Paul McCartney – Venus & Mars / Wings at the Speed of Sound (review)

Paul McCartney & Wings – Venus and Mars / Wings at the Speed of Sound (Remastered Deluxe Editions) (MPL Communications / Concord Music Group) review

Wings at the peak of sound – soaring high

The latest in the Paul McCartney Remasters series, these two albums, Venus and Mars, and Wings at the Speed of Sound represented a high water mark for the former Beatle in the Seventies;  both hit number one on the Billboard Album Chart, and yielded smash hit singles as well.  Yet, even more importantly, these records represented some of Sir Paul’s finest post-Beatles songwriting – and that’s what makes them listenable today.

Venus and Mars arrived in 1975, a year and a half after Paul’s biggest Wings’ success, Band on the Run.  The epic, title track uncannily captures the anticipation of a concertgoer right before the show begins.  It would become the obvious opener for many of his concerts over the next few years.  The album’s #1 single was the laid back “Listen to What the Man Said,” featuring a tasty sax solo from Tom Scott (yet inexplicably left off the original Wings Greatest album).  The moody “Letting Go” was a less successful single, but still an excellent album track, augmented by a great horn line.

The album is full of great melody – even if McCartney’s lyrics make little sense.  “Magneto & Titanium Man” is actually a much better song than the title suggests.  While decent, many of the album tracks, like the Vaudevillian “You Gave Me the Answer” and the odd “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” would sound better in a concert setting on the 1976 live album, Wings Over America.

The bonus material on Venus and Mars contains both sides of the excellent “Junior’s Farm” / “Sally G” single, as well as a single version of the aforementioned “Letting Go.”  An early, longer version of “Rock Show” has a grittier guitar sound.

Wings at the Speed of Sound spent almost two months in the number one spot in 1976, due in large part to a pair of monster (and lengthy) hit singles – “Silly Love Songs” and “Let ‘Em In.”  While the remainder of the proper album never touches the dizzying heights of those two songs, there are some excellent album tracks.  “Beware My Love” may be the hardest rocker McCartney ever committed to tape outside of the Beatles, while the ethereal “The Note You Never Wrote” (sung by Denny Laine) is another surprise.

At the Speed of Sound was Paul’s attempt at democracy within Wings – it’s the only album where each member takes at least one vocal.  Drummer Joe English is surprisingly soulful on “Must Do Something About It,” while domestic bliss oozes from Linda McCartney’s toss off “Cook of the House.”  The myriad of vocalists does give a certain disjointed feel to the record.

For the bonus disc of At the Speed of Sound, we get an unique glimpse of McCartney at home, working on the two hits from the album.  With just Paul and piano, it’s interesting to hear these songs in rough form.  The diamond in the bonus material is an alternate version of “Beware My Love,” which features Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.  He lays down a fantastic groove, but it’s easy to see why it was never used;  it just doesn’t fit the driving beat needed (as on the finished version of the song).

After this album’s release, McCartney would embark on his first-ever large-scale tour without the Beatles.  This would be captured on the triple-LP Wings Over America.  But, in just a few short years, he would disband Wings for good and embark on his solo career in earnest.  Venus and Mars, and Wings at the Speed of Sound are the last great records the band released.  —Tony Peters