One of the most extraordinary things about Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career is that, despite having a huge back catalogue, he has never been anthologized in a box set that provides an overview of his work since 1970. His live albums, of course, dip in a small way into his massive oeuvre spanning his years as a member of the Beatles, the leader of Wings and a solo artiste, but only three “greatest hits” or “best of” packages have ever been issued of his music after 1969: Wings Greatest in 1978, All the Best! in 1987 (during his dip in popularity that spanned roughly the second half of the eighties), and Wingspan: Hits and History, a 2-CD compilation album released in 2001.
Each of these three has been bigger and more comprehensive than its predecessor: Wings Greatest, which had to be kept within the time limits that could be managed on a vinyl LP, contains 12 tracks, while All the Best! takes advantage of the digital technology that was available by 1987 and includes 17 tracks on a single CD. Wingspan expands the overview to 40 or 41 tracks, depending on which version you buy. (The 40-song edition omits the first Wings single “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, which has become difficult to find other than on this album; it appears as a bonus track on one of the CD reissues of Wild Life, but copies of that are not in particularly plentiful supply, and you can expect to pay premium prices to overseas suppliers for them.)
A peculiarity of Wings Greatest is that, despite its title, it spans the period before Wings was formed, by including Paul’s first post-Beatles single, “Another Day” (1971) and the big hit from Ram, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” on the album. Four of its tracks – “Junior’s Farm”, “With a Little Luck”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “Hi Hi Hi” – are omitted from All the Best!, but all of its 12 songs appear on the “Hits” disc of Wingspan. This renders Wings Greatest redundant, except to McCartney completists or those who want the artwork of Wings Greatest, which is not bad at all.
All the Best! covers material from both Paul McCartney’s solo career (before and after Wings) and his time as the leader of Wings. It contains nine tracks not on Wings Greatest: “C Moon”, “Listen to What the Man Said”, “Coming Up”, “Ebony and Ivory”, “No More Lonely Nights”, “Pipes of Peace”, “Once Upon a Long Ago”, “Say Say Say” and “We All Stand Together”. The first two of these pre-date Wings Greatest but were not considered worthy of inclusion on it; the last seven were issued after Wings released their last record. The overlapping tracks are “Another Day”, “Silly Love Songs”, “Live and Let Die”, “Band on the Run”, “Let ’em In”, “My Love”, “Jet” and “Mull of Kintyre”, which as such are available on all three compilation albums. If, like me, you were around in the seventies and bought all these records when they came out – first on vinyl, later on CD, you will end up with multiple copies of the really big hits; I have, for example, no fewer than eight copies of “Band on the Run” on various albums and reissues. Such is the price of being a faithful fan.
Of the 17 tracks on All the Best!, thirteen are repeated on Wingspan. The four which are omitted from Wingspan are “Ebony and Ivory”, “Once Upon a Long Ago”, “Say Say Say” and “We All Stand Together”. It is hardly surprising that “We All Stand Together” and “Once Upon a Long Ago” were left off Wingspan: they were comparatively minor stand-alone hit singles, though both worked their way into the top ten singles chart in Britain. That “Ebony and Ivory” and “Say Say Say” are not included on Wingspan, however, is distinctly odd, as both were American Number Ones and huge hit singles in many countries around the world. The inclusion of “Once Upon a Long Ago”, a big spacey piano-based ballad on which Paul comes about as close as he ever has to the style of Los Angeles-based writers like Diane Warren, Eric Kaz and Holly Knight, was probably an example of the well-known corporate stratagem of inducing record-buyers to purchase an entire “greatest hits” collection for the sake of acquiring one new song that has been tacked on to material which the purchasers already own.
All the Best! reached number 2 on the British album chart in 1987, which is hardly a poor performance for someone in the midst of a career trough, although today the collection is worth buying only if you are a completist, if you don’t have the Tug of War and Pipes of Peace albums in your collection, or if you want “Once Upon a Long Ago” or “We All Stand Together” on CD but don’t have them elsewhere. (“We All Stand Together” otherwise appears as a bonus track on CD reissues of Pipes of Peace, and “Once Upon a Long Ago” appears on some CD versions of Press to Play.)
For a fair – if somewhat broad – overview of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career up to 1984, Wingspan is easily the best buy of the three compilation albums. It expands the knowledge of the casual McCartney fan by including not only the 18 songs (or 19, if you are lucky enough to find a copy that includes “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”) on the “Hits” disc but also a collection of 22 tracks on the “History” disc that were not hits in themselves but, in many cases, prominent or groundbreaking album tracks. So, from the McCartney album we have here (among others) “Every Night” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”; from Ram we have “Too Many People”, “Heart of the Country” and “The Back Seat of My Car”; from Wild Life we have “Tomorrow”, from Band on the Run we have “Helen Wheels”, “Bluebird” and “Let Me Roll It”; from Venus and Mars we have “Venus and Mars/Rockshow” and “Call Me Back Again”; from London Town we have “Girlfriend”; from Back to the Egg we have “Rockestra Theme”; from McCartney II we have “Waterfalls”; and from Tug of War we have the title track and “Take It Away”. There is “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”, which was never released as an album track at all, and for the obsessively compulsive, there is one track which has never appeared before anywhere – an informal/rehearsal version of “Bip Bop” from Wild Life, complete with the noise of giggling and clapping McCartney children in the background and, tacked on to it, a doodle called “Hey Diddle”, made up to amuse the kids.
Of these compilation albums, Wingspan is the place to start for buyers unfamiliar with Paul McCartney’s music, or for the less serious fan who wants the biggest haul of important songs available on one album. Completists need to buy Wingspan for the “Bip Bop/Hey Diddle” track, but even harcore fans who are not completists will find the album a good purchase as the booklet which accompanies it contains many photographs that are difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere. “Nothing has come as close to capturing the quirky brilliance of McCartney’s solo career, how it balanced whimsical pop with unabashedly sentimental romantic ballads, piledriving rockers, and anything in between”, writes Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Wingspan, while Chris Ingham in The Rough Guide to the Beatles (2003) says of it that it is “by far the most reliable place to begin exploring post-Beatles Macca”. Both reviewers are correct.
“Pop for potheads”, writes Macca’s greatest detractor, Robert Christgau, of Wings Greatest. His single-paragraph review of Wings Greatest in Christgau’s Guide: Rock Albums of the 70s does not make it clear whether he intends the label in a derogatory sense, but in a way Christgau is right: Paul McCartney’s pop, like his hard rock, is indeed for potheads, simply because it is music for everyone.
So soon after I said “Hello” in this column in June 2010, the time has come to say “Goodbye”. The Newstime website will be closing on 12 August 2011, and this week’s column is therefore the last that I shall be filing for Newstime. But it’s “Hello Goodbye” rather than “The End”, as I will be completing the McCartney revisited series at my leisure – I am currently about halfway through it – with a view to publishing the whole series as a book in due course. There is also a possibility of the series being run, and completed, on a Beatle-related website based overseas, though no firm plans for this to take place exist as yet.
With regard to the McCartney revisited series, I would like to express my sincere thanks to John Cherry of Florida, USA, who very kindly sent me complimentary copies of his two books on Paul McCartney, Better Than Lennon: The Music and Talent of Paul McCartney (2009) and Paul McCartney’s Solo Music Career 1970—2010: Life, Love and a Sense of Childlike Wonder (2010), both published by the Peppertree Press, Sarasota, Florida. Both books have been very useful sources of reference to me in writing the instalments of the McCartney revisited series thus far, especially the latter, which is the longer and more thorough of the two works. I commend both books to my own readers. John has also provided supportive comments, both in postings on some of the articles and by means of private e-mails, and his encouragement has been much appreciated throughout.
The Only rock ’n’ roll column would never have happened at all without the invitation I received from my good friend David Bullard to write it. It has become fashionable among the more excitable left-wing halfwits in South Africa to label him a racist, because the imbeciles who make that accusation are too intellectually unsophisticated, too ill-educated or both to understand irony or satire, or because they and their ilk are too mediocre to take justified criticism or just too plain stupid to take a joke at their expense. David Bullard is not a racist, and no one who accuses him of being one can even give a correct or acceptable definition of the word. His only discernible character flaw is that he doesn’t like the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, and I am proud to have him as a friend. Our monthly rock ’n’ roll evenings will continue, where I can work on expanding his knowledge of good rock ’n’ roll, and where we can listen on an increasingly blaring sound system to the sixties and seventies rock music that we both love so much. I would like to thank David, as well as Michael Trapido and the staff and financial backers of Newstime, for having me on the site, and the readers of this column who have supported it by logging on each week and making interesting, approbatory or useful comments. It has been a pleasure to have written for Newstime, and to have contributed in some small way to a better appreciation of that wonderful music we call rock ’n’ roll.
“Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll will never die
There’s more to the picture
Than meets the eye
Hey hey, my my”
– Neil Young “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”/“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”, from Rust Never Sleeps (1979).