At some stage in the coming weeks or months or next year there will be a new reissue by Sir Paul of Macca – his often shat-on final Wings album, Back To The Egg is rumoured to be part of the next round in the ongoing reissue/reappraisal reviewing of the McCartney/Wings canon.
It’s possibly my very favourite Wings album. Almost always has been the way…and I’m only hesitant about naming it my favourite because I love most of the material that McCartney ushered into this world via the Wings vehicle. And my introduction was the exquisite Band on the Run album and then the various greatest hits and singles from the records made either side of that.
The second proper Wings album I heard though was Egg.
It was being played when I was a toddler – but it was properly introduced to me when I was about 12 or 13. I still have the LP copy my folks would have bought at the time of release. And for my 16th birthday I got a CD copy, back when this required a whole lot of wrangling; importing it from England via a record store in Hastings. A then modern-miracle!
Anyway, I’m not here to tell you that this is better than Venus or Band or Red Rose or whatever else – I’m just here before the reissue prompts a bunch of hacks to tell you that it’s actually a must-listen and a bit of a lost classic, or whatever…
It’s not a lost classic. But it is – mostly – really great.
Notice that Macca is always picked on for his nonsense lyrics (here the example is: “I’m getting closer, my Salamander/When will we be there? Oh no, don’t answer” from a hooky little pop song that is the opening song-proper for the album, Getting Closer) whereas Lennon always got away with whatever goo goo g’joob he felt like mouth-shitting into a tune? The press in the 1970s loved setting up silly strawman arguments between the smiling love-song nincompoop and the Working Class Hero. Also, regarding the lyrics of McCartney v. Lennon – this is the same dumb argument that has Beatles fans mocking the lyrical sentiment of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. But apparently Bungalow Bill gets a free pass?
It’s true that the lyrics are in complete back-seat mode here. But the feel of this (new) Wings band (Steve Holly adding new muscle to the drums and Laurence Juber on extra guitar) is great and these simple, fun rockers are infectious slices of the effortless McCartney style. I say effortless the press of the time always preferred the term lazy (which in itself is a cosmic sort of meta-irony really).
The opening song (Reception) is a little sound-collage that falls down into a funk-lite instrumental. It’s barely ever there. It just passes the one-minute mark and was seen by many as a confusing entry-point. I love it. The fake-start ahead of Getting Closer’s full-burst energy.
After the three-minute joy of daft lyrics but a fucking good hook (and couldn’t that just be the title to Macca’s memoir: Three-Minute Joy of Daft Lyrics But A Fucking Good Hook – that’d be as good writing a song called Silly Love Songs after being teased about writing “silly love songs”) we get another bit of throwaway-stuff; a song-snippet rather than a song. We’re Open Tonight is roughly five times longer than Her Majesty but arguably says a lot less. It’s a pretty little bit of acoustic fluff. Or, you know, it’s lazy!
Spin It On is a bit of post-Bowie/T-Rex glam-slam that is really just a great fucking guitar riff. It doesn’t quite have the sizzle of Helen Wheels but it would like to ride in the sidecar.
Again And Again And Again is Denny Laine’s great contribution to this album and to this version of Wings. He’s studied at the feet of his master for so long that he’s basically writing Very Good Paul McCartney Songs now. And singing them too. Again And Again is a simple little pop gem.
Old Siam, Sir is another big rock stomper, its bass and guitar riffs compete with each other in a manner similar to some of the Queen music from this time. It also features the great McCartney Rock’n’Roll Voice. This is what happens when you sing Oh, Darling and Helter Skelter back to back on a loop. You emerge ready to rasp out Old Siam, Sir. The band totally kills on this track too.
Arrow Through Me is an exquisite wee bit of pop-balladry. It rides on a nice white-soul groove – it’s nearly yacht rock. And that Rolling Stone review I linked to above is cruel enough to say “Arrow through Me illustrates why Paul McCartney’s output is rarely covered anymore by other artists. At first pleasing to the ear, this love lament soon becomes so flaky that no other performer would dare stand naked with it” – and, okay, there is a point in there about the lack of interest in McCartney’s material after a super-hot streak – but this was true of all of The Beatles’ solo work at this time and indeed of the band’s catalogue – it was, in that moment, a spent-force. When I first started listening to Egg it was Arrow that really stood out for me, that, er, pointed the way, to this being something special. Many of the criticisms of this album suggest that it’s McCartney flinging a whole lot of things at the wall and seeing what sticks. That is precisely what I love about it. I think Arrow Through Me is one of the great sticking points here. It leads me to suggest that you listen to this less as the final Wings and album and more as a part of the process of what got us to McCartney II.
Also, it took 30-ish years, sure, but Erykah Badu took Arrow Through Me and used it stunningly as the sample bedrock to create something ‘better’ than ‘just’ a cover…
Side one of the album really works for me.
Side two is where the wheels do slightly fall off. And certainly the opener, Rockestra Theme, is nothing special at all. It’s a big dumb instrumental jam featuring a rollcall of famous pals (Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, John Paul Jones) and it really goes nowhere at all and does nothing. But big deal. It’s not an album-killer.
Just as Getting Closer covers up for Reception I think To You fixes up for Rockestra pretty quickly, and is one of the more interesting post-Beatles pop-rockers from McCartney. It’s a genuinely slippery thing. The old Mercurial Macca is at play here. Big time at play.
And then the music-hall/I just wanna connect with me dad version of Paul turns up for most of the end of this record – After The Ball / Million Miles, Winter Rose / Love Awake and album-closer Baby’s Request might test the patience of a fairweather fan. But it’s catnip to us die-hards. Fucking catnip, son!
Particularly After The Ball succeeds to me and the Love Awake-coda too. Baby’s Request is charming to my ears but I get that it won’t be for all. It’s better than some of the previous versions of this soft-shoe-shuffle guff that drives Paul batty though. And let’s not forget that lovely little lick of jazz guitar. And how very un-punk that was!
So Glad To See You Here is a bit of a nothing song, but hey. I don’t think it’s shit.
And that’s probably really all I wanted to say here. I don’t think Back To The Egg is shit.
And I wanted to say it as a fan of the album for almost my entire life, not because a record company sent out a sample-link to a reissue and expected the purple prose.
Look, I’m hopeful that we’ll get to hear some of the bits and pieces that fell out of the sack between this and Macca II because there’s some interesting stuff for sure. And there’s a decent live disc to be compiled from the fraught but interesting UK tour. And there were video clips made for the whole album – but a lot of it was shelved, even though there was a TV broadcast feature of some of it.
So the extras, sure. I’m interested. But as with most reissues it’s about the album being lifted up and out of the time when it was made and paraded around to a potentially ‘new’ audience.
I think Back To The Egg has plenty of brilliant, or nearly-brilliant material on it that baffles and intrigues. Equal measures. Nothing (too) over easy…
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