The first single to be released from the Band On The Run album, ‘Jet’ was – like The Beatles’ ‘Martha My Dear’ – named after one of Paul McCartney’s pets.

We’ve got a Labrador puppy who is a runt, the runt of a litter. We bought her along a roadside in a little pet shop, out in the country one day. She was a bit of a wild dog, a wild girl who wouldn’t stay in. We have a big wall around our house in London, and she wouldn’t stay in, she always used to jump the wall. She’d go out on the town for the evening, like Lady And The Tramp. She must have met up with some big black Labrador or something. She came back one day pregnant. She proceeded to walk into the garage and have this litter… Seven little black puppies, perfect little black Labradors, and she’s not black, she’s tan. So we worked out it must have been a black Labrador. What we do is if either of the dogs we have has a litter, we try to keep them for the puppy stage, so we get the best bit of them, and then when they get a bit unmanageable we ask people if they want to have a puppy. So Jet was one of the puppies. We give them all names. We’ve had some great names, there was one puppy called Golden Molasses. I rather like that. Then there was one called Brown Megs, named after a Capitol executive. They’ve all gone now. The people change the names if they don’t like them.
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini

Curiously, by the time of 2021’s The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present, McCartney was claiming that Jet was not a dog but a pony belonging to his daughter Mary.

‘Jet’ was actually the name of a pony, a little Shetland pony that we had for the kids on the farm. My daughter Mary was born in 1969, so in 1973, when the song was written, she was four. Stella would have been two, so they were little. But to know that Jet is a pony is about as important, or unimportant, as knowing that Martha in ‘Martha My Dear’ is a sheepdog.

I remember exactly how the song started. We were in Scotland. I had my guitar, surprise, surprise. There was a big hill which had the site of a fortress on top of it, an old Celtic fort. It’s now primarily an ordnance survey marker. It was an extraordinarily good vantage point. The kind of place where you could imagine the Vikings coming up the hill while we poured oil on them or, if that didn’t work, threw some spears at them. There were some lovely little spots on the hillside where we all liked to hang out.

I had told Linda I’d be gone for a while, and as I lay there on this beautiful summer’s day, I let my mind wander. Some of the imagery is drawn from the relationship between Linda and her father [Lee Eastman]. He was a cool guy – very accomplished – but he was a little bit too patriarchal for my liking. I got on well with him, but he was a bit strict. That’s partly where the ‘sergeant major’ comes from. He also comes partly from Gilbert and Sullivan and ‘the very model of a modern Major-General’. Partly, too, from Bootsie and Snudge, the UK television sitcom, which had a character called Sergeant-Major Claude Snudge…

Anyhow I made it all up, played it on the guitar, came back to the farmhouse and played it for Linda. I asked her what she thought. She liked it! And that was what came out of my afternoon up on the hill. This wasn’t Mount Sinai and I didn’t come back with the Tablets of the Law, but I did come back with ‘Jet’.

Despite the initial inspiration, the words of ‘Jet’ were mostly chosen to fit the melody rather than for their meaning. The reference to the ‘lady suffragette’ was a motif that appealed to McCartney, without having any wider significance.

I make up so much stuff. It means something to me when I do it, and it means something to the record buyer, but if I’m asked to analyze it I can’t really explain what it is. ‘Suffragette’ was crazy enough to work. It sounded silly, so I liked it.
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini

‘Jet’ was recorded at George Martin’s AIR Studios in London, after Wings returned from recording the bulk of Band On The Run in Lagos, Nigeria.

The recording featured Howie Casey on saxophone. Casey was formerly a member of Derry And The Seniors, a Liverpool group who were contemporaries of The Beatles in the Cavern Club years. He also appeared on the Band On The Run songs ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Mrs Vandebilt’.

The refrain from ‘Jet’ reappears later on Band On The Run, as a mostly instrumental passage on the song ‘Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)’.

Just the idea of his different periods, this comes back in, it’s all a big muddle. We were just making it up as we went along. We didn’t have any big concept of it in mind at all. I just thought, we’ll mess it up, keep messing it up until it sounds good, like Picasso did, with the instinctive knowledge you’ve got. So that’s how that one came about.
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini

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The orchestral arrangement by Tony Visconti was recorded at George Martin’s AIR Studios in London.

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.

The afternoon reunited Paul with Howie Casey; they knew each other from Liverpool. He was one of the sax players that we used on ‘Jet’. It all went very smoothly until Paul wanted to add a sax solo at the very last minute. He sang it to Howie, but the melody started higher than the upper limit on the tenor sax, added to which it was in concert B major, a very difficult key for saxes. I solved the problem by writing out the phrase and gave the first half to the alto sax player. The first half was easy on alto sax but ended lower than the alto’s range. Paul would not accept alternative notes once he had this part in his head, but he liked the idea of Howie playing the final handful of notes on the tenor sax. After several tries, the two sax players made the transition perfectly and helped make the song’s end so much better.

Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

The release

Paul McCartney initially wanted no singles to be taken from Band On The Run. However, radio plugger Al Coury persuaded him that ‘Jet’ would work well.

The companies here and in America, worldwide, would like a single on the album. It makes more sense merchandising-wise. But sometimes, I just have to remember that this isn’t a record store I’m running; this is supposed to be some kind of art. And if it doesn’t fit in, it doesn’t fit in.
Paul McCartney, 1973

At its original length of over four minutes, ‘Jet’ was considered too long to be played on the radio, so McCartney grudgingly allowed Capitol Records to create an edit. This was issued as a mono promotional single with four sections removed, bringing the total length to 2’49.

‘Jet’ was issued in the US on 28 January 1974, with the Band On The Run song ‘Mamunia’ as its b-side. However, this was withdrawn after three weeks on sale, and was replaced on 18 February with a new edition with ‘Let Me Roll It’ on the flipside.

‘Jet’ was a chart-topper in the US. It fared less well in the United Kingdom, peaking at number seven after its release on 18 February 1974.

As with the second US version, its b-side was ‘Let Me Roll It’. The single spent nine weeks on the chart, and was certified gold by the BPI on 1 April 1974.

Previous song: ‘Band On The Run’
Next song: ‘Bluebird’
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