Wings Biography

Paul McCartney’s first post- Beatles music venture, Wings achieved eight Top 10 albums in both the UK and US and ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ remains one of the biggest-selling singles of all time. The band was formed during the summer of 1971, Paul and wife Linda being augmented by Denny Seiwell (drums) and Denny Laine (Brian Arthur Hines, 29 October 1944, Jersey, Channel Islands; guitar/vocals, ex-Moody Blues), who, as Denny And The Diplomats, had supported the Beatles at the Plaza Ballroom, Dudley on 5 July 1963. Wings’ debut Wild Life, intended as an ‘uncomplicated’ offering, was indifferently received and is regarded by McCartney himself as a disappointment. Guitarist Henry McCullough (ex-Grease Band) joined at the end of 1971, and the early part of 1972 was taken up by the famous ‘surprise’ college gigs around the UK. Notoriety was achieved at about the same time by the BBC’s banning of ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ (which nonetheless reached number 16 in the UK, and 21 in the US). Later that year ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ (doubled with ‘C Moon’) also offended the censors for its ‘overt sexual references’, though it penetrated the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Early in 1973 Wings scored a double number 1 in the USA with Red Rose Speedway and ‘My Love’, taken from the album (both were credited to Paul McCartney And Wings), and later in the year enjoyed more transatlantic chart success with the theme song from the James Bond movie Live And Let Die. Shortly before they were due to travel to Lagos to work on the next album, McCullough and Seiwell quit, officially over ‘musical policy differences’. There is much to suggest, however, that McCartney’s single-mindedness and overbearing behaviour were the real reasons, and that ‘physical contact’ may have taken place. Ironically, the result was Paul McCartney And Wings’ most acclaimed album Band On The Run, with McCartney taking a multi-instrumental role. Band On The Run topped the album charts in the UK and USA, and kicked off 1974 by yielding two transatlantic Top 10 singles in ‘Jet’ and ‘Band On The Run’ (the latter topping the US charts). Towards the end of 1974, under the name the Country Hams they released ‘Walking In The Park With Eloise’, a song written 20 years earlier by Paul’s father.

At the end of the year Jimmy McCulloch (b. 4 June 1953, Glasgow, Scotland, d. 27 September 1979, London, England, ex-Thunderclap Newman, Stone The Crows) was added on guitar and vocals, and Joe English on drums (the latter following a brief stint by ex-East Of Eden drummer Geoff Britton). Subsequent recordings were credited simply to Wings. The new line-up got off to a strong start with Venus And Mars, another number one in the UK and USA, the single ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ also topping the US charts and reaching number 6 in the UK. Wings had become a major world act, and, riding on this success and 1975’s Wings At The Speed Of Sound (UK number 2, US number 1) they embarked on a massive US tour. The resulting live triple Wings Over America was huge, becoming Wings’ fifth consecutive US number 1 album and the biggest-selling triple of all time. Meanwhile, ‘Silly Love Songs’ topped the US singles chart for five weeks in summer 1976. Success did not bring stability, McCulloch and English both leaving during 1977. In a repeat of the Band On The Run phenomenon, the remaining Wings cut ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, which stayed at number 1 in the UK for 9 weeks. London Town broke Wings’ run at the top of the US album charts and was poorly received, despite featuring the number 1 single ‘With A Little Luck’. Laurence Juber and Steve Holly were added to the band, but 1979’s Back To The Egg failed to impress anyone in particular, ‘Getting Closer’ not even hitting the UK Top 50. McCartney was busted for drug possession in Tokyo at the start of their tour of Japan. This was the last straw for the loyal and resilient Laine, who quit in exasperation. By this time McCartney had also started recording under his own name again, and Wings were effectively no more. A live version of ‘Coming Up’ belatedly topped the US single chart in 1980.

In retrospective much of Wings material, although catchy, was flakey, although loyal fans would disagree. The litmus test would be to choose the 20 best ever McCartney songs, and the likely result is that 19 of them would be with his ‘pretty good little band’, the Beatles.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.