VENUS AND MARS
WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND
Much has been written and said about Paul McCartney over the last 50 years or so. In regards to his career, I have nothing to add - you all know about The Beatles, his solo success, and all of that what-not so I will skip straight to reviewing these two reissues!
VENUS AND MARS (1975)
Deluxe 2CD/DVD Book Edition
Coming on the heels of the success of Band On The Run, which essentially ignited the Wings franchise after two great but overlooked albums, Venus And Mars had a lot to live up to. Upon release, if you were looking for some sort of 'sequel' to - or extension of - BOTR, then you were bound to be disappointed. If you approached Venus And Mars as an entirely separate, stand-alone project then there was much to love about it. These rules apply to listening to the album today - why compare it to BOTR? Why compare it to Abbey Road? Why compare it to anything Macca released before (or since)? Venus And Mars is a wondrous affair that has more peaks than valleys and stands on its own two feet. It doesn't hurt that the album has a real sense of 'fun' in its grooves. Perhaps Paul and the band were feeling rejuvanated after the success of BOTR?
The opening 'medley' of "Venus And Mars" and "Rock Show" still stands as one of the best two-pronged album openers ever. OK, so some of the lyrics of "Rock Show" may be a bit trite, it still packs a solid punch. "Love In Song" is one of the most overlooked gems in Macca's canon and serves as an emotional interlude between the the goofy fun of "Rock Show" and the rollercoaster ride that was about to follow. "You Gave Me The Answer" proved that Paul was still enchanted and influenced to the music that permeated his household during his days as a wee lad - very much along the lines of songs like "When I'm 64" and "Honey Pie" from his Beatles days. "Magneto & Titanium Man" is melodic, silly fun. “Letting Go” is a nice mid-tempo rocker that is not quite “Let Me Roll It” (from BOTR) but feels like it is cut from the same cloth. Denny Laine’s “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt” always sounded tinny to these ears but sounds a bit more beefy and robust here. Jimmy McCulloch handles lead vocals on “Medicine Jar,” a fairly enjoyable rocker, but one of the weak points of the album. ‘Call Me Back Again” features a great vocal from Macca and a great long fade-out that always demands a relisten. The gem of the album is “Listen To What The Man Said,” one of Paul’s biggest solo hits and certainly one of his best. Every note of the song is perfect, including the lovely ending with Tom Scott blowing away on sax before it segues into the lovely “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People” (another overlooked Macca gem). The album closes with “Crossroads Theme” and Venus And Mars comes to an end. As mentioned before, the sound of this remaster is more robust and the warm feeling of the album really shines.
Both sides of the “Junior’s Farm” single start off the disc – “Sally G” has long been a favorite of mine – and there’s plenty more fun to be had here. This disc includes the single edit of “Letting Go,” both sides of the “Walking In The Park With Eloise” single (instrumentals originally released under the name The Country Hams featuring Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer), plus some rare and unreleased gems like “My Carnival”, “Hey Diddle”, “Let’s Love”, “Soily” and “Baby Face” (from One Hand Clapping), an early version of “Rock Show” and more. Many of these tracks have probably ended up on bootlegs over the years but I stopped collecting those some 20 years ago. As far as quality and quantity, this is a splendid collection of oddities.
Containing vintage footage of recording “My Carnival” (which remained unreleased for many years), partying in New Orleans (including footage of a boat party with live music provided by The Meters) and Wings rehearsing at Elstree Studios, the bonus DVD evokes the excitement behind this period in the band’s career. Such a joy to see this ‘behind the scenes’ footage packaged alongside the album. Much of it has probably made the rounds on bootlegs and on YouTube, but you can watch and enjoy in its original context.
WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (1976)
Deluxe 2CD/DVD Book Edition
After the success of their previous two releases, Macca was intent on proving that Wings was a band and not just a bunch of guys (and gal) that backed him up. WATSOS was an album that was meant to showcase all the band members and make good on Paul’s assertion that it was a team effort – not quite the Beatles but an incredible simulation, maybe? Well, on that respect, one thing that WATSOS proves is that Wings was a talented lot, but McCartney was their bread and butter. Two of the band’s most well-known songs are here – “Silly Love Songs” and “Let ‘Em In” – as well as more McCartney treasures that demand to be heard by more folks. “Beware My Love” is a strange little rocker that may not have made a great single, but it stands as one of his best tracks of the ‘70s (what is it about the majesty of his sometimes goofy ad-libbed screams and yelps that draw me in?). “She’s My Baby” is a playful and funky little number that is always a pleasant treat to listen to. “Warm and Beautiful” is a lovely and sincere piano ballad that is sorely overlooked (but that could be said about a lot of his album tracks to be honest). “San Ferry Anne” has a similar feel to the lighter moments on BOTR (“No Words” comes to mind) though it is not entirely up to that caliber. However, that is it with Paul’s tracks on the album – the remaining five are handed over to the other band members.
“The Note You Never Wrote” (lead vocal by Denny Laine) is lovely and dramatic, but sorely misplaced as the album’s second track (would have fit better as a Side One closer). “Wino Junko” is a great Jimmy McCulloch track (with a fabulous guitar solo) that, combined with the previous album’s “Medicine Jar” clearly shows he was on the wrong side of drug use (he died of a heroin overdose in ’79). “Cook Of The House,” sung by the lovely Linda McCartney, is better suited for a Ringo album and is usually the first song Macca haters bring up when they try to make an argument against him. Let’s be honest – it’s quite fun and not as bad as Macca detractors lead you to believe! Denny’s “Time To Hide” is a great FM rocker that sounds nothing like a McCartney song. However, that is also the charm of the track. Drummer Joe English sings the McCartney-penned “Must Do Something About It,” which is a nice pop song that doesn’t stand out, though it does add a nice feel to the album. The sound of the remastering is clear warm, making this the best version yet of the album. Where Venus And Mars sounded like it was geared for a big stadium, WATSOS is much more intimate and comfy. While it may not have been a critical success, WATSOS was a huge commercial one and remains one of their most well-known LPs.
Not as plentiful as the Venus And Mars bonus disc, there is still enough here to excite McCartney fans (again, not sure if these recordings have made the rounds on bootlegs). Paul’s original demos of “Silly Love Songs,” “Let ‘Em In,” and “She’s My Baby” are revealing peeks into the genesis of these songs. It’s nice to hear Paul singing “Must Do Something About It” on the version here. With Paul handling vocals on this recording, it ends up sounding like an early ‘70s Wings track. The short “Message To Joe” soundbye is a bit useless to be honest. The instrumental demo of “Warm And Beautiful” is nice since it showcases the song’s true beginnings. The much-talked-about version of “Beware My Love” featuring Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham is nice to hear, but is nothing more than an early and unfinished run-through/rehearsal of a song that really stands out on the album. However, all of these tracks are must-haves for the Macca fan though not necessarily for the casual listener.
The accompanying DVD features the original 1976 video for “Silly Love Songs” as well as “Wings Over Wembley”, a short behind-the-scenes look at the final three dates of the WATSOS tour, and a similar short look at the band’s gig in Venice. I have always found footage like this very interesting because they reveal a true look at a band at the peak of their success and behaving just like…er.. us normal folks.
And now, I sit and wait for similar packages for Red Rose Speedway and my two favorite Wings albums, London Town and Back to The Egg….