By the time 1976 rolled around, Paul McCartney and Wings were at the height of their popularity, having amassed numerous hits and successful tours abroad. There was one thing left to do however, something McCartney had not done since 1966 while still a member of The Beatles -- tour America. After a tour of Europe and Australia, Wings traveled to North America for their first (and only) tour of the continent.
The tour was a major success, with many cities hosting multiple sold-out nights. The live document of the tour, Wings Over America, also did well, reaching number one in the U.S. The album has recently been remastered as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. This review focuses on the 2-CD Standard Edition as well as the DVD that is included with the Deluxe Edition.
Wings opened their shows in those days with "Venus And Mars/Rock Show." The mellow sounds of "Venus And Mars" helped build anticipation for an audience who, in some cases, had never seen McCartney live and, at a minimum, had waited 10 years if they had. By the time the band launched into the raucous "Rock Show," they had the crowd right where they wanted them. It's as strong a concert opener as McCartney has had and, in fact, he has brought it back in recent years.
While McCartney's shows these days are nostalgic celebrations of his entire career, Wings' sets in 1976 featured mostly (then) current material. And why not? McCartney had, by then, accumulated a number of post-Beatles hits that would make most other artists envious. Wings' rendition of "Maybe I'm Amazed" has become the signature version of the song, still receiving heavy airplay on classic rock radio. The band delivers spirited versions of "Silly Love Songs" and "Band On The Run" and shows it can rock out with the best of them on "Live And Let Die" and "Soily," the former arguably besting its studio counterpart while the latter inexplicably never had a studio version.
This was the tour though where McCartney first began to embrace his past, performing five Beatles songs during the set. A fun "Lady Madonna" is followed by a version of "The Long And Winding Road" that greatly downplays the horns of the original. McCartney to this day dislikes Phil Spector's treatment of his songs on Let It Be and the live setting offered him a chance to set things right. The three other Beatles songs, "I've Just Seen A Face," "Blackbird" and "Yesterday" make up the core of an extended acoustic set that closes out the first CD.
While McCartney was the clear leader, he liked to present Wings as a band, allowing other members to both write and sing their compositions live. Lead guitarist, Jimmy McCulloch, delivered a scorching version of his anti-drug song, "Medicine Jar." The song would prove to be ironic as he would die of an overdose at age 26 just three years later. Denny Laine, the only constant in Wings besides Paul and Linda McCartney, features on a number of songs as well, including a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Richard Cory" and his signature song from his time in the Moody Blues, "Go Now." His strongest track though may be the funk-infused "Time To Hide," which features a killer bass line from McCartney.
The DVD, which is available in the Deluxe Edition, includes a featurette entitled "Photographer's Pass," that goes through the entire tour in photos. It also includes the documentary, Wings Over The World. Originally made for TV in 1979, the documentary offers a brief history of the band with many complete live clips and rehearsal footage. The video quality is great and, equally important, presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. Too often these old videos, which were never intended for widescreen televisions, get repurposed as such and information from the picture gets lost in the process.
As with all the releases in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, the sound is a significant improvement over the original CD. Remastered by Guy Massey, Steve Rooke and Simon Gibson at Abbey Road Studios in London, the new CD sounds fuller, with a cleaner presentation of the both the vocals and music, than the original. It's slightly louder, but by no means brick walled.
Any fan of McCartney and Wings needs this. 1976 may seem like a long time ago now, but Wings Over America captures McCartney at arguably his post-Beatles peak. While his current concerts are still major events, and deservedly so, this was the first time he toured the States since the Beatles' breakup and he definitely delivered.