Denny Laine: A Wings Fan’s Appreciation

Denny Laine: A Wings Fan’s Appreciation

Denny Laine with Paul and Linda McCartney in Wings.

“Wings Over the World.”

That was the proclamation I quite thoughtfully had inscribed beneath my high school graduation yearbook photo. Because “Wings Over America” seemed a bit understated for how I truly felt about that band during those musically formative years.

“Wings Over America,” the classic live album from Wings’ 1976 tour, was released midway through my freshman year of high school, and when I graduated in June 1980, it was “Coming Up” — specifically the “Live at Glasgow” version — that sat atop the chart.

And, yes, I know that, however sincere Paul McCartney was about presenting Wings as a true democracy, that never would — and never could — come to pass.

A Linda McCartney shot of Paul and Denny Laine. (MPL)

Indeed, much has been written in the pages of Beatlefan about whether Wings should be considered for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in addition to Paul having been honored on his own for his solo — or, to be more accurate, “post-Beatles” — work.

Valid arguments can be made both for and against such a nod. And, I’ve got to confess, I think inducting Wings would be akin to inducting the Plastic Ono Band. Because membership in the group featured quite a revolving door during its tenure, except for Paul and Linda.

And Denny, of course.

Denny Laine was there from Wings’ 1971 debut, the much maligned “Wild Life” album, and was a mainstay of the group through the very important stepping-stone “Red Rose Speedway” album and the triumphant “Band on the Run.”

Denny in 1974.

(I found it quite poignant that Denny passed away on the exact 50th anniversary of that album’s release in America.)

It’s worth noting that, for that landmark album, Wings had been reduced to a trio, as two other members of the earliest touring lineup (guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell) had flown the coop shortly before the recording sessions began.

So “Band on the Run” was just Paul, Linda and Denny.

There followed a brief (but relatively successful) stint with drummer Geoff Britton joining the band, along with whiz-kid guitarist Jimmy McColloch. That version of Wings recorded the single “Junior’s Farm” and a few tracks for the album “Venus and Mars.”

Onstage with Wings.

Then Britton left and drummer Joe English was brought in to join the McCartneys, Laine and McCulloch in what many consider the quintessential Wings lineup.

Performing a set list anchored by tracks from the two most recent albums and the brand-new “Wings at the Speed of Sound” LP, this is the ensemble that set the standard for mid-’70s arena rock.

The resulting triple-disc live album from the tour topped the Billboard charts, and gave birth to a live single of Paul’s early solo classic “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

The follow-up album, “London Town,” found Wings in transition once again, with McCulloch and English taking wing, a point emphasized by the cover photo, which showed only Paul, Linda and Denny.

Just Paul, Linda and Denny on the cover of “London Town.”

Guitarist Laurence Juber and drummer Steve Holley were recruited for what would be Wings’ final album, 1979’s “Back to the Egg.”

With 1980 bookended by a McCartney stint in a Japanese prison in January and the unspeakable event that would follow that December, the end was nigh for Wings.

But it was Denny Laine who was there for the band’s entire run, and he even appeared on McCartney’s first post-Wings release, the classic “Tug of War.”

Beyond the albums cited above — and the 1972-73, 1975-76 and 1979 tours — the run of singles during this period is mindblowing: “My Love,” “Live and Let Die,” “Helen Wheels,” “Jet,” “Band on the Run,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Let ’Em In,” “With a Little Luck,” “Goodnight Tonight,” “Coming Up”  …

A Henry Diltz shot of Denny released after his death. (MPL)

Oh, and a little Scottish waltz, released smack in the middle of the punk and disco eras, called “Mull of Kintyre,” which went on to become the biggest-selling single ever in the U.K. at that time, besting one of McCartney’s efforts with his previous band.

Denny co-wrote “Mull,” too.

Along the way, Denny also was on the 1974 “McGear” album released by McCartney’s brother Michael, and Laine’s own “Holly Days,” the latter featuring only three musicians …. Denny, Paul and Linda. (Both of the latter two releases are well worth seeking out.)

It was an honor and privilege to meet Denny at many concerts and Beatles fests through the years. Beyond his formidable vocal and instrumental talents, he remained gracious when meeting fans to talk about his career before, during and after his tenure with Wings.

Denny Laine performing in Maine in 2015. (Al Conti)

It was quite gratifying that, even without Wings, Laine finally was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 as an original member of the Moody Blues.

One of my favorite musical memories of Denny can be seen in the Wings concert movie “Rockshow,” filmed during the 1976 American tour. It’s when Denny revisits his days with the Moodies, taking the lead on “Go Now,” a song that had topped the U.K. charts in 1965.

The 1976 outing was where McCartney himself finally embraced the idea of doing Beatles songs in concert, so it was cool that the tour featured Denny out front doing his earliest hit, with Paul and Linda handling the background vocals, McCulloch playing a brilliant solo, and the horn section in top form.

It’s as good a document of Wings — as a true band — as one can find.

Paul was right. Wings was “a shit-hot rock ’n’ roll band.”

Thanks, Denny.

Tom Frangione

You can find more about Denny Laine in Beatlefan #265.