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Despite the plethora of personal and financial problems The Beatles faced in the twilight of their years together, creativity was never an issue. Paul McCartney, the de-facto leader of the group after the 1966 death of manager Brian Epstein, did his best to steer The Beatles into interesting and creative ventures in the face of growing apathy amongst the other three members. Ultimately this would prove to be the key factor in their demise as George, John, and Ringo would all turn their backs to both Paul’s demands and the idea of being in The Beatles throughout the band’s final two years. However, despite constantly insisting that they would leave (and, at times, they did physically leave), they never fully let the idea of The Beatles die and the group continued to exist in theory.
In the end, it was Paul–the most unlikely of the four–to fully and finally dissolve The Beatles via an interview that was provided with each copy of his debut solo album, McCartney. It’s been documented that Paul would lose sleep over the problems The Beatles faced. After all, he barely knew life outside of the band; the dissolution of the band’s tight-knit friendship was incredibly taxing. However, the hard times had yet to end for Paul. Faced with steep competition in the form of George’s “All Things Must Pass” and John’s “Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine”, McCartney’s first trio of post-Beatles albums were unfairly met with damning reviews from both critics and his ex-band mates. It wasn’t until the formation of Wings with his wife Linda and the back-to-back releases of “Red Rose Speedway” and “Band on the Run” that Paul began to regain the type of critical and commercial success he was once familiar with. By 1975, he was clutching a handful of British and American #1 albums and touring arenas around the world under the hugely successful Wings Over The World tour.
It’s very clear that The Beatles’ lack of touring post-1966 gave McCartney a seemingly unquenchable thirst for it. After all, it was his initial proposal to play live dates around Let It Be’s release. While proving to be an unfruitful idea amongst his Beatles colleagues, McCartney quickly took advantage of his newfound, post-Beatles freedom and immediately began to tour with Wings. They finally made their way to North America in the spring of 1976.
Wings Over America documents the American leg of that tour. McCartney’s first tour in America since The Beatles ill-fated 1966 tour was seen by over one million people and established him as a premiere touring machine (a title he has yet to give up). And while Wings had always been up-and-down with their releases, they had more than enough great tunes to pack this twenty-eight track, two-disc/triple-vinyl set. Simultaneously released with Rockshow, the visual document of the Wings Over America tour, this live album is a testament to their live prowess.
Immediately out of the gate, the duo of “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” and “Jet” crackle with unbridled energy. McCartney made it somewhat of a point to abandon the lush arrangements found in his late Beatles and early solo material for these tunes, instead opting to replace it with pure energy and rock. “Let Me Roll It” ups the ante with Zeppelin-esque blues riffs and howling vocals.
Just like that, all momentum is lost by the lesser combination of “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” and “Medicine Jar”. McCartney was quick to make the point that Wings was a collaborative effort between the various band members so Denny Laine, formerly of the Moody Blues, and Jimmy McCulloch lead these two tracks to nowhere in particular. As previously mentioned, Wings were never the most consistent band and these two tracks in stand out; they’re not bad songs, per say, but they simply cannot stand up against a parade of McCartney’s greatest hits.
And what a parade it is. I’ll save myself the trouble of describing these fantastic songs because you surely know them already: “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “Lady Madonna”, “The Long and Winding Road” and “Live and Let Die”. A following acoustic set features “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, “Blackbird”, and “Yesterday”. I don’t need to extoll the virtues of these songs as they’re some of the most familiar and well-played songs in the history of pop music.
However, disc two, the all Wings set (aside from one fantastic Denny Laine sung Moody Blues number), is the real highlight of this album. As a whole, Wings were (and still are) a criminally underrated band. They really did fit in quite nicely with other arena-filling stadium acts of the 70s, but perennially stood out because of McCartney’s keen sense of melody and fun. Wings Over America could act as a greatest hits, but it is surely missing out on some key Wings tracks (“Junior’s Farm”, “Mrs. Vandebilt”, and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” are some glaring and obvious omissions).
“You Gave Me The Answer” and “Magneto and Titanium Man”, two songs from the then just released Venus and Mars, offer up two unique sides of McCartney’s songwriting prowess. The former a short and concise, fun little pop song in the style of “Martha My Dear” and “When I’m Sixty-Four”, the latter a Wurlitzer driven arena rocker with McCartney playfully teasing out the song’s hook. “My Love”, one of McCartney’s many songs dedicated to Linda and one of his first major post-Beatles hits, slows the set down with its slow-burning melody and is perhaps the definitive cut from the album.
“Listen To What The Man Said”, one of Wing’s biggest singles at the time, glistens and boogies around the arena while “Silly Love Songs” is a laugh as grooves along to a horn section that plays the song’s brilliant post-chorus hook. However, the pop moments don’t last for too long as the album is backloaded with all of McCartney’s rocking tunes. The duo of “Beware My Love” and “Letting Go” close the main set with dramatic, bluesy guitar solos and yearning vocals.
One of the biggest highlight is, of course, “Band on the Run”, one of McCartney’s best tunes and Wings’ most well-known song. An absolutely blistering performance of “Hi Hi Hi” follows while the entire set is curiously closed by the then unreleased “Soily”. Dating back to Wings’ first performances in 1972, the song is a rollicking and unexpected ending.
The end result is a fantastic live album, capturing McCartney and Wings at their finest while offering out definitive versions of some of these songs; “Listen to What the Main Said” and “Hi Hi Hi” definitely benefit from Wings’ rough and ready live approach. It should be noted that, much like many official releases, this album has its fair share of overdubs in order to cover up any imperfections, but the album definitely forgoes any additional studio sheen and polish in order to fully capture the live experience.
Wings Over America was reissued in a number of different combinations ranging from a two-disc release to a massive box set containing a good amount of Wings memorabilia and a DVD release of the television special “Wings Over The World”. The actual remastering of the album is pretty good: A quick comparison with the original 1984 Columbia release reveals the remaster to be clearer without a massive increase in volume (always a problem with modern remasters).
While Wings Over America is a must have for any McCartney/Wings fanatics, it isn’t entirely necessary for the average listener, especially with the forty track Wingspan compilation still in print. For a listener new to Wings and McCartney’s solo work, Wings Over America simply does not have enough range (the exclusion of songs from RAM in the setlist is understandable, but disappointing). However, one gets the feeling that, unlike the last few McCartney remasters, that this is aimed squarely at the fans who were there (or at least wish they were there). In that context, Wings Over America is a must have.
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