Behind the Nearly Lost Song “Band On The Run” by Paul McCartney & Wings

You never know what one thing will inspire a song. Similarly, you never know what many things will comprise a song after its initial spark. For evidence of both, look no further than “Band On The Run” from the Paul McCartney-led band Wings.

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Released in April of 1974, “Band On The Run” was one of Wings’ best-selling songs, marking a bit of triumph for McCartney post-the Beatles. But what is the story of the song? How did it get made and what is the meaning—or meanings—behind it?

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George Harrison

While John Lennon gets the reputation as the most cerebral Beatle, it may have been George Harrison who was most in touch with the world and his surroundings. In that way, it was something Harrison said to McCartney during some business meetings that lit the fuse for this Wings song.

Even before the song was released, McCartney talked about its inspirations, saying the track and McCartney’s choice to place it first on the Wings album of the same name came from a sense of mundane exhaustion.

Speaking to Paul Gambaccini for the book, Paul McCartney: In His Own Words, the former Mop Top said of the song, “[George] was saying that we were all prisoners in some way [due to the ongoing problems with their company Apple] … I thought it would be a nice way to start an album.”

Drugs

Listening to “Band On The Run” in its five-minute-plus entirety and one thing is very clear: the song is comprised of several parts. There’s the slow, dreamy, meandering opening. Then it turns into a harder, more rocking song. That is then followed by acoustic guitars. It’s the product of McCartney’s abilities as a songwriter and a musician. He can transport us while transporting us.

But within the many sonic changes, there are also lyrical shifts. Speaking in the 1976 book, McCartney said of the song’s inspirations and meanings, “It’s a million things … all put together. Band on the run—escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it, it’s there.”

And some of those things, he later admitted, were drugs, police, and jail. McCartney talked about weed and other drugs, for which artists like him, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin were getting arrested. “We were being outlawed for pot … And our argument on [‘Band on the Run’] was ‘Don’t put us on the wrong side … We’re not criminals, we don’t want to be,” said the former Beatle, according to the 2003 book, Band on the Run: A History of Paul McCartney and Wings. “So I just made up a story about people breaking out of prison.'”

Nigeria

The forlorn quality of the song, especially its opening minute and even the opening line, Stuck inside these four walls, may also have to do with Wings’ bad luck in Nigeria. When the band landed in Lagos to record their album, the song’s demos were stolen. Indeed, McCartney and company were robbed of them at knifepoint.

This may have left a dejected McCartney feeling stuck and angry. They had to go back and remember the songs as best they could without recorded references. Nevertheless, the song ended up being a hit, selling over a million copies and becoming one of Wings’ signature songs. Maybe a little bad luck turned into a lot of good luck. Still, it was tough at the moment.

If I ever get out of here
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get outta here
If we ever get outta of here

“It was stuff that would be worth a bit on eBay these days, you know? But no, we figured the guys who mugged us wouldn’t even be remotely interested,” said McCartney in 2010 of the robbery. “If they’d known, they could have just held on to them and made themselves a little fortune. But they didn’t know, and we reckoned they’d probably record over them.

Final Thoughts

In the end, “Band On The Run” became one of five No. 1 songs for Wings and one of its best remembered today. Even Lennon praised it. And in 2022, just a week after turning 80 years old, McCartney performed the song with Dave Grohl at the Glastonbury Festival.

The track, still with long legs, remains running.

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

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