When he formed Wings, his first post-Beatles band, in 1972, Paul McCartney elected to keep the group flying under the radar.
The band was literally on the run, playing modest, unannounced shows at universities in northern England. "Instead of doing it up at a high level, we decided to just come in from the ground and work our way up so that we would get an organic thing. We'd get a growth," McCartney explains.
That wasn't the case in 1975, however. After five albums -- four of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- Wings went worldwide with a tour that spanned 65 dates and 14 countries -- including a summer of 1976 swing through a bicentennial-saturated United States. Four of those were filmed and issued as "Rockshow," a 30-song concert film that's being released June 10 on DVD after theatrical showings May 16 and ?? which will start with a new 12-minute interview with McCartney.
"The '76 tour, that was THE band, right there," notes McCartney, 70, who had by then assembled a lineup that included his wife, Linda McCartney, and Wings co-founder Denny Laine, along with guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English. "When we started (Wings), yeah, it was quite difficult. But by the time we got over to the States in '76 we'd figured it out and had a really good little band, and we come over and did a great tour."
There was nothing "little" about that Wings road trek, of course. Though delayed a month after McCulloch broke his finger during rehearsals, the North American leg broke ticket sales records previously set by the Beatles. McCartney, however, was very conscious of the shadow his celebrated former band cast over what he -- as well as the other Beatles -- was doing at the time; through previous incarnations of Wings didn't play any Beatles songs, he included a few -- such as "Lady Madonna" and acoustic versions of "Blackbird," "I've Just Seen a Face" and Yesterday -- though the bulk of the show, which also yielded the "Wings Over America" three-LP set, was dedicated to the Wings' ouvre.
"There was this rumor that the Beatles were getting together, they'll be reuniting at Paul McCartney's concert," McCartney recalls. "That happened for about the first week of the tour -- so much so that I had to get myself a little, an answer to shut them up. I actually did a takeup on Muhammed Ali; I said (imitating Ali) `The Beatles split in '69/And since then they've been doing fine/And if you ask that just once more/I think I'm gonna break your jaw.'
"So we had that as my sort of response. But it was very gratifying for us after about a week of the shows, it turned around completely, and the news reports were saying 'Who cares if the Beatles reunite; this is such a great band.' You started to see newscasters saying 'It doesn't matter. This band's enough.' "
The Wings Over The World tour was also the first live look most of the globe had at Linda McCartney, an untrained and inexperienced musician, as part of the band. "She took some s***, major league -- not only from critics but from fans," McCartney acknowledges. "We had stuff daubed on our front walls in large letters, and it was highly offensive. Luckily she was a strong woman and she was able to overcome it, and the period passed and as she went on people started to appreciate her more and more.
"But I really hated it, 'cause it's painful to sort of be part of the reason why these wounds are inflicted on your partner."
He does, however, feel that "Rockshow" and subsequent Wings releases such as the 2001 documentary "Wingspan" vindicates Linda's much-maligned role in the band.
"Anyone watching that, I think, would have to say 'Wow, I see why she's in the band'," McCartney notes. "She's a very strong force it."
Wings' flight lasted nearly nine years total, with five No. 1 albums in the U.S. and 17 million-selling singles -- including 1977's ``Mull of Kintyre,'' which set a British record by selling 2.5 million copies. In addition to "Rockshow" McCartney -- who broke the band up after a 1980 marijuana possession arrest in Japan -- is reissuing "Wings Over America" on May 27 in a variety of deluxe packages, and he hopes that these retrospective looks will help give the group its deserved due.
"It was a struggle trying to put it together after the Beatles," says McCartney, who's in the midst of his Out There world tour but will attend a "Rockshow" screening on Wednesday, May 15, at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). "I mean, the Beatles career itself was a struggle, and then having reached those heights, to try and do it over and at the same time bring up a young family was quite an interesting human interest story.
"In the end, I think, you realize that Wings was a pretty good band. I hope so, at least, because it really was."
Paul McCartney and Wings' "Rockshow" will be shown at more than 750 theaters across the world, including metro Detroit, on Thursday, May 16. Visit www.rockshowonscreen.com for theater and ticket information and showtimes.
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