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.