Wings’ fifth album, Wings At The Speed Of Sound, was the first to feature lead vocals by each member of the band. It was recorded and released in 1976, during the 13-month Wings Over The World tour.
The relaxation of Paul McCartney’s leadership saw the group become closer to how he originally envisaged Wings. He wished it to become more democratic, with him taking less of a starring role. He didn’t sing lead on five of the songs, two of which he had no part in writing.
It was never Paul McCartney & The Beatles, Paul McCartney & The Quarrymen, or Paul McCartney & The Moondogs. Wings is quicker and easier to say, and everybody knows I’m in the group anyway.
In the studio
The first McCartney album to be recorded in Britain since 1973’s Red Rose Speedway, Wings At The Speed Of Sound was recorded in two periods at EMI Studios at Abbey Road, London. The sessions took place in September and October 1975, and in January and February 1976.
McCartney later confessed that “the album didn’t take long”. He began writing material following his family’s Hawaiian holiday towards the end of 1975, and recording began prior to the Australian leg of Wings’ world tour. Most of the album, however, was assembled in early 1976.
The group’s tour commitments didn’t allow them to record in a new foreign location, so they opted for the familiarity of Abbey Road. The album was completed in February, and Wings’ tour resumed in Denmark in March 1976.
Each of the songs was written by McCartney, apart from ‘Wino Junko’, which was by Jimmy McCulloch and Stone The Crows’ drummer Colin Allen, and ‘Time To Hide’, which was by Denny Laine. Linda McCartney, Laine and Joe English also each sang a song written by McCartney – ‘Cook Of The House’, ‘The Note You Never Wrote’, and ‘Must Do Something About It’ respectively.
It turned out less of a McCartney production and more of a Wings effort. It wasn’t intended like that. There was one of the songs that I had sung but I just let Joe, our drummer, sing it because he’s got a very nice voice, and he sang it great. Denny is a natural for a couple of tracks because he is, after all, a lead vocalist. So I wrote one track for him, which I called ‘The Note You Never Wrote’ and he wrote one track himself, ‘Time To Hide’, and then Jimmy, who writes a bit with Colin Allen, did one track this time, ‘Wino Junko’. It seems he can’t get off the plonk!
The swift assembly of Wings At The Speed Of Sound extended to the cover artwork. Designed by Hipgnosis and George Hardie, who worked so successfully on Venus And Mars, it had no gatefold sleeve, lyrics or other extras.
The front photograph was of lettering on the marquee in front of the Leicester Square Theatre in London. At the time it was taken, the cinema inside was showing The Return Of The Pink Panther starring Peter Sellers.
The rear cover photographs, featuring montages of the Wings band members, were taken by Clive Arrowsmith, and images by Linda McCartney appeared on the inner sleeve and the label. A drawing by Humphrey Ocean surrounded a live photograph of Wings in concert taken by Robert Ellis.
Wings At The Speed Of Sound was released in March 1976 in the United States and United Kingdom. It received mixed reviews, and the reception wasn’t helped by EMI reissuing each of The Beatles’ singles at the same time, most of which re-entered the charts.
Despite this, Wings At The Speed Of Sound spent 35 weeks in the UK album charts, peaking at number two and becoming the fourth best-selling album of the year.
In the US it spent seven non-consecutive weeks at number one, holding off the new Beatles compilation Rock ‘N’ Roll Music. It spent a total of 51 weeks on the charts.
The commercial success was helped by the singles ‘Silly Love Songs’ and ‘Let ’Em In’, both of which were huge hits. ‘Silly Love Songs’ was issued in April 1976, with ‘Cook Of The House’ on the b-side. It peaked at number two in the UK but topped the US charts, and became one of the biggest-selling singles of the year.
‘Let ’Em In’ was issued in June in the US, and the following month in the UK, with ‘Beware My Love’ on the b-side. It appeared at a time when Wings At The Speed Of Sound was beginning to slip down the charts, but its success helped to boost sales further. The single reached number two in the UK and number three in the US.