50th Anniversary Edition

Fifty years since Band on the Run cemented Paul McCartney, with Wings, as a viable, compelling, and commercially successful artist following his break from The Beatles, it’s easy to forget that making the classic album was not only fraught with challenges, but assembled at a time when McCartney, himself, was under a highly critical microscope. 

His McCartney solo debut three years earlier was homespun and endearing. The 1971 follow-up, Ram, was probably ahead of its time, as a quirky duo album- with wife, Linda,- filled with art-rock agility, while that same year’s Wild Life, as his first album with Wings, held similarly gestational qualities with its predecessors. And, while ‘73’s Red Rose Speedway felt truly like it was a working ensemble making an album in a traditional manner, it led, ironically, to the exits of members, Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell. Nevertheless, it was a prolific output- four albums in three years- that left McCartney with a few hits, but also plenty of grumbles for including Linda in his creative pursuits, and now, with only remnants of a band.

McCartney, Linda, and the remaining Wing, Denny Laine, pondered over the list of EMI studios in operation around the globe, and put a pin on Lagos. The three set out for Africa with a handful of demos, of which McCartney would be relieved of at knife-point by local bandits shortly after arriving in the continent, and found the conditions to be less than ideal; lacking in modern gear and amenities. Determined to salvage the operation, they got to work, and the rest, as we can say now, is three-times-Platinum history.

This is where this 50th anniversary edition serves the story so well. The two-disc set contains the proper album, as sonically strong as ever, yet it also offers all its gemstones, including the title track, “Jet,” “Bluebird,” and “Let Me Roll It,” in “underdubbed” form; with different versions of nine of the ten songs- before overdubs of some vocals, guitars, brass, and strings- and sequenced in slightly different running order. With this collection, we get the before-and-after of the elemental evolution.

The underdubbed album, in its unvarnished state- raw and emergent, somewhat lo-fi, and charming- sounds more like the McCartney debut, had McCartney stopped right there. Then, there is the finished product; polished, enhanced, and morphed into a masterpiece, as McCartney and his re-born Wings become pop-rock superstars. This subsequent and consequential development of the material is a fascinating listen.

Additionally, there is a reprint of Linda’s Polaroid collage of the sessions, lyrics, and band photo, and the two discs housed in separate sleeves. The proper album retains its original cover art. The underdubbed- with a very clever touch- is in a sleeve designed and textured to resemble a passport. The metaphor is brilliantly apt, as Band on the Run is McCartney’s exodus; from restless former Beatle, searching for firm footing, to Wings man taking flight.