Saturday, February 06, 2010
FOURTH TIME AROUND
RED ROSE SPEEDWAY
There is much truth in the old adage:
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Wings expanded to a five piece outfit, travelled through Europe playing small gigs and released a few singles in 1972. All the while, Paul and company were squeezing in recording sessions, chipping away at what would become the "Next Album". Working steadily, enough material was taped to fill a double LP. This idea was scrapped when the calendar page flipped over into 1973, the end product of the work boiled down to a single disc. This left contributions from other members of Wings on the cutting room floor. "My Love" was then dangled before the public as a taster single. Listeners snapped it up like piranhas, sending the tune to the top of the US charts. Now billed as "Paul McCartney and Wings", the band seemed poised for a commercial breakthrough.
Artistically, the project fell well below expectation, with many listeners thinking of other places to shove that rose which protrudes from McCartney's mouth in the cover shot.
Thorns first, of course.
I will be the first to admit that MacCartney has done excellent work, is a stellar musician, singer, producer, etc. Which is precisely why this is so damn frustrating to listen to. You expect a bit more and it is not there. At least with Wild Life, it's understood that he was intentionally doing something off the floor with no polish. Red Rose Speedway took time, effort and it still plays like he was screwing around.Substance is entirely lacking which precludes any serious evaluation of the material. Paul traded on his melodic gifts to lodge his creations in the brains of millions. On Speedway he blows some great opportunities by taking ideas with promise and turning them into cutesy mush. "Single Pigeon" is a prime example, with a piano line that could have been worked up into something great. Instead, Linda chips in with flat responses in the pre-chorus and the whole thing goes down in flames as a children's sing-along. The words don't help, either.
What works well here had already been tracked two years prior during the studio dates for Ram ("Get On the Right Thing", "Little Lamb Dragonfly")."Big Barn Bed" got started during this period as well, though it was updated and recorded specifically for Speedway. Again, it sounds like he did a massive bong hit and wrote down whatever came to mind, though the arrangement is clever. His skills in this department hadn't deserted him.
Speaking of circling around the hookah, Paul may owe mechanical royalties to Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys for "Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)". When the first bit with the chant breaks down, there are some random bleeps and sound effects which give the impression that Loup has reached his destination, happily bounding on the lunar surface. Listen carefully (if you have a copy) to the bass part that is employed in this section as it is lifted directly from the Pet Sounds track "Here Today".
Brian Wilson jolts upright from a dead sleep, wide-eyed and screaming.
Despite the obvious syrupy nature of the song, "My Love" stands head and shoulders above everything else. Henry McCullough's solo is a model of taste and economy.
Wings could never be considered a group of equals because Paul dominated the writing. Prone to dictatorial methods in the studio, he did not allow for those around him to fully contribute and come up with their own instrumental parts for the songs. When he did, great moments such as the inspired guitar solo in "My Love" would happen. Conversely, when the players followed a "by the numbers" formula laid down by the boss, listeners ended up with garbage like "When The Night".
No one has asked, nevertheless, allow me to present a more palatable version of Red Rose Speedway:
Big Barn Bed
Get On the Right Thing
Little Lamb Dragonfly
One More Kiss
Hi Hi Hi
Give Ireland Back to the Irish
The crowd loses their mind, giving a five minute standing ovation.
Fortunately, the next chapter in the story would prove to be far more successful from a musical standpoint. Just as he was about to be written off, he stepped up and silenced all of his critics.