Released as a single in 1973, ‘Helen Wheels’ was recorded during the sessions for Wings’ Band On The Run album.

Helen Wheels was the name of the McCartneys’ Land Rover, a pun on the phrase ‘hell on wheels’.

Helen Wheels is our Land Rover. It’s a name we gave to our Land Rover, which is a trusty vehicle that gets us around Scotland. It takes us up to the Shetland Islands and down to London. The song starts off in Glasgow, then it goes past Carlisle, goes to Kendal, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. It’s the route coming down from our Scottish farm to London, so it’s really the story of a trip down. Little images along the way.
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini

The Land Rover remained with the McCartney family well into the 21st Century.

The good thing about this kind of portfolio is you have the opportunity, rather than doing one portrait, to do several to get a narrative. I wanted the narrative to be Dad’s outdoor style, and also musical, so we pulled out a couple of key instruments and pulled out the Land Rover, which is called ‘Helen Wheels’. Helen Wheels was the base, and we were driving around in her, and then going back to the house, ‘Waterfall’. When we moved out of London, that’s the house that we lived in, so I was exploring elements from my childhood, taking Dad back in time.

[Helen Wheels is] the old Land Rover which we used to drive up to Scotland in when we were kids. To me, that’s part of my childhood, so I was like, ‘Let’s get that out.’ It’s from the early 1970s; those kind of cars are made to last. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable thing to drive around in – it’s quite bumpy – but I love it.

Mary McCartney
GQ, 4 August 2020

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Helen Wheels

The lyrics of ‘Helen Wheels’ were included in McCartney’s 2001 book Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999, and in 2021’s The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present.

The idea of doing an English road song was challenging but rewarding. I like the idea that a song like this still has legs. And I actually still have Helen Wheels. She’s still running. They’re built to last, those things.

The release

‘Helen Wheels’ was released as a single in the United Kingdom on 26 October 1973, as Apple R 5993. It reached number 12 on the singles chart.

In the United States it was issued on 12 November 1973, as Apple 1869. Its chart peak was number 10.

The b-side in both countries was ‘Country Dreamer’, an outtake from the Red Rose Speedway sessions.

The album Band On The Run was released in the USA on 3 December 1973. At Capitol Records’ promotions executive Al Corey’s suggestion, it included ‘Helen Wheels’ as track eight, between ‘No Words’ and ‘Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)’.

We got a call from one of the Capitol executives saying ‘Paul, you know we took ‘Money’ off the Pink Floyd album [The Dark Side Of The Moon] and after it became a hit single the album did so many extra units. What do you say we put ‘Helen Wheels’ and we’ll do so many extra units. So I phoned him back the next day and told him it sounded OK to me.
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Helen Wheels

Promotional film

A promo clip for ‘Helen Wheels’ was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had directed similar films for The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’/‘Rain’, ‘Hey Jude‘/‘Revolution’, and Let It Be.

The ‘Helen Wheels’ film showed the McCartneys and Denny Laine performing the song, with Paul shown playing guitar, bass guitar, and drums. It also contained shots of the trio in a car.

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