John Lennon may have thought the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but there’s an argument that Paul McCartney, both via his solo material and his work with Wings, turned out to be bigger than even the Beatles. It’s not convincing, but it’s an argument all the same. The Beatles inspired millions of artists, changed the face of pop music, and went down in history as one of the greatest bands of all time. Wings, McCartney’s follow-up band to the Beatles, did none of that. What they did do was pack out many of the same stadiums as the Beatles had, become the first rock group to receive an Oscar nomination, release a series of Top 10 hits, and win armies of fans the world over. Obviously, they never managed to top the Beatles, but they did prove that McCartney was just as capable of writing hits without John Lennon as he was with him. The band broke up in 1981. For better or for worse, McCartney’s still going. In tribute to the second-best band he ever played with, here are the 10 best Wings songs of all time… surprisingly enough, Mary Had a Little Lamb isn’t on it.
10. Listen To What The Man Said
The harmonies, Tom’s Scott’s soaring sax, the uplifting melodies… it all came together on 1975’s Listen To What The Man Said, taking the band to the top of the charts in the US and serving as a timely reminder of McCartney’s talent for producing the kind of hits we actually want to listen to.
9. Letting Go
Following the release of the hugely successful album Band on the Run, Wings lost a few members, recruited some replacements, lost a few more, then eventually re-emerged with a new lineup and a new album in the form of 1975’s Venus and Mars. Listen to What the Man Said would prove to be the album’s biggest commercial hit, soaring to No. 1 in the US. Letting Go didn’t achieve the same level of success, but in some ways, it’s an even better song, with a raw, bluesy tone that stands in stark contrast to the upbeat, slightly lightweight quality of its more successful counterpart. Ultimateclassicrock.com has named it as one of the best Wings songs of all time – it’s hard to disagree.
8. Arrow Through Me
Named as one of the best Wings songs by paulontheruntour.blogspot.com, Arrow Through Me is one of the rare highlights on the otherwise disastrous Back to the Egg. An R&B-inflected piece of soft rock with some dazzling keyboard work and some equally impressive beats from drummer Steve Holly, it was one of the band’s last gasps before it shuddered to a somewhat anti-climatic stop.
7. Dear Friend
As loudersound.com notes, Dear Friend was written by McCartney as an apology to John Lennon. By 1971, the former writing partners and bandmates had been arguing on and off record for years. Dear Friend was meant to end it. It didn’t and the pair continued to cross swords for several more years. But even if it didn’t achieve its goal, it’s still a stunning record, dripping with raw emotion and featuring some stunningly dramatic fills from drummer Denny Seiwell.
1973’s Band on the Run spawned two top ten singles. The first, the album’s titular track, was the best. The second, Jet, was also hugely impressive. A straight-up piece of rock and roll with an impassioned vocal performance from McCartney, a chant-like chorus, and a fizzy energy that’s practically contagious, it broke the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. McCartney hadn’t had this much swagger since the Beatles. The fact he wrote the song about his dog doesn’t matter in the slightest.
5. On To You
When McCartney decides to experiment with new trends, it’s hit and miss whether he’ll sound like an over-ambitious wedding singer or the pioneer of pop he really is. With On To You, he set his sights on new wave. The result is surprisingly listenable, with a raw energy and a punky edge that’s made all the more intriguing by guitarist Laurence Juber’s ferocious solo.
4. Maybe I’m Amazed
Sure, McCartney recorded Maybe I’m Amazed as a solo artist first (see his debut album for the studio version), but Wings’ live rendition of the song on the triple live album Wings Over America is every bit as good as the original, with McCartney milking the emotion for all its worth and Jimmy McCulloch upping the ante with a sublime guitar solo.
3. Junior’s Farm
After Band on the Run catapulted Wings from a critical failure into a commercial success, the group retreated to a farm just outside of Nashville to start work on their next album. It was here that McCartney found the inspiration for Junior’s Farm. Featuring a blistering performance from ex Thunderclap Newman and Stone the Crows guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (his first with the band), it’s a bright, breezy rocker that may lack gravitas but which oozes verve.
2. Live And Let Die
In 1973, Wings became the first rock band to ever open a Bond film and the first to win an Oscar nomination for a movie soundtrack. Live And Let Die didn’t win (Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were did instead) but it’s still an awesome song, with a slightly weird but very wonderful reggae-styled middle eight, a searingly romantic interlude, and a sensational score from legendary Beatles producer George Martin. When the band took chances, as they did on this musical pick ‘n’ mix, they could be glorious.
1. Band On the Run
The title track to the hot-selling Band on the Run was as close as McCartney ever got to eclipsing his achievements with the Beatles. Had Wings carried on in this vein for the remainder of their career, there’s a good chance they’d be as fondly remembered as the Beatles themselves, rather than simply the misunderstood victims of their suffocating legend. Cleverly blending three distinct parts (the orchestral intro, the rocking segway, and the exhilarating refrain) into one incredibly listenable whole, this is a song that throws the rule book out the window, takes chances, and comes out victorious. This, unquestionably, is Wings’ most triumphant moment.