Tuesday, February 8, 2011

'Band on the Run' easily Paul McCartney's best post-Beatles' work

The four men who were the Beatles all made excellent and mediocre music at various points of their solo careers. We cannot fault them for that. Most consider the band the greatest of all time, and it is only logical that there would be a drop off in their output.

In the aftermath of the band's break up, Paul McCartney came stumbling out of the gate. After coming up with gems like 'Get Back' and 'Let It Be' in 1969-70, it seems he lost his muse for a while. Only 'Maybe I’m Amazed,' which appeared on his first solo album McCartney, approached his Beatles' standard in the period from mid-1970 to early-1973. 'My Love' was a big hit, but its lyrics were so sweet that they likely produced cavities for millions of people around the world. Also, 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey' was another hit, but it had more style than content. 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' was just plain lightweight.

Considering McCartney's track record, it was only a matter of time before he would break out of it in a big way and that happened with 1973's Band on the Run. A huge critical and commercial success, it is an essential album from that time period.

The album is listed as a 'Paul McCartney and Wings' album, but make no mistake, this is Paul's show all the way. Shortly before traveling to Nigeria where this album was made, two of the members of Wings bailed out. This left McCartney with the additional chores of playing drums and other instruments, and he delivered a remarkable performance.

The title song introduced recurring themes of the album that revolved around independence, freedom, and escape. The song is actually in five parts, and the key phrase – 'if we ever get out of here' -- was something said by George Harrison in a business meeting during the final days of the Beatles, according to Nicolas Schaffner's excellent book The Beatles Forever.

Additionally, the song 'Helen Wheels' chronicled McCartney's first tour of England after the Beatles' split. 'Jet' was another big hit, but the most interesting song on the album may be 'Let Me Roll It.'

In the aftermath of the Beatles' break up, McCartney and John Lennon had jousted several times through song. The most devastating song in this feud was Lennon's powerful 'How Do You Sleep?' from his Imagine album in 1971. In the song, Lennon denounced McCartney for the mediocre music he had been producing and wondered if he had anything of substance left to offer.

'Let Me Roll It' added another chapter to their conversation but with a twist. The musical arrangement was a clear parody of Lennon's 1970 album Plastic Ono Band. Using a sparse arrangement with only keyboards, bass, primitive guitar, and drums, Paul projected his feelings to Lennon. However, instead of attacking Lennon, Paul acknowledged his contribution to his life. The lyrics and overall tone of the song had to have been a relief to Beatles' fans who were tired of all the bickering. It was during this time that the relations between Paul and the others had begun to thaw. It also fed rumors of a possible reunion, which, of course, never came.

Though he has produced some great solo work, Band on the Run remains McCartney's best album. Tug of War and Venus and Mars are both excellent albums, but Band on the Run gets the edge as the best.

McCartney is a legend, and there is no denying that. Band on the Run is a reminder of his greatness.


Anonymous said...

Band on the Run is great, but he did some work with Elvis Costello in the eighties that was good. Cant remember the name of the album though.

Chris said...

I remember that. The album was called 'Flowers in the Dirt.' 'My Brave Face' was a good tune. Also, Costello had a hit from their collaboration called 'Veronica.'