Take 5: Paul McCartney’s ‘Red Rose Speedway’

After dominating the 1960s pop music landscape with the Beatles, Paul McCartney arguably reached his solo career’s creative peak with the release of 1973’s Band on the Run, sustaining that peak well into the future with 1975’s Venus and Mars and subsequent efforts. But although it was comparatively overlooked, the second album with his band Wings – Red Rose Speedway – hinted at the creative heights he’d soon reach. Released fifty years ago this month (April 30, 1973) just mere months before Band on the Run, it would be overshadowed by that landmark album. Red Rose Speedway included the U.S. #1 hit single “My Love,” a lush and romantic ballad, but the album explored other musical textures as well.

In fact, McCartney’s wellspring of creativity was so great at the time that he wrote and recorded quite a few songs that didn’t make the cut, and thus weren’t included on Red Rose Speedway. A couple found their way into the world a b-sides of singles. A couple more appeared decades later on subsequent CD-era deluxe reissues of the album. And at least one remained unreleased until 2018. Here are five rarities from the era that brought forth Paul McCartney and Wings’ Red Rose Speedway.

“I Lie Around” – Sessions for this song took place as early as 1970, with Paul singing and playing everything. Nearly two years later, he brought in session guitarist Hugh McCracken and Wings band mates Denny Laine, Henry McCullogh, Linda McCartney and Denny Seiwell for overdubs, and added a horn section as well. After all that effort, the tune – a strong melody and arrangement with an admittedly modest lyric – ended up as the b-side of the smash hit “Live and Let Die.” The 1993 reissue of Red Rose Speedway featured “I Lie Around” as a bonus track.

“1882” – This dramatic tune premiered as part of Wings’ live set in early 1972, and it was introduced onstage as a song set for inclusion on the band’s next album. That didn’t happen; it would remain unreleased for many years to come. A live version of the song was captured on tape when the band played Europe in August ‘72. Apparently, that was set for release, as studio overdubs were subsequently added to the recording (in a manner similar to the sweetening applied to Wings Over America). That version leaked out to collectors, and it appeared on bootleg for many years before getting a belated official release in the 21st century.

“Best Friend” – A catchy boogie-styled number featuring a lyric reputedly aimed at John Lennon, this song was recorded live in Antwerp, Belgium. The live take of “Best Friend” also received post-production, as – like “1882” it was mooted for inclusion on the McCartney rarities set Cold Cuts, an album that never appeared. The song finally got release in 2011 on an expanded reissue of Red Rose Speedway.

“The Mess” – Planned for inclusion on Red Rose Speedway when the album was still envisioned as a double LP, this rocker somehow didn’t make the cut when the record was pared down to a single record. A live recording, it demonstrates just how cohesive a band Wings had become. “The Mess” did get released at the time; it was the b-side of My Love.” The tune would be added to the ‘93 reissue of Red Rose Speedway as well as to subsequent reissues of that album.

“Tragedy” – A prolific songwriter, Paul McCartney has only occasionally recorded songs by other composers. His Сно́ва в СССР, Run Devil Run and Kisses on the Bottom albums are notable examples, as is this recording, a cover of a ballad dating from the 1950s. This studio recording of “Tragedy” was another track planned for the 2LP Red Rose Speedway but left off the final release. It circulated for decades on bootleg before receiving official release in 2018 as part of Red Rose Speedway (Archive Collection).