Wild Life (1971): Paul McCartney & Wings

I hesitate to write about this album, it is one of my least favorite Paul McCartney/Wings albums.  But since I started, here goes.

Mr. McCartney was a bit rudderless in 1971, adjusting to being an ex-Beatle, and the cute one at that, was harder than it seemed.  He had released his first solo album before the Beatles were officially splitsville, but the band imploded shortly thereafter and suddenly he had to earn a living.  In 1971, he had also released Ram, which was his second solo album, which was quite a bit more successful than McCartney had been.  As a Beatle, he was used to always being in the studio, he was either writing or recording. And, A lot of his Beatle money would be tied up in litigation, costly litigation, so he was needing to record.  At that point in time, McCartney was not touring, so there was no money coming from that area, although he would soon mount a gypsy-like tour around Great Britain playing colleges and wherever he could get a booking.

McCartney’s intent was to start a new band.  He recruited Denny Laine, who rose to fame with the first incarnation of The Moody Blues (“Go Now”), and later played with Ginger Baker’s Air Force.  Laine was a guitarist and vocalist, but was adaptive to also play bass and piano.  American drummer Denny Seiwell worked on Ram and stayed on board for Wings.

wildlife

McCartney produced the album, and most of the songs are credited to McCartney and wife Linda, which got them sued by their publishing companies, who did not believe that she actually co-wrote them.

This is one of his weakest sets of songs, although two of them, “Some People Never Know” and “Dear Friend” resonate with some of his best musical cues.  If you search online you’ll find as many positive review as negative, and most often by fans.  The spontaneity of the album, not slick or overproduced, was welcomed by fans.  It was a stripped-down McCartney, who chose to include some World Music grooves.  McCartney admitted that most of the songs were recorded in one-take, but he also had the band rehearse them for a week at his farm studio.

Overall, this album fails to satisfy on the order of Ram, a slicker and more complete set of songs.  If you want to hear McCartney unvarnished, this album is a nice side trip through an important transition period.

Side one

“Mumbo” – A rough piece of rock and roll, seems a bit unfinished, more like a garage band version of something.  It certainly rocks harder than anything he did up to this point as a solo artist.

“Bip Bop” – More like a campfire song you’d play to entertain a small group.  Give McCartney credit for experimenting with different grooves.  This song is not unpleasant, but in McCartney’s catalogue would normally be relegated to an unreleased track.

“Love Is Strange” (Mickey Baker, Sylvia Vanderpool, Ethel Smith) – Musically competent (you would expect no less), this is a curiosity, with its island vibe.  Linda McCartney’s voice is very dominant on this song. McCartney did not do very many covers so this is an interesting choice, but it is very much a band effort, so that might have been deliberate as he was building Wings.

“Wild Life” – A heavy, long, slow, repetitive song.  It reminds me of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road, but this song is much less effective as an instrumental showpiece.

Side two

“Some People Never Know” – Gentle, bright melodies are McCartney specialties.  I like this song, always have, but it seems like it could have been trimmed.  It is too repetitive and unfocused, but it is a song with many nice chord changes.  One of my favorite songs on the album.

“I Am Your Singer” – Linda is featured along with Paul as vocalists.  A slight song.

“Big Bop Link” – A short acoustic piece of music.

“Tomorrow” – Actually, the foundation of a nice McCartney song, but it feels unfinished.  It has a bright melody and chorus.

“Dear Friend” – A long tribute to John Lennon.  McCartney is a fine pianist and this song is built around his playing.  McCartney and Lennon had a brittle relationship during these years, they did some of their communicating through song.  You can hear the uncertainty but feeling weaving through the song.  McCartney adds strings and horns.

“Mumbo Link” – A coda to the album, a short, distorted jam.

Several reissues of the album included singles and b-sides, home demos, along with a few songs recorded during that time period released on other collections.  For example, “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was a single banned by the BCC for its political content. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” could have been a children’s song or it could have been a response by McCartney to the banning of “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.”  Both stories had legs.

By the time that McCartney surfaced again in 1973 with Red Rose Speedway, Wings had a new member and they had released several controversial singles.


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