With a burst of boogie woogie, Paul McCartney finally acknowledged the elephant in the room. And then he made it abundantly clear that he wasn't going to be standing in any shadow, even his own. That moment came seven songs into the first disc of Wings Over America when Paul suddenly became Beatle Paul once again, tearing into "Lady Madonna" with Fats-inspired glee. The Wings Over the World tour - taking in three continents, 66 concerts and roughly one million fans - was the most dramatic realization yet of McCartney's reinvention. It was also the first time he performed his Beatles back catalogue as the leader of Wings. "You could seriously go down in history as a guy who tried to get as good as The Beatles and failed miserably," he's recently said. "I felt, in the end, like the guy who tried to get as good as The Beatles - and didn't. But did awfully well." And he arguably never did better than the Wings Over America leg of the tour.
From May 3, 1976 in Fort Worth, Texas, through June 23 in Inglewood, California, Wings played 31 dates for 600,000 fans. The massive arena rockshow party thrown by McCartney, wife Linda, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English and a four-person brass section (Tony Dorsey, Steve Howard, Thaddeus Richard and Howie Casey, a fellow Liverpool native and longtime hero of McCartney's who played the same venues as the young Beatles) translated to disc as one of the most electrifying live albums ever. And now the chart-topping Wings Over America has been released as the fifth entry in The Paul McCartney Archive Collection - and the most dizzyingly lavish yet.
The remastered 2013 Wings Over America has flown into shops in multiple editions. The original album is available as a standard 2-CD edition and a 3-LP set. Retail giant Best Buy is offering a 3-CD version. But the centerpiece is the individually numbered, slipcased set of 3 CDs, 1 DVD and 4 books. This massive, heavy box dwarfs even last year's Ram, which itself was significantly bigger than the book-style format of Band on the Run, McCartney and McCartney II. Despite its larger size, though, its similar spine design and identical height still makes it possible to display on your shelf next to those volumes. With this set, it's likely that you'll lose yourself in the not just the music, but in the overwhelming array of printed material relating to McCartney's American jaunt.
After the jump: we dive into the various versions of Wings Over America!
Sitting in the Stand of the Sports Arena, Waiting for the Show to Begin...
The first two CDs (available as one 2-CD or 3-LP set as well as in the box) contain the entire original triple-LP sequence of Wings Over America, culled from New York, Seattle and Los Angeles performances recorded by McCartney's team. The concert album has been remastered at Abbey Road by Guy Massey, Steve Rooke and Simon Gibson with the same hallmark of quality as previous Archive releases. Short of a surround-sound edition, it would be difficult to make Wings any more present than on this lively remaster. Jimmy McCulloch's scorching guitar, Linda's recognizable high harmonies, English's crisp and funky drumming, Laine's fluid guitars and McCartney's limber bass all are clear and well-delineated.
McCartney turned 34 during the Wings Over America tour, but was already an old hand at touring. The concerts were extravaganzas, with projections, explosions and lasers. Obviously none of those survived to the album, but McCartney's choice to enlist a horn section did add muscularity and a unique sound to Wings Over America. The American dates heralded McCartney's first U.S. appearances since the days of Beatlemania, and the setlists had been well-honed following the earlier international dates. The album wisely reflected the actual setlists of the concerts, which were roughly divided into three segments. The first high-energy mini-set found Macca going from bass to piano (from opening medley "Venus and Mars/Rockshow/Jet" to "Live and Let Die"). It's on the latter instrument that he provided the concert's emotional high point with "Maybe I'm Amazed." The second part saw McCartney join Laine and McCulloch on acoustic guitar for six songs culminating in "Yesterday," on which a solo Paul was joined only by the horn section. "Blackbird," in this acoustic set, featured just Paul's voice and guitar. The third section (the entirety of CD 2) returned to the rock 'n' roll of the early portion of the evening. By the time of the final encores of "Hi Hi Hi" and "Soily," Wings had more than delivered the goods.
Throughout, McCartney is on fire, a man with something - and nothing - to prove. His Beatles work made him a superstar long before 1976, but he was determined to prove that Wings was a legitimate continuation of an already-storied career. And so the sprawling and varied setlist showed off each facet of his talent, from yelping rocker to sensitive balladeer, from sweetness to the blues. The five Beatles songs - all early in the show and heard on the first disc - were just part of the show, with strongest emphasis placed on tunes from recent Wings chart-toppers Band on the Run (5 songs), Venus and Mars (8 songs) and Wings at the Speed of Sound (4 songs). (Wings Over America would become the band's fifth consecutive U.S. No. 1.) Not all of these became stone-cold classics, but they accurately represented the sound and style of a vibrant if never-too-smooth-around-the-edges band at its pinnacle. In keeping with Wings' democratic spirit at the time, McCartney even successfully ceded the lead a few times, to Jimmy McCulloch on "Medicine Jar" and Denny Laine on "Spirits of Ancient Egypt," "Time to Hide," Paul Simon's "Richard Cory" and the R&B oldie "Go Now" from his Moody Blues days.
Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night
Though Wings could be a lean rock band as proven by the fiery "Rockshow" and "Jet," the acoustic set is the most stunning as well as the most adventurous part of this otherwise big arena rock concert. Wings deftly melded the few, well-chosen Beatles songs with originals in this portion; the gentle, cascading love song "Bluebird" works beautifully as prelude to the tender "Blackbird" (with a rousing "I've Just Seen a Face" separating them). Baroque brass adds majesty to the understated "Long and Winding Road," placing it somewhere between the Phil Spector production and the sparse original track. The horns bring a new dimension, too, to a brief and subtly lovely reading of "Yesterday" as they fill in for George Martin's string arrangement. Denny Laine's turn on Paul Simon's "Richard Cory" is the oddest moment here (he even rewrites one Simon line as "I wish I could be John Denver!") but it doesn't detract from the ruminative nature of this portion of the concert. The gambit of addressing McCartney's Beatles past in such a matter-of-fact way, as just one element of a much larger presentation, clearly worked.
Wings really gets airborne with the second disc. It's packed with anthems of every stripe, from the romantic "My Love" to the epic "Band on the Run" and goofily defiant "Silly Love Songs." But there's still room for Paul's best Rudy Vallee on "You Gave Me the Answer" with plenty of voh-de-oh-doh, and the jaunty pop art homage of "Magneto and the Titanium Man" (accompanied onstage by appropriate Marvel Comics visuals). The band succeeds in walking the fine line between forging a fresh sound onstage and capturing the studio essence of hits like "Listen to What the Man Said," "Let 'Em In," and "Silly Love Songs," with the latter getting a boisterous workout that still hews close to the original. McCartney and McCartney, Laine, McCulloch and English are confident and swaggering on the thunderous warning to "Beware, My Love" and the darkly alluring "Letting Go." But "Band on the Run," the pre-encore finale, showed off Wings at its most furious and tight. The rendition is heavier and more intense than the album original, and the arena-rock explosion built to a crescendo on the frenetic encores "Hi Hi Hi" and "Soily."
Maybe I'm Amazed
The deluxe edition puts the music in context with four accompanying books, each with an expectedly classy design. The 112-page Wings Over America, a coffee-table collection in every respect other than its paperback cover, offers a full narrative of the album and tour's history courtesy of David Fricke along with numerous photographs. (Among the most glamorous pics are those of Elton John, Cher, Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr all in attendance. Ringo made an onstage appearance in L.A. but didn't sit in with the band.) Fricke contributes his own personal memories of the tour alongside those of the surviving principals, supporting players and backstage personnel to create a compelling read.
Fricke's book accurately describes WOA as "the most thoroughly documented rock tour of the era." There were three official tour photographers - Linda, Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis and Robert Ellis - and an official tour artist, Humphrey Ocean. Footage from the tour made its way into two films, Rockshow (not part of the deluxe box set but soon to receive a standalone BD and DVD release) and Wings Over the World. Linda's casual photographs of life on the road in America get their own book in the box, designed after her original Look! photo album. Laine is seen perusing Look! in a snapshot featured in the Fricke book. The third book, The Ocean View, is an 80-page hardcover collection of Humphrey Ocean's drawings. His diary-style entries and notes on the sketches are also enclosed.
The fourth book is indispensable, not only because it houses the CDs and DVD in individual jackets. The leatherette-bound Tour Itinerary is designed after what would have been actually presented to the band members. You'll find a Concert Tour Directory, with info circa 1976 as to the location and managers of each venue played on the tour. There are foldout photos of a number of the arenas, a travel calendar and a schedule of the day's events at each arena. Set designs, newspaper clippings, and press releases all make for fascinating and unusual reading. This book also contains memorabilia facsimiles: concert tickets, 8 x 10 glossy band photographs, an invitation to the end-of-tour party, promotional posters, images of the album master tapes, and so on. There's even a tentative song list and running order with some surprises that didn't end up in the set: "Got to Get You Into My Life," "I Saw Her Standing There," "Here, There and Everywhere," "C Moon," "Mrs. Vandebilt," "Uncle Albert" and "Junior's Farm" among them. The MPL archives have truly yielded a treasure trove here. This book is also where you'll find the full credits and complete lyrics for the album plus a download card to obtain all of the music in high resolution stereo. A replica of the tour program has even been tucked into this book.
Listen to the Music Playing in Your Head
McCartney recorded every show on the American tour, for nearly 70 hours of music. (He tells Fricke: "It wasn't like we worried about expense in those days. The rock and roll world was a bit like that. You get used to extravagance.") If only Macca was as generous with bonus audio content as with printed materials. There is only one additional CD in the box set, 28 minutes and 8 songs from the gig at San Francisco's Cow Palace. These highlights - including "Let Me Roll It," "Bluebird," "Blackbird," and "Live and Let Die" - are all treats for fans who know the original album performances well. Unlike the original album, with dialogue to a minimum, there are plentiful (and interesting) spoken introductions on this disc. One entire performance, however, would have been a truly enticing extra for a complete alternate look at Wings Over America. As it is now, the Cow Palace disc is just an appetizer. Live at the Cow Palace is also available in the 3-CD Best Buy exclusive edition.
The DVD Wings Over the World is available only as part of the box set. The 75-minute documentary was first broadcast on television in 1979. It tracks the tour through England, Australia and America via backstage footage and 15 songs. The enormous scale of the tour is evident in the film, as it chronicles the organized chaos of a production that involved over 100 people on the road. Among the film's editors was Thelma Schoonmaker, a three-time Academy Award winner who has edited every one of Martin Scorsese's films since Raging Bull. Wings Over the World is joined on the DVD by one 8-minute bonus feature, Photographer's Pass, set to "Band on the Run" and "Soily."
Yet Wings Over the World is just one-half of the tour's video history. The long-in-demand Rockshow concert film would have been a no-brainer for inclusion in a box set as all-inclusive as this one, but instead, it will be released separately in June. One can't argue with the high quality of each element of the deluxe box set, but the omission of Rockshow and additional previously-unreleased music keeps it a hair shy of achieving definitive status.
But Still They Lead Me Back
There's no sense on Wings Over America of an artist content to rest on his laurels or offer a greatest-hits retrospective; it's all very much in the moment. 35 years later, McCartney's tours are more frequent, and there's far less reliance on current material, of course. But the mature showman, now in his seventh decade, still gives his all. He's never stopped building on the template of WOA, bouncing from instrument to instrument, and blending both spectacle and intimacy even in stadium-sized shows. In all its iterations, the remastered Wings Over America - touchingly dedicated to the memory of Linda McCartney and Jimmy McCulloch - presents an iconic entertainer's second best-known band at the height of their live powers. According to an insert in Wings Over America, the increasingly bountiful (and grandly exhaustive) Paul McCartney Archive Collection will continue with Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound. The wonder of it all, baby: the rockshow plays on.
You can purchase Wings Over America by clicking on any of the images above!
I just got done doing a semi-formal SQ comparison between this new Archives release and a super-rare three-CD Japanese mini-LP pressing from years ago. The remaster stacks up pretty well, but it's not nearly a slam-dunk (which I was hoping for, as it would've been nice to sell the Japanese and likely make over $100 on it!). On balance, it's more a difference in presentation than anything else. The remaster sounds a bit more lively and visceral, while the mini-LP sounds a little smoother and more relaxed. To use a hopelessly abused analogy, the Japanese pressing gives you a nice, warm, mid-hall view, while the Archives puts you 6-7 rows closer to the stage, but it's not excessively aggressive or clinical. Neither is right or wrong; it just depends on what kind of presentation you prefer. Both are equally valid and equally worth having.
Just FYI, Best Buy has a three-CD store exclusive that contains the Cow Palace disc only available, to my knowledge, on the uber-expensive Super Deluxe box. Costs $14.99. Unfortunately, what they giveth, they also taketh away in the form an idiotic packaging decision that could only come from corporate headquarters. Seems some brainiac decided it was a good idea to GLUE the sleeve containg the bonus disc to the cover of the main album. Even though I was excruciatingly careful in separating the two sleeves, the glue still left some residue on the main cover. Nice. Nothing I've tried has been able to remove it. Seems like they're all like this. Thankfully I consolidated everything into the Japanese packaging, which is a lot nicer, but it still sucks that so little care and consideration was put into a package that's otherwise a great value. Oh well.
August Winter says
A little Goo-Gone rubbed over the film with your finger will remove it no problem. Then wipe with a clean cloth.
Mark I. says
Deluxe package with all the books, etc. is clearly a must-have for all Macca and Beatles fans like me. Price still a bit steep, so I'll be awaiting a better deal. I already have nearly all the music already.
Bill B says
I have to say that I was really looking forward to when McCartney finally got to remastering this album as a deluxe package (WOA was the first full length album I ever owned). Unfortunately I want more music not a bunch of books that I will look at once and then put on the shelf (I already have too many of them). So, while the sound is improved I am a little disappointed that there weren't more additional songs and/or alternate takes. You know, maybe 4 or 5 discs worth of music (that I would have paid for).
I too am disappointed in the packaging - I got the Best Buy edition too and I agree that sticking the extra disc on with glue was half-assed by any standard. Even more annoying was the bare-bones cd case. They could have at least done a digpak deally where each disc is held in place instead of everything just being slid in hard cardboard.
Great music but weak packaging unless you spring for the full blown deluxe set. Oh well, I guess I am looking forward to the Rockshow Blu-ray more than anything else.
Very disappointed to hear about the packaging fiasco with the Best Buy exclusive. I wonder what bird brain decided to glue the extra disc to the cover? This is the exclusive that should have recreated the original tri- fold LP cover in mini form (just like the Japanese Mini LP CD.) People just don't think the labels think these things through well enough. They lack creativity. I hope I can find a bootleg DVD of Wings Over The World eventually because I am not spending $140 for that deluxe set.
“Got to Get You Into My Life,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” “C Moon,” “Mrs. Vandebilt,” “Uncle Albert” and “Junior’s Farm”
All of these would've been great songs to have played on the tour... Amazingly, "Mrs. Vandebilt" only entered Paul's setlists in the last decade or so, and (I believe) to date he's NEVER performed "Uncle Albert"/"Admiral Halsey" live!
While I'd like to have the Cow Palace disc, I don't know think it's worth buying WOA again even if the sound is improved (my old Capitol CDs sound fine). I am going to get the Rockshow blu-ray though.
And I'd love it if Paul would open up the vaults for other live shows. Some 1979 Wings (Glasgow being the obvious choice, not to mention a reissue of the Kampuchea benefit) and some pre-Band on the Run (something from that tour where they rode around in a van and played small colleges unannounced?) stuff would be awesome.
Brian from Canada says
You're correct about "Mrs. Vanderbilt" and "Uncle Albert." Though "C Moon" and "Junior's Farm" WERE played through to 1975 and was dropped for the Speed Of Sound material that hit the American leg of the tour.
As for the additional live material… that stuff is leaking out.
The 1972 tour WAS recorded, as witness by "The Mess" getting out on the b-side to "My Love" and last year's "Smile Away/Eat At Home" from another show of the tour. Red Rose Speedway was also to include five live cuts, and the 1972 tour featured half of Wild Life — hopefully we'll see more with those archives.
1979's material is a lot easier. The three cuts from McCartney are on that Archives, and the two Band On The Run cuts were bonus downloads from Paul's site. "Coming Up" was on McCartney II. That leaves one cut from Speed Of Sound, one from London Town, "Mull Of Kintyre" and the rest from Back To The Egg.
But I agree that both tours deserve releases on their own. My suspicion is that the card is right and we'll get Venus And Mars & Speed Of Sound next, followed by Red Rose Speedway, Wild Life, London Town and Back To The Egg — followed by an anthology of outtakes and the two 70s concerts. Only then will Paul start to move forward into the 80s.
Mark Zutkoff says
How about the concert from where the live version of "The Mess" was taken (the flip side of "My Love", if I remember right)? Of course, that's from the Red Rose Speedway era, an album which apparently does not appear on the plan for a deluxe edition just yet - ironic, since that's the other album (along with McCartney II) which was originally planned as a double. Admittedly, not much to do with WOA, but where else am I gonna post this?
Yes! I love "The Mess," and that live "Smile Away"/"Eat at Home" is great too. Hopefully more live Paul, in the form of full, classic concerts, will make their way out soon.
And, yes, if I poke around a bit I'm sure I can track down that WOA bonus live material. Wouldn't be the first time.
Brian from Canada says
You're talking about Wings Over Europe 1972's first leg, which had 1 song from McCartney (still unreleased), 2 songs from Ram (already released), 5 songs from Wild Life, 2 songs from singles between Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, and 1 from Red Rose Speedway ("My Love") along with a bunch of new songs that were ended for Red Rose's second LP.
So expect to see some of those live cuts go on those deluxe sets instead. Particularly Red Rose Speedway, as the double LP was supposed to have live versions of "Best Friend" and "Henry's Blues" along with a dubbed-over live version of "1882."
As others have stated, it would have been nice to have more music (that's what it's all about, isn't it?) and maybe less books. Given they recorded about 70 hours of music, it was more than licit to expect a few unreleased shows as a bonus. But no such luck. Remastered sound is great, lot of punch on the bass frequencies - occasionally perhaps too much so.
I concur about Macca's unfortunate emphasis on books over music. A hardcover book of sketches just isn't of much interest-- unless they were Paul's artwork! I suppose it is less silly than the photo book of all of Paul and Linda's sheep in the "Ram" box!
I was disapointed we didn't get more picture of insects copulating.
Before anyone comments, yes, I got the joke about how it was two beetles f****ing each other.
Lol. Honestly you all cannot be surprised by the packaging by Best Buy?! There is no music industry left! So there is no reason to make a good product is there? The public decided to not perticipate in freedom and capitalism so they loose their prosperity! It's REAL simple! Are you educated?
Bill B says
Maybe not surprised but still disappointed. If there is no music industry left then why did they bother to put a catalog album out at all (or any album for that matter)?
And, not trying to be a dick or anything, but if you are going to question others' education you might want to check your spelling. Loose is something that happens to a child's tooth. Lose is something a football team does when the other team scores more points. LOL
Uh, actually, there are plenty of music manufacturers making good, quality product. Some cynicism is definitely required when buying anything these days, not only music, but to paint the industry with as broad a brush as you just did is not only ignorant, it does a disservice to those who actually DO strive to offer quality merchandise. And, yes, I for one AM educated. Are you? Your post doesn't exactly inspire confidence in me in that regard. And, oh, to that point, check your usage of "loose" before you question anyone's educational background.
First off I think you will be o.k. with my typo AND figure out what I meant! Secondly what difference does it make when the industry is basically non-existant in comparison to just a few years ago. It's bad judgement to be doing something for a job that does not make you money isn't it?
First off you could use another tone AND maybe write something relevant, couldn't you?
Lol. Did I say something untrue?
Okay, Got the standard edition yesterday and listened to the whole thing non stop.
Very first impression, Wings were a powerhouse band live, they were at their absolute peak and this remaster really showcases that.
McCartney's bass is just thunderous, the way it should be on every one of his albums. A complaint I've always had is that McCartney's bass always sounds too far back in the mix, I want it up front and in your face, after all this is one of the premiere bassist so he should be heard very distinctly. The Rick is the absolute best bass for McCartney the Hofner though more Iconic always sounds muffled to me, doesn't have that thump like the Rick.
I already had the Capitol CDs of this album so I played some of those first so I could compare the sound, right away I noticed that the remaster is louder, sharper, clearer with a more dynamic range. One thing I really like is that you can hear the crowds delight better. You really hear them react when the guitar riff of Let Me Roll It hits. The performances just thrilled the crowds.
The performances are just awesome, I have a whole new respect for songs like Spirits Of Ancient Egypt and Medicine Jar, I mean Wings are just rocking out on these songs. I know most people talk about Maybe I'm Amazed but for me Call Me Back Again and Beware My Love are the vocal performances to hear, McCartney is one of the absolute greatest singers. This album clearly shows that he is a premiere rock shouter.
Joe English on the drums is just excellent, without a doubt he is the best drummer McCartney ever had. I actually heard rolls and fills I never noticed before. I also noticed that you can really hear when he hits the cymbals, the crashes really help highlight the songs.
I've stated many times that WOA is my very fave McCartney album, with this absolutely fantastic remaster It's my fave all over again.
Oh I have to mention Hi Hi Hi and Soily, how can anyone say Wings were lightweight and soft if they listen to these songs, they just come blasting out of the speakers! Their performance of Hi Hi Hi is just a scorching smoking hard rocker, one of McCartney absolute best rockers.
I am just thrilled with this remaster, this album has never ever sounded better!
Now for the Rockshow blu-ray.
You nailed it Maccafan... I'm listening to the records myself ad subcribe 100% of what you wrote. Great sound, great dynamics.
My two cents about the deluxe edition, I was a bit suspicious at first about all these books, and god is it expensive... but unlike other mammoth releases in this vein, this really seems to be an "experience" edition, in the sense that all the pictures, the essays, the "tour book", and even Mr. Ocean's drawings, seem relevant and interesting. "Replica memorabilia", which I don't really care much about, are very few, and you're not paying for scarves, marbles or coasters here.
I too, among McCartney's solo albums, have a soft spot for WOA, and I'm glad they've done it justice. Just wished they released more music from the tour.
Waffling about going Deluxe or the Best Buy version. Always thought this band and album were highly underated. Hmm.