The song’s origins dated back to May 1977, at a time when Wings were recording London Town in the Virgin Islands. The album was recorded on board the Fair Carol, a motor yacht stationed at Watermelon Bay in St John’s in the Virgin Islands. Most of Wings lived on another boat, the Samala, while the McCartneys stayed on the El Toro.
We hired a charter boat that people use for holidays. The captain went spare when he saw all the instruments. We remodelled his boat for him, which he wasn’t too keen on. We converted his lounge into a studio and we turned another deck into a sound control room, and it was fantastic! We had a recording boat and two others we stayed on. We didn’t have any problems with salt water in the machines or sharks attacking us. At night, there was much merriment, leaping from top decks into uncharted waters and stuff. I had a couple too many one night and nearly broke something jumping from one boat to another. But then you always break yourself up on holiday. The studio worked out incredible well and the very first day we got a track down. There was a nice free feeling. We’d swim in the day and record at night.
Melody Maker, November 1977
During the sessions, three US Customs officials raided the three boats in a search for marijuana. Improbably, they failed to find any illegal substances, but Wings’ reputation was enough to prompt a letter from Peter Baker, who had arranged the boat hire, saying: ‘Please make sure that no drugs, illegal drugs or narcotics of course are taken on board or used on board any of the three yachts now on charter to you and the group. Apart from anything else, illegal actions are specifically excluded from the charter agreement and could give us valid grounds for advising the owner to conclude the charter.’
The McCartneys sought refuge on another boat, a catamaran named Wanderlust.
It’s actually a personal experience. What happened was that we were recording (we went out to the Virgin Islands to record an album called London Town) and we were on boats, in a little bay recording for a month. The captain of the boat that we were on was a little, sort of, heavier than the other captains – you know, he sort of took it a little more seriously – and at some stage we had a sort of argument with him, and I sort of said, ‘You know, we don’t need all this aggro stuff’, and we wanted to get off onto this other boat that happened to be in the harbour. These people had said we could come on this, and this boat happened to be called Wanderlust, so it became like a symbol of freedom to me, this catamaran, as it was, called Wanderlust. We only actually stayed one night on it, but it was like, after this hassling that this other fellow had given us, to get onto this boat was like freedom, you know, so the song for me is actually just carrying on the idea. You know, just head us out to sea and take us away from all these headaches, and just wanderlust kind of free.
Club Sandwich, 1982
McCartney recorded a demo of ‘Wanderlust’ at Rude Studio in Scotland in August 1980.
The final version was begun in December 1980, possibly at Genetic Studios in Streatley, England.
McCartney initially wanted George Harrison to record a guitar solo on ‘Wanderlust’. In January 1981 he visited Harrison’s Friar Park mansion in Henley-on-Thames, with Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, George Martin, and Geoff Emerick.
Upon their arrival, however, Harrison asked McCartney to record backing vocals for the John Lennon tribute ‘All Those Years Ago’. The change of plan meant that Harrison never worked on ‘Wanderlust’.
He said: ‘First I’ve got this track that I’d like you to sing harmonies on.’ We did our bit but then, what with one thing or another, he never got to do the guitar overdub in ‘Wanderlust’.
Club Sandwich, 1982
A brass overdub was instead added. It was recorded at AIR Studios in London in July 1981.
I enjoyed doing that track, and the brass ensemble was great; we did that back in England. They were fabulous, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. I think, listening to the record again recently, I didn’t use the brass ensemble enough. They could have done more; they could have been more often in the song, instead of just the solo.
Tug Of War Archive Collection, 2015
McCartney re-recorded ‘Wanderlust’ for the soundtrack of his 1984 film Give My Regards To Broad Street.
The film version featured McCartney on vocals and piano, Ringo Starr on drums, and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble reprising their earlier role.