Posts Tagged ‘Denny Laine’

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 found with the latest (and last) iteration of his band, which now included 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, June 8th, 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. I loved it as a kid and still like it, now, though I 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 smell the smoke and see the black light 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:

Released on March 31st, 1978, Wings’ London Town album wasn’t well received by the rock press at the time. Rolling Stone’s Janet Maslin described it as “so lighthearted that the album’s feeling of familial strength and affection is virtually the only thing that binds it to earth” in her review, for example, and – if my memory’s correct – Dave Marsh slammed it in the (blue) Rolling Stone Record Guide a few years later.

Don’t believe the disses.

While not a five-star album from Paul McCartney and pals, the 14-song set features an enjoyable mix of soft rock, pop and light psychedelia. The keyboard-driven title track, which opens the album, is a good example, with its whimsical lyrics painting a colorful scene: “Walking down the sidewalk on a purple afternoon/I was accosted by a barker playing a simple tune upon his flute/Toot, toot, toot, toot/Silver rain was falling down upon the dirty ground of London town…” 

Musically, it eschews the new strains of rock bubbling up from the streets (aka punk and new wave), with the brief guitar break at 3:25 instead conjuring the old-school vibe of Abbey Road instead of, say, “Anarchy in the U.K.” It’s an airy delight. The second track, “Cafe on the Left Bank,” continues the timeless sound; in some respects, it echoes Paul’s work on Rubber Soul and Revolver.

Just as McCartney sidesteps punk and new wave, the disco beats then heating up the pop charts are nowhere to be heard on the album. Instead, we’re treated to “I’m Carrying,” one of McCartney’s most unheralded love songs: 

I should back up for a second here to explain the album’s background: It began life in early 1977 when Wings regrouped in the studio after their mega-successful 1975-76 world tour. Reportedly, the plan was to record a new album and return to the road – but Linda’s unexpected pregnancy (with son James) caused the McCartneys to change their mind about touring again anytime soon. Instead, in the spring, they headed to the Virgin Islands, where they rented a few yachts, one of which they turned into a recording studio, and enjoyed a working holiday. (In a sense, you could say it’s actual “yacht rock.”) As Paul explained to Melody Maker that same year, “There was a nice free feeling. We’d swim in the day and record at night.”

It’s understandable, then, that the laidback recording sessions led to a laidback sound; and, as if he needed it, the notion of being a dad again likely buoyed Paul’s natural optimism, which is on full display in the album’s lead single, “With a Little Luck.”

The single fades out a minute-and-a-half earlier than the album version, however, and the coda on the album version is quite cool. (As I wrote long ago, this song is what led 12-year-old me to become a McCartney fan. First I bought the single, then the album. And when I heard the longer version, it blew my little mind.) How anyone can hear it and not be swept away by its unbridled hope is beyond me.

“I’ve Had Enough,” which closes Side 1, is an old-school rocker that could well have been written at any point in the preceding 15 years. Written and recorded during the yacht sessions, it protests everything from backseat drivers to the taxman: “I earn the money and you take it away/When I don’t know where you’re from/I should be worried but they say/It’ll pay for a bomb…”

Another of my favorites is “Deliver Your Children,” a driving folk-flavored number and one of five tracks written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine. In this instance, it was a song that Denny had been working on since the Venus & Mars sessions; Paul helped finish it.

“Girlfriend,” which McCartney wrote for Michael Jackson to record, is another highlight. (McCartney recorded it first, obviously, with MJ getting to it in 1979 on his Off the Wall album.)

Another track I enjoy, though some might not, is the closing “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose,” a sprawling, eccentric rocker in the mode of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”; it’s also a broad hint of what’s to come on McCartney II. 

The bulk of the songs feature the classic Wings Mach II lineup: Paul, Linda, Denny, Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English, although guitarist McCulloch and drummer English flew the coop midway through the sessions – McCulloch to the reformed Small Faces and the American-born English back to the States, as he’d grown homesick.

On the charts, the album didn’t do as well as expected (No. 2 in the U.S., though it did go platinum, and No. 4 in the U.K.), which set the stage for the following year’s Back to the Egg. But make no mistake: Despite a few stumbles (“Children Children” and “Famous Groupies”), it’s a solid set that’s sure to please all but the most hard-hearted. 

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I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Moody Blues fan. Yet, on a late afternoon in the fall of 1983 – October 21st, to be exact – I found myself riding shotgun in a boxy Renault with a college pal heading to the Philadelphia Spectrum to see them. “Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Questions” and whatever other of their songs played on WMMR and WYSP were the extent of my knowledge of their repertoire.

Oh, wait – and “Go Now,” their first hit. I knew that one, as Denny Laine sang it. And he, of course, sang it on Wings’ world tour in 1976, as documented on the 1977 Wings Over America triple-LP set and the 1980 Rockshow concert film.

But, after Laine left the band in ’66, they traded the blues for something a tad more airy. Some might call it progressive or “art” rock; I tend, these days, to call it dull. Back then, however, I liked what I’d heard on the radio, though not enough to buy anything by them – and given the rate that I bought music in those days, that’s a statement in an of itself. In fact, I likely wouldn’t have shelled out the $12.50 for the ticket except for the opening act: bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble. I’d yet to pick up their debut LP, Texas Flood, but it was on my list of things to get. (If I’d been aware of it, I may have skipped this concert and gone the night before to see them at Ripley’s on South Street.)

What I remember: Stevie Ray sauntering out to a half-filled house and, despite most folks paying him no mind, putting on a damn good show. It may seem bizarre that he was ignored given the lore that now surrounds him, but he wasn’t well known at the time; and, too, he was paired with a group that appealed to a very different audience. What I most remember: him playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” while sitting on the edge of the stage. At least, I think it was “Mary”; it may well have been one of the set’s other treats, such as “Pride and Joy” or…I’m not sure. My memory has blurred the non-“Mary” tunes into one long, mesmerizing guitar solo. (As Neil Young says, “It’s all one song!”)

Anyway, after he finished, the Spectrum filled with people, the lights dimmed and a roar of approval from the crowd filled the arena as the Moody Blues appeared on stage. Well, less a roar and more the simultaneous clicks of thousands of Bic lighters. By evening’s end, the secondhand marijuana smoke was so thick that everyone, whether or not they’d wanted to, had inhaled multiple times.

We were high in another sense, too, due to our second-level seats; the folks on the first level and floor looked like ants. What I most remember: those ants streaming toward the concourse whenever the band launched into a new song and then, just as it ended, streaming back.

The Moody Blues were a band trapped by time, in a sense. The audience consisted primarily of yuppies (and wannabe yuppies) reliving the carefree nights of their youth; fanatical followers who fawned over the band’s Mellotron-driven mysticism of yore; and young stoners yearning to trip through time to the group’s prime. Few, if any, cared about the new material. (That’s a fairly common phenomena faced by many veteran acts.)

Of course, it doesn’t help when the new material consists of things like “Blue World,” the lead single from their then-current LP, The Present. It’s far from the cosmic candy the group doled out in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, or even ’81, when they enjoyed some success with the Long Distance Voyager album.

Also in attendance: wide-eyed kids like me, taking it all in as if at a circus sideshow. And on that note, another memory: a yuppie (or wannabe) a few rows in front of us dozed near the set’s end. While “Nights in White Satin” boomed through the arena, his snores echoed through our section until his date/girlfriend/wife nudged him. He jolted upright, rubbed his eyes…and by song’s end was out again.

The final memory: the sound. Stevie Ray’s set was clear, but the Moody Blues’ was not. They became the Muddy Blahs. Their instruments blended together into one velvet-covered sludge (as opposed to sledge) hammer and, at times, the vocals were inaudible.

Yet, I enjoyed the show. Not the best concert, but not the worst. In my desktop calendar, I summarized the night as thus: “Had a good time listening to the Blues’ made-for-mellowing-out music. Stevie Ray Vaughan opened and was electrifying.”