The title track of Paul McCartney’s fifth post-Beatles album, ‘Band On The Run’ was a three-part song, inspired in part by a remark about the business meetings at Apple in 1969.
It’s just a good flow of words. I really don’t analyze stuff, and if I do I kind of remember what it meant about three months later, just lying in bed one night.
It started off with ‘If I ever get out of here.’ That came from a remark George made at one of the Apple meetings. He was saving that we were all prisoners in some way, some kind of remark like that. ‘If we ever get out of here,’ the prison bit, and I thought that would be a nice way to start an album. A million reasons, really. I can never lay them all down. It’s a million things, I don’t like to analyze them, all put together. Band on the run – escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it, it’s there.
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini
The Beatles had often combined half-finished song fragments together, in works such as ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, and the celebrated Abbey Road medley. John Lennon, in particular, often combined three unrelated ideas in one song, a technique used on ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, ‘God’, and ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’.
On ‘Band On The Run’, McCartney used the same technique, although unlike Lennon, the different parts stood in marked contrast from one another. The song begins with the band’s incarceration, “stuck inside these four walls”, in a gently melodic passage which gives way to thoughts of escape.
Part two uses Harrison’s quotation, ‘If we ever get out of here’, as its central theme. This is the briefest section of the song, lasting less than a minute.
The third and final section is the longest, and sees the band escaping prison and defiantly fleeing from authority figures: the jailor (representing the law), a sailor (the armed forces), an undertaker (death) and a county judge, as a bell rings in the village to alert residents of the jailbreak.
In the studio
The Band On The Run album was recorded at EMI Studios in Lagos, Nigeria, and partly at Ginger Baker’s ARC Studios in Ikeja. Wings spent six weeks in Nigeria, with McCartney producing and Geoff Emerick engineering the sessions.
Work continued at George Martin’s AIR Studios in London, where the eight-track tapes were transferred to 16-track. Vocals and orchestral instruments, the latter arranged by Tony Visconti, were overdubbed there.
In search of a new direction, and possibly to give an injection of something different, Paul and Linda, along with Denny Laine, had gone to Lagos in Nigeria to make their next album. In late September, shortly after they returned we got a phone call at our home from Macca. After he talked briefly to Mary she handed me the phone.
‘Hi Tony, I love the strings on T.Rex records, did you write them?’
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘Can you really read and write music?’
‘Oh right, in that case will you write strings for the album I’ve just finished?’
The next day, a Sunday afternoon, Mary, our ten-month-old son and I made the short trip over to the McCartneys’ home in St John’s Wood. Mary and Linda sat in the living room with the McCartney children making a fuss over our little Morgan. In the same room Paul sat at the piano with me sitting next to him and played me snippets of songs on a portable cassette player, while on a second one he recorded his comments and his piano doodlings for string ideas. Some ideas he wanted me to strictly adhere to and some were just sketches that I was asked to improve upon. For a song called ‘Drink To Me (The Picasso song)’ [sic] he said, ‘Just do your thing, but in the style of Motown strings.’
I was thrilled to be doing this for one of my idols but not so thrilled when he told me he needed all seven arrangements by Wednesday.
I hardly slept for two days. I also had to book and strategize the session, starting with the sixty musicians needed for the title track, ‘Band on the Run’, down to the string quartet for ‘No Words’. When I arrived at AIR Studios I’m sure I looked bedraggled, I definitely felt it. I was greeted by Paul, Linda and Denny along with their great engineer Geoff Emerick. The sixty musicians are already there and I braced myself to begin the tedious arm waving (my bad style of conducting) and note correcting. The very first thing we did was the interlude between the first and second parts of ‘Band On The Run’; it proved to be very difficult because the first section is in an entirely different tempo from the next. We just kept doing take after take until we got the transition to work smoothly. Only some of the sixty musicians were wearing headphones, so it was a genuine job of conducting to bring them in and to keep them together. The rest of the day went a lot smoother. For the most part Paul acted the jovial perfectionist, which made it all seem like fun.
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
In 1975 Band On The Run was issued with a quadraphonic mix, made by Emerick and Alan O’Duffy.
In the United Kingdom the single was issued on 28 June 1974, with a new song, ‘Zoo Gang’, on the b-side. Although also certified gold, the single fared less well, peaking at number three in the charts.
Although the album and single versions were identical, a radio edit was created which cut the song in three places. It cut the original length from 5’13 down to 3’57. The edits were from 0’26 to 0’37, 2’52 to 3’38, and 3’48 to 4’07.
Two separate promotional singles were issued in the US. The first contained a mono mix of the edited song, together with the full-length version in stereo. The second single had the edit in both mono and stereo.