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Jul 08

WINGS – “Mull Of Kintyre”/”Girls School”

FT + Popular100 comments • 5,003 views

#416, 4th December 1977

This has the slightly dubious distinction of being the first record I ever disliked. I barely knew about records at all, I was four and three quarters: so my cynicism started early, if you like. This one was inescapable – number one for nine weeks, two million sold, flattening the opposition through Christmas ’77 and then on into ’78. I didn’t know what number ones were but I guess I just got bored of “Mull” being around, its comforting lullaby sway pushing into even our pop-free household*. I remember not being able to figure out what a Mull was, or a Kintyre: I’d been reading the Hobbit, and the Narnia books, so I reckoned it was an honorific, like King, or Tarkaan. And this dark haired guy singing it, he’d be the Mull, then?

Actually he was royalty of a sort, though more bicycle monarchy than Sun King by this point: still doggedly insistent on Wings the band, not McCartney the brand. Wings were intermittently terrific, more often whimsically entertaining or a curate’s egg, rarely as dreary as this. “Mull Of Kintyre” doesn’t much sound like a Wings record, in fact – it was recorded during sessions for London Town, their most resolutely lightweight album, and would have stuck out there like an unaloft thumb. Macca has told and retold the story of how he assumed the dreamcaught melody for “Yesterday” was an unconscious borrow from a far more primal tune – but how much more timeless does the hymnal “Mull” sound? It obviously struck chords deep enough to smash the Beatles’, and anyone else’s, sales records: an unexpected climax to the year punk broke.

What do I think of it now? Like most of the really monolithic singles, it’s hard to listen to fresh. It’s certainly a sweet and sincere record, and the pipes – locally sourced – work well. But there’s no ache to it, no true sense of place, it evokes nothing but standard Highlands postcard imagery. The mood is soporific: only right at the end, when the Laird of Wings breaks into a “woooooo-ha!”, does anyone try and even hint that life in the Mull might ever be other than the gentle contemplation of simple beauties. Which, of course, was the appeal: in a guttering economy, a fractious country, a pop chart full of confusion, Wings delivered a record about opting out entirely, a hit of pure escapism. “Mull Of Kintyre” is a one-way ticket out of pop culture: though those left behind by its Tartan Rapture were about to enjoy years of astonishing musical plenty.

*oh yeah, “Girls School” – apparently this was treated as the A-Side in the US, but here “Mull” was a double-A-side in name only: I don’t think I’d ever heard “Girls School” until a year or so ago, and I’ve heard plenty of Wings. “Girls School” is much more typical of the band, though – the kind of McCartney song that kindly reviewers have always called “a rocker”, which is to say it is to rock as a jog round the park is to the Olympic 1000m. Since I have no especial concern with the rockingness of things, I quite like it. But it has no business influencing this score.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Christopher Barbour on 21 Jul 2008 #

    I came to this one backwards, my first conscious hearing of it coming in early 1992. I knew the legend : awful mock-tartan dirge becomes biggest selling singe of all time and hogger of top spot for months and years. However, like other long-running number ones (including one at the pinnacle at that very moment) once I heard it, I realised that much of the criticism it had received was lazy.

    Big songs are big for a reason – the first two strums of Mull, as they crackled from a friend’s parents’ copy of Wings Greatest, told you just about everything you needed to know. If you liked that kind of thing, you would love it. I did and by the end of the opening verse it was already a deathless classic in my eyes.

    I would have bought a copy that afternoon, had the single still been available. (luckily all charity shops in Britain seem to be legally bound to stock a copy, very often without any sort of sleeve or protection. I suppose that fact tells its own story about the whereabouts of the 2 million copies…)

    Trufax : Dan Ackroyd bought the 2 millionth copy and Macca gave him a hamper of food to celebrate.

  2. 52
    vinylscot on 21 Jul 2008 #

    The thing that gets me about these long-running number ones –

    What makes someone suddenly decide to buy “Mull of Kintyre” (or whatever) when it’s already been number one for eight weeks?

    a) it took you eight weeks to decide that you liked it enough to buy it (I know songs can “grow on you”, but, eight weeks??)

    b) you never heard it until week eight

    c) you have been saving up for eight weeks, and only now can afford to “splash out”

    d) your first copy has been worn out/damaged/stolen/eaten by the dog

    e) none of the above

    Your theories would be welcome.

  3. 53
    DJ Punctum on 21 Jul 2008 #

    f) It sold to people who don’t buy records

    g) slow post-Xmas/New Year sales turnover – no competition to unseat it

  4. 54
    Dan R on 21 Jul 2008 #

    or

    h) it grew on some people

    or

    i) some people don’t listen to radio much

    or

    j) some people just don’t get it together to do stuff quickly

  5. 55
    Tom on 21 Jul 2008 #

    There’s no question that a song sounds different when it’s become part of the furniture – sometimes better. There are a few songs upcoming (quite far off in some cases) which grew into their No.1 status, others where a huge run became a millstone.

  6. 56
    Erithian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    A possible reason (k) for a long chart run, at least in the case of a double A-side, is coming under discussion in a few months’ time… (hop hop)

  7. 57
    katstevens on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Also with the whole Christmas-NY thing – dudes be getting record tokens/record players as xmas pressies/in the sales innit.

  8. 58
    jeff w on 21 Jul 2008 #

    This is of course as nothing to the mystery of why “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol is today still being downloaded in sufficient numbers to keep it in the Top 75 and who’s doing it. Maybe we could get iTunes to send out questionnaires.

  9. 59
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Let us not forget, ‘Chasing Cars’ has been voted the best song of all time by the listeners of Virgin FM. And who can argue with that?

  10. 60
    DJ Punctum on 21 Jul 2008 #

    I would. For a start, it’s not a song.

  11. 61
    vinylscot on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Some good theories there. I tried to make my point non-specific to “Mull”, with its obvious post-Christmas reasons, although it is on this thread. The “Chasing Cars” analogy illustrates my point – how can you possibly have got this far without having the track, and suddenly decide to “splash out?”

    (I can understand one, or maybe ten or twenty people thinking that in any given week, but with “Chasing Cars” it must still be in the high hundreds each week. I just don’t get it.)

  12. 62
    Brian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Sir Paul very much in the news in Canada lately.

    http://www.thestar.com/article/464043

  13. 63
    Mark G on 21 Jul 2008 #

    What do you mean, “it’s not a song”?

  14. 64
    Erithian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    I think we’ve discussed something similar fairly recently, but the download era has revived the phenomenon of singles/tracks taking their time to drop down the chart and hanging around the lower reaches for ages. “Mercy” is still top 40 nearly six months on, and “Valerie” and “Rockstar” hung around even longer. Anybody have their week-by-week chart careers to hand?

  15. 65
    Tom on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Why (questions of quality aside) do we find it surprising that people want to own Chasing Cars and don’t yet, whereas presumably we wouldn’t be surprised that people are still buying the Coldplay albums before this one?

    My guess is that the removal of physical stocking limits represented by the singles chart going download means that the diffusion curve of a hit single is now much more like that of a big hit album, i.e. a very very long ‘afterlife’ as the late majority and laggards buy it: previously these people simply wouldn’t have registered in singles sales, or would have gone and bought the album instead eventually.

  16. 66
    Dan R on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Here’s some guesswork. I would imagine that Chasing Cars is being bought largely by people in their thirties and upwards – it has that horribly adult sound to it – and those people will

    a. be less aware of release dates
    b. make record buying less of priority
    c. be less likely to listen to chart radio

    …than people in their teens and twenties.

    Which suggests that there are long slow chains of record purchases: someone hears a track a year later on Radio 2, spots it three months later in Zavvi; plays it to friends at a dinner party six months later; those friends then buy it another couple of months later.

    Whereas, a teen listener will often buy a single or album on first day of release; will download a song immediately after hearing it on a chart radio show; hear about a song from schoolfriends; check regularly on band websites; etc etc. All of which compresses the time greatly.

    So I’d imagine the long tail of a record’s purchasing pattern to also be an ageing demographic. I wonder if there’s any way of proving or disproving this?

  17. 67
    Brian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Dan @ # 66.
    As a fifty-somthing ” Chasing Cars ” fan I can confirm that this is exactly how it can happen. Only slower in my case !

    Music also moves from media to media and that take time to drift across. My daughter and I saw Snow Patrol ” on TV on ” Live from Abbey Road ” and bought the CD.

    Also the number of songs that pop into films these days will sustain a top ten run. I don’t know of aexample, but it’s got happen.

    And also ad’s. 1234 by Fiest.

  18. 68
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I think we’re all aware of the mechanics behind renewed long chart runs for singles.

    What I’m concerned about is why this song? Why this, of all songs? Especially when it seems to me an utterly standard AoR drone bereft of any discernible melodic top line. What am I missing here? What’s the appeal? “Umbrella,” even “Rockstar” and “Valerie” – these are all understandable. But this colourless, characterless dirge?

    (definition of a “song” in my world = I can remember how the tune goes, including while the record is still playing)

  19. 69
    Billy Smart on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I think that the appeal of ‘Chasing Cars’ is that people find their own vulnerability, inarticulacy, and vague sort-of-like love feelings reflected in the lyrics, and the ‘tune’ carries a sense of seriousness that gives these feelings emotional weight.

  20. 70
    Mark G on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I can’t imagine that if Marc walks into a piano bar, and the dude/girl is playing a solo version of “Chasing cars” instrumentally, he won’t recognise the tune.

  21. 71
    Tom on 22 Jul 2008 #

    The only bit I can readily remember is the “if I lie here” bit. If I try to extrapolate from that I get Shed Seven’s “Chasing Rainbows” instead.

    What are SP’s album sales like? My hunch is a lot of people are buying this and nothing else by them, so as I said upthread the sales curve for the single turns out album-shaped.

  22. 72
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    The Eyes Open album’s done 107 weeks on the chart so far so punters seem to be going for both (which I also find strange – why not just get the album? It’s affordable enough at Tesco’s).

    (Whereas long eighties singles chart runs like “Blue Monday” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” lasted so long mainly because the artists never included them on any of their albums apart from later compilations)

  23. 73
    Alan on 22 Jul 2008 #

    i’m glad we’ve got all that out of the way and finally got round to talking about snow patrol. chasing cars gets sound tracked a lot on the telly – the wedding in Gavin & Stacey, hollyoaks every other week, etc. so it drip feeds into ppl that way which is what keeps downloads on the boil. actually i bet it’s giving dj sammy a good run on the first dances at weddings.

  24. 74
    Matthew H on 22 Jul 2008 #

    “Why this song?” It’s television, isn’t it? ‘Chasing Cars’ is used ad infinitum at moments of great poignancy on the popular pot-boiling shows – starting with Grey’s Anatomy, I think; that was the appearance that first sent it shooting back up the chart. People who identify with the moment buy the record.

    Possibly.

    Why the TV execs choose it, well, it snowballs, I guess.

  25. 75
    Matthew H on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Um, as Alan said.

  26. 76
    Matthew H on 22 Jul 2008 #

    And while I’m late for the party, I used to think ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ was ‘Mollocking Tyne’.

    I still like to think the Tyne mollocks.

  27. 77
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Ah, that explains it then. I’ve never watched Hollyoaks but I expect that accounts for quite a lot of this sort of thing.

  28. 78
    Alan on 22 Jul 2008 #

    also it gets a good boshing up at poptimism ;-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLsP5SUvd54

  29. 79
    Dan R on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Now that’s more like it…

  30. 80
    Billy Smart on 22 Jul 2008 #

    DH Lawrence could have reviewed ‘Chasing Cars’;

    “Sentimentalism is the working-off on yourself of feelings you haven’t really got. We all want to have certain feelings: feelings of love, of passionate sex, of kindliness, and so forth. Very few people really feel love, or sex passion, or kindliness, or anything that goes at all deep. So the mass just fake these feelings inside themselves. Faked feelings! The world is all gummy with them. They are better than real feelings, because you can spit them out when you brush your teeth; and them tomorrow you can fake them afresh.”

  31. 81
    Tom on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Problem is, old DH wouldn’t have drawn a disctinction between that and 90% of the records we’d give a 10 to. Of course it’s “The mass” who have to rely on “fake feelings”, not DHL and whoever he’s trying to shag!

  32. 82
    Alan on 22 Jul 2008 #

    “the mass just fake these feelings inside themselves. Faked feelings!”

    what a nob

  33. 83
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I’m not sure that he’s wrong.

  34. 84
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Oh hang on, I’ve just seen the Python travel agent sketch quoted on the other thread…

  35. 85
    Tom on 22 Jul 2008 #

    He’s not wrong in his description of what ‘sentimentality’ is, but his analysis of who it affects is idiotic.

    (He doesn’t, at least in this quote, make much analysis as to whether it’s a bad thing or not.)

  36. 86
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    We need a firmer definition of his mass, really.

  37. 87
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jul 2008 #

    apparantly these ubiquitous dirges are known as ‘wallpaper’ hits – although that seems like an insult to wallpaper – perhaps ‘anaglypta’ hit would be better. more details here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7518881.stm

  38. 88
    The Intl on 25 Jul 2008 #

    This reminds me of the baffling smash hits on the charts when I was a kid, the stuff you’d think “wtf?” before “wtf?” existed. “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes”, “Hello Dolly”, “Strangers In The Night”. Who bought this crap – parents? Yeah, probably, a lot of ’em. This one has an additional twist, being it was a Beatle Paul record. He almost recoups his losses on the rock side. ALMOST. I hate records like this, teary-eyed pub singalongs, football anthems,… come to yer senses. Stupid Paul at the ass-end of ’77 – figures.

  39. 89
    Malice Cooper on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Charity records and deaths aside, this is the biggest selling single of all time in the UK and that’s a horrible thought.I always wanted the bagpipes to suffocate Macca. They could have saved Heather the job

  40. 90
    Ian G Morris on 21 Mar 2009 #

    You were four and three quarters and you were reading THE HOBBIT?!?

  41. 91
    Tom on 21 Mar 2009 #

    Yes! I was a ridiculously precocious reader. I then tried to read Lord of the Rings at six, had a horrific nightmare about Gollum, and gave up.

  42. 92
    rosie on 21 Mar 2009 #

    90: Yeah – at four and three-quarters one should be on to something a little more sophisticated!

  43. 93
    Jonathan Bogart on 30 Apr 2009 #

    Surprised I hadn’t already done this.

    Effect of a) being American and b) not really listening to pop music until I was practically an adult:

    I do not know how this song goes. A faint wisp of “oh Mull of Kintyre” as the lowering end of a line floats by in my head, but I am not sure if it’s the right tune or simply one of those scraps of melody one sometimes attaches to well-known phrases. Based on the conventional wisdom, I may be lucky. Of course, ignorance is never a virtue….

  44. 94
    Girlschools00 on 28 Aug 2009 #

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  45. 95
    lonepilgrim on 28 Aug 2009 #

    re 94 – yeah, but what’s your take on Mull of Kintyre?

  46. 97
    Erithian on 24 Jan 2011 #

    and here’s the Floral Dance in the context of one of my favourite films. RIP Pete Postlethwaite.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RM6MQJRjAs

  47. 98
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    In agreement with most everyone here: lazy, sentimental, wtf were the 2 million who bought it thinking blah blah blah – a generous 4.

  48. 99
    product technology on 9 Apr 2013 #

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  49. 100
    Lazarus on 14 Jun 2016 #

    I know he didn’t play on ‘Mull’ but here seems the appropriate place to say RIP Henry McCullough. His lovely, languid solo on ‘My Love’ perhaps his most memorable moment with the band.

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