Book Review: Wingspan

Wingspan: Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run, by Paul McCartney, edited by Mark Lewisohn

Between 1970 and 1980, Paul McCartney’s second act after the Beatles ended up being time spent in another band that had eight lineups or so during the course of the decade around the core three members of Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine, formerly of the Moody Blues. Unlike the Beatles, Wings was a group with a clear dominant member in Paul McCartney, and it is little surprise that the text of this particular retrospective comes from interviews with Macca himself, which is not surprising at all because with the death of Linda he is one of only two members of the group that have been consistent throughout the history of Wings and by far the most significant one. This book has a lot of photographs and a fair amount of information that fans of the Wings will appreciate. The book is also told in a chronological fashion, which helps the reader to understand the tentative beginnings of the Wings in McCartney’s unwillingness to go entirely solo after the breakup of the Beatles. The result is a story that has been told in other books but is told well here as well in a somewhat basic but expressive form.

This book is a bit less than 200 pages long and it is divided into nine chapters. The book opens with an introduction by Paul McCartney himself on Wings and its history. After that comes a chapter that looks at the beginning of Wings in the context of the end of the Beatles (1), after which Paul McCartney first recorded an eponymous solo album and then began Ram in the search for backing musicians for his album Ram, recorded with his wife at their home in Scotland (2). After this the first fluttering of Wings took place as the band started to work together (3) and get its feet under it in initial touring at home and abroad (4). After this there is a chapter on the troubled Band on the Run sessions in Lagos where a rudimentary studio and some violent locals caused trouble (5), as well as a discussion of their first visit to the United States and the recording of a material in Nashville and New Orleans (6). This is followed by their successful Wings Over America tour, which became a very successful live album (7), after which the band ended up recording on boats as well as recording a pro-Scottish song that became one of the greatest-selling tracks in British chart history (8), after which an abortive Japanese tour led to the breakup of the band (9). This is then followed by a Wings discography, a look at the Wings touring during the 1970’s, as well as an index.

It is hard for contemporary listeners to understand just how big Wings was as a band, especially since the Beatles have remained in the popular memory and Paul McCartney as a solo artist similarly remains popular and relevant as an artist with occasional popular album releases and even the odd hit (see, for example, his successful collaborations with Kanye West only a few years ago). If Paul McCartney’s work during the 1970’s was not uniformly well-appreciated by critics, nor did it have anything remotely approaching a uniform lineup, it is still a body of work that on its own is still a remarkable body of work, and this book does a good job at pointing out that this body of work was well appreciated by audiences in both the United States as well as the UK and even in other places around the world where the group toured, for example, in Australia as well as mainland Europe. It is striking that although Paul McCartney enjoyed and wanted to tour that he continued to make albums at a rapid pace and that his touring and recording both were sometimes hindered by a certain adventuresome quality that got him in trouble, not least for his occasional use of marijuana even as he cultivated an image of Wings as a family friendly band that took their families with them on tour (not least because both Paul and Linda were in the band and didn’t want to leave their kids for weeks or months at a time while they gallivanted around the world on tour).

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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