Joel Goldenberg: Paul McCartney's Band on the Run

Paul McCartney live in the 1970s.

Before we proceed with the album of the week, an abject renewal of one of my pleas to the technological innovators out there.

The Beatles will be marking the 50th anniversary of their second-to-last album, Abbey Road, with a Sept. 27 release that will include, among other formats, a 2-CD set containing a new stereo mix from the album and alternate versions of its songs; and a four-disc Super Deluxe edition with three CDs of stereo music, and a Blu-ray with high-resolution stereo, 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos mixes. The latter is multi-directional sound, including above the listener's head.

Since the Beatles have so much influence nearly 50 years after they broke up (John Lennon said he was leaving the group during a Sept. 20, 1969 meeting with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr), it would be nice if the Super Deluxe release of Abbey Road would prompt a proverbial kick in the rear to audio technicians to finally produce a pair of headphones that very convincingly simulates surround and Atmos effects. It would be a boon to those of us who live in condos and have neighbours who cannot even tolerate music played at low volumes.

After all, if Virtual Reality headsets provide a very convincing impression that you are in a very large and endless space, why can't the same be done with audio?

(Yes, some gaming headphone processors provide a fairly good surround effect for movies, but the one I have doesn't work for music.)

And now on to Band on the Run.

•••

I've retrospectively ripped the 1979 edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, my first record bible, a few times because of some of their misguided reviews, including "worthless" ratings for AC/DC's first few albums, and one-star ratings for Rush's early material. In today's Internet parlance, those reviews "didn't age well."

But at the same time, I made it my mission to seek out the albums that received its four and five-star reviews. Those ratings, and the enthusiastic evaluations they received from the book's many writers, prompted me to seek out albums by The Who and Otis Redding, and to finally plunge into Kiss's material.

But the first five-star album I bought was also the first music LP I ever bought — for a mere $2 used at the old Mars record store on Ste. Catherine that, in its later years, was so packed with dusty records that it became a potential firetrap.

At the time the 1979 RSRG was written, the general consensus seemed to be that Band on the Run, recorded by McCartney, his wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine, was the best solo Beatles album. Ram, from 1971, has received a critical re-evaluation in recent years after being heavily slagged in Rolling Stone Magazine.

BOTR was also produced amongst much adversity — two members of Wings left just before the band flew to Nigeria to record, McCartney collapsed outside the dilapidated studio from a combination of too much heat and too much smoking, and Paul and Linda were nearly killed by robbers who stole some of their music tapes.

But the end result of the sessions was magnificent. McCartney never produced as consistent a solo album as this one, with pretty much every song of Beatles quality. Even John Lennon, at odds with McCartney in those days, was impressed.

Still, some songs are more impressive than others. The title track has an impressive amount of musical changes, and the opening sequence almost sounds like George Harrison is harmonizing with Paul; Let Me Roll It is a convincing imitation of John Lennon's early solo work; and Jet is suitably propulsive — the part when Paul sings "climb on the back and we'll go for a ride in the sky" is one of the best musical moments of all time.

But the best track is the last. I have no idea what the lyrics of Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five refer to, but it's a rhythmic production tour de force. It wasn't a single, but it should have been. McCartney recognizes its worth too, as he performed it live both times I saw him at the Bell Centre.

Other of McCartney's albums, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, have good and great moments, but Band on the Run is an absolute peak.

Next time: The Best of Aretha Franklin, quadraphonic version.

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