Paul McCartney & Wings: Which Album’s The Best?

Paul McCartney and Wings

After the cessation of the world’s greatest band of all time, Paul McCartney was eager to work on solo projects of his own. After quickly turning out two legendary albums (McCartney and Ram) with the help of his wife Linda, Paul decided it would be a good idea to form a group that was the antithesis of the Beatles: a raw stripped-down rock n’ roll band. As time wore on, Wings evolved into one of the biggest pop bands of the ‘70s thereby becoming what is arguably the most consistent project of any Beatles solo career. Through the years the groups underwent several lineup changes revolving around the core of Paul, Linda, and former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. A total of eight albums were released from 1971 to 1979. Here’s how they rank.

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8. Wild Life (1971)
On the first Wings album, the new group were finding their groove and in search of their identity. Wild Life served as a jumping board to help complement the Wings Over Europe Tour, in which McCartney and company roamed the Continent in a customized double-decker bus then show up at the music hall of their choosing to perform that very night. The sound was a departure from what distinguished The Beatles and provided a mix of folk and rock. To best capture that unrefined sound, over half the album’s songs were recorded in one take. A mixed reception didn’t stop this LP from reaching the top 10 on the US charts. Highlights: “Tomorrow,” “Some People Never Know,” “Dear Friend”

7. Back to the Egg (1979)
Wings released their last album in 1979 then officially dissolved two years later. With its fifth lineup change in eight years, the group tried to keep things fresh by releasing a progressive sound that evidenced a New Wave influence. Back to the Egg also served as a soundtrack for an experimental half-hour TV special, largely composed of music videos. The recording process also proved historic as the Grammy-winning instrumental “Rockestra Theme” featured a mega lineup including Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones among others. Highlights: “Rockestra Theme,” “Getting Closer,” “After The Ball/Million Miles”

6. London Town (1978)
In an unprecedented move, Wings decided to take to the high seas to record 1978’s London Town: they rented multiple yachts and spent a few months floating near the US Virgin Islands. The seafaring lifestyle certainly had an effect as half the tunes veer towards nautical themes. (The other half strays towards synthesizers.) Sales failed to match those of the previous album Wings at the Speed of Sound but did include a future Michael Jackson hit via “Girlfriend”. Highlights: “With a Little Luck,” “I’m Carrying,” “Morse Moose and The Grey Goose”

5 Wings Over America (1976)
America’s bicentennial marked the first time that Macca was performing live in the USA since Candlestick Park a decade before. The accompanying tour — aptly titled “Wings Over the World” — proved to be one of the largest tours in history, setting the world attendance record even with almost a quarter of the tour left to play. The three-LP set still impresses as a fantastic collection of live performances. Footage of that tour was compiled into the rockumentary Rockshow which also has aged very well. Highlights: “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die,” “Go Now”

4. Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)
WatSoS is easily the band’s most commercial-friendly album as McCartney opted for a different creative process by encouraging every member of the band to take lead vocals on a song. The album spent several weeks in the number one slot in the U.S. and was the fourth best-selling album of 1976. The breakout hit “Silly Love Songs” was number one in the USA, Ireland, and Canada and has since been covered by everyone from Shirley Bassey to Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!). Highlights: “Silly Love Songs,” “She’s My Baby,” “Warm And Beautiful”

3. Red Rose Speedway (1973)
This album really showcased that Wings was starting to click. As the band’s sophomore offering, it also saw McCartney reeling in the rawness and pushing for more polished production. (Which may be why many consider this their most Beatles-sounding offering.) The LP features a plethora of melodic tunes, one of McCartney’s most poignant love songs, and a fervent medley at the end. The critics may have been lukewarm but hindsight shows Red Rose Speedway to be an extremely underrated release. Highlights: “My Love,” “Big Barn Bed,” “Medley: Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut”

2. Venus and Mars (1975)
A fresh personnel change that involved the addition of drummer Joe English and guitarist Jimmy McCullouch coupled with the success of Band on the Run led McCartney to feel optimistic about taking his group to new heights. With all eyes on their next move, Wings surprised everybody with a solid 14-song album recorded in New Orleans. The influence of the local jazz/R&B scene certainly seeped into the writing process. It may not quite match Band on the Run but it sure got close. Highlights: “Venus And Mars/Rock Show,” “Listen To What The Man Said,” “Call Me Back Again”

1. Band on the Run (1973)
In truth, McCartney needed to release something great to avoid Wings being written off as a failed project so he packed up the group and headed to… Lagos, Nigeria. The result was released to universal critical acclaim including a Grammy nomination for album of the year. Former Beatles cohort Geoff Emerick picked up a Grammy for his work here on engineering. Every song is worthy of being a single, much of it a perfect balance of pop and rock. Band on the Run is often in contention as best Beatle solo album and widely acknowledged as McCartney’s finest album outside the Beatles. Highlights: “Band on the Run,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five”

Mike Sarno

Photo Credit: Paul and Linda McCartney with members of Wings courtesy of Evening Standard/Getty Images

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Michael Sarno has a bachelors degree in history so you know he takes the history of music seriously. An avid student of 20th-century rock, he spends his time writing/researching underappreciated stories and resurfacing unforgettable anecdotes. Originally from Boston, Michael currently resides in Portland, OR and can be reached at MikeSarno27@Gmail.com and followed at @vanzkantdanz on Instagram.

18 comments on “Paul McCartney & Wings: Which Album’s The Best?

  1. Personnally I’d put Back to the Egg way higher, maybe in the #2 or #3 spot, but IMO it has always been drastically underrated and mischaracterized. “New wave influence” is nonsense; it was a polished, state-of-the-art work of AOR, exquisitely/lavishly arranged and produced and really diverse with blistering rockers, gorgeous ballads (and Beatlesque sequencing and conceptualization with medleys, segues, callbacks), interesting successful detours and experiments like the jazzy funk of “Arrow Through Me” and “Baby’s Request” which I think is way better than its similar predecessors like When I’m 64 or Honey Pie. And just a lot if great melodies. The common characterization of the album as having a punk or new wave element seems to just boil down to “Spin it On” being at a brisk tempo as far as I can hear. I think the album is more of just a rocker. Oh and as great as it is, I don’t think Wings Over America belongs in this list at all, obviously it’s a different thing from the studio albums.

  2. I personally love Wildlife. Mumbo is one of my Macca favorites, as is the title track. But all of the first four Wings albums are great, in my opinion.

  3. Agree about “Back to the Egg” – very overlooked! A personal fave, right behind “Band on the Run” for me. I never understood the “new wave” tag for it, either. Love reading this list!

  4. Bob Maskara

    Good call at #1.

  5. Geir Stensund

    Best one: Not an album/CD, but the Live concerts from Australia – better than Wings over America, Almost impossible o choose albums, but Ill choose Wingspan CD/DVD/book – you really don’t need more!

  6. Pancho Verdadero

    NEW, hands down. Tug Of War and Band On The Run are up there as well. London Town is too overlooked and underrated, and Back To The Egg is just weak. Really, though, I’m not sure he’s put out any real stinkers, notwithstanding the waste of time and money that was Wings At The Speed Of Sound which, despite a couple of good tracks, was mostly crap. I saw the Wings Over America tour, by the way, and that was epic!

  7. Pancho Verdadero

    I just read the “Wings” qualification, which rules out my number one.

  8. “Band on the Run”. And then everything else…

  9. Howard P. Chaney

    Band on the Run is hands down the best Wings album even John Lennon thought so

    • And the most convincing evidence of why John and Paul had to stop working together.. It’s cool that John thought well of this.

  10. Geoff Mather

    I’m so glad you put Red Rose Speedway up there… it’s a superb album.

  11. I’d put wildlife at 2 or 3.

  12. The best McCartney album hasn’t been released yet, but you can make it. His singles (especially the B sides) smoke his albums for some reason. It would be a big box set but there are fan made versions.

  13. If Back to the Egg inserted Goodnight Tonight as the final song it would have been hailed a masterpiece!

  14. I agree totally with the #1 and 2 picks. Easily the best Wings albums. I’d probably put Speed of Sound at 3 and everything else can be shuffled in any order.

  15. Kevin Wells

    Wings were quite hit and miss when it came to albums. For me Red Rose Speedway was an excellent album, with every song worthy of its place on the album (apart from Loop the first Indian on the moon) whereas I thought London Town was atrocious! I feel Band on the Run hasn’t aged particularly well, while Back to the Egg was below standard considering the talent within the band at that time. Wings at the Speed of Sound gave us Silly Love Songs and Let ’em In but little else. My top three would be: Red Rose Speedway, Venus and Mars and Wings Over America.

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