My favorite 100 albums of all time: #47 ("Wings Over America")
Wings live album Wings Over America is another one of those albums that I pretty much wore out the cassette tape. Thank goodness for CDs and being able to play something hundreds of times without wearing out the media!
As a rule, I'm not a big consumer of live albums, but I'll make a big exception for Wings Over America. I don't recall what year I first picked this one up, but I was somewhere in my mid-teens and still massively obsessed with The Beatles and their solo careers. Paul McCartney and John Lennon in particular.
Wings Over America had the virtue of having a boatload of songs that I loved, as well as (in my opinion) superior versions in many cases to the studio recordings.
For example, consider the opening track "Venus and Mars (Medley)", which is originally off Venus and Mars. The live version has a lot more heart and energy compared to the tracks off the original album. They're great songs on the original album, but they just have much more fire here.
Another fine example is "Maybe I'm Amazed," which is one of my favorite McCartney tunes. The original off McCartney is quite good, but the live version has a lot more oomph to it. Maybe I'm biased because the original was never released as a single, and I am just more familiar with the live take. Or perhaps it's because the guitar bits on the live version are longer and unrestrained, or because McCartney's vocals are less polished but more earnest. It could be all those things.
At 28 tracks, Wings Over America has a pretty good sampling of McCartney's solo career, work with Wings, and a handful of Beatles tunes that were largely McCartney's handiwork. The Beatles touring career was largely over by the time "Blackbird," "Lady Madonna," or "Long and Winding Road" were recorded. Hearing them performed live is a treat.
When I first picked up Wings Over America, McCartney wasn't touring regularly and it wasn't entirely clear if he'd do a major tour again. As luck would have it, he did a major tour in 1989 for Flowers in the Dirt, and I managed to catch him in Chicago on the second night of his stay there. I took the train from St. Louis, as I didn't have a reliable car at the time, and listened to Wings Over America over and over again before the show. To this day it's still one of the best live shows I've ever seen, and if I'd been any more excited I probably would have spontaneously combusted.
Even so, I still prefer Wings Over America to Tripping the Live Fantastic, even though the technology and mastering for the later album is superior. Chalk that up to nostalgia and slightly preferring the set list to the first album. (It's close, though, and luckily I can just plug 'em both in back-to-back whenever I like.)
If I were trying to introduce someone to Paul McCartney/Wings, this is the album I'd hand them.