Paul McCartney and Wings: London Town (1978)

Paul McCartney and Wings: London Town (1978)

Wings’ back catalogue can be tidily compartmentalised in the following ways: terrific (Band On The Run, Venus and Mars), good (Red Rose Speedway, Wings At The Speed of Sound) and bloody awful (Wild Life and the execrable Back To The Egg). But tying their material together comes ‘London Town’, perhaps their most overlooked album, small and subtle after a trilogy of stadium pop albums, more befitting the sound of a trio as ‘Band On The Run’ hadn’t. McCartney’s most intimate record since his eponymous debut, the album’s appeal lay in its rustic sound, acoustic and barren at points, melodic and keyboard centred at others, a testament to the capital England and the Scottish countryside.

Again bereft of a lead guitar player (Jimmy McCulloch’s drug consumption had become a source of contention for McCartney which lead to his departure; McCulloch died in 1979 from a heroin overdose), McCartney and Denny Laine took turns to play the guitar parts, focusing their playing on the needs of the songs, ‘Name and Address’ and ‘I’ve Had Enough’ had attack to them a legion of punk rockers were clambering to make a career out of. ‘Café On The Left Bank’, brimming with soft rock riffs, gave Wings the greatest hit the radios never played. AOR in spirit, keyboard centred, melodic in its guitar touch,it was as much a seventies classic as any McCartney could write.

‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, a Celtic inspired standard, philosophised lyrically, a rare moment of spiritual depth, not heard from McCartney since ‘The End’. ‘I’m Carrying’ (George Harrison’s favourite song from the record), with its delicate acoustics and orchestration, remains one of his finest post Beatles ballads. Synth pop wonders ‘Girlfriend’ (later given greater coverage from Michael Jackson on his ‘Off The Wall’ record), ‘Backwards Traveller’ and ‘With A Little Luck’ showed synth situated songs had merit amidst vacuous overuse in the late seventies. Sparser and smaller, they had less of the stadium gargantuan majesty that McCartney had previously utilised with Wings, but smaller intimacy, great levity.

The album benefits from the finest Laine/McCartney collaborations. While no Lennon-McCartney partnership (or even a Costello/McCartney partnership), this was a partnership that befitted both, Laine sharpening the lyrics to the title track and ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, McCartney bringing that extra musical gravitas to ‘Children Children’ and the excellent ‘Deliver Your Children’. Their finest collaboration, stand alone single ‘Mull of Kintyre’, outsold all the punk singles of the year to become Christmas no.1. A requital to McCartney’s love for the Scottish Highlands, it remains the highest selling non-charity UK no.1 and the last bona fide seventies masterpiece a Beatles would release.

‘Famous Groupies’, a witty pastiche of steamy rock culture, mocking the seventies as John Lydon would (though with fewer swear words!). Aware of the incessant criticism Linda McCartney received throughout her Wings tenure, the song’s awareness and self-effacing nature gave its listeners the middle finger it had long deserved for her virile treatment in ink-stained paper. ‘London Town’, a beautiful song to London, stood delicately alongside Ralph McTell’s opus ‘Streets of London’ for lyrical beauty and dedication to their nation’s capital, McCartney proving once again he was the most versatile of the four artists formerly known as The Beatles.

Shadowed by the grander works of the late seventies (and indeed, by Wings earlier work), the album has become a cult amongst fans in the realm of ‘Queen II’ (1974) and ‘War’ (1983). While ‘Band On The Run’ would forever be the bands calling card, ‘London Town’ proved the band’s ace of hearts: smaller, but with enough merit on its own merit.