Released in June 1979, Back to the Egg was lambasted by rock critics the world over. In Rolling Stone, for instance, well-respected scribe Timothy White called it “[a] veritable slide show of dead-end flights of fancy and yesterday’s dross” and claimed it “doesn’t contain one cut that’s the least bit fleshed out or brought to any logical conclusion.” Sales-wise, it was something of a disappointment, too. Although it did go platinum in the U.S. and gold in the U.K., it didn’t sell anywhere near as well as anticipated.
Yet it remains a favorite of many Wings connoisseurs, myself included, due to the spiky sound Paul McCartney often finds with the latest (and last) iteration of his band, which includes guitarist Laurence Juber and drummer Steve Holley. Co-produced with Chris Thomas, whose credits included records by Chris Spedding, the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music and Badfinger, Back to the Egg features a mix of new wave, power pop and old-fashioned rock, with lots of Macca’s patented whimsy sprinkled throughout.
But, first, let me set the stage: I joined the Wings Fun Club at some point in early 1979, and not long thereafter received the first all-color edition of its Club Sandwich newsletter, which alerted me that Paul and Wings were recording a new album. After learning that, I stopped in the Hatboro Music Shop just about every day to see if it was out…until the proprietor (and future Hatboro mayor) Joe Celano finally explained to me that new releases only came out on Tuesdays. By the time of its release, May 24th, I was bouncing off the walls as only 13-year-old me could.
The Club Sandwich trumpeting Back to the Egg, which is pictured up top, arrived a week or two before the album itself was released, though I could be wrong. It went in-depth into the recording, with Laurence delving into the guitar side of the songs and this article expanding upon the overall process:
I immediately heard it as an approximation of the radio experience – and still do, though that wasn’t McCartney’s intent. Listening to it is akin to twisting the radio dial in search of that sound, whatever that sound may be, and coming across an array of infectious tunes. There was rock, pop, new wave, disco-light and even some psychedelia, plus a true Beatles-like “happening”: a who’s who of rock’s (primarily) old guard in an orchestral-like setting for the “Rockestra Theme” and “So Glad to See You Here.”
Replicating the radio experience wasn’t the concept, however. It was meant to convey the experiences of a band on the road, but that concept cracks shortly after Back to the Egg begins. The “Reception” is said to be the band listening to the radio on the way to a venue; “Getting Closer” signals, uh, getting closer to the venue; and “We’re Open Tonight” – the working title for the album – is the arrival.
“Spin It On,” thus, is the concert’s start.
Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch. The only thing that connects the songs to the concept are the titles, as – aside from “We’re Open Tonight” – the lyrics are about matters of the heart; and the concept further deflates by the time the LP is flipped from Side A to Side B, which includes not one, but two medleys. In a metaphoric sense, then, the band’s van got stuck in a ditch before it reached the venue. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fine album. A good album. One of my favorites despite its flaws. I loved it as a kid and still like it now, in other words, but think it would have worked better if they’d ironed out the kinks and embraced an “Around the Dial” theme instead of a band on the run from town to town.
The guitar-driven “Getting Closer” features a catchy chorus, but is lyrically slight. The concise “Spin It On,” on the other hand, is one of McCartney’s top rockers – as are the Grammy Award-winning “Rockestra Theme” and “So Glad to See You Here.” And “Old Siam Sir” is a psychedelic delight with some tasty guitar licks. One can almost see the black light and smell the smoke swirling from the speakers.
“To You” is another tasty little rocker. And one of the medleys, “Winter Rose/Love Awake,” tugs at the heart in its first half and then flowers into bloom in the second in an easy, engaging manner. (In retrospect, they should have been separate tracks.)
Denny Laine’s “Again and Again and Again” is another highlight.
In some respects, at least to my ears, Back to the Egg uses the same basic template Linda Ronstadt used for her 1980 Mad Love album – an old-guard artist embracing the new wave…though not really. At the end of the day, it’s McCartney and cohorts cranking out some good tunes. Is it his or their best? No. But it’s a fun set, nonetheless, and features one of the coolest LP covers of all time.
I should add that it will be a no-brainer purchase if or when it’s released in deluxe form. (It was said to be slated for the end of 2019, but put on hold for reasons unknown.) The band filmed umpteen promotional videos, some of which are on YouTube, which would make for a cool bonus DVD, especially if the TV special that arose from the “Rockestra” sessions is included. Also, soon after the album’s release, the band hit the road for a U.K. tour that culminated with their appearance at the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea on December 29th, 1979. Although this version of Wings didn’t quite reach the heights of the Wings Over the World-era band, the shows were solid. (Various bootlegs and the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea LP are proof of that.) A concert could be included, in other words.
The Back to the Egg track listing: