416. ‘Mull of Kintyre’ / ‘Girls’ School’, by Wings

It is amazing to think that, almost eight years on from their split, this is only the second time an ex-Beatle has appeared at the top of the charts. You’d have got long odds on it taking this length of time. George Harrison got in there quickly, and then there was a big old wait… Until our latest Christmas #1.

Mull of Kintyre / Girls’ School, by Wings (their 1st and only #1)

9 weeks, from 27th November 1977 – 29th January 1978

And it’s strangely comforting to hear Macca’s voice again, like a long lost friend… Mull of Kintyre, Oh mist rolling in from the sea, My desire, Is always to meet you… It’s just him, and a couple of guitars. Simplicity itself. Until ninety seconds in, when the bagpipes arrive (I always assumed they were saved for the finale. Alas, no.) They enter with that unmistakeable, ominous drone, and by the three minute mark they are the stars of the show. It is amazing to think that, in the 1970s, as many #1 singles featured bagpipes as featured a Beatle.

‘Mull of Kintyre’ is not an old folk song, though it sounds for all the world as if it should be. It is further evidence of McCartney’s ability to conjure timeless pop from a few chords (and a cheeky slice of ‘Auld Lang Syne’). It is not ‘Yesterday’, nor is it ‘Eleanor Rigby’, but it is a huge moment in his legacy. And yet…

As a Scot, part of me bristles at this act of cultural appropriation… (You may roll your eyes, but hear me out.) It’s a nice song, a sweet melody, a love-letter by Paul to his adopted home (he really was living, while he wrote this, on the Mull of Kintyre). But the lines about mist rolling in from the sea and sweeping through the heather like deer in the glen… It’s the aural equivalent of a souvenir shortbread box. It’s Scotland as imagined by American, or Japanese, (or Liverpudlian) tourists. It’s #notmyscotland. You can also imagine John Lennon hearing this for the first time, on the radio one morning, and ruefully shaking his head…

Still, come the drum-roll and the key change, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ has wormed its way into your brain. You can see why this is was a ginormous hit – a song that appeals to five-year-olds, ninety-five-year olds, and anyone who’s had enough whisky. Its nine weeks at the top makes it the joint longest running #1 of the decade, alongside ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and an upcoming movie soundtrack hit. It became the biggest selling single ever in the UK, usurping ‘She Loves You’, and it remains the biggest selling non-charity single ever released.

I did wonder if, by hitting #1 in late November, this was the earliest an Xmas #1 had made it to the top. But it’s not even close. Al Martino got there two weeks earlier in 1952, as did Clean Bandit in 2016, while Elvis’s ‘It’s Now or Never’ holds the record by holding on from November 3rd. However, this record also stayed top for over a month after Christmas thanks, it seems, to the flip-side…

‘Girls’ School’ is a rocker, all scuzzy slide guitars and heavy drums, as far removed from the faux-folk of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as can be. SongFacts describes it as ‘semi-pornographic’, and that’s putting it mildly. While your grandma would have enjoyed singing along to ‘Mull…’, she may have choked on her sherry when she heard this one. Sleepy head kid sister, Lying on the floor, Eighteen years and younger boy, Well she knows what she’s waitin’ for…

It seems the nuns have lost control of the convent school… Yuki, the resident mistress and oriental princess, is showing porn in the classroom. The Spanish nurse is running a full-body massage parlour, while the matron is drugging the kids in their beds at night, and then… Well that much is left to the imagination… Ah, what can the sisters do…?

I’m loving-yet-appalled-by this post-‘Mull…’ palate cleanser. It is pure rock ‘n’ roll, both in terms of its sound and its lyrical content (which would come under, shall we say… ‘scrutiny’ were it released in 2021). I think someone was having a good old chuckle to themselves when they stuck this alongside such a shamelessly sentimental ‘A’-side. It does seem, too, that McCartney may have swept it under the carpet in recent years. It’s not on Spotify, for a start.

Although this is his first #1 since The Beatles, it’s not as if Paul had been hiding under a rock since ‘Let It Be’. Wings were a huge chart force throughout the seventies, featuring Paul, his wife Linda, Denny Laine (whom we have heard from before as a member of The Moody Blues) and a rotating cast of supporters. This was their 10th Top 10 hit, but the only one to go all the way. Macca will be back, though, in the 80s, with a couple of chart-toppers to make ‘Mull of Kintyre’ sound like the epitome of cool, cutting edge pop.


22 thoughts on “416. ‘Mull of Kintyre’ / ‘Girls’ School’, by Wings

  1. well I was one of the 2 million who bought this, great choon! It was a relief Macca got a chart-topper at last, but…errr Another Day, Uncle Albert, LIve & Let Die, Jet, Band On The Run, Listen To What The Man Says, Silly Love Songs, Let ‘Em In…US chart-toppers amongst that bunch and all of them much more worthy. In the US Mull Of Kintyre was a B side, Girls School got the A listing (and was a relative flop cos it’s not that good, certainly not on a par with rockers like Helen Wheels, Junior’s Farm, Hi Hi Hi…). It got very little airplay in the UK, it was all about Mull Of Kintyre. He had though already been totally banned twice on UK radio, one with Give Ireland Back for political reasons, and then Hi Hi Hi (for drugs) leading to jolly B side C Moon getting the plays, and nursery rhyme Mary had A Little Lamb (which I loved) as the single in between the 2 bans. He was definitely making a point!

    Note Paul has now featured as a trio, quartet and quintet (with Billy Preston) on top of the UK charts, setting up his 80’s duet and solo, and then charity ensembles of various numbers. Think no-one else has done that….

    • Even if it was a double-A in name only, I do like it when there are two completely opposite sounding songs on single… Yeah, for this to be the only #1, and such a huge one at that, feels incongruous. At least the others you named were by and large decent sized hits. My favourite’s always been Jet (Jet!)

      • Band On The Run album/era is still my fave post-Beatles Macca, and Jet was the track I went mad on. It was getting radio play in late 1973 and early 1974 and topping my newly-reformed-chart-rules personal charts (allowing album tracks and non-charting singles) for weeks so it was a bit frustratingly late to get a first single off the album in Spring 1974 (Jet!), a second in the summer (BOTR) and then instead of any of the great remaining album tracks we got the lesser Junior’s Farm in the autumn/winter with another double bill rock/MOR country offering. I think that may have been the last time Macca turned up in the TOTP studio to perform – though as I’ve never seen a clip of it since I’m guessing it was erased by the BBC as per their purge of pre-1975 editions. My memory is of them popping up in David Essex’ Gonna Make You A Star on the “I don’t think so” bit. Of course I could have dreamt it all…..:)

  2. I really like this song…not my favorite (that would be Juniors Farm) but I always wondered why it was so damn huge over there…and not much at all over here at all…and from an ex-Beatle at that.

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  9. It’s lightweight but it’s a perfectly fine song. The very definition of soft rock.

    I’m very surprised by how very few of the Beatles’ solo material topped the UK charts during the 1970s, given how gigantically popular they were in the 1960s. I mean, yes, Paul was still a huge hitmaker in his native country but it’s surprisingly lacking the number of No. 1s the Beatles had as solo artists. John didn’t even get to No. 1 until his death. Ringo never got to No. 1, though he did get to the Top 10 a few times. A lot of the Beatles original 60s fanbase would’ve still be a huge chunk of the record buying public, as well as kids during the 60s who were now teenagers in the 70s.

    In the UK in the 1970s, I think it was only George with “My Sweet Lord” and Wings/Paul with this song. Huge contrast in the US, where all four got to No. 1 during the 70s (Paul the most with “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (fantastic), “My Love” (okay), “Band on the Run” (amazing), “Listen To What The Man Said” (very good; underrated), “Silly Love Songs” (charming and with a killer bassline) and “With A Little Luck” (embarrassing), George with “My Sweet Lord” (amazing) and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” (very good), Ringo with “Photograph” (great) and “You’re Sixteen” (eh), and John with “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” (good, and with a little help from Elton John). Crazy that Ringo had more No. 1s in the 70s than John.

  10. Rating: 2.5/5

    Not a bad song, but of all of Sir Paul’s hits, this is the one that made the top spot? Boo.

    The contrast in Paul/Wings’ chart success in the UK and the US is quite remarkable. Of course, he was still popular in the UK and was regularly reaching the Top 10. But in the US, he had 6 No. 1s in the 70s – “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (5/5); “My Love” (3.5/5); “Band on the Run” (5/5); “Listen to What The Man Said” (4.5/5); “Silly Love Songs” (5/5); “With A Little Luck” (2/5), and then a final No. 1 with Wings with “Coming Up” in 1980 (5/5), and then two No. 1s as duets with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson respectively with “Ebony and Ivory” (3/5) and “Say Say Say” (5/5). That’s a pretty amazing run of hits all things considered, and I’m not even counting his other Top 10 and Top 20 hits during the 70s.

    Sorry Brits, but point to the Americans here. British rock is still the best though.

    • Sadly, in the UK we suddenly bought into solo McCartney in the 80s, and send Ebony and Ivory and Pipes of Peace to number one… Neither of which are vintage Paul

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