Album Review: “Red Rose Speedway” — Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

rrs1972 was a banner year for good Sir Paul. It was the first year since 1963 during which he did not release a full-length LP in any capacity. That’s not to say that he wasn’t busy. He released three singles that year with Wings: “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”, “Mary Had A Little Lamb / Little Woman Love”, and “Hi Hi Hi / C Moon”, then spent most of March recording songs for Red Rose Speedway. Wings geared up for a big summer tour throughout Europe (playing many universities, often unannounced), then returned back to the studio to complete the RRS sessions. All in all 24 songs were recorded; with so much material in the can, RRS was originally intended to be a double album.

For whatever reasons, Red Rose Speedway was released the following April of 1973 as a single LP worth of tunes. Notice how the album was credited to “Paul McCartney & Wings” this time around; it was surmised that the lack of Macca’s name on the album cover contributed to the less than impressive sales of Wild Life. People had to be absolutely sure that this was a McCartney effort. And the inclusion of his name in the band wasn’t the only surefire tell-tale mechanism: the rather goofball album cover featured Paul’s pasty mug with a rose shoved down his gullet. Only in the 70s, folks.

Upon listening to Red Rose Speedway, it’s apparent that Wings as a creative entity was out of the “silly little doodles” business. The “Bip Bops” and instrumental hidden tracks were nowhere to be found here. This was an earnest attempt by the band to claim some legitimate stake in the early 70s pop/rock market. The result is… well in my mind, it’s McCartney’s weakest, most meandering album out of his first four solo LPs. Get out your cherrypickers. Only three songs are really worth seeking out; the rest is basically WHOLE LOT O’ FILLER.

There is an overall air of meh to this entire album. It’s almost like Paul was trying to record a mediocre album. There’s little in the sense of spirit, energy, or enthusiasm, and Paul’s ability to seamlessly weave catchy melodies into even the most maudlin of songs is sorely missing. It’s a shame, because the album starts promising enough. “Big Barn Bed” is a fun opener, a backbeat driven, mid-tempo pop-rocker with a slick chorus and a bouncy spirit that acts as the biggest piece of false advertising since the movie posters for the 1976 “King Kong” remake. If only the rest of the album were this enjoyable.

The next track, “My Love”, was a smash hit for Paul; it shot straight to #1 on the US charts and was Top 10 in the UK. It’s easy to see why, as it plays to McCartney’s strengths as a soulful balladeer. It’s one of his career highlights, a lush and beautiful ode to Linda, and between this song and the opener you’re thinking to yourself, “YES! He’s got it BACK! This is gonna be one GREAT album!!!”

Welllllllll… no.

The remaining six tracks consist of one pretty good track and a whole lot of mediocre filler. There’s nothing truly horrid or putrid, except for the fact that one of the most prolific and successful songwriters of all time was slumming it. “Get On The Right Thing” is forgettable and generic enough up until the chorus, where the damn thing sounds like a Pepsi commercial. Ye gods. The gentle shuffling of “One More Kiss” has nothing really going for it except some nice country-flavored fretwork. A safe, harmless, non-challenging piece of nothingness.

The album’s centerpiece “Little Lamb Dragonfly” fares a little better than the previous two songs, thanks to some sweet orchestrations and a strong vocal performance by Paul. A decent track that stands out as being the most agreeable of the remaining tracks on this album. “Single Pigeon” is not even two minutes in length and adds up to little more than some piano wankery and pleasant harmonies and its gone without leaving any impact whatsoever. What just happened here?? “When The Night” is dopey and aggravating. The back-and-forth vocals of the verses is trite at best, totally annoying at worst. It’s just a stupid, stupid song.

“Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)” is a sort of experimental instrumental piece, venturing (safely) into prog/psychedelic territory and back again. It might not be the greatest of tracks, but at least they were trying something different and creative here instead of yet another “Mumbo Link” type of shenanigan. It does have a kind a neat little vibe to it, and Paul finally remembers he’s a damn fine bass player as he lays down a nifty groove that anchors the latter half of the track.

OK kids, pop quiz: what happens when you have four mediocre, sorta forgettable songs that you don’t want to fully flesh out? Why you make a 12 minute “Medley” out of them! Blerg. “Hold Me Tight” is NOT the Beatles song of the same name, but something infinitely worse and gratingly repetitive. “Lazy Dynamite” is a little better, but more Lazy and less Dynamite in its construction. It’s a lazy, marble-mouthed song. “Hands Of Love” picks up the tempo a bit and is probably the best song in the Medley, which is like being the hottest Omega Mu. Still, at least it’s melodic and memorable enough that it probably should have been fleshed out to a full tune in lieu of being lumped in with the other songs. “Power Cut” finishes the “Medley” with a bouncy energy, but it’s not that good in and of itself. The repetitiveness that infects much of the album is put on strong display here. I can totally picture people lifting the needle off the vinyl at this point, having had enough of Red Rose Speedway for good.

Red Rose Speedway is an unfortunately weak record. It has a strong one-two opening punch and then just descends into mediocrity, with the only exception of “Little Lamb Dragonfly”, which is a good song but nothing extraordinary. You get the impression that McCartney fans were probably completely jumping ship after Red Rose Speedway. The album went Gold, which kept Paul commercially viable to some extent, and “My Love” topping the singles chart probably helped a ton. Having a smash James Bond Theme song later in the year hit #2 certainly kept his momentum going strong. But at this point in the game McCartney had released four albums: two platinum, two gold, and none of them a real slam dunk with the critics and/or the public. He needed something big, something good, something knocked out of the park, and he needed it fast. He needed to get his ass to Nigeria. More on that later…

So let’s talk the 1993 bonus tracks, shall we?

“C Moon” does nothing for me as a single. It actually kind of reminds of “Power Cut”. Same vibe, same repetitiveness, but it’s not quite as grating. “Hi, Hi, Hi” was Paul’s 2nd single to be banned by the BBC, a celebration of sex and drugs and there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s a smooth, cheeky little rocker, maybe not a great song but a really good single. “The Mess” is a live track that served as the B-side to “My Love”, and it’s a solid rock track that proves, more than anything else, that Wings was much stronger as a live act. There’s a spirit and sense of energy here that’s really missing from much of their studio work. Finally, “I Lie Around” is the B-Side to “Live and Let Die”. It has strong production values, a driving beat, and some toe-tapping energy. What’s most interesting about the song is that it was the first Wings track NOT sung by McCartney, but by Denny Laine. It’s a decent track, and probably better than most of what was found on Red Rose Speedway.

Conspicuously not included in this collection, although recorded during the RRS sessions, is “Live And Let Die” (produced by George Martin). Can you imagine how much Red Rose Speedway would have been with that little nugget’s inclusion?

4 thoughts on “Album Review: “Red Rose Speedway” — Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

  1. Hi there Hokeyboy. I enjoyed reading your review, although for me, I feel very differently about Red Rose Speedway. I agree on BBB, ML and LLD being fantastic songs, but I also love the majority of the rest of the album. Get On The Right Thing for me is a fantastic song, with the verses jumping out to me with that stable bass yet moving instrumentation. One More Kiss is one to add to the fantastic list of twee 20s pieces such as Honey Pie before it and You Gave Me The Answer afterwards. Side 2 follows suit, until the medley, which even I would agree isn’t amazing. Still, I can listen to it contently.

  2. I often wonder why people review albums when they don’t seem to like the artist or the album they are “reviewing”. Do they like to “stick it” to someone they resent? Do they think they, and they alone, have a great taste in music and it should be shared with everyone? This review, which is so full of the reviewer’s own pomposity and self-importance, seriously mis-represents a pretty good album – which made No.1 in the States but hey, the people that bought it don’t count in Hokeyboy’s world. True, it’s not in the ranks of McCartney’s masterworks, but it contains some great songs and has a real sense of fun about it. Personally, I like it a lot, and would recommend anyone who hasn’t heard it to give it a spin. And ignore Hokeyboy’s nonsense as he clearly doesn’t have a clue.

  3. Although this was a record that I was very attached to as a teenager in the late 70s, it’s one that hasn’t aged well for me. In fact, I found I’ve mostly arrived at the point of view you’re expressing here. I love BBB and LLD – had the rest of the album been as strong as those, we’d have an incredible album here. Also like ML (although I’ve heard it sooooo many times I can’t tell any more what I think) and GOTRT quite a bit. But yes, the rest? Just going through the motions, IMO.

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