Paul McCartney and Wings’ pristine “One Hand Clapping” is a superior sonic experience


When it comes to the former Beatles and their solo output, we are living in an age of abundance. For the past several years, the archival releases have been arriving hot and heavy. And while there has been plenty to enjoy, few releases have been as intriguing as Paul McCartney and Wings’ “One Hand Clapping,” a 1974 project that has been making the rounds in the form of unauthorized bootleg releases for decades.

In its new, highly polished form, “One Hand Clapping” makes for a superior sonic experience, to be sure. Originally recorded by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the tracks sound positively pristine in this state-of-the-art, 21st century production. But the real story exists in the tracks themselves.

“One Hand Clapping” was filmed and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in August 1974. Directed by David Litchfield, the project was envisioned as a TV special. But McCartney had something far more pressing in mind. In the four years since he announced the Beatles’ disbandment, he had been carefully remaking himself. While he had scored plenty of hits during this era, battling his way back through an, at times, hostile press had been an ordeal.

During one of his last interviews, John Lennon gave his former bandmate significant props for founding Wings and transforming the band into bona fide hitmakers. “I kind of admire the way Paul started back from scratch, forming a new band and playing in small dance halls,” John remarked in 1980, “because that’s what he wanted to do with the Beatles — he wanted us to go back to the dance halls and experience that again.”

By the summer of 1974, there was little doubt that McCartney had made it happen. He had beaten the odds — not to mention the defections of several Wings members along the way — and scored a megahit with the “Band on the Run” LP. The praise was nearly universal, with Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau writing that it was “the finest record yet released by any of the four musicians who were once called the Beatles.”

But to his credit, McCartney knew that his long-simmering triumph had only just begun. To really conquer the world — to get back on top, as it were — he needed to hit the road. And no slapdash tour of dance halls and universities would do. Indeed, in many ways, “One Hand Clapping” served as McCartney’s well-produced audition for taking Wings on the road. 

And it was an audition, in many ways, that his Wings bandmates passed with flying colors. There were blemishes along the way — at one juncture, wife Linda misses her keyboard cue on “Band on the Run,” while newly minted lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch was still finding his way among McCartney’s voluminous back catalogue.

But the energy of a live show is on full display in such standout cuts as “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” and “Soily,” the song that would serve as the band’s high-octane closer during the eventual Wings Over the World tour. “One Hand Clapping” also finds McCartney auditioning several Beatles classics ranging from “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” through “Lady Madonna” and “Blackbird.” In short, the music, as “One Hand Clapping” dutifully reminds us, was fantastic.

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The proof, as always, is in the pudding. “One Hand Clapping” demonstrated — perhaps most significantly for McCartney himself — that Wings had an enormous upside. Wings Over the World commenced in September 1975, eventually spanning 65 shows and six international legs. Along the way, the band performed before nearly a million people. When the sold-out tour made its way Stateside, McCartney landed on the cover of Time, with the magazine’s headline trumpeting “McCartney Comes Back.”

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