meta-scriptHow Ben Wendel's 'All One' — A Locked-Down Sax-And-Bassoon Exploration — Was Nominated For A GRAMMY |
Ben Wendel
Ben Wendel

Photo: Anouk van Kalmthout


How Ben Wendel's 'All One' — A Locked-Down Sax-And-Bassoon Exploration — Was Nominated For A GRAMMY

Desperate for a creative outlet during lockdown, Ben Wendel wove a tapestry of sax and bassoon, and invited famous guests along for the ride. The result, 'All One,' has been nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Jan 11, 2024 - 02:41 pm

Regarding GRAMMY nominations, this isn't Ben Wendel's first rodeo. But this one's for an album he recorded chiefly by his lonesome, which adds even more monumentality to its title: All One.

Back in 2009, the saxophonist, bassoonist, and pianist received a GRAMMY nod as part of contemporary jazz heroes Kneebody — alongside keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, and bassist and drummer Nate Wood.

More than a decade later, thanks to a curious exercise during lockdown, he's been nominated again; this time, for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. "It's unlikely I'll ever do something like that again," Wendell tells "But I'm happy how it came out."

Which is a laudably low-key reaction, given this is the highest honor in all of music. But a glimmer of well-earned pride shines through.

"I definitely did the research: I think I can confidently say there is no other album that was done like this," Wendel reports with a smile. "I don't think you can find another album where you have 30-piece overdubbed saxophone, bassoon, orchestra, all played by one person. It doesn't exist.

"So, it's fun to just actually find some little corner of the musical universe that actually hasn't been done yet — which is virtually impossible, but I found a little corner."

Despite the title — which is apropos, as Wendel played every instrument — he chose to share this "corner" with some of the music's leading lights. These include
Cécile McLorin Salvant ("I Loves You, Porgy"), Terence Blanchard ("Wanderers") and, on "Throughout," Bill Frisell.

Read on for an interview with Wendel about how this sumptuous musical concoction came to be, the role the GRAMMYs have historically played in his life, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Can you talk about when you were nominated for your first GRAMMY, with Kneebody?

Well, sadly, we didn't win. We lost to Yo-Yo Ma

That was really interesting, because that was an album I produced where we took the music of a relatively well-known composer, Charles Ives. We took his music and then we Kneebodied it and turned it into improvised pieces. Then it ended up in that category that doesn't exist anymore, called Classical Crossover.

I also produced an album by the piano player, Gerald Clayton

Huge fan.

Yeah, I produced his [2013] album Life Forum. That got a GRAMMY nomination, but for some reason, I don't get to count that one as a GRAMMY nomination. I don't know why. You know the rules.

Anyway, all that's to say that this one feels particularly special, because it's basically my first nomination as a leader. It feels good, dude.

Where does the Recording Academy fit into your universe and your conception of the music community?

For me, the GRAMMYs are a cultural touchstone. Even when I was 12 years old, I knew what the GRAMMYs were. I was watching those award shows, and it's kind of a meta thing for me. 

As an adult now — an actual professional musician and a NARAS member — I understand it from that perspective. So many of my friends are part of that community, and I really love what they do. I love Advocacy.

And then just on a more fanboy level, I can't believe I'm GRAMMY-nominated. The GRAMMY still carries so much weight.

My studio's in this building that has a great coffee shop. I'm friends with the barista. The barista is not a musician — knows nothing about music. I saw him last Friday and I got an espresso, and he is like, "How's your day been?" And I was like, "Man, I just found out I'm GRAMMY nominated." And he was like, "Dude." Everybody knows what that means.

And it's cool, because a lot of the time musicians are just misunderstood. When I hang with a lawyer or whatever, and they don't know anything about music, you have to explain what you do as a career.

But if you say you're GRAMMY-nominated, then it all clicks. Then they go, "Oh, I guess you're serious, then. You're not a waiter at a restaurant who plays guitar on the side."

My experience with the GRAMMYs has been both that macro view, the cultural viewpoint — and then now, more as an adult, that professional viewpoint, that community-based viewpoint.

I appreciated your reaction on social media. Some in the jazz community respond with faux-humility or humblebragging. But you were basically like, "This is really wonderful. Congratulations to all the nominees." No signs of toxic competitiveness.

What I'm about to say is true. I just think there's room for everybody, and this job is so rewarding, but it's really hard. It's such a waste of time not to support each other, or be jealous or be competitive. It's like, why?

Anybody who receives any success in this field deserves it, period. Because it's hard, and you don't have control over half of what happens to you.

If you become successful, yeah, sure — half of it is hard work. The other half, it's luck, it's timing. It's so many things out of your control. So you can't be mad at someone if they do well; you should be happy for them. That's how it should be.

And honestly, in the jazz community, for the most part, tends to be a very supportive community, and people try to lift each other up. But I hear you. The #blessedlife, faux-humility thing has always been a bit annoying. But no, I'm earnestly amazed, and I love it.

Between your two GRAMMY nominations, your career has had quite the trajectory. How would you boil that down for people?

I would say the trajectory is evolving from a sideman to a co-leader of Kneebody to a leader. I'm very much the tortoise versus the hare, in terms of my development as a musician and an artist. I just steadily work on it. I steadily try and I practice every day. I'm just steadily one step at a time kind of guy.

This is a milestone and an acknowledgement that I finally have gotten to this place where I am my own person as an artist, and have my own little universe that I've carved out.

What was your modus operandi for All One, as opposed to previous records? That germ, that spark of inspiration?

I mean, this is a pandemic album; It's just the classic thing. I was about a year into the pandemic — no end to the tunnel, still no idea when music was coming back, desperately wanting to do something creative.

Having this classical background of having played bassoon and my own studio rig, I just thought: Well, how about I just start experimenting with this idea of making these little mini- woodwind orchestras? Let me see what that would sound like.

The first one that I tried it on,I first did a little quintet thing, and I really liked the sound. Then around that time, I had become friends with the trumpeter, Randy Brecker; he lives on Long Island, and I just threw it out at him.


I was like, "Man, would you be open to me writing a piece for you, and I'm going to lay out this little mini orchestra and you play over it?"

And he was totally into it. And even though that didn't end [up on the record] — I'm going to use that track on a different album — it was like the test pilot and it was amazing.

Then I thought: OK, this is what I'm doing for the next year. I'm going to just make an album. I'm going to reach out to different musicians I greatly admire and build fracks around them.

And I just did, one at a time. I think Cécile McLorin Salvant was the first person I called. I don't even remember where I was. She was in New York; I was somewhere else — Europe or L.A. I remember putting the phone on speakerphone and literally getting my sax out to determine what key she wanted to sing "I Loves You, Porgy" in.

We found the key, and it took me a couple of months to write that arrangement and record it. Then I sent it to her, and we were off to the races.

It was a really slow, curious process because it was done in this super non-traditional way of: it's all me. That's why it's called All One. It's just, like, these crazy, 30-piece wind orchestras.

And with each guest, there were all these interesting technical challenges to navigate. Sometimes they would overdub their parts, and then I would adjust the arrangements to bring out things that they had done spontaneously to make it sound as though it was planned.

Give me another tune — and guest — and break it down.

I was living in Amsterdam with my wife in the later half of the pandemic, and just by coincidence, José James and his wife Talia [Bilig, known professionally as Taali] were living there. That's how we met. It was just one of those things where I saw Talia do a post and I realized they're living in Amsterdam; I reached out.

So with José James, for example, I was like, "I want you to come over to the studio and I want you to sing 'Tenderly' completely a cappella, out of time, any way you want, any pacing you want, just sing it freely." So, that entire first half of that track before the sax solo — I arranged all of that to how he performed acapella.

In your mind, how do the saxophone and bassoon relate to each other?

It's more coincidence, man; I just happened to be lucky. I went to a public high school in Santa Monica; they just happened to have a really great music program.

I was playing sax in the marching band and the wind ensemble, and then they had an orchestra and they needed a bassoon player. I joined because I was just curious to have that experience. I knew nothing about the bassoon, and then I just stuck with it.

And the bassoon, as I am sure you would agree, has such a character to it. It's so classical sounding. It's so ancient sounding. So, the pairing of bassoon and sax for me is a really great combination, because it's new and old.

The sax is one of the youngest woodwind instruments in the history of instruments. It was only built in 1850. Meanwhile, the bassoon is literally a medieval instrument.

And it's just this fun combination, when you combine those sounds that are very complimentary, and you're able to get this interesting blend of an older orchestral sound. And then the sax brings this more modern sound to it; they work together really well.

Where do you feel you're at in your improvisatory evolution?

I'm in distillation mode now; I'm trying to get to the place where as I get older, I say less and less, and it means more and more.

I'm trying to work on that because it's a very common joke that as sax players, we just love to play a lot of notes. There's a famous story of Miles Davis asking John Coltrane to play less in his quintet. And John was like, "Well, I don't really know. What do you mean? How do I do that?" And apparently Miles, he said…

"Take the horn out of your mouth."

Yeah, exactly. You know that story.

A great guidepost, I would say, for me, would be Wayne Shorter. He had that amazing thing where he was childlike and also [exhibiting] Buddha-like mastery, all at once. So I think I'm at that place now, where I want to start playing less notes, see if I can do more with less.

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Megan Thee Stallion performing in Houston June 2024
Megan Thee Stallion performs in Houston on June 15, 2024.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation


5 Iconic Moments From Megan Thee Stallion's Houston Hometown Shows

Megan Thee Stallion returned to Houston on June 14 and 15 for an epic homecoming filled with surprise guests, gifts and plenty of twerking. Revisit five of the most exciting moments from the Houston stops on the rapper's Hot Girl Summer Tour.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 08:31 pm

Seven years into her career, Megan Thee Stallion is no stranger to a sold-out crowd. The rapper has been dubbed "Sold-out Stalli" since selling out nearly 20 shows on her Hot Girl Summer Tour — and though her stops at Houston's Toyota Center weren't the first sellouts on the trek, they were considerably the most meaningful ones.

"I'm so happy to be home," Megan, a lifelong Houstonian, told the crowd on June 14, night one of the back-to-back shows. After honing her rap skills and launching her career in H-Town, the star expressed her gratitude for the support her Houston fans have shown her from the start. 

"Hotties, y'all know what we've been through, y'all been rocking with me since day motherf—in' one," she gushed on night one. "I love y'all, I appreciate y'all, I respect y'all and I'm very grateful for y'all because, without the Hotties, there would be no motherf—in' Hot Girl Coach."

The two-night stint highlighted Megan's vulnerability, drive and exceptional showmanship. But above all else, her hometown shows reminded fans that she's just a strong-kneed, animé-loving girl from Houston. 

Below, check out five of the most memorable moments from Megan Thee Stallion's Houston homecoming.

She Organized A Hottie Egg Hunt

Before stepping on stage on June 14, Megan sent Houston fans on a Hottie Egg Hunt for a chance to win merchandise and tickets to the show that night. The three-part interactive adventure featured clues, documented on Instagram and X, that helped fans locate the golden eggs. 

The first clue reads, "A wild stallion can't be tamed…meet me at the place where I'm gonna rock the stage!" The second, "Where I run through the mall with your daddy." The last, "People are smart, my Hotties are smarter, find this egg where I got one degree hotter."

Eager fans scoured the whole city and eventually found the eggs at Megan’s favorite spots in Houston: Toyota Center, The Galleria and Texas Southern University. So far, Houston has been the only city Megan has done this for, making for another special moment between her and Houston hotties.

She Continued To Prove She's A Girls Girl

An unfortunate rap show trend has seen several female opening acts receive hate ahead of male headliners. Luckily this hasn't been the case for Memphis rapper GloRilla, who has noticeably been enjoying her experience as an opener on the Hot Girl Summer Tour. 

On night two in Houston, GloRilla presented Megan with a blown-up art piece commemorating her upcoming album, Megan, on stage. In return, Megan complimented the 24-year-old rapper, saying, "Glo is one of the realest women I've ever met." 

That evening, Megan showed her love for another rising star — and fellow Houston female rapper — Monaleo. The Mo City rapper sent the crowd into a frenzy as she sang her 2023 hit song "Beating Down Yo Block," which samples the classic "Knocking Pictures Off Da Wall" by Houston's Yungstar.

She Paid Homage To Houston Legends

Monaleo was far from the only Houston native to take the stage with Megan during her hometown visit. On night one, Megan surprised fans with a legendary performance from a few Houston all-stars. The room filled with excited screams as H-Town''s Bun B popped out to perform UGK's "Int'l. Players Anthem (I Choose You)." As if it couldn't get more iconic, Megan joined the legend on stage to rap Pimp C's verse of the song. 

The night also featured a legendary performance of "Southside" by Lil Keke, which Megan teased prior in the show with her "Southside Royalty Freestyle." Fans also got to enjoy Slim Thug's verse from "Still Tippin," a song he shares with Mike Jones and Paul Wall. (Wall also performed the song on Megan's tour the previous night at Austin's Moody Center.)

On night two, Megan brought out another Houston great, Z-Ro to rap a classic, "Mo City Don." Though a Hot Girl at heart, Megan couldn't help but celebrate the legendary men who paved the way and left a historic mark in Houston's dynamic hip-hop scene. 

She Showed — And Received — Hometown Love

As Megan arrived at the Toyota Center on June 14, she received a surprise welcome by students from her alma mater, the Pearland High School Band and Prancers — a heartwarming kickoff to a night of mutual love between Megan and Houston that put her in high-spirits before the show. 

Both nights were filled with an immense amount of energy and support, from Megan signing autographs throughout the show to making sure she got the perfect selfie with her beloved supporters. Even during more tender moments — like “Cobra," a song about suicide and her depression — felt particularly moving because of the interaction between Megan and her hometown fans.

She Put The "Hot" In Hottie

Taking notes from another H-Town hero and fellow Houstonian, Megan put on an impressive show reminiscent of Beyoncé, from jaw-dropping choreography to stunning wind-blown poses. Megan also tapped into her past life as a Prairie View A&M Panther Doll with majorette-inspired dancing during her song "Cognac Queen." 

Of course, she wouldn't be Thee Stallion if she didn't show off her twerking skills and famously powerful knees during her two-hour show run. Fans even got to participate in the twerk-fest during intermission, as a "Hottie Cam" panned through the audience, showing love to the girls and boys.

If her hometown shows were any indication, Megan Thee Stallion's future is not just bright — it's smoking hot as well. 

GRAMMY Rewind: Megan Thee Stallion Went From "Savage" To Speechless After Winning Best New Artist In 2021

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform  at the 77th annual Tony Awards in New York City, Sunday, June 16.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State Of Mind" at the 77th annual Tony Awards on June 16.

Photo: Mary Kouw


2024 Tony Awards Recap: Musical Theater Wins And Exciting Performances

From the big wins for "Merrily We Roll Along" to "The Outsiders" taking home Best Musical and "Suffs" unexpected win, musicals made a splash at the 2024 Tonys.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 05:36 pm

Broadway had a jam-packed slate of musicals this year, with everything from originals to adaptations and highly anticipated revivals. It would only follow, then, that it would be a busy race toward the 77th Tony Awards

Fifteen musicals were eligible for nomination this year, up from nine in 2023. Fittingly, the June 16 telecast from Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater in New York City had some dramatic surprises — especially in the music-related categories. 

One race that was anyone’s game was Best Musical. While many thought Alicia Keys' "Hell’s Kitchen" would take the big win, the award went to "The Outsiders." Featuring music by folk duo Jamestown Revival, the book/film adaptation won a handful of awards, including Direction Of A Musical for Dayna Taymor. It was a landmark year, in which four of the five nominees for direction were women.  

Broadway is perhaps trying to capitalize on pop music fans more due to post-pandemic struggles and the reputation of Broadway being for the elderly elite. The uptick in pop stars gracing the Great White Way led the New York Times’ Michael Paulson to declare that Broadway was entering its pop era; fittingly half of the eligible new musicals had scores composed by people who primarily work as recording artists. 

Broadway is rife with recording artist-helmed scores and jukebox musicals, including Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Who, and Jamestown Revival. Recording artist-driven musicals were also among some of the notable snubs at the Tonys. Shows that failed to secure Best Musical or Original Score nominations included Ingrid Michaelson for "The Notebook," Barry Manilow for "Harmony," Huey Lewis for "The Heart of Rock and Roll," and Britney Spears for "Once Upon a One More Time."

The music categories did offer up some big name winners. Best Original Score was set to be an interesting category this year because a play, "Stereophonic," with music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler was in the running. However, the suffragette musical "Suffs" written and starring Shaina Taub took home the award. She also scored Best Book of a Musical, which was predicted by several experts. "Stereophonic" did win five awards total including Best Play and Sound Design Of A Play. 

Orchestrator and musical director Jonathan Tunick expectedly won Best Orchestrations for "Merrily We Roll Along." While the orchestrations aren’t terribly different from the original production, the Sondheim show flopped when it first opened in 1981. Yet the "Merrily" revival has found huge success due to the strength of the music and its three famous leads — perhaps the biggest name on the show's Playbill,  Daniel Radcliffe, won  Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Radcliffe was joined in the winners’ circle by costar "Merrily" Jonathan Groff, who took home Best Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role In A Musical. Costar Lindsay Mendez lost out on Best Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical to "Hell’s Kitchen’s" Kecia Lewis, whose performance in the Alicia Keys bio-musical was very well reviewed. Considered a front runner for Best Musical, "Hell’s Kitchen" only ended up taking home two awards: Lewis’ actress award and Best Performance by a Leading Actress In A Musical, which went to Maleah Joi Moon, who was the frontrunner in predictions.  

Beyond wins and upsets, performances were the highlight of the Tonys. "The Outsiders" has been garnering praise for its rumble scene, a segment of which made up the show’s Tonys performance, complete with rain. Meanwhile, "Merrily" featured its three stars with a sweet rendition of "Old Friends." Other notable performances showcased the "wow-factors" from many of the nominated shows, including a number from the passionate dance-focused show, "Illinoise," and circus tricks in the number from "Water for Elephants." Jay-Z and Alicia Keys brought the audience to their feet with their performance of "Empire State Of Mind" from "Hell’s Kitchen." Meanwhile, "Suffs" leaned into the history lessons of the show.  

Non-nominee performances that stood out include a Fosse-fueled tribute to Chita Rivera, which also included a dance from "West Side Story" performed by host Ariana DeBose (who won an Oscar for the 2021 re-make for the role of Anita, which Chita Rivera originated on Broadway). Nicole Scherzinger, who will appear in "Sunset Boulevard" next season, sang the "In Memoriam." Speaking of West End, the London-transfer production of "Cabaret" included an immersive rendition of "Willkommen," led by Eddie Redmayne, who got dragged on social media and in the press for the clown-like performance many found "terrifying." 

Next year we will be getting even more pop-artist driven musicals, including Elton John leading the charge with two musicals in the works, "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Tammy Faye." Other notable upcoming shows will have music by John Legend, Elvis Costello, Nas, Neko Case, and Mitski. Plus, a production of "Romeo and Juliet" will feature music by frequent Taylor Swift collaborator (as well as 2024 Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical) Jack Antonoff

50 Years In, "The Wiz" Remains An Inspiration: How A New Recording Repaves The Yellow Brick Road 


Paul McCartney & Wings
Paul McCartney and Wings in 1974

Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images


Wings Release 'One Hand Clapping': How To Get Into Paul McCartney's Legendary Post-Beatles Band

After 50 years on the shelf, Wings' raw and intimate live-in-the-studio album is finally here. Use it as a springboard to discover Paul McCartney's '70s band's entire catalog — here's a roadmap through it all.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 05:19 pm

Whether it be "Band on the Run" or "Jet" or "My Love," chances are you've heard a Wings song at least once — in all their polished, '70s-arena-sized glory. More than four decades after they disbanded in 1981, we're getting a helping of raw, uncut Wings.

Last February, Wings' classic 1973 album Band on the Run got the 50th anniversary treatment, with a disc of "underdubbed" remixes, allowing Paul McCartney, spouse and keyboardist Linda McCartney, and guitarist Denny Laine to be heard stripped back, with added clarity.

After a few months to digest that, it was time to reveal a session that, for ages, fans had been clamoring for. On June 14, in came One Hand Clapping, a live-in-the-studio set from August 1974 that captured Wings at the zenith of their powers.

Back then, Wings had the wind in their sails, with a reconstituted lineup Band on the Run at the top of the charts. They opted to plug in at Abbey Road Studios with cameras rolling, and record a live studio album with an attendant documentary. The film wouldn’t come out until a 2010 reissue of Band on the Run; the music’s popped up on bootlegs, but had never been released in full.

That long absence is a shame; while One Hand Clapping is a bit of a historical footnote, it absolutely rips; Giles Martin shining up the mixes certainly helped. Epochal Macca ballads, like "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Blackbird," are well represented, but when Wings rock out, as on "Jet," "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five," and "deep cut "Soily," they tear the roof off.

Basically, in range and sequencing, One Hand Clapping shows McCartney prepping Wings like a rocket; soon, it'd rip through the live circuit. If you've never taken a spin through McCartney's post-Fabs discography, though, you may not know where to go from here.

So, for neophytes (or just fans wanting a refresher), here's a framework through which to sift through the Wings discography — with One Hand Clapping still ringing in your ears.

The Essentials

Remember, as you get into Wings: don't cordon off their catalog from McCartney's solo work as a whole. In other words: if you haven't heard masterpieces like 1971's Ram yet, don't go scrounging through Back to the Egg deep cuts yet: check all that stuff out, then return to this list.

That being established: the proper Wings entryway is almost unquestionably Band on the Run. Like Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road before it, it's an exhilarating melodic and stylistic rush, a sonic adventure — whether you go for the original or the "underdubbed" version.

In the grand scheme of solo Beatles, Band on the Run is also the one McCartney album that slugs it out with John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, in terms of artistic realization.

That being said: despite slightly inferior contemporaneous reviews, its follow-up, 1975's Venus and Mars, is almost as good — and if grandiosity isn't your bag, you might actually enjoy it more than Band on the Run. (Think of Harrison following up All Things with the sparser, more spacious Living in the Material World, and you'll get the picture.)

Between those two albums, you've got a wealth of indispensable Macca songs — "Jet," "Let Me Roll It," "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five," "Rock Show," "You Gave Me the Answer" — as well as satisfying deep cuts, like doomed Wingsman Jimmy McCulloch's "Medicine Jar."

From there, it's time to understand Weird Wings — which rewinds the clock to their beginnings.

The Weirdness

As the McCartney canon goes, Ram's stock seems to shoot up every year, single handedly inspiring new generations of psych-pop weirdos. By comparison, Wings' debut, Wild Life, was critically savaged in 1971, and its reputation isn't much better today.

As you'll learn so often in your solo Macca voyage — you've just got to ignore the critics sometimes. Even McCartney himself said "Bip Bop" "just goes nowhere" and "I cringe every time I hear it." What he leaves out it's a maddening earworm — to hear this loony, circuitous little sketch once is to carry it to your deathbed.

Indeed, Wild Life is full of moments that will stick with you. In the title track, McCartney screams about the zoo like his hair's on fire; "I Am Your Singer" is a swaying dialogue between Paul and Linda; "Dear Friend" is one of McCartney's most moving songs about Lennon.

Wild Life's follow-up, Red Rose Speedway, is a little more candy-coated and commercial — but outside of the polarizing hit "My Love," it has some integral McCartney tunes, like "Little Lamb Dragonfly" and "Single Pigeon."

In the end, though, Wild Life is arguably the early Wings offering that will really stick to your ribs. It's not a crummy follow-up to Ram, but an intriguing off-ramp from its harebrained universe — and as the opening statement from McCartney's post-Beatles vehicle, worth investigating just on that merit.

The Deep Cuts

McCartney has always been a hit-or-miss solo artist by design — digging through the half-written pastiches and questionable experiments is part of the deal.

1976's Wings at the Speed of Sound features a key track in the irrepressibly jaunty "Let 'Em In," and an (in)famous disco-spangled hit in "Silly Love Songs." From there, with tunes like "Cook of the House" and "Warm and Beautiful," your mileage may vary wildly.

The ratio holds for 1978's London Town: you could put the gorgeous "I'm Carrying" on your playlist and scrap the rest, or you can go spelunking. And McCartney being McCartney, despite 1979's Back to the Egg being choppy waters, he nailed it at least once — on the lithe, sophisticated, Stevie Wonder-like "Arrow Through Me."

Today, at 81, McCartney is an 18-time GRAMMY winner and an enormous concert draw — charging through his six-decade catalog in stadiums the world over. These albums only comprise one decade in his history, where he flourished as a mulleted stadium act alongside his keyboarding wife. But his catalog would be so much different if he never got his Wings.

5 Lesser Known Facts About The Beatles' Let It Be Era: Watch The Restored 1970 Film

Sam Smith performing in 2014
Sam Smith performs at Q102's Jingle Ball in Philadelphia in 2014.

Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage


How Sam Smith's 'In The Lonely Hour' Became An LGBTQIA+ Trailblazer

As Sam Smith’s massive debut album turns 10, revisit some of the ways it broke ground for the LGBTQIA+ community — from supporting same-sex marriage to making GRAMMY history.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 04:11 pm

Before launching their own solo career, Sam Smith had already teased their pop prowess by guesting on two bonafide dance classics, Disclosure's deep house anthem "Latch" in 2012 and Naughty Boy's two-step garage throwback "La La La" in 2013. And upon debuting their own work in 2014 with In The Lonely Hour, Smith instantly cemented themselves as the master of the heartbreak ballad — and one of pop's new pioneers.

Self-described as the "diary from a lonely 21-year-old," the record was inspired by the love Smith felt toward an unnamed man which, it seems fair to say, wasn't exactly reciprocated. "I don't have that many sad things going on in my life and it was the only thing that was really affecting me last year," they explained to Digital Spy ahead of In The Lonely Hour's release. "So, it's my way of defining what is love, and how unrequited love is just as painful, just as powerful, as what we call 'normal' love." And audiences both in their homeland and across the pond immediately latched on to its overarching theme.

Largely produced by hitmaking extraordinaire Jimmy Napes (Clean Bandit, Mary J. Blige), In The Lonely Hour reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, spawned five hit singles, and, in an era when the album format was commercially struggling, sold a remarkable 8.5 million copies across the globe. And alongside the chart success, the sold-out tours, and the four GRAMMY wins on the same night, the blockbuster LP also became a force for good, and a force for change, within the LGBTQIA+ community.

A decade on from its stateside release (June 17), we take a look at why In The Lonely Hour was such a landmark album for the music industry as a whole, but especially for a new queer generation.

It Made GRAMMY History

Smith famously put their foot in their mouth while picking up Best Original Song at the 2016 Academy Awards for Bond theme "Writing's On the Wall," wrongly declaring — much to Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's disdain — that they were the first ever openly gay Oscar winner. However, the Brit can lay claim to being an LGBTQIA+ trailblazer at the GRAMMYs.

The year before his acceptance speech faux pas, Smith became the first member of the LGBTQIA+ community to win Best New Artist. The singer also won Best Pop Vocal Album for In the Lonely Hour, while "Stay With Me" was crowned both Record and Song Of The Year. (Eight years later, Smith then made history again as the first ever non-binary GRAMMY winner when their Kim Petras collaboration "Unholy" scooped Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2023.)

It Used Gender Neutral Pronouns

The use of pronouns has played a big part in Smith's career. And though they officially announced their they/them change in 2019, the singer refused to commit to a particular gender on their debut album. While In The Lonely Hour was based on their infatuation with an uninterested man, the Brit purposely left things ambiguous, as they explained to Fader at the time of its release.

"[It's] important to me that my music reaches everybody. I've made [it] so that it could be about anything and everybody — whether it's a guy, a female or a goat — and everybody can relate to that." This inclusive approach has also been adapted by several other artists, including singer/songwriter Bruno Major, whonoted how Smith's material "can be listened to by anybody of any sexuality and gender and still apply."

It Advocated For Same-Sex Marriage

While Smith kept all pronouns neutral on record, they were far more specific when it came to In The Lonely Hour's visuals. In the tearjerking video for "Lay Me Down," a flashback shows the Brit getting hitched to their boyfriend in the same church where the latter is later laid to rest. Although gay marriage had been made legal in the UK a year prior to the video's 2015 release, it was still illegal for same-sex couples to wed within the Church of England.

In a Facebook message posted to coincide with its premiere, Smith said, "This video shows my dreams that one day gay men and women and transgendered men and women all over the world, like all our straight families and friends, will be able to get married under any roof, in any city, in any town, in any village, in any country." Smith later performed the album's biggest hit, "Stay With Me," in front of President Joe Biden at the 2022 signing of the Respect for Marriage Act.

It Ventured Into Cishet Territory

Before Smith came along, the modern heartbreak ballad — the kind of emotionally devastating anthem that can reduce an entire stadium crowd to a blubbering wreck — had typically been the domain of heterosexual/cis-identifying artists such as Adele and Ed Sheeran.

However, thanks to radio-friendly chart hits such as "Lay Me Down," "Stay With Me," and "I'm Not The Only One," In The Lonely Hour proved mainstream audiences, no matter their sexual orientation or gender, could be equally moved by candid tales of queer love. Smith's lyrical themes may have been specific to their own situation, but they could just as easily be interpreted on a universal level. Soon after, LGBTQIA+ singers such as "Britain's Got Talent" graduate Calum Scott and Eurovision Song Contest winner Duncan Laurence were mining a similar tragi-romantic path to hugely commercial effect.

It Channeled A Feminine Energy

The tactile way Smith addressed their unrequited love — not to mention, how much it was embraced by the mainstream — meant that In The Lonely Hour wasn't considered an explicitly LGBTQIA+ album at the time. Yet, the singer insists they were deliberately trying to challenge notions of gender, sexuality and masculinity.

Speaking to Out five years after the album's release, Smith revealed it was, in fact, partly influenced by one of the all-time gay icons. "I'm in a suit and in that suit, I was channeling Judy Garland. I look back on those videos of me when I was 20, and I see a feminine energy." They further explained they were surprised when the record wasn't initially interpreted as intended. But thanks to Smith's non-binary journey, the album's inherent queerness has unarguably now become more apparent.

It Opened The Door For Several LGBTQIA+ Artists

Smith confirmed they were gay in the same week In The Lonely Hour hit the shelves, acknowledging the record was "about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn't love me back." And the matter-of-fact way they spoke about their sexuality inspired several other artists to follow suit.

In 2017, Troye Sivan cited Smith as a role model for coming out without making any grand gestures. Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander has also applauded his fellow Brit for refusing to hide their true identity. Even some of Smith's collaborators, including Petras and Cat Burns, have touted the singer's self-assurance.

Indeed, while artists in less enlightened times often felt compelled to keep their sexuality under wraps, Smith has been able to express their true self from the outset. As a result, a generation of artists have seen that queerness needn't be a barrier to commercial success — and that celebrating it can change culture in a powerful way.

Listen To's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists