Friday, 4 July 2008
Paul McCartney and Wings "London Town" (1978) (Revised Review 2015)
On which Wings hire a boat and record some music during time off from their holiday…
Track Listing: London Town (Silver Rain Came Pouring Down)/ Café On The Left Bank/ I’m Carrying/ Backwards Traveller/ Cuff Link/ Children Children/ Girlfriend/ I’ve Had Enough// With A Little Luck/ Famous Groupies/ Deliver Your Children/ Name And Address/ Don’t Let It Bring You Down/ Morse Moose And The Grey Goose
'If you want good eggs you better feed that hen...'
Half of the album may have been recorded on board two yachts navigating the Virgin Islands, but from its title to its front cover to the music 'London Town' feels like a home-coming. Back in 1976 few rock acts had ever been on a tour as extended or thorough as Wings Over The World and while the concerts were gratefully received by starved Beatles fans the tour was lengthy and tiring.Wings, never the most fragile of groups, were splitting at the seams. Aware that the band needed to take things easier if they were to stay together and again keen to record somewhere unusual rather than the same old ugly studio, Macca asked the band for ideas of where to record that might seem more like a holiday. It was Denny Laine who suggested the idea of recording on a boat - he'd lived on a houseboat in lieu of a house for a year when the Moody Blues money had run out and Wings' hadn't arrived yet - and it seemed like the pefect solution. The McCartneys quickly chartered three boats - one for the McCartney family, one for the band and one for the equipment and Macca's old friend and Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick (one boat was named 'The Grey Goose' and appears in song; the other was named 'The Fair Carol' and wasn't - no one seems quite sure what the third was called). The early sessions were reportedly idyllic, with songwriting and recording sessions interrupted by frequent bouts of sunbathing and swimming and the band 'conference' took place in the morning in the sea. However a series of unblucky incidents turned the experience another disaster rivalling the Laos experience of 'Band On The Run'. Emerick struggled to keep the studio together with no chance of going back for spare parts or plugging into an electricity board, accidentally electrocuting his foot quite badly as he set the studio up. Wings quickly found that steep staircases, rocking boats and inebriated nights out didn't go together and first Jimmy then Paul fell down the steep steps leading down to their cabins, badly injuring a knee each. Then to top it all off local customs officials heard a rock band were in town and decided to pay them an unexpected visit - they were let off with nothing more stern than an 'official warning', but Wings' elder navy captain hosts were less than amused and the band got into an argument that left them back in the harbour stranded until they could hire another boat (named 'The Wanderlust' - inspiring one of the better songs from Paul's 1982 album 'Tug Of War'). The band finally packed their grand idea in when Linda revealed she was pregnant with son James and grudgingly decided that being seasick and pregnancy-sick while on board a boat in the middle of nowhere surrounded by drunken musicians was probably not the best place to be.
On their last legs before the 'holiday', the band split up not long after despite a second set of more ordinary sessions booked at Abbey Road. In a neat inverse of what happened on 'Band On The Run' Wings were now once again down to a core trio of Paul, Linda and Denny - but after the foreign adventure had taken place rather than before (the songs recorded in the 'second half' with the 'core trio' are Backwards Traveller, Cuff Link, Girlfriend the two Denny Laine songs and possibly I'm Carrying- you might notice that only a few of these songs feature drums! The Denny songs were a late substitute for 'Find A Way', a song of his tried out at sea that was never finished, alongside the excruciating McCartney punk song 'Boil Crisis' which will unfortunately set the tone for the next and final Wings album 'Back To The Egg'). Jimmy handed his notice in more or less straight away after getting the call from an excited Steve Marriott who wanted him for a reunited Small Faces; rather chuffed to be called by a guitarist he admired (McCulloch's style is a lot closer to Marriott's second band Humble Pie than The Beatles), Jimmy handed his notice in straight away despite McCartney's concern that Marriott's bands tended to never last very long. As it turns out Jimmy's life ended before the band's did, after the guitarist died of a heart attack brought on by morphine poisoning from all the drugs in his system in September 1979, a mere 18 months after this album's release. He was only twenty-six, beating even the members of the infamous 'twenty-seven' club who lived too hard too fast by nine months. Joe's departure was rather calmer - he'd loved being with Wings but realised that recording 'Venus and Mars' down the road from his home town was going to be the exception rather than the rule for a very English-centred band. Having spent most of the[past three years away from home and family, he grew increasingly homesick and asked for a heart to heart with his boss about his future; the McCartneys, who'd never been keen on the rest of the band having family around despite taking their whole family crew with them wherever they went, realised they had to let him go. Interestingly much of the theme of 'London Town' is homesickness - although it's actually for Europe in general and England in particular rather than Joe's New Orleans hometown.
As well as the usual array of Wings styles, 'London Town' features English sea shanties, traditional English folk and even what might be termed traditional English rock and roll ('Name and Address' is more Johnny Kidd and the Pirates than Elvis). While 'Cafe On The Left Bank' is pure French travelogue, songs like 'Children Children' 'Morse Moose' and 'London Town' itself are pure English songs in stark contrast to the more Americanised pop of 'Venus and Mars' and 'Speed Of Sound'. For a time the album was also set to be Wings' most SVottish album until a song recorded late in the sessions was released as a single at the tail end of 1977: 'Mull Of Kintyre'. A best-seller with bagpipes, it was a last hurrah of sorts (the last song to feature Joe and the last writing collaboration between Paul and Denny - in fact it caused something of a rift betwene them as Denny agreed to a proposal that he would get an 'advance' from the song in return for handing over his rights, little knowing what a monster hit it would be; Paul's decision to uphold the agreement, while technically well within his rights, seems rather harsh given that he wasn't exactly in need of the extra money). The 'Kintyre' milestone also lifted a millstone around McCartney's neck: after years of telling a disbelieving press that his best-selling work might still be ahead of him, Macca finally broke a long-standing Beatles record for highest UK sales (though 'Kintyre' was a major flop in pretty much every other country where bagpipes are more of an acquired taste). 'London Town' the album suffers a little from that too and for all the air and sea miles it built up over the course of production it's a record that doesn't seem to have travelled well, not much known outside it's native land.
Which is a shame because despite being written off at birth and kicked by most critics ever since, 'London Town' is if not necessarily the best or the most consistent Wings album then easily their more interesting. Caught halfway between the laidback feel of the holiday jaunt that never was and the tightness, confidence and urgency of 'Band On The Run' which in similar circumstances saw the streamlined band at their performance best, 'London Town' is the closest Wings ever got to fulfilling their full potential and showing what a band they could have been with better luck and a happier line-up. The album's peculiar mix of laidback grooves and high-strung rockers may not be to everyone's tastes but it does offer some inteiguing sounds you can't get anywhere else and shows off one of the greatest factors in Wings' favour - their eclecticism - to great effect. What other album from the 1970s can you name which goes from a traditional folk song featuring flageolets to a raw and primal 50s spoof into a prog rock masterclass featuring beeping synths and sea shanties? With a running time of 51:29 the album contains so much that it's easier to overlook the typical Wings flaws (the 'Backwards Traveller-Cuff Link' medley is this album's 'what the?' moment, while 'I've Had Enough' is one of the band's less inspired singles) because even without them there's a full album's worth of excellent material here (this is the longest McCartney album until as late as 'Flowers In The Dirt' in 1989, which sahdes it by two minutes). What's more all of these songs seem to be doing something different yet somehow they all seem to 'fit' as wider pieces of the jigsaw - even the similar 'Venus and Mars' album had to shoe-horn a half-concept in to make them work - and yet Geoff Emerick's glittering production (for which he really should have had a bigger credit) means that a bitty album recorded in two seperate chunks still sounds like an album where every song 'belongs'. Though there's no real connection between the songs here other than an aching nostalgia and a (very) vague theme of life on the road ('Cafe On The Left Bak' takes it seriously, 'Famous Groupies' less so) and the tracks verge from bawdy comedy to stark solemnity ('Don't Let It Bring You Down' is one of the great un-sung Wings masterpieces). At long last Wings have learnt how to merge the confidence, aggression and consistent production sound of 'Band On The Run' with the more laidback grab-bag of esotericness of 'Venus and Mars'. Had Wings survived another decade and needed to look back for inspirition then this should have been their starting point - an album that might occasionally reach the dizzying heights of past triumphs but trips over its own big feet less and less. If the tracks aren’t all individually the greatest things Wings ever did (what on earth is Cuff Link doing taking up so much space?!), London Town still impresses by being quite possibly the most rounded album Wings or maybe even McCartney ever made, one that at last shows off the man’s ridiculously wide wingspan of talents on one long-running slab of vinyl. Even the lengthy closing instrumental workout is genuinely inventive and innovative, while the shorter pop songs seem sharper, the rockers seem harder and the prime McCartney ballads are even more gorgeously aching and fragile than normal.Why more people don't love this album I'll never know - there's far more going on here than in either of the records the other side of it and though you could make a case for 'Red Rose Speedway' 'Band On The Run' and 'Venus and Mars' for vartious reasons 'London Town' remains my favourite Wings record.
Partly the reason the record works so well is the series of contrasts cleverly interwoven - whether by accident or design - throughout the record. The album cover comes with both monochrome 'winter' and technicolour 'summer' designs (actually something The Hollies had tried first on 1966's 'For Certain Because...', a record recorded at Abbey Road alongside The Beatles' 'Revolver') and that's reflected in the opening two songs. Typically we're in London and it's wet for the title track (though its the nicely descriptive 'silver rain' that's 'falling down') - next second we're in a French cafe in the sunshine. 'I'm Carrying' has a package of love to go along with the parcels Macca is carrying to give to his beloved - before 'Backwards Traveller' has him walking off in the other direction, as if somebody's just flipped the 'reverse' button. After a brief foray for 'Cuff Link' the album grows from the childhood of 'Children Children' to the adolescence of 'Girlfriend' (and potentially out the other side to the huffing and puffing of 'I've Had Enough'). It's a real shame that 'With A Little Luck' and 'Don't Let It Brign You Down' aren't together: they're effectively the same song but looked at from very different angles: 'Down' is the bitter down-in-the-drumps heaving sighs of the night before, desperately trying to keep it together until things get better very much back in the London Town 'rain' whilst 'Luck' is the happy sunshine of the following day when anything can happen, the sunshine from France coming out with a smile. Denny's 'Deliver Your Children' gets in on the act too: presumably McCartney gets a co-credit for the most Paul-like line on the album ('If a thing goes wrong you gotta make it right'). That leaves the humour of 'Famous Groupies' (the bawdiest knees-up on any McCartney album and actually rather ahead of its time with its lewd humour and risque jokes) and the fake sincetrity of 'Name and Address' (which is a throwback to yesteryear when romantic pop songs could get away with such daftness, performed with a knowing wink that says 'we couldn't get away with a song like this today...'). That just leaves the icy sea-ridden tentacles of 'Morse Moose', a mad sea shanty that with shades of 'The Flying Dutchman' leaves Wings forever lost at sea, sending out the album as a form of their repeated distress code (though some books report that this song simply repeats the morse code over and over, it was actually illegal at the time to repeat the 'SOS' code in a song and from what I can make out the rhythm translates closest to 'CT' played over and over. Make of that what you will!) However, much like 'London Town', what comes over loud and clear isn't so much the distress of making the album but the delight in the sheer challenge of making it and overcoming the obstacles that got in their way to carry on great music. And if that shouldn't survive to be Wings' swansong then I don't know what does.
Not co-incidentally for such a great album, there's an awful lot of Denny Laine on this album, Under-used and under-appreciated for much of his time with the band, Denny at last has material and time on his hands and with Jimmy's and Joe's position in the band fading and a pregnant Linda distracted this is his last chance to prove himself as Paul's 'equal partner'. Another part of the reason 'London Town' works so well are the bursts of glorious harmonies that surround this album even more than normal. only CSN and the Beach Boys can rival Wings on a good day and no album sums up this band’s three-part shine and shimmer like London Town. Linda didn’t just find her spiritual soulmate when she met Paul, she found her vocal soulmate too with the couple blending so well at times they sound like one voice. Meanwhile, Denny Laine’s voice goes well with anything, providing the ‘
Crosby’ glue that holds the
trio together and adding the icing to a particularly rich cake and his own
songs are gems that shine every bit as well as McCartney’s for the most part. From
the gentle Motown-style urgent optimism of 'With A Little Luck' to the
devestating depression of 'Don't Let It Bring You Down' to his own two songs,
the slightly wet 'Children Children' and the much smarterm folk-rock style
'Deliver Your Children' Denny is right there. As with 'Band On The Run' many of
these performances are ensemble pieces, with or without the other musicians
around, and there's a real sense that Paul and Denny know each other well
enough to get each other out of trouble now ('Morse Moose' is the sort of
grit-your-teeth-and-go-for-it jam session thyat only works with a band who know
each other well - 'Wildlife' features several examples of Paul assuming Wings
could fly before they could walk but now the band are capable of his bigger
concepts). One of my favourite bootleg tapes by anyone is the 'roughs' tape for
this album, full of all the rough edges the band got to removing back at Abbey
Road and while the finished product comes with the usual pristine layers of
polish, the raw takes reveal what a great time the band are having in between
all the incidents and accidents. 'Name and Address' is the only song that still
has this sense of 'drama in the room' unfolding on the album (especially the
way it conmes to an uncomfortable full-stop, seemingly deliberately breaking
down) but originally great swathes of the album sounded this way, with an
especially gorgeous gruff version of 'With A Little Luck', a much funnier
'Famous Groupies', a punkish elongated version of 'Backwards Traveller' that
actually makes sense in a 'surreal Lennon' kind of a way and a more rambling
yet far livelier 'Morse Moose' (before the 'Grey Goose' sailed alongside) with
the energy of invention still very much in the room. Hopefully some or perhaps
all of these tapes will be on the McCartney deluxe edition of 'London Town' one
day - I predict here and now that 'London Town' will surprise and please a lot
of fans not expecting much, especially the 'raw' stuff (though they didn't use
any of the similarly good raw sessions for 'Venus and Mars' sadly; incidentally
for once I'm at a loss as to what they could use for the DVD - there are TV
clips of 'London Town' and 'With A Little Luck' and that's about it).
However as Wings learnt so often during their career (especially with 'Wildlife') you can still lose the record race if you release just the wrong record at just the wrong time. Sent out blinking into the light of the day during the middle of the punk era – which is everything this cleverly orchestrated, delightfully polished album isn’t – London Town had more of a struggle in life to overcome than most. With music suddenly becoming deadly serious again almost overnight in the late 1970s during the second wave of ‘art = pain’ musicians, London Town got dismissed at the time as a millionaire superstar and his lackeys paying for his holiday by recording an album full of doodles. At the time it was felt that there was too much whimsy and too many ballads, but in retrospect 'London Town' has just about the right mix of everything, a record where the band's whimsicalness is at its most winsome and their rockers at their most loud and punchy. There’s also a lot of quiet bravery about this record that many people miss, with Wings attempting lots of new ideas that millionaire rock musicians could have gotten away without doing in 1978 – but unlike other oddities in the McCartney/Wings canon like Valentine Day and Loup (First Indian On The Moon) there is some substance to tracks like 'Famous Groupies' and 'Morse Moose' and even 'Backwards Traveller' (of a sort) and they don’t exist for the sole purpose of sounding outré and wacky as before. In short, London Town works because more than any other McCartney album, Paul has let his guard down and in essence its 50 minutes of Macca and co having fun and stretching their ‘wings’. The impression that this record was a 'failure' (although it still went top five in the album charts both sides of the Atlantic) took on such a hold that even McCartney himself declared the album a lost cause (though not before cutting off a member of his long-term staff who told him it wasn't up to his usual standards), which is odd given that he still defends the weaker 'Back To The Egg' most days. They're both wrong by the way: 'London Town' is a late period Wings classic, a last joyous piece of escapism before Macca’s songwriting got deep and serious again immediately post- Lennon’s death. Though no McCartney album is truly perfect and 'Ram' probably has an ever so slightly higher quota rating of excellence per song ('Band On The Run' too if you could discount 'Picasso's Last Words') 'London Town' remains one of the very best albums in his and his band's catalogue. Surely I can't be the only one to think this? (Someone, somewhere, has to know!) With a little luck - and hopefully a deluxe edition special - so other people will realise this album's worth too.
Things start promisingly with  London Town itself, a pretty tune with some interesting social commentary-lyrics about how the city never changes year upon year, mirroring Graham Nash’s then-recent Cold Rain masterpiece from 1977's 'CSN' about how despite all the success and times he'd experienced no one else around him seemed to move on when he went back home. McCartney's voices again equate him to his favourite theme of the 'ordinary people' but this time the ordinary people are suffering - 'holding conversations that are always incomplete' while jobbing actors pretend to be more successful than they really are. London, a city that once seemed so glamourous to the Liverpudlian Beatles, has now lost its glitter, just another land of missed opportuities where it rains a lot. Presumably written after Wings returned to the mainland (Jimmy and Joe both appear briefly but the song doesn't appear with the other Virgin Island tapes), it sounds like homesickness in reverse - that a 'home' imagined as being beautiful and tranquil and safe is actually anything but. However the record does the usual Wings trick of taking a bad thing and making it better, adding in the production glitz and glamour the characters in the song can never experience, the song's author only too pleased to have gotten away with the life he's been living instead of theirs. However this Eleanor Rigby-type observation of frustration and loneliness is rather clouded by a surreal last verse which among other things involves a policeman (non-British citizens might not know that a 'rozzer' is a slang tewerm for a 'cop') wearing pink balloons on his foot ('toot toot toot toot tut!'), an unexpected slice of psychedelic surrealism (no wonder the band were gtiven a drugs warning...) Forget the words if you want, though: the haunting swooping tune to this song is prime 70s McCartney and is well balanced between simple pop song and orchestral epic. The haunting lilt of the melody and catchy ethereal synthesizer are a joy in their own right and the Wings harmonies throughout this song are among their best.
If the last track is firmly keeping with the pre-punk Macca then  Café On The Left Bank is one of McCartney’s wittier responses to the new wave bands trying to overtake him. Like many of Macca’s best 70s tracks, Cafe charges along in classy rocker style with Jimmy McCulloch giving the band the perfect leaving present with his colourful guitar riff which takes this song instrumentally to a higher level. That’s possibly just as well, because the lyrics of this song are again a little bit odd when you study them closely, continuing the ‘day in the life’ theme of the last track but are set in
this time around. Paul gets
his story songwriting cap on, writing merely a set of observations about what’s
going on in a French café with a little hint of modern-day French Revolution in
the air, which is all very surreal and confusing. What exactly are we meant to
make of a 'tiny crowd of Frenchman round a TV shop watching Charles De Gaul
make a speech?' (is this a political statement on how they can't afford their
own sets?) Aware that the song might be heading in an unpleasant direction,
Paul turns on his own 'English speaking people; on holiday 'talking way too
loud for theitr ears'. It's a shame that a better or more suited lyric wasn't
found because the melody and performance of this one is great (Paul's
stuttering bass playing really proves why he's one of the best in the business,
pushing the recording on headlong). Many fans and critics felt a bit lost, but hearing
Macca back to his Birthday-vocal style best and the fact that Paul’s
returning to his Ram days of cobbling together a simple-sounding rocker
out of three or four complex parts still makes this a winner in my book,
especially thanks to one of Jimmy's best guitar snarls. France
 I’m Carrying really is simple, however; a rare return to the sweet acoustic Yesterday-like ballad that people always assume Macca albums are full of. Even George Harrison picked this track out in The Beatles Book magazine as being one of his partner’s best songs in many years during an interview and, well, I wouldn’t dare argue with George. Again, it’s the lyrics that let this delightful tune down, with some very Macca-ish rhymes (‘while’ and ‘style’ for instance) that ruin what could have been a great lyric. In case you didn’t quite catch it (Macca’s vocal is uncharacteristically hard to hear in this song) this song is about the narrator carrying a torch for someone else in secret, afraid to admit his feelings even to himself and working out how to make a return into the life of a girl he’s already said goodbye to once. It’s lovely to hear Macca back playing acoustically again (by my reckoning this is his first fully acoustic song since 1974’s Bluebird) and underneath all the sonic air and sweet melodic strings, this performance still has intact all the live-in-the-studio magic of the backing track and vocal.
From the deceptively simple to the outrageously complicated,  Backwards Traveller shows the breadth of this album in the space of about four minutes, with Macca gleefully stapling onto this simple slow-paced rocker some of the most impenetrable lyrics he ever penned. The narrator tells us early on that he is ‘always going back in time’, but the next few verses actually take us into the future, with their picture of ‘wailing on the moon’ while some space-age sound effects burble past our ears. Like many of his ‘nonsense’ songs (Smile Away from Ram for instance), Macca sings the song far straighter than normal, belting out the lyrics with such a passion that they sound as if they really mean something to him. I’m really not at all sure what these lyrics mean, however; it’s really just an excuse to sing lots of peculiar sounding words that shouldn’t go together, like Lennon used to do so often in his career. In many ways it’s a shame though: the tune to this song is very impressive and could have been a classic in McCartney’s canon had he spent more time on it. The time travel and space references would also have made a better fit on Venus and Mars and might have helped to flesh that album’s sketchy plot out a bit.
A sudden splurge of synthesizer then drags us into  Cuff Link – the first and rather lesser of the two electronic instrumentals that adorn this album and make it sound like an early prototype for McCartney II, another one of those badly under-estimated one-man band albums that sound terrible to non-fans but Macca Maniacs have more than a soft spot for. There really isn’t much more about this song to add: one synthesizer doodles a riff, another joins it in harmony, the bass and drums suddenly crash in and then a sensitive string-come-brass arrangement sweeps in, making this piece sound like something out of a 1980s film score. Dull by McCartney’s better standards, this is a good riff put to rather poor use and is almost certainly a recording improvised up during Wings’
Virgin Islands vacation.
I’m pleased to say that the underused Denny Laine gets two chances on this album to make his voice heard on this album, although the first of these tracks –  Children Children – isn’t exactly an album highlight either. The track is credited to Mccartney/Laine and it actually sounds more like the former’s work than the latter’s. Usually Denny’s tracks are the leaner, meaner material sandwiched between a couple of towering McCartney epics, but on this uncharacteristic track he’s using every trick up Wings’ sleeves: chirping sound effects, chiming zithers, large dollops of synthesizer, a riff played on what sound like electronic pan pipes and a fiddle solo. The highlight of this powerhouse arrangement though is Wings’ backing vocals, sounding gleefully childish in their simple harmonies, especially when they plead with the storyteller to continue his story and ‘start all over again’. As for the lyrics, they borrow the oft-used children’s song motif of a hidden imaginary world where kids are always playing and follows a rocking, rolling lullaby like rhythm that must have been a good one for getting the McCartney children off to sleep to on the boat. One of Denny’s more complex arrangements matched to one of his more simple lyrics, this song out-apes McCartney in it’s tale of childish innocence and freedom.
There’s no disputing the authorship of  Girlfriend, however – this is McCartney’s first all-out pop song since Silly Love Songs a couple of years before and shares with that song it’s breathless excitement and sweeping, rounded melody which as ever with Macca seems to go off on a random, meandering journey but always meets up at the beginning again. That man of a thousand voices Mr McCartney is back again, singing falsetto for most of the song, although this clever arrangement makes the most out of Macca’s contrastingly deep vocals on the middle eight and Denny’s falsetto harmonies on the last verse are delightful. Lovely Wings harmonies, pretty tune, clever lyrics, perfect pop construction with the end going back to the beginning; this original version make’s Michael Jackson’s better known cover from his Off The Wall album sound like amateur hour, big hit that it was. Not very groundbreaking it’s true, but with consummate pop like this thrown away as an album track, what more can you ask?
Macca’s other vocal extreme – a deep throaty growl – can be heard on I’ve Had Enough, a largely failed attempt at tongue-in-cheek humour that undoes much of the good work of
’s first side. A
catch-all angry rock song with a swinging pop chorus, this record is still one
of Macca’s poorest selling to date when released as a single (Frog Song
follow-up Tropic Island Hum (2004) may well have beaten this song into
last place now as far as pre-album singles go, but as its relatively recent and
was then still awaiting a proper animated film to go with it, it may well sell
more copies than I’ve Had Enough in the long run despite being on the
verge of deletion. Interestingly, London Town’s title track is also in
the top five of Macca’s poorest selling singles, albeit coming out long after London
Town the LP so it doesn’t really count, evidence that Wings really weren’t
really doing very well in this heavily transitional period of music history,
despite their recent successes and current brilliance). That, however, is more
the fault of the nagging lyrics and one-idea theme (‘You’re a pain! I’m
leaving!’) than its classic rock and roll riff and swaggering performance.
Indeed, Wings play their little socks off on this performance (they quite often
sound at their best on the retro-50s rockers which litter their back catalogue)
and Jimmy McCulloch turns in another of his rare-for-this-record guitar solos-,
suggesting that this is another song taped in the Virgin Isles. London Town
The album’s true hit single  With A Little Luck goes one stage better than either of the other singles on this album by marrying Macca’s pure pop concoction to some exotic, other-worldly synthesizer and some slightly deeper lyrics. This slow-burning favourite is among his best tracks on the album and (to his most devout and caring fans) one of his best tracks of all. Fans of the single (included on every Macca compilation to date) should find this album version worth getting too, as it features a false ending and an extra verse not heard on the 45 version, with Macca finally sacrificing the crystal-clear voice he has used on the rest of the song for a burst of pure emotion that would surely have made the song an even bigger and more enticing hit (albeit one that would have confused several disc-jockeys!) Many people dismiss McCartney’s seemingly ‘over-produced’ records, but hear a record like this where the production values enhance rather than distract from the song and you understand why he does it. The lyrics on this song – telling us that things are always going to get us down at some point in our lives, but in the words of another ex-Beatle ‘all things must pass’ – are also very Macca. Realistic yet optimistic, encouraging without being foolishly jolly, this song is sensitively performer by the three-piece Wings, with Paul Linda and Denny playing the synthesizers and adding more of their joyous harmonies. Listen out too for McCartney’s swooping bass playing, a fine return to his Sgt Pepper’s trick of playing against rather than with the tune and a technique that he was only just returning to back then, now that Wings had been together a few years ands could handle such eccentricity. A question for fans out there – is that Macca or Joe English playing the drums on this track? (It sounds like Macca’s playing a la Back In The USSR and Jet especially, but then Joe English was a pretty good mimic of drum styles).
Next on side two, Macca gets the chance to show off an un-developed side of his songwriting which had all too often been his downfall in the past 10 years.  Famous Groupies is - finally - hilarious, the kind of jokey song that Rocky Raccoon and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer tried to be (but so badly failed to be) because rather than insulting some genre-staple (Westerns and psychopaths respectively), Macca seems to be laughing at a subject he knows best – the rock and roll lifestyle. Now that he had been married to Linda for nine years and was fully grounded in family life (what other musician takes the whole of his family on the tour-bus with him?!) McCartney seems to be looking at all the excess going on around him and giggling his head off now that he no longer feels a central part of it. Risque as Macca songs go, McCartney turns in one of his best vocals as the witty, worldly wise musician who recants some of the more outrageous stories he’s heard in his time in the music business (or quite possibly made up). Thankfully, the humour doesn’t get in the way of a good song, as there is an inventive tune, a singalong chorus and a slow and a pompous church-like organ riff that make the song sound grounded too, whatever the flights of fancy filling McCartney’s imagination on the top of them. Quite what Linda thought of her husband writing about groupies and mattresses in the back of vans was never recorded at the time, but she and Denny seem to be having a whale of a time on the backing vocals.
Denny Laine’s second song on the album may sport a similar title to his other effort, but  Deliver Your Children couldn’t be more different. Similarly tongue-in-cheek yet far more ‘earthy’, this song uses a typical Denny trick of mixing a laidback, slow burning and rather straight-faced backing track rocker with his own increasingly frustrated and emotional vocal over the top. This song sports a particularly killer acoustic riff and some interesting (if hard-to-follow) lyrics that find the narrator in various difficult situations. Sounding like an embattled war correspondent, Denny’s narrator tells us about being trapped in a flood as he prays to the God he doesn’t believe in to come and help him. He then gets comedic in the second verse, when he tells us his house-bound wife spends all day ‘with the washing machine’ and then spends her nights ‘getting dirty’ out on the town. A third verse sees the narrator’s car breaking down and stranding him without money to pay for it – so he forces the dealer to work at gunpoint, desperately pretending to the listener that he’s the ‘good’ one telling the man ‘you’ve robbed me before – so I’m robbing you back’. A peculiar debate, perhaps, on how extreme our characters can become when put under pressure, its hard to work out what on earth this all has to do with the nonsense chorus about making sure your children grow up well ‘with a fork and knife’. Learning from his colleague on the last track, Denny sings the song straight despite some jokey couplets spoofing the narrator’s cod-philosophy (‘If you want good eggs you better feed that hen…’) but it’s the choruses rather than the more serious closing theme of the song (‘but if a thing goes wrong you’ve got to make it right’ and take the matter into your own hands) that sticks in the memory most. One of the album highlights, this is a folky CSN rocker with a hint of 10cc in the lyrics.
Even funnier than the last two tracks is the enthusiasm with which Macca turns Wings into a 50s be-bop band for  Name and Address, with the group having so much fun that they even leave on the ending where the song literally falls apart (although this too sounds fake to me – on the band’s early demo the performance really does fall apart and this take is probably a Macca attempt at recreating the magic rather than inventing it). Macca’s vocal somehow mixes Elvis and Buddy Holly and he sounds genuinely caught up in the moment, turning in a 50s rocker that works better than almost all his rock and roll re-makes on 'Choba B CCCP' and 'Run Devil Run'. A simple tale that recalls 'No Reply', the song is about love gone cold and Pau's narrator urging his loved one to leave aq forwarding address (although it's really just a chance to rhyme the word with 'in a mess' there's although the very Mccartney rhyme of 'addresses' and 'caresses'!) Wings also sound mighty good as a sort of basic bar-lounge boogie band, especially with the return of Jimmy McCulloch who turns in an absolute stormer of a guitar solo which is far more impressive than anything played by Macca’s Rockestra all-stars the following year.
Side two is quickly turning into end-of-term-silliness, with three comedy songs in a row (must have been all that holiday sunshine). Yet amongst all this fun and catchy pop, something else is going on too.  Don’t Let It Bring You Down is moody Macca at his zenith, serious and delicate with some exotic instrumentation and a vocal that shows off Paul’s alarming range from sweet falsetto to deep growl, as if the narrator has been taken well out of his comfort zone. ‘We all have bad times but things change so don’t let them get to you’ sings Macca, again echoing George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, but if anything this piece sounds even more melancholy and vulnerable with lines about 'should the sands of time run out on you'. Macca is often at his best when trying to cheer his listeners up ('Someone Who Cares' from 'Tug Of War' is a similar take on the subject, but throws in a much happier chorus) and the song's stately prim-and-proper vibes really enhance the song. Jimmy McCulloch’s very last leaving present of a fuzz-guitar solo also mirrors the narrator’s frustrations perfectly, sweeping away the muted acoustic setting in one fell swoop. That’s Paul and Denny playing the unusual flageolet woodwind part at the start of the track and doubling on the delicate acoustic guitars for the most part of the song. A gorgeous sweeping McCartney melody, that sounds so perfectly formed and obvious its amazing no one had used it before, is perfectly matched by Wings’ three-part sweeping harmonies that make them sound like angels. A rare glimpse behind the eternal McCartney optimist, this fabulous song suggests Paul should open his heart during his darker times more often.
So, all in all,
is a pretty good mix of Macca the
way we will always remember him, along with evidence that there’s more to this
great man’s genius than vacuous pop songs and twee ballads. Add in one of
Macca’s greatest rockers as a bonus track on the CD version – Girlschool,
a forgotten track that was actually put out as a double ‘A’ side with Mull Of
Kintyre when Macca got cold feet about releasing a Scottish ballad outside
Scotland – and you have one of Macca’s and Wings’ most consistent albums. It
might not be Revolver, but in its own quiet way London Town
is just as heartwarmingly cosy and just as head-scratchingly strange in places.
Would we have McCartney any other way? London Town