'Mull of Kintyre' by Wings: The making of the massive-selling Christmas number one
21 November 2023, 13:46
Paul McCartney – Eyes of the Storm photobook trailer
It's still one of the biggest-selling UK singles of all time.
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1977 was an absolutely massive year in popular music.
Punk rock exploded, with landmark albums by the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. Disco went to the next level with the Bee Gees and Chic lighting up the charts.
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And scoring the all-important Christmas number one that year was... a gentle bit of Scottish folk by an ex-Beatle and his other half.
'Mull of Kintyre' wasn't just an unlikely seasonal chart-topper, but also ended up as one of the very biggest-selling singles in British pop history.
But do you know who wrote the song, who is playing the bagpipes on the record, what it's all actually about and who has covered the song? Read on to find out.
Who wrote 'Mull of Kintyre'?
Paul McCartney - Million Miles / Mull Of Kintyre (Piano Demo)
'Mull of Kintyre' was recorded during a break in the London Town album sessions (more on that later), which marked something of a shift in the songwriting credits for Wings.
For their first half-decade and five albums, the songwriting credits on Wings albums were dominated by the Paul and Linda McCartney partnership.
By London Town, Paul was mainly doing it by himself, with the occasional bit of collaboration from bandmate Denny Laine.
And like a handful of tracks on that album, 'Mull of Kintyre' was written together by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine.
The song had existed in some from at least 1974, with the famous bootleg The Piano Tape featuring an embryonic extended home demo recording.
What is 'Mull of Kintyre' actually about?
Wings - Mull Of Kintyre
Fans of beautiful bits of Scotland will already know that the Mull of Kintyre is the southwesternmost tip of the Kintyre Peninsula in southwest Scotland.
Macca had long loved the area and had owned High Park Farm since back in 1966, when he was still very much in The Beatles.
"I certainly loved Scotland enough, so I came up with a song about where we were living: an area called Mull of Kintyre," McCartney wrote in the sleevenotes of the Wingspan compilation.
"It was a love song really, about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was travelling away and wanting to get back there."
The lyrics make that message pretty clear: "Mull of Kintyre / Oh mist rolling in from the sea / My desire / Is always to be here / Oh Mull of Kintyre."
Who plays the bagpipes and drums on 'Mull of Kintyre'?
Wings had gone through several lineup changes by the time they got to 'Mull of Kintyre'.
Drummers Denny Seiwell and Geoff Britain have been and gone, as had guitarist Henry McCullough.
Guitarist Jimmy McCullough and drummer Joe English left the group during the London Town recording, and by Christmas 1977, The stripped-back Wings lineup consisted of founding members Paul and Linda McCartney, as well as multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Denny Laine.
All three of the trio play on the track, recorded at the Spirit of Ranachan studio in Campbeltown. They are accompanied on bagpipes and drums by the Campbeltown Pipe Band.
When was 'Mull of Kintyre' released and where did it get in the charts?
Recorded in the summer, the standalone 'Mull of Kintyre' was released as a double-A-side with London Town's 'Girls' School' on November 11, 1977.
The song raced up the charts and eventually spent nine weeks at the very top, including over the 1977 Christmas period.
Maybe unexpectedly, this soft bit of Scottish folk rock became a record-breaker.
It was the first ever single to sell over two million copies, and beat The Beatles' 'She Loves You' to become the biggest-selling single of ALL TIME IN the UK.
Since then, 'Mull of Kintyre' has only been nudged down those rankings by Elton John's Diana tribute 'Candle in the Wind 97'/'Something About The Way You Look Tonight', Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas' and – assisted by a 1991 charity release – Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
Obviously, all the records sort of go out the window in the streaming era, but when it comes to just physical sales and downloads, it's claimed that 'Mull of Kintyre' is still the biggest-selling non-charity release ever on these shores.
Why do Nottingham Forest fans sing 'Mull of Kintyre'?
MULL OF KINTYRE AGAINST LIVERPOOL AT THE CITY GROUND
Football fans will be well aware that supporters of the mighty Nottingham Forest sing 'Mull of Kintyre' before the start of every home match.
They do change up the lyrics, mind, kicking off with "City Ground / Oh mist rolling in from the Trent / My desire is always to be here/ Oh City Ground" and taking it from there.
The actual Mull of Kintyre is over 300 miles from Forest's City Ground, so what's that all about, then?
Well, 'Mull of Kintyre' became an all-conquering hit in the winter of 1978. That was slap-bang in the middle of Nottingham Forest's 1977-78 First Division title-winning season.
They picked up the song as their own anthem, and in the past decade or so have more formally included it as part of the pre-match ritual at their stadium.
Back in 2015, Macca was asked if he'd play the song at the City Ground. His response? Only if they got promoted to the top flight.
“Yeah, when's that going to happen?" he asked. "Imminent? Good luck Nottingham."
Forest eventually won promotion to the Premier League in the summer of 2022, but we're still waiting on Sir Paul rocking up with his guitar.
Who has covered 'Mull of Kintyre'?
Glen Campbell - Glen Campbell Music Show (1981) - Mull of Kintyre
It didn't take too long for a high-profile cover of 'Mull of Kintyre'.
Not only did Glen Campbell perform the song on the road, his concert version was included on 1981's Glen Campbell Live and he even recorded in the studio as the closer on the following year's Old Home Town.
What's more, Campbell channels his almost-namesake Campbeltown by playing the bagpipes himself.
Long after Wings split, the song's co-writer Denny Laine re-recorded the song for his own 1996 album Wings at the Sound of Denny Laine.
Other covers over the years have included versions by James Last, The Nolan Sisters, Brotherhood of Man, Gerry Marsden and Susan Boyle.