Ah well, times change, but traditions carry on. Michel Colombier's
"Wings", although a year and a half in the making at considerable expense, comes to us, blessedly!, without hype. Michel, a former student of the Paris Conservatory, is both a
classical and jazz trained musician. In 1968, he became Petula Clark's chief arranger and traveled with her to the States for the taping of the TJB "The Brass Are Comin' " TV special. There he met Herb Alpert who said that he had always wanted to do a symphonic work that encompassed pop stylings. As Michel felt this to be a viable idea, they decided to collaborate on it: Colombier writing, Alpert producing.
Michel returned to Paris to begin work on the melodies and to record there because he felt he could better communicate with a French orchestra. Soon after, songwriter-actor Paul Williams started work on the lyrics. Colombier flew to L.A. with the tapes and an expanded chorus, additional sax-woodwind, trumpet and trombone sections were recorded at the A&M studios. Along with this was added the vocals by the quintet of Bill Medley, Lani Hall (Sergio Mendes' group), Herb Alpert, Paul Williams, and
Vermettya Royster (Sisters Love).
And so the principles (or more accurately, the feelings) of Jenkins'
"Manhattan Tower" live on. Because "Wings" is a story about a man who is sick of industrial society. It begins ominously with deep mechanical hums giving way to a deliberately 'sterile' sounding melody and arrangement reminiscent of BS&T as Bill Medley sings "People live in cages that are tailor made and come in every size/They've built a house of madness
and a thousand dreams/They'll never realize/A paper prison with imaginary locks/Where loneliness has built the wall/With a cell made of boredom and fear." But that gives way to a much lighter, more flowing melody line as "Where are the angels who will save my soul/Choose a path and light the way/if anyone can light the way/Perhaps an angel who will pray for me today/Before I waste
my life away" and the music builds to a beautiful crescendo in the instrumental "Earth."
Side two's opening, "Morning," sets the tone. "Morning is come again/So try to find a friend in the pouring rain/Try to find a soul with the eyes to see/All the goodness left in me/Someone lonely just like me/in the warmth of a smile/Lies a faith that makes me strong/Knowing all the lies that I live/And still forgive." The next track, "For Those Who Cannot Hear," is rather tentative though the opening instrumental section, that despite the high haunting violin lead with its almost countryish sound, bears a striking resemblance to much of Claude
Debussy's works and it's fitting that this should serve as prelude to "We Could Be Flying's" lyrics: "Love is rising with the summer sun/Caught in the silence of hello/Rolling the words across the sky."
The wealth of "Wings" is its description in musical terms, of one man's
metamorphosis. For only a man who's learned to love both a woman and life itself could utter the closing "If we could only learn to share/All in all we've had a taste/Of the good and the bad/Times spent in love were the best we've had."