In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Paul McCartney & Wings – “My Love”
HIT #1: June 2, 1973
STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks
In his book Dreaming The Beatles, the great Rob Sheffield points out a fun postscript to the story of the biggest, most important, most iconic band of all time: Pretty soon after the Beatles dissolved, both Paul McCartney and John Lennon started bands with their wives. Sheffield has a great line about how you can’t really picture Mick Jagger and Keith Richards doing the same thing. But the Beatles had already become more famous than any human being should ever really be, and so that decision, from both Lennon and McCartney, makes a lot of sense. Those two bands were wildly different, but neither Lennon nor McCartney really had anything left to prove. So they both chased their own versions of domestic bliss, and both of those versions involved making music with their wives.
Linda McCartney famously had no musical experience before she married Paul; she’d been a photographer. But Paul and Linda had made Ram together, and that had yielded a #1 single in “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Paul liked the idea of being in a band with Linda because he didn’t like the idea of touring without her. The name “Wings” came to Paul while he was in the hospital in 1971, waiting for Linda to give birth to their daughter Stella. It was a difficult birth, and Linda and Stella had both come close to dying. While Paul prayed, he imagined wings, and he decided that would be the name of the new band.
Paul recruited the former Moody Blues multi-instrumentalist Denny Laine, an old friend, and the band immediately set about recording their debut album, 1971’s Wild Life. They wrote and recorded quickly, only including first takes on the record. But the album was a critical and commercial failure, and it led to some soul-searching. Wings toured UK college campuses, playing unannounced shows and pointedly refusing to play any Beatles songs. They released one-off singles, some serious (“Give Ireland Back To The Irish”) and some not (“Mary Had A Little Lamb”). And eventually, they recorded 1973’s Red Rose Speedway.
Red Rose Speedway is, very clearly, the work of a band still figuring out its identity. After endless weed-fueled studio jam sessions, producer Glyn Johns, who didn’t get along well with McCartney, quit the record, leaving McCartney to produce it himself. McCartney wanted to make it a double album, but the label didn’t think he had the songs, so they vetoed that plan. And the final product does suffer from a lot of McCartney’s excesses — the whimsy, the overbearing cutesiness, the general lack of urgency. But it also has “My Love,” which turned out to be one of the year’s biggest hits.
“My Love” is a curious little number. McCartney obviously wrote it about Linda, and she got a co-writing credit. I’ve always wondered how it would feel to sing backup on this song that’s clearly about you — whether it would be heart-filling or embarrassing or some combination of the two. There’s no real structure to the song. Instead, it’s a moony, meandering collection of sweet nothings, some of which could’ve used a rewrite: “When the cupboard’s bare, I’ll still find something there with my love.” But McCartney still recorded the thing with a 50-piece orchestra in Abbey Road.
“My Love” does have a sense of majesty, almost despite itself. It chugs and twinkles with the slow confidence of an old torch song, while the orchestra, arranged by McCartney’s old Beatles collaborator George Martin, swells and contracts. Wings guitarist Henry McCollough, late of Spooky Tooth and the Grease Band, plays a nicely twangy solo. (He improvised it on the spot because he didn’t like the solo that McCartney had written for him, and McCartney ended up loving what he did with it. Later in 1973, McCollough would end up quitting Wings the day they were supposed to go to Nigeria to record Band On The Run.)
So “My Love,” like a lot of McCartney songs, is a pretty and fluffy and sincere and meaningless thing — a song that would probably work as a prom ballad if it had the discipline to hit the big prom-ballad moments. It’s nice enough, and I’ll never understand, beyond simple name recognition, how it was as big as it was.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cover of “My Love” that Isaac Hayes (who has already been in this column) and Dionne Warwick (who will eventually be in this column) included on the 1977 live-duets album A Man And A Woman: