The Meaning Behind “Listen to What the Man Said” by Wings and the Personnel Drama that Dogged the Band

Momentum is everything in the music world. Coming off his biggest post-Beatles success with the smash album Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings needed their next single to sustain that success. “Listen to What the Man Said” provided that for them.

Videos by American Songwriter

What did the song mean? And how did Paul McCartney unlock the song’s recording with a special guest performer? Let’s take a look back at one of McCartney’s most beloved ’70s hits.

On a Great “Run”

Many rock critics had given up on McCartney ever delivering a killer album front-to-back on his own before he released Band on the Run in 1973. That album seemed like it was doomed as well when McCartney was forced to record the album with a severely truncated Wings lineup of himself, wife Linda McCartney, and Denny Laine when two other band members bailed right before the sessions.

But Macca & Co. rose to the occasion with a masterpiece of a record that restored his standing with many critics and fans. For the band’s next album, McCartney recruited guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton to fill out the Wings lineup. He decided to record the bulk of the album in New Orleans, both to be inspired by the city’s music history and to avoid the taxman.

Unfortunately, the drama that dogged Wings returned, as Britton didn’t make it through the entirety of the sessions for the album that would become Venus and Mars before he quit. Joe English came aboard to replace him, as McCartney led the band through a wide range of new material. He was particularly enthusiastic about an engagingly melodic midtempo number called “Listen to What the Man Said.”

He recorded the basic tracks for the song with Linda, Laine, McCulloch, English, and guest guitarist Dave Mason of Traffic fame. But he still felt like the song was missing something. The solution, as he remembered in the book Paul McCartney in His Own Words by Paul Gambaccini, came to him while overdubs were being done in Los Angeles:

“Someone said ‘Tom Scott lives near here.’ We said, yeah, give him a ring, see if he turns up, and he turned up within half an hour! There he was, with his sax, and he sat down in the studio playing through. The engineer was recording it. We kept all the notes he was playing casually. He came in and I said ‘I think that’s it.’ He said ‘Did you record that?’ I said yes, and we listened to it back. No one could believe it, so he went out and tried a few more, but they weren’t as good. He’d had all the feel on this early take, the first take. So we’d finished the session, we just sat around and chatted for a couple of hours. I think what he plays on that song is lovely and that, overall, it worked.”

It certainly did work. Released as a single a few weeks before Venus and Mars arrived, “Listen to What the Man Said” gave Macca his fourth No. 1 after leaving The Beatles.

The Meaning of “Listen to What the Man Said”

“Listen to What the Man Said” finds McCartney musing on the power of love. It’s not an unusual topic for him, but he makes salient points nonetheless. The song insists that having love in your corner is far preferable to the alternative, and that any manner of hardships can be borne and even overcome when you’ve secured it.

McCartney immediately takes a positive stance, insisting, That love is blind / Well, I don’t know, but I say love is kind. In the second verse, even a soldier about to depart from his love won’t buy that it’s a tragic world. It’s fun to speculate just who the Man is that we should heed. Is it a higher power? Or the artist himself? In any case, the narrator stays optimistic: And love is fine, for all we know / For all we know, our love will grow.

“Listen to What the Man Said” leaves us with the narrator marveling at the wonder of it all, baby. In the context of the song, it’s a reference to the overwhelming good feelings engendered by love. Then again, Paul McCartney fans tend to feel wonder and awe at his ability to effortlessly dash up ditties like this one that burrow into our heart and permanently lodge there.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

Leave a Reply

Justin Moore and Randy Houser Unite to Pay Tribute to the Late Great Toby Keith