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Listening to Macca #2: Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway

Posted on the 28 February 2019 by Russellarbenfox
Listening to Macca #2: Wild Life and Red Rose SpeedwayThe next two albums Paul McCartney put out were his first with Wings. The way Sir Paul felt about this always shifting, never stable collection of musicians--only two of whom (his wife Linda, and lead guitarist Denny Laine) could ever really be called "bandmates"--has occasioned all sorts of musical speculation; note that on these two albums alone the band shifted from being called "Wings" to "Paul McCartney and Wings," a shift that would be repeated in reverse in the future. I remember reading in an interview somewhere that the early on these musicians barely functioned as a band at all--they were having fun and smoking a lot of pot together, for certain, but they had no focus. Perhaps McCartney simply didn't know how to lead a band on his own, and by the time he figured out how, he wanted to be on his own anyway. In any case, the bad had a rough start, and these two albums are clear evidence of that.
Listening to Macca #2: Wild Life and Red Rose SpeedwayWild Life came out in December of 1971, barely six months after Ram, his second solo album, had been released. (Macca is nothing if not a man who just can't want to make music, again and again and again.) As I wrote last month, Ram was a polished pop album; not great, but with some fine tunes on it. Wild Life, unfortunately, was a step back as far as I am concerned. It is really hard to take seriously cuts like "Bip Bop" or the title song, as they seem so obviously the result of being stoned in the studio, finding a single lyric or two so funny, and a single riff or two so entertaining, that you decide to simply call those finished songs and leave it at that. Most of the rest of the album is similarly underproduced, the one exception being "Dear Friend," which is really a quite fine and heartfelt ballad. And I have to say I loved Wings's prolonged jam to Mickey & Sylvia's R&B tune, "Love is Strange"; they needed more of that. Overall though, I give the album a C. (Incidentally, at the time of making Wild Life, McCartney, inspired by some of what his old best friend John Lennon was up to, decided to write a protest song: "Give Ireland Back to the Irish." It's...not terrible; I mean, the tune isn't all that bad. But it's about the least clever and least passionate protest song I've ever heard. After I listened to it a couple of times through while going through all the bonus audio available with Wild Life, I realized you could sing the first line, which is the title, "Hey look, I just wrote a protest song!" I think that sounds better.)
Listening to Macca #2: Wild Life and Red Rose SpeedwayRed Rose Speedway is a little better, but only a little. McCartney and Wings were clearly still often just farting around in the studio, searching for some magic to happen, not showing the kind of discipline and work that a songwriter and musician of Macca's talents is obviously capable of. There's really no excuse for undeveloped ditties like "Big Red Barn," "Single Pigeon," or "Little Lamb Dragonfly" to be on there--though to be fair, it's not like "My Love" is at all that better, musically speaking: they're all equally slight bits of whimsy, and yet that song went to number one and I'll still listen to it all the way through when it comes on the radio, so what do I know? The closing medley is another bunch of throw-aways, any one of which probably could have been developed into solid songs, but they just didn't take the time. Still, what makes me think that maybe McCartney's crew weren't solely flailing around was "Get on the Right Thing," a Macca song from the Ram sessions which they turned into a terrific--and completely underrated; I'd never heard it before listening to Red Rose all the way through--funky rave-up. Seriously, I think it may be on the same level of McCartney's very best pop work. Too bad they couldn't have given the same dedication to any of the rest of his compositions this time around. As it is, Red Rose gets back up to Ram's B- territory, I think, and that's about it. (And yes, I have listened to all the errata that would have appeared if Red Rose had been the double album originally imagined; the only real loss, I think, was "Night Out," which has some real rocking potential. And why didn't they insist on putting "Live and Let Die" on the album? It's only the best James Bond theme song ever.)

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