Imaginary Streets, Purple Afternoons, Silver Rain … Wings “London Town” 40 Years On


As I’ve mentioned before, this blog is sort of an overview of my life as seen though the music I’ve collected and listened to over the years. Some of the records and the music they contain forever link me to a certain time and place and feeling.

For this post, I’m going to roll back time say about forty years or so to a time and a place in Midwest America circa 1978.

The year began with a terrible blizzard that crippled where I lived for about three weeks and also allowed me to be school free for that same amount of time.

The Bee Gees and disco were all the rage on radio, shows like “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” were huge hits on television and with my friends, “Grease” and “Superman” were tops at the movie box office and squeezed in among all of these things was the release of the sixth studio album by Wings called “London Town”.

I’ve had a soft spot for the “London Town” album since I began to spin the first vinyl copy I owned that came from a Kmart store shortly after the album was released.

Kmart was the store of choice for buying music for me in those days. Actually I had no choice, I couldn’t drive yet and my mother went there frequently.

Now the year 1978 was also a year filled with turmoil and uncertainty. My father had open heart surgery that year and unfortunately ended up passing away in January of 1979.

Music, as always for me, was a refuge from the outside world. More so that year than usual.

I was already quite familiar with the number one smash from the “London Town” album called “With a Little Luck” so I anxiously waited until I finally got a copy of the full album to examine and play.

I remember taking the inner sleeve out of the cover for “London Town” and pouring over the lyrics of the songs as they played.

McCartney albums in the 1970s tended to be filled with characters that were ordinary yet quite odd and eccentric at the same time and the “London Town” album was no exception.

Images of purple afternoons, silver rain, Cafes in Paris, traveling back in time and even the mysterious and urgent Morse Moose and the Grey Goose danced through my head as I escaped into the mist of foggy London and beyond.

It was a long album – over 48 minutes long – so I felt that it gave me time to take some sort of exotic journey through Great Britain and Europe as I listened.

I’ve always loved the folk influenced vibe of this album and the soft rock approach that McCartney applied to this collection of songs.

While some critics took swipes at McCartney for not rocking hard enough and making the album too long, for me the languid feel of the album as a whole fit the rainy London vibe of the front cover and title track to perfection.

Whenever I need to go back to that feeling of getting lost in the fog and escaping from the stresses of life, I pull the “London Town” album from the shelf and descend into the mists of time.

McCartney has approached most of his songwriting in third person, much like an author creating characters while writing a novel. You get the emotion but it’s not direct, you have to see through the eyes of the characters to piece together what’s in McCartney’s head.

As a writer myself I enjoy that aspect of his work, others don’t.

Unlike John Lennon who wrote mainly in first person and more direct emotionally, McCartney is more of a chameleon and not as easy to decipher. He creates characters to distance himself from what he’s saying but if you study his work you can see bits of his personality emerge in his songs.

I think critics, especially in the 1970s, wanted more of that direct emotion as it was more fashionable but over time I find McCartney’s music more fascinating because his work from The Beatles to now is like one gigantic novel filled with exotic characters and places and fun to explore over and over again.

And of course since 1978 I’ve acquired quite a few different versions of the “London Town” album on both vinyl and CD.

In this blog post I’ve included pictures of all the different versions I own (see above) as well as the actual People Magazine review of the album that I clipped from a copy of the magazine in the hospital waiting room where my dad was staying (I know, I know, seriously? Yes. I was twelve years old and already a pack rat, what can I say?!!)

I must say the vinyl albums above, despite their long length, sound pretty good. The CD versions are more of a mixed bag.

The original UK CD version sounds best and sounds very good. The first US version that was released sounded a bit more muted thanks to noise reduction techniques being applied. The first US CD isn’t terrible just a bit more lifeless.

The first US CD also contained a booklet that was blank inside. It was shortly fixed but I have the first issue that was blank.

I also own a later US CD issue that reverts back to the UK artwork inside and out as well as the label. The first US CD has different artwork for the inserts and label.

I also swear that this later US CD pressing sounds identical to the UK version but it may be my mind playing tricks on me. I played it the other day and I thought it sounded pretty darn good.

There are several of McCartney’s solo albums that have different artwork between first and later US issues and I will highlight some of them in future posts.

There’s are also a McCartney Collection CD issue of “London Town” (from 1993) that is a bit muffled sounding due to noise reduction but again isn’t horrible. The first UK CD issue is better and the 1999 Japanese Mini-CD issue I’ve posted photos of above shares the same mastering as the McCartney Collection CD.

Well, there you have it! A journey into my past and my “London Town” collection.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with some lyrics from “Backwards Traveller” from the “London Town” album that sum things up pretty well:

“Hey, did you know that I’m
Always going back in time
Rhyming slang, auld lang syne my dears
Through the years
I am the backwards traveller
Ancient wool unraveller
Sailing songs, wailing on the moon”  – written by Paul McCartney and recorded by Wings 1978