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. He’s not much of a fan of (who some might describe with justification as) England’s greatest living musician, his having never grown out of the whole “Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft” thing.
My job is therefore to share with him some of McCartney’s best songs, and we’ll then hear my friend’s reaction to what he hears.
Today Steve will be hearing songs from Wings’ second album, “Red Rose Speedway” for the first time.
What Was Paul’s State Of Mind?
“A little under pressure”.
In addition to the underwhelming reviews of the last album, McCartney had been busted (and fined) on cannabis related charges, once on tour in Sweden, when he went to pick up a parcel from Gothenburg post office, and subsequently when the local Scottish police decided to rummage through McCartney’s vegetable patch in Kintyre and wondered what all the spiky-shaped plants were.
Highlight of the case in Scotland? McCartney’s QC argued his client had developed “an interest in horticulture for many years” and fans often sent him gifts of seeds, which he’d planted without necessarily knowing what they were.
The defence team must have been pleased with themselves when they thought up that one.
Incredibly, the judge bought it. McCartney was fined a hundred pounds and amusingly asked for a month to pay. It was probably a tight month. Large gardening bills to pay and that sort of thing.
But McCartney had now made up with John Lennon. The entente cordiale was particularly helped along when, in 1973, Lennon sacked Allen Klein as his manager, with the immortal and slightly begrudging line “Let’s say possibly Paul’s suspicions were right…”
Glam rock was the sound of the moment, and the pastoral sounds of Wild Life needed beefing up. Wings hired an additional guitarist, Henry McCullough, a man who had previously backed Joe Cocker during his Woodstock set in which he covered “With a Little Help From My Friends”
Having released “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, Wings needed another full-bloodied hard-hitting song to consolidate their position as the Glam Rock Protest Song Titans of the Age.
So they released proto-death-metal rocker “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.
Here’s a clip of it from hard hitting news programme the Basil Brush Show
…and the official video…
OMG What Did Your Friend Steve Think About That?!
Needless to say Steve was appalled.
He looked at me as if I had offered him a scoop of chocolate ice cream only to find, as he lifted the spoon to his mouth, that the “ice cream” had come from the rear end of his dog.
“That is shocking” he exclaimed. “I can’t listen to it all. It’s everything I hate about him!”
“Hate?” I asked
Steve shook his head, pityingly, and with an air of a detective who has just found a lead pipe covered in fingerprints in the library.
“Lazy, lazy, lazy……Please tell me that wasn’t released or on an album???”
I told him it had been a top ten single.
He looked incredulous. “Emperors New Clothes right there mate, as far as I am concerned!” and had he held a microphone in his hand at that moment, I felt sure he would have dropped it.
“So we’ll call that no more than a six out of ten?” I called after him…
Also on Red Rose Speedway is “My Love”, a love song to Linda featuring the most gorgeous guitar solo from Wings’ guitarist Henry McCullough, improvised in the studio and which, as a junior member of the group, he asked permission of McCartney to try out with the live orchestra.
Red Rose Speedway was originally planned as a double album, and is a rare case of the double album not released being better than the single record that was released, not least because the (eventually released in 2018) double album starts with the glam stomper “Night Out” rather than “Big Barn Bed”.
Perhaps the best song on the album is one McCartney wrote for a Rupert Bear cartoon film he was planning. No, not the Frog Chorus, but “Little Lamb Dragonfly”. However, with my friend Steve’s known dislike of too many “La La La” sections in songs, rather than turn his head, would it just turn his stomach?
What the Critics thought then:
Notable grump Robert Christgau of The Village Voice described Red Rose Speedway in a D+ review as “Quite possibly the worst album ever made by a rock and roller of the first rank”, reserving particular scorn for one song in particular: hoping for “a stylus-width scratch across ‘My Love'”.
Tony Tyler in the NME thought RRS “lightweight” and lacking in “intellectual posture” but praised the “good melodic structure, excellent playing and fine production.” Which is a bit like when your son or daughter is in the school play and asks you what you thought of their performance and you tell them you thought the lighting and scenery were terrific.
What the critics think now:
When reviewing the reissue, Mojo magazine was no less damning than Christgau 45 years earlier, giving it 2 stars and describing it as “Undercooked whimsy…a baffling number 1 album that nobody liked.”
I’m slightly worried that Steve isn’t going to like this one any better.
It sounds underwhelming, but I still might give it a go. Where can I find this album?
As with many McCartney LPs of this era, this is a relatively risk free purchase at a second hand record shop. I saw a copy in my local record fair’s £3 bin at the weekend, and the median Discogs price at time of writing is £10. It comes with a 12 page colour booklet stapled inside the gatefold sleeve and (fact fans) a message in braille to Stevie Wonder embossed on the LP’s back cover (“We Love Ya Baby!”). However, if you are feeling flush, the double LP set, released in 2018, is well worth getting.
Never mind the Critics, what does your mate Steve think about the songs?
A single, “Hi Hi Hi” was released, backed by reggae-influenced C-Moon. Neither were on the final LP, and neither was Bond theme “Live and Let Die”. Steve likes ska, so in a display of probable over-confidence, I thought I would see how C-Moon grabbed him.
The experiment worked.
Steve looked on approvingly. “This will be in my head all night.” He said, “It’s gimmicky but I like it.”
I tried the a-side “Hi Hi Hi”
Steve looked interested.
“I like rhythm and blues” he noted before covering his tracks by adding “I’m not saying I like this song.” He listened a little longer.
“It does sound a bit like Suzi Quatro” he concluded, before adding “If I was his teacher on his report card I would say ‘B minus: could do better’”
I took this as strong praise. Who knew that comparing McCartney to Quatro could be strong praise, but it is.
Steve went back to the subject of C-Moon. He looked annoyed at himself.
“Even now I am still humming C-Moon in my head and I feel a little dirty and violated for doing so” he concluded.
I took that as a compliment.
But when it came to the whole album Steve found it less appetising. Even “Little Lamb Dragonfly” and “My Love”.
“I think the songs are a bit samey” he concluded “and he relies on his past success a little too much – a bit like De Niro did when he made “Meet the Fockers”.
So there we are. By neither wishing for a stylus scratch across “My Love” or thinking it “the worst album ever made”, and then comparing it to De Niro and Suzi Quatro, I think we can put Steve in the top fifteen percent of Red Rose Speedway fans. Probably.
Next time, Steve will give us his verdict on “Band on the Run”.