Wings

Wings (sometimes credited as Paul McCartney and Wings) was a rock group formed in 1971 by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and his wife Linda McCartney. The group was the only "permanent" group that any of the former members of the Beatles were ever involved with after their break-up. Wings had 12 top-10 singles (including one #1) in the United Kingdom and 14 top-10 singles (including six #1's) in the United States. All 23 singles credited to Wings reached the US Top 40 (and one single, Junior's Farm/Sally G, reached it with each side). Of the nine albums credited to Wings during the group's life, all went top 10 in either the UK or the US, with five consecutive albums topping the US charts.


Wings was noted for its personnel changes as well as its success. The only three permanent members of Wings were McCartney, his wife Linda, and ex-Moody Blues guitarist and singer Denny Laine. In less than a decade, Wings had three different lead guitarists and four different drummers.


History


Paul McCartney with Linda McCartney in 1976.

As the Beatles were breaking up in 1970, McCartney was working on his debut solo album, McCartney. Backing vocals were provided by his wife, Linda, whom he had married the previous year. 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. On his second solo album, Ram, McCartney added select outside musicians, including drummer Denny Seiwell, who had to perform in a secret audition for Paul and Linda before being chosen.


First lineup (1971-1973)

In August 1971, Seiwell and guitarist/singer Denny Laine joined Paul and Linda McCartney to record Paul's third post-Beatles project on Apple Records. The result was Wild Life, released December 7. It was the first project to credit Wings as the artist. In an attempt to capture the spontaneity of live performances, five of the eight songs on Wild Life were first takes by the band. However, the record left music critics cold.


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 McCartney. 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.


Denny Laine during the 1976 tour.

In late 1971, McCartney added ex-Spooky Tooth guitarist Henry McCullough, a native of Northern Ireland, to the line-up of Wings and returned to touring, mounting an impromptu tour of U.K. universities and later a tour of small European venues (with the group driving around in a van), playing no Beatles numbers. 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 #16 in the United Kingdom, as well as #1 in The Republic of Ireland and #1 in Spain.


Partly in reaction to the ban, Wings released a children's song, "Mary Had a Little Lamb", as its next single, which surprisingly reached the Top 10 in the United Kingdom. However, Wings followed that with November 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 United Kingdom and the Top 10 in the United States.


In late 1972, Wings was re-christened Paul McCartney and Wings for the 1973 album Red Rose Speedway, which yielded the first U.S. #1 Wings hit, the romantic ballad "My Love". One possible reason for the renaming was that two songs on this album had been recorded by Paul, Linda, and Denny Seiwell during the Ram sessions; Denny Laine added backing vocals to one of these songs, but Henry McCullough was not on either. 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 sizable 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 but was savagely criticised by noted rock journalist Lillian Roxon.


After a successful British tour in May-June 1973, Wings went right into rehearsals for the next album. However, Henry McCullough and Denny 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 8-track recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria. The album went to #1 in both the United States and United Kingdom and spawned three hit singles: the rockers "Jet" and "Helen Wheels" (originally included on the U.S. album only) 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 Denny 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.


Second lineup (1974-1978)

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 United Kingdom.


Paul and Linda McCartney at the Los Angeles Academy Awards, April, 1974.

Shortly thereafter, Geoff Britton joined Wings on drums, and the first recording session with this full lineup was held in Nashville, where the band stayed at the farm of songwriter Curly Putman Jr. The trip was memorialized 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 U.S. 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. At the end of 1974, Paul McCartney's contract with Apple expired, and the band returned to just being named Wings.


Wings started 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 MPL Communications, distributed worldwide by EMI (Parlophone in the United Kingdom, Capitol in the United States). The album topped the charts and contained the U.S. #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 Denny Seiwell before him, English won the job at a secret audition before McCartney. McCulloch co-composed (with former bandmate Colin Allen) and sang one song ("Medicine Jar"); Laine sang lead vocals on a McCartney song ("Spirits of Ancient Egypt"); Paul composed and sang the rest.


In the Autumn of 1975 Wings embarked on the Wings Over the World tour, starting in Bristol, which took them to Australia (November), Europe (March 1976), the United States (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, Wings recorded Wings at the Speed of Sound, which was released at the end of March 1976, just prior to the U.S. leg of the world tour. It represented a departure from the prior Wings template in that each of the five primary members of the band (including Linda and Joe English) sang lead on at least one song, and both Laine ("Time to Hide") and McCulloch ("Wino Junko", again with Colin Allen) contributed songs. However, the two U.S. #1 singles, "Silly Love Songs" and "Let 'em In", were both written and sung by Paul. Four of the album tracks were played in the 1976 portion of the tour, which also included five Beatles songs. Laine sang lead vocals on several songs (including his old Moody Blues hit "Go Now" and Paul Simon's "Richard Cory"), and McCulloch on one ("Medicine Jar"), emphasizing that Wings was more than just Paul McCartney's backing band. 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 also spawned a triple live album, Wings over America (1976), which became the fifth consecutive Wings album to reach number 1 in the U.S.


After the world tour, and following the single release of a live version 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 Jimmy McCulloch and Joe 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 maximized by a pre-Christmas release. It became a massive international hit, dominating the charts in Britain (where it was Wings' only #1 single), Australia and many other countries over the Christmas/New Year period. Ultimately, it became one of the biggest selling U.K. singles of all time. However, it was not a success in the United States, 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, a collection that sometimes included McCulloch and English. Much of the album had been recorded before the departures of McCulloch and English, but only pictures of the remaining trio appeared on the album. It was a commercial success, although it became the first Wings album since Wild Life to not reach #1 in the United States (peaking at #2),. London Town featured a markedly softer-rock, synth-based sound than prior Wings albums. Laine co-wrote five of the album's songs with McCartney and sang two of them. "With a Little Luck" reached #1 in the United States and #5 in the United Kingdom, but "I've Had Enough" and "London Town" were commercial disappointments in both countries.


Third lineup (1978-1981)

Later in 1978, lead guitarist Laurence Juber and former Elton John 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 United States and Canada and joining Columbia Records, while remaining with Parlophone/EMI in the rest of the world. Influenced by the punk and New Wave scenes, Wings abandoned its mellow touch and hired former Apple engineer Chris Thomas to help in the production process. The result was a somewhat less polished sound. This new version of Wings first released the disco-oriented single "Goodnight Tonight", backed by "Daytime Nighttime Suffering", which reached the top 5 in both the United States and United Kingdom. However, the subsequent album Back to the Egg, which was not favorably received by critics, sold disappointingly, at least when compared to its immediate predecessors. Still, it went platinum in the United States. 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 other singles were culled from the album, but both performed poorly on the charts. One album song ("Again and Again and Again") was composed and sung by Laine; the rest were Paul's.


During much of 1979, Wings was inactive as McCartney worked on a new solo album (McCartney II) without the band. In November and December 1979, Wings performed its final tour of the United Kingdom, 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 and final U.S. #1 hit (as well as the last Wings single, although once again credited to Paul McCartney and Wings) the following year.


Plans for a new Wings world tour were abandoned when Paul McCartney was arrested for possession of about 7.7 ounces of marijuana at Tokyo airport on 16 January 1980. Other Wings members were questioned but not charged. Although McCartney was released from jail after 9 days, on 25 January, he was deported from Japan. As a result, the Japanese tour was cancelled along with other short-term plans for Wings.


During 1980, Wings continued to demo some more tunes, and some work was done on a never-released "cold cuts" album of previously unreleased songs. Finally, in October 1980, Wings returned to the studio to record demonstration versions of a number of songs for its next album. However, following the murder of John Lennon in December 1980, Paul McCartney was unable to continue with the sessions, and Wings went into hiatus. When McCartney restarted the project on 2 February 1981 as a solo album to be dedicated to Lennon and soon after, Juber and Holley left the band although Denny Laine continued as part of what became the Tug of War sessions, which ended on 3 March. On 27 April 1981, it was announced that Laine also had left the group, and that Wings had formally disbanded. McCartney claimed that the group members "parted in a friendly way."


Potential reunion

In March 1997, former Wings members Denny Laine, Laurence Juber and Steve Holley did an impromptu "Wings" reunion at a BeatleFest 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 Denny Seiwell (excluding Paul McCartney, who was not interested in participating) reunited for one show at a BeatleFest in Las Vegas. They performed Wings classics including "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.


Legacy


Unlike other post-Beatles projects such as the Plastic Ono Band, Wings was more than just a backing band for an ex-Beatle. Both Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch wrote songs, and Laine, McCulloch, Joe English, and Linda McCartney all contributed lead vocals. However, Paul McCartney was unquestionably the band's leader and star. Every song on a single credited to Wings was at least co-composed by Paul, and the only three songs to appear on Wings singles that weren't sung by Paul were all B-sides: "I Lie Around" (Denny Laine, flip of "Live and Let Die"), "Cook of the House" (Linda McCartney, flip of "Silly Love Songs"), and "Deliver Your Children" (Laine, flip of "I've Had Enough").


The success of Wings was a vindication for McCartney (although, as one commentator noted, 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 after the breakup. But, by 1975, John 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 he was still recording and writing, but his success was intermittent. As the leader of Wings, however, McCartney 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 which ended up on non-Wings albums. The solo albums of three former Wings members feature songs performed by Wings. Laurence Juber's song "Maisie", from the Back to the Egg sessions, appeared on his album Standard Time. After Linda McCartney's death, a compilation of her songs entitled Wide Prairie was released that featured six Wings songs written by Linda: the Suzy and the Red Stripes' songs "Seaside Woman", recorded in 1972 during Red Rose Speedway, and "B-Side to Seaside", co-written by Paul and recorded in 1977 during London Town, as well as "I Got Up", again co-written by Paul and recorded around the time of the McGear sessions (before Geoff Britton joined Wings), "Wide Prairie", recorded during the Nashville sessions, "New Orleans", recorded during Venus & Mars, and "Love's Full Glory", recorded in 1980 after the Japanese fiasco. Wings also backed Paul's brother Mike McGear on the McGear album, as well as Mike's band The Scaffold on the single "Liverpool Lou" and the B-side instrumental "Ten Years After on Strawberry Jam".


During its life, Wings had 12 top-10 singles in the United Kingdom and 14 top-10 singles (including six #1s) in the United States. All 23 singles credited to Wings reached the U.S. Top 40 (and one single reached it with each side). Wings had only one fewer #1 single in the United States than John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr combined in their post-Beatle careers. Of the nine albums credited to Wings at the time, all went top 10 in either the United Kingdom or United States, with five consecutive U.S. #1s. (Ironically, the only Wings album not to reach the U.S. Top 10 was Wings Greatest.)


Wings' 1977 single, "Mull of Kintyre"/"Girls School" is still the biggest-selling non-charity single in the United Kingdom (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 best selling singles in the United Kingdom 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.


Wings are sometimes the subject of satirical reference; the more pop-friendly style of the band has attracted tongue-in-cheek comparisons with The Beatles. Steve Coogan's comic creation Alan Partridge naturally admires Wings, referring to them as "the band The Beatles could have been." In the Simpsons episode "Burns' Heir," a cult deprogrammer states that he "did get Paul McCartney out of Wings" to which Homer replies "You idiot! He was the most talented one."


Personnel


During its ten-year lifespan, Wings underwent numerous personnel changes and was twice reduced to its core Paul-Linda-Denny trio.


Timeline


Line-ups
1971-1972
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
Denny Seiwell - drums, percussion
1972-1973
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
Henry McCullough - guitar, vocals
Denny Seiwell - drums, percussion
1973-1974
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar, drums
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
1974-1975
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
Jimmy McCulloch - vocals, guitar
Geoff Britton - drums, percussion
1975-1977
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
Jimmy McCulloch - vocals, guitar
Joe English - vocals, drums, percussion
1977-1978
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar, drums
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
1978-1981
Paul McCartney - vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Linda McCartney - vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine - vocals, guitar, bass, piano
Laurence Juber - vocals, guitar
Steve Holley - vocals, drums, percussion
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