Top 10 Wings Songs
Wings is perhaps the most misunderstood group of the ’70s, victim to the legend of Paul McCartney‘s previous band, to their own ever-changing lineups, to their propensity to issue huge-selling ballads from albums that often featured gritter, far more interesting fare.
“I knew it was impossible,” McCartney once said. “Come on: It’s the impossibility of the universe to follow the Beatles, as all bands ever since have found — even bands who have almost been successful at it.”
Even as Wings went through four drummers and three lead guitarists, the group had a chart run between 1971-80 that compares very favorably with what the Beatles did in the ’60s. McCartney, along with his wife Linda McCartney and Moody Blues alum Denny Laine as musical companions, would notch an amazing 14 Top 10 singles in America — while releasing five consecutive U.S. No. 1 albums. Included were six chart-topping songs, and that’s to say nothing of the typically overlooked deep cuts and also-ran singles. By 1980, Wings had 11 Grammy nominations, same as the Beatles. The group officially split a year later, and with Linda’s death on April 17, 1998, all hopes for a reunion were apparently put to rest.
Despite all of that, Wings still unfairly suffers in the considerable shadow of the Beatles. It’s time to leave behind those comparisons, as consistent as they were unfair, and celebrate Wings for what it was: One of the decade’s very good bands. Don’t believe it? We dug deep to compile this Top 10 Wings Songs…
From its first gnarled riff (courtesy of the underrated, gone-too-soon guitarist Jimmy McCulloch), ‘Letting Go,’ the first song on our list of the Top 10 Wings Songs, sets a dark, roiling tone completely at odds with their flimsy hit ‘Listen What the Man Said’ from the same album. Instead, McCartney explores that narrow space between love and obsession to great effect, if much fewer sales. ‘Listen’ went to No. 1, while this bluesy, brassy rocker somehow stalled at No. 39.
‘Get on the Right Thing’
We find McCartney letting loose vocally, in the style of his old Little Richard rave-ups — ascending into a rattling fervor, then whooping and calling all the way back down. And he was still composing with an episodic flair that recalled the best moments from the ‘Abbey Road’ era. And, again, the song also rocks in a way that drive-by fans might never have guessed after wading through the gauzy web of strings on ‘My Love,’ found elsewhere on Wings’ sophomore effort.
Maybe the most unjustly forgotten McCartney single, this R&B-infused soft-rock pastry — featuring a keyboard bass line straight out of the Stevie Wonder playbook, and an endlessly inventive undulating poly-rhythm from final Wings drummer Steve Holly — somehow only peaked at No. 29. Couple all of that with a bright blast of horns and the result is a long-awaited update of what had become Wings’ tried-and-true silly-love-song template.
‘Let Me Roll It’
By this point, John Lennon and McCartney had found common ground again to the point where McCartney apparently felt comfortable enough to appropriate not just Lennon’s instrumental primitivism but also his raw vocal style. Lennon returned the favor, by embedding the riff from ‘Let Me Roll It’ into his 1974 instrumental ‘Beef Jerky’.
The No. 6 cut on our list of the Top 10 Wings Songs was actually recorded during the sessions for McCartney’s previous album ‘Ram.’ This devastatingly raw track served as an apology to former Beatles partner John Lennon — with whom McCartney had been arguing, both in person and on record, for the past couple of years. A series of turbulent, well-placed fills from drummer Denny Seiwell, who’d be a cornerstone of Wings’ first incarnation, only add to the drama.
It took a surprising amount of time, but with ‘Jet,’ the early-’70s McCartney finally started sounding like the late-’60s McCartney again. Full of zooming, Beatlesque ambition, and no small amount of swagger, this Top 10 power pop gem is as impossible to decrypt as it is impossible to ignore. Was it about a dog?? A pony? In the end, it didn’t matter. ‘Jet’ is that good.
A blast of new-wave inventiveness, ‘To You’ finds McCartney employing these Ric Ocasek hiccups and post-punk howls, while guitarist Laurence Juber furiously saws away over a fidgety beat — then runs his guitar, in a moment of smeared brilliance, through an Eventide harmonizer during these totally wackadoo solos. Nowhere else on ‘Back to the Egg’ is there a greater sense of the fizzy future that never was for the final lineup of Wings. In a few years, of course, this sound would be airing wall-to-wall on MTV.
‘Live and Let Die’
An overstuffed rock opera that features, in order, a sad requiem for the 1960s, a thunderous George Martin score and a weirdly effective reggae-styled middle eight. Over the top? There simply is no top here. But that fits the James Bond aesthetic for which it was written, and it points directly to the success Wings would have at mixing and matching seemingly divergent elements into a broader theme on the subsequent ‘Band on the Run.’ Meanwhile, ‘Live and Let Die’ has remained a fireworks-blasting mainstay of every McCartney concert appearance since.
Following the success of ‘Band on the Run,’ McCartney took a rebuilt Wings into recording sessions at Nashville, where they stayed at a farm owned by one Curly Putman Jr. — and the cool-rocking ‘Junior’s Farm’ was born. McCulloch makes an explosive debut with Wings, illiciting a happy shoutout from McCartney. He’s joined by an absurd cast of characters that includes a poker man, Oliver Hardy, an Eskimo, an old man at a grocery and a sea lion. That was some farm, apparently.
‘Band on the Run’
From their lowest moment arose Wings’ greatest triumph, as a band searching for direction after a pair of member defections crafted an ageless, multi-part paean to escape. No individual McCartney effort — to that point, or since — took so many chances, nor so successfully blended his interests in the melodic, the orchestral, the rocking and the episodic. It’s a perfect choice to top our list of the Top 10 Wings Songs.