Paul McCartney in 1971: Wings – Wild Life

What’s this all about?

I have a friend, Steve, who has never heard any of Paul McCartney’s solo and Wings LPs, except for, as he put it, the Frog Chorus, the one about no man’s land at Christmas, and Ebony and Ivory.

My job is therefore to share with him some of McCartney’s best songs, and we’ll then hear his reaction to what he hears. You can read previous thoughts from Steve in earlier articles by clicking this link.

Today Steve will be hearing songs from Wings’ debut LP “Wild Life” for the first time.

What Was Paul’s State Of Mind?

Thank you for asking. Let’s put it at “Still a Bit Cross With John, but back in Scotland wanting to get on with things, and basking in the glory of Ram having been successful with sales, if not with critics”

Let’s begin with what Steve Coogan AKA Alan Partridge so sarcastically described as the band The Beatles could have been: Wings.

Wings began as a question McCartney asked himself about what to do next.

“I actually saw Johnny Cash one night on television and he had a band, and he’d never had a band to my knowledge. I thought, “That looks like fun”.

An ex-Moody Blue, Denny Laine, held the answer. Laine had been managed by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, and the two had been on tour together in the sixties. Laine had recently written Colin Blunstone’s excellent single “Say You Don’t Mind”.

Paul called him about forming a band. While creating a supergroup was then fashionable, McCartney wanted to go the other way. He wanted to be in a band, but his only experience of that was The Beatles. In his words, “How do you start a band? You start with nothing and you just learn and improve. The idea was to get a bunch of mates together”.

Importantly, this included Linda. Laine said, “she was the one who got Paul off his ass. He would’ve sat up there in Scotland and just become a drunk. If she hadn’t got on his case, none of it would have ever happened. She was more than an important element. She was a necessity.”

Paul said “The hardest thing had to do with Linda, who was a complete amateur, but I thought “Well, so was George when he joined the group, so was I, so was John… In those days there weren’t many women in groups, so she was a sort of pioneer in that respect.”

Inspired by Bob Dylan going into a studio and knocking out new LP “New Morning” in five days, “it just seemed like an interesting idea to do a record quickly”.

Five of the eight songs recorded in a shed in Kintyre were nailed on their first take. Some people would argue that it sounded like it.

Paul was also stung by criticism his work was of little substance, unlike John’s. On the 30 January 1972, the events on Bloody Sunday – when 14 civilians were killed by British soldiers in Londonderry – moved Paul to write a protest song. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was the debut single by Wings, released in February 1972 and was promptly banned by the BBC. It may have been on the grounds of political partisanship, but may also have been because its simplistic approach meant it wasn’t a terribly good song. Still reached number one in Ireland though. And Spain.

After toying with band names including Turpentine and The Dazzlers (how amazing would that have been?), “Wings” became the name after Linda’s difficult birthing of their daughter Stella. McCartney found himself praying during the emergency c-section operation and an image of an angel’s wings came to him.

As if to attempt to recapture the early Beatles days, Paul went around universities in a van with his band and asked if they could play an impromptu gig, starting, in February 1972, at Nottingham University.

The social secretary of the students Union, Elaine Woodhams was the first to be approached. You can imagine how sceptical she must have been when people claiming to be with Paul McCartney asked her if they could play a show. As she cautiously went outside with them, she expected “all my mates would all be there laughing”. Instead, there was McCartney, his family and his two dogs in a van.

Now featuring Denny Siewell on drums, Wings was about to play their first ever gig, the first of over a dozen they played on their University Tour at 40p or 50p a ticket, before word got out and they knocked it on the head.

And as for the record, well, in truth, side one of Wild Life is fairly forgettable. The two openers are little more than under-developed jams, (even McCartney struggles to praise his own “Bip Bop”) there’s a reggae-style cover of “Love Is Strange” and an animal rights song in the title track – prompted by McCartney’s visit to a safari park where, as he describes in the song, he saw a quirky sign say “Animals have the right of way”.

Sadly that’s the most interesting thing in the song, which is as clunky, message-wise, as “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”. (Sample lyric: Wild Life / Whatever happened to / the animals in the zoo). Thus far, if you were a rabid Beatles fan in 1971, you can see why you might have been underwhelmed by the new songs on offer by the band.

But side two is much better. There is “Dear Friend” the writing of which preceded John’s fiery remarks on “How Do You Sleep” but helped to smooth the waters subsequently.

In Paul’s words:

“Dear Friend” was written about John, yes. I don’t like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. “

“So after John had slagged me off in public I had to think of a response, and it was either going to be to slag him off in public — and some instinct stopped me, which I’m really glad about — or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote “Dear Friend”, saying, in effect, let’s lay the guns down, let’s hang up our boxing gloves.”

“On the one hand I’m thinking ‘Oh, f—- off you f—-ing idiot’, but on the other hand … He’d gone through a lot, his dad disappeared, then he lost his Uncle George, who was a father figure; his mother; Stuart Sutcliffe, Brian Epstein, another father figure; and now his band.”

“Some People Never Know” is there too, which sounds like a love letter to Linda, and perhaps a rebuke to John, and “Tomorrow” is another highlight – a terrific pop song, and if such a thing exists, a quality, slightly deeper McCartney cut.

What the Critics thought then:

Richard Green in the NME quite liked it: “a good, solid album and one that should draw forth favourable criticism from even the most biased quarters.”

Elsewhere, however, Mr Green’s optimism was laid to waste. Reviews for “Wild Life” were, if anything, even worse than those for Ram. And they called Ram, let’s not forget, “cutesy-pie, florid attempts at pure rock Muzak”.

Of Wild Life, Rolling Stone wondered whether it was “deliberately second rate”.

Another NME writer thought Paul’s songwriting was at a “absolute nadir”, a full album after Rolling Stone had concluded the same thing.

Even The Beatles Illustrated History by Roy Carr and Tony Tyler called it “rushed, defensive, badly timed, and over-publicized”.

What the critics think now:

In a review of the reissue of Wild Life, Record Collector called it “a raw, brilliantly sloppy and human album that sounds a lot like freedom.”

It sounds amazing. I think. Where can I find this album?

Wild Life is probably the least common Wings album to find in a second hand record shop and tends to (marginally) be the most expensive. It has a nice yellow inner sleeve, for what it’s worth, and you should be able to pick up a decent copy for around £15.

In case you needed to see that lovely yellow inner sleeve. Quality content right here.

Never mind the Critics and record collectors, what does your mate Steve think about the songs?

I played the single “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” first, but Steve could hardly bring himself to comment. He only perked up a little when listening to the album.

“Bip Bop” merely confirmed Steve’s worst suspicions. He looked at me scathingly.

“It’s like someone calls out “Paul! We have ten minutes studio time, can you knock something out?”

Okay, hard to defend “Bip Bop” for its lyrical content. Even McCartney didn’t try.

Moving to more solid ground, we listened to “Dear Friend”, that song about John Lennon. Steve nodded approvingly.

“This is when he sounds alright” he confirmed.

Gushing.

“Some People Never Know” was up next, and failed to move Steve, but “Tomorrow” went down better, although Steve still had reservations.

“Tomorrow and Sorrow? That’s good!” There definitely appeared to be some sarcasm in these words.

Steve returned to his accusation of lyrical sloppiness

“This is what he does! It’s a word he thought of and he just found things to rhyme with it”

Steve began to play the part of Paul in a domestic scene in the McCartney household,

“Linda! I want seventeen words that rhyme with “bottle”. I’m going to write a song…”

I began to defend McCartney again. “But there are plenty of good songs that may not have the greatest lyrics…”

“Would I go to Alexa and play it?”

Steve left the question hanging. I think I could guess what his answer would be.

So there we have it. Steve liked “Dear Friend”, but could barely bring himself to listen to “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”. If I was a betting man, I would say he won’t be troubling his smart speaker with too many requests to play it. Overall a bit mixed.

But we are nothing if not resilient. We shall never surrender! Next time, Steve will listen to “Red Rose Speedway”, so thoughts and prayers please.



Categories: Music

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