Is Red Rose Speedway a good album or is it not? Do you want the truth? I know I do but to get at it we have to go to the source. Not the critics but The People. And I’m talking about the internet. A place where - before the algorithms, the likes, and the social media there were forums, fansites and comments sections – anonymous websters with ridiculous usernames and outsized belief of their own importance spoke their minds, a place where all went down. With a critical distance from the hype of the ‘70s and the synthetic fantasy of the 1980s, what did the denizens of the net in the late ‘90s and early 2000s think of Paul McCartney and Wings’ Red Rose Speedway? Diving to the source we’ll find their words and from these statements, we will travel to the truth.
The anonymous author of Waterfalls: Paul McCartney Fansite sets the scene nicely:
“He wanted to be in a rock band. Within a year after the Beatles ' break-up, McCartney had formed Wings. In December 1971, Wings released their first album, ‘Wings Wild Life.’ However, the album was greeted with poor reviews and was a relative flop… Paul McCartney & Wings released ‘Red Rose Speedway’ in 1973. Regardless of weak reviews, the album became McCartney's second American number one album, and generated his number one hit single ‘My Love.’”
Many loved it. Elizabeth Sampson, commenting on Amazon in 1998 praises the record:
“I have been a huge Wings fan for a long time, and this has always been one of my favourites. ‘Speedway’ is like [Paul’s first post-Beatles album]‘Ram’ with more production-- melodic and musically interesting, with those classically goofy McCartney lyrics. Simply delightful, perfect pop.’
Posting not long after firstname.lastname@example.org expresses a more nuanced perspective:
“With his commercial standing in the toilet for the first time due to ‘Wild Life’, Paulie came up with an extremely hummable album to get back in the public's good grace that required, with a few exceptions, no thinking on the listener's part. It’s one of his most melodic albums (melody has of course always been his gift) but due to his all-time worst lyrics, you’ll feel a little guilty for loving it the next morning. Still, it was a big seller and ‘My Love’ was Paul's biggest hit…Not very deep, but entertaining.”
Fellow Amazon user, Candice Scott voices likewise:
“Is this Paul McCartney at his solo apex? Far from it, but this is still an enjoyable album with some enjoyable music on it.”
With accusations of pap, aural syrup and mediocrity flowing against a chorus of praise it seems that these Amazon users embody a core division though negative as statements like the following are just too hard not to enjoy:
“This is Paulie's worst album ever. Back in '73, I was still thinking it couldn't get any worse than ‘Wild Life’, but boy was I wrong. The first track, ‘Big Barn Bed’ is kinda okay, but it's all downhill from there, and boy the hill is steep and the valley is low. The closing medley is so depressing, I have to lie down in my bed motionless for three days every time I hear it, just to recover.”
Three days! For a quasi-critical but still of-the-people perspective there’s this little overview courtesy of WILSON & ALROY’S Record Reviews:
“Paul rebounded in every respect: the rockers have huge hooks (‘Big Barn Bed,’ ‘When The Night’), love songs have memorable melodies (‘My Love’), and the experiments with structure and arrangement work (the instrumental ‘Loup,’ the bizarre ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’). Despite the mediocre lyrics and overlong album closer, this is the closest thing to a post-Beatles Beatles album I've ever heard.”
But let’s take it to the primal source, Beatles Ireland. For the children of the Emerald Isle (at least in 1999) it was all about those solos:
“[Henry McCullough’s] guitar solo on ‘My Love’ is one of the all-time guitar gems and demonstrates his expressive power of the instrument.”
As you can see this is a divisive record. Fairly so given that Rose is an album which sees Paul delivering his own take on ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ and singing ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ – a single banned from radio airplay because Paul was so obviously talking about pot. Then there's the closing medley, another timeless reminder that Wings were always a little too sterile and kooky to be taken all that seriously. here Paul struggls to manage the big personalities of his bandmates and too often strays into banality Lennon’s bite so perfectly counterbalanced.
But was this album exceptional for the time? Most other ‘70s rockers were babbling overbloated nonsense too. Many were releasing soft ballads, playin’ cod reggae, posing in front of motorcycles and singing about their farm. But unlike Paul, these other mooks hadn’t written the soundtrack to the previous decade. And so, it seems, reputation is the sword Paul all too falls upon. Some fans love him regardless, at his worst he’s a goof. Yet for as many who would quickly overstate their praise others dismiss Paul against standards set so impossibly high they could never reasonably be surpassed.
To make matters worse anything approaching a reasoned or objective view is hard. Paul’s solo and Wings work so often sits incontrovertibly middle of the road. Is it a 50% pass or a 49% fail? Ultimately any such judgement is negated by the the upsurge of Paul’s charisma, now as he was then he’s simply too big to fail and too important to ignore. As such even at its worst his music is the people’s music, love or hate its simply there.
Pushing on to another very real and immediate question What would the lurkers and web users of decade past thought of this re-release? Well, they probably wouldn’t have had too much time for the bonus material. What is a reissue but a reminder that the original exists? It’s Roses' original nine tracks that still hold water, so more than likely they’d be skipping through a few more of tedious numbers and finding home in the singles and oddball moments which carry the fishhook of Macca's charm. Me personally I’m not really along for the trip, but that’s not to say amidst all the la’s and cooing there isn’t a compelling weirdness. The internet’s truth is mine and yours too, with such a large and blank of a canvas as McCartney’s post-Beatles work you simply find your own space upon it and cosily curl up as needs. ‘C Moon’ is kind of catchy…
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
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