'Band on the Run': The making of Wings' sprawling masterpiece

1 February 2024, 14:58

Rockshow film trailer starring Paul McCartney and Wings

By Mayer Nissim

In 1973 Wings released their group-defining masterpiece, and its title track has become an enduring classic.

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Paul McCartney will arguably always be best-loved for his work with The Beatles, but in the decades since the split he's not done too badly for himself.

Whether as a solo star, in partnership with his then-wife Linda, duetting with everyone from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder, or as part of Wings, he's knocked out plenty of classic hits.

Perhaps his greatest work away from the Fab Four came less than five years after The Beatles called it a day, when Wings built on the success of Red Rose Speedway to release Band on the Run less than seven months later.

In the half-century since the album has increasingly grown in stature, and the opener and title track 'Band on the Run' has become one of the classic Paul McCartney songs.

How much do you know about Wings' epic masterpiece? Read on for the all-important facts.

Who wrote 'Band on the Run'?

Paul McCartney & Wings 'Band on the Run' (Lyric Video)

As we spoke about when exploring Wings' other banger 'Live and Let Die', by the early-to-mid 1970s, Paul McCartney had transitioned from exclusive Lennon-McCartney credits (whether or not John Lennon actually had a hand in the songs), to pure solo songwriting, to a partnership with his wife Linda.

All the original compositions on WIngs' previous albums Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway were attributed to Paul and Linda, and that was (almost) true of the Band on the Run album, with the exception of just one song – 'No Words' – which was written by Paul with Denny Laine.

So 'Band on the Run' itself was a Paul and Linda composition, with Paul handling production duties.

Paul and Linda McCartney in 1973
Paul and Linda McCartney in 1973. Picture: Getty Images

At this point, Wings was a three-piece in the studio, with Paul handling vocals, guitars, electric piano, bass and drums, Linda on synthesizers and electric piano, and Denny Laine on lead guitar.

There were orchestrations written and conducted by Tony Visconti, with McCartney hiring David Bowie's regular producer on the back of his work with T. Rex, It was recorded at EMI's Lagos studio and finished off in London at AIR Studios.

What is 'Band on the Run' actually about?

Wings at Abbey Road
Wings at Abbey Road. Picture: Getty Images

Band on the Run isn't really a concept album (much like Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band isn't really a concept album, if we're being honest).

"It's a collection of songs and the basic idea about the band on the run is a kind of prison escape," Paul McCartney once explained.

"At the beginning of the album, the guy is stuck inside four walls and breaks out. There is a thread, but not a concept."

Linda and Paul McCartney on an ATV special in 1973
Linda and Paul McCartney on an ATV special in 1973. Picture: Getty Images

McCartney has given slightly different interpretations of the title track and its origins over the years.

He said in 1973 that it was inspired by a comment from George Harrison during a post-split Beatles business meeting. "He was saying that we were all prisoners in some way," Macca recalled as the non-Paul Beatles spit from Allen Klein and the whole group rubbed up against Apple.

"It's a million things … all put together. Band on the run – escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it, it's there."

Band On The Run (Underdubbed Mix)

He's also spoken about the drug busts bands were subjected to during the era, while the band themselves were the victims of crime in Jamaica when their original demo tapes for the album were robbed at knifepoint.

In 2010 he brushed off the idea that the lyric directly borrowed from a Harrison comment.

"I don't remember that being a George line. I don't know about that," he told Clash Music.

"But yeah, that certainly was to do with all of that. It was symbolic, 'If we ever get out of here… All I need is a pint a day'. It was feeling like that, the whole thing.

What came first, the ''Band on the Run' album title or album track? 💿 #bandontherun #paulmccartney

"Because we’d been… if you think about it, we’d started off as just kids really, who loved our music and wanted to earn a bob or two so we could get a guitar and get a nice car. It was a very simple ambition at first.

"But then, you know, as it went on it became business meetings and all of that, and eventually it was really not fun. You’d have to go into these meetings. So there was a feeling of ‘if we ever get out of here’, yeah. And I did."

The song is pretty weird, structurally, with its three distinct parts adding up to a sprawling masterpiece that somehow holds together.

When was 'Band on the Run' released and where did it get in the charts?

Wings – Band on the Run
Wings – Band on the Run. Picture: Alamy

'Band on the Run was recorded in September 1973, and after 'Jet' had trailed the way as the lead single from Band on the Run, it was released itself (with album closer 'Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five' on the flip) on April 8, 1974.

It went to number three in the UK singles chart and topped the US Billboard Hot 100.

That was despite the song being available on the Band on the Run album from November 30, 1973.

Who has covered 'Band on the Run'?

Foo Fighters - Band On The Run

Paul McCartney's songs are usually so brilliant and so (deceptively) simple that they often get covered. It's not for nothing that 'Yesterday' is said to be the most covered song in the history of popular music

With its three-part structure and intricate harmonies, 'Band on the Run' is a much trickier ask, but that hasn't stopped a few acts from giving it a go over the past half-century.

Band on the Run

That doesn't include McCartney's solo versions over the years, nor Denny Laine's take on his 1996 Wings at the Sound of Denny Laine album.

Foo Fighters covered the song in 2007 (Macca later invited Dave Grohl on stage with him to play the song in Liverpool), and Heart covered it on The Art of McCartney tribute album in 2014.

Other covers over the years have come from the likes of Richie Havens, Owsley and Sylvain Cossette.