Tonawanda News

June 16, 2013

MUSIC NOTES: Wings flying back over America with "Rockshow" re-lease

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — One afternoon in 1991, I was driving in my car listening to my new copy of Paul McCartney’s “Unplugged: The Official Bootleg,” and the song “Here, There and Everywhere” came on and prompted the following dialogue with my passenger.

“Who is this?” she inquired.

“It’s Paul McCartney,” I replied.

“Wasn’t he in some famous band?”

“Yes … Wings!”

In 1991 it was still fairly shocking to think that there were people who didn’t know who the members of The Beatles were. In the last few years I have talked to teenagers who have heard of The Beatles, but I am running across many more who can’t rattle off “John, Paul, George and Ringo.” In fact, when I told one teenager I was going to a Ringo Starr press conference, he asked, “Who is she? Some famous model or something?”

To those who know The Beatles, Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles band, Wings was formed in 1971. The core of the group included McCartney, his wife Linda, and former Moody Blues guitarist/vocalist Denny Laine. In 1976, the band toured the United States with what I consider to be their best lineup, which included the late Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and former Rochester native Joe English on drums.

The tour was captured on film and released under the title “Rockshow,” and also as a triple album titled “Wings Over America.” Unlike McCartney’s tours of late, during his tour with Wings he only played four Beatles songs.

Both the “Rockshow” film and “Wings Over America” album have been re-mastered and re-released this month. The “Rockshow” film was also shown in Buffalo recently.

The first album I ever owned was “Abbey Road,” largely because my father was a fan of The Beatles and I grew to love their music. Dad was one of many people who weighed in on the “Paul versus John” debate, and Dad had little use for McCartney’s post-Beatles work.

It was a little harder for me to dismiss McCartney’s solo work or his songs with Wings. In my formative music-listening years, McCartney was active and Lennon was on a five-year hiatus. To complicate matters, right after John Lennon was murdered, the debate as to who the better Beatle was became refueled in my household, and I suspect in others as well.

What many people may forget is that the “Rockshow” film was not released until Nov. 26, 1980, just 12 days before Lennon’s murder. McCartney was savaged in the press at the time for his seeming indifference to the death of his longtime musical partner. In retrospect and with McCartney’s clarification, it was just another case of a celebrity not intending to say something controversial, and yet causing a controversy.

I think this may be why “Rockshow” did not get the reception that it should have. I saw the film at a midnight movie in 1981 and was absolutely blown away by the performance, which included a full horn section and a state-of-the-art light show.

The “Wings Over America” album did not suffer the same fate, it was released years before the Lennon murder and sold four million copies. I bought my first copy of it on cassette tape so I could listen to it on my SONY Walkman.

Until this week, I hadn’t seen the entire concert film in more than 30 years. When my review copy of the “Rockshow” DVD and review copy of the re-mastered “Wings Over America” CD arrived it brought back some amazing memories. It also reminded why I play a plastic backed Ovation acoustic guitar — it was the guitar McCartney played on “Rockshow.”

And if anyone asks me again what band Paul McCartney was in, I may say with a little less sarcasm, “he was in Wings.”

Thom Jennings writes a weekly column on the music scene for Sunday Lifestyles. Email him at thomjennings@rochester.rr.com.