Spin It On: Denny Laine on Wings’ ‘Back to the Egg’ at 40

A look inside the last LP from Paul McCartney’s celebrated post-Beatles band

PHOTO: Ad for Wings album, Back to the Egg

In the very early 1970s, not long after the Beatles had broken up, Paul McCartney decided he wanted to have a band again. With wife Linda, he recruited Denny Laine, a multi-instrumentalist, along with other musicians.

It’s sometimes forgotten today, but Laine already had a well-established career long before Wings. He was the original lead singer of the Moody Blues (he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his work with the band). In the earliest days of the group, the Moody Blues were an R&B-rooted band; the Birmingham band scored a hit with “Go Now,” a song that Laine would revive a decade later on the Wings Over America tour (there’s a great live version on that triple-LP set). After leaving the Moodies, Laine embarked upon a string of short-lived yet fascinating projects, eventually being called up to join McCartney.

The lineups of Wings would change over the years, with the McCartneys and Laine as the solid foundation of the band. A string of albums and singles were worldwide smashes; Laine co-wrote some of the band’s biggest hits, including “With a Little Luck” and “Mull of Kintyre.” Wings’ final LP, Back to the Egg, was in some ways a return to the harder-rocking sound of Venus and Mars-era band, though the eclectic LP had its share of mellow tunes like “Arrow Through Me.” But ultimately, the record – which received mixed reviews then and today sparks heated debate among fans – would be the last release from Wings. On the occasion of Back to the Egg‘s 40th anniversary, Denny Laine discusses Wings’ final LP and the final days of the band.

 

Back to the Egg was the first Wings album crediting anyone other than Paul as a producer; you brought Chris Thomas on board. What can you tell me about making the album?

Well, first of all, Chris Thomas is a great producer; he worked with the Pretenders and all that stuff. And also, Chris helped us with the Wings Over the World live recording [for theatrical release]. There were a few overdubs, and he helped us with that. Paul and I don’t usually get along that well with producers because we kind of do it mostly ourselves, but we got on very well with Chris. We admired him a lot.

And so, he came in and co-produced that album. Steve [Holley, drummer] and Laurence [Juber, guitarist] were people who I knew … I met Laurence and I didn’t know him well. But he’d asked me, “If you ever want a guitar player, give me a shout.” And he knew we were back down to just the three of us. And Steve Holley was a neighbor of mine who was working with Elton John and Kiki Dee at the time; he was a neighbor. He met Paul and Linda at my house one day. So, we all went down and had a little jam down at the studio and started from there, really.

Back to the Egg was done in a castle near Paul’s house down on the South Coast, and that was an interesting experience because anywhere new gives you new influences. Wherever you are, you’re going to have a different approach to the music. Working in a castle was amazing because there’s a different sound you can get. That’s important. These big, thick walls and just certain sounds.

We’d just go wherever we get influenced. That’s what we did with Band on the Run: we went to a country [Nigeria] where we loved the music; also, Ginger Baker had a studio out there.

But the idea was to take that album on the road, and that was the problem because we got busted in Japan. And that was the bad part of that whole thing. We were ready to go tour Japan, then America, and then the rest of the world. And of course, when we got busted, that effectively ended the situation. That was the end of that for a while.

 

The album itself is very varied. When it does rock, it rocks a lot harder than London Town did. Was it intentional to make an album that had more rocking songs, or was it simply a reflection of the songs that you had?

Well, Paul was trying to do stuff that was kind of simple and rocking again. Not too much of a big production. And he wanted to get that band into shape, as a live band. So a lot of the recordings were cut live. London Town, there was a lot of overdubbing done on that. But yeah, the idea was to knock that band into shape as a live band to tour the world, starting with that album. So, I think he stuck down to basic, simple, rocky type songs for that reason.

 

Do you have any interesting memories surrounding the “Rockestra” sessions?

Well, only that I knew most of the people. Yeah, I did. I knew all those people. John Bonham was a friend of mine, Ringo obviously. I knew all those people: Pete Townsend, Dave Gilmour. I knew them or had met them all at one point. So, that was one of the reasons we picked those people is because they’re people we actually knew a little bit. And it was a fun experiment, really. It could’ve gone on to other things at some point in the future. We just didn’t develop into that, but it was a fun idea; let’s put it that way. It was a simple piece of music to start with.

 

VIDEO: Paul McCartney Rockestra Documentary Special 1978

I have a bootleg recording which is probably a rough mix of a working version of Back to the Egg, and the version of “Getting Closer” on it has you singing lead. Was that the original plan?

I was probably just doing it along with the backing track or something. I don’t remember, to be honest. I’d come to [Paul] with songs and we’d all be jamming it and we’d all start singing along. I’ve done it before. Somebody told me about that and I completely forgot about it. But yeah. We’ve done a lot of experimental stuff, and a lot of it just doesn’t see the light of day.

 

I know that the Japan bust is really what ultimately ended up spelling the end of the band, but I read that your working relationship with Paul began to deteriorate somewhat during the album sessions. With the benefit of hindsight, what do you think was at the heart of that?

I was still on those other albums, Pipes of Peace and Tug of War. So I don’t know where you got that from; it didn’t really deteriorate. It was just that I was disappointed because I wanted to go on the road. That’s what it was, before that. It wasn’t our relationship, as far as me and him; we didn’t fall out or anything like that because [if we had,] I wouldn’t have done those other albums. But I was really looking forward to the tour. Because I was kind of getting tired of being in the studio all the time and not touring enough, and that was kind of a big disappointment.

 

Wings made a promotional television program with several music videos for Back to the Egg. Of course, that was 1979, almost two years ahead of MTV. You were obviously a little ahead of the curve there. Did you have the sense that you were doing something that would very soon become the standard for recording artists?

No. No idea. It’s just that video started to become very popular, and then it wasn’t all about the music, all of a sudden. It was about visuals as well. But you know, the very first Moody Blues song, “Go Now,” was actually the very first filmed, promotional song. Before The Beatles did one, yeah. And so, we were always into the visual side of things. So, when that became the norm to do, that’s what we did for that album. We just did a lot of videos. But the Beatles were doing it. Come on, they were doing it before.

Speaking of MTV, I actually went to Russia on my own to do some shows after Wings. I was there with MTV. That’s when MTV first went into Russia.

 

VIDEO: Paul McCartney & Wings — Wings Last Flight 1979 — Complete Concert

Wings did tour the UK, at least a bit, in support of Back to the Egg. There’s a really good soundboard recording of the Glasgow concert, and it’s an interesting set list. Were you pleased with how the band performed on that tour?

Oh, yeah. I think it was a great band. That’s why I was so disappointed we didn’t go to Japan because the band was starting to get really good as a live band. And Scotland … I mean, that’s a second home to us, Scotland. The work we did before was all done in Scotland; all the writing, particularly. So, anyway, we always had good Scottish support. Let’s put it that way. “Mull of Kintyre” was a huge Scottish hit. It’s like an anthem up there now.

 

In recent times, both Wildlife and Red Rose Speedway have gotten really lavish, expanded deluxe reissues. Were you consulted on any of those projects?

Not at all. But I never really got involved in any of that side of it. It was all more Linda and Paul that ran that side of things. Obviously I’d throw in a few ideas at them or whatever along the way. But when it came to remastering, I was never in on that because there’s no extra work involved except studio work, which really involved an engineer and Paul. They do all the work, and then they present it to you and say, “This is the remastered version.”

And then, Paul would be involved in the publicity side of it and the artwork and stuff like that. But generally speaking, I wouldn’t get involved in any of that.

Remastering: it’s a sign of the times. When they remastered the first Moody Blues album, the first one that I was on, it was amazing. I was very surprised at the result. You could actually hear all the instruments. How they do it is still a mystery to me, but they did a good job on that. So, that’s basically what you do, you just leave it up to the studio people to really master it.

 

With the benefit of many years of hindsight, do you think Wings had more to say? Or had it run its course by ‘80?

No, we could’ve just gone on. We were just friends, family, that kind of thing. We could’ve just carried on making an album. When you sort of take time off like that, it’s hard to get back into it. Anyway, when I decided to go off and promote one of my own albums, that was really the end of it because I had a solo album that was coming out. And it was just something to do. And then, I got busy doing that, and then Paul went on doing his own thing again. We kind of drifted apart, really. But we never fell out or anything that; none of that went down. We’re still friends.

 

Bill Kopp

Bill Kopp is a music journalist, author, historian, collector, musician. His book Reinventing Pink Floyd was published in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @the_musoscribe

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