Paul McCartney asked McCullough to join his new band, Wings, alongside Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell. Henry, a session musician (Jesus Christ Superstar) and band member (Joe Cocker’s Grease Band) he also frequently referred to himself as the only Irishman to have played Woodstock. Musical differences with McCartney, however, saw McCullough leave on the eve of the Band on the Run sessions. He had spent two years in the band, playing lead guitar on “Hi, Hi, Hi”, “Live and Let Die” as well as “My Love”.
On 24 January 1972, Paul added to the Wings line-up guitarist Henry McCullough, after he had tried out for the band. The new line-up immediately mounted an impromptu tour of UK universities (with the group driving around in a van), followed by a tour of small European venues. Although this was the first tour including an ex-Beatle after the Beatles broke up, Wings played no Beatles numbers during the tour, to show that it was a new band in its own right.
In February 1972, Wings released a single called “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, a response to the events of Bloody Sunday. The song was banned by the BBC for its anti-Unionist political stance and only mentioned in chart rundowns on BBC Radio 1 as “a record by Wings”. Despite limited airplay, it reached number 16 in the UK, as well as number 1 in both the Republic of Ireland and Spain. Wings released a children’s song, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, as its next single, which reached the top 10 in the UK. Although some critics interpreted it as a sarcastic reaction to the ban on “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, it was in fact a serious effort by McCartney to record a song for children. Wings followed it with December 1972’s “Hi, Hi, Hi”, which was again banned by the BBC, this time for its alleged drug and sexual references. The B-side, “C Moon”, was played instead. The single peaked at number 5 in the UK.
The band were renamed “Paul McCartney and Wings” for the 1973 album Red Rose Speedway, which yielded their first US number 1 hit, “My Love”. The album included two tracks left over from the Ram sessions and was originally intended as a two-record set. After producer Glyn Johns had walked out on the project, however, McCartney conceded to EMI’s opinion that the material was “substandard” and cut it down to a single disc. Among the unreleased songs from the seven-month sessions was the Linda composition “Seaside Woman”, which was finally issued in 1977, credited to “Suzy and the Red Stripes”.
Near the end of the Red Rose Speedway sessions, in October 1972, Wings recorded the theme song to the James Bond film Live and Let Die, which reunited McCartney with Beatles producer/arranger George Martin. Issued as a non-album single in mid-1973, “Live and Let Die” became a worldwide hit and has remained a highlight of McCartney’s post-Wings concert performances (often accompanied by pyrotechnics). That same year, McCartney and Wings filmed a TV special, the critically maligned James Paul McCartney, which featured footage of the group performing in outdoor settings and in front of a studio audience.
After a successful British tour in May–June 1973, Wings went into rehearsals for their next album. McCullough and Seiwell abruptly left the band in August, however, at the end of rehearsals. Both musicians were disenchanted with the group’s musical direction and Linda’s inclusion; McCullough also objected to McCartney’s domineering attitude towards him as a guitar player, while Seiwell had long felt aggrieved at the lack of a formalised financial arrangement and his status as a lowly paid sideman.
With the band reduced to a trio, the McCartneys and Laine cut what turned out to be Wings’ most successful album, Band on the Run, at EMI’s primitive eight-track recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria.