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1979: Wings’ rocking album Back To The Egg

The end of the seventies: A time of global economic crisis, high unemployment, the Cold War and vigorous protests against the placement of nuclear weapons in Europe. In this era of time, punk is coming up; A movement that radically is opposed to the establishment. And the established order in the music industry is detached as well. No more disco, no more slick bands like Supertramp or Fleetwood Mac and no more bands like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and all kinds of rock that originated in the previous twenty years. Punk is short, fast and fierce. In addition, new wave is emerging, as a less radical variant.

Punk and New Wave; It's music that McCartney, according to rumours, is hearing at home, due to Linda's adolescent daughter Heather. Wings are also dismissed by Punks. And McCartney, who is ambitious as he is, takes up the gauntlet to prove that he still matters. The result is Wings final album Back To The Egg, an unprecedented rock album, produced by Chris Thomas, who made name as technician with The Beatles and above all as the producer of The Sex Pistols. An important contribution to Wings' new, fresher and firmer sound is made by the two new band members, drummer Steve Holly and guitarist Laurence Juber, both introduced by Denny Laine.

I think what happened with that album, and the title was reflective of the fact, was that Paul had been heading in a softer direction and this was a change.  After Wings Over America, he recorded “Mull of Kintyre” and “With A Little Luck” and the London Town sessions.  There wasn’t really as much of a rock component to those sessions.  I’ve Had Enough was about as heavy as things got at that point.  Steve Holly was a heavier and more rocking drummer than Joe English, which is not a jab at Joe, it was just a matter of styles.  Steve had more of a British backbeat.
Laurence Juber

The album’s opening track Reception is a sound collage that reminds you of an old-fashioned radio, where you have to turn a button for the right frequency. There is a search for a radio station, it seems that it has been found, but then there is disturbing noise again and the search continues. Until... there it is: Wings! The first tunes of Getting Closer.
It's a great start to an album, but it's got a hiccup. Because the first line of the album is one of the most remarkable in McCartney's career: "Say you do not love him, my salamander".
My salamander? Is that a pet name? Or are we dealing here with a very false woman McCartney is singing about? It will prove to be the only minus of the album.

Video: Getting Closer demo 1974 

Getting Closer is one of the older album tracks. In 1973 it was an much quieter song, but six years later, a solid rock arrangement was received so it fits into the concept. Because Back To The Egg is a kind of concept album; Songs as Reception, Getting Closer, We're Open Tonight and So Glad To See You Here are telling the story of a band on the way to a performance. And it's also the story of a band searching for its roots: back to basics. In that sense, it reminds me of the concept of The Beatles' Get Back sessions, but the only real resemblance between the two is that, afterwards, both projects proved to be the beginning of the end.




So, because of this back-to-basics concept, Back To The Egg is full of rock songs; tracks like Old Siam Sir, To You, Rockestra Theme en So Glad To See You Here. The rockiest is Spin It On, clearly inspired by punk and with an exquisite Laurence Juber on guitar:

Video: Spin It On

One of the best tracks is Old Siam, Sir, with a catchy guitar riff and a piano part you’d recognize anywhere. The song has McCartney credits, but is actually coming out of a jam, to which several band members contributed.
In the case of “Old Siam, Sir,” we were jamming one day and Steve Holly was playing keyboards and had this chord sequence.  I’m not sure if Paul was playing drums or if it was Linda because we’d trade off in a jamming situation, but what ended up was the instrumental section of the song.  I always felt that Steve should have received some sort of nod for that. 

Laurence Juber

Video: Old Siam, Sir

Rockestra Theme and So Glad To See You Here are the results of a project within a project. Rockestra was a recording session with a massive all-star band consisting of three drummers, five guitarists, three bassists, three keyboard players, two percussionists, Wings' horn section, and artists such as John Bonham, Pete Townsend, David Gilmour, Hank Marvin, John Paul Jones and Gary Brooker. And Paul on piano.

Video: Rockestra Theme

It's not only rock. There are also quieter songs, as you could expect on a Wings album; Like the beautiful, soulful Arrow Through Me, or the two 'medleys' After The Ball / Million Miles and Winter Rose / Love Awake. The most noticeable one is Baby's Request, one of McCartney's rare jazz tracks. It's a bit of an edge on the album, but from the point of view of the back-to-basics concept it is appropriate; After all, jazz is one of the ancestors of rock 'n' roll. 
As a kid, with a very limited knowledge of the English language, I always thought it was a lullaby, in the spirit of The Beatles' Good Night. That is certainly not the case, but I prefer to keep it that way; It's a great song to listen to before going to sleep.
Video: Baby’s Request

Back To The Egg is one of my favorite albums by McCartney, with or without Wings. It's the only one I like all songs on it, without any exception. Nowhere do I tend to skip a song, not even the ‘non-songs’ Reception and The Broadcast, although I'm only listening to them in the context of the album.
But the album wasn’t well received in 1979. Critics dismissed it, and sales figures also were disappointing; the economic crisis has played a role probably, as the record industry had a difficult time as well. Being a big fan of the album from the start, I was stunned when I heard McCartney himself talking about Back To The Egg. In 1986, only seven years after the release, he was very negative:

That wasn’t one of our better albums. We come into it thinking it was going to be a good one. (..) I mean, when you’ve done like fifteen albums since the Beatles, they can’t all be good. I defy anyone… Who is there whose every single album is a cracker? You know, I can’t think of anyone. The Stones had duff albums occasionally, Elvis certainly had duff albums. Some of the people I like best; you just can’t do it right all the time.
But as with so many other albums by McCartney and Wings, also Back to the Egg is receiving a renewed appreciation. As Laurence Juber put it, a couple of years ago:

It was a two-star album in 1979 and it’s a four-star album in 2010.  As time has gone on, I think people have come to re-evaluate it in terms of Paul’s body of work and what was going on at the time in the music scene.

Laurence Juber

And McCartney? He recently stated he is now considering Back To The Egg as one of his most undervalued albums. That sounds a lot better to me!

Video: So Glad To See You Here

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André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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1 opmerking :

  1. Helemaal mee eens!! Ik hoop zo dat dit album ook nog eens een deluxe edition krijgt!!

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