Fifty Years On, Wings Has Mixed Legacy

by Kevin Burton

   Fifty years ago today Paul McCartney announced the formation of Paul McCartney and Wings. 

   The move was a guaranteed winner and a guaranteed loser.

   A winner because any piece of music with McCartney’s name on it was going to get a listen. It was going to sell at least moderately well.

   It was a loser because anything he would ever do would be compared to his work in the 60s with the Beatles, the group that virtually invented pop music.

   McCartney, in his solo work and his work with Wings, never had the opportunity to just let it be.

   “The Beatles’ catalog contains so much gold – and so few misfires, relatively speaking – that no artist, whether you’re the Rolling Stones, Drake, or Adele, could hope to match it.  That includes McCartney himself,” writes Joel McIver on www.guitarworld.com.

   “McCartney’s first solo record, along with every single album he’s released since then, has always been compared against his work in the Beatles, and it’s always come out on the wrong side of that equation,” McIver writes.

   Like an overhyped rookie baseball player, being just good would never be good enough to satisfy McCartney’s critics, or even himself. 

   “When it comes to the most cynical listeners among us—the folks who think of Wings as a kind of bubblegum, pseudo-rock band—one need look no further than McCartney himself,” writes Kenneth Womack on www.salon.com. “As recently as May 2016, the former Beatle was lambasting Wings on a BBC special, saying ‘We were terrible. We weren’t a good group.’”

  “They were the butt of numerous jokes throughout their decade-long tenure and beyond. McCartney’s wife Linda was especially singled out, often maligned for her singing and keyboard-playing abilities after being pressed into service by her husband as a kind of accidental bandmate,” Womack writes.

   “But for all of the animosity about their mere existence, Wings invariably found themselves at the top of the heap during their heyday.”

   “From 1971 through 1980, they produced eight Top 10 US LPs, including five chart-toppers. During that same period, the group landed 14 Top 10 singles—six of which captured the number-one spot.”

   “Perhaps even more remarkably, all 23 of Wings’ U.S. singles registered Top 40 hits. Over the years, the band won six Grammy Awards, while selling some 14 million records, which was plenty enough to earn seven platinum and nine gold discs along the way,” Womack writes.

   If the Wings style turned off the music cognoscenti, it had the opposite effect on the record-buying public. 

   “I used to think that all my Wings stuff was second-rate, but I began to meet younger kids, not kids from my Beatle generation, who would say, ‘We really love this song,’” McCartney said. 

   I’m on record as declaring McCartney the fabbest of the Fab Four.  So naturally I have mostly good things to say about Wings.  Here are some unanswerable questions about the group:

   What if you didn’t have an ex-Beatle fronting the group, how would it then be accepted? 

   Let’s say you are John Smith and Wings instead, and you take a song like “Let ‘Em In,” for example, to your record company. Does that song get released? 

  If you are not Paul McCartney, can you get your low-talent wife a prominent place in a top rock and roll band?

   Never mind the critics, I am glad to have the Wings catalog to enjoy.  McCartney and even john Lennon grew to understand the importance of Wings.

   “For all of his attendant criticisms of his 1970s band, McCartney has been exceedingly careful to avoid sliding into regret,” Womack writes.

    “Looking back on it, I’m really glad we did it,” McCartney said.

   “But of all people, it was Lennon who understood Wings’ value even more implicitly than its founder ever could,” Womack writes.  

   “As he observed in one of his final interviews, ‘I kind of admire the way Paul started back from scratch, forming a new band and playing in small dance halls,’”

   “As much as anyone, Lennon perceived the sheer amount of risk inherent in creating a band out of whole cloth in the wake of the Beatles’ juggernaut,” Womack writes.

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