Richard James Havis
Band on the Run
Paul McCartney & Wings
Paul McCartney's solo LPs never reached the heights of his work with The Beatles. But Band on the Run, his third album with Wings, comes close.
His early post-Beatles works were homespun affairs which espoused a DIY approach that contrasted with his former band's careful studio experimentation. So it's surprising that Band on the Run sounds fully formed from the start. The title track is a three-part musical suite based around the idea of a band escaping from prison. It starts off quietly, and ends up rocking. Two standouts, Jet and Let Me Roll It, give the set some extra thrust.
McCartney generally kept himself out of his lyrics. Unlike John Lennon, he preferred to write songs with characters rather than make personal statements. But an interesting review by Rolling Stone magazine critic Jon Landau, in 1997, claims that Band on the Run is an extended musical essay about personal escape and musical freedom.
'Band finds McCartney walking a middle ground between autobiographical songwriting and subtle attempts to mythologise his own experience through the creation of a fantasy world of adventure,' Landau writes. 'He does it by uniting the myth of the rock star and the outlaw, the original legendary figure on the run.'
The sleeve, which achieved a degree of fame on its own, emphasises the theme of escape. Taking its cue from the collage cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, it features a number of famous faces posing as a group breaking out of jail. The celebrities include British talk show host Michael Parkinson, boxer John Conteh, and actors Christopher Lee and James Coburn. A video detailing the cover shoot was included in a special 2010 release of the LP.
The record has a smooth and effortless feel. But the recording process was apparently far from easy. McCartney was fed up with London, and decided Africa would be a good place to record.
Wings' label, EMI, had a studio in Lagos, so Paul, wife Linda, and guitarist Denny Laine decamped to Nigeria. Two members of Wings, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough, disliked the idea, and left the band before the trip.
McCartney was an accomplished drummer - he can be heard playing on The Beatles' The Ballad of John and Yoko - so drumming wasn't a problem. But Lagos itself was.
The city had periodic power cuts that made recording difficult. Worse, the recording equipment was old and didn't work properly. Paul and Linda were robbed at knifepoint while taking a stroll, and the thieves took a notebook full of songs and some demos of tracks McCartney was planning to record. Let Me Roll It and Jet were recorded when Wings returned to London.
Band on the Run was the first Wings record to perform well on the charts, spending seven weeks at No1 in Britain; it went triple platinum in the US. Jet, about a pony McCartney once owned, was one of two popular singles released in Britain. Another single, Helen Wheels, was appended to the US LP release.