Paul McCartney's Wings album "Red Rose Speedway" is all the richer at 50 with a loving remaster

The 50th anniversary edition of the album does justice to its emotional depth for a new generation of vinyl lovers

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published April 25, 2023 11:00AM (EDT)

Paul McCartney and Wings (Linda McCartney)
Paul McCartney and Wings (Linda McCartney)

This past March, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced that for the first time since 1987, vinyl outsold compact disc releases. In the U.S., some 41 million vinyl records were sold last year in comparison to 33 million CDs. It's an incredible resurgence, fueled largely by an increase in younger demographics having discovered and fallen in love with the vinyl experience.

Released this month in celebration of Record Store Day, Paul McCartney and Wings' "Red Rose Speedway" offers a particular case in point. Recut at half-speed by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios, the album showcases why audiophiles adore vinyl so much. Thanks to numerous technological advances, this new 50th anniversary edition of "Red Rose Speedway" offers a vast improvement over previous editions, which felt muted and constrained —particularly in its compact-disc format. 

Originally released on April 30, 1973, "Red Rose Speedway" marked a key moment in Wings' fledgling career. The band's first album "Wild Life" had been lackluster by McCartney's standards, exerting pressure on the group to deliver a bona fide hit. For Wings, the light at the end of the tunnel began to illuminate with "Hi, Hi, Hi," which landed a hard-rocking autumn 1972 hit single. And things were about to get even better. Much better. 

McCartney had originally envisioned "Red Rose Speedway" to be a double-album that would highlight the band's breadth, including vocals from Denny Laine and wife Linda. McCartney had amassed considerable material in the years since completing sessions associated with "Ram" (1971). But when it came to putting out a double-album, EMI wasn't having it. Subsequent events would prove that the label was right, setting McCartney and Wings up for a renaissance of immense proportions with the streamlined, single-record version of "Red Rose Speedway." 

The new half-speed remaster underscores the LP's crisp dynamic range, overall warmth, and instrumental power and finesse. Take "Little Lamb Dragonfly," the epic cut that closes the album's first side. The song found its genesis at the McCartneys' Scottish farm. "There was one lamb we were trying to save," Paul recalled. "The young ones get out into the weather and collapse from exposure; you find them and bring them in. We stayed up all night and had him in front of the stove, but it was too late, and he just died. So I had the happy job of clearing it up. When they go dead, they kind of go like a stuffed toy . . . these little lambs. It was very early in the morning, and no one was up, and I had my guitar there, and I couldn't really say much to this lamb. But I started, 'I have no answer for you little lamb / I can help you out / but I cannot help you in.' And it came from there. Just not being able to do anything about it was the idea of that song" (quoted from Allan Kozinn and Adrian Sinclair's "The McCartney Legacy").

The resulting song was a composition of breathtaking emotional depth. In Miles' hands, the song enjoys an even richer sonic range. The same could be said for "My Love," the chart-topping single that would pilot "Red Rose Speedway's" course. The wistful romantic ballad was punctuated by a heartfelt guitar solo. McCartney had been ready to record it himself when Henry McCullough stepped up with an idea of his own. "He played the solo on 'My Love,' which came right out of the blue," McCartney recalled in a 2010 interview. For McCullough, the "My Love" solo was "a stroke of luck, a gift from God really, and you get that in music."

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Soaring on the wings of the "My Love" single, "Red Rose Speedway" scored a No. 1 hit. It's difficult to imagine a higher-priced double-album accomplishing the same feat. That summer, the non-album single "Live and Let Die" also made its way to the upper echelons of the American charts. In Rolling Stone, Lenny Kaye wrote, "I find 'Red Rose Speedway' to be the most overall heartening product McCartney has given us since the demise of the Beatles. After much experimentation with how best to present himself, Paul has apparently begun a process of settling down, of working within a band framework that looks to remain stable for at least the next vehicular period."

As he concluded his review, Kaye couldn't help making a reference to "A Hard Day's Night": "As for the particulars of this latest album, suffice it to say that Paul's grandfather would've liked it. It is, after all, very clean." In its own way, the half-speed edition of "Red Rose Speedway" is not only very clean, but yields new sonic textures for a new generation of vinyl-loving listeners.

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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Beatles Music Paul Mccartney Record Store Day Red Rose Speedway Review Wings