Paul McCartney & Wings: Red Rose Speedway

April 30, 1973 – Paul McCartney & Wings: Red Rose Speedway is released.
# allmusic 4/5
Red Rose Speedway is the second album by Paul McCartney & Wings, released on this date in April, 1973 in the US (May 4 in the UK). The album reached #1 on the Billboard 200. In March 1973 “My Love” was released as the lead single for the album, and became a UK Top 10 hit and McCartney’s second US #1. It raised expectations for the album, which shot to #5 in the UK when it appeared and went to #1 in the US. “Live and Let Die”, the title song to the James Bond film of the same name, was recorded during the sessions for this album, but would be released on the Live and Let Die soundtrack album rather than here.
In early 1972, McCartney decided to expand Wings to a five-piece band, by adding an additional guitarist, and to begin touring with the group. The group spent many months on the road across Europe, beginning with a tour of British universities, and continuing in the summer in bigger European venues – where Paul and wife Linda McCartney would encounter their first of several marijuana busts over the ensuing years. Both tours were bookended by Red Rose Speedway’s long string of studio sessions, which started that March in Los Angeles and finished in London that October.
Despite not releasing an album in 1972, the first year of his professional career that McCartney had failed to do so, Wings managed to release three singles: “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” which was banned by the BBC for political reasons; an updated rendition of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb;” and “Hi, Hi, Hi” which was banned by the BBC for alleged sexual references and backed with “C Moon” on the b-side. Consistent with the practice of the early Beatles, none of those songs were included on the album.
Red Rose Speedway was initially planned as a double album, and Paul McCartney decided to include some unreleased songs that had originally been recorded during the Ram sessions, prior to the formation of Wings. Two of those songs, “Get On the Right Thing” and “Little Lamb Dragonfly,” eventually appeared on the final album, which was held up a further six months before appearing as a single record. It featured a 12-page booklet stapled into the gatefold featuring pictures from the Wings tours. Its cover design – with the cover shot of a Harley-Davidson ‘shovelhead’ engine by Linda McCartney – was by Eduardo Paolozzi, while the back cover of the album contains a Braille message of “We love ya baby” for Stevie Wonder.
Tracklisting from the acetates of the early incarnation of the album dated 13 December 1972. Most tracks left off the released version ended up on b-sides, but some are still officially unreleased.
Side one
“Big Barn Bed”
“My Love”
“When The Night”
“Single Pigeon”
Side two
“Mama’s Little Girl”
“Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)”
“I Would Only Smile”
Side three
“Country Dreamer”
“Night Out”
“One More Kiss”
“Jazz Street”
Side four
“I Lie Around”
“Little Lamb Dragonfly”
“Get On The Right Thing”
“1882” (live)
“The Mess I’m In” (live)
When Paul McCartney’s television special was aired several weeks ago, one of the ostensible aims was to provide a semi-biographical glimpse of the inner man, a kind of “getting to know him” in the words of an accompanying ABC press release. Instead, the show proved impersonal at best, with McCartney remote and distant from the camera, providing a portrait nowhere near as intimate, say, as some of the better scene-stealing he undertook in A Hard Day’s Night. Ironically, the most engrossing moments fell when passersby were asked to sing snippets of Beatles’ songs, and if the consequent production did nothing to heal McCartney’s ongoing image problem, it certainly didn’t help his musical offerings, which came off as forgettably ordinary and certainly disappointing.
Yet television as a medium demands attention, and as the best of Red Rose Speedway indicates, Paul McCartney’s music tends to crumble under prolonged examination. He is not an especially intense lyricist, preferring instead to choose his words according to sound and feel alone, and his melodies — particularly on more uptempo material — appear to be fostered through basic reliance on a rotating riff. Mathematically this adds up to nothing, but over the radio and through repeated listenings the power of such a simple combination mounts steadily, so that what is finally delivered is the pop song refined to its ultimate extension: pleasant, accessible without concentration, air waves filled, records sold, no condescension or middle-of-the-road apologies.
In fact, if Paul demonstrates anything with this album, it lies in his skill as an arranger, in his placement of instruments and the succession of movements he notches within any given tune. The hooks are never obvious, certainly not on the order of those soaring Beatlesque choruses, but after a while you might find yourself waiting for that pristine guitar figure, the drum interjection, the wash of background harmonies that are meticulously set in each piece. And make no mistake, though the songs are credited to the McCartneys, and though Wings works with an admirable degree of understated restraint, this is really Paul’s album. He dominates it in a way he hasn’t since embarking on his solo career, the results all to the good. His voice is consistently excellent, his bass provides the direction for most of the more ornate cuts, and he seems comfortable in his chosen milieu.
“Big Barn Bed,” the opening cut on the album, captures McCartney’s current approach as well as any, showing in a series of steps just how he fleshes out a song which must have been mere skeleton when first written. The lyrics are rhymed nonsense, for the most part, played off against a curiously staggered afterbeat and a tightly controlled vocal. Neither verse nor chorus are anything much, but the song draws you slowly in with the same steady roll of traction demonstrated by that odd union of records which score heavily in the discotheque markets, reaching its peak with the endless repetitions of the chorus line in the end, let down slightly via the faintly Gregorian harmonies at the close.
Similarly, “My Love” relies on its success (both as single and album cut) not through the mushiness of its sentiments, or the superfluous prettiness of its melody (Paul did it better in “The Long and Winding Road” anyway), but in its constant attention to unconcealed repetition. A look at the lyric sheet reveals a staggering amount of “My Love”s and “Wo-Wo”s shoved in nearly every line, and if the song appears to be somehow more than it actually is, chalk one up for McCartney’s supervisory care.
This concentration on ramming the point home is both Red Rose Speedway’s strength and weakness, however. “Medley,” which takes up 11 minutes of side two, consists of four songs tied together in a slight vignette. The story line is loosely based on the traditionals of a boy-girl relationship — in this case overwrought with a love theme — and the tunes themselves are charming enough in a lightweight sort of way. But eleven minutes? Not only could the medley have been easily compressed into a single segment with little loss of narrative flavor, but the net effect of lumping all these eggs in one basket only serves to underscore their individual lack of anything resembling bulk.
The remainder of the album is good, competent McCartney, neither his best nor worst, but solidly constructed material with a flair for creating gems out of the safe and familiar. “Get on the Right Thing,” with its Abbey Road texture, is a sharply synched number that folds nicely into “One More Kiss,” a scenario built on the premise of the one-night stand and down-played letter-perfect. “Single Pigeon” is a meager song, not made out to be much more than it really is (the Mamas and Papas over “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”), while the picks to click of Red Rose Speedway rest with “Little Lamb Dragonfly” and “When The Night,” the former soft and sensual with a bit too much reliance on the “la-la-la”s and the latter a double-edged Paul rocker, featuring his best singing of the album when the group bears down in the coda. Wings’ great recent single of “Hi Hi Hi” is nowhere to be found, for reasons undeclared, especially gritting in light of a weak filler instrumental called “Loup (1st Indian on the Moon),” electronic patter more gracefully left to such as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind.
Still, despite expected hits and misses, I find Red Rose Speedway to be the most overall heartening McCartney product given us since the demise of the Beatles. After much experimentation with how best to present himself, Paul has apparently begun a process of settling down, of working within a band framework that looks to remain stable for at least the next vehicular period. An American tour should help matters out, if nothing else giving him greater accessibility to his audience, and the noticeable tightening of his musical vision should boost him from there. And as for the particulars of this latest album, suffice it to say that Paul’s grandfather would’ve liked it. It is, after all, very clean.
~ Lenny Kaye (July 5, 1973)
All songs written and composed by Paul and Linda McCartney.
Side One
1.            “Big Barn Bed”  3:48
2.            “My Love”           4:07
3.            “Get on the Right Thing”               4:17
4.            “One More Kiss”              2:28
5.            “Little Lamb Dragonfly”                 6:20
Side Two
6.            “Single Pigeon”                 1:52
7.            “When the Night”            3:38
8.            “Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)”              4:23
9.            “Medley: Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut”        11:14
Bonus tracks on CD reissued by Capitol in the US
10.          “I Lie Around”    5:03
11.          “Country Dreamer”         3:14
12.          “The Mess” (Live at the Hague) 4:58
The Paul McCartney Collection’s 1993 reissue bonus tracks
10.          “C Moon”            4:32
11.          “Hi, Hi, Hi”           3:07
12.          “The Mess” (Live at the Hague) 4:55
13.          “I Lie Around”    4:59

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