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Wings (also known as Paul McCartney and Wings) were an Anglo-American rock band formed in 1971 by Paul McCartney with his wife Linda McCartney, session drummer Denny Seiwell, and former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. Wings were noted for frequent personnel changes as well as commercial success, going through three lead guitarists and four drummers. However, the core trio of the McCartneys and Laine remained intact throughout the group’s tenure.
1970–71: Pre line-up
After the Beatles’ break-up in 1970, McCartney recorded two albums: McCartney (1970), credited to himself, and Ram (1971), with wife Linda. McCartney had insisted from the beginning of their marriage that his wife should be involved in his musical projects, so that they did not have to be apart when he was on tour. Ram was recorded in New York City, where McCartney auditioned a number of drummers and guitarists, selecting Seiwell and guitarist David Spinozza. When Spinozza became unavailable due to other session commitments, Hugh McCracken was enlisted to take his place.
1971–73: First line-up
After the release of Ram, McCartney decided to form a new group and asked Seiwell, who had played on the album, to join. Seiwell accepted, and McCartney invited Denny Laine, whom he had known since the early 1960s, to join. Laine, who was working on a solo album at the time, got a phone call from McCartney inquiring if he would like to work with him, as McCartney said: “I’d known him in the past and I just rang him and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Nothing’, so I said, ‘Right. Come on then!'”. Laine then dropped plans for his album there and then. In August 1971, Seiwell and Laine joined Paul and Linda McCartney to record Paul’s third post-Beatles album for Apple. The result was Wild Life, released 7 December. It was the first project to credit Wings as the artist. The band name is said to have come to McCartney as he was praying in the hospital while Linda was giving birth to their second child together, Stella, on 13 September 1971. Paul McCartney recalled in the film Wingspan that the birth of Stella was “a bit of a drama”; there were complications at the birth and that both Linda and the baby almost died. He was praying fervently and the image of wings came to his mind. He decided to name his new band “Wings”.
In an attempt to capture the spontaneity of live performances, five of Wild Life’s eight songs were first takes by the band. Wild Life also included a cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange”. Wild Life left music critics cold. For example, John Mendelsohn wrote in Rolling Stone that he wondered whether the album may have been “deliberately second-rate.” In The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler called the album “rushed, defensive, badly timed, and over-publicized” and wrote that it showed McCartney’s songwriting “at an absolute nadir just when he needed a little respect.” On 24 January 1972, McCartney added to the Wings line-up guitarist Henry McCullough, after McCullough had tried out for the band. The new line-up immediately mounted an impromptu tour of UK universities (with the group driving around in a van), followed by a tour of small European venues. Although this was the first tour including an ex-Beatle after the Beatles broke up, Wings played no Beatles numbers during the tour, to show that it was a new band in its own right.
In February 1972, Wings released a single called “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, a response to the events of Bloody Sunday. The song was banned by the BBC for its anti-Unionist political stance and only mentioned in chart rundowns on BBC Radio 1 as “a record by Wings”. Despite its limited airplay, it reached number 16 in the UK, as well as number 1 in both the Republic of Ireland and Spain. Wings released a children’s song, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, as its next single, which reached the Top 10 in the UK. Though critics often interpreted it as a sarcastic reaction to the ban on “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, it was in fact a serious effort by McCartney to write a song for children. Wings followed it with December 1972’s “Hi, Hi, Hi”, which was again banned by the BBC, this time for its alleged drug and sexual references. The B-side, “C Moon”, was played instead. The single made it into the Top 5 in the UK, and the Top 10 in the US.
The band were renamed “Paul McCartney and Wings” for the 1973 album Red Rose Speedway, which yielded the first US number 1 hit, “My Love”. The album was originally intended as a two-record set, and two songs on the final album (“Get On the Right Thing” and “Little Lamb Dragonfly”) had been recorded during the Ram sessions, prior to the formation of Wings; Laine added backing vocals to one of these songs, but McCullough was not on either song. Among the unreleased songs recorded by Wings during the extensive sessions for this album (which stretched over seven months and two continents) was the Linda composition “Seaside Woman”, which was finally released in 1977 (although credited to “Suzy and the Red Stripes”).
Near the end of these sessions, in October 1972, Wings recorded the theme song to the James Bond film Live and Let Die, which reunited McCartney with Beatles producer/arranger George Martin. The uptempo song, released as a non-album single in the summer of 1973 (immediately after “My Love”), became a sizeable worldwide hit and has remained a popular part of McCartney’s post-Wings concert performances (often accompanied by pyrotechnics). That same year, McCartney released his first American TV special James Paul McCartney, which featured extensive footage of Wings performing in outdoor settings and in front of a studio audience.
After a successful British tour in May–June 1973, Wings went into rehearsals for the next album. However, McCullough and Seiwell left the band in August, at the end of rehearsals, leaving the McCartneys and Laine to cut what turned out to be Wings’ most successful album, Band on the Run, at EMI’s primitive eight-track recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria. The album went to number 1 in both the US and UK and spawned three hit singles: the rockers “Jet” and “Helen Wheels” (originally included only on the US version of the album) and the title track—a suite of movements recalling side two of Abbey Road. It also included “Let Me Roll It”, which was seen as an affectionate impersonation of John Lennon’s vocal style, and “No Words”, the first song released by Wings that was co-written by Laine (all Wings releases to this time were either Paul and Linda compositions or cover versions). Band on the Run enjoyed very positive critical reception and did much to restore McCartney’s tarnished post-Beatles image among critics.