I’d say maybe I’m amazed that it took so long for this album to be back in print again, but there’s no maybe about it. With the greatest of respect to those who still admit they ever listened to Peter Frampton, Wings over America was the greatest live album released in the 1970s. (Full Disclosure: I’m a huge Who fan, but even I reluctantly acknowledge it’s a much better album than Live at Leeds.) I wouldn’t describe it as recording of a great rock show, I’d call it a true tour-de-force. It featured Wings playing their biggest hits while they were in their prime. In addition, it included some stellar renditions of Lennon/McCartney classics.
Wings over America provided the total Paul McCartney experience. It showcased the full range of his musical skills as a singer/songwriter. Fans get to hear why he was one of the best bassists in the history of rock and roll on tracks such as the funky bluesy “Medicine Jar”. Some of his piano playing on “Maybe I’m Amazed” even gave Jerry Lee Lewis a run for his money. He also demonstrated his proficiency as a guitar player on the acoustic classic “Blackbird”.
It’s difficult to play any of the aforementioned instruments, let alone play them well. Sir Paul did this all, not only on the same album, but during the course of one concert! He earned a knighthood for that feat alone!
I first purchased this album 25 years ago when I started playing bass guitar. Yes, I started out as a bassist when I was three years old. At the time McCartney’s chops on his Rickenbacker 4001 impressed me, but I found the album disappointing. I didn’t like the fact that McCartney switched between bass and the other instruments. As I’ve matured musically, when I listen to Wings over America now I appreciate it from an overall song composition and arrangement perspective. Plus, even I have to admit, Denny Lane played some exceptional bass lines; especially on “The Long and Winding Road”. I enjoyed hearing a Fender P-Bass as well.
I thought the quality of musicianship on this album incomparable. McCartney selected an outstanding group of players to back Wings on this album. Jimmy McCullough did a superb job on lead guitar. I especially enjoyed his slide work on “Hi, Hi, Hi”. Denny Lane exhibited fantastic performances on rhythm guitar and bass. He did a nice job singing on a tune from his Moody Blues days, “Go Now”. Joe English held down the beat a bit more creatively than Ringo would have on these tracks. The horn section was great. And Linda McCartney, while no Rick Wakeman on keyboards, got the job done.
While I loved the live renditions of Beatles staples such as “The Long and Winding Road” and “Lady Madonna” the true highlight of this album was the acoustic set at the end of the first disc. Wings recorded this in 1976: years before MTV Unplugged made it cool to pull out acoustic instruments. This band performed the greatest acoustic set I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard some good ones. It opened with the Paul McCartney penned “Picasso’s Last Words”. It featured one of the greatest lyrics ever.
Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can’t drink anymore
The set then progressed through Paul Simon’s “Richard Corey” and another McCartney tune, the mellow “Bluebird”. Then they got serious. The band played “I’ve Just Seen a Face” in a way that rivalled the version the Fab Four recorded. McCartney then swapped his 12-String for a 6 and performed solemn readings of “Blackbird” and “Yesterday”. I would’ve felt thrilled to hear the last two tracks once, let alone to have the opportunity to listen to the re-mastered versions on the disc.
The 2013 re-mastering of Wings over America is an absolute must for McCartney fans. It’s tough to beat the combination of great music with superb sound quality. Wings never sounded better.