Paul McCartney & Wings: Wings Over America

Released as a bootleg-beater at the time, and not even the most popular live album of 1976 (that would be Frampton Comes Alive), why does Wings Over America feel so monumental, if not musically essential, now?

Paul McCartney & Wings

Wings Over America

Label: Hear Music
US Release Date: 2013-05-28
UK Release Date: 2013-05-27

You could make the argument that no less than Paul McCartney's entire post-Beatles career hinges on Wings Over America. After a pair of low-key, do-it-yourself solo albums, McCartney decided he missed being in a band, and formed Wings, along with his wife Linda and former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. McCartney tried to belie Wings' superstar pedigree with a ramshackle UK university tour and debut album, Wild Life (1971), that many fans and critics thought was almost self-sabotaging in its quirky, tossed-off nature.

But McCartney couldn't help it that he was McCartney, and by the time of follow-up album Red Rose Speedway (1973), his name had been pushed out in front. The cozily sappy "My Love" became Paul McCartney & Wings' first Number One single. Red Rose Speedway kicked off an incredible run of five consecutive US Number One albums. If Band on the Run (also 1973) was the crowning achievement in terms of critical acclaim and sales, Wings Over America, released in late 1976, was more than simply the proof McCartney was once again a leader of an international juggernaut. In hindsight, it marks the tangible point at which Paul McCartney came to terms with the fact he would always be Paul McCartney, and what that meant for his future as a musician.

For the first time since the Beatles' dissolution, McCartney felt confident and comfortable enough to add a handful of his former band's songs to his live set. And, despite the title, Wings Over America is without question a McCartney album, just as Wings, with its lineup constantly fluctuating around the core trio, had always in essence been McCartney. How could it not be?

And this is the true importance of Wings Over America. It establishes the identity McCartney has inhabited, or maybe been forced into, ever since. After its release, Wings carried on for a few more years, charting a couple more albums, hits, and lineup changes, until McCartney dropped the pretense and made McCartney II in 1980. Over the next 30 years, he would have only one more Number One album in America, and his biggest hits were treacly collaborations with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. He did not mount another major tour for a decade, but when he reemerged in 1989, he was the Paul McCartney we still know today, releasing a steady series of albums that met with mixed critical reaction and modest sales, then embarking on monster tours for which the primary draw was the old Beatles and Wings hits.

The man who had always struggled for recognition as a serious artist found himself navigating the odd dual existence of creating some of his most wide-ranging music, then trying to sneak it into a live show that was essentially, by necessity, an oldies act. Was this a conscious choice? Was there a realistic scenario in which McCartney appeased his legions of fans while refusing to pay lip service, if not homage, to his former bands? Wings Over America, in any case, goes about its business without having to grapple with these questions. Simultaneously, it can now be appreciated as the last time McCartney performed as an artist who was "in the now" at least as much as in the past.

McCartney's gracious, or foolhardy, allowance on Wings Over America for Laine's "Time to Hide" and guitarist Jimmy McCulloch's "Medicine Jar" are reminders of the relative looseness and freedom McCartney and Wings had at the time. They are passable if generic pieces of blues rock that only serve to shine an even brighter spotlight on the McCartney-penned hits in comparison. There is no way there would or could be room for them in a McCartney set ever again.

Tracks like these also spoil the argument that Wings Over America functions as a de facto Wings greatest hits package. Yes, most of the hits are here, performed in versions that are loyal to the recorded versions. But so is nearly all of the 1975 Wings album Venus and Mars, and a good chunk of its more middling successor Wings at the Speed of Sound. All of this is to underscore that Wings Over America as a set of music does little in the way of providing fresh or even different perspective on the material. The playing is professional, some of the hits feel rushed through, and the backing vocals, overdubbed in the studio, sound beamed in from another album altogether, spoiling any "warts'n'all" live vibe. The opening salvo of "Venus and Mars" / "Rock Show" / "Jet" teases with the proposition Wings will be presented as a band that really can rock, but that idea fades with the first notes of "Spirits of Ancient Egypt", the first of many tracks that only the most die-hard of fans will remember, much less have a reason to.

At one point, toward the end of the first disc of this two-disc, 115-minute trek, the band settle into a folky, acoustic mini-set which takes in "Picasso's Last Words" and "Bluebird" from Band on the Run as well as Simon & Garfunkel's "Richard Cory" before concluding with a trio of mellow Beatles numbers. Here, McCartney sounds more natural and in his element than most anywhere else on Wings Over America, not least because the material itself has some coherence. You can almost hear the future Sir Paul, Super Bowl halftime performer to be, savoring those final moments when, at least to him, he was just the lead singer in Wings.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.