Saturday, December 10, 2016

'Wings Over America' Was Amazing Yet Disappointing

The buzz that preceded the release 40 years ago today of "Wings Over America," a three–record album of Paul McCartney and Wings performing live on their mid–'70s American tour, was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

It hadn't been all that long, really, since the Beatles broke up, and I guess the withdrawal from the excitement of Beatlemania was too great for many fans. The tour was the first time McCartney had performed in the United States since the Beatles toured North America in the '60s, and there was a great desire to hear what McCartney sounded like in concert.

My sense was that there was general disappointment in the album even though it reached #1 on the Billboard LP chart. That was pretty amazing for a three–record set. I guess you had to be an ex–Beatle to accomplish that feat.

Immediately after their breakup, the Beatles embarked on their individual projects. Initially, the most successful ex–Beatle had to be George Harrison with not one but two extraordinarily well–received triple albums, "Concert for Bangladesh" and "All Things Must Pass." McCartney soon surpassed him, though, with several successful albums — but his triple album did not come along until "Wings Over America" hit the stores 40 years ago today.

"Wings Over America" contained mostly songs from those albums. Today it serves as kind of a nice time capsule, reminding us of what McCartney was doing in those first few years away from the Beatles, but at the time many fans wanted to hear McCartney performing Beatles songs. There was still hope, as I recall, that the Beatles would reunite, and that hope persisted for four more years until the assassination of John Lennon. In the '70s rumors of Beatles reunions were as rampant as Elvis sightings.

McCartney did oblige his fans by including live performances of five Beatles songs — but he provided considerably more than that 14 years later in another live triple album, "Tripping the Live Fantastic."

"Maybe I'm Amazed" was the only single released from the entire album, but it was far from being McCartney's most recent studio recording. It first appeared on his 1970 album, "McCartney," an album that was regarded more at the time as McCartney's attempt to cash in on the week–old breakup of the Beatles.

That album opened some wounds among Beatles fans that fester to this day.

But "Maybe I'm Amazed" found a wider audience as a live recording than it ever did as a studio piece. For those who had been following the four Beatles since their breakup, that may have been the most amazing thing about "Wings Over America."

After all, there were more than two dozen tracks on "Wings Over America." About 80% were from albums McCartney had made in the six years since the Beatles' breakup — and many, but not all, had been hits. There was a live version, for example, of "Live and Let Die," McCartney's musical contribution to the James Bond film series. And there was a live version of "Band on the Run," which may have been McCartney's most successful solo record up to that time.

"Maybe I'm Amazed" would have been the choice of few to be the only single from the album. Yet it was — and it was a big hit.

In hindsight, I guess the only single from that three–record set had to be a song that had been out there for awhile, not a recent release. Of course, that opens the door for an argument that a Beatles song should have been the single. But I suppose that gets us into issues of ownership rights and things like that.

I don't know whose idea it was to make "Maybe I'm Amazed" the only single from the album. But whoever thought of it was spot on.