Paul McCartney
Wings Over America
(Capitol 46716)

Live albums are always great! Oh, wait, no, I meant live albums are almost always pointless! And in the case of Paul McCartney, often irritating as well (Paul is Live, I'm talking about you). Wings Over America, though, is a great Paul live album, and in my opinion one of the best live rock albums ever. Wings was a dorky rock band, for sure, but Paul's crowd-pleasing instincts make for a good concert, and at this point in the band's career, they were pretty much as big as they were ever going to get. Culled from the tour for Venus and Mars, the album has a pretty amazing track listing, totally unlike the magical-history-tour of Paul's 90s set lists – prime-period Wings stuff comes out to kick your flabby ass, then a few Beatles tunes to keep the customers satisfied, then back to Wings, and even a couple of choice covers ("Richard Cory," the Simon & Garfunkel tune, and "Go Now" by the Moody Blues –both Denny Laine's influence there). This is stadium rock that takes you right back to the mid 70s, so light 'em up.

The opening medley of "Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet" is about as ball-kickin' a way as anyone could start a show. "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" of course makes more sense as a live track than as a studio track, having clearly been written specifically so Paul would have a ball-kickin' concert opener. After "Jet" comes "Let Me Roll It," always nice to hear (except on Paul is Live of course), then "Spirits of Ancient Egypt," one of the more "uh, what's Paul up to now" songs from Wings' classic era. "Medicine Jar" is the first non-McCartney composition in the set, sung by Jimmy McCulloch with a striking resemblance to Ringo. It's probably the best of the non-Paul songs to have been released by Wings, and a kick-ass live song. "Maybe I'm Amazed" is given a wonderful live reading (this was the hit version, I think), followed by "Call Me Back Again" – now there's a song Paul would not even remotely consider playing in concert nowadays.

That's the beauty of a live album from a tour for a specific album. This is when 95% of the audience went to get beer, so I do the same while listening to it. Next up is the surprise appearance of "Lady Madonna," which is actually extremely fresh here, really done well. "The Long and Winding Road" starts out with a moody little intro that gives it a lot more weight than you'd expect. Very cool. "Live and Let Die," obviously great, you can almost feel the cheesy explosions. Disc One closes with the acoustic set: six great songs that to me are really the main draw for this album. It's a segment that is so different from the resting-on-his-laurels Paul we've come to know: "Picasso's Last Words," complete with goofy French ad-libs, straight into "Richard Cory" (sung by Laine) which is strangely one of my favorite moments in all of Paul's catalog. "Bluebird," can't go wrong with that. "I've Just Seen a Face," taken at a brisk tempo, thrills now as it obviously did the crowd back in '75. Great. "Blackbird," well, you can't dislike "Blackbird." And "Yesterday" is actually pretty amazing – it sounds like it still means something the way Paul delivers it here.

Disc Two starts out with the lovely "You Gave Me the Answer" into the very cool and underrated "Magneto and Titanium Man," another "Weird Paul" song, with lots of brilliant harmonies. Denny follows with "Go Now," throwing a bone to anyone who cared that he was in the Moody Blues before they got good. It's done really well, completely fits in. The whole thing really comes off like a band – even though Wings was as much of a band as Idi Amin's Uganda was a democracy. "My Love" is fine (not my favorite song), then into "Listen to What the Man Said" (always a favorite). This set is pretty much the "pop side" where the first disc was the "rock side": "Let 'Em In," "Silly Love Songs," but those are well balanced with stuff like Laine's "Time To Hide" and Paul's "Beware My Love" (in both cases, further chance to get beer).

Honestly, though, the live versions of the sticky pop hits are so much less slick that it's cool to hear them with fresh ears. The show closes unconventionally, with nary a "Hey Jude" to be found: "Letting Go" into "Band on the Run" into "Hi Hi Hi" into the big closer – "Soily." "Soily?" Can you even hum one line from "Soily?" And yet it works! And besides, did you really want "I Saw Her Standing There?" Thought not.

Wings Over America was originally a three-album set, and is worth picking up on LP just for the extravagant packaging. The CD version (out of print in the US, I think) fits the show on two discs, and is definitely of interest to any Paul fan or anyone who wants to see why I think Wings was more than just a failed experiment in making the world rock. I love this album. Check out the counterpart film "Rock Show" if you can find it – further evidence that Paul McCartney wasn't always such a grandpa.

Review by Ivan Loverling