Although Band On The Run is widely recognized as among the very best of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles albums, I have to admit to being somewhat less than enthralled by it when it first came out back in 1973.
It’s not that it was a bad album or anything. But the way that radio played the albums best tracks like “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It” and the song “Band On The Run” itself to death back then, had the net result of the album becoming prematurely played out for me. It’s the same reason I haven’t pulled out my copy of Led Zeppelin IV in years. I also thought the followup album Venus And Mars rocked a bit harder, with tracks on that record like “Letting Go” and “Medicine Jar.”
That said, with this newly remastered and expanded edition, it’s easy to see why Band On The Run was such a commercial and critical success. The album holds together as a completely realized whole like none of McCartney’s other post Beatles work had up until that point (the less said about Wings albums like Wild Life the better). The fact that it was made under such trying conditions (Wings members Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell had just quit, and the sessions in Lagos, Africa were by most accounts miserable) only makes the overall consistency of the record that much more impressive now.
Band On The Run is also a record that recreates much of the same conceptual feel that made the latter day Beatles recordings seem so special. Less frequently played, but still instantly recognizable (in an “I remember that” way) songs from the album like “Mrs. Vanderbilt” have a familiar feel that recalls both the Beatles’ White Album and McCartney’s own Ram. The reprises of songs like “Mrs. Vanderbilt” and “Jet” during “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)” are also a nice touch.
The remastered recording here — overseen by McCartney and much of the same crew responsible for last year’s Beatles remasters — is also very clear and bright sounding. On songs like “Band On The Run,” the high-end is emphasized in much the same way as on the Beatles remasters, without over-shadowing McCartney’s nimble bass work.
On “Let Me Roll It,” Macca’s vocal is also given a nice echo treatment that gives the song the feel of a vintage Elvis or rockabilly recording. The promising jam near the end of “No Words” still fades out way too soon, just as it did on the original. It was frustrating then, and it remains so now. But this is still a largely minor gaffe on an otherwise very satisfying album.
The remastered version of Band On The Run also contains a second disc of recordings from the same period — some of which are rare, and others not so much. You get alternate takes of most of the songs from the album, all recorded live in the studio for a television special called One Hand Clapping, as well as singles like “Helen Wheels.”
The One Hand Clapping special is also captured on a bonus DVD, along with music videos for “Band On The Run” and “Helen Wheels,” a lengthy video promo for the album, footage from Lagos and of the photo-shoot for the iconic Band On The Run album cover.
Seeing the video for the song “Band On The Run” all these years later is a little strange, as it seems almost like more of a Beatles music film. The animated effects and numerous shots of the Beatles themselves, bring to mind Beatles flicks like Yellow Submarine if nothing else. The other weird part about it, is the fact that if my memory serves me correct, the Beatles themselves were still feuding at the time.
The Lagos footage is notable mainly for the inclusion of an alternate version of “Band On The Run” that has the sort of oddly eastern feel to it that one would more likely expect from a George Harrison project. There’s also a few random shots of a very grizzled looking Ginger Baker, and actors like Jason Robbards and Christopher Lee, who were so famously featured on the cover.
The complete One Hand Clapping special is the real find on the bonus DVD though. In addition to live in the studio takes on most of the songs from Band On The Run, rarities like “C Moon” and the blazing rocker “Soily” make their way into the mix, as well as other McCartney hits like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Live And Let Die.” The video quality here is occasionally a bit grainy, but the audio is surprisingly good given its age. There is also an essay from critic Paul Gambaccini.
The remastered version of Band On The Run is also available in a four disc deluxe version that includes a hard bound book of photographs from Linda McCartney, a bonus audio documentary, and high-resolution downloads of songs from the album.
All in all, this is a very well put together package that does the classic Band On The Run album the justice it rightly deserves. I’d forgotten how good this album really is. Thanks, Paul.