Unbelievably, we’ve just heard a new song from The Beatles and now have to face up to this classic album, Band On The Run, from Paul McCartney and Wings celebrating its 50th anniversary. It was released on November 30, 1973, in the UK and a few days later on December 5 in the US. That’s around three years after the Fab Four broke up as a group.
There’s quite a story behind the album and its recording. At the time McCartney was surprisingly still struggling to establish himself as a solo artist. Despite all the success of The Beatles, he hadn’t had a positive reception to his own releases since the break-up. That was perhaps behind his decision to record a new album out of the UK. Apparently, that’s mixed with him wanting somewhere sunny and glamorous to relax when away from the studio sessions.
McCartney should have sought some better travel advice never mind having the studio checked out. He opted for a heavily corrupt and troubled setting in Lagos, Nigeria with the country run by a military government after a civil war. There was even a warning of a cholera outbreak there, but the advice didn’t arrive until he was back in London.
Troubling times for Paul McCartney
It wasn’t a peaceful trip by any means. McCartney had to contend with him and his wife Linda facing a knifepoint robbery in which they lost some demo tapes and a notebook of lyrics. During a recording session, he collapsed struggling to breathe, which Linda feared was a heart attack. It was officially diagnosed as a bronchial spasm triggered by his smoking. Then there was the worrying visit by a local political activist to the studio accusing McCartney of exploiting and stealing African music. A play-through of several tracks followed to prove otherwise.
That’s plenty of worry to put anyone off track in their work. But it wasn’t all of McCartney’s troubles with this album. Before they left the UK he had argued with other band members at rehearsals, to the extent that Denny Seiwell, drummer, and Henry McCullough, guitarist walked away and left Wings. The band in Lagos was pretty much McCartney, his wife, and Denny Laine. That left McCartney playing many of the instruments on the recordings.
McCartney and triumph over adversity
To add to the pile of troubles, the studio was pretty dire. It was described as ramshackle with faulty equipment, a broken control desk, and a single eight-track tape machine. The recordings needed plenty of work at London studios afterward. From such difficult surroundings and situations there emerged an absolute classic of an album.
There are some amazing tracks on there. McCartney is still playing several on his current worldwide Got Back tour. “Band On The Run” and “Jet”, like many of McCartney’s songs, solo or written with John Lennon, appear timeless. Those two songs were especially critical to the success of the album. Which in turn helped reestablish McCartney as a musical force.
When the album was released it was initially to a mixed reception. Planned release campaigns for those two tracks as singles helped push the album up the charts, reaching number one position in both the UK and the US. It’s consistently featured in best album lists over the years and was added to the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2013. That’s not a bad return at all given the circumstances behind the recording of the album.
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