Make It Better: “Venus and Mars”


Venus and Mars by Wings came out in May 1975. At that time, each of the four Beatles was very active, but each was on a separate journey. John Lennon had released his Rock ‘n’ Roll album that February. Rock ‘n’ Roll was all covers of songs he had grown up with and sung in the Cavern and Hamburg. It sounded like a benediction, and it almost was one. He didn’t release another record for five years. George Harrison had released Dark Horse the previous December, which was followed by a tour of the U.S. that didn’t go well because of vocal cord troubles. Ringo Starr had released Goodnight Vienna the previous November. Even though Lennon wrote the title track, it was okay but not as good as Ringo’s previous album, Ringo.

In 1975, Paul was doing quite well. He had recorded some low-key albums such as McCartney. But with the Band on the Run album the previous year, he was starting to ramp things up. Band on the Run had done well both critically and commercially (and John even liked it). He had done some unannounced gigs in college towns around England, but he had not been on a major tour since the Beatles’ 1966 tours. However, he hadn’t played many, if any, Beatles songs at the English university gigs and he didn’t want to make Beatles songs a prime focus of upcoming tours. But he needed more songs for a great stage show. In particular, he needed more hits.

McCartney crafted Venus and Mars with the basic template used for Band on the Run (which happened to share its structure with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). The template consisted of a theme song, a reprise of the theme song, and the general idea of a concept that was never really all that conceptualized. In the case of Venus and Mars, the concept was presumably the interactions of men and women. The album has a consistent sound, but it’s no more thematically consistent than Sgt. Pepper, which isn’t saying much.

Paul and Linda never intended to be John and Yoko. Johnandyoko were an abstract concept—as abstract as Yoko’s art (which I happen to like). Their records together, such as “Double Fantasy,” were not a blend of the two, but were John responding to Yoko’s thoughts and Yoko responding to John’s thoughts. Wings’ songs have something that Beatles records never had, and Paul McCartney post-Wings solo records never had. It was that harmonious blend of Paul’s, Linda’s and Denny Laine’s voices. You can hear it in “Listen to What the Man Said.” That sweet pop song was perfect for 1975, which was a pure pop/AM radio year. You could hear that pure pop sound in 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” (released in 1975), the Raspberries “Go All the Way,” (released in 1972), and “Love Grows” by Edison Lighthouse (released in 1970). There was a whole generation who grew up in the 1970s, missed out on the Beatles, and grew up on AM Top Forty songs.

I believe that it was this generation that McCartney set out to conquer with Venus and Mars, and the massive Wings Over America tour. Wings Over America was planned almost like a WW II invasion. This generation was 10 and still going out for recess when the Beatles broke up. Wings, Monty Python, and every great Top 40 song of the ’70s were ours and ours alone. You can keep your Donovan.

The Venus and Mars album is filled with excellent rock songs and lovely ballads. What’s a better way to open a rock show than with “Venus and Mars/Rock Show”? And he did. “Love in Song” is a haunting ballad. I don’t know what the words to it are. If you can write a melody that lovely, I would say you have the right to use any cliched lyrics you like. People will hum it anyway.  “You Gave Me the Answer” is this albums “Honey Pie.” But much better than “Honey Pie.” “Letting Go” is this album’s “Let Me Roll It.” It’s got that Lennon guitar sound to it. “Medicin Jar” is a hard-rocking song that Paul gave to Jimmy McCulloch to sing. And McCulloch still didn’t learn. He left the band and died a few years later from an overdose.

“Call Me Again” is a killer song. McCartney is a great mimic, but I’m not sure who he is emulating here. It’s not his Fats Domino voice (which you can hear on “Lady Madonna,” or his Elvis, or his Little Richard voice. Maybe it’s something he picked up in New Orleans where he recorded this album and hung out with Professor Longhair.

You can’t fault Paul McCartney for not being John Lennon, although people seemed to for years and years and years. And you can’t blame 14-year-old kids for liking what they hear on the radio. If it were 1975 again and I was 14 and was going to a Wings concert, you can bet that I would like to hear “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Sure, I’ve listened to John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” a million times and loved it. But when I go to a rock concert, I want to hear a rocking song like “Letting Go,” not “My Mummy’s Dead.” (That’s probably not a fair comparison, but, anyway.)

The album ends with “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People,” with another lovely melody. The very last piece is “Crossroads,” which was the theme song to an English television show.

This album comes with two posters, two gummed decals, a flashy inner cover, etc. Just like “Sgt. Pepper”! So “put your wig on straight, don’t be late, we got a date.”, put this record on, forget about climate change for forty minutes, and be fourteen again.

Make It Better: “Venus and Mars”