45 Years Ago: Paul McCartney Introduces Wings With the Tossed-Off ‘Wild Life’
Wings eventually sold millions and millions of records, but Paul McCartney's '70s-era band didn't exactly start out on a roll. Wild Life, which arrived as their debut on Dec. 7, 1971, remains their lowest-charting album, and the only one that's failed to earn gold-selling status or better in McCartney's native U.K.
Expectation had something to do with it, as McCartney assembled his first post-Beatles band. His approach, rather than to live up to those lofty standards, was to drill down deeper into the comfy domesticity that had surrounded Ram from earlier the same year. Sessions for the follow-up were measured in days, not weeks, as McCartney sought to capture the spark of a new collaboration with drummer Denny Seiwell (a holdover from Ram) and multi-instrumentalist Denny Laine (formerly of the Moody Blues).
The addition of Laine, who would stay for every successive Wings lineup, was fortuitous. "I was thinking of getting another guitarist, and I knew Denny and thought he was a good singer," McCartney said in 2009's The Dream Is Over: Off the Record 2. "He was an old school friend of mine. When we evacuated during the war, we went to Birmingham and then he was Brian Hines – which is his original name – and we went around a bit. I met him later when he was in the Moody Blues. [The Beatles] toured with them, and this cemented our friendship."
Unfortunately, Wild Life is a throwaway project, the sound of band that would produce five straight platinum U.S. albums beginning with 1973's Band on the Run simply warming up while the tapes rolled.
After the painstaking session work for Ram, which had been stitched together piece by polished-up piece, McCartney apparently wanted to cut loose a bit. He was inspired by Bob Dylan's approach on 1970's New Morning, which was likewise quickly recorded. The problem was, by and large, Wings' material – written that summer, McCartney has said, "in Scotland in the summer while the lambs we gamboling" – wasn't nearly as resonant.
Listen to Wings Perform 'Dear Friend'
"I must say, you have to like me to like the record," McCartney told Paul Gambaccini in the 1976 book In His Own Words. "I mean, if it's just taken cold, I think it wasn't that brilliant as a recording. We did it in about two weeks, the whole thing. And it had been done on that kind of buzz we'd been hearing about how Dylan had come in and done everything in one take. I think, in fact, often we never gave the engineer a chance to even set up a balance."
A bucolic cover photo taken by Barry Lategan finds Wings goofing off in a country creek, and it couldn't have been more appropriate. Wild Life was sometimes strikingly substance-free, from piffle like "Mumbo" and "Bip Bop" to a tossed-off reggae remake of "Love Is Strange," Mickey and Sylvia's 1957 Top 40 hit. They seemed to include everything: McCartney, at one point, can be heard spontaneously encouraging engineer Tony Clark – "Take it, Tony!" – to start the tapes during one of their rehearsals. In keeping with the general looseness that governed things, a rough mix of "I Am Your Singer" – a vocal duet with wife Linda McCartney – can be found in the final track listing. And the overlong "Some People Never Know" devolves into a percussive din.
Still, McCartney is incapable of making an album without some embedded piece of his genius. Two tracks, "Tomorrow" and "Dear Friend," have continued to rise in critical estimation. "There's a couple of real big songs on there that freaks of connoisseurs know," McCartney told Gambaccini, specifically mentioning "Tomorrow" – which later found a home on 2001's Wingspan, a Top 5 career retrospective.
"Dear Friend," meanwhile, was a song for John Lennon after a period of very public backbiting. "I don't like grief and arguments; they always bug me," McCartney told Club Sandwich in 1994. "Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So, after John has slagged me off in public, I had to think of a response, and it was either to slag him off in public – some instinct stopped me, which I'm really glad about – or do something else. So, I worked on my attitude and wrote 'Dear Friend,' saying, in effect, Let's lay the guns down, let's hang up our boxing gloves."
To add insult to the many critical injuries bestowed upon Wild Life, that song was actually filler to round things out – a leftover from sessions for the better-regarded Ram. Wings wouldn't get on track commercially until one album later, scoring their first No. 1 single with "My Love."
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