*Red Rose Speedway*, or drinking the Paul McCartney Kool-Aid

Of all the early McCartney albums, this one has been the easiest to dislike.  Band on the Run was recognized as high quality and classy from the beginning, whereas McCartney and Ram eventually developed a strong avant-garde pedigree.  Wild Life wasn’t even trying.

But Red Rose Speedway doesn’t fit the picture, not even for the pro-McCartney revisionists.  It doesn’t have strong avant-garde elements (“Loup” being the exception), nor did it have the perfection of Band on the Run, which almost could have been Beatles material.  It is McCartney shoving his classic romantic McCartneyisms in your face.  It is a Paul and Linda album.  It has a closing medley as Abbey Road did.  It is not afraid to be corny.  There is something relentless about it.  It does not in every regard reject the notion of monotony.

Robert Christgau decreed it was “quite possibly the worst album ever made by a rock and roller of the first rank.”  Dave Marsh said it was “rife with weak and sentimental drivel.”

Unlike some of the Wings albums, Paul dominates every song, but along with Linda.  “Man devotedly in love with his wife” was not the optimal 1973 message, but it has held up better than a lot of other ideas from that era.

Red Rose Speedway has many of Paul’s best vocal performances.  Just try the end of “My Love” or the “ows!” in “Get on the Right Thing.”  The bass playing is uniformly excellent (best on “Loup”?), and Paul cuts loose on piano, mellotron, and synthesizer more than he had done before, or was to do since.

Some drawbacks:

Many of the lyrics are mediocre.  The love notes aside, Paul was not inspired in how he “set” his material.  In this regard he is much the inferior of John Lennon.

“Big Barn Red” is a programmatic opening, promising you…something.  Maybe it set the wrong tone for what was to follow.  But in fact I am fully on board.

“Little Lamb Dragonfly” — A lot of blather in this one, maybe the weak point of the album?  The melody is nice, but the song is overlong and lacking in energy.

Some pluses:

My Love” — one of Paul’s best songs.  And his best song to Linda.  The Henry McCullough solo was done in one take, and yes it is better than what George would have come up with.  No one will admit this, but “My Love” is better than “Yesterday” or “Michelle,” and it is also more real.

Single Pigeon” — Everyone mocked them, but the Paul/Linda vocal duets are excellent.  Don’t forget how much Paul loves the Everly Brothers.  “When the Night” is very nice too.

Loup (First Indian on the Moon)” — An early inspiration for what would later become Paul’s innovations in techno and electronica.

Hold Me Tight” — There is an early Beatles song with the same name, so maybe Paul is reclaiming the legacy as his own or at least asserting some continuity?  Are the melody and vocal here really worse than on the originally titled song?  It’s debatable.

The closing medley — melodically and harmonically excellent.  Maybe it’s pointless, but the Abbey Road medley is pretty improvised too and lacking in any real dramatic center until you get to the very end, when it becomes a good-bye to the Beatles.

Red Rose Speedway originally was to be a double album, with a lot of Wings representation, more rockers, and even some live material.  Yes, I’ve heard all of those cuts, and they belong elsewhere.  Macca kept the love songs, kept the Macca/Linda dominance, kept the love orientation, and caused the previous incarnation of Wings to dissolve in protest.  He basically made the right decisions.

This album was recorded only a few years after the “Get Back” Paul you saw in the Peter Jackson movie — have some faith in him!  It was surrounded by material such as “Hi Hi Hi” and “Live and Let Die,” and followed by Band on the Run, all of which are more critically acclaimed but I think this stuff is really good too.

Then again, I also like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Seaside Woman.


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