Recorded by Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine in the African city of Lagos, Band on the Run was released in 1973 to critical acclaim, and was even described by McCartney’s harshest critic, John Lennon as ‘a great album’.
It was this album that greatly helped McCartney step out of the long shadow cast by The Beatles, and emerge with Wings as a new, leading, and influential force in the world of music.
The title track, Band on the Run, is split into three defined sections: The first section is slow, describing being stuck in one place and repressed, the second section is riff driven and depicts the escape, and the third ‘main’ section is bouncy and jubilant, portraying the band actually being on the run. The original idea for the song came from a quip from former band mate George Harrison. While The Beatles were in one of their countless business meetings, Harrison was heard to say “if we ever got out of here!” Years later McCartney built a song around this short quote, and the smash hit Band on the Run was born.
The title track gives way to the punchy rocker Jet. The lyrics are largely nonsense speaking of sergeant majors and suffragettes and marriages and all sorts, but the powerful guitar/brass riff has made the song a crowd pleaser at McCartney concerts. Interestingly, according to the composer himself, the song was originally based on a horse. Or a dog. It depends which source you read!
Next up comes the quietly beautiful Bluebird. This slower, gentle song depicts a couples blossoming love as the bluebird taking flight. The African sounding percussion adds an exotic flavour and the smooth saxophone solo brings a jazzy quality to the song. This particular track makes a fine addition to McCartney’s collection of bird related songs (starting with Blackbird on The Beatles 1968 album The White Album and continuing more recently with Jenny Wren and Two Magpies from the albums Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Electric Arguments respectively.)
As far as sing-alongs go, Paul McCartney has previously composed arguably one of the most enduring songs ever: the epic Hey Jude. While Mrs Vandebilt is never going to be considered as being on the same level as Hey Jude, McCartney still manages to engage the listener with the catch ‘ho, hey ho’ chorus. The track has an uplifting feel to it, and as the springing lyrics say, even though things may be bad ‘what’s the use of worrying?!’
Let Me Roll It is barrelled out next. Driven completely by its harsh guitar riff and adding a distinct echo to the vocal, many have described this song as the song in which Macca sounds the most like his old band mate, John Lennon. He has since embraced the similarity, claiming that it was his way of reaching out to Lennon after several years of both business and personal feuds over the breakup of The Beatles.
On every album there are weaker songs, and on Band on the Run these songs are Mamunia and No Words. Both lyrically and musically the songs don’t quite reach the standards of the rest of the album. While these songs may fit perfectly onto another album, they don’t seem to fit convincingly into place here. While both songs are worth a listen, they are the tracks that I personally have the least time for.
The story behind one of the albums most eclectic tracks, Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me), is that actor Dustin Hoffman challenged McCartney to write a song based on the last words of the artist, Pablo Picasso. With Wings guitarist Denny Laine sharing the lead vocals and a distinct clarinet solo the track has a very ‘Parisian boulevard’ feel to it. Reprising sections from Jet and Mrs Vandebilt, the track ends with a drunk pub sing-along.
The album smashes to a close with the stunning piano rocker Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five. The piano riff drives the song forwards, relenting only for several sections of close-knit harmonies. With one of the most powerful vocals on the whole album, the song builds and builds to its explosive climax, and the album is finally brought to a close with a short rendition of the title track, Band on the Run.
From a musicians point of view the album has a lot to offer. There are some really interesting chord changes and riffs, and when you sit down with a guitar or at the piano and try to learn these songs, you learn to appreciate the songs on a whole new level. You can see the work and thought that has been put into each and every song. I have the ability to be able to sit and pick out certain bits in any song, for example the bass line or the guitar part etc, and in just doing this you can enjoy and value the work that has gone into crafting each bar of each song. For example, Bluebird has some very nice and unusual jazzy chords and chord changes that I haven’t come across in any other song. And Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five has a gorgeous piano riff in which you only have to change the bass notes in order to change the entire feel of the riff from minor to major.
Described by many as the pinnacle of Paul McCartney’s career, Band on the Run benefits greatly from the tender love and care that has been put into its re-release. While McCartney’s penchant for writing amazing songs is still clearly evident, the sound quality of every track has been vastly improved, polishing the songs up to an amazing standard that puts it well ahead of all subsequent releases. The album has been released in four forms: