April 10, 2008

Back to the Egg

a swan song

From the Wikipedia entry:

Back to the Egg is the final studio album by Wings and was released in 1979. It is also notable for being leader Paul McCartney's first album for Columbia Records after leaving long-time US distributor Capitol Records in 1978.

By the end of June 1978, this last incarnation of Wings settled into Spirit of Ranachan Studios on McCartney's farm in Scotland, then moved onto Lympne Castle near Hythe in Kent (not far from McCartney's new home in Peasmarsh, near Rye, Sussex) in September and Abbey Road Studios in October, where McCartney organized a special one-off session. On 3 October, Wings recorded two tracks, "Rockestra Theme" and "So Glad To See You Here" with many celebrity guests under the heading of Rockestra. Hank Marvin of The Shadows, The Who's Pete Townshend, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and John Bonham (in one of his last performances) all took part.

Eager to release new material, Wings issued a non-album dance single "Goodnight Tonight" b/w "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" in late March 1979. It became a worldwide Top 5 hit and set the stage for Back to the Egg's release that June (the song would later appear as a bonus track on the CD reissue of McCartney II). With the title a McCartney-ism for getting back to basics, the band considered Back to the Egg the beginning of a new era in their career. It was certainly not intended as their swan song.

Unfortunately, the critical reaction was not warm upon the album's release. Considered uninspired and directionless by many of its reviewers at the time - and to this day, Back to the Egg also sold beneath expectations, reaching #6 in the UK and #8 in the US with relatively short chart stays, although it went platinum. Its single releases "Old Siam, Sir," "Arrow Through Me," and "Getting Closer" were also small hits. Although many McCartney fans are devotees of Back to the Eg, it is still generally considered one of his least popular albums. Wings thus began and ended their studio career with their least successful projects.

Yet again, on Back to the Egg, McCartney found himself competing against Beatle Paul. No doubt many of the critics, who at the time felt it was "uninspired and directionless," had anticipated work comparable to his Beatles-era output, which obviously (in hindsite) was impossible. But it isn't bad, in fact, it's among my favorites of what Paul has done post-Beatles. I can remember walking into record stores, seeing entire walls covered with nothing but copies of Back to the Egg. Promotional videos were made for nearly every song. Here are those videos, with a 1-5 egg rating of the song (not the video), and some brief commentary/critique:

"Getting Closer" - Proving Macca could still rock. This is one of his great vocals. Empty lyrics with a great melody (a post-Beatles McCartney trademark).

"Spin It On" - Oh, okay - I understand "uninspired and directionless" now. A better song than I could ever write, but still. Ugh. It's like a Sex Pistols song fed through an extremely thick McCartney filter.

"Baby's Request" - An appealing, harmless little ditty. A period piece. Very much in the "Honey Pie"/"When I'm 64" vein. I like it, I like it a lot.

"Again and Again and Again" - Three words: Denny Laine composition

"Old Siam, Sir" - Sometimes it seemed as if McCartney was trying to be annoying, although I'm fairly certain he wasn't. Still, the melody is memorable...

"Arrow Through Me" - I love this song. Great melody, good lyrics. A McCartney solo classic! His voice is so great on this one, that if I could sing like anyone in the history of recorded Western popular singing (including Sinatra), I'd want my voice to sound like Paul's on "Arrow Through Me." Also, I like that "hawk in a canyon" sound, whatever it is.

"Rockestra Theme" - won the 1980 Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Tedious, perhaps, but classic McCartney.

This is the live performance done at one of the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea in December 1979 (I love Pete Townshend in this):

"Winter Rose/Love Awake" - goodness that's bad. Back to "uninspired and directionless." A silly love song if ever McCartney penned one.

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