In the promotional EPK created to kick off The Paul McCartney Archive Collection, the former Beatle reflects on the importance of giving value for the dollar when it comes to buying an album. With this dictum in mind, the team at Concord/Hear Music and McCartney’s company, MPL, created a multi-tiered program for the series’ kickoff release, a remastered edition of McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run. It's available in multiple CD editions, a vinyl set and as high-resolution downloads. All are fine reminders of the album's timeless appeal.
For those simply desiring the original 1973 album, a single-disc remaster has been made available. (Many wish Sony/Legacy had taken this route with next week’s expansion of Bruce Springsteen’s seminal Darkness on the Edge of Town.) This remastered disc, available in all configurations, contains no bonus tracks and drops “Helen Wheels” which was not on the original U.K. album. The remaster, created by the Abbey Road team under the direction of Allen Rouse, isn’t a dramatic upgrade from Greg Calbi and Geoff Emerick’s solid 25th anniversary mastering, at least to these ears. But it sounds consistently good throughout, with the harmonies sounding detailed and the guitars clean and crisp. (Many hold Steve Hoffman’s DCC remaster as the gold standard for Band on the Run, while others might prefer hearing the album in its DTS surround mix, also long out-of-print. Maybe McCartney should have looked into including the Hoffman master in the box set, a la the inclusion of the original RCA CD master in David Bowie’s recent Station to Station box?)
In Paul Du Noyer’s introduction to the four-disc box set, Band is described as “not exactly a concept album,” applying the same term to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Listening to the album, this makes sense; the concept seems to be simply “a terrific collection of songs.” If McCartney’s earlier solo or Wings efforts either seemed too “small” or simply not as inspired as the man’s best, Band was designed more ambitiously with a complex production that showed McCartney learned more than a little something from George Martin. The student delivered!
The title track, one in a line of patented McCartney mini-suites, sounds as fresh today as it did on first hearing with one great pop melody after another in the course of its five-plus minutes. Including that opening salvo, virtually every song has become a pop classic. “Jet” remains a first-class rocker, while it’s almost immediately balanced by the relaxed, gentle “Bluebird” with its light jazz inflections. “Mrs Vandebilt” is an insistent sing-along. Those songs are almost topped, though, by “Let Me Roll It,” in which McCartney (consciously or otherwise) out-Lennoned his old writing partner. Whether this is parody or homage to Lennon, the track still shows just how much in sync the two men actually were, even when they appeared to be at odds. Arguably the album’s most unique track is “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me),” composed on the spot by McCartney after a challenge from Dustin Hoffman. This song and the album closer, “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” theatrically incorporate reprises of tunes previously heard on the album, and remind one of McCartney’s facility for the pop symphony. Of course, he had remarkably sympathetic collaborators in Denny Laine and wife Linda. Read about the expanded Band on the Run after the jump!
One step up from the single-disc release is a two-CD/one-DVD edition comprising the original album, a second disc of bonus audio tracks, and a DVD including the first release of 1974’s One Hand Clapping television documentary. This version is available in most stores for around $20.00 (it's on sale at Target for $13.99 - Ed.), which certainly shows McCartney sticking to his word. This version includes a new essay by Paul Gambaccini in a booklet glued to the digipak, and was also available from Best Buy in an exclusive edition with an extra DVD containing the EPK and three videos from McCartney’s recent Citi Field concert stand.
The bonus audio disc nicely collects all of the singles associated with Band on the Run, including “Zoo Gang,” the B-side of “Band on the Run,” and “Helen Wheels” b/w “Country Dreamer.” Audio tracks from the One Hand Clapping documentary are also included, and they’re particularly fun for comparison, as the heavy production on the album is stripped down. Of particular interest are “Country Dreamer” and “Let Me Roll It,” both of which were recorded at the documentary sessions but remained on the cutting room floor. These tracks debut here for the first time in any format. One troublesome point is the lack of any unreleased studio material here; one of the great pleasures of box sets of this type is hearing alternate takes, outtakes and the like. (Long-unheard promotional edits exist for “Band on the Run” and “Jet;” wouldn’t they have made for fun bonuses, too?) Still, One Hand Clapping – with guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton joining the Wings lineup, as well as Howie Casey on saxophone - has been long in demand, and its presence in both DVD and CD forms is welcome. But nine tracks on the bonus disc left me wanting more!
Joining One Hand Clapping on the DVD is an album promo, and footage recorded during Wings’ controversy-plagued recording session in Lagos as well as back in England for the famous cover shoot.
The centerpiece of the Archive Collection, however, is the box set edition (Concord/Hear Music HRM-32565-00), which takes the form of a beautifully-produced 120-page linen bound book with discs nestled comfortably within. This hefty book is, indeed, a fitting celebration of a beloved album. It’s loaded with a lengthy essay based on new and archived interviews with McCartney and album participants including Denny Laine, Geoff Emerick and Dustin Hoffman. The Gambaccini essay is also included as is Jon Landau’s original Rolling Stone review of the LP. This book truly functions as a “making of” on the album, and it would be a worthwhile read on its own. The design is top-notch, with many delicious Linda McCartney photographs (and those by others), as well as complete lyrics, reproductions of album sleeves and labels from around the world, and discographical information with chart positions and original catalogue numbers. (It’s a minor annoyance that an informational back sheet was glued onto the book so strongly that it was impossible to remove this sheet without damaging and bending it.)
In short, this is a pretty incredible, and fan-friendly, package worthy of a place on any music collector’s shelf. What additional content is featured? Other than the grand book itself, the only extra not on the 2-CD/1-DVD edition is a documentary CD produced for the last reissue of the album on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. While this disc is a compelling audio documentary, it contains snippets of all-too-enticing unreleased material either in incomplete form, or with voiceovers marring the tracks. The inclusion of this disc might have been intended to placate those who lament every time bonus tracks are dropped from a new reissue, forcing fans to hold onto old editions. (See The John Lennon Signature Box and reissue series.) Wouldn't unedited versions of these tracks have been a treat? This is a no-win situation for reissue producers, though: if McCartney had included, say, another disc of unreleased material in the deluxe set only, complaints would have been received from those who could only afford to purchase the less expensive version. The route selected, overall, seems a fair one. The set is mercifully free of "swag" that may or may not inflate the price of other similar collections.
In short, the super-deluxe Band on the Run is the gold standard. But for those who already possess the 25th anniversary edition and need the music and video alone, the $20-and-under deluxe edition more than fits the bill, and both editions are produced with care befitting this pop masterpiece. Most importantly, these releases bode well for the future of the Archive Collection, with forthcoming releases planned for McCartney, McCartney II, Ram and more. While I can’t imagine sets this lavish being produced for each and every one of those titles, the potential for bonus material (both audio and video) is staggering. I’ll drink to the promise of sensibly-remastered and well-annotated versions of these titles and more in the extensive McCartney catalogue, and I have a feeling more than one hand will join me in clapping.