The fourth album by Wings, Venus And Mars was the follow-up to the hugely successful Band On The Run. The release featured the fourth and fifth iterations of the group’s line-up.
Venus And Mars was stylistically more diverse than Band On The Run, reflecting Paul McCartney’s range of musical tastes and willingness to explore everything from hard rockers and ballads to old fashioned Hollywood musical styles and even a cover version of the theme of low-budget UK soap opera Crossroads.
It’s a joke! It’s after ‘Lonely Old People’, you see. They are sitting there in the park, saying, ‘Nobody asked us to play’. It’s a poignant moment. Then there’s a little break and then ‘Crossroads’ starts up. It’s lonely old people. It’s just the kind of thing that lonely old people watch. It could just as easily have been Coronation Street, but we knew the chords to ‘Crossroads’. I just thought that it would be nice to do it.
New Orleans press conference, 1975
The 18 months between the two releases increased audience anticipation for Venus And Mars, but it was widely considered a disappointment. Regardless, it topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the studio
Although they had intended to record the entire album in the United States, Wings began recording Venus And Mars at Abbey Road in late 1974. McCartney recruited Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton to play lead guitar and drums respectively, and the new line-up recorded ‘Letting Go’, ‘Love In Song’, and ‘Medicine Jar’, as well as early versions of ‘Rock Show’.
Wings had wanted to begin the album in New Orleans around the time of Thanksgiving in 1974, but Denny Laine had trouble getting a visa to enter the country. In January 1975, however, work moved to Allen Toussaint’s Sea Saint Studios in New Orleans. The relocation was for tax-avoidance purposes as much as for inspirational reasons.
The New Orleans sessions took place from 16 January to 24 February 1975, with work typically taking place from late afternoon until the early morning. Wings first recorded ‘Lunch Box/Odd Sox’, which was left off the album but was eventually released in 1980 as the b-side to ‘Coming Up’.
Other songs not used on Venus And Mars included ‘Crawl Of The Wild’, ‘Karate Chaos’, and ‘Sea Dance’, as well as ‘Tomorrow’, an instrumental version of the Wild Life track. ‘My Carnival’ was issued in 1985 as the b-side of the ‘Spies Like Us’ single, and ‘New Orleans’ was a Linda McCartney song which was included on her posthumous 1998 album Wild Prairie.
I’d never been to New Orleans, except on tour when we never saw anything except the inside of a trailer. The only thing I remembered about New Orleans was the vibrator bed in the motel and it was sweating hot. So we went down to New Orleans in search of a musical town and the weather. Then we found out Mardi Gras was on while we were there. I’d written most of the stuff before we got there and Jimmy had written one of the tracks with a mate of his. We’d been in Jamaica before we went to New Orleans and for the first time ever, I’d got all the songs together like a scroll that went from here to the end of the room. So I had all that together and we just went and turned up and started recording. With this new album I did this scroll thing and sat down and put one song there, and another song here. Fiddle about. Fiddle about. The only time I’ve done this before was on the mini-opera on Abbey Road, the only time I’ve sat down with four sheets of paper and put them in order.
Melody Maker, 1975
McCartney produced the New Orleans sessions, with Alan O’Duffy engineering. On one night they jammed at Sea Saint with local musicians Dr John, Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, and Traffic’s Dave Mason.
A press conference and party was held on 13 February aboard a Mississippi steamboat; McCartney also hired the Young Tuxedo Brass Band to perform on the quay before the party began.
John Lennon was intending to visit the McCartneys in New Orleans, with the intention of songwriting and recording together. However, Lennon returned to Yoko Ono shortly before it was due to happen, and the pair never recorded again.
The very week we were supposed to go to New Orleans to visit Paul and Linda who were recording there – and John would write with Paul again – John went back to the Dakota.
Geoff Britton left the group around this time, following arguments with Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch. He was replaced with Joe English, who was later invited to become a permanent member of the group. Atlanta-based English had been rehearsing with Bonnie Bramlett when he was summoned to Louisiana by McCartney, following a recommendation from Tony Dorsey.
I completed half the tracks on the album and then a local drummer called Joe English did the rest.
It’s a funny band, Wings. From a musician’s point of view, it’s a privilege to do it. From a career point of view, it’s madness! No matter how good you are, you’re always in the shadow of Paul.
Was Venus And Mars his first single not to chart in the UK?