Friday 28 November 2008

Paul McCartney and Wings "Back To The Egg"

“We’re open tonight for fun, so bring all your friends come on, we’re open tonight come one come all” “Back To The Egg” (Paul McCartney and Wings” I must admit I’ve never been much of a fan of the last Wings album, smacking as it does of a worried millionaire and some new acquaintances jumping on the then-in-vogue new wave bandwagon in the hope of shifting some extra LPs. However, somewhere hidden deep in my sub-conscious lie half-forgotten memories of the ‘Back To the Egg’ TV special Macca and friends put together to promote the album in 1979, a special that makes this album sound better than it actually is. Long forgotten by even the “We’re open tonight for fun, so bring all your friends come on, we’re open tonight come one come all” “Back To The Egg” (Paul McCartney and Wings” I must admit I’ve never been much of a fan of the last Wings album, smacking as it does of a worried millionaire and some new acquaintances jumping on the then-in-vogue new wave bandwagon in the hope of shifting some extra LPs. However, somewhere hidden deep in my sub-conscious lie half-forgotten memories of the ‘Back To the Egg’ TV special Macca and friends put together to promote the album in 1979, a special that makes this album sound better than it actually is. Long forgotten by even the most thorough of Beatles books, only shown on telly once in the UK and never released on video or DVD, this half-hour programme is a rare curio to say the least. And it deserves to be remembered – back in the days before MTV and VH1 it wasn’t compulsory to make music videos even for singles and I think I’m right in saying that Wings were the first band ever to go whole-hog and string a whole collection of them together from one album (though they only manage to film about half the LP and two contemporary singles). Now, as most of you probably know already, the website YouTube is a wonderful thing, a site that fulfils most of the collection-swapping antics that used to go on at record fairs up and down the country and its come up trumps again as I accidentally stumbled across all 11 music videos while looking for something else entirely (my YouTube name is ‘AlansArchives’ if anyone wants to link up with me and see them). This album is one of Macca’s more ‘visual’ LPs and while some of the videos are just plain daft, the music sounds much better accompanied by images, or as a ‘soundtrack’ album rather than a proper LP in its own right. So there I’ve been for much of this week, unexpectedly enjoying what used to be the only McCartney album I never really got on with (till the likes of Flaming Pie and Chaos and Creation came along and stole its thunder). On paper this Wings album should be great – it’s the album that came after London Town, an album that sits proudly at no 71 on our list; it features one of McCartney’s most gorgeous melodies of all time (Winter Rose) and was recorded quickly, knocked out by the band in the grounds of a Scottish castle Macca rented out for the purpose, with less overdubs and production overload than usual. But things just weren’t that happy in the Wings camp anymore: guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English both left during sessions for the last album and their replacements Laurence Juber and Steve Holly, though equally talented, never got much of a chance to show what they could do before they too got their marching orders. Then there’s that infamous prison incident: barely weeks after the release of this album the band fly to Japan for a tour promoting the record, only for Japanese customs officials to find some illegal marijuana plants in the McCartney’s luggage (planted by officials working for Yoko Ono according to one slanderous book I read!) and the ex-Beatle suddenly goes from hero to zero, kept in a prison cell for a full week and facing seven years in prison at one point. While Macca was released relatively easily without any further legal complications or backlash, the strain it put on the band was ridiculous: with money already dwindling and all income from the tour cancelled, Macca’s seven-year partner-in-crime Denny Laine heads for home in desperation for work, leaving Linda and the band in the lurch in an ‘act of betrayal’ that Macca never quite forgave (although, contrary to belief, the two do work again – Denny’s wonderful harmonies are all over Paul’s 1982 solo album Tug Of War).Reluctant to get together a new band (which would have been the 5th major line-up change in seven years), the McCartneys decide to knock Wings on the head after this disappointing album. Yet although the fracture came after this LP you can tell something is on Macca’s mind – Back To The Egg is a lot more aggressive-sounding than normal; the riffs are more jagged, insistent and repetitive and, most revealingly of all, Macca’s usually clear and concise lyrics suddenly turn to gibberish (like Neil Young, the worse Paul’s personal life gets the less revealing his music gets – as if he is only comfortable revealing the darker sides of his personality when he knows he can present the ‘lighter’ side to the public at large as well). Oh yeah, almost forgot – this album has a ‘theme’ to it too and its one that’s even close to Sgt Pepper’s in its determination to set the scene for a band walking on stage and inviting us to a concert – but that’s all this album does, it invites us to ‘get close’ because ’we’re open tonight’ and even features a reprise at the end that tells u the band are ‘so glad to see you here’ – but there’s nothing else to keep the half-concept going, no Billy Shears, no applause, no band announcement, no nothing. Strange. What we get is a bit of a mish-mash, with some cracking tunes married to some decidedly weird words, a couple of instrumental/ spoken word/sound effects collages that are strong candidates for the worst tracks of Wings’ if not McCartney’s career and two half-hearted medleys of songs that couldn’t be less suited to running into one another. To show what I mean about this album in general, let’s focus on the album’s (flop) single Old Siam Sir – the only song that anyone is even vaguely likely to know (and even that’s pushing it a bit, seeing as it peaked at no 70-odd in the charts). That opening walking bass riff, suddenly joined by a guitar and fiercely stomped on by a driving drum lick is a cracking opening and when it finally kicks in the tune doesn’t disappoint, with Wings making the most out of their new-found ‘live’ recording technique (in a neat mirror it sounds like the primitive first Wings album Wildlife. Only better). And the moment when the song finally drops its weight-of-the-world suffering for a cataclysmic break-out instrumental featuring no less than three guitarists playing the same riff is one of the cleverest moments of any McCartney song. But Macca’s wonderfully large vocal range is strained to breaking point, making him sound like Pinky and Perky on helium, and when you finally decipher the lyrics they make no sense at all (and not in a clumsy-but-cute way like C Moon either – although in truth that’s actually quite a clever symbolic song when you analyse it). ‘She spin around in Walthamstow’ is about as comprehendible as the lyrics get and, as for that curious title, what rhymes with ‘old Siam, sir’? ‘Found a man, sir’ – not the greatest couplet of Macca’s career. Like the album in a nutshell, it’s a seed of greatness that sadly grew into a crooked trunk, as Macca and friends too often bark up the wrong tree, as it were, although you can still see greatness in the roots. Elsewhere we get surely the worst and most pointless rocker in McCartney’s back catalogue (Spin It On, which is basically one short chorus repeated ad infinitum), a truly toe-curling Temperance Seven-type spoof (at least I hope it’s a spoof) Baby’s Request which rates as easily the worst of Macca’s many ‘music my mother should know’ show-tunes and a bunch of static and snatches of tunes masquerading as somebody switching channels on a radio underneath an actually quite interesting bass riff. And I haven’t even come to the album’s two clowning glory clunkers yet – the sheer waste of the Rockestra all-star jam theme tune, one which gathers the leading stars of the day together (Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, David Gilmour, Jon Bonham, Hank Marvin, etc) and gets them to play a three-chord riff underneath a song which has the single throwaway line ‘Why Haven’t I Had Any Dinner?’ Unbelievably, the album sinks to even lower depths than this – as a favour to the owners of the Scottish estate Wings ‘borrowed’ for the recording sessions, they get to read out some really lame poetry while Macca tinkles out a riff on a synthesiser that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mills and Boon adaptation. So far so depressingly ordinary. But all is not lost. The first ‘proper’ song Getting Closer is a promising beginning, leaping from inventive section to inventive section in true Macca-mid 60s mode, before turning in on itself for a surprisingly dark and paranoid chorus which sounds like the Hollies classic I Can’t Let Go on high adrenaline. Other tracks like To You and Arrow Through Me are hardly among McCartney’s best, but even whilst sleepwalking there’s just so much finesse and style to Macca’s work that there’s enough to keep you admired – and both of these songs seem so obvious and perfect concoctions that you’re half surprised that they never existed before in all the 30-odd years of rock and roll we’d had up to that point, just as you are with most half-decent McCartney songs. Denny Laine too ends his fine run of Wings songs with one of his hardest-hitting rockers Again and Again and Again, another of his impressive songs that sounds half retro and half-contemporary, tied together with an irresistible chorus that seems to make repetition an art form. Best of all we get two unheralded 100% gold McCartney gems. Winter Rose is a heartbreaking ballad to rank with the best of them, with a monochrome production that simply sparkles from the speakers and fine vocal performances from Paul, Linda and Denny to match. The narrator’s been searching for his dream girl all his life – and now, finally, in the winter of his life he’s found her. Magic stuff. Of course, this being Back To The Egg we’re talking about here, even this song gets butchered, stuck together with a pretty but pretty inane ditty called Love Awake which couldn’t be less like its predecessor in tone, tune or theme if it tried and it undoes much of the previous song’s good work. And, this being a medley, you can’t even programme your CD player to miss it out worst luck. The other classic track is the barnstorming rocker So Glad To See You Here – the ‘Rockestra’ theme took all of the publicity, but this second song featuring the all-star line-up is a much better vehicle for their talents, with the band truly sounding huge and powerful (rather than silly). Macca’s histrionic vocal is one of his rawest and best and the last of a handful of Wings vocal rounds (Paul, Linda and Denny swapping leads on three different phrases sung all at the same time) is exquisite and a classic note on which to (nearly) end Wings’ career. The band even seems to be cruising full steam ahead into another verse at the end but no – the whole thing just peters out and we get blooming Baby’s Request to end on instead. Fascinating but infuriating, moments of pure genius tucked between mistakes that beginners to the music business would think twice about, Back to the Egg is a scrambled concoction that misses the mark more than most Macca-related albums, but still comes up trumps enough times to cook up an appetite. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫ (4/10).

Thursday 27 November 2008

News, Views and Music (Top Five): Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

♫ And finally, the latest in our series of top fives, in homage to those Moody Blues re-issues I’ve been enjoying all week: five totally bonkers concept albums!

5) Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (Small Faces/ 1968 – specifically side two). We know it’s meant as a spoof of other similar concept albums now of course, but that fact wasn’t widely known in 1968 when this tale of a man called Stan looking for the other-half-of-the-moon-and-dangley-in-the-heavenly-bode first came out. Of course, the fact that master of gibberish Stanbley Unwin narrated the whole 20-minute piece should have been a give-away, as should the fact that Stan was helped on his travels by a madman called John and an un-named talking fly. Even so, the whole piece somehow works amazingly well and is just the thing to brighten up your day when life is just a bowl of all-bran (you wake up every morning…and it’s there). 

4) A Soap Opera (The Kinks/ 1974). There are oodles of Kinks concept albums from the 1970s that could have made the list, but this one is perhaps the strangest of all. The starmaker, a well known celebrity, decides that his art has no link with the common man anymore and sets out to find one. He soon sets his sights on Norman, as in Normal, and is soon living in his family home and doing his menial job for him while Norman spends a spell as the ‘starmaker’ he only knows from the TV. However, the line between fact and fiction soon becomes blurred and the starmaker realises he isn’t really a star but was only Norman all along. A typical Kinks blend of fantasy escapism and an expression of anger at the pointlessness of life, the nadir of this album is the sequence of three or four songs about drinking down the pub, with nothing else to say in the lyrics (which is kind of the point given this album is working up to a rant about the repetition and pointlessness of life, but it still doesn’t make for enjoyable listening). There’s a great finale though!

3) Thick As A Brick (Jethro Tull/ 1973). Strange how all these concept albums seem to date from a similar time period. Anyway, the story behind this little epic (featuring one whole track for 42 minutes that actually continued between two sides in the days of vinyl) is that Jethro Tull were accused of being ‘concept writers’ when their album ‘Aqualung’ came out (1971). Frontman Ian Anderson took umbridge at the idea, despite the fact that yes most songs on ‘Aqualung’ do fit a rough outline about homelessness and all the songs feature characters with difficulties adjusting to society, and decided to create the mother of all concept albums in protest. ‘Brick’ is about a precocious 11-year-old called Gerald Bostock who wins a poetry competition with a very explicit piece that subsequently gets banned and replaced with something really average by one of his numbskull peers. Ian Anderson later revealed that the main inspiration for Gerald was himself, a lad so out of kilter with his peers and society that he was never quite sure if he was a genius or ‘thick as a brick’. Flawed as this sprawling piece is, we’ll happily settle for ‘genius’ after hearing this album – although the packaging is even better than the music, with a fold-out mock newspaper featuring several articles made-up by the band.

2) ‘Numbers’ (Cat Stevens/ 1975). There’s a world where numbers 2-9 live, all happily doing their delegated jobs for leader number 1 until, shock horror, number 0 (aka Jzer-o) comes to stay and takes all the numbers to a ‘higher level’ (ie 1 becomes 10 and 2 becomes 20, etc). If you can get through the accompanying head-hurting booklet and the off-ball opening and closing tracks (I can’t be the only Cat Stevens fan who went ‘what the….’ when I heard both of those for the first time) then this is actually as fair concept album about a humble stranger offering to do anything he can for the citizens of a town and getting soundly rejected, despite the fact that he can teach everybody so much more if only they opened their minds to him. Album centrepiece ‘Majik of Majiks’ is one of Cat’s best ever songs to boot. I still haven’t got a clue what ‘banapple gas’ is though.

1) Tommy (The Who/ 1969). One of the most famous concept albums of all, let’s just think this plot through for a minute. Hmm, so a child named Tommy sees his dad killed by his mother’s lover, becomes deaf dumb and blind but ends up a cured pinball champion running a holiday camp for people who want to hear all the things he saw while he was incarcerated in his own thoughts. How Pete Townshend and company made this story work I’ll never know, but they did – in live performance if not always on the original, sometimes rushed, LP. Come to his house and be one of the beautiful people – if only for the ultimate Who instrumental work-out on Amazing Journey > Sparks.

Oh and p.s. I know we try to restrict our witty banter on the AAA site to records, but I couldn’t resist pointing out the satirical news story of the week that surprisingly everyone else seems to have missed so far: yes that’s right, both Prince Charles and Noddy turned 60 this last week! (Who mentioned Big Ears?!)

That’s all for now – see you next week AAA fans!     

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock