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Paul McCartney
Writing Credits:

Band on the Run should have been a disaster. Two of Wings' original members quit in a huff just before its production. The whimsical decision to record in Lagos, Nigeria, became a nightmare when McCartney and company found themselves in a decaying studio, then had many of the project's demos stolen by armed bandits. Despite these hardships - perhaps because of them - Band on the Run remains the most focused and consistently satisfying record of McCartney's wildly uneven post-Beatles career.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English PCM Stereo
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Price: $29.98
Release Date: 11/2/2010

• Bonus CD
• Music Videos
• Album Promo
• “Wings in Lagos” Featurette
• “Osterley Park” Featurette
• “One Hand Clapping” Documentary


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Paul McCartney: Band On The Run (1973)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 28, 2010)

Nearly four decades after its release, it can be tough to recall the climate in which Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run hit the shelves. At the time, McCartney had done pretty well on the charts, but he lacked much critical love. 1970’s McCartney and 1971’s Wild Life were seen as tossed-off and unpolished, while 1971’s Ram and 1973’s Red Rose Speedway were viewed as too polished and fussy.

Opinions have changed quite a lot since then, especially in terms of Ram. Once viewed as Macca’s “trying too hard” release, now it gets a good deal of attention as Paul’s best album. Still, that’s now; in 1973, McCartney was seen as a sell-out pop star.

Late 1973’s Band on the Run changed that. It reinforced McCartney’s growing position as the ex-Beatle with the most commercial success, but it also received glowing reviews. For once, critics thought McCartney was able to deliver a consistent effort that merited reasonable consideration as a near-equal to his Beatles days.

37 years after its release, Run remains Macca’s most beloved release – and it’s still arguably his best. Personally, I prefer Ram, and there are other albums I listen to more at this point, but I can’t do much to counter claims that Run is still Paul’s peak. Any disenchantment I feel stems more from excessive familiarity than anything else; I’ve heard the album so much over the decades that it’s lost some punch.

But it’s still a pretty terrific little album, and it’d be difficult to find a more consistent McCartney release. Few records start with a better one-two punch than “Band on the Run” and “Jet”. Both tunes remain classics, and they hold up well. Even though I’ve seen Macca live multiple times, those two still zing and keep my interest. I might argue “Jet” could lose a verse, as it runs on a little long, but it’s a good rocker anyway.

After those two, a dip in quality becomes inevitable, and “Bluebird” represents that drop. Honestly, it’s probably my least favorite tune on the album, though I wouldn’t call it a bad track; I don’t think Run has any bad songs, and “Bluebird” is reasonably enjoyable. It’s just a little on the sappy side, and the fact the title reminds us of the superior “Blackbird” from Paul’s Beatle days doesn’t help. I like “Bluebird”, but it’s just a little more lounge lizard than I’d like.

The album bounces back with the odd little rocker “Mrs. Vandebilt”. McCartney has always been an inconsistent – and occasionally lazy – lyricist, and on the surface, “Vandebilt” feels like one of those tracks with lyrics dashed off in the time it took to record the song. Does the song make any sense? Not that I can tell, but the words work. Maybe I like the nonsense lyrics just because they sound vaguely irritable; Macca’s usually pretty sunny, so it’s nice to hear him on the grouchy side, even if the words don’t make much sense.

No matter what potential concerns the lyrics create, the music allows “Vandebilt” to fly. It’s a bouncy little rocker, and with its “ho – hey ho!” refrain, it lodges itself in your brain. “Vandebilt” is allegedly McCartney’s most popular song in the former Soviet bloc – who am I to call all those Ukrainians wrong?

Earlier I mentioned that I’ve seen McCartney live many times but still like to hear this album’s first two songs. I can’t claim the same for its fifth track, “Let Me Roll It”. Even though it’s not a particularly famous number, Macca seems to love it; he plays it relentlessly during his tours.

And that’s worn me out on the song, I must admit. Even though I’ve heard “Run” and “Jet” even more, I accept their repeated playings because they’re such big hits. When I see Macca use up a theoretical “wild card slot” with something like “Roll”, it frustrates me. C’mon, Paul – dump “Roll” and grab something unusual instead!

Removing the fact I’m tired of hearing it live from the equation, I must admit “Roll” is a good song. Back in 1973, McCartney and John Lennon had endured years of sniping and attacks on each other, but they leaned toward détente at this time. “Roll” was a little homage to Lennon’s style and offered as an olive leaf of sorts. It rocks fairly well, though like “Jet”, it could probably lose a verse. Still, even though I’m sick of it, I think “Roll” is an enjoyable tune.

Next comes a track that I don’t believe has ever been played live: “Mamunia”. It’s a light song, which makes it a contrast to the harder rock of “Roll”. It borders on the verge of excessive fluffiness, but it’s likable enough.

Another obscurity, “No Words” is one of my “Run” faves. On the surface, it doesn’t seem much edgier than “Mamunia”, but “Words” has some interesting twists and turns. Macca throws out a rare falsetto sequence as well in this solid, underrated tune.

Supporting Wing Denny Laine gets his time in the spotlight with “Picasso’s Last Words”. Though McCartney touted Wings as a “real band” and not just his backing crew, it took a while for anyone other than Paul to take the lead. 1975’s Venus and Mars and 1976’s Speed of Sound gave various members more of a spotlight; here, Laine has to settle for a lead shared with McCartney.

Which makes “Words” something unusual, and the song’s backstory is intriguing as well. Allegedly Dustin Hoffman challenged McCartney to write a song on the spot based on the recently deceased Picasso’s final words; this track resulted.

Probably not fully formed, however; I’d assume Macca used some extra time to polish the track. This results in a “Mamunia”-level tune: enjoyable and reasonably high quality, but not a great one. The song delivers a jaunty piece that fits with the others well, but it’s also one you’re more likely to skip.

Run ends strong with the dynamic “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”. The diehard Maccaphiles were shocked to hear that one pop up out of nowhere in McCartney’s 2010 setlists, and it’s awesome to finally hear it live. The song bookends the album with “Run” well and has a tougher edge than much of the material. It’s not one of Macca’s hardest rockers, but it’s a winner.

As is Band on the Run as a whole. The album isn’t consistently excellent, but it never becomes worse than “pretty good”. It’s held up well after 37 years.

The DVD Grades: Picture NA/ Audio NA/ Bonus B

I opted not to offer picture/audio grades for the set because the DVD – the usual subject of my ratings – is an extra here. Normally the DVD is the main component, but here it’s a bonus feature, so I didn’t think it made sense to give it a regular grade.

We find a mix of materials on the package’s DVD. We launch with three music videos. Also found on the McCartney Years release, here’s what we get:

“Helen Wheels”: A chugging ode to Paul’s ATV, “Helen” rocks. Damn, why doesn’t Paul write more tunes like this? No, it’s not exactly a deep or complicated song, and that’s fine with me. It delivers the goods.

The song comes from a transition period for Wings; McCullough and Denny Seiwell split, so “Helen” – and the rest of Band - were done by Paul, Linda and Denny Laine. The video reflects this, as it mixes lip-synch shots with the trio in the ATV and some other goofiness. It’s borderline idiotic at times but overcomes its flaws with a sheet attitude of fun – and Laine’s bizarre nothing-in-the-middle moustache. I shouldn’t, but I love this one. 8/10.

“Mamunia”: I’d argue that Run is Paul’s second best album, but “Mamunia” isn’t one of its more interesting tunes. Oh, it’s a good one, but it pales in comparison to the album’s best tracks. Still, a lesser song on Run is better than the top tunes on other records, so I can’t knock it too much. And I’ve always love the “lay down your umbrellas/strip off your plastic macs” line.

The video’s an odd little sort of animated affair. It uses much of its time to simply show the words to the chorus, and the rest depicts some crude drawings to vaguely illustrate the lyrics. This is the opposite of the “Helen” video. I shouldn’t have liked it but I did, whereas I feel I should dig this one, but I don’t. I give it extra points for ambition but just don’t enjoy it much. 5/10.

“Band on the Run”: Sometimes I forget what a great song “Band” is just because of its overplay. I can get a little sick of it, but that doesn’t diminish what a great tune it really is. Complex and catchy, it opens Run well and remains one of Paul’s top numbers.

The video follows in the footsteps of “Mamunia” with a partially animated affair. It’s a weird one that mixes art, old Beatle photos, and live shots of folks walking on the street. What’s the point? I’m not really sure, and I don’t think it’s very interesting. 3/10.

After this we find a few featurettes. An Album Promo (7:43) offers a mix of tunes: it includes snippets of “Band on the Run”, “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”, “Mrs. Vandebilt”, and “Bluebird”. We see a smattering of visuals, but shots from the album cover shoot dominate. Those make this a moderately interesting compilation.

For a glimpse of the location in which the album was recorded, we head to Wings in Lagos (3:14). Like “Album Promo”, this gives us silent film footage accompanied by music; here we hear a moody, Indian-inflected McCartney rendition of “Band on the Run”. Called “A Different Perspective”, it’s not particularly enjoyable, but it’s an interesting twist. The footage is also decent, but additional context/information would make it more valuable.

Osterley Park (15:25) delivers more footage from the album cover shoot. Unlike the “Promo”, though, this clip includes audio from the session; no music comes along for the ride. This isn’t the most coherent piece, but it’s fun, as we get a nice “fly on the wall” glimpse of the photo shoot.

The DVD’s final component is its biggest attraction for fans: 1974 TV special entitled One Hand Clapping. Shot in August 1974, it goes for 51 minutes, 49 seconds, and concentrates on time spent at Abbey Road studios.

For what purpose? Good question. I’ve tried to research “Clapping” and saw info that claimed the sessions occurred as rehearsals for a world tour that didn’t materialize; Wings would tour a year later, but with a different drummer in the fold.

Perhaps “Clapping” does document rehearsals, but it seems strange that McCartney recorded them in this fashion. Shooting film footage of the rehearsals makes sense, but recording them professionally in such a fancy way doesn’t. Perhaps Paul intended to release a “live in the studio” album to go along with the tour? I don’t know.

Anyway, “Clapping” includes 14 songs: “Jet”, “Soily”, “C Moon”, “Little Woman Love”, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “My Love”, “Bluebird”, “Let’s Love”, “All of You”, “I’ll Give You a Ring”, “Band on the Run”, “Live and Let Die”, “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”, and “Baby Face”. Most come straight from the studio sessions, but “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” is a bit of an odd beast; it starts with Paul solo at the piano and then segues into live vocals backed with the album music.

In addition to all the “live in the studio” performances, we get some chatter from the five members of Wings: McCartney, Linda McCartney, guitarist Denny Laine, guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton. Of course, Paul dominates, but we hear a little from everyone. The comments are moderately interesting, but only occasionally revealing.

The music remains the biggest focus, especially since none of these performances previously saw the light of day. “Soily” is a winner, partially because the only legit release of the tune came from the live Wings Over America version; it’s good to have a “real” studio cut. A few others – the run from “Let’s Love” through “Ring” – also have no legit counterpart, so they’re good to hear.

I also like the ability to hear and see the takes on the more “common” songs. Unfortunately, not all are complete, and sometimes the program places speech on top of the tunes, but the show still presents them well much of the time.

Note that “Clapping” may omit one song from its original incarnation. I snooped around online, and all the bootleg versions included “Junior’s Farm”. If those reports are accurate, I don’t know why it failed to make the cut here.

Though I didn’t want to give the DVD a picture/audio grade, I did want to comment on them for “Clapping”, as for fans, it’ll be the DVD’s main attraction. Visuals looked pretty weak. The program came from a video source and tended to be drab, flat and mushy.

That said, I didn’t find myself really bothered by the picture quality. Would it be nice to get a really top-notch presentation? Sure, but given the project’s roots, I don’t know if that’d be realistic. “Clapping” could certainly look better, but I found it to be watchable.

As for the monaural audio, it was competent to good. Again, stereo would’ve been nice, but the mono was clear and clean. The audio certainly seemed stronger and more impressive than the picture, so don’t worry that the sound will be a big disappointment. While not terrific, the audio was more than acceptable.

The package concludes with a Bonus CD. It throws in nine songs, most of which saw previous release. We find “Helen Wheels” and its B-side, “Country Dreamer”. We also get “Zoo Gang” – the B-side of “Band on the Run” in the UK – as well as six tracks from the “One Hand Clapping” sessions: “Bluebird”, “Jet”, “Let Me Roll It”, “Band on the Run”, “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” and “Country Dreamer”.

The three standard studio tracks make sense, but the “Clapping” tracks seem a little more confusing. Why do we only get a handful of them and not the whole thing? Perhaps stereo recordings only exist for these six songs, but that doesn’t sound likely; as I noted, McCartney recorded the whole thing in Abbey Road, so I don’t know why we wouldn’t have good quality audio for all the numbers.

The existence of this material makes me wonder why the “Clapping” video program remained monaural, but I suspect the nature of the sound mix may be the reason. While the music may be in the vault, the interview comments may not, so it might be tough to recreate the program’s entire mix.

Anyway you look at it, the bonus CD is a disappointment. It has some good components, but just not enough of them. It runs a mere 36 minutes and could’ve been extended with more “Clapping” audio.

After many years, Band on the Run remains at or close to Paul McCartney’s peak as a solo artist. While I’m a little burned out on it, I still recognize it as a strong work. This Special Edition packages the original album along with a decent – but not great – collection of supplements.

As a big McCartney fan, I’m happy to own this set; the ability to finally see a legit version of “One Hand Clapping” would sell me on it with nothing else to add. Nonetheless, I feel like it should’ve included more archival material, so it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. This ends up as a good reissue but not a tremendously substantial one.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7777 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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