The penultimate Wings album, London Town was recorded throughout much of 1977 and released the following year.
While Paul McCartney was accustomed to working quickly, the recording of London Town was protracted due to various reasons, some beyond his control. His wife Linda found she was pregnant with their third child, and Wings’ drummer Joe English and guitarist Jimmy McCulloch both left the group.
It was started in London town, and it was finished in London town. And the opening track on the album is called ‘London Town’. I suppose you could have called it any of the other titles. That was the one that seemed to fit the most. We had the idea on the cover to show London town as if it’s in the Virgin Islands. On the back cover of the record it’s all London town looking like it’s been moved to the Virgins.
BBC Radio 1, 1978
Five songs on London Town – the title track, ‘Children Children’, ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, ‘Deliver Your Children’, and ‘Morse Moose And The Grey Goose’ – were written by McCartney and Laine. Another song, ‘Girlfriend’, was written by McCartney for Michael Jackson, who recorded it for his 1979 album Off The Wall.
In the studio
Having completed their world your in October 1976, Wings took a three-month break before reconvening at Abbey Road on 7 February 1977. Six groups of sessions followed throughout the year, one of which was devoted mainly to the non-album song ‘Mull Of Kintyre’.
EMI Studios: 7 February – 31 March 1977
The first set of sessions lasted until 19 February; the following day Paul and Linda left England for a two-week holiday in Jamaica. These sessions saw pre-production for the album with Pete Henderson engineering.
Geoff Emerick, who had worked extensively with McCartney since The Beatles’ days, took over after the Jamaican break. At least four songs were recorded before 31 March: ‘London Town’, ‘Children Children’, ‘Deliver Your Children’, and ‘Girls’ School’, the b-side of the ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ single.
Fair Carol: 2-31 May 1977
On 30 April the group relocated for the second set of sessions, which took place on the Fair Carol, a motor yacht stationed at Watermelon Bay in St John’s in the Virgin Islands. Most of Wings lived on another boat, the Samala, while the McCartneys stayed on the El Toro.
We hired a charter boat that people use for holidays. The captain went spare when he saw all the instruments. We remodelled his boat for him, which he wasn’t too keen on. We converted his lounge into a studio and we turned another deck into a sound control room, and it was fantastic! We had a recording boat and two others we stayed on. We didn’t have any problems with salt water in the machines or sharks attacking us. At night, there was much merriment, leaping from top decks into uncharted waters and stuff. I had a couple too many one night and nearly broke something jumping from one boat to another. But then you always break yourself up on holiday. The studio worked out incredible well and the very first day we got a track down. There was a nice free feeling. We’d swim in the day and record at night.
Melody Maker, November 1977
The Virgin Islands was Emerick’s idea; he had recently worked in Hawaii with the group America, albeit in a land-based studio. Inspired by the setting, the group toyed with using the title Water Wings for the forthcoming album.
Wings arrived in the Virgin Islands on 1 May, and began recording on the following day. The sessions lasted until the end of the month, with the bulk of 13 songs being taped. The group typically worked in the mornings and evenings, using 24-track equipment belonging to the Record Plant West in Los Angeles.
The first song to be recorded aboard the Fair Carol was ‘Cafe On The Left Bank’. Also recorded were ‘I’m Carrying’, ‘I’ve Had Enough’, ‘With A Little Luck’, ‘Famous Groupies’, ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, and ‘Morse Moose And The Grey Goose’, plus six unreleased songs: ‘Boil Crisis’, ‘El Toro Passing’, ‘Running Round The Room’, ‘Standing Very Still’, ‘After You’ve Gone’, and ‘Fairy Tale’.
The stay in the Virgin Islands wasn’t without incident. US Customs officials raided the three boats in a search for marijuana. Although no arrests were made, an official warning was given.
Furthermore, various ailments beset the group during their stay. McCartney cut his knee and bruised a leg, Laine experienced severe sunburn, and McCulloch injured a knee and suffered temporary deafness in one ear. Sound engineer Geoff Emerick electrocuted his foot, and Alan Crowder of McCartney’s management company MPL slipped on a stairway and broke his heel.
Spirit of Ranachan Studio: August-October 1977
Following the Virgin Island sessions, Wings took a break until August 1977, when they reconvened in the Spirit of Ranachan Studio in Campbeltown, Scotland. The studio was a converted barn owned by McCartney which housed a 24-track mobile recording unit.
Much of the time in Scotland was spent working on ‘Mull Of Kintyre’. Jimmy McCulloch did not participate in the sessions, although joining the group on bagpipes for what became Wings’ biggest hit were the Campbeltown Pipe Band.
Also completed during the Campbeltown sessions was ‘Girls’ School’. Wings also re-recorded the punk rock-inspired ‘Boil Crisis’, but McCartney decided it should remain unreleased.
EMI Studios: 25 October – 1 December 1977
A break separated the Scottish sessions and Wings’ return to Abbey Road Studios, due to the birth on 12 September of James Louis McCartney, Paul and Linda’s first and only son.
Jimmy McCulloch had officially left the group by this time, to join the reformed Small Faces. During the EMI sessions Joe English also left Wings, leaving them a trio once again with the core line-up of McCartney, McCartney and Laine.
AIR Studios: 3-14 December 1977
No new songs were recorded at George Martin’s AIR Studios in London towards the end of 1977. Instead, the sessions were for overdubs to the previously-recorded tracks, including the string arrangements.
EMI Studios: 4-23 January 1978
The final set of recordings for London Town took place once again at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. Finishing touches were added to the album with the help of arrangers Will Malone, Mike Vickers and Bobby Richards. The work included the addition of McCartney’s lead vocals to ‘I’ve Had Enough’, the backing track for which had been recorded in Watermelon Bay, and the mixing of the entire album.
The artwork and photography for London Town were credited to the McCartneys and Laine, with art coordination by Aubrey Powell and George Hardie. Additional photography was by Henry Diltz and Graham Hughes.
The inner sleeve had the lyrics for the songs and a repeated image of Tower Bridge. The album also came with a double sided 33″x23″ poster and a postcard. None of the artwork featured Joe English or Jimmy McCulloch.
The single ‘With A Little Luck’, with ‘Backwards Traveller’/‘Cuff Link’ on the b-side, was released ahead of London Town in March 1978. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100, and peaked at number five in the UK.
London Town followed a week later. In the US it reached number two on the Billboard 200, on which it spent a total of 28 weeks. In the UK its highest position was number four, and it spent 23 weeks on the album chart.
‘I’ve Had Enough’ was not a commercial success, peaking at number 25 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and 42 on the UK singles chart.
London Town was released on compact disc for the first time in August 1989, with ‘Girls’ School’ as a bonus track. The album was remastered and reissued in April 1993, with ‘Girls’ School’ and ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ as extras.