ON THIS DATE (37 YEARS AGO)
May 27, 1975 – Paul McCartney/Wings: Venus and Mars is released in the US.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# Allmusic 3/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Venus and Mars is the fourth album by Wings, released on this date in May 1975 in the US (May 30 in the UK).
Preceded by the single “Listen to What the Man Said” in May, Venus and Mars appeared two weeks later to decent reviews and brisk sales. The album reached #1 in the United States, the United Kingdom and worldwide (as did “Listen to What the Man Said” in the US) and sold several million copies during the 1970s, with sales now pitched at over 10 million, even if the reaction was less than what had greeted Band on the Run a year earlier. Two additional singles, “Letting Go” and “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” were released, though to less success. Although the latter almost reached the US Top 10, it didn’t chart at all in the UK.
After recording Band on the Run as a three-piece with wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine, McCartney added Jimmy McCulloch on lead guitar and Geoff Britton on drums to the Wings line-up in 1974. Having written several new songs for the next album, McCartney decided upon New Orleans, Louisiana as the recording venue, and Wings headed there in January 1975.
As soon as the sessions began, the personality clash that had been evident between McCulloch and Britton during Wings’ 1974 sessions in Nashville became more pronounced, and Britton — after a mere six month stay — quit Wings, having only played on three of the new songs. A replacement, American Joe English, was quickly auditioned and hired to finish the album.
The sessions themselves proved to be very productive, not only finishing the entire album, but also several additional songs including two future McCartney B-sides: “Lunch Box/Odd Sox” and “My Carnival”. McCartney also decided to link the songs together much like The Beatles had on Abbey Road to give the album a more continuous feel.
John Lennon, often in a nostalgic mood while in Los Angeles, had told May Pang (his then girlfriend) that he planned to visit the McCartneys during the recording sessions for Venus and Mars, but this was not to be. Lennon’s planned visit would be permanently postponed due to his reunion with Yoko Ono.
Venus & Mars is an interesting mix of musical styles, punctuated by Paul McCartney’s unerring sense of melody and hooky songs. Along with founding members Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney & Denny Laine, recent additions Jimmy McCulloch (ex-Thunderclap Newman) Joe English rounded out the band on guitar and drums respectively. Guests for these sessions (partially recorded at New Orleans’ famed Sea Saint Studios) included N’awlins pianist Allen Toussaint, saxophonist Tom Scott and guitarist Dave Mason.
The highlights include the hard-rocking anthem “Rock Show” (later used to great effect in the Rock For Kampuchea benefit concert five years later) and the gently nostalgic “You Gave Me The Answer,” Macca’s tribute to the sounds of vaudeville introduced to him by his late father. Elsewhere, the mysticism of the French Quarter is embedded within “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt” while New Orleans’ rich R&B tradition is all over the horn-laden “Call Me Back Again.” The bouncy number one single “Listen To What The Man Said” also contrasts nicely with the melancholic title track.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
As time goes by, John Lennon’s importance to the Beatles becomes more and more self-evident. The same old story we’ve been hearing for years—that Lennon’s wit and abrasive probing were needed to balance Paul McCartney’s melodic charm and sweetness—is obvious but true; Lennon’s career has certainly had fewer ups and downs (the first Plastic Ono Band LP being his only real success), but his strivings, if at times embarrassing, have never seemed to be the product of assembly-line manufacture. None of the ex-Beatles has survived the first half of the Seventies heroically—George Harrison has become a musical Kahlil Gibran, Ringo Starr, a likably mediocre Everyman, Lennon, the confused method actor unsure of what role to play, and McCartney, a latter-day Burt Bacharach trying to invent his Angie Dickinson—but, of the four, only Lennon’s plight still reaches the rock & roll part of the heart.
Lennon probably had nothing whatsoever to do with Venus and Mars, the new Wings album, but somehow the ghost of his sincerity not only haunts but also accentuates the cool calculation of the McCartney project, and a jarring primal scream or two might make me feel less enraged by Paul and Linda’s chic, unconvincing and blatant bid to be enshrined as pop music’s Romeo and Juliet. One can point out that John and Yoko were no better, perhaps even worse, in their similar public insistence—or Bob Dylan on Planet Waves, for that matter—but what makes such a comparison appalling is that John and Yoko and Dylan believed what they were saying, or at least desperately tried to, while the McCartneys serve it all up with the offhand air of two uncaring jet-setters presenting us with the very latest in prefabricated TV dinners.
Venus and Mars begins with Paul and Linda’s casual and false assumption that the whole world is tremendously interested in the state of their union (whereas John and Yoko and Dylan were driven, I think, more by individual inner needs to say what they did), so they concoct a slick, Broadway / Hollywood exterior romance that is an insult to the very “lovers everywhere” to whom they dedicate the LP. For all I know, the McCartneys may love each other passionately, but it is self-aggrandizement, not private ardor, that shines through the computerized smoothness of their insubstantial songs; no blood on the tracks here, and no connection with reality either. Perhaps this is too harsh; perhaps Paul and Linda’s image of themselves as rock & roll’s mythical couple is real in their minds but, as this album proves, an extended trip across that arid area is apt to make even the night thoughts of Johnny Carson appear positively Dostoevskian.
“Venus and Mars are all right tonight,” the lovers keep telling us, persistently answering a by-and-large unasked question with a press-release concept, generally uninspired melodies and some of the dumbest lyrics on record. As a card-carrying romantic, I bow to no one caught in the occasionally moony state of yearning, but I can’t imagine ever telling anyone I liked, let alone loved, something like, “My, you’re so fine/When love is mine/I can’t go wrong”; or, “Ah, she looks like snow/I want to put her in a Broadway show” or, “You’re my baby and I love you/You can take a pound of love/And cook it in the stew….” The last song on the LP carries the galactic couple all the way to the old people’s home, where we are asked to pity the doddering old McCartneys because “nobody asked [them] to play.” “Here we sit,” they cry, “Two lonely old people/Eking our lives away.” Pretty damned unlikely. If the musical career doesn’t pan out, guys, you can always get a job writing soap operas or the verses for Hallmark cards.
So much for the banal ballads — “Venus and Mars,” “Love in Song,” “You Gave Me the Answer” (done Rudy Vallee style), “Letting Go,” “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” “Treat Her Gently — Lonely Old People”—all treacle so far from the mainstream of amorousness that, if one were to make a joke, only a drip or two could sneak through. Unfortunately, some of the nonlove songs (“Magneto and Titanium Man” especially) on Venus and Mars are more galling and impudently silly than that pun, or just rather ordinary (“Rock Show,” “Medicine Jar”). The only two real exceptions are the well-sung, urban-blues-and-Sixties-soul-influenced “Call Me Back Again” and the LP’s certain hit single, the deliciously catchy and creamily produced “Listen to What the Man Said,” the latter as fine an example of slick, professional entertainment and carefully crafted “product” as has ever hit the airwaves.
Although I have always had doubts about McCartney, before this album was released I would have offered an opening argument that he, not Lennon, was the only one of the ex-Beatles whose career seemed to be going somewhere. Band on the Run wasn’t great, but it was good and did suggest that its creator wasn’t all vacuum-packed smugness and unmatched ego. Now, I don’t know. Were his talent behind him, McCartney’s current disaster wouldn’t matter much, but what is really worrisome here is the almost gleeful enthusiasm with which he makes trivial anything meaningful. It is symbolic that Venus and Mars comes with more extraneous junk (not all of it in the grooves) than it can sustain: two posters, two gummed decals, a flashy inner cover, etc. Perhaps this is the ephemera of fame, but it’s really not as cosmic as Paul and Linda think it is; indeed, it seems more an inadvertent definition of artistic emptiness. These are two geese who have laid a golden egg in a land where Michelangelo Antonioni and Norman Rockwell have somehow become soulmates, and all of us are going to be expected to pay the price. (RS 192)
~ PAUL NELSON (July 31, 1975)
All songs written and composed by Paul & Linda McCartney (listed as “McCartney”) except as noted.
1 Venus and Mars – 1:20
2 Rock Show – 5:31
3 Love in Song – 3:04
4 You Gave Me the Answer – 2:15
5 Magneto and Titanium Man – 3:16
6 Letting Go – 4:33
1 Venus and Mars [Reprise] – 2:05
2 Spirits of Ancient Egypt – 3:04
3 Medicine Jar – 3:37
4 Call Me Back Again – 4:58
5 Listen to What the Man Said – 4:01
6 Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People – 4:21
7 Crossroads Theme (Tony Hatch) – 1:00
All songs written and composed by Paul & Linda McCartney.
Bonus Tracks for 1987 CD edition & 1993 The Paul McCartney Collection edition
14 Zoo Gang [Theme from the UK TV series The Zoo Gang] -2:01
15 Lunch Box/Odd Sox [Previously released as B-side of a single “Coming Up” in 1980] – 3:50
16 My Carnival [Previously released as B-side of “Spies Like Us” in 1985] -3:57