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. 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 ‘Beaucoups Of Blues’ one of the drummer’s better albums). The album that came in for most stick out the four, 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 and 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 fifteen years later like George Harrison’s Travelling Wilburys – would have been hailed as a work of genius. At the time, though, it was just seen as Paul being eccentric. Aging hippies? Touring up and down Britain’s universities? His wife on stage playing rudimentary keyboards? Singing songs about animal welfare (years before it became seen as a ‘normal’ thing to do). He’s cracked hasn’t he?
For Paul he couldn’t win. His critics didn’t like the down-home vibe of ‘McCartney’ or the lushness of ‘Ram’. So he decided that, rather than win them all back again overnight he was best off building his next venture from the ground up. ‘Wildlife’ thus smacks of ‘we’ll show you!’, continuing McCartney’s roughness but with a much bigger sound and Ram’s pointed barbs but with more love. Fed up of crafting his music for weeks on end, as he had on ‘Ram’, McCartney decided to go back to basics, hurriedly writing his songs before leaving them with as much time to ‘brew’ as they normally did. He also decided to test his new ad hoc band, which he’d got together out of friendships (Denny Laine had been a big friend since The Moody Blues supported The Beatles on 1 UK 1965 tour and they’d longed to work with each other again; it helped that one of Linda’s favourite ever singles was Denny singing ‘Go Now’ with that band out that same year), by asking the Ram session guys (Denny Seiwell was the only one willing to trade in a session musician salary for an untested band with a Beatle. Macca was pleased as he and Denny had been particularly close, with a bass and drum interplay that really helped shape that album and they could improvise together too, as heard on jam session  ‘Rode All Night’) and by asking his wife. Linda was the hardest sell: though she was a music fan she’d hated her piano lessons forced on her as a kid and was far from sure about singing onstage. But she’d proved her talents on ‘Ram’ and her voice really went well with her husband’s. Paul could hear it in his head in every song he wrote now and they needed a keyboard player anyway; why should he hire some replacement and leave her at home when she could be on stage with him? Critics and fans have laughed at the idea ever since (‘I wouldn’t get up on stage with my old lady’ infamously said Mick Jagger, but then he would never have bounced ideas off her and sung round the house the way Macca did), but Wings would be missing a wheel without Linda there and in the studio particularly she’s very much one of the boys. Especially here, where Paul keeps writing love song duets for her to sing in the wake of ‘Ram’.
Wings were, though, hardly in a fit state to fly. Most bands form through weeks of touring pressure, or maybe making a first album at their leisure. This first line-up of Wings barely had time to take their coats off before instruments were thrust into their hands and the tapes started rolling. Macca, impatient to get his career really moving, decided to test them by rushing them through sessions and leaving his songs in even more of a rough and ready state. The whole record was made in just eight days (one per day, with the ‘rehearsals’ of ‘Mumbo’ and ‘Bip Bop’ kept intact on the album as ‘links’), McCartney’s shortest writing-to-completion project since The Beatles’ first album ‘Please Please Me’ nine long years before. Macca missed being in a band, of bouncing ideas off each other and of playing live for fun and was desperate to get back there. Taking Wings to his makeshift Mull of Kintyre ‘Rude Studios’ (actually a converted barn), he drilled them with his new songs as much as he dared. In many ways it’s what Paul wanted ‘Let It Be’ to be, the sound of a crack team bouncing off each other with an atmosphere in the studio that really crackled with energy.
Alas, while doing this with the later over-slick Wings of 1976 who’d just come off a long tour would have been a great idea, 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 never mind learn how to interact each other and balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The best bands – the session men on ‘Ram’ included – sound as if they’d been playing together for decades; Wings here sound like a band who’ve only known each other for about eight days. Which is exactly what they were. Like ‘Let It Be’ (and unlike ‘Please Please Me’), before it, ‘Wildlife’ is an album that ‘fails’ too 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’).‘Wildlife’s biggest problem is that, however much it tries, however promising the songs are, however great the musicians are individually in this first line-up, the performances are too tentative to really let things rock. Everyone is trying to listen to the others and not over-step the mark; oddly for what is about to happen and the workaholic he’s just been accused of being, even Paul doesn’t quite step in and take charge. Denny L, great as he is, is a harmoniser and rhythm guitar player cast as a lead guitar player. Denny S, great as he is, is a session musician not a rockstar. Linda, great as she is, has no experience at all and never dreamed just two years ago she’d even have a music career. And Paul, great as he is, has lost his usual nerve and his judgement: the public don’t seem to like what he does, but he can’t stop, so what does he do next? What if everything he ever writes is wrong?
Without the complexity and aural perfection of McCartney’s other albums of the 1970s ‘Wildlife’ desperately needs strong band performances and without them this album falls rather flat. The trouble is, this is the wrong set of songs to bring to a back-to-basics party, full of sweet ballads and slow burners. It’s like smooching with your baby at a noisy disco or dancing like John Travolta at a ballroom dance, it’s not that what you’re doing is wrong, you’ve just picked the wrong surroundings. What’s odd is that this album fails to rock as well as we know McCartney and Wings could do just a few months later. Period B-sides from only a little later in Wings’ wingspan ( ‘The Mess’  ‘Soilly’) and Macca’s own work from past years ( ‘Oh Woman Oh Why’,  ‘Smile Away’) are as strong and powerful as any rockers the Beatles ever did, crackling with an 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 twelve 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). It should have been the perfect idea for a new band (though perhaps not quite this new): record them hard and fast and powerful, just like George Martin did The Beatles in 1963.
This album suffers, too, because in McCartney’s head ‘hard rocking’ and ‘back to basics’ means ‘simplicity’ and so he writes simple songs. No great problem there, but it’s taken to extremes. Two of them, ‘Mumbo’ and ‘Bip Bop’, don’t even come in English, favouring a ‘babytalk’ that was probably inspired by the McCartney children but isn’t really what you expect from a Beatle who once crafted songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Daughter Stella, born the same year as ‘Wildlife’, was particularly 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. Other songs have proper lyrics but don’t exactly have depth: most of side two is pure love songs without any twists in the tale,  ‘Tomorrow’ makes for a crazy comparison with prequel ‘Yesterday’ with none of the same complexity and the title track doesn’t get much further than ‘be kind to animals’. In fact all the songs here could be summed up in a sentence; some in a single word (‘Gibberish’). On its own terms that simplicity is no bad thing, but again the timing sucks. 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 flimsy album was always going to come out badly. Most critics will tell you side one is the worst twenty 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).
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 though or glance. Unfortunately here too Paul is writing songs that he thinks are all great (or all ghastly depending on his mood) and isn’t listening to people telling him which is really which. 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’, while 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, plus there’s ‘Best Friend’ a lively audience response song only ever recorded live, and the wonderful  ‘A Love For You’, the best pop song Wings 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.
However, despite everything going against it and while never holding it up as a musical masterpiece, I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Wildlife’. It’s an album that was slated without a chance of appeal in the early ‘McCartney broke up the Beatles and is acting weird’ years, which has coloured everyone’s impression of it as an out-and-out failure. In truth it 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). It wasn’t just who was making it that was the problem either: 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 album ‘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’. It’s like one of those paintings that’s so raw you can still see the fingerprint marks on the canvas, making this album more ‘real’ than some efforts. The harmonies between Paul, Linda and Denny Laine are also as immaculate as ever – scarily so given how little they’d sung together - 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 others – 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). The new arrangement is also sufficiently different to either of the two famous versions to give a good idea of how McCartney’s mercurial musical brain works, a party rather than a puzzle. In ‘Wildlife’ itself Paul manages to do nothing less than 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 (though he never worked with Denny) 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. He has, after all, just left the Moodies during an ultimately abandoned ninth LP that would have been much like middle-period Wings: slow ballads and a sense of scale and size. Unfortunately here Clarke is recording the band raw, quickly, and he’s well out of his comfort zone far more than they are. He never had to work with a band like this before and perhaps signed up to the project to work with a Beatle rather than because he could offer this album what it needed. Effectively he acted as a highly paid tape operator (the album starts with Macca’s ‘take it, Tony’ message at the start of ‘Mumbo’ , with the track starting partway through).
Another puzzling fact is that the daring new politically aware McCartney, soon to be unleashed on Wings’ first single  ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ (now there’s a daring debut!) 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 will show they are capable of in just a few weeks’ time in the new year. The one exception to this is the title track of this record, 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 ‘Ram’ for more on the country as a haven from city life), naturally Paul wants to turn his audience ‘on’ to that 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 theme only lasted as long as the album name and title track. It was a really key idea for Paul and Linda: having recently become farmers, they were struck one day that the chicken cooking in their pot looked like one strolling along happily outside; they never eat meat again. Macca hasn’t yet turned the rest of Wings veggie, but it did kick-start a crusade that lasts to this day. Many people have the attitude that Macca should keep his belief to himself (not least the McDonalds in Liverpool, which printed his smiling face next to a burger and had to take it down after a court-case). In retrospect though two tracks twenty-one 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 forty 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.
More than that, though, ‘Wildlife’ is an album loosely about ‘preservation’. The title track most obviously tries to preserve animals but the other songs have a bash at preserving more human things. ‘Mumbo’ and ‘Bip Bop’ is daddy Paul’s attempts to record the nonsense language of his children before they grow up and it gets forgotten. ‘Some People Never Know’ tries to preserve memories of just how hard Paul and Linda have fought to be together, with ‘I Am Your Singer’ perhaps an attempt to preserve memories of when it was just the two of them, singing together, on a Scottish farmyard now their world has suddenly got much bigger and more ambitious. ‘Dear Friend’, too, is an attempt to hold on to and preserve a special friendship before the insults get too much and break it. The only song that doesn’t fit the overall theme is ‘Tomorrow’, a song all about the future – and even that’s the only worry you can have when you are desperate for something wonderful from the present to stay wonderful into a rosy future.
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), the ever under-rated 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 chord-work 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 a somewhat patchy and often ignored one . I’d never make a claim for ‘Wildlife’ to be the best thing McCartneys ever did – 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 lived in 1971 and still blamed 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 [28a] ‘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 what that title means, it doesn’t mean a thing and neither do the lyrics: 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. 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 raw melody and gutsy hook of ‘Mumbo’ show real promise and McCartney’s gusty vocal has all the right grit and grain, while Tony Clarke’s work with Justin Hayward mean he nails the snarly guitar sound without it giving way to just noise. 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).
[29a] ‘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 like ‘Ram’ 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’ here for all this good work to attach itself to. ‘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 another  ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’). ‘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 five minutes work on the lyrics – five minutes for the song as a whole is about three too long as well. Much derided by Beatle fans, even Paul once said that ‘I hated that track…I still cringe every time I hear it’ in the book ‘Conversations With Paul McCartney’. Given that he still has a soft spot for ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and  ‘We All Stand Together’, that’s really saying something. Even Beatles have off-days though and there’s a pretty tune buried in there somewhere.
The album has to get better – and thankfully it does. Many fans dislike Wings’ reggae cover of  ‘Love Is Strange’ too, 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, especially after the last two songs, 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 Jamaican 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). It’s easy to imagine McCartney being angry at other people dismissing love for being nothing much when he knows it’s the most transformative thing in the universe and – if his first two records are to be believed – the only thing that kept him out of the funny farm. Realising that love is fascinating rather than strange Paul turns this into a singalong, using his wife’s favourite genre to sing it to her. Paul’s vocal is particularly 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’ (which comes out more like ‘money and that’, but that’s the original lyric) 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’) that’s joyous. 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 qualified success. Quite what people would have made of it as a single, though is anyone’s guess.
The title track of the album  'Wildlife' 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 - e.g. ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ covered by The Searchers - or imagine problems in the far future e.g. ‘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 in the air’, 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 line that ‘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. Only today, as I work on the re-write, came the news that the last male Great White Rhino had died out, leading to certain extinction of their species; already Paul was seeing it coming, asking ‘what ever happened to?’ in the past tense, as if they’ve all died out already. 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 and just when he needed her. This song is only a few lines away from its more famous cousin  ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and while not as ‘epic’ or deep 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 (‘Some people can sleep at night-time, believing their love to be right…’ – interesting that Paul is still unsure for perhaps the last time in song; it’s a line 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’). It may too be aimed at people who didn’t ‘get’ why Paul was working with Linda when he could have been working with Lennon. Paul agrees that he must be a ‘fool’ but that he’s ‘far away’, living out an idyllic life behind closed doors that anyone would envy and that far from being a money-grabbing talentless American Linda had changed his life for the better. 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’ 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 its earlier sister song ‘Some People Never Know’ is one of the best love songs Paul ever wrote and arguably 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 on a similar theme. Wanting a new metaphor for love McCartney looked inside himself and decided to write about the act of creativity being directly linked to it: 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. ‘Ram’ was performed in many ways as a series of duets but may not have been written like that; now that he has the sound of their blend of harmonies in his head Paul is clearly trying to write for it here and what better metaphor than to have one as the ‘song’ and the other the ‘singer’ making it come alive (and vice versa?) ‘Singer’ mangles that metaphors a little too much for comfort (and it’s an idea nicked wholesale from The Rolling Stones in 1965) 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 (everyone 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 how anybody can find inspiration if they meet the right person. 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’ indeed – 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 compared to the rest). 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’ public display of affection). 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 instrumental burst comes next, un-named on the original vinyl and cassette pressings but sensibly named [29b] ‘Bip Bop (Link)’ when ‘Wildlife’ came out on CD for the first time in the late 1980s. 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 as he showed it to the rest of the group.
 ‘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 and the only McCartney album this happens on barring the first). ‘Tomorrow’ was written quite deliberately as a commercial 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. It seems deliberately written to mine that sunny pop instinct Paul has always had at his fingertips and in a melodic sense is a winner, leaving you singing along the first time you hear it. What it’s lacking, though, is anything under that attempt to get a hit single. 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 runs out of things to say. Macca’s hoping his baby won’t cancel their date and dreaming of all the things he’s going to do with her. Sweet, but shouldn’t be ringing her up and doing them instead of talking to us? 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. Or perhaps the ending, where the song takes an unexpected drift into a minor key and the whole song slows down out of the blue, before ending on a happy note anyway with a triumphant spin from Denny’s howling guitar. An instrumental version of this song was recorded (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’). It may well have been intended as a ‘link’ in line with the other two on the album, but it’s much more produced and very very different, so can’t be a ‘demo’ or ‘rehearsal’ take the way I suspect the others are.
 ‘Dear Friend’ is the other album highlight, a really slow sad song about a friendship heading for the rocks and wanting to make a gesture of peace. It’s a shock if you’ve come to this album direct from ‘Ram’ where Paul seemed to be trying to sound his mouth off. Fans wondered for years if this was a song about Lennon and, sometime around the millennium, McCartney finally confessed that that was the case. Lennon had really given ‘Ram’ a kicking in the music papers, referring to most of the songs somewhere – Paul, perhaps realising that his former partner would reply to anything he wrote this time around decided to throw away the spiked thistles and hold out an olive branch (oddly Lennon never responded or even commented on this LP, perhaps embarrassed by McCartney’s change of tone). ‘Dear Friend’ is 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  ‘Too Many People’), making it clear that harsh words and misunderstandings can’t really break a true friendship, just bend it a little. This piece has very little going on, but 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, finding the McCartney ‘n’ Seiwell team on a good day). 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 line with ‘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 and ought to be jealous. 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). 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, as if he’s just wandered to the keyboard after a sleepless night of guilt and wants to set the record straight. No of course he doesn’t hate Lennon: he just hates what they’ve become to each other and he wonders if the person he was once closer to than anyone is wondering the same about him. Notably Lennon’s stance did indeed soften after this song, as if he got the message (though John being John he never said as much in print; one wonders if he got a complimentary copy of this record from Apple). 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 of nearly six strung-out intense minutes) it might have been a true fan-loved classic – as it is not many fans seem to know about this revealing, haunting song. For anyone whose sat through the Beatles story from beginning to end, it will give you shivers down your spine, full of mystery and confusion (not unlike Lennon’s ‘Cry Baby Cry’ from ‘The White Album’ indeed). 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 and you really can believe he sang this version in the middle of a sleepless night.
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 [28b] 'Mumbo (Link).' 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 (with a noisy smash of Seiwell’s hi-hat), mimicking artificially the opening sliced note of ‘Mumbo’. This sounds positively normal nowadays after punk and grunge, 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. Denny’s spluttering guitar howls sound great before a chugging McCartney part takes over. It’s an odd way to bow out, kicking away the spooky allure of the final song, perhaps saying that the Wings story isn’t over yet and Macca isn’t quite over his anger.
Still, weird as it may be sometimes, ‘Wildlife’ is an album that’s grown ever better in the past forty years, its rawness and occasional edginess rescuing its rather mixed bag of songs. If nothing else ‘Wildlife’ is the third record in a row that sounds nothing like any 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). 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 it’s bad it’s awful. The problem is Wings aren’t sharp enough yet to cope with such a challenging set of songs and make them interesting and only occasional rise to the same level as the best of the writing on offer here – while for the other half of the album McCartney is asleep, leaving lyrics empty (especially on the first two tracks) seemingly because of laziness 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 twelve wonderful pieces that would have wowed the critics curious after so much silence. 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 do any of these things, that he continued to record and tour, ramming on and making Wings better and better with each release and concert, says much for McCartney’s steely determination and did much for his character. ‘Wildlife’ is the first kickback against the tide, the first McCartney record that’s a proper attempt to start a solo career rather than mourn for the old days and while it gets a lot of basic things wrong there is enough magic hidden away inside it to make it right somehow to. Wildlife is perhaps the most 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, worth visiting next time you’re at the zoo and fancy some funky tapirs rather than the common-day ‘Band On The Run’ penguins, ‘Speed Of Sound’ zebras and ‘Venus and Mars’ clandusprod aliens.