history of rock music – and, indeed, changed the face of rock music – and in their freshness and ambition presaged the entire category of progressive rock.

McCartney was born June 18, 1942, in Liverpool. Fifteen years later he met John Lennon, and they became members of The Quarry Men.   George Harrison subsequently joined The Quarry Men, but the band broke up in November, 1959, and the following year John, Paul and George joined with Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best to form Long John and The Silver Beatles. Within weeks they’d shortened the name to just the Beatles. The following ten years – the whole of the ’60s – belonged to the Beatles.

On April 11, 1970, McCartney announced that he would no longer record with Lennon, and launched for himself a solo career. Soon thereafter he released his first solo album, McCartney (Apple STAO 3363 in the U.S.; Apple PCS 7102 in the U.K.), which was homemade and described as “unfinished,” although it did include one of his better pieces, “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  

However, diehard McCartney collectors will want his previous album, The Family Way, a soundtrack album from the movie of the same name, released in the mid-1960s, which credits George Martin (“the fifth Beatle”) with orchestrations, supervision and arrangements of “music by Paul McCartney” (London MS 82007 in stereo, M 76007 in mono). It was so minor an effort that it does not appear in most of his discographies.

Because of the breakup of the Beatles, and fans’ eagerness for anything by him at that point, McCartney climbed to the top of the American charts, and was held back to the No. 2 position in Britain only by Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. The punters preferred his first solo single, “Another Day” (b/w “Oh Woman, Oh Why”), which did not appear on the album. 

In 1971 McCartney released a much more ambitious album and the one his fans had been hoping for, Ram (U.S. SMAS-3375; U.K. DAS 10003). This was recorded in New York and is full of subtle and delightful production touches, including little snippets between the tracks. The album made it to No. 2 in the American charts and climbed to No. 1 in Britain. It was to be the last album of its type – and the closest to the late-1960s Beatles – that McCartney made.

McCartney can be a prankster at times, deliberately releasing albums under another name, like his 1993 album, Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (Capitol CDP 7243 8 27167 2 3), released as by “The Fireman.” In 1971 he recorded an orchestral version of Ram, called Thrillington, as “Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington.”  

It was not released until 1977, when it slipped out in the U.S. as a Capitol/EMI album (ST-11642) and in the U.K. on Emi’s Regal Zonophone label (EMC 3175). There were clues on the album cover: the front cover shows a violinist with a horned ram’s head, playing from music identified as “Ram.”   The back cover (another realistically rendered painting) shows the ram-headed man conducting an orchestra while a shadowy figure in the control room looks on.   The face reflected in the control room window is McCartney’s.   Additionally, McCartney’s “MPL” corporate logo is on the bottom.

The joke was too subtle and the album and a single, “Eat At Home” b/w “Uncle Albert, Admiral Halsey,” disappeared quickly with little trace. Both the LP and the 45 are now considered very rare. (In 1995 the album was issued on CD by Regal Zonophone, 7234 8321 4525, but only in Britain. The CD, available only as an import, is now also becoming rare.)

Posters and press kits from 1970 and 1971 are extremely difficult to find and consequently have no prices assigned to them by collectors’ guides. If you have one, you can undoubtedly name your own price. If you don’t, you probably never will.   Beware: due to McCartney’s world-wide popularity, there are counterfeits out there.

Paul McCartney’s Wings – Part Two of Two

Paul McCartney is a man who is known world-wide and whose success with the Beatles is legendary by now. But by the end of the 1970s McCartney had a new generation of fans who knew him not as a former Beatle, but as the leader of Wings.

McCartney formed Wings in late 1971. The drummer was Denny Seiwell, who had worked on Ram with McCartney, and Denny Laine was brought in on guitar from the Moody Blues. Linda McCartney played the keyboards (relatively simple parts which she’d been taught by Paul) and McCartney handled the bass. (McCartney was by then one of the finest bassists in rock, although this role was overshadowed by his singing and work as the band leader.)

The band rehearsed at the McCartney farm in Campbelltown, Scotland, and quickly made Wild Life (in the U.S. Apple SW 3386; in the U.K. Apple PCS 7142) for release in December, 1971. It was a simple album, and was not well-received, critically, but it had a certain charm. Wings’ first single was the 1972 “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” b/w an instrumental version of the same song (Apple R 5936) – a bitter reaction to the Troubles in Ireland which was banned by the BBC as “inflammatory” but still made it to top 20 in Britain and to No. 21 in America.   Although politically strong, it was musically weak. Guitarist and vocalist Henry McCullough, who had previously played with Joe Cocker, was added to the group for this single, making Wings a quintet. He remained through the second album. Wings’ second single was “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (R 5949) which McCartney recorded for his daughter. Despite its musical inanity, it went to No. 9 in Britain and No. 28 in America.   Neither single was ever included on an album.

Wings’ second album was Red Rose Speedway (U.S.: Apple SMAL-3409; U.K.: Apple PCTC 252), released in 1973. By now the marketing heads had prevailed and the album was stickered as by “Paul McCartney and Wings,” but it was a weak album nonetheless. It was clear that McCartney was not going to continue where he’d left off with the Beatles, but his new direction was not obvious.

At this point George Martin asked McCartney to write the title song for the latest James Bond movie, Live and Let Die. This was released as a single, backed by “I Lie Around” (Apple R 5987) on which Denny Laine provided the lead vocals. The A-side was also used on the soundtrack album, Live and Let Die (United Artists UA-LG 100-G), which had a musical score by George Martin.

Before Wings could record its next album McCullough and Seiwell left the band for separate reasons, leaving it a trio. Although not specified, it’s likely McCartney drummed on Band on the Run (U.S.: Apple SO 3415; U.K.: PAS 10007) as well as playing bass. The album was released in late 1973. Much of the album was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, and – rather surprisingly – it was Wings’ strongest album yet. It went to the top of the album charts in both America and Britain, and stayed in the British charts for 73 weeks. Collectors note: The American version of the album is different from the British version – it includes the previously released single, “Helen Wheels.” Additionally, this album came with a poster of Linda McCartney’s Polaroid snapshots (Linda was a professional photographer when she met Paul), and albums which still contain this poster are of significantly more value than those which don’t.

Wings were now hitting their stride. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (formerly in Thunderclap Newman and Stone the Crows) and drummer Geoff Britton (East of Eden) joined the band. Britton stayed only for the recording of a couple of singles in Nashville, “Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G,” and was replaced by the American drummer, Joe English. That band recorded Venus and Mars (U.S.: Capitol SMAS 11419; U.K.: Capitol PCTC 254), which went to the top of the album charts in 1975, in both America and Britain, and spawned several singles which got considerable airplay. The album was originally released with two posters and a narrow bookmark-like sticker (with backing) of the comparative sizes of the sun and the planets of our solar system, and is much more valuable with them.   Press kits for these releases are now worth $50 to $75.

In early 1976 Wings (no longer “Paul McCartney and Wings”) released Wings at the Speed of Sound (U.S.: Capitol SW 11525; U.K.: Capitol PAS 10016), and embarked on a major world tour, playing stadiums and other large venues. For many, it was their first chance to see McCartney live since the Beatles had stopped giving concerts ten years earlier, and audiences were packed and enthusiastic.  

Late in 1976 Capitol released a triple-LP live album from the American portion of the tour, Wings Over America (U.S.: Capitol SWCO 11593; U.K.: Capitol PCSP 720). It included most of Wings’ best-known songs, plus performances of five Beatles songs McCartney had written (or co-written).   It too had a poster (in the fourth pocket of the jacket) which increases the value of the album. The album went to No. 1 in America and No. 8 in Britain.

Wings released three more albums, but they were anticlimactic in effect. London Town (1978) (Capitol SW 11777) and Wings Greatest (1978) (Capitol SOO 11905) both had posters; the latter is a “greatest hits” album which fudges by including tracks from McCartney’s first two solo albums, but includes (on album for the first time) the singles “Junior’s Farm” and “Hi, Hi, Hi.”

Back to the Egg (1979) took Wings to the Columbia label (36057) and was the band’s final album. Columbia also released the 12-inch “Disco Single” of “Daytime Nightime Suffering” b/w “Goodnight Tonight” (non-album tracks) (23-10940) in 1979, and this is relatively rare (it comes in a blank white cover with a circular hole in the center which reveals the label, as was common with 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm singles then).

Since then McCartney has enjoyed a solo career. (29638 bytes)