Band On The Run – Underdubbed Mix Review

Band on the Run Underdubbed
For their 50th Anniversary of the album, Wings releases an "Underdubbed" version that helps tell the story of their unsettling time recording much of the album in Lagos, Nigeria.

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To celebrate the album’s 50th Anniversary, Paul McCartney and Wings release a stripped-down version of their most iconic album: Band On The Run. Listening to the “Underdubbed” version underscores the emptiness of the studio in Lagos, Nigeria where Paul, Linda and Denny Laine recorded 7 of the tracks without other musicians, engineers, producers… or anyone else.

The album Band On The Run was released in November 1973 but didn’t reach high levels of commercial success or radio play until early 1974 when the single “Jet” took a strong hold on western radio waves. After that, the album reached triple platinum in the US after two disappointing releases prior (Wild Life 1971, and Red Rose Speedway 1973) which both hit a sub-par Gold for the ex-Beatle.

The ratings drama wasn’t really the big story of Band On The Run as we describe in a recent post (our DMC on the Run mix to celebrate the 50 years for Band on the Run and 40 years of Run DMC).

Imagine recording an album during a military coup in Nigeria without engineers, producers or… most of your bandmates. On top of that, imagine finding out that the studio you’re supposed to be recording in lacks even the most basic equipment, and also, you’re robbed at knife point during your trip and lose some valuable demos and handwritten lyrics in the process, oh and you have your three young children with you all the while. And it gets wilder… read the whole story here.

Band On The Run 50th Anniversary LPs and CDs with Underdubbed Versions, and More

Although the single “Band on the Run – Underdubbed Mix” dropped in December 2023, the official release of the 50th Anniversary Box sets will be February 2, 2024 and will come in the form of at least three different sets:

  1. The 2 CD Set which includes the underdubbed versions and original from a Half-Speed Master
  2. The 2 LP Set which includes the underdubbed versions and original from a Half-Speed Master
  3. The 1-LP release with the original from the Half-Speed Master

The Box Sets include the original version of Band On The Run with a few differences: It includes the song Helen Wheels (which the original did not), and it’s also sourced from the original master at half-speed. The Box Sets also include posters of arranged polaroids taken by Linda McCartney.

What Does “Underdubbed” Mean?

When Paul McCartney uses the term “Underdubbed” he’s saying that he’s giving us the mix that was recorded in Nigeria before they brought it back to the UK to add touch-ups: more backup vocals, guitar parts, orchestral arrangements, and the final mix/master of the album by professional engineers and producers (often with the collaboration of the artists themselves). Releasing underdubbed music is more vogue these days thanks to the influence of punk music. It’s a lot more common these days to deliberately use the stripped down aesthetic, for example artists such as Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes have been known to release Underdubbed tracks as their final product for that raw, almost barbaric, almost monster-toddler sound that they are well-known for.

Note that “Underdubbed” does not necessarily mean “Undermastered”. In other words, the magic that golden-eared engineers perform on professionally released music was still worked on this Underdubbed mix. We’re just missing some instruments and vocals when compared to the original 1973 release.

What makes the Band On The Run underdubbed album so special is that it reveals some raw layers of their Lagos recording that are not obscured by slick post effects or crowded out by the studio instruments that were added later in EMI’s UK studio.

For starters, in the title track “Band on the Run” (released in 2023 before the scheduled album release on February 2, 2024) we can hear some of the charming imperfections of the original Nigeria recording, such as some slightly flat notes sung by Paul here and there, as well as what sounds like a false-start of a verse at about 3:00 where Paul seems to realize that there’s a few bars before the next verse:

Another nice touch is hearing Paul briefly sing the twangy guitar part (3:43) that would be later added to the main mix, revealing a little tidbit of Paul’s process: the guitar part was already written and a decision was made to add it in an overdub.

What’s the Point of Using a Half-Speed Master?

When they say that they used a Half-Speed Master to cut the 50th Anniversary Version of Band On The Run, what does that mean? They are referring to the part of the process where they create the acetate lacquers (or molds) that are used to mass produce records, an engraving process that is literally done from the original mastered recordings on magnetic tape. So what benefit does engraving these molds at half speed offer?

A Disc-Cutting Lathe (Scully Brand)

On these acetate disc-cutting machines, a heated stylus makes tiny grooves in the mold as vibrations from the original master jitter the stylus to form the engraving (in an ultra-stable state to avoid excessive noise). The high frequencies of the recording are the trickiest to reproduce loyally in this process since high frequencies have the tightest wavelengths. However, if you reduce the speed of the whole process in half, the stylus gets twice as much time to engrave the fine details that may otherwise be missed during this process. Another (more direct) way of saying it is that when the master is played at half-speed, the high frequencies become mid-range frequencies during the engraving (which is also happening at half speed), making the high frequencies as easy to record as mid-range frequencies when engraved at standard speed.

Both the master (on magnetic tape from the master studio’s reel-to-reel recording booth) and the disc cutting machine operate at half speed, so when the final acetate mold is created, the songs can be played on a turntable at normal speed (33 1/3 RPMs per minute).