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Wings’ “London Town”: Time for A Fresh Listen

london town

Such was the established popularity of Paul McCartney and Wings in the 1970s that the prospect of their sixth album had fans and critics all a-twist. The resulting endeavor was 1978’s London Town, a tuneful, dense LP that displayed Paul’s melodic lyricism and studio skills to a high gloss.

It was released with fanfare and yielded one #1 hit, “With a Little Luck,” likely its best-known track. Yet for many, those high expectations fell a bit short of the glory. The album’s release was delayed by the pregnancy of his bandmate wife Linda and the loss of two of their five-member group when Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English left for greener pastures. The album cover art seems to corroborate some of this tension, with its grey London skyscape and the rather strained-looking poses of McCartney and his remaining bandmates, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine.

While the backstory of its inception might not be the most promising, London Town still has a great deal to recommend it. Sir Paul exhibits his well-honed musical chops, delivering great melodies and virtuoso instrumentals. Linda and Denny step up admirably as well. The result is a well-crafted labor of love with some filler and a few misses, but an overall lovely pop/rock sound that fit the era snugly.

The opening track is the titular London Town,” a melancholy ode to the city and its mysterious inhabitants. It is rich in synthesizer and background instrumentals and McCartney’s tender vocals. It’s an introspective cousin of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” opening with “Walking down a sidewalk on a purple afternoon/I was accosted by a barker/playing a simple tune upon his flute/toot toot toot toot.” The gentle whimsicality is an effective beginning.

It then swings into “Cafe on the Left Bank,” a vibey slice of life depicting “English-speaking people, drinking German Beer/talking way too loud for their ears.” It’s a bouncy earworm that goes down as easy as the beer in question. “I’m Carrying” is a sweet tune of romantic mystery with an old-timey feel. It is followed by the catchy rocker “Backwards Traveler” which, at only 1:10, leaves the listener wanting more with its ear-pleasing chord changes and truncated finish.

Next up is “Cuff Link,” a synthesizer confection. It’s endearingly dated and reminiscent of Billy Joel’s experimental “Root Beer Rag” in his 1974 “Streetlife Serenade.” But while “Cuff Link” is a funky listen, it lists a little too heavily into the bow-chicka-bow-wow vibe of a porn soundtrack. Whether this was intended or not remains a mystery.

We get some lilting Irish sweetness from “Children, Children,” co-written by McCartney and Laine. It celebrates the innocence of childhood with pretty harmonies and a tone of a mystical lullaby.

Next up is “Girlfriend,” actually written by Paul for Michael Jackson, who got around to singing it a year later on Off The Wall. Jackson’s is the better-known (and possibly superior) rendition, but Paul handles it well with yearning falsettos and the addition of one of his trademark “hooky middle eights,” a sweet bridge to round out the song.

“I’ve Had Enough” delivers the most exemplary classic “Wings” feel. An anthem of spirited dissatisfaction with the vicissitudes of life plays like a banger and cries out for crowd singing (“I’ve had enough!/I can’t put up with any more/No No No No No.”).

Side Two begins with the arguable masterpiece of London Town: “With a Little Luck.” This track hit #1 on the pop charts in the States (and #5 in the U.K.), and it deserves appreciation and airplay today. It’s dreamy vintage Paul, with his unique skills in full play. Almost six minutes in length, “With a Little Luck” is an ode to optimism and keeping an open heart. The melody and harmonies are exquisite, the lush instrumental riffs powerful and involving. It builds up to a sweet emotional crescendo before easing the listener down.

“Famous Groupies” fares less well. Intended as a satiric mockery of heavy-handed female fans, it tries for snark and humor that doesn’t always land. It ends with a theatrical spoken-word portion by Paul that feels forced and a little squirmy. It does, however, deliver some grin-worthy wordplay, rhyming “groupies” with “two peas,” “rupees” and “snoopies.”

From snark to sweetness, next comes “Deliver Your Children.” Another McCartney and Laine collaboration, it is an upbeat number touting the importance of providing the next generation with love, support, and nurturing. Catchy and harmonic, “Deliver Your Children” is a moving piece with a timeless message.

A respectable Elvis-flavored tune, “Name and Address,” is next. Paul does a fine imitation of The King which is fun to listen to and easy to forget.

London Town‘s last two tracks don’t seem to be in the same musical vein as their predecessors. “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” another ode to keeping the faith but filtered through a voice of pain, is well-crafted but filled with heaviosity. And the quirky “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose” finishes out London Town with six and a half minutes of stirring opening instrumentals that morph into a progressive rock sea chanty that feels like it would have taken up better residence on another album.

And there you have it. Wings’ London Town is a fine work with some flaws and shortcomings, but a lot of special features. It’s artistically lean, musically dense, and deserves more recognition and kudos.

-Ellen Fagan

Photo: Cover image of London Town

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Ellen Fagan is a forever New Yorker, long-time Greenwich Village resident and vintage Duke University graduate with hippie-esque leanings. The best description of Ellen was given to her by a sardonic lawyer during the voir dire of one of her myriad Jury Duty stints: "...housewife, mom, voracious reader, freelance writer, copy editor, jewelry designer and frequent cyber-sleuth."

14 comments on “Wings’ “London Town”: Time for A Fresh Listen

  1. London Town always fascinates me.
    Paul’s creative melodies, use of lyrics, tempo changes all showcase his genius.
    I’m Carrying is, on its own, just beautiful.

  2. Eoghan Lyng

    I love this album. Shows how important Denny was to Wings.

  3. This is one of McCartneys best albums . Lots of misunderstanding of the record by Ms Fagan tho . Famous Groupies is just a jokey song about McCartney and Laines wives who WERE world famous groupies before marrying them . The goofy lyrics are intentional pothead silliness . The sea chanty that does’nt fit the theme of the record , well , London Town was recorded on a boat so there’s that . Oh ,and Michael Jacksons album was called OFF The Wall . I agree with Eoghan Lyng about Denny Laines importance . In my opinion he was McCartneys best collaborator since you-know-who in the You-Know_Whotles .

    • Ellen Fagan

      Thanks so much for all your astute points…& I remain mortified by my accidental misnaming of OFF THE WALL, an LP that enhanced & informed my high school years. Sorry about that!

    • Eoghan Lyng

      Shameless plug on my part, but I interviewed Denny L here on CultureSonar.

  4. This is where Paul changed for me. This album. I found it inaccessible and hard to engage with. To be fair, when we consider the absolute masterworks that preceded it-you know ’em-RAM, Band on The Run (one of the most stunning pop rock albums we’ll ever hear), Venus & Mars…-a tailing off was to be expected eventually. Oh, and there was that band Mac was in prior to Wings. Word is they were a pretty damn good group. Help me with the name again……

  5. All opinions respected here, EF. After all, this is what makes our crazy world go ’round. Really thoughtful piece as has come to be expected. As ever, Rock On & Out…Hard! John

  6. Ron Fowler

    Very low key – not unlike George Harrison – self-titled album from 1979. It’s not music that reaches out and grabs you; as Bob Dylan once said, for some music “you have to lean forward a bit”. Jimmy McCulloch really only gets to show off his guitar chops in a few places, but Denny Laine’s presence is felt throughout – co-writing 5 songs with Paul McCartney, singing lead on two, and contributing his all around versatility.

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