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- Published on Amazon.com
One of the biggest rock groups of the 1970s, which is another way of saying one of the biggest rock groups of all time, Wings suffered ridiculously for the sin of having emerged from the ruins of the Beatles. "Wingspan" is an attempt at perspective by the group's former leader, Paul McCartney, which only partially succeeds on its own terms - less so, in fact, than Wings itself.
Taken from the narrative of the video documentary of the same name that came out a little earlier, 2002's "Wingspan" benefits from a generous assortment of photographs, some 150 of them, many by Paul's late wife and Wings keyboardist Linda McCartney. "Wingspan" the book doesn't quite boil Wings down to exclusively Paul and Linda the way the documentary did, where the person asking the questions was their daughter. There's some attention paid here to the other Wings, just not enough.
Of Henry McCullough, the first lead guitarist, we learn his brother in Northern Ireland got beat up over the Wings' song "Give Ireland Back To The Irish." How Henry reacted is something Paul doesn't report on.
Henry's Scottish replacement, Jimmy McCulloch, was a "whizzkid", one of McCartney's favorite sidemen, on stage anyway, but "had an attitude", which McCartney doesn't do much to explain. McCulloch didn't live long after leaving Wings, and Paul alludes to drug issues without going into any detail.
Geoff Britton only hung around long enough to lay down some incredible drum fills on the single "Junior's Farm", then skedaddled: "I don't really remember why now," Paul says, "except that perhaps he didn't quite fit."
You can argue the other Wings were essentially sidemen to a recording duo who produced songs celebrating their union, but I spent too much time staring at those other guys on Wings album covers not to want to know more.
"Wingspan" does a lot better by Paul and Linda, the photos showing them on stage or at ease, relaxing with kids and dogs. Work and family were closely connected; they had a home recording space, "Rude Studio", and took their kids on the road.
Linda was not a musician when she married Paul, cause for what he cryptically says were "tense moments" with other band members, but Paul wanted to tour and didn't want her left behind. Thus begun one of the unlikeliest yet most heart-warming romances in the public eye. When Paul wasn't singing "Maybe I'm Amazed" to Linda, Linda was responding in kind, in the "I love you" choruses to "Silly Love Songs". Linda wasn't Jimmy McCulloch in the musicianship department, but she brought a lot of stability to the Wings situation, not to mention the life of Wings' leader, and a lot of resonance to those silly love songs that lasts a decade after her death. When "Wingspan" focuses on this aspect of Wings, which it often does, it is always interesting if a trifle incomplete.
The photos are great, like one by Paul circa 1968 snapped in Manhattan, of Linda and oldest daughter Heather, where a teenaged boy in the foreground looks at the camera in apparent shock. Maybe he was amazed at having a Beatle take a picture of him. There's also Paul at the Wings launch party wearing an unfinished checkered suit, not to mention other bad outfits as the 1970s rolled on.
"It's a look," Paul says, and he's right. "Wingspan" is a nice look at the group, albeit little deeper than liner notes. Hopefully Paul someday will want to revisit this period in his life for deeper treatment.