Denny Laine — Fab, one time removed? — will forever be the other guy in Wings, the Paul McCartney-led 1970s successor band to the Beatles.
Even if that belies Laine’s important earlier contributions to the Moody Blues (“Go Now,” a Wings concert staple), his occasional takeout moment with Paul’s band (in particular on 1978’s London Town), a batch of interesting songs that never made those Wings projects, and his own (admittedly sporadic) solo efforts.
That got your pals over at Something Else! Reviews to thinking: What if Denny Laine had put out an album as the leader of Wings? Here’s our burn-ready remix of songs, each with Laine on lead vocals, from the band’s heyday …
1. “SILVER,” solo (JAPANESE TEARS, 1980): A frothy rocker to start things, “Silver” laments a wayward lovely who Laine can’t completely tame. Features a delicious little horn signature and drummer Steve Holly, who was in the final incarnation of Wings — as well as the subsequent Denny Laine Band.
2. “THE NOTE YOU NEVER WROTE,” with Wings (WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, 1976): This first-rate mid-tempo McCartney piece, featuring a thoughtful guitar solo by Jimmy McCulloch, may be the best song on an uneven release. “Note” occupied the same spot on Speed of Sound, sequenced at No. 2 after the chart-topping trifle “Let ‘Em In.”
3. “LOVERS LIGHT,” solo (1980): A friendly, flute-driven ballad, “Light” sounds something like an undiscovered classic by Squeeze — and it’s the perfect vehicle for this lost voice of the original British Invasion. Featured on a number of compilations, including 1984’s In Flight, issued again a few years back and credited to Laine “with Paul McCartney and friends.”
4. “NO WORDS,” with Wings (BAND ON THE RUN, 1973): The first official collaboration between Laine and McCartney, “No Words” — this uplifting meditation on wordlessly loving someone — was an unfinished song brought along by Laine.
5. “WEEP FOR LOVE,” with Wings (from the 1979 sessions for BACK TO THE EGG): “Weep” has an acoustic, Celtic feel in keeping with Laine’s work around this time, notable on “Mull of Kintyre.” McCartney plays bass on the tune, which also includes guitarist Laurence Juber, Linda and Holly. Appears on various compilations over the years, including on one 1985 album as the title track.
6. “SPIRITS OF ANCIENT EGYPT,” with Wings (VENUS AND MARS, 1975): McCartney provides the counterpoint vocal on this mid-1970s, middle-of-the-road rocker. Paul doesn’t do much with the lyric, but the band is in fine musical form on the follow up to Wings’ smash-hit Band on the Run.
7. “I LIE AROUND,” with Wings (from the 1972 sessions for RED ROSE SPEEDWAY): A fun record about doing nothing — perhaps in the quiet aftermath of the Beatles breakup? — “I Lie Around” later appeared as a B-side on the Wings’ James Bond theme in 1973, “Live and Let Die.”
8. “DELIVER YOUR CHILDREN,” with Wings (LONDON TOWN, 1978; also a B-side): Recording as a trio with Paul and Linda, Laine offers a jangly, common-sense little folk tune.
9. “SAY YOU DON’T MIND,” solo (JAPANESE TEARS, 1980): An almost over-the-top modernization — complete with synths — of a 1960s-era Laine song. Originally performed with the ELO-ish sounding Electric String Band, “Say” became a British hit in 1972 for Colin Blunstone of Zombies fame.
10. “SOMEBODY OUGHT TO KNOW THE WAY,” solo (1980): Bookended by orchestral movements, “Somebody” boasts a skipping, guitar-oriented pop confection sandwiched in between. This song offers an even clearer link to ELO, perhaps fitting since Laine’s first band Denny and the Diplomats included drummer Bev Bevan — who later co-founded Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne.
11. “RICHARD CORY,” with Wings (WINGS OVER AMERICA, 1976): This dark, driving folk tune about misconceptions: A man to the manor born, one whom everyone envies, is nevertheless so unhappy that he commits suicide. Written by Paul Simon, and based on a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson, Laine at one point switched things up by replacing the main character’s name here with the then-hitmaking John Denver, to uproarious applause.
12. “TIME TO HIDE,” with Wings (WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, 1976): Easily Laine’s most muscular contribution to Wings, “Time” is marked by a heavy blues interplay of both guitar and harmonica with McCartney’s walking bass line. Sounds something like Beatles-meets-Cream.
13: “PICASSO’S LAST WORDS,” with Wings (BAND ON THE RUN, 1973): Laine begins this tune with a straight face, offering a stoic lyric — “the grand old painter died last night” — only to see it dissolve into a raucous funeral party: “Drink to me, drink to my health; you know I can’t drink anymore …” The tune features additional shaker work by legendary rock drummer Ginger Baker, with whom Laine worked in 1970 as part of the former Cream drummer’s Air Force.
14. “I WOULD ONLY SMILE,” with Wings (from 1972 Wings sessions for RED ROSE SPEEDWAY): Overtly influenced by the Rubber Soul-period Beatles, this country-pop tune features a Lennon-ish meloncholy. McCartney appears on bass as well as Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, Linda and drummer Denny Seiwell.
15. “CLOCK ON THE WALL,” solo (JAPANESE TEARS, 1980): Featuring an appropriately tick-tocking beat, the devastating “Clock” is a spare, lonely reminder of the promise Laine’s career still held even after the dissolution of Wings.
16. “GO NOW,” with Wings (WINGS OVER AMERICA, 1976): A million-selling ballad for Laine and the Moody Blues in the 1960s, before Justin Hayward’s arrival led to a more adventurous turn for the band. Originally recorded in 1964 by Bessie Banks, and produced by R&B legends Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
17. “AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN,” with Wings (BACK TO THE EGG, 1979): A desperate retort from a man losing control of his relationship — and not for the first time, thus the title. From the final studio album by Wings, Laine’s rocker (recorded with McCartney, Juber, Linda and Holly) closes things out.
Other notable Beatles-ish collaborations: Along with McCartney, Laine cowrote the title track to the Wings’ long-player London Town, as well as the aforementioned “Mull of Kintyre,” the biggest-selling non-charity album ever in England; sang and played on a number of Beatles covers on late-1970s Wings tours; appeared on McCartney’s early 1980s collaborations with Fab producer George Martin, Tug of War and Pipes of Peace; and also sang backup with Paul and Linda McCartney on George Harrison’s tribute to John Lennon, “All Those Years Ago.”
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