Sunday (December 5th) marks the 48th anniversary of the release of Paul McCartney & Wings‘ Band On The Run album. 1973’s Band On The Run, which reunited McCartney with legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, included three Top 10 hits — “Helen Wheels,” which peaked at Number 10 and was only included on the U.S. versions of the album, “Jet,” which topped out at Number Seven, and the title track, “Band On The Run,” which hit Number One on June 8th, 1974 and topped the charts for one week.
Band On The Run holds the distinction of being the only McCartney album to top the album charts twice. The album didn’t hit Number One until over four months after its initial release, when it knocked John Denver‘s Greatest Hits out of the top spot for four non-consecutive weeks.
Band On The Run, which was McCartney’s fifth solo album,was his biggest post-Beatles critical and commercial success, was mired in trouble before it began production. While Wings was rehearsing the new material in Scotland during the summer of 1973, guitarist Henry McCullough quit the band after an argument with McCartney over how a solo should be played. Then — just prior to the band leaving for Lagos, Nigeria to record the album — drummer Denny Seiwell phoned McCartney saying that he too was quitting.
Paul McCartney recalled the circumstances leading up to Wings’ departure to Lagos to record the album: [“I was looking around for somewhere exciting to record the next album. So what I did, I thought, a good idea would be to get a list off EMI — our record company — of all the studios they had ’round the world. It turned out they had one in Africa. We just said, ‘Yeah. Let’s go to Africa.’ The night before we were due to go Denny and Henry rang up and said, ‘Um, we’re not coming. We’re not coming to Africa. We don’t wanna come. We’re leaving the band.’ Oh, great, thank you! At first it was like, ‘Oh no, tragedy!’ But then, I just thought, ‘Right, we’re gonna go and we’re gonna show you — we’re gonna make the best album we’ve ever made!“] SOUNDCUE (:35 OC: . . . we’ve ever made)
Denny Seiwell, who began playing with McCartney in late 1970 during the Ram sessions, was actually the first member McCartney lined up for Wings. Seiwell admitted that the bottom line was that money was so scarce, he couldn’t afford to stay with band: [“I was waiting for some stuff to come along so we’d have some more binding legal agreements before entering into. . . I knew this record was gonna be a big one, and when none of that stuff was being taken care of, I just thought it was time to move on.”] SOUNDCUE (:10 OC: . . . to move on)
Wings co-founder Denny Laine told us that he had no idea that the pair had quit until he didn’t see them on the plane to Africa: [“I didn’t find out until they didn’t turn up, because nobody told me what was going on. I just got the vibe. I knew that Denny was missing America, for example. I knew that he didn’t like to travel. Y’know, he was basically a session man who got talked into going on the road.”] SOUNDCUE (:16 OC: . . . on the road)
Pared down to the trio of Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine, the group recorded in the middle of the rainy monsoon season, while the Lagos EMI Studio was being built. One night Paul and Linda were robbed at knifepoint, and the thieves who made off with the McCartney’s cameras and cash also stole the demos for the album, which have never been recovered.
McCartney took over drum duties on the album, and shared the majority of instrumentation with Laine. Laine recalled that the two-man band approach came naturally to him and McCartney: [“We did that with Band On The Run a lot, where he would pick up an instrument, I would pick up another instrument and we’d put the backing track down. And then figure it out after that.”] SOUNDCUE (:08 OC: . . . out after that)
Laine recalled that the album’s title song was a perfect example of how he and McCartney laid down the basic tracks for Band On The Run: [“As far as I can remember, it was just me on guitar — on acoustic — and Paul on drums. Maybe we added those extra guitars afterwards, I mean, and just mixed the other stuff out.”] SOUNDCUE (:10 OC: . . . other stuff out)
For years, the story going around was that McCartney’s 1973 hit “Jet,” was actually inspired by his family’s Labrador puppy — but McCartney explained it was another of the family’s pets that sparked off his legendary whimsical imagination: [“Yeah, we had a little pony for the kids in Scotland, it was called, ‘Jet.’ And, y’know, the truth is that’s just a starting point. That’s what I often do and I think that does often puzzle people a bit.”] SOUNDCUE (:09 OC: . . . people a bit)
In early 1975, Band On The Run earned Paul McCartney & Wings the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. Geoff Emerick was awarded the Grammy for Best Engineered Recording, Non Classical.
- In recent years, Paul McCartney has included six Band On The Run songs in his concert setlists: “Band On The Run,” “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Bluebird,” “Mrs. Vandebilt,” and “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five.”
- The only songs off the album to have never been performed in concert are “Helen Wheels” and “Mamunia.”
- On their 1975/1976 world tour Wings performed “Band On The Run,” “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Bluebird,” and “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me).”
- In 1979 during their final tour in the UK, Wings performed the McCartney-Denny Laine classic “No Words” along with the show-closing “Band On The Run.”
The Band On The Run reissue as part of the ongoing “Paul McCartney Archive Collection” is available in various formats, including:
- The three-disc special edition — featuring two CD’s and one DVD — which includes nine bonus audio tracks, rare footage of the McCartney’s in Lagos, behind-the-scenes at the famous album cover shoot, original Band On The Run promotional video clips, the unaired 1974 One Hand Clapping television special, with “enhanced” packaging.
- The four disc — three CD, one DVD — deluxe edition includes a 120-page hard bound book containing many unseen and unpublished photos by Linda McCartney and Clive Arrowsmith, album and single artwork, downloadable hi-res audio versions of the remastered album and bonus audio tracks, a full history of the album — complete with a new interview with McCartney — and expanded track-by-track information for all four discs.
- The deluxe edition also includes a special Band On the Run audio documentary, which was originally produced for the 25th Anniversary edition.
- The original remastered album and bonus audio content will also be issued in a two-album 180gm audiophile vinyl edition that comes with an MP3 download of all 18 tracks.
- The bonus audio tracks include the single releases “Helen Wheels,” “Country Dreamer,” and “Zoo Gang” — along with tracks from One Hand Clapping: “Bluebird, “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Band On The Run,” “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” and “Country Dreamer” from McCartney’s still-unreleased 1974 film The Backyard — which was shot in the back garden of Abbey Road Studios in August 1974 during the filming of One Hand Clapping.
- MP3 downloads of “No Words,” and “Band On The Run” recorded live on December 17th, 1979 in Glasgow, Scotland during Wings‘ final tour.
- The DVD features such nuggets as: The Band On The Run album promo — featuring “Band On The Run,” “Mrs. Vandebilt,” “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” and “Bluebird”; Music videos for “Band On The Run,” “Mamunia” and “Helen Wheels” — the Wings In Lagos short, scenes from the Osterly Park photo shoot for the Band On The Run cover, and the full One Hand Clapping documentary shot in London’s Abbey Road Studios in August 1974.