The Beatles

[The Beatles][twocolumns]





1978: London Town

How do you succeed a very successful year? That question faces Wings, beginning 1977. Because 1976 has been a record breaking  one, with the critically acclaimed world tour Wings Over The World, the commercially successful album At The Speed Of Sound, two major hit singles with Let Em In and Silly Love Songs, and as icing on the cake at the end of the year, the triple live album Wings Over America. If it was up to McCartney the band would continue the same way: In the short term recording a new album and then quickly back on stage again. But it goes differently, because at the beginning of the year Linda turns out to be pregnant with son James. And so the plans are overturned. Paul:
What we’re doing this year is, we’re kind of taking it a bit easier, because we’re pregnant. I’m pregnant too, you know! I’ll have to take it easy! (Laughing) But we’re mainly going into songs and stuff this year and kind of change the act around. So we’re mainly going to record.
So the McCartney's decide to take their time: The new album recordings are spread over the entire year. After the first sessions in London in February and March the band travels in May down to the Virgin Islands for a second series of recording. The band stays on boats and some of them had been rebuilt into recording studio’s. Denny Laine:
The main element was: ‘Hey, we’re going on a vacation and we’re going to make an album.’ We’re not going to make an album, and having a vacation. No we’re going on vacation! That was like, ‘whoo!’, never mind making the album. So it was like that. (...) We had about a dozen people with us, helping us out, and we travelled from bay to bay, within that structure of islands and we had a great time. There’s certain energy to that.”
After returning a number of recording sessions in London and Scotland followed in the course of the year. But the relaxed mood during the sessions didn’t seem to suit party animal Jimmy McCulloch. He probably thought it all became a bit too sluggish and in the fall he decides to replace Wings for The Small Faces. American drummer Joe English follows him shortly thereafter; he gets homesick in England and returns home. Thus, even before the album was completed, the band was reduced to the three core members: Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine.

The relaxed atmosphere, in which the album was recorded, is certainly audible. For London Town as a whole sounds relaxed, even with some of the heavier rock songs, like I've Had Enough and Morse Moose And The Gray Goose. The album is also independent of the currents that set the tone in pop music at the time: you won’t find any influences of disco, new wave or punk. And that makes London Town a quirky album.

Video: I’ve Had Enough

It doesn’t seem very coherent at first sight. If you listen to London Town for the first time, you might just think you're dealing with a concept album about city life. The, compared to McCartney's usual style, melancholy, dark opening and title track London Town, is succeeded by the much happier, up-tempo Cafe On The Left Bank; After walking through a dirty, gritty city, we are in a nice bar. But that’s all, in terms of a possible concept. Even more, the album will drift away from urban society. For London Town is Wings' most folk-like album.

Video: London Town

Those folk influences can be heard best in most of the songs McCartney and Denny Laine wrote together, as the acoustic songs Deliver Your Children and Children, Children. One of the highlights on the album is the joint composition Don't Let It Bring You Down, a fusion of rock and folk. McCartney's vocals herein belong to his best of his career; seemingly effortlessly he knows how to vary his voice from deep bass to high falsetto.
Another highlight is I'm Carrying, a typical McCartney solo-on-acoustic-guitar-song with strings subtly in the background. A ‘small song’ he’d probably call it himself, and as the title reveals, it's about Linda's pregnancy. I'm Carrying is sweet, touching, the hidden gem of London Town.

Video: With A Little Luck

Actually the entire album is full of gems, though. The hit single With A Little Luck, the Macca-does-Elvis-rockabilly Name and Address, or otherwise Famous Groupies, one of my all time Macca-favourites. Famous Groupies is a rather absurd song in the style of Limerick rhymes about twins who as groupies make musicians lives unsafe. It is among McCartney's funniest songs. The only track I prefer to skip is the soulful Girlfriend. But who am I, if it’s good enough for Michael Jackson to cover it on his album Off The Wall.

The forced sabbatical didn’t only lead to a relaxed sounding, laid back album. Just because of the extra time they could spend on producing it, London Town is full of beautiful songs that sound anything but dated after forty years. The album has aged very well and is still a great listen. And 1977 may not have been developed as previously imagined, but the year did end with a blast. The non-album single Mull of Kintyre / Girls’ School, released in November 1977 and taken from the London Town sessions, becomes Wings' most successful hit single in Europe.

Related Posts:
Wings' forgotten mega-hit: Girls' School

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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2 opmerkingen :

  1. Always loved this album, got the cassette when it was first released. Can't wait for the archive collection version when Paul gets around to it.

  2. Agree, would love to see this one in the archive collection!