Wild Life was Paul McCartney’s third album since the Beatles breakup, the first album by his new group “Wings”, and for many contemporary observers, proof that Paul had completely lost it.
Charts US: 10, UK 11
All tracks written by Paul and Linda McCartney, except where noted.
Mumbo – 3:54
Bip Bop – 4:14
Love Is Strange (Mickey Baker, Ethel Smith) – 4:50
Wild Life – 6:48
Some People Never Know – 6:35
I Am Your Singer – 2:15
Tomorrow – 3:28
Dear Friend – 5:53
CD Bonus Tracks
Give Ireland Back to the Irish – 3:46
Mary Had a Little Lamb – 3:34
Little Woman Love
Mama’s Little Girl (Paul McCartney) – 3:41
Time has been kind to Wild Life. It has continually been revisited over the 40 years since it’s release. In that time, styles and trends have changed, allowing us to hear the album outside of it’s 1971 context. In 1971, everything any ex-Beatle did was compared to the others. Wild Life followed John Lennon’s masterful Imagine by mere months. George Harrison had just pulled off the first large benefit concert, The Concert For Bangladesh. Wild Life seemed like nonsense compared to the lofty achievements by his former bandmates. The critics savaged the album and it sold poorly (by McCartney’s standards).
Contemporary reviews, and many thereafter, have held that Wild Life was was not only McCartney’s worst album, but terrible beyond words. How could it possibly be that bad? It was a “Paul McCartney” album. Had he taken to sounding like Toni Olando & Dawn? There had to be something good about the album.
As expected, instead of experiencing recieving an aural assault, it was a pleasant, inoffensive little album. The only exception was the song “Tomorrow”, which is simply outstanding. How could this great song have gone ignored? Why wasn’t it a single? All these years later, “Tomorrow” is still the “Maybe I’m Amazed” of Wild Life.
So what about the rest of the album? Had Wild Life not been made by Paul McCartney, it would have been viewed as a nice start, and otherwise forgotten. By virtue of it being a McCartney album, it was part of the catalog of one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, not to mention an ex-Beatle. Thus, it never disappeared. Consequently, fans who were in diapers at the time of it’s release in 1971 (such as myself), and therafter discovered the album years after it’s release, heard it context of already knowing about “Band On The Run” and other solo successes. Thus, it was listened to without the expectation that it would be another Abbey Road, or a response to what John and George were doing.
Wild Life was an oddity. Obviously, it wasn’t “good” like Abbey Road was good. It wasn’t anything like the mighty Band On The Run. Yet, some were inexplicably drawn to it (this writer included), ultimately getting more rotations that either the two previously mentioned classics.
So how did this happen? Wild Life was a mystery to solve. Why did Paul make this album? Why didn’t he try harder? What was he thinking? Part of the problem was a matter of execution and appearance. One song was titled “Mumbo”, while another was titled “Bip Bop”. Despite having a nice front cover, the back was amateurish. And there were only eight songs. One could argue that Wild Life‘s sloppiness, and lack of attention to detail, made the case that the “dream” was in fact over far more effectively than John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band did.
“Mumbo” is a repetitive jam, but an interesting one if listened to closely. Leaving the title aside, McCartney gives one hell of a vocal performance on this one. The riffing is cool. And there is the usual McCartney ear-candy for those listening with headphones. Listen for the hard right and left panning of the guitars, organ, and what sounds like a door being slammed shut. Despite the seemingly impulsive “Take it Tony” at the beginning, “Mumbo” was almost certainly the result of multiple overdubs and edits. It isn’t “Hey Jude”. It isn’t even “Wild Honey Pie”. But it’s probably one of the most sloppy, rocking, and fun tunes Paul ever put out.
There is no use trying to get in depth about “Bip Bop”. It’s probably a song Paul made up for his kids. Paul’s voice is creaky, which does the song no favors. Otherwise the most redeeming feature is some nice guitar work on the Epiphone.
The cover of Ian & Silvia’s “Love Is Strange” is flat out good stuff. The backing track is cool, the arrangement is sufficiently different than the original to make the song a true “Wings” song. It should have been a single.
“Wild Life” is a good slow rocker taken in 6/8. People complain about “the aminals in the zoo” but it doesn’t matter much. It has a good sound and good guitar work. “Some People Never Know” is one of Paul’s pretty acoustic tunes. It would have made a fine Beatles track had it been trimmed by a couple minutes. It meanders a bit too much, but is otherwise a very nice number. “I Am Your Singer” is a nicely written song, not too different in structure than the early Lennon/McCartney songs. Linda’s vocal comes close to killing the song, and I imagine succeeds in doing just that for many people.
“Tomorrow” sticks out as the most professional sounding pop performance sounding on the record. It’s also the most tuneful and memorable song. Some McCartney songs take time to make an impact, but not this one. “Tomorrow” is a great track, with harmonies rivaling those on Ram‘s “Dear Boy”. It was virtually a lost song until Paul (or someone) remembered it and included it on the “History” disc of Wingspan.
The album ends with “Dear Friend”. It’s not a response to “How Do You Sleep”. It was recorded during the Ram sessions, several months prior to the sessions for Imagine. I’m not even convinced it’s about John, although I think it’s about someone in Paul’s life. One listen to the arrangement and it’s obvious that “Dear Friend” is not a Wings track. It’s a somber song, but another good one.
Aside from “Tomorrow”, the best part of the album is the little snippet of “Mumbo” at the end. It’s nicely sloppy and raw sounding with loud guitars.
Wild Life is not the album to initiate new fans. However, it’s well worth a listen (or several hundred) when the time comes to dig deep. Despite it’s obvious problems, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on in those tracks. It’s still Paul McCartney, the same who was in the Beatles just two years earlier. But he’s slumming a bit, so Wild Life reveals itself slowly.