Paul finally escapes the "YOU KILLED THE BEATLES" tag with his most Beatlesque solo album so far. Coming off the success of "Live And Let Die", Paul seems to have his confidence back. This was fortunate - with two members of his band quitting just before the recording, and the events that happened during their time in Nigeria, Paul was handed a challenge worthy of his re-found confidence. All of this, coupled with his ongoing feud with various ex-Beatles, culminated in one of the greatest art-rock albums of all time.
Let's face it - Paul McCartney helped to invent art-rock in the Sixties. Now he's bringing those sensibilities to the Seventies, and into direct chart competition with the new wave of art-rockers weaned on Paul's previous band. I'm happy to report that it fared quite well - England's best seller for 1974, Best Album Of The Year from Rolling Stone (you remember -way back then when Rolling Stone mattered), a pair of Grammys, and had the distinction of reclaiming the #1 spot on the American album chart three times.
The album opens with the title track, a mythologized re-invention of his history. It echoes nicely the sentiments and attitude of "Live And Let Die", and showcases what McCartney can achieve when he feels he has something to prove. The stripped-down version of Wings operates even better than before. The arrangements and playing are disciplined and tight, and the production was the best the Seventies had to offer. This is an instant classic, and a deserved one.
"Jet" reminds you why you like Paul McCartney in the first place. It also dispells the myth that he's all syrup and no substance. This track unashamedly rocks, yet at the same time has gorgeous melodies AND a near-lethal backup vocal hook just this side of She Loves You. This joined "Band On The Run" in that category of songs that continue to keep AOR radio stations alive.
"Bluebird" recalls "Blackbird" from The Beatles (The White Album) in an almost photograpically negative way. It's almost as if McCartney feels "Blackbird" became tainted by the Manson Family association, so he created "Bluebird" as smoother, untarnished cousin. Interpretations aside, it's a beautiful track, which easily functions to bring the album back down to Earth.
"Mrs Vanderbilt" is another Beatle-ish track in the tradition of "Lady Madonna" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window". While this track features wonderful musicianship, and Howie Casey's saxophone, what really roots this whole song is McCartney's drumming. It's very simple - and his (possible) limitations on this instrument result in a "just the essentials" approach. It would be very easy to get a "Name" drummer in there to clutter everything up with ego. It's the restraint that holds this track together. Of course the hooks don't hurt, and there are plenty of them here - all led by the repeated vocal refrain "What's the use of worrying? What's the use of hurrying? What's the use of anything?" Which as we all know leads you to the "Ho-Hey-Ho's", the kookie laughter, and the fade out.
"Let Me Roll It"- It garnered a lot of attention - as it was McCartney's answer to Lennon's answer to McCartney's attack. (To those in the know - that reads in chronological order as "Too Many People" - "How Do You Sleep?" - "Let Me Roll It".) It's an open and revealing song, showing a softer Paul - as opposed to the aggressive one of two albums prior. It's done in John's comparativly starker syle of the day - hard guitars, minimal backing and Paul even imitating John's vocal style and inflections. It seems to be Paul's olive branch to John.
"Mamunia" is a continuation of the somewhat ecological bent Paul had begun on Wild Life, and which was prevelent in early Seventies society. There was a genuine desire to "get back to Mother-Earth" in an evolution and offshoot of the hippie generation - so when McCartney sings of the rains filling the streams, giving birth to the seeds, and running down your back, he's (un)conciously appealing to an entirely new generation, who's completely in sync with his views. It's the oldest trick of an established and observant artist - yet it still comes off as being sincere.
"No Words" begs for The Beatles. They all released solo tracks that would have obviously been Beatle songs (smart home-burners start your mixes...now), but this one knows it, and plays it as such. Co-writer Denny Laine features prominently in the backing vocals of this song, along with Linda they ghosted Lennon and Harrison to the best of their ability (adding Paul to the backing mix didn't hurt either).
Paul does a fair George on the guitar solo, and a passable John on the rhythm. The strings are all Seventies though, and these truly save the song from "Paul does the Beatles". It's a fantastic track buried in the middle of nine other fantastic tracks.
"Helen Wheels"* recaptures the fire of "Jet", and brings a little humor back to the table after a few "heavies". Reportedly the name Paul gave to his Land Rover - "Helen Wheels" is a driving song telling tales of the road from the Band On The Run. This isn't a rock song - it's a rock n' roll song. There's no shortage of muscle flexed on this album, and Helen Wheels is timed as the pentultimate upward spike for the second side of the album.
"Picasso's Last Words" inspired by...Picasso's last words is as stripped down and unpretentious as this album gets. Placed between the rock n roll strut of the previous track, and the art rock masterpiece that is the closing track - this is disarming in it's apparent informality. I mean it seems like Paul & the boys are just out on the porch playing old country songs. However in the latter half of the song, seemingly out of nowhere you find yourself in France - transported there by clarinet and brass. When we leave France the whole song changes. A rhythm box takes over, followed by keyboards and a vocal reprise of "Jet". This new train of thought cleverly finds it's way back to the original theme, cueing the drunken chorus and the end.
"Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five" is McCartney's document of the post-apocalyptic rebirth. For a society in existance after Orwell's 1984 has taken effect - "No one ever left alive in 1985 will ever do". But the real focus here is on the music. Beginning in traditional rock territory - gradually keyboards, synths, strings and brass are layered into the mix bringing up both the volume and intensity of the track. Horns bring a whiff of "Also Sprach Zarathustra", building up to a stupendous climax with surging, powerful strings and brass culminating in a single penetrating chord from an electric guitar. It is the One Chord, the Bringer and Destructor. Heady stuff. This is softened and brought back to earth (and into your heart) with the aftermath reprise and fadeout of the title track in best "Sgt. Pepper" style. This album feels like a concept piece, however as with Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, it's a clever illusion.
This is far and away Paul McCartney's shining solo achievement, and he's no slouch. Aside from all discussed so far, lets not forget that fantastic cover! The Band On The Run caught by the Man's spotlight. Left to right on the cover are Michael Parkinson (Journalist/TV Personality), Kenny Lynch (Singer, Actor), Paul McCartney, James Colburn (Actor), Linda McCartney, Clement Freud (Gourmet, Politician), Christopher Lee (Actor), Denny Laine, and John Conteh (Future World Light-Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
You've owned multiple copies of this - now go find one and put it on. Re-experience how good it is.
*Included as a bonus track on the 25th Anniversary Edition, it's release as a single preceeded the release of the album.