During the 1970s, Paul McCartney’s band Wings changed membership with every album. Wings was his post-Beatles band for those who are late to the game.
After the Beatles, McCartney released several solo albums before deciding he needed a group of musicians around him, especially to take his new material out on the road. Including wife Linda in the band was his idea, not hers, but he was very much in family mode.
McCartney’s first version of Wings imploded as they were getting ready to fly to Nigeria to record Band on the Run. Only McCartney, his wife and Denny Laine made the trip. Laine would be there until McCartney disbanded the group in 1980.
Post-Band on the Run, McCartney recruited Geoff Britton to play drums and Jimmy McCulloch for lead guitar. This group recorded several tracks including “Live and Let Die”, “Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G.” During recording of what would become Venus and Mars, Britton left and was replaced by Joe English. With English, this was the best lineup of Wings, but wouldn’t be in place when Wings folded five years later.
Venus and Mars, unlike Band on the Run, was really a group effort. McCartney finally had his band. He didn’t have to rely on session musicians or record everything with Laine. No mistake, McCartney still called the shots.
Recording began in London in November 1974, and then moved to New Orleans and finished up in Los Angeles. Most of the album tracks were recorded in New Orleans at Sea-Saint studios and included a few guest musicians like Tom Scott (horns), Allen Toussaint (piano) and Dave Mason (guitar). There’s even a song intro by Dr. John.
The Venus and Mars album was released in May 1975, the month I graduated from high school.
The album was produced by McCartney. Engineers included Alan Duffy, Geoff Emerick (The Beatles), Ernie Winfrey and Tim Geelan. Songs are credited to McCartney (Paul and Linda). Many songs during this period we’re co-written by Linda, a source of debate by many McCartney fans.
“Venus and Mars” – 1:16 The intro to the album, a sort of tune-up for what would follow. Acoustic guitar, piano and synthesizer, which segues into ‘Rock Show.”
“Rock Show” – 5:35 Even hard-rocking songs can be smooth and polished like pop songs. A finely constructed song, a strength of McCartney as producer. This was a great start to the album.
“Love in Song” – 3:04 A soulful ballad that turns into a more uptempo song. McCartney excels at memorable melodies, which this song has.
“You Gave Me the Answer” – 2:15 One of McCartney’s weaknesses, sentimentality and reaching back for songs of olden times. Well-done but forgettable.
“Magneto and Titanium Man” – 3:16 Derided for a children’s song, it is a cute pop song like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The music and vocal harmonies are as solid as anything McCartney has ever written. The song is instantly hummable, but the lyrics are silly. I like the song, but it’s silly. Even the guitar work can’t save it from, being silly.
“Letting Go” – 4:33 A very heavy rock vibe, McCartney showing that he wasn’t just about sweet pop singles. At the opposite end of the spectrum from “Magneto.” Cracked the top forty as a single. The horns have a distorted phasing to them, like old-time rock and roll.
“Venus and Mars (Reprise)” – 2:05 Another version of the song, a slow wind-up to the second side. Excellent production by McCartney with vocals and sound effects.
“Spirits of Ancient Egypt” – 3:04 Lead vocals by Denny Laine. A rather nonsensical story song, I’m not sure what it’s about. It’s a nice rocking song.
“Medicine Jar” (Jimmy McCulloch, Colin Allen) – 3:37 The only song not written by McCartney, with lead vocals by Jimmy McCulloch. McCartney was trying to be a bit more democratic and handout starring roles to the band. Not a bad song, not a great one either. Ironically, McCulloch died of a drug overdose a few years after he left Wings. McCulloch was a stellar guitar player, but an average vocalist.
“Call Me Back Again” – 4:57 An old fashioned song, although a very heavy rock guitar solo, backed by a horn session, a very soulful song.
“Listen to What the Man Said” – 3:57 The best song on the album, with Mason on guitar and Scott on horns, this song reached number one as a single. It segues into “Treat Her Gently.”
“Treat Her Gently – Lonely Old People” – 4:21 A sweet song, with McCartney on piano and nice wrap around vocal harmonies. Not a classic McCartney song, but he clearly pulled out many of his songwriting tricks for this song.
“Crossroads Theme” (Tony Hatch) – 1:00 An instrumental song to end the album.
Band on the Run was McCartney’s breakthrough in his post-Beatle years and his best album of the decade. Venus and Mars was his second best, although Ram (not a Wings album) was his best solo album of the decade. The music on Venus and Mars is superb, and his production work is solid, with great arrangements and very effective horns and strings.
Unfortunately, some of these songs are just plain corny, and silly. Still, it is a great listen from top to bottom. It took McCartney a few years to get his mojo back, and Band on the Run made that happen. Musically, this was on-par his Abbey Road songs; lyrically, it was not.
The remastered version of Venus and Mars, released in 2014, included a second disc of material from singles, alternative versions and unreleased songs. Included are “Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G” released as singles, and a version of “Let’s Love”, a song given to Peggy Lee.
“Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G” were recorded in Nashville. “Junior’s Farm” is a hard-driving rock song with terrific guitar work by McCulloch and a driving bass by McCartney. “Sally G” is decidedly country-rock, complete with fiddle, dobro and steel guitar. It is a charming, upbeat song, and better than many rock performers who venture into country music.
I have to admit, I hadn’t played this album since I bought the remastered version. Despite my criticism about cheesy lyrics, it’s a very fine effort and worth the listen. You heard it, it’s what the man said.