Andre Gardner

The Beatles always did things big, even as solo artists. Rather than release your standard one or two-album live set, Paul McCartney not only released his band’s entire setlist, it came as a monster 3-LP package. Here’s how a bootleg inspired Paul McCartney’s first live album, Wings Over America.

The Bootleg Business

By 1976, it was pretty easy to go to your favorite independent record store and buy a bootleg. Titles were popping up everywhere from any artist you could name, in varying degrees of sound quality. Having said that, in most cases the sound was pretty rotten. But it didn’t seem to matter to fans. The underground bootleg business was thriving, with pressing plants all around the world secretly pressing bootleg vinyl. Fans were scooping them up as fast as they were coming out. Live concert performances and even rare, unreleased studio outtakes were now being heard by fans.

Bootlegging Boldness

It took guts, and some ingenuity, to record live shows. Some of these bootleggers were really brazen when it came to smuggling in high end sound equipment. Legend has it that one guy came to a show in a wheelchair and was, of course, given preferred access right up front. What no one realized was that the wheelchair was completely wired for sound. It had stereo mics coming out of each arm, and recording equipment strapped underneath the seat. Many artists, obviously, were not too fond of bootlegs. In a classic clip, Neil Young was filmed shopping in a random record store and finding one of his own bootlegs. He was not happy. Some artists didn’t mind having their shows recorded, so long as the tapes were used for trading only. I can think of The Grateful Dead, Phish and George Clinton as examples of this policy.

The birth of Wings From The Wings

So how is it that a bootleg inspired Paul McCartney’s first live album? When Paul McCartney announced his U.S. Wings Over America Tour, fans like me were out of our minds with joy! Little did we know in advance what a tremendous live set Paul and Wings would perform. For the first time since he left The Beatles, Paul performed Beatles songs live, some for the very first time. Needless to say, bootleggers were drooling at the prospect of recording these historic shows and getting them out to the underground collectors’ market.

Paul and his band played their final night of sold out shows at the L.A. Forum on June 23, 1976. 18,000 fans saw Paul and his band run through a simply stellar setlist. There were also a smattering of tapers amidst the crowd, with one recordist in particular getting a really good audience recording of the entire show. The photos below are NOT the cassettes from where the bootleg was taken but, rather, from a recording made by legendary taper Mike Millard. It’s to show the number of expert tapers who were in the audience that night.

Cassette copy of Paul McCartney Bootleg

A photo of legendary taper Mike Millard’s recording of Wings’ L.A. forum Concert on June 23, 1976. Photo used by permission.

A cassette and vinyl copy of a Paul McCartney bootleg.

A copy of “Wings From The Wings”, plus a recording made at the same show. Photo used by permission.

It wasn’t long before that complete Wings Forum concert would be pressed on red, white and blue, and sometimes black, vinyl and released to the underground market as Wings From The Wings. It was a stellar set, had all the between song chatter intact, and it sold quite well by bootleg standards. I never picked one up back in the day, so I asked a few of my collector friends and associates to show me their copies!

Roy Fisher with his Paul McCartney bootleg set

Roy Fisher, of the Road Dogs, with his copy of “Wings From The Wings.”

Rick Glover with his bootleg LP.

Rick Glover, of “Fans On the Run,” was kind enough to show me his copy. This one was on standard black vinyl.

Bob Koenig's copy of a Paul McCartney and Wings bootleg

Collector Bob Koenig sent me a shot of his set.

Mike Constantine holds a Paul McCartney bootleg.

Mike Constantine, frequent contributor to my old Breakfast With The Beatles radio show, with his copy of that classic Macca boot.

How A Bootleg Inspired Paul McCartney’s First Live Album

Right around the same time, Paul and his engineering team were preparing his first live album, going through the hours and hours of concert audio they’d recorded from the tour, and picking the best performances. Originally, Wings Over America was going to be a single album release. After the apparent success of that triple LP bootleg, it was decided to release the entire show as a 3-LP set. None of the between-song banter was used on the official release, and not all of Wings Over America was live. Paul and the band reconvened at Abbey Road Studios in the fall of 1976 to fix mainly some vocals. Wings Over America was released on December 10, 1976, just in time for the holidays, and hit #1 the week of January 22, 1977. It’s also part of MGK’s Thursday Top 10 Countdown from April 4, 1977, which you can see below.

  • 10. Rock And Roll Over - KISS

    Even though this album was recorded at the Star Theater in Nanuet, NY, it wasn’t a live album. KISS rented the theater to set up shop and record their fifth studio album. To get the perfect sound on drums, they had Peter Criss set up his kit in the theater’s bathroom for that natural echo! Rock And Roll Over peaked here at #10 on April 4, 1977.

  • 9. A New World Record - Electric Light Orchestra

    Jeff Lynne was on a roll. He was writing songs as fast as he could think of them, and came up with the songs for A New World Record in record time. It’s likely where he got the title for the album A New World Record, which was #9 on April 4, 1977.

  • 8. Year Of The Cat - Al Stewart

    Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios by the legendary Alan Parsons, Year Of The Cat by Al Stewart was a sonic masterpiece, and made Stewart a worldwide rock star. After peaking at #5, it drops this week to #8 on our Thursday Top 10 Countdown.

  • 7. Wings Over America - Wings

    As we mentioned above, Paul McCartney and Wings’ first live album became a triple album after the success of a bootleg! It was surely a success for Paul as well, as Wings Over America hit #1 and even got a Grammy nomination! On April 4, 1977 it was #7.

  • 6. Night Moves - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

    Even though the title suggests the entire album is Bob Seger with the Silver Bullet Band, in reality almost half the songs were recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Night Moves was Seger’s breakthrough, and peaked here at #6 on April 4, 1977.

  • 5. Fly Like An Eagle - Steve Miller Band

    The success Steve Miller had with Fly Like An Eagles in 1976 continued throughout 1977. Almost a year after its initial release, the album held steady at #5 on the countdown this week. It also gave him his second #1 single hit, “Rock’n Me.”

  • 4. Boston - Boston

    This album began recording way back in 1973, in the basement of Tom Scholz’s home in Watertown, Massachusetts. Within three years, people all over the world would embrace the music of Boston. Their debut was holding steady at #4 on April 4, 1977.

  • 3. Leftoverture - Kansas

    It was the fourth studio album that would prove to be the breakthrough for Kansas. Leftoverture went on to sell over five million copies and gave them their first hit single, “Carry On Wayward Son.” The album peaked here at #3.

  • 2. Hotel California - Eagles

    As Joe Walsh confirmed to me in this conversation we had back in 2022, The Eagles and Black Sabbath were both recording albums at Criteria Studios in Miami. Sabbath were playing so loudly that the band members had to go over and ask them to turn it down a bit! The album The Eagtles were working on was Hotel California, the #2 album on April 4, 1977.

  • 1. Rumours - Fleetwood Mac

    Topping the chart this week is the eleventh album by one of the all time greats. In hitting #1, this album continued a remarkable chart run, not only peaking at #1 for the first time this week, but returning to the top spot THREE more times, for a total of 31 weeks! #1 on April 4, 1977 was Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

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