Wings (also known as Paul McCartney and Wings) were an English rock band formed in 1971 by Paul McCartney with his wife Linda McCartney, session drummer Denny Seiwell and former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. Wings were noted for frequent personnel changes as well as commercial success, going through three lead guitarists and four drummers. However, the core trio of the McCartneys and Laine remained intact throughout the group's tenure.
After the Beatles' break-up in 1970, McCartney recorded two albums: McCartney (1970), credited to himself, and Ram (1971), with wife Linda. McCartney had insisted from the beginning of their marriage that his wife should be involved in his musical projects, so that they did not have to be apart when he was on tour. Ram was recorded in New York City, where McCartney auditioned a number of drummers and guitarists, selecting Seiwell and guitarist David Spinozza. When Spinozza became unavailable due to other session commitments, Hugh McCracken was enlisted to take his place.
1971–73: First line-up
After the release of Ram, McCartney decided to form a new group and asked Seiwell, who had played on the album, to join. Seiwell accepted, and McCartney invited Denny Laine, whom he had known since the early 1960s, to join. Laine, who was working on a solo album at the time, got a phone call from McCartney inquiring if he would like to work with him, as McCartney said: "I'd known him in the past and I just rang him and asked him, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'Nothing', so I said, 'Right. Come on then!'". Laine then dropped plans for his album there and then. In August 1971, Seiwell and Laine joined Paul and Linda McCartney to record Paul's third post-Beatles album for Apple. The result was Wild Life, released 7 December. It was the first project to credit Wings as the artist. The band name is said to have come to McCartney as he was praying in the hospital while Linda was giving birth to their second child together, Stella, on 13 September 1971. Paul McCartney recalled in the film Wingspan that the birth of Stella was "a bit of a drama"; there were complications at the birth and that both Linda and the baby almost died. He was praying fervently and the image of wings came to his mind. He decided to name his new band "Wings".
In an attempt to capture the spontaneity of live performances, five of Wild Life's eight songs were first takes by the band. Wild Life also included a cover of Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange". Wild Life left music critics cold. For example, John Mendelsohn wrote in Rolling Stone that he wondered whether the album may have been "deliberately second-rate." In The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler called the album "rushed, defensive, badly timed, and over-publicized" and wrote that it showed McCartney's songwriting "at an absolute nadir just when he needed a little respect." On 24 January 1972, McCartney added to the Wings line-up guitarist Henry McCullough, after McCullough had tried out for the band. The new line-up immediately mounted an impromptu tour of UK universities (with the group driving around in a van), followed by a tour of small European venues. Although this was the first tour including an ex-Beatle after the Beatles broke up, Wings played no Beatles numbers during the tour, to show that it was a new band in its own right.
In February 1972, Wings released a single called "Give Ireland Back to the Irish", a response to the events of Bloody Sunday. The song was banned by the BBC for its anti-Unionist political stance and only mentioned in chart rundowns on BBC Radio 1 as "a record by Wings". Despite its limited airplay, it reached number 16 in the UK, as well as number 1 in both the Republic of Ireland and Spain. Wings released a children's song, "Mary Had a Little Lamb", as its next single, which reached the Top 10 in the UK. Though critics often interpreted it as a sarcastic reaction to the ban on "Give Ireland Back to the Irish", it was in fact a serious effort by McCartney to write a song for children. Wings followed it with December 1972's "Hi, Hi, Hi", which was again banned by the BBC, this time for its alleged drug and sexual references. The B-side, "C Moon", was played instead. The single made it into the Top 5 in the UK, and the Top 10 in the US.
The band were renamed "Paul McCartney and Wings" for the 1973 album Red Rose Speedway, which yielded the first US number 1 hit, "My Love". The album was originally intended as a two-record set, and two songs on the final album ("Get On the Right Thing" and "Little Lamb Dragonfly") had been recorded during the Ram sessions, prior to the formation of Wings; Laine added backing vocals to one of these songs, but McCullough was not on either song. Among the unreleased songs recorded by Wings during the extensive sessions for this album (which stretched over seven months and two continents) was the Linda composition "Seaside Woman", which was finally released in 1977 (although credited to "Suzy and the Red Stripes").
Near the end of these sessions, in October 1972, Wings recorded the theme song to the James Bond film Live and Let Die, which reunited McCartney with Beatles producer/arranger George Martin. The uptempo song, released as a non-album single in the summer of 1973 (immediately after "My Love"), became a sizeable worldwide hit and has remained a popular part of McCartney's post-Wings concert performances (often accompanied by pyrotechnics). That same year, McCartney released his first American TV special James Paul McCartney, which featured extensive footage of Wings performing in outdoor settings and in front of a studio audience.
After a successful British tour in May–June 1973, Wings went into rehearsals for the next album. However, McCullough and Seiwell left the band in August, at the end of rehearsals, leaving the McCartneys and Laine to cut what turned out to be Wings' most successful album, Band on the Run, at EMI's primitive eight-track recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria. The album went to number 1 in both the US and UK and spawned three hit singles: the rockers "Jet" and "Helen Wheels" (originally included only on the US version of the album) and the title track—a suite of movements recalling side 2 of Abbey Road. It also included "Let Me Roll It", which was seen as an affectionate impersonation of John Lennon's vocal style, and "No Words", the first song released by Wings that was co-written by Laine (all Wings releases to this time were either Paul and Linda compositions or cover versions). Band on the Run enjoyed very positive critical reception and did much to restore McCartney's tarnished post-Beatles image among critics.
1974–78: Second line-up
After Band on the Run, Jimmy McCulloch, former lead guitarist in Thunderclap Newman and Stone the Crows, joined the band. The first Wings project with McCulloch was McGear, a 1974 collaboration between Paul and his younger brother Mike McGear, with session musician Gerry Conway playing drums. Warner Bros. Records chose not to play up the "Wings" angle in its marketing for McGear, and the album sold poorly. However, the sessions also generated a single credited to McGear's group The Scaffold, "Liverpool Lou", which became a top-10 hit in the UK. Shortly thereafter, Geoff Britton joined Wings on drums, and the first recording session with this full line-up was held in Nashville, where the band stayed at the farm of songwriter Curly Putman Jr. The trip was immortalised in the 1974 non-album single "Junior's Farm", backed with a straight country track entitled "Sally G", the group's last release on Apple Records. In a rare occurrence, both sides of the single separately reached the Billboard Top 20 in the US During these sessions, Wings (with guest musicians Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer) also recorded a single that was attributed to The Country Hams entitled "Walking in the Park with Eloise," a song written years before by Paul's father James.
Wings began recording sessions for its next album in London in November 1974, then moved to New Orleans to complete Venus and Mars (1975), the first release from the group on Capitol Records. The album topped the charts and contained the US number 1 single "Listen to What the Man Said", which also featured Dave Mason of Traffic on guitar and Tom Scott on saxophone. When the Venus and Mars recording sessions moved to New Orleans, Britton quit Wings and was replaced by Joe English. Like Seiwell before him, English won the job at a secret audition before McCartney. In the autumn of 1975 Wings embarked on the Wings Over the World tour, following a postponement to allow McCulloch to recuperate from a hand fracture. Starting in Bristol, the tour took them to Australia (November), Europe (March 1976), the US (May/June), and Europe again (September), before ending in a four-night grand finale at London's Wembley Empire Pool. For this tour, added to Wings' stage act was a horn section consisting of Tony Dorsey, Howie Casey, Thaddeus Richard, and Steve Howard on horns, brass, and percussion.
In between sections of the tour, Wings recorded Wings at the Speed of Sound, which was released at the end of March 1976, just prior to the US leg of the world tour. It represented a departure from the prior Wings template in that each of the five members of the band (including English) sang lead on at least one song. However, the two US number 1 singles, "Silly Love Songs" and "Let 'em In", were both sung by Paul. Four of the album tracks were played in the 1976 portion of the tour, which also included five Beatles songs. One of the Seattle concerts from the American leg of the 1975–76 world tour was filmed and later released as the concert feature Rockshow (1980). The tour's American leg, which also included Madison Square Garden in New York City and Boston Garden in Massachusetts, spawned a triple live album, Wings over America (1976), which became the fifth consecutive Wings album to reach number 1 in the US. From this album came a single release of the live version of "Maybe I'm Amazed" from the McCartney album. The single's flipside was "Soily", a previously unreleased rocker that was often used as a closer for the concerts.
After the tour, and following the release of "Maybe I'm Amazed" in early 1977, Wings took a break. Later in the year, the band started recording their next album in the Virgin Islands, but the sessions were interrupted by Linda's pregnancy and then by the departures of both McCulloch and English. McCulloch, who joined The Small Faces, had difficulty handling the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, ultimately dying of a heroin overdose in 1979. English joined Chuck Leavell's band Sea Level and later founded the Christian-oriented Joe English Band.
Undeterred by their departure, Wings released the already-completed McCartney/Laine ballad "Mull of Kintyre", an ode to the Scottish Mull of Kintyre coastal region where McCartney had made his home in the early 1970s. Its broad appeal was maximised by a pre-Christmas release. It became an international hit, dominating the charts in Britain (where it was Wings' only number 1 single), Australia and many other countries over the Christmas/New Year period. Ultimately, it became the first single to exceed sales of 2 million in the UK, eclipsing the previous all-time best-seller (the Beatles' "She Loves You") and remains one of the biggest selling UK singles of all time. However, it was not a success in the US, where the B-side "Girls School" received most of the airplay but barely reached the Top 40.
The core trio of Wings then released the album London Town in 1978. Though only the remaining trio are pictured on the sleeve, much of the album included McCulloch and English, having been recorded before their departures. It was a commercial success, although it became the first Wings album since Wild Life not to reach number 1 in the US (peaking at number 2). London Town featured a markedly softer-rock, synth-based sound than prior Wings albums. "With a Little Luck" reached number 1 in the US and number 5 in the UK, but "I've Had Enough" and "London Town" were commercial disappointments in both countries.
1978–81: Third line-up
Later in 1978, lead guitarist Laurence Juber and drummer Steve Holley joined the band, restoring Wings to touring strength. In 1979, McCartney signed a new record contract, leaving Capitol, the company he had been with since he was a Beatle, in the US and Canada and joining Columbia Records, while remaining with Parlophone in the rest of the world. Influenced by the punk and New Wave scenes, Wings abandoned its mellow touch and hired Chris Thomas to help in the production process. The result was a somewhat less polished sound. This new version of Wings released the disco-oriented single "Goodnight Tonight", backed by "Daytime Nighttime Suffering", which reached the top 5 in both the US and UK. However, the subsequent album Back to the Egg was not favourably received by critics and although it went platinum in the US, sales were disappointing in comparison to its immediate predecessors. It contained the Grammy-winning song "Rockestra Theme", the result of an October 1978 superstar session with members of Wings, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, among others. Two singles were culled from the album, but both performed poorly on the charts. During much of 1979, Wings were inactive as McCartney worked on a new solo album (McCartney II) without the band.
In November and December 1979, Wings toured the UK, once again adding the horns and brass section consisting of Tony Dorsey, Howie Casey, Thaddeus Richard, and Steve Howard. This tour climaxed with a massive "Rockestra" all-star collection of musicians in London in aid of UNICEF and Kampuchean refugees. Also during this tour, a live version of the McCartney II track "Coming Up" was recorded in Glasgow and became Wings' sixth US number one hit the following year. In January 1980, McCartney was arrested for possession of 7.7 ounces of marijuana upon arriving at New Tokyo Airport for Wings' concert tour of Japan. The tour was cancelled and the band, except Linda, returned to England. McCartney spent ten days in jail before being released and deported. After returning to England, McCartney decided to release his solo album McCartney II and plans for an autumn US tour were dropped. Meanwhile, Denny Laine released the single "Japanese Tears" and formed the short-lived Denny Laine Band with Steve Holley and released a solo album Japanese Tears that December. In October 1980, McCartney began work on his next album, Tug of War, with Beatles producer George Martin. For this album, Martin and McCartney decided to record with a variety of guest musicians instead of Wings. Wings reconvened in January 1981 to work on the Cold Cuts album of previously unreleased songs, and Denny Laine continued to participate in the Tug of War recording sessions in Montserrat in February, but on 27 April 1981, Laine announced he was leaving Wings due to McCartney's reluctance to tour in the wake of John Lennon's murder.
In March 1997 Laine, Juber and Holley did an impromptu "Wings" reunion at a Beatlefest convention in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This was not a planned event, and no further reunions were intended. However, ten years later, in July 2007, Laine, Juber and Seiwell reunited for one show at a Beatlefest convention in Las Vegas. Among other songs, they performed "Band on the Run", "Mull of Kintyre" and "Go Now". According to one report, Laine said that the three are discussing plans for a reunion tour. Laine and Seiwell appeared again at the Fest for Beatles Fans in Secaucus, New Jersey in March 2010 and were joined by Juber at the Fest in Chicago in August 2010.
Wings had 12 top 10 singles (including one number 1) in the UK and 14 top 10 singles (including six number 1's) in the US. All 23 singles released by Wings reached the US top 40, and one double-sided single, "Junior's Farm"/"Sally G", reached the top 40 with each side. Of the nine albums released by Wings, all went top 10 in either the UK or the US, with five consecutive albums topping the US charts. Paul McCartney was unquestionably Wings' leader and star, but Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Laurence Juber, and Linda McCartney all wrote songs for the group, and Laine, McCulloch, English, and Linda McCartney all performed lead vocals. Nevertheless, all of the band's songs that were released as singles were at least co-composed by Paul McCartney, with the exceptions of "Seaside Woman" and "Walking in the Park with Eloise," both of which were released under pseudonyms. The success of Wings was a vindication for McCartney (although at least one commentator felt that McCartney really did not need the vindication). His early home-grown solo output, which often featured simpler songs and less lavish production than the Beatles received from George Martin, often was dismissed by critics as "lightweight" next to the more serious nature of his former bandmates' solo output. But by 1975, Lennon's solo career had been put on hold following the birth of his son Sean, and he stopped recording.
A year later, George Harrison had all but retired from performing live (although not from recording). Ringo Starr was living in L.A. and was writing and recording successfully, but as a solo artist had not been performing onstage other than rare guest appearances (and would not tour until many years later, in 1989). Meanwhile, Wings continued to tour regularly and to enjoy hit singles and albums the world over. By 1980, even Lennon was envious of Wings' (and McCartney's) continuing success, which largely inspired Lennon's own comeback that year. In addition to its own output, Wings recorded several songs that were released through various outlets after the band's break-up. Three songs on Laine's 1980 solo album Japanese Tears were performed by Wings with Laine on lead vocals. Juber's instrumental "Maisie" appeared on his solo album Standard Time. After Linda McCartney's death, a compilation of her songs entitled Wide Prairie was released that featured seven Wings songs written or co-written by Linda. Wings also backed Paul's brother Mike McGear on the McGear album, as well as McGear's band The Scaffold on the single "Liverpool Lou" and its B-side "Ten Years After on Strawberry Jam". McCartney also used three unreleased Wings songs as B-sides of his solo singles several years after Wings' break-up. Denny Laine's 1977 solo album, Holly Days, was actually a joint effort by Laine with Paul and Linda McCartney.
During its life, Wings had 12 top-10 singles in the UK and 14 top-10 singles (including six number 1s) in the US. All 23 singles credited to Wings reached the US Top 40 (and one single reached it with each side). Wings had only one fewer number 1 single in the US than John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr combined in their post-Beatle careers. Of the nine albums credited to Wings during the band's life, all went top 10 in either the UK or US, with five consecutive US number 1s. (The only Wings album not to reach the US Top 10 was Wings Greatest.) Wings' 1977 single "Mull of Kintyre"/"Girls School" is still the biggest-selling non-charity single in the UK (although Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" sold more, its sales include a reissue in aid of the Terrence Higgins Trust), and it ranked fourth in the official list of all-time best selling singles in the UK issued in 2002. In June 2007, Apple's higher-quality iTunes Plus was released, featuring albums from EMI. Among the albums included were the nine original albums from Wings. As of 4 June 2007, Band on the Run was the third most downloaded album from iTunes Plus.
During its ten-year lifespan, Wings underwent numerous personnel changes, including twice being reduced to its core McCartney-McCartney-Laine trio.
- Studio albums
- Wild Life (1971)
- Red Rose Speedway (1973)
- Band on the Run (1973)
- Venus and Mars (1975)
- Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)
- London Town (1978)
- Back to the Egg (1979)
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