Monday, 3 September 2012

Paul McCartney and Wings "Wildlife" (1972)

Baby, love is strange, many people seem to take it for a game” “Many people, they don’t understand, they think that love is like having money and that” “The word ‘wild’ applies to the words ‘you’ and ‘me’” “While taking a walk through an African park one day, I saw the sign say ‘the animals have the right of way’” “We’re breathing a lot of political nonsense in the air, you’re making it hard for the people who live in there, you’re moving so fast, but baby you know not where” “No one else will ever see how much faith you have in me, only fools would disagree that it’s so, some people never know” “Some people can sleep at night-time, believing that love is a lie, I’m only a person like you babe, and who among us can be right all of the time?, I know I was wrong – make me right” “Only love can stand the test, only you outshine the rest, only fools take second best, but it’s so – some people never know” “my song is sung, when day is done harmonies linger on, I am your singer, singing my love song to you” “Tomorrow, when we both abandon sorrow!” “Let’s just hope the weather man is feeling fine and doesn’t spoil our plan” “Dear friend, what’s the time? Is this really the borderline? Does it really mean so much to you? Are you afraid? Or is it true?” “Dear friend, throw the wine, I’m in love with a friend of mine, really truly, we get newly wed, are you a fool? Or is it true?” Paul McCartney and Wings “Wildlife” (1972) Mumbo/Bip Bop/Love Is Strange/Wildlife//Some People Never Know/I Am Your Singer/Bip Bop (Link)/Tomorrow/Dear Friend/Mumbo (Link) The Beatles could do wrong when they were together, but by 1972 – two years after the split – were unable to do any good at all apart, at least according to most people of the time. As we’ve seen already on this site, Lennon’s ‘Some Time In New York City’ and Harrison’s ‘Living In The Material World’ albums have aged a lot better and have more things going for them than critics of the time made out, even if neither of them are close to being career highlights (the same applies to Ringo’s ‘Beaucoup’s Of Blues’ which we haven’t reviewed yet, actually one of the drummer’s better albums). The album that came in for most stick, though, was McCartney’s third album ‘Wildlife’, a good case of the wrong album released at particularly wrong time. Most press reports still talked erroneously of Paul as the ‘man who broke up the Beatles’, something patently untrue (in his eyes his court case, nominally against manager Allen Klein rather than the other Beatles, was to save them) and his second album ‘Ram’ had got particularly short shrift from the music press despite returning to the ‘lusher’ late Beatles sound they seemed to prefer. Stung by accusations of emptiness and leaning too heavily on his super-star status McCartney went completely the other way and got a ‘new’ band together, one made up of semi-famous status that – had it been born 15 years later like George Harrison’s Travelling Wilburys – would have been hailed as a work of genius. Fed up of crafting at his music, as he had on ‘Ram’, McCartney decided to listen to his critics and go back to basics, hurriedly writing his songs and leaving them rough and ready, determined to record a new album with a cracking band in just eight days, thus making ‘Wildlife’ his shortest writing-to-completion project since The Beatles’ first album ‘Please Please Me’ nine years before. Alas in doing that McCartney made the cardinal error of trying to record quickly with a band who’d barely had the time to say hello to each other and as a result ‘Wildlife’s biggest problem is that, however much it tries, however promising the songs are, the performances are too tentative to really let things rock. Without the complexity and aural perfection of McCartney’s other albums of the 1970s, this album desperately needs strong band performances and without them this album falls rather flat. What’s odd is that this album fails to rock as well as we know McCartney could do. Period B-sides from only a little later in Wings’ wingspan (‘The Mess’ ‘Soilly’) and Macca’s own B-side from the year before (‘Oh Woman Oh Why’) are as strong and powerful as any rockers the Beatles ever did, crackling with energy and excitement that overcome the odd dodgy lyric. We’ve also seen Paul before and since working at his best under the pressure only an eight day deadline can bring (‘Please Please Me’ – with 12 tracks recorded in a day – contains some of the best group performances of all Beatles albums, while 1997’s ‘Run Devil Run’, recorded in a fortnight, is a rock and roll covers project much stronger and urgent than the similar 1989 effort ‘Choba CCCP’, a record that suffered from too much aimless tinkering over several months). Yet, like ‘Let It Be’, before it, ‘Wildlife’ is an album that ‘fails’ because while the idea of going back to basics is solid the timing is all wrong – in 1969 the Beatles were a tired, fed up group being forced to record long after the patience and the fizzle and the excitement had run dry – this time round it’s the opposite problem: a band playing before the fizzle and excitement have turned up and the players don’t know each other well enough yet to really let loose (allegedly five of the eight songs here are ‘first takes’). This album suffers, too, because in McCartney’s head ‘hard rocking’ and ‘back to basics’ means ‘simplicity’ and so he writes simple songs (two of them, ‘Mumbo’ and ‘Bip Bop’ having nothing resembling a proper lyric), possibly with his new born children Mary and Stella in mind as his chief audience (born the same year as ‘Wildlife’ and inextricably linked with the birth of ‘Wings’ – Paul came up with the name while nervously waiting for news of Stella after a difficult birth when the word ‘angel’s wings’ came into his head). On its own terms that simplicity is no bad thing, but Wings really needed a strong and polished debut to silence the critics and also compared back to back with Lennon’s 1970 ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album – where simplicity meant honesty and revelation rather than fun – this album was always going to come out badly. Most critics will tell you side one is the worst 20 minutes in solo Beatledom, with one reggae cover and two ‘filler’ songs without full lyrics and most fans will be nodding their head at this (even the ones who should know better, having owned Lennon’s ‘Rock and Roll’ and ‘Double Fantasy’ albums, Harrison’s ‘Extra Texture’ or Ringo’s ‘Rotogravure’ albums or indeed any of the John/Yoko ‘unfinished music’ LPs). However, I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Wildlife’ which, while no Beatles-standard masterpiece, has an awful lot of things going for it and still has far more good points than bad – neatly setting the tone for almost every Wings album to come (including its overlooked nature). It also sounds far better now than it ever did at the time and, indeed, a refreshing change if you play the Wings albums with any regularity (where all that syrup from later years – almost definitely in response to the reception of this album - occasionally sticks in the throat). In 1972 the world wanted glitter and glam rock and their superstars to be bigger than ever – and instead Paul and friends made a very earthy, raw album largely continuing the theme of ‘Ram’ that all earthly beings are sacred and your home could well be the most important place in the universe. Like ‘Ram’ ‘Wildlife’ comes with oodles of charm that helps you get through the lesser moments, with a home-made, recorded-in-your living room feel that’s a lot closer in spirit to punk than Wings’ own punk/new wave statement ‘Back To The Egg’. Above all, Paul sounds like he’s having fun again, after catching glimpses of it here and there between the more troubled tracks on both ‘McCartney’ and ‘Ram’ and his enthusiasm – the highlight of many a late-period Beatles album – makes up for all but the worst mistakes. Wings haven’t got going yet – Linda’s still very much learning how to play and there’s no Henry McCullough in the band yet so the playing is often rudimentary – but if you like your McCartney records homespun instead of lushly produced as I do then there’s much to enjoy, including some musical textures you never hear anywhere else, from the school-band recorders on ‘I Am Your Singer’ to the piano-and-drums duet on ‘Dear Friend’. The harmonies between Paul, Linda and Denny Laine are also as immaculate as ever and for my money make for a better harmonic blend than Paul, John and George, even here in their earliest days. The songs, too, are not the horrors that spiteful critics and disappointed Beatlenuts thought at the time. Sure, McCartney risks slapping his listeners rather too hard round the face with his choice of running order (‘Mumbo’ and ‘Bip Bop’, the two most aimless pedestrian songs here have their charms but really shouldn’t have been turned into the opening two tracks of the album), but some of the songs – on side two especially – are among Paul’s best of the 1970s, from the truce with Lennon ‘Dear Friend’ that really deserves to be better known by Beatlemaniacs who only swear by John’s icy ‘How Do You Sleep?’ and one of Macca’s better love songs for Linda in ‘I Am Your Singer’. The unusual cover of The Everly Brothers’ (via Mickey and Sylvia) ‘Love Is Strange’ also shows a real awareness of reggae music, long before most Westerners became aware of it (Linda was a big fan and turned Paul onto it – you can hear the influences all over her sole album ‘Wide Prairie’, released posthumously in 1998 although much of it dates back to this era) and is sufficiently different to either of the two original versions to give a good idea of how McCartney’s mercurial musical brain works. In ‘Wildlife’ itself Paul manages to kick-start a whole ecological genre, writing perhaps the earliest environmental statement to be set in the ‘present’ rather than fearing for the state of the planet in the future. In other words, far from being the childish backwards album most critics take it to be, ‘Wildlife’ is actually far ahead of its time on several counts and had it been recorded by a later line-up of Wings (who have more of an idea of each other and their ‘role’ in the band, an awkward halfway house between being Macca’s servants and his equals) I’m convinced ‘Wildlife’ would be a better remembered and much more played album than it is at present. If there is a major problem to be had with this album, it’s that Paul follows his lifelong habit of hiring all the right people to do all the wrong jobs. Tony Clarke, till recently the Moody Blues producer on their intricate, sophisticated, orchestrated albums, would have been the perfect producer for Wings circa 1976, when the band are big and bold and faintly psychedelic. Unfortunately here Clarke is recording the band raw, quickly, well out of his comfort zone (the album actually starts with Macca’s belated ‘take it, Tony’ message at the start of ‘Mumbo’ , with the track starting partway through) and effectively working as a highly paid tape operator. Denny Seiwell is a great session musician, used to honing his craft until he gets things right. Denny Laine, too, is out of practice being the R and B crooner of old (with the first line-up of the Moody Blues – alas he never worked with Tony Clarke) and has had his dabbling with over-production and more-is-less releases. Put them all together with Linda, still learning the rudimentaries of music, and you have an album that sounds a bit, well, undercooked, with some of the greatest performers playing ‘down’ to a simpler level instead of being let loose to show what they can do. You could also argue that McCartney has never been the best judge of his own material. Witnesses to the last Beatles album ‘Abbey Road’ recoiled in horror at the way Macca drove the other three Beatles through hundreds of takes of his joyless ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ under the illusion it would make a hit single (it wouldn’t) and yet rattled off minor gems like ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ and ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’ without a second thought. Never has the division between the best and worst and of Paul’s songwriting been sharper – and yet ‘Wildlife’ could have been a very different LP. Two of the better tracks from follow-up LP ‘Red Rose Speedway’ (‘One More Kiss’ and ‘Get On the Right Thing’) were recorded during these sessions and would have made more fitting additions than much of the record. There are also some stunning outtakes from the album not released till several decades later (including the lovely ballad for daughter Mary ‘Mama’s Little Girl’, the noisy jam ‘Rode All Night’ now out on the deluxe ‘Ram’ set that could have turned into the fiery opening track ‘Wildlife’ badly needed, ‘Best Friend’ a lively audience response song only ever recorded live, and the wonderful ‘A Love For You’, the best pop song Winsg ever recorded and shockingly not officially released till 2011! The loss of these songs to the album is McCartney’s worst decision until removing the classic ‘Cage’ from ‘Back To The Egg’ in favour of one of his worst tracks ‘Baby’s Request’). ‘Wildlife’ could have been a first class contender – and yet Paul’s band, Paul’s wife (married just three years at this point, remember) and the new hired hands working on this album are too afraid to tell him where he’s going wrong as yet. Another puzzling fact is that the daring new politically aware McCartney, recently unleashed on Wings’ first single ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ is nowhere to be seen. Unfairly maligned as a song (frankly McCartney was so out of favour in 1972 he could released ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Hey Jude’ and still been attacked), its among the best of all AAA political songs, damning yet empathetic, the anger of the colonialism of the British Empire in forcing their designs on Ireland inspiring a truly great vocal from the Liverpudlian with Irish ancestry (it’s also a lot more heartfelt than Lennon’s songs about the Irish troubles of 1972 on ‘Sometime In New York City’). Fans coming straight to this album would naturally have expected this charging protest sound to be Wings’ natural sound, but they reckoned without Paul’s Gemini instinct that saw him veer from one extreme to the other (The follow-up single became the even more ridiculed ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’, a sweet B-side that never should have been an A-side). Usually Paul’s ability to balance styles on an album is impressive, the eclecticness of Wings’ albums being one of their main attractions, but you long for the tracks on ‘Wildlife’ to have the passion and fire that this early line-up of Wings had already shown they were capable of. The one exception to this is the title track, surprisingly one of only two directly pro-animal songs the famously vegetarian McCartney has written to date (the other, ‘Looking For Changes’, won’t appear until as late as 1993’s ‘Off The Ground’). Long lampooned by the music press, it’s actually one of Paul’s braver and more revealing recordings, the bassist using his throaty emotional voice on a song that sounds awfully Lennon-ish, though in direct contrast to the rather more ‘selfish’ ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album (where Lennon sings about his childhood betrayals and his adult frailties, Paul sings about the ‘other’, even another species). Having found his own Scottish farm the balm of peace and tranquillity he needed after the Beatles split (see our review of ‘Ram’ for more on the country as a haven from city life), naturally Paul wants to turn his audience ‘on’ to the idea as well; whilst rock critics of the day from all fields laughed their heads off at a millionaire pop star preaching about animal rights, it’s actually odd that this movement only lasted as long as the album name and title track. In retrospect two tracks 21 years apart seems an odd stance for a passionate activist to have taken (contrast this with Linda, whose own work is divided pretty neatly down the middle between love songs for animals and humans). Still the title track of ‘Wildlife’ has aged particularly well and 40 years on Paul should be given far more credit for bringing up the subject of animal rights long before it became fashionable to do so. One final point before we move onto the songs, unlike its close cousin ‘Band On The Run’ (recorded as a trio) ‘Wildlife’ (recorded as a quartet) features lashings of Denny Laine guitarwork with Paul mainly sticking to bass (and occasional piano when a part’s too difficult for Linda). While the record definitely suffers from a lack of having a natural ‘lead guitarist’ (Ram session musician Hugh McCracken rehearsed with the band but backed out of recording at the last minute), Denny fills in well and gets possibly the only chance outside one of his solo records to show off what a great guitarist he is. Most Western players in 1972 would struggle to nail the reggae part on ‘Love Is Strange’, but Denny’s eccentric hybrid successfully finds the country-lilt in the song and emphasises the song’s peculiar rhythms, ending up sounding like the most authentic part of the song. The searing electric guitar on ‘Mumbo’ is also startlingly good, snarling and exciting in a way that the mumbled gibberish lyrics sadly aren’t. Denny even nails the acoustic subtlety of songs like ‘I Am Your Singer’ and ‘Some People Never Know’ that you’d normally expect Paul to play. It’s a great shame that none of the songs from ‘Wildlife’ ever stayed in Wings’ set-lists for very long, because given more time and experience Denny’s solos could have been even greater. Denny Seiwell, too, is clearly suffering compared to his sterling work on ‘Ram’ (where he had much longer to try parts out and get them right), but his drumming is never less than competent and often of the highest order (his heavy but subtle playing on ‘Dear Friend’ especially). Linda’s still a beginner here and can’t compare to her later parts on a long string of albums (from ‘Band On The Run’ through to ‘Flowers In The Dirt’), but does shine occasionally, such as the moody opening to ‘Wildlife’ or the tinkling chordwork on ‘Tomorrow’ (both of which I’d always assumed were played by Paul before looking them up, so her inexperience can’t be showing up that much). Wings have the makings of a great group here and for the most part the material is up to their progress – I just wish their learning process had been behind closed doors and that ‘Wildlife’ could have become a solid, promising debut album after several months’ rehearsal instead of a patchy and confused record made ‘on the hop’. All too often on this album the band try too hard and a good song gets lost or the band simply jam around hoping for inspiration instead of actually putting the work in (even ‘Bip Bop’ could have turned into something special given a proper lyric). But while I can see why the critics had a field day on ‘Wildlife’s’ release in 1972 and while I understand why fans even now don’t have the interest and passion for this album that they do for the similarly themed ‘Ram’ I do see a certain promise and talent in this album that too often gets overlooked. If you want a polished album full of carefully thought out songs played by a cracking band at the peak of their powers then ‘Wildlife’ certainly isn’t it – but on its own terms ‘Wildlife’ is as raw, as emotional and as revealing as anything McCartney’s written before or since. At times the album really flies and the band really do sound like they’ve found their ‘wings’ – I just wish there were a few more examples of this (such as the songs that didn;t make it to the album) to make Wildlife a key album in the McCartney catalogue, instead of an undeniably patchy and an overlooked and often ignored one . I’d never make a claim for ‘Wildlife’ to be the best thing McCartneys ever done – but the worst thing he’s ever done, as most critics will tell you? No hardly that – for all its many flaws there’s too much sparkle, too many good ideas, too many good performances and too many excellent songs on this album for that. In fact, tweak the track listing round a little bit, let the band rehearse for a couple more takes and take away the two silliest tracks and you have another ‘Band On The Run’ (only two albums away, remember), raw yet polished, edgy yet accessible and with a winning mix of charm and energy it would be impossible to dislike. Even if you live in 1972 and still blame Paul McCartney for the Beatles split. The fact that McCartney had to write his own sleevenotes – under the pseudonym Clint Harrigan – because no other writer was enthused enough about his newfound pet project – speaks volumes, though arguably more about Paul’s low reputation in 1972 than any faults within this album. Indeed, hopes for the album are high with the opening few seconds of ‘Mumbo’, a grungy snarling rocker that opens mid-song with the squeal of a tape recorder and McCartney’s desperate note to producer Clarke to ‘tape it, Tony’ (as ever the ex-Moodies producer is one step ahead of the pack and beats McCartney by a few seconds). Alas even though the opening piano riff, Denny’s raucous multi-tracked guitar and pleasingly raw McCartney vocal promises much (with shades of ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ and ‘Smile Away’ from his last album ‘Ram’), there’s no real ‘song’ to go with the texture and atmosphere. In case you’ve been wondering where the lyrics from ‘Mumbo’ are in our key lyrics above, the truth is there aren’t any ‘proper’ lyrics to this song at all: instead Paul is taking a leaf out of John’s book and using gibberish nonsense words for their ‘sound’ rather than their meaning. In Lennon’s hands, in the masterpiece ‘I Am The Walrus’ and the under-rated ‘Dig A Pony’ the largely nonsense songs still sound loaded with meaning and clearly mean something to the singer (see our review of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ for our take on what the edgy and autobiographical ‘Walrus’ really means for Lennon). Here, though, McCartney sounds like he’s going through his old habit of ‘blocking’ in a song with whatever comes into his head and then either never getting round to writing a proper lyric or keeping the gibberish because he liked the effect (a fact which ruined many a song of his, with ‘Old Siam Sir’ perhaps the biggest casualty; similarly ‘Yesterday’ started off as ‘Scrambled Eggs’ although luckily he changed that one). This is a real shame because the melody and hook of ‘Mumbo’ show real promise and McCartney’s gusty vocal has all the right grit and grain, there just isn’t enough urgency because this song isn’t ‘about’ anything – it’s just the sound of four people having a jam session together. The title ‘Mumbo’ is presumably a derivation on the word ‘mumble’, because that’s what McCartney does with his vocal here, ducking it in the mix so we can’t hear that he’s singing about nothing. A sadly wasted opportunity that could really have been something. The highlight of the track: Paul using the trademark early Beatles ‘wooohs’ for the first time since 1964, fittingly on a song that must be one of his simplest since that period (parts of the ‘Let It Be’ album aside). ‘Bip Bop’ is even more of a lost opportunity, taken at a slower tempo but with another clever catchy guitar riff at its heart (muffed up in a couple of places by Denny Laine, showing again how rushed these recordings were) and another great gritty vocal from Macca in the half-falsetto he used often for ‘Wings’. As a performance there’s oodles of passion here and, uniquely, Paul chooses to use Linda’ voice as the more cynical, hardened counterpart to his own ebullience which is really effective. But again there’s no ‘song’. ‘Put your hair in curlers, we’re going to see a band’ is the only line in the song that makes sense, with another lyric that sounds like it started off as a rhyming game with Paul’s children (if you have memories of those interminable lessons about how words are ‘stuck together’ from ‘units’ then you’ll know what McCartney seems to be getting at here. Maybe). ‘Bip Bop’ is a song that sounds like it should mean something, what with the careful arrangement that includes a clever acoustic ear-grabbing opening and a sweet circling melody that effortlessly ends up back at the starting point after each verse or chorus. The fact that the band do seem to be getting the performance together here, unlike most of the album, enhances this view (we don’t know the recording dates but I’m willing to bet this is from near the end of the sessions when ‘Wings’ were reading each other better). But with such empty lyrics ‘Bip Bop’ ultimately sounds like a party for a club we don’t belong to, across the street and in our sight but one we can never join in with. Another sadly wasted opportunity that could have been much improved with only 5 minutes work on the lyrics. The album has to get better – and thankfully it does. Many fans dislike Wings’ reggae cover of ‘Love Is Strange’, but for me its evidence of what a real melodicist McCartney is, effortlessly working a song already heralded as a ‘classic’ and improving, in my eyes at least, on both the rather tacky ‘Mickey and Sylvia’ original and the rather hurried Everly Brothers cover. In fact Wings were so taken with the song they considered making it a single until the last minute, even ascribing it its own Apple matrix number (acetate copies of which are now among the rarest of all Beatles records; the fact that no other record was ever given this number, standard practice even in a company as ramshackle as Apple, suggests just how late in the day the decision to cancel must have come). The opening minute long instrumental is a daring move, but Wings take to reggae remarkably well for a ‘Western band’, playing with a real swing and shuffle on what’s quite a complex track (Linda was a keen fan and often played records bought on Jamiacan holidays, but even so hearing something from a record isn’t always the same as playing it for yourself – see all the problems Paul Simon had getting his backing band to play reggae on the Simon and Garfunkel records of the 1960s). The song itself is also far more suitable for McCartney’s voice than many of the songs he was writing for himself in this period and might easily have been a McCartney song, given the very Macca-esque lyrics about love being ‘deeper’ than most people think (shades of ‘Silly Love Songs’ there). Indeed Paul’s vocal is delicious, making the most of his extraordinary range, especially in the last verse where he switches from a low note on ‘money in the hand’ up nearly two octaves to the shouted final line. Wings’ harmonies are also heard in full for the first time and, while Denny Laine is ducked far too low in the mix, Paul and Linda’s blend is rarely better, especially on the cod-Hey Jude ending (‘La la la la la la’) which turns the whole thing into a singalong. At almost five minutes the song is stretching itself a little thin by the end, but all in all ‘Love Is Strange’ is a rare example of a solo Beatle doing a cover on an album not built wholly of other people’s material and is a rare success. The title track of the album is also heavy going for some, though for me it’s a great song that’s sadly treated rather shabbily. McCartney’s lyrics about the treatment of animals manages to be heartfelt without being preachy and is pretty brave for such an early pre-green peace era (the only real ecology songs before this relate directly to the horrors of war - eg ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ covered by The Searchers - or imagine problems in the far future eg ‘Morning Dew’ covered by the Grateful Dead – but ‘Wildlife’ is unusual in imagining a broken world right in the here and now. Unpopular as a subject for another five years or so, McCartney was actively laughed at in the day for writing about mere ‘animals’ while Lennon was writing about ‘people’, but time has proved McCartney right, with all his worst fears on this track coming true). Alas while the song is undeniably heartfelt (as a farmer with a growing interest in vegetarianism and conservation it couldn’t be anything else) that doesn’t come through in the performance, which is one of the ropiest of any McCartney record. McCartney’s vocal is awfully over the top, diluting the message with histrionics, while the tempo is slowed down, presumably to give the song weight, which unfortunately just makes it plod. Worst of all, Paul’s bass – which should be the anchor to the song – is one of his most careless, trying to fill in the ‘rhythm guitar part’ without success. Ignore the performance if you can – or better still find a live performance of this song on bootleg or Youtube – and instead concentrate on the words, which are among Paul’s bravest and deepest. Dismissing politicians promising change as ‘a lot of political nonsense’, Macca picks up on a sign seen on a holiday in Africa where, without the industry and highways of the West, the animals are left to wander about at will and are treated with respect and care (there’s a great pun on the line ‘The animals have the right of way’; this song is about rights for those without a voice, after all). Macca closes with the idea that ‘while man is the top, an animal [is] too’, claiming that we all exist alongside each other for a reason and that to lose any more species to extinction so that future generations can’t enjoy them would be a travesty. Easily as brave as Lennon’s better known political statements, raising an unpopular subject matter with taste and decorum (at least on paper), this song deserved better – both from Wings and from the press of the day. Side two opens with one of the few tracks on ‘Wildlife’ to judge both song and performance just right. ‘Some People Never Know’ is a glorious return to the rather more polished love songs recorded for ‘Ram’ and continues the themes of many of Paul’s first batch of love songs to Linda, one of incredulity that the pair were lucky enough to meet when they did. In fact this song is only a few lines away from its more famous cousin ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and while not as ‘epic’ as that song, this understated piece is in many ways every bit as lovely. Paul and Linda sing in harmony for most of the song, underlining the image that their love cannot be broken and going into some very JohnandYoko territory that everyone who doesn’t ‘get’ their relationship must be ignorant because their love for each other is so huge and overwhelming. There’s a sweet middle eight here, unusual for this most rushed of albums, where McCartney’s narrator admits that, being only human he can make mistakes and pleading for his partner’s love to return (it’s heard properly the first time and then sung the second time into a dead microphone suggesting both space and failure– an old Beatles trick favoured by Lennon especially and best heard on ‘Yer Blues’). The tune, too, is a sweet and catchy one and the hook is one the band appear to enjoy playing given the song’s extended fade and an interesting coda played by McCartney and Seiwell on a couple of bongos. Like ‘Long Haired Lady’ on ‘Ram’, the suggestion is that while love might start as a small, understated response, it can grow into the biggest most overwhelming thing imaginable , becoming an epic production job by the end; like ‘Long Haired Lady’ ‘Some People Never Know’ is one of the best love songs Paul ever wrote and probably the highlight of the album. ‘I Am Your Singer’ is a little too muddled in imagery to compete, but it’s still another strong song. Wanting a new metaphor for love McCartney looked inside himself and decided to write about the act of creativity being directly linked to love: namely that a song needs someone to sing it (and to inspire it). Linda was the only constant McCartney had in this troubled period between the Beatles split and ‘Band On The Run’ and many of the songs from this era are about her and the unchanging love the pair had when the rest of the world seemed to have gone mad. ‘Singer’ mangles its metaphors a little too much for comfort but the idea is a sweet one – Paul and Linda even get to sing together in pure harmony as a duet, a rare occurrence on any McCartney project but particularly here where Linda ‘is’ Paul’s singer (if you follow the simile). Most of the band (aside from Linda) even play a solo on a set of simple recorders as provided in most schools, adding a touch of the home-made to this simple song about inspiration. Alas the song is simply too short to make as much of an impact as the two rather more epic songs before it and there’s a couple of iffy lines that creep into the middle verse (‘We will fly away, going winging’ – that might well be a pun on the new group and what Paul and Linda were up to, but still makes for a rather childish line). The song also plods a little and sounds awfully bass heavy for such a sweet light little song (Denny’s guitar growls throughout, as if he’s laughing at his new bosses). That said, ‘I Am Your Singer’ is still a sweet little song with much to commend about it and deserves to be better regarded by McCartney-philes, offering a real insight into both the Paul and Linda relationship and the way that Paul’s muses are closer to the surface in his work than in most writers’ canons. A short link comes next, un-named on the original vinyl and cassette pressings but named ‘Bip Bop (Link) when ‘Wildlife’ came out on CD for the first time in the late 80s. It features Paul, not Denny, playing the acoustic guitar riff central to ‘Bip Bop’ and a lot more phasing effects than made it to the parent track. Paul is no acoustic genius in the same mould as, say, Bert Jansch or Davy Graham, but the link is a nice little curio to have and may well have been the demo starting point for the song. ‘Tomorrow’ is the most natural sounding pop song on ‘Wildlife’ and arguably should have been the single (after ‘Love Is Strange’ got cancelled at the last minute, no singles were taken from the album – unheard of for the day when singles and album sales were split pretty much 50:50 and sales of one really helped the other). ‘Tomorrow’ was written quite deliberately as an attempt to curry favour with the press and fans again and even borrows its title and theme from McCartney’s most famous song ‘Yesterday’. Sung largely in the same key, ‘Tomorrow’ is much more upbeat and celebrates escape and excitement, always looking forward to the next line or phrase in the same way that ‘Yesterday, a song full of guilt and looking back at the past, seemed to lean back to where each line had just been. Despite a strong hook and a lively middle eight that kicks in whenever the song risks getting boring (‘Bring a bag of bread and cheese...’), the song never really lives up to its early promise and sounds a little too artificial after the past few emotional songs. The highlight is undoubtedly the famous Wing blend coming into play for pretty much the first time, with Denny’s work as the ‘middle voice’ adding a real touch of professionalism to an often rushed sounding record. An instrumental version of this song was recorded for ‘Red Rose Speedway’ (re-named, punningly, Tom Orrow) but as yet has never been released (it might well appear on planned deluxe versions of either ‘Wildlife’ or ‘Red Rose Speedway’). ‘Dear Friend’ is the other album highlight, a really slow sad song about a friendship heading for the rocks and wanting to make peace. Fans wondered for years if this was a song about Lennon and, some time around the millennium, McCartney finally confessed that that was the case. It’s certainly a lot more revealing about the Lennon-McCartney feud than either of the pair’s ‘angry’ songs (the clever but misguided pun-filled ‘How Do You Sleep?’ and McCartney’s own dig at ‘people preaching practises’ on ‘Too Many People’) and succeeds by keeping things simple and letting the angst in the song flow out unhindered (a few harmonies and a superbly subtle string and brass arrangement turn up in the second half, but by and large this is just piano and drums). You have to say, though, that as an apology this song is still a very backhanded one. ‘Are you afraid or is it true?’ is a puzzling line to add to a ‘truce’ song (the second verse replacement of this ‘Are you a fool?’ is even nastier) and the way McCartney sings the next line ‘I’m in love with as friend of mine’ makes it sound, to all intents and purposes, as if his enemy doesn’t know what love is. The rumour mill went into overdrive when Linda died in 1997, with some reporters claiming to have dug out the fact that Linda had an affair with Lennon during her early time with Paul. Chances are it’s pure hokum (like most things that start in the Daily Mail), but that seems to be the gist of this song: ‘you had your chance, you didn’t understand her and now you lost her’ (you could read ‘Dear Boy’ from ‘Ram’ the same way, although that’s most likely about Linda’s ex husband Joseph Melvin – perhaps this song is partly too, despite the Lennon hints). Somehow the genuine sounding sadness in McCartney’s voice and the haunting choice of block piano chords manage to overcome these points and ‘Dear Friend’ is still one of Paul’s most haunting songs, whatever the true subject. If only Macca had written a few more lines for the song (it runs to just two brief verses despite the song’s long length) it might have been a true fan-loved classic – as it is not many fans seem to know about this revealing, haunting song. Alas it’s another recording still currently in McCartney’s mammoth vaults, but I hope that soon the world will get to hear McCartney’s brief demo for this song, one which is even more haunting and heartfelt, without the touches of cynicism and sarcasm that creep into the finished product. The album then ends where it began with the second of the two links (again untitled until ‘Wildlife’s release on CD), this time using the main riff of Mumbo. The burst of double-tracked grungy guitar and Paul’s hypnotic bass riff sounds particularly harsh after the last track and to add to the raw, chaotic feel of the album the song is sliced off mid-note (a noisy smash of Seiwell’s hi-hat), mimicking artificially the opening sliced note of ‘Mumbo’. This sounds positively normal nowadays but for the day was a daring move – and so completely out of touch with glam rock it’s no wonder ‘Wildlife’ got the short shrift it did. Still, ‘Wildlife’ is an album that’s grown ever better in the past 40 years, its rawness and occasional edgyness rescuing its rather mixed bag of songs. If nothing else ‘Wildlife’ still sounds like no other album McCartney has ever made, using a ‘proper’ band to re-create the experiments of ‘McCartney’ ‘McCartney II’ and the Fireman albums (made up, in part, on the spot like parts of this album) and there are moments here – the bravery of ‘Wildlife’, the humbleness of ‘Some People Never Know’ and the solemnity of ‘Dear Friend’ to name just three – that we could have done with more of on other Wings albums quite frankly. In other words when this album is good it’s extremely good and when its bad it’s awful. The problem is Wings aren’t sharp enough yet to cope with such a challenge and only occasional rise to the same level as the best of the writing on offer here – and for the other half of the album McCartney is asleep, leaving lyrics empty (especially on the first two tracks) seemingly because of lazyness rather than any great artistic demands. For all the stick it got on release, though, for all the messed up recordings, the lack of intelligent lyrics and the occasional moment of artifice over honesty, I still really like ‘Wildlife’, an album with a big heart that at least tries to do something different rather than follow a tired old formula. McCartney could have retired when the critics started throwing things at him, like Lennon did in 1974. He could have brought up his new family in private, making demos for a ‘comeback’ album the way John did in 1980. He could have stockpiled his songs until he had 12 wonderful songs that would have wowed the critics. He could have stayed as a solo artist, treating his session musicians as ‘hired hands’ rather than giving them the chance to become a proper ‘group’. The fact that he didn’t, that he continued to record and tour, making Wings better and better with each release and concert, says much for McCartney’s steely determination and did much for his character at a time when he could easily have given everything up. ‘Wildlife’ is a misunderstood record from probably the most misunderstood period of a musician who is still one of the most misunderstood artists around. It’s no lost masterpiece, it’s clearly a stepping stone to bigger and greater things and only occasional reached the heights worthy of McCartney’s great heritage and background. But there is much to admire about ‘Wildlife’ and it deserves a much higher place in fans and critics’ affections than it currently receives.

'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976)

'London Town' (1978)

'Back To The Egg' (1979)

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980)

'Tug Of War' (1982)

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983)

'Press To Play' (1986)

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989)

'Driving Rain' (2001)
'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

'Memory Almost Full' (2006)

'New' (2013)

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings

Surviving TV and Film Footage

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part One: 1967-1987

Live/Wings/Solo/Compilations/Classical/Unreleased Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1970-1984

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1985-2015

Essay: Not So Silly Love Songs

Key Concerts and Cover Versions


  1. Remains my favourite Wings album for lots of good reasons - many of which you've highlighted here. An unusually perceptive review.

    1. Thankyou! I've always had a soft spot for 'Wildlife' too despite what other critics say - you can at least tel what Wings were trying to do even if they didn't always achieve it! Thanks for reading! 8>)