MUSIC. RESPONSE. | “Wings Over America” by Paul McCartney
Twenty-twenty. The year when live music stage dived into a pit filled with heaving, hot bodies, and died, after which we were all forced to join a cloud crowd to watch musicians do their shit. YouTube sessions and Instagram LIVEs from people’s living rooms and look there, another sliver of human connection cleft into the pandemic garbage pile.
Today’s “helped get me through this shit sandwich year” LIVE album choice might feel a little like rubbing salt in a highly infectious wound. But the sting of hearing stadium crowd sounds and cheers and off notes and stage banter is simply to remind you of how we used to experience collective joy. It will plant a faith seed in us: Live music shall return. Eventually. Not soon. But eventually. It might look completely different, but performers gotta perform and audiences gotta audience.
Cue “Wings Over America” by (shockingly) Wings. Which is Paul McCartney’s OTHER band. In terms of choosing a live album for this exercise, I could have so easily grabbed for Radio Birdman’s “Live at Paddington Town Hall, 1977” (which is raw and energetic and a punch in the teeth), or Radiohead’s “I might be Wrong” live album because it contains a version of Feels Spinning Plates that makes me tingle. I’ve just noticed both those have the word Radio in them, and one Bird word, which brings us back full circle to Wings and that’s what I have chosen.
Ready? Slip on your wrist pass, check your backpack at the door and let’s head inside to hear songs captured live during Wing’s American leg of their 1975–76 tour.
Remember going to gigs? Remember standing stranger-shoulder-to-stranger-shoulder, with heat radiating from every direction, generated by human heaters, jammed jeans to jowl on the general admittance floor section? Remember the slow shuffle, inch-by-inch, as exuberant fans danced and jumped a little too high (while being too high), moving the entire crowd creepingly backward. The inevitable ‘where did that come from’ shove that set things to right? Remember smoke clouds and hands in the air and squeals and defending your space?
Remember all the shared air? Not exactly pandemic friendly, and so during this shutdown, I’ve turned occasionally to the nostalgic thrill a live album can provide to bring all those feelings back.
It’s not to remember the connection with other humans in the physical space. It’s the connection to the music and the artist. There are some connections you can only have in the presence of the performer as they pipe all the energy and emotion right into your eyes and fondle your earholes with sweet or deafening sounds. To illustrate the powerful impact a live show experience can sometimes create, I will now tell a story that has nothing to do with Paul McCartney.
This story is about the first time I ever saw Thom Yorke, live. I can feel my friends rolling their eyes here, so stop it. Because weirdly, this is not about Thom Yorke at all, but about the vessel of Thom Yorke’s body.
Seriously, stop rolling your eyes!
As anyone who has seen Thom Yorke in concert knows, when he dances, he gives no fucks. It’s easy to laugh at it and go “Oh, Thom, with your bleeps and bloops. You fantastic weirdo.” And I have done that. But on this particular night, as Thom danced and sang and performed the shit out of his oeuvre, one thing became very clear to me.
Thom Yorke gives no fucks when he dances because he is 100% IN IT.
When Thom Yorke is IN IT, his body, his voice, his entire being is of service to his work. A vessel by which his music vibrates and travels. I don’t care what your opinion is of his music—or of him in general—because, during the encore performance of Atoms for Peace, he slithered his hand up toward the ceiling of the venue as he sang a note so pure, it was as though the great signal noise connected from sky to earth through his tiny body and plucked him like some kind of goddamned human tuning fork. [eye rolling, I feel you!]
No, I was not high. Nor was I drunk. But I had experienced one of those moments that can only come from seeing something transformative, live. In this instance, I came out of that venue and thought to myself: “You know, we could all be a little more Thom Yorke.” No fucks. Of service to the work we create. To be open to receive and transmit and having belief in it.
Seriously. Not high.
Paul McCartney is ALWAYS of service to his work. The happy Beatle. The consummate showman. The silly love songwriter and prolific overachiever.
While Wings Over America does not contain a transformative moment by any stretch of the imagination—sorry—it does contain hit after hit with palate cleansers and frivolity. It’ll remind you of human connection, and get you moving around your apartment or house or van life annex in these dark times. I find it the perfect Wingman (sorry), for general tidying and cooking. It’s great for crosswords, surfing the internet, and occasional kicking at the air with your Danner boots as you potter about on a rainy day. You can clean the bath to it, get dressed, hang a painting, dust a bookshelf. This album is up for anything.
Or you can just sit in a bean bag with your eyes closed and your headphones on and sing along to Call me Back Again or Band on the Run and be very happy. Not everything needs to be so serious. Not everything has to be so intense.
The album kicks off like that egg in a frying pan you’ve turned your back on for a micro-second—soft to hard in the blink of an eye. It’s a triple punch to the gut of Venus and Mars / Rock Show / and the crowning glory of Jet. (For a song title inspired by Paul’s black Labrador, it sure buries any canine imagery like a bone under a shrub.) Regardless, this is the mood setter, and from here on out, it’s a trip. The album is slapping base, and solid base, and base intricacies where I don’t think I’ve ever noticed them before. Until I heard this album. I’m not going to do a play by play of all the songs on here, by the way. This is a chocolate box, and some are plain, and some have hard centers and others, soft and gooey, and you should eat them all and not feel the least bit guilty, but we don’t need to hear about every bite.
High points for me are: Let me Roll It (McCartney’s most underrated song and this love introvert’s anthem. “I can’t tell you how I feel, my heart is like a wheel, let me roll it to you.” I mean sheeeeeet, what a banger!), Go Now, Maybe I’m Amazed, and Live and Let Die. Live and Let Die in particular is filled with unstoppable parkour action. Is it the very best James Bond theme ever written? I would argue, as it jumps from building to building with brassy martini flair, that yes, it is. Like Picasso’s Last Words which, if you know the story, was a challenge involving Dustin Hoffman and a Time magazine article (below), McCartney obviously loves song challenges. Hey Paul, why not write the best James Bond movie theme and…. GO!
The biggest criticism people seem to have of Wings is that they’re not The Beatles. Fortunately, just because they’re not the Fab Four, doesn’t mean they won’t play Beatles songs. When this tour happened, many of the Beatle’s songs they played had never been heard live (The Beatles had stopped touring when a lot of them were written). McCartney himself hadn’t toured in the US for over ten years, so people were pretty hungry for some ‘cute Beatle’ action. Lady Madonna, the Long and Winding Road, Blackbird—if nothing else, play this just remind yourself how great THOSE songs are.
I first bought this album (as a CD) back in what must’ve been the early 90s? This particular vinyl I found at Streetlight records here in Santa Cruz and paid $10 for it. I read there was a reissue put out in 2013, and it probably comes with a lot of bells and whistles, but I don’t think you need the best sounding version. It’s not meant to be perfect.
This is a solid live album. There, I said it. Purists out there are gonna push their glasses up their noses and say “Well, point of fact, this is not a true live experience because there were some out of tune voices (not Paul’s!) and flubbed up bits, and they went back and did some post-production fixes.” And to those people, I say this: Who gives a shit!?
It’s three records of pure Wings joy. Paul is bubbly and buoyant. Wings soar, even when they hit the window of their own reflection. They are flapping proudly and caught on updrafts and we are with them. This album helps us remember what is to be live and alive. The cheers, the sense of BEING THERE.
I’m here for it.
Paul and Linda’s matching mullets? I’m here for it.
Other band members singing songs? Here for it.
It’s 2020 and everything is shit. I am 100% here for the pop goodness, the silly lovesong-edness, the twee sincerity and brilliance of Paul McCartney and his not-that-other band but Wings energy. I am here for listening to a band simply having pure, unadulterated fun playing together, and y’all should just loosen the hell up and be here for THIS.
Or as Thom Yorke once sang—in arguably the best lyric he (or Radiohead) ever wrote: “Today is the first day of the rest of your days. So lighten up, Squirt.”