This review is written by Amy Hughes
‘Words, Music and the Popular: Global Perspectives on Intermedial Relations’ (Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature, 2021) is a collection of essays disseminating ‘the popular’ as it pertains to the environment surrounding words and music and how comparing and contrasting these studies contribute to our personal interactions within those disciplines.
Specifically, in the context of this review, the focus on popular forms and pop aesthetics is the essay “Which Side Is This Ex-Beatle On? A Reassessment of the 1970s Rock Press’ Framing, Interpretation, and Consideration of Paul McCartney and Wings” by Allison Bumsted, Ph.D.
Bumsted, as with many of the new generation of Beatles scholars, has stepped back in time with the explicit intention to re-examine an argumentative skewed mindset: how did the male-dominated music clique subjugate a performer with such overwhelming force that we have to nearly re-write history today?
More to the point, Bumsted has undertaken the collective of Wings’ releases (and of course, McCartney) with the corrective reconsideration and contextualization that present times offer and also with the advantage of the band’s re-releases in the past few years, now able to move the imbalance to a more equitable position.
Intriguingly, Bumsted speaks to the “belief system” that was inherent in most rock critics’ assessments from that time period. As male writers dominated the columns of reviews in music papers and magazines, the persistent bias of this select circle had a profound and lasting influence on the readership of that generation. With McCartney and Wings portrayed as “flaccid” and “impotent,” their terminology pulled no punches with this privileged position: Wings were nothing more than a lightweight pop band whose leader – once part of a band that changed music forever – was now reduced to a Muzak elevator charlatan.
No one genre such as rock had come to fruition so quickly thru the roots of the politically-charged, counter-culture campfire known as folk and protest music. After the amplification of Dylan and the emergence of songwriters as poets, rock music became the dominant definition of’ important’ while pop was buried in the pages of teen idol zines. Wings came along, as Bumsted points out, at a fortuitous moment in the ‘70s. But where would they land?
McCartney’s standing as the breaker-upper of The Beatles was not lost on the “hyper-masculine” rock press, as Bumsted states. Many encouraged a new McCartney musical venture (such as Wings) in a backhanded way, using The Beatles as their yardstick and John Lennon in particular as the one Beatle to emerge with something meaningful and challenging to say.
It wasn’t until 1973’s ‘Band On The Run’ that Wings as a musical entity drew critical notice and acceptance, despite the continued barrage of subjective opinions from critics up to and including the venerable truth-teller Lester Bangs, whom Bumsted uses in an examination of Wings in 1976 and in particular, the oft-told perspective of whether this was Paul (and Linda) McCartney with hired musicians or an imaginary, democratic gathering known as Wings.
Bumsted, in her detailed conclusion, notes many diametric aspects in accepting Wings within a pre-defined environment, driven by the rock press. While a significant portion of the public embraced the band wholeheartedly as ‘pop’ and acknowledged that time-worn analogy that The Beatles were his ‘old’ group, reviewers and critics did in some way want McCartney to succeed apart from his old bandmates. Contemporary viewpoints do not hold the same “social and political connotations” as Bumsted points out from that timeframe, and while those critiques can still sway a reader, Wings has evolved to a place within the popular.
This essay (and book) rate
4 out of 4 beetles.