Forty years ago, Paul McCartney released one of the heaviest, hardest-rocking albums of his career, 1979's Back to the Egg. Please note that we're not talking about "heavy" as in Motörhead, Judas Priest or Van Halen, all of whom also released albums that year. We're talkin' heavy as defined by the guy who wrote "The Fool on the Hill," "My Love," "You Gave Me the Answer" and "Warm and Beautiful."
Of course, McCartney also wrote "Helter Skelter," "The End," "Hi, Hi, Hi" and "Soily" — and Back to the Egg relies heavily on that side of his personality.
Album tracks "Old Siam, Sir," "To You" and "So Glad to See You Here" set the disc's tight, overdriven tone, making it obvious that McCartney had been listening to some punk and new wave during his downtime. The singles "Getting Closer" and "Arrow Through Me" got some decent FM airplay, and "Rockestra Theme" — a thunderous instrumental featuring John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Pete Townshend and David Gilmour (check out the video at the bottom of this story) — earned McCartney a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
But "Spin It On," an unassuming little tune that clocks in at 2:13, is one of Back to the Egg's hidden gems. It features some superlative playing by Wings' two newest members, drummer Steve Holley and guitarist Laurence Juber, who's now considered an acoustic fingerstyle master (probably because he is). In fact, the song's way-too-brief guitar solo represents Juber's shreddingest (new word!) moment as a member of Wings. Sure, the album does include a few "soft" tunes, including "Baby's Request," "We're Open Tonight" and the "Winter Rose"/"Love Awake" medley, but Back to the Egg still makes 1978's London Town sound like, well, soft rock.
Although Back to the Egg cracked Billboard's Top 10 in 1979, it took a beating from critics. Big-shot reviewer Robert Christgau gave it a "C," and Allmusic won't budge on its two-star rating. It's all a bit incongruous, really, since many serious McCartney fans (including GW editor Damian Fanelli) consider it their favorite Macca album. I mean, just check the album's user ratings on Allmusic.
When Wings — which also featured keyboardist Linda McCartney and guitarist Denny Laine — traveled to Tokyo for a quick Japanese tour in January 1980, McCartney got busted at the airport for possession of marijuana and even spent a few nights in jail. The incident is usually connected to the demise of Wings. McCartney's next album, 1980's McCartney II, was released under his own name — and it's been that way ever since.
This spring, while chatting to Juber about his latest album, the fascinating Touchstones: The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar World writer Mark McStea took a few minutes to ask him about Back to the Egg. You can read his quick Q&A below.
Back to the Egg is probably the hardest-rocking Wings album. Was that McCartney's goal, or did he pretty much let you do what you wanted to do?
It was a combination of a number of factors. He’d been writing stuff that had more of an edge to it, and coming off the London Town album, which was kind of soft, there was a punk edge in the air. Producer Chris Thomas had done the Sex Pistols and was on the way to doing the Pretenders.
How did the band's new lineup affect the songwriting or recording process?
Steve Holley was the first full-time Wings drummer who was English — a big backbeat drummer. That changed the texture somewhat. Also, McCartney had signed with Columbia in America and the push was to do a more rock-oriented record. “Spin It On” and “To You” were the first batch of songs, and that gave it a kind of kick, a garage-band drive.
What are your memories of recording that album, and what do you think of it 40 years later?
I do still listen to it and it always surprises me, as I always think it still sounds fresh. It’s very polished and produced, but it has a real drive to it. Recording in McCartney’s barn definitely added a raw flavor. There's something basic about it. I think it’s aged quite well. Things like “Arrow Through Me” that were kind of quirky proved to be enduring.
Whenever you read something about Back to the Egg, the words "fan favorite" usually pop up somewhere in the story.
Back to the Egg definitely has a fan base, particularly in the States — and it wasn’t a singles-driven album, either.