Album Title: Band on the Run
Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings
Release Date (US): December 5, 1973
Release Date (UK): December 7, 1973
Record Label: Capitol / EMI / MPI
Peak Chart Position: US: #1, UK: #1

Track Listing
Band on the Run (5.13)
Jet (4.08)
Bluebird (3.24)
Mrs. Vanderbilt (4.42)
Let Me Roll It (4.50)
Mamunia (4.50)
No Words (2.35)
Helen Wheels (3.47)
Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me) (5.49)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five (5.28)

Note: Some versions of this album include country dreamer as the final track; other versions of the album exclude the track Helen Wheels

Singles
Helen Wheels b/w country dreamer
Released in the UK on October 26, 1973, peaking at #12
Released in the US on November 12, 1973, peaking at #10

Jet b/w Manunia
Released in the US on January 28, 1974, quickly withdrawn

Jet b/w Let Me Roll It
Released in the UK on February 15, 1974, peaking at #7
Released in the US on February 18, 1974, peaking at #7

Band on the Run b/w Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
Released in the US on April 8, 1974, peaking at #1

Band on the Run b/w zoo gang
Released in the UK on June 28, 1974, peaking at #3

Making of Band on the Run
After the breakup of The Beatles in 1970, Paul McCartney released a solo album (McCartney), and then proceeded to form his own group, Wings, with his wife Linda McCartney and a friend, Denny Laine. The trio would begin releasing albums at a frantic pace in 1971, releasing four albums and some non-album singles between 1971 and early 1973.

Eager for a minor break in this hectic schedule, but still eager to record, Paul contacted EMI in mid-1973, asking about studio availability abroad. The group chose to record in Lagos, and in early August 1973, the band got together to rehearse the songs for the album. At this time, the group numbered five: the aforementioned three, along with Denny Seiwell (drummer) and Henry McCullough (guitar). On the first day of rehearsals, however, Henry quit the group; two days later, Denny Seiwell followed him, reducing the group to a trio.

Reduced to a trio, the band departed for Lagos, Nigeria, on August 9, 1973, with engineer Geoff Emrick in tow. Lagos was, as one might expect, a very ramshackle town, and this was reflected in the condition of the recording studio. Upon arrival, the control desk was found to be highly "faulty" (meaning if certain dials were turned, the machine would emit sparks and cease not to function and there were unconnected wires exposed in several places), the acoustic screens didn't work, there was only one tape machine which itself had been discarded from Abbey Road years before, and perhaps best of all, there were no microphones. Luckily, after digging around for a while through the dusty closets (some filled with colonies of rats), Geoff uncovered a microphone in an old cardboard box. This is the place where Band on the Run was recorded.

Lagos itself was not a safe town, and the McCartneys were warned by the locals not to travel alone. However, one evening they were travelling alone, and they paid for it: Paul was robbed by five men at knifepoint, and all of his money and possessions were taken from him, including a first rough demo of the album. Oddly enough, if they had been black, they likely would have been killed; it was believed at the time in Lagos that white tourists could not tell black faces apart, thus the two were spared.

After this, the recording sessions were filled with frayed nerves. Twice, Paul almost had a mental breakdown during the sessions. He nearly passed out during one run-through of Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five and stumbled out of the studio, collapsing and panting on the grass outside the studio. A doctor ordered him to rest. The second time was in a club owned by a local musician; when the local group took the stage playing African music, and during the entire set, Paul was seen in the front row, sobbing and crying his eyes out.

With the album largely completed, the band got the hell out of Dodge, returning to London on September 23, 1973, and finishing up the album in George Martin's studio in late September. This mostly consisted of turning Jet into something more than a forty-five second acoustic demo, and then adding some orchestral overdubbing onto other tracks.

The Album Cover
The cover of the Band on the Run album is widely known. The photograph depicts Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine as members of an acting troupe, supposedly depicting a jail break (i.e., a "band on the run"). All of the members were dressed in black suits, with only Linda as the female member. The photograph was shot on October 28, 1973.

So, who else was on the cover?
  Michael Parkinson, known for his Saturday night TV talk show
  Kenny Lynch, a singer and occasional actor
  James Coburn, a very well-known American actor
  Clement Freud, known for being a chef and later a politician
  John Conteh, former light heavyweight boxing champion of the world
  Christopher Lee, a very well known actor (think Saruman or Count Dooku)

Track Details

Band on the Run (5.13)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Probably the most well-known single from Wings (except for perhaps the track that immediately follows it), this song is a mix of four distinct compositions that, in early versions of the album, was actually split into parts and spread throughout the disc. When placed together and effectively bridged as they are here, however, the song is an epic piece, telling the tale of, well, a band on the run. The first segment is a slow, mellow piece, focusing on the harmonization of Paul and Linda. At about the one minute mark, the song changes to a more rocking tone, with Paul on lead vocals for a bit. After this, we have a guitar and orchestral bit that lasts about ten seconds, and then the remainder is the main portion of the song, the "true" Band on the Run, if you will. An epic, memorable track.

Jet (4.08)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Probably the second biggest hit that Wings ever released, Jet is much more of a rocking track than the title cut. The overdubbing on this track, which is largely absent from the rest of the album, is the result of this track being recorded in London, whereas the other tracks were recorded in Nigeria. This track is also interesting when you realize that much of the instrumentation here was done by Paul on many, many overdubs; parts of this song border on sound collage.

Bluebird (3.24)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
If this isn't some sort of "sequel" to Blackbird from 1968's White Album, I'd be surprised. This is almost like "Blackbird in Love," for lack of a better description; there's harmonization and more fluid instrumentation, but the tempo is much the same and much of the song is reminiscent of the earlier track.

Mrs. Vanderbilt (4.42)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Some people recognize this song for the "Ho.. Hey Ho.... Ho.. Hey Ho" portion, but it's a nice little number. It's basically a song about not participating in the rat race that is modern life. What's the use of hurrying? What's the use of worrying? What's the use of anything?

Let Me Roll It (4.50)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Clearly a lengthy ode to the uses of marijuana, it's a nice slow number with a strong ballad-like feel to it. Perhaps the only drawback is that the guitar work is very repetitive and it doesn't bear a lot of repeated listens.

Mamunia (4.50)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
This song was inspired by Paul's vacation to Marrakesh early in 1973, where he saw the word on a nameplate; in Arabic, the word means safe haven, and that's what the song is about, feeling safe and a part of nature. The song makes an offhand reference to UCLA rainclouds, referring to the massive student protesting going on there during the early 1970s.

No Words (2.35)
Written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine
This track is perhaps most memorable for the instrumentation, but it seems to be filler, which is a shame since it is the only Denny Laine composition on the album. The track is reminiscent of a weak Lennon/McCartney Beatles number from the Rubber Soul/Revolver era, the type of track that probably wouldn't have made either album.

Helen Wheels (3.47)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
The first single from the album (actually released about two months in advance), Helen Wheels is about Paul and Linda driving around the United Kingdom, touring for some of the earlier Wings releases in a beat-up touring van. It's a nice, fun little rocker.

Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me) (5.49)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
This track was written on a spur-of-the-moment dare from Dustin Hoffman, who dared Paul to write an impromptu song using an issue of Time as inspiration. Paul opened the magazine to an article about Pablo Picasso's recent passing and did this song almost off the cuff. The song notably features reprisals of both Jet and Mrs. Vanderbilt, as well as a French quote of Picasso's last words.

Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five (5.28)
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney
Usually the album closer, this is perhaps the best rocker on the album; it's lyrically simple and just a lot of fun to close out the album. Perhaps of note is the use of a reprisal of Band on the Run at the end of the track to close out the album.

Band on the Run and Me
Sure, everyone has heard the huge hits from this album: Helen Wheels, Jet, and the title track. But it's not those songs that make this album memorable for me. The songs that I remember from this album are Let Me Roll It, Mrs. Vanderbilt, and especially Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.

You see, I had this on record before I had any semblance of which songs were popular and which weren't. I really liked the well-known tracks, but it was Let Me Roll It that I'd find myself humming on the bus; it was Mrs. Vanderbilt that I would sing to myself as I fell asleep at night; it was Ninteen Hundred and Eighty Five that I drove my first and second grade teachers and classmates crazy with.

I guess I grew up with this album. When I was little, my favorite track was Mrs. Vanderbilt. I don't know why, but it is one of the earliest songs I can remember. I remember playing it repeatedly on a record player, and then someone asked me to play something else, PLEASE. Later on, I went through a phase where I absolutely adored Let Me Roll It, during my brief phase where I believed I might become a rock and roll singer. I used to play Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five incessantly when I lived in the dormitories.

Now? The song that fills my heart is Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me). The little snippets of Jet in the middle of the song, the French spoken section in the middle, the fact that it works as a great drinking song, the fact that it's good to sing even if you've got a horrible voice. I love this song.

If You Liked This Album...
... you should dig into the rest of the Wings catalogue, especially Venus and Mars and Red Rose Speedway. Also likely of interest are the late Beatles albums, especially Abbey Road, as it has something of a similar feel.

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