Life at 33 1/3: Another forgotten McCartney-classic

0
293

Wings: Venus And Mars (Capitol)

The critics tore it to pieces.  At the time I was disappointed too.  “Venus And Mars” sounded like a pale sequel  to “Band On The Run”.  The albums are quite similar in structure,the most obvious example being the opening track “Venus And Mars”/”Rock Show” (performed as a medley), the son-of-”Band On The Run”, developed through sections, starting with a quiet, acoustic intro before surging off into the big band treatment of the main theme.

“Band On The Run” was a wonderful piece of well crafted pop, strong on melody, magnificently arranged, floating on a bed of acoustic guitars and with a fine set of lyrics to match, whereas “Rock Show” is just an overblown stadium-rock fodder set to some annoyingly  hollow lyrics about not much at all, name-checking Jimmy Page on its way.

And just like “Band On The Run” it reappears as a short reprise on side 2, giving the impression of an overall concept that’s not really there (an old trick in McCartney’s book, as he did exactly the same thing on “Sgt. Pepper”).  “Band On The Run” is elegant.  “Rock Show” sounds forced, a well dressed piece of filler.  Not the best way to start an album.

Yet I must admit that the LP has withstood the test of time much better than feared.  There are some phenomenal tracks here that match Paul’s best work, especially “Listen To What The Man Said”, a seemingly effortless flirt with the New Orleans groove.  It moves along though clever twists and turns, but still manages to stay immensely easy on the ear, the master at work.  There’s also the often overlooked gem “Letting Go”, sporting a fat, rolling bass-riff and a stack of blaring horns (the single-mix actually sounds even better).

The album’s got a couple of smooth and well written ballads too (“Love In Song” and “Treat Her Gently”/”Lonely Old People”), a nostalgic trip back to the swinging, singing-through-a-megaphone 20’s (“You Gave Me The Answer”), a soulful blues-shouter (“Call Me Back Again”) – and then there’s “Medicine Jar”, little Jimmy McCulloch’s desperate and painfully honest song about drug-addiction( four years later he died of heart failure caused by a heroin overdose).

All in all “Venus And Mars” plays well; there’s some outstanding musicianship on display, the arrangements are colourful, and the songs are strong and varied.  It is even possible to sit through “Rock Show” without cringing as it is so obviously written for the world tour (kicking off at August 9, 1975) that was going to take Wings to arenas and stadiums all around the world during the next 14 months.

But I still have big problems with “Magneto And Titanium Man”, an infantile cousin of “Junior’s Farm”.  McCartney put a lot of effort into this piece of super-hero nonsense.  It’s precisely lyrics like these that made John Lennon shudder.

Still, most good albums got a couple of duds on them, and “Venus And Mars” is no exception.  We can live with that.  Overall it is much, much better than the critics claimed at the time.  The rehabilitation of “Venus And Mars” starts here.

Released: May 27, 1975

Produced by: Paul McCartney

(All songs written by Paul and Linda McCartney (listed as “McCartney”), except as noted)

Side One

1. “Venus and Mars” – 1:20

2. “Rock Show” – 5:31

3. “Love in Song” – 3:04

4. “You Gave Me the Answer” – 2:15

5. “Magneto and Titanium Man” – 3:16

6. “Letting Go” – 4:33

Side Two:

1. “Venus and Mars (Reprise)” – 2:05

2. “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” – 3:04

3. “Medicine Jar” (Jimmy McCulloch, Colin Allen) – 3:37

4. “Call Me Back Again” – 4:58

5. “Listen to What the Man Said” – 4:01

6. “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People” – 4:21

7. “Crossroads Theme” (Tony Hatch) – 1:00

Personnel:

Paul McCartney – vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards, piano

Linda McCartney – keyboards, backing vocals

Denny Laine – vocals, guitars, keyboards

Jimmy McCulloch – guitars, vocals

Joe English – drums, percussion

Geoff Britton – drums

Additional Personnel:

Kenneth “Afro” Williams – congas

Dave Mason – guitar

Tom Scott – saxophone

Allen Toussaint – piano