Gargantuan in spirit, triumphant in turn, explosive in its delivery and commercial in its nature, ‘Wings’ took over the world in the mid seventies. With the era defining behemoth ‘Band On The Run’ still hungrily devouring the charts, Paul McCartney was armed with guitarist Jimmy McCulloch in toe, giving Wings Mark II their live zenith And with sure blown confidence, Paul McCartney turned to New Orleans as the new location in which to record Wings’ fourth album (the album featured two drummers, the first Geoff Britton played on three songs, before Joe English took to the drumsticks and played on the remainder of the record. McCartney liked the anglophile surnames alright- funnily enough, English was American!).
And as Lagos was as immaterial to ‘Band’, so did little of Orleans’ musical influence find itself on ‘Venus’, an otherwise fine record which gave Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch the platform to sing from previously McCartney-centric records. Where Wings’s first three records put the former Beatles very much in the centre stage, ‘Venus’ opened itself to its junior members, a tradition continued on their follow-up record, to mixed-success. McCulloch, a guitar wizard even as a teenager, gave the live unit a spark needed to fuel the fiery blues rockers ‘Call Me Back Again’ and ‘Letting Go’, classics enriched by McCartney’s skilled and raucous singing. Sold on record, they worked even better in concert, the band’s best renditions in the ‘Wings Over America’ live albums. Further blistering guitars gave ‘Rock Show’ and ‘Spirits of Ancient Egypt’ the stadium rock grandiosity Wings needed to put Queen and Roxy Music at bay.
Preliminary hit ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ (embellished with Tom Scott’s sax playing and Traffic’s Dave Mason’s delicate guitar touch) blossomed with seventies plaisance, a mainstay to easy listening radio. ‘You Gave Me The Answer’ brought McCartney back to his love of nineteen twenties music, and while never strong enough to topple his Beatles composed ‘Honey Pie’, it’s an earnest and sweetly idyllic vignette. A real life comic book aficionado, he poured his real life passion into ‘Magneto and Titanium Man’, a song Stan Lee labelled ‘terrific’.
Title track ‘Venus and Mars’ brought the symmetry of rock to a cover, as seventies glam rockers Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Noddy Holder brought rock further and further to the superficial. Combining the hard muscular masculine riffs with the plaintive feminine, Wings’ had the stagger and musicianship to combine the two. As the celestial title track befitted the album, ‘RockShow’ staggered and swaggered with panache Mick Jagger himself could hardly muster (Linda McCartney’s backing vocal, if not melodic, has punch and sing along appeal). A witty Goon show bridge proved that McCartney was as aware of the joke as his listener was. Album closer, a nifty cover of Tony Hatch’s ‘Crossroads’, sealed the joke. Music didn’t have to make sense; it just had to sound good.
Where McCartney brought wit and gregarity, gravitas came in the form of McCulloch’s ‘Medecine Jar’, a collaboration with lyrical chameleon Colin Allen. Bluesy in its display, McCulloch’s song had a tragic potency to it after McCulloch’s untimely demise at the close of the decade. Stringing the song to its climax came from McCartney’s superlative bass work. Though the leader, he played the role of side man well. Laine’s vocal on ‘Spirits of Ancient Egypt’ had a naiéve delicacy to it, sitting well with McCartney’s accomplished portrayal.
The masters of stadium rock, Wings had now found themselves with the direction needed to take the band on the run to the U.S.A.’Venus and Mars’ may be nothing more than a show of form over content. Then again, so was ‘Sgt.Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’! ‘Venus and Mars’ is a cracking album.