The song which closed the first side of Wings’ 1973 album Band On The Run, ‘Let Me Roll It’ was interpreted by many as an echo of the stripped-down production of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album and Lennon’s single ‘Cold Turkey’.
I still don’t think it sounds like him [John Lennon], but that’s your opinion. I can dig it if it sounds that way to you.
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini
By 2021 McCartney was more willing to admit the similarities to his former bandmate.
Bog echo. We always called it bog echo because it’s like the echo in a toilet, known to us as a ‘bog’. We’d shout up to the control room, ‘Can we have the bog echo, please?’ And they would ask, ‘Do you want it at 7.5 inches per second or 15 inches per second?’ We would say, ‘We don’t know. Play them both.’ The echo was on tape in those days. Short bog echo, long bog echo. It was very Gene Vincent. Very Elvis.
John loved this tape echo and used it more than any of us, so it became a signature sound on his solo records. I’m acknowledging that by using it here. I remember first singing ‘Let Me Roll It’ and thinking, ‘Yeah, this is very like a John song.’ It’s in John’s area of vocalisation, needless to say, but the most Lennon-esque thing is the echo.
The single most significant element in this song is not the echo, though. It’s not the vocalisation. It’s not the lyrics. It’s the guitar roff. The word that comes to mind is ‘searing’. It’s a searing little thing. We can talk about lyrics till the cows come home, but a good riff is a rare beauty. This one is so dramatic that people in the audience gasp when they hear it. Because it stops so abruptly, it feels like everything freezes. Time freezes.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
The titular phrase was, like the central refrain of the song ‘Band On The Run’, inspired by a quotation of George Harrison. “Let me roll it to you” was a line in I’d Have You Anytime, the opening track on his 1970 album All Things Must Pass.
‘Let Me Roll It’ was written by McCartney at High Park Farm in Scotland. Although the song’s similarities to Lennon’s debut solo album were said to be coincidental, the use of echo, heavy bass and stinging lead guitar made such comparisons inevitable.
‘Let Me Roll It’ was not really a Lennon pastiche, although my use of tape echo did sound more like John than me. But tape echo was not John’s exclusive territory! And you have to remember that, despite the myth, there was a lot of commonality between us in the way that we thought and the way that we worked.
Perhaps unwittingly, Lennon’s 1974 song ‘Beef Jerky’, on the Walls And Bridges album, contained a guitar riff which bore a resemblance to ‘Let Me Roll It’.
A song like ‘Let Me Roll It’ came about by playing around with a little riff; if I’m lucky the rest of the song just comes to me.
‘Let Me Roll It’ was the b-side of the ‘Jet’ single in early 1974. The release was a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic.
The song was regularly performed live by Wings in their 1975-76 concerts, and was included on the 1976 album Wings Over America.
‘Let Me Roll It’ returned to McCartney’s setlist from his 1993 world tour onwards. It has frequently appeared in concert recordings, and on the albums Paul Is Live, Back In The US, Back In The World, and Good Evening New York City.
I think it’s fair to say that to ‘roll it’ has to do with rolling a joint. I don’t think that’s going to come as a surprise to anyone. There was a lot of post-smoking in an audience, back in the day when smoking was still allowed in venues. When I play now, I sometimes wonder whether the audience isn’t a bit prudish. Then I smell marijuana and I think, ‘Well, that’s alright. That smells good.’ That probably happens more at festivals, though. It’s probably easier not to get caught by security.
‘Let Me Roll It’ is a love song at its heart. The other, erotic, sense of rolling that is part and parcel of rock and roll is very much part of it. The image of ‘My heart is like a wheel’ so ‘Let me roll it to you’ is one that anyone can connect with. Anyone can understand how exposed you feel when you offer your heart to, or reveal your affections for, another person. It’s very difficult
The hesitation we feel in that situation – of wanting to reach out but being reluctant to be completely open – is made physical in the abrupt starting and stopping of the riff. The constant cutting short of the momentum of the song mimes the subject matter. We all relate to that situation.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
It’s hard to believe that this isn’t a parody of – or tribute to – Lennon’s Plastic Ono sound. It’s a great track, and a testament to Paul’s musical versatility and ability to nail almost any style. BTW “I’d Have You Anytime” was George Harrison setting Dylan’s words to music, so the phrase in question is Bobby’s.
Funny, I always thought of this song as an answer to Lennon’s How Do You Sleep. I just looked this up and was surprised to see that is not the common interpretation, or even a very logical one. Looking at the lyrics today, there’s nothing in them to justify thinking it’s about John, or even about reconciliation or transcending bitterness in general. But to me, at least when I first heard them, these songs encapsulated their personalities: John unafraid to confront harsh realities head on, Paul advocating a softer, more forgiving and accommodating approach. In retrospect, I guess I was just reflecting on the two songs in my own musings and decided one was an answer to the other, which maybe they are in some abstract sense, i.e. forgiveness vs anger, and internalized my private musings so much I came to think of this pairing literally rather than metaphorically. I still like to think of Paul reaching out to John, trying to remind him of all the good things they had shared, and that while there were hard feelings they could rise above them. I do believe they both felt that way in the long run.
Aside from John Lennon’s stinging guitar style, how about that trademark Lennon-esque voice wail at the very end of the song? Also, the keyboard part sounds reminiscent of “Mr. Moonlight” from The Beatles ’65 album, in which John sang lead. C’mon, Paulie, don’t tell us this wasn’t a conscious tribute to John Lennon.
I’m at work, crunching numbers while streaming music. I hear John in the background and look up to see what song it is. Wings. Hm. Did John sing on Paul’s album? So I read all the comments, including those of Paul’s. Sure, he doesn’t think it sounds like John. OK then.
Clearly it’s a take on John. There is another song that’s a take on George. The guitar riff,keyboard and echo drench vocals,very John. Even the line “you gave me loving in the palm of my hand” was acknowledging that older John introduced him to masterbation. I believe during the recording they were not talking to each other. The Band on the Run album is a take on Sargent Pepper. Even the crescendo at the end.
Forget the style, I’m still floored by how identical John, Paul and George, yes George too, can sound. I mean we’ve all heard I Dig Love right? It’s eerie and impressive how they channel each other even on separate records. And don’t even get me started on their harmonies on Beatle tracks. You can barely discern one voice from the other.