Of the six live Paul McCartney albums, Wings Over America (1976) may be the most energetic, varied, and exciting. Of course, being a concert album, none of the songs were new to the disc. But the sheer energy that Paul and the band infuse into the set list makes it one of my top 10 McCartney solo albums. As we know, Paul McCartney thrives on touring and playing live, and WoA shows just how much that passion shines through. Songs that may have been bypassed on the original album come forward as a fresh cut—even some of the Beatles songs surpass their original recordings.
Wings was at the top of its game in 1976. By the time the band embarked on this world tour, they had come a long way from 1972, when the ragtag group literally drove to universities in a bus and played surprise gigs at student unions for a 50p admission price. In those early days, the band had such a small repertoire that they would sometimes resort to repeating songs after running out of material. But by 1976, Wings had defined its sound and proven to be a powerhouse band on its own terms, most notably through Band on the Run’s success.
With this new repertoire in tow, WoA delves heavily into the Wings catalog, featuring deep cuts such as “Magneto and Titanium Man,” “You Gave Me the Answer,” and “Beware My Love.” There are also five Beatles songs in the setlist, marking the first time Paul performed Beatles material live since the breakup. One surprising element is that two other band members are featured on lead vocals: Denny Laine with his Moody Blues hit “Go Now,” as well as “Time to Hide” and “Richard Cory;” and Jimmy McCulloch on “Medicine Jar,” a song he composed and recorded with Wings. Though we’ve heard other band members sing with Paul in subsequent tours—Hamish Stewart filling in for Stevie Wonder on “Ebony and Ivory” (Tripping the Live Fantastic) and Rusty Anderson singing John’s part in “I’ve Got a Feeling” (Good Evening New York City)—no other live album features other voices on lead.
Another reason this album tops my list is that this might be the best Paul has ever sounded. He seamlessly moves between ballads and high-energy rockers with a maturity that gives an added weight to his sound. From start to finish, the vocals are impeccable.
Highlights include (song names link to iTunes to preview):
- “Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet“: I challenge my readers to find an opening to any concert more exciting than this. “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” was released on the Venus and Mars album in anticipation of this tour, but the added live energy combined with the segue into the massive hit “Jet” brings it to a whole new level.
- “Bluebird“: A beautiful ballad off Band on the Run. The band’s voices blend together in perfect harmony, and Linda particularly shines here.
- “Hi, Hi, Hi“: As with “Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet,” this song gets a shot of new energy as the tour’s 11 o’clock number. Banned by the BBC for drug and sex references, it’s always had something of a cult status with fans, and this version, with it’s faster tempo and hard rock sound, should be considered the definitive version. (Side note: Paul added it to the Out There tour last year and it’s still one of the highlights of the set.)
- “Maybe I’m Amazed“: Originally released on the McCartney album, this live version is SO GOOD that it was released as a single and became a huge hit seven years after the original release. It might be the single most perfect example of Paul at the height of his vocal ability.
You can also watch a live recording of this tour, the recently remastered Rockshow. Both the album and the video are excellent opportunities to watch Paul and Wings at the height of their power, having fun and making incredible music.
There really is an app for that
Wings Over America is one of five albums that were recently released as stand-alone apps. The app contains the features of the deluxe box set, and at $7.99 it’s a great way to save money and space while still getting all the benefits of buying an enhanced edition. AndWeLoveThem will be writing a more extensive review of the McCartney apps, but in the meantime, check it out for yourself here.