Paul McCartney – circa 1976
“But the kettle’s on the boil, and we’re so easily called away” – ‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’ (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney)
Rock stars tend to be obnoxious, brooding figures of danger. What kind of rock star would behave in a manner described as ‘accommodating’? Reporters are courteously provided with Juicy Fruit chewing gum by this performer and he voraciously absorbs their resultant articles. Paul McCartney never tires of having his photograph taken and volunteers to do interviews. Even when the writing of a song is proving difficult to complete, his solution is “Let’s have a cup of tea.” Such an approach is charming and endearing. It is also nothing like the way rock stars are ‘supposed’ to act. Understanding this contradiction is crucial to comprehending the music of this artist.
James Paul McCartney is born 18 June 1942 at Walton General Hospital near Liverpool, England. The newborn is commonly referred to as ‘Paul’ to avoid confusion with his father, Jim McCartney. In the 1920s, Jim McCartney played trumped and led The Jim Mac Jazz Band, a popular Liverpool swing band. That was in the evening; by day he was a salesman at the Cotton Exchange. In 1941 Jim McCartney married Mary Patricia Mohin. She was an Irish Catholic woman and he was an Irish Protestant man, but, despite their different religious affiliations, there were no problems. Mary was a trained nurse and midwife and this background earned her a private room at the hospital. Jim and Mary go on to have a second son, Peter Michael McCartney, on 7 January 1944. Like his older brother, this lad is also known by his middle name – Michael.
Money is fairly tight for the family. Mary returns to work as a midwife and district nurse. When Paul is 13 the family moves to 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton, a suburb of Liverpool. In 1955 Mary McCartney is diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease is too far advanced for treatment to be successful and she dies. On hearing the tragic news, Paul blurts out “What are we going to do without her money?” It’s a legitimate question since her income helped keep the family going. “I’d lost my Mum,” Paul later recalls, “but you wouldn’t cry…’Cos, you know, you’re Liverpool lads,” and a tough exterior is required.
Paul McCartney copes with his loss by turning to music. First, he persuades an uncle to loan him a trumpet, the same instrument his father played in The Jim Mac Jazz Band. “Looking back, I think I was always musical. My Dad was musical, and I think my Mum was musical,” Paul says. He begins ‘doodling about with the family piano situated in the living room.’ In 1956 Paul attends a concert at the Liverpool Empire by Lonnie Donegan, who plays what is called ‘skiffle’ (a kind of home-made version of rhythmic folk music). This inspires Paul to want to play guitar. Jim McCartney finds fifteen pounds to pay for the instrument. “I got my first guitar when I was 15,” Paul recalls, “and I just used to fool around with it, more or less. As time went by, though, I got more interested.” Playing doesn’t come easily to the youngster until he makes an important discovery: Although he is right-handed in most things, Paul McCartney finds he can play guitar better left-handed.
Although his musical ability is improving, Paul McCartney’s school work is not doing so well. “I always had ambitions to be something good,” he claims. Yet despite being ‘a good student, well-behaved and conscientious’, “I wouldn’t buckle down at school. They used to accuse you of daydreaming,” he says of his teachers’ lack of understanding. Paul is getting an education of a different sort from rock ‘n’ roll records. He admires the raucous Little Richard as well as the sweet pop of The Everly Brothers. However, “it was Elvis [Presley] who really got me hooked on beat music. When I heard [his song] ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, I thought, this is it.” Elvis could switch from the same sort of rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll that Little Richard purveys to ballads more akin to the gentle tones of The Everly Brothers. Right there is the template for all Paul McCartney’s own music to come: rock, ballads, and the ability to switch between the two. In the summer of 1957 Paul and Michael McCartney are sent off to Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Filey, Yorkshire. Paul convinces Michael to join him in an amateur talent contest. They perform an Everly Brothers song. They don’t win, but Paul finds he has a taste for performing to an audience.
On 6 July 1957 Paul McCartney attends a church picnic in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. A group called The Quarreymen are entertaining the crowd. Their leader is John Lennon. A mutual friend introduces the two of them. John is keen to learn the songs Paul has already mastered and the newcomer is invited to join the group.
John Lennon becomes a regular visitor to 20 Forthlin Road where he and Paul McCartney practice their singing and guitar playing. The Quarreymen continue to play gigs. One night, at the Broadway Conservative Club, Paul performs an original composition, ‘I Lost My Little Girl’. John, keenly competitive, begins to write too. Paul finds he can write part of a song, but then gets stuck. John helps complete the song and the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney is born.
The Quarreymen go through some membership changes. The most notable of these is the addition of guitarist George Harrison, a boy Paul McCartney knows from catching the same school bus. From early 1959, a friend of John Lennon’s named Stuart Sutcliffe becomes the group’s bass player. Around the same time, the group becomes known as The Beatles. Stuart’s musical ability is fairly negligible and he leaves the group in April 1961. This clears the way for Paul McCartney to switch to bass. He plays a distinctive Hoffner violin bass. With the addition of Ringo Starr in August 1962, The Beatles line-up solidifies as: John Lennon (vocals, rhythm guitar), Paul McCartney (vocals, bass), George Harrison (lead guitar, vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums).
The Beatles become very successful in Britain and then superstars internationally. Almost all their albums top the charts. At first, John Lennon is clearly the group’s leader, but Paul McCartney is also a force to be considered. The two young men jointly compose the lion’s share of The Beatles’ recordings. Over time, the Lennon / McCartney team drifts apart. Although officially still co-writers, they increasingly compose separately. John’s songs tend to be more personal and autobiographical, while Paul, by contrast, composes story-songs, clearly artificial pieces conceived purely as entertainment.
The first of The Beatles’ hits to clearly feature Paul McCartney as lead vocalist is ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1964. Other songs to bear the distinctive McCartney stamp include ‘Yesterday’ in 1965; ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (UK no. 1, US no. 11, AUS no. 1) in 1966; ‘Penny Lane’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1967; ‘Hey Jude’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1968; ‘Get Back’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1969; and ‘Let It Be’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) in 1970. About half of these songs are ballads and McCartney’s name becomes synonymous with plaintive love songs. Paul is particularly proud of ‘Yesterday’, his signature tune. It begins life as an instrumental called ‘Scrambled Egg’ but becomes an elegant piece that features only Paul’s voice and an acoustic guitar backed by a string quartet. The other three Beatles don’t play on the song.
Paul McCartney is the most musically adept of The Beatles. His main role is as bass player (from their first single), but he also contributes piano, percussion (both from the second album forward), occasional guitar (from their fifth album on) and, on one occasion, drums (the 1969 single ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’ (UK no. 1, US no. 8, AUS no. 1)).
For Paul McCartney, his years with The Beatles are tumultuous on a personal level as well. Usually considered the most handsome of the four boys, Paul is not short of female company. He dumps his regular girlfriend, Dorothy Rohne, in summer 1962 just as The Beatles are taking off. On 9 May 1963 Paul McCartney meets Jane Asher, a young actress, who becomes his new girlfriend. She is an ambitious, intelligent and independent girl. They become engaged on 25 December 1967. Such is the growth of The Beatles’ popularity that their family homes are closely watched by fans. To celebrate his 21st birthday on 18 June 1963, Paul McCartney has to have the party at his Auntie Jin’s home in Birkenhead, across the river from Liverpool. The Beatles’ cross-cultural impact even sees them introduce new words to the English language such as ‘fab’ (short for ‘fabulous’), ‘grotty’ (grimy, unpleasant), and ‘gear’ (stylish, hip). On 28 August 1964, during their first tour of the United States, The Beatles are introduced to marijuana by folk rock icon Bob Dylan. The Beatles days as a touring entity come to an end in August 1966. This is a decision that sits least comfortably with Paul who most enjoys being a showman and hearing an audience. With the encouragement of Jane Asher, in autumn 1966 Paul McCartney purchases High Park, a farm in Scotland, to act as a rural retreat from his high-pressure life. Around the same time, Paul composes the soundtrack for a motion picture, ‘The Family Way’ (1967). It is the first solo work by one of The Beatles. Paul’s brother Michael – under the pseudonym of Mike McGear – becomes part of the British pop group Scaffold (1966 – 1974). Their biggest hit is the humorous ‘Lily The Pink’ (UK no. 1) in 1968.
On 19 May 1967, at ‘The Bag O’ Nails’ – a nightclub in London – Paul McCartney meets an American photographer named Linda Eastman. Linda is a divorcee with a daughter, Heather (born 1963), by her first husband, Bob See. Paul’s relationship with Jane Asher breaks up in mid-1968 and Linda Eastman becomes the new woman in his life. Paul and Linda marry on 12 March 1969 at the Marleybone Register’s Office in London. Paul is the last of the four Beatles to wed. Paul adopts Heather, Linda’s daughter. Paul and Linda become the parents of three more children: Mary (born 1969), Stella (born 1971) and James (born 1977).
On 27 August 1967 The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, commits suicide. If The Beatles can be considered to be originally John Lennon’s group, in their latter stages they become Paul McCartney’s group. After Brian Epstein’s death, Paul takes it upon himself to try to direct the quartet’s musical activities. This is not always acceptable to the others. As they become mired in questionable business enterprises, The Beatles turn against each other and it often becomes Paul versus the rest. The last straw comes with the release of Paul McCartney’s first solo album, an event that clashes with the release of what turns out to be The Beatles’ final album. There is a messy court-case to unwind everything, but The Beatles effectively end in April 1970.
‘McCartney’ (1970) (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 3), released in April, is, literally, a home-made affair. It is recorded at High Park, Paul’s farm in Scotland, and such sounds as doors slamming and children playing can be heard in the background. The stirring love song ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ has Paul singing “Maybe I’m amazed at the way you love me all the time / Maybe I’m afraid of the way I need you.” Through overdubs, Paul plays all the instruments on the album and acts as producer as well. The latter is a role he fulfils on most of his post-Beatles works. The carefree ‘Every Night’ has Paul exchanging the idea of “I just want to go out / Get out of my head” for the quiet home life of “Tonight I just want to stay here and be with you.” The album comes packaged with a self-interview where McCartney clearly states there are no plans for a new Beatles album, no intention to resume co-writing with John Lennon, and no feelings of regret about the absence of his long-time companions during the recording of the album.
The single, ‘Another Day’ (UK no. 2, US no. 5, AUS no. 1), released in February 1971, is credited to Paul And Linda McCartney. Over a strummed acoustic guitar, a story unfolds of ordinary life: “Every day she takes her morning bath / She wets her hair / Wraps a towel around her / As she’s heading for the bedroom chair / It’s just another day.”
The following album, ‘Ram’ (1971) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 3), is released in May. It is also co-credited to Paul And Linda McCartney. Unlike the endearingly home-made ‘McCartney’, ‘Ram’ is recorded with Linda McCartney (backing vocals), David Spinoza (guitar), Hugh McCracken (bass) and Denny Seiwell (drums). The best known track from the album is ‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’ (US no. 1, AUS no. 5). As the title suggests, it is actually two partial songs pasted together. The mournful verses (“We’re so sorry Uncle Albert / We’re so sorry if we caused you any pain”) slam up against the expansive chorus (“Hands across the water / Heads across the sky”). The whole thing is stitched together with rain sounds, an imitation of a telephone dial tone, and an array of silly voices. Both characters in the title are real. “I did have an Uncle Albert,” McCartney acknowledges. He “used to quote the Bible to everyone when he got drunk.” Admiral William Halsey was Commander of the U.S. naval fleet in the Pacific during World War Two.
Paul McCartney was always expected to be the most commercially successful of the former Beatles. However he is roundly attacked by the critics, especially at this point in his career. Additionally, there are lingering questions about Linda McCartney’s musical ability. Even McCartney’s former collaborator, John Lennon, targets the luckless Paul with the song ‘How Do You Sleep?’ This song comes from Lennon’s September album, ‘Imagine’ (1971).
Part of Paul McCartney’s response to all this is to form a new band. He is the only one of the ex-Beatles to so fully attempt to create a new group. McCartney dubs this new combo Wings. The origin of the name dates to the birth of Stella, his second child with Linda, in 1971. It is a difficult birth with complications that endanger both mother and child. Paul prays fervently for them ‘and the image of wings comes to his mind.’ He decides to use Wings as the name of his new band. Actually, for their first three albums together, the billing is ‘Paul McCartney And Wings’. The initial line-up is: Paul McCartney (vocals, bass), Linda McCartney (keyboards, backing vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals) and Denny Seiwell (drums). Denny Laine was a founding member of British band The Moody Blues, but left before their most successful period. Denny Seiwell played drums on ‘Ram’. Released in December, the first outing by Paul McCartney And Wings is the album titled ‘Wild Life’ (1971) (UK no. 11, US no. 10, AUS no. 3).
On 9 February 1972 Paul McCartney And Wings begin travelling around England in a bus, playing unannounced gigs to break in their act. They have by this time added a fifth member: Henry McCullough (guitar).
On 19 February 1972 the single ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ (UK no. 16, US no. 21, AUS no. 17) is released. It is banned by the BBC because of its political content. This is widely seen as Paul McCartney attempting to compete with John Lennon, who is better known for this sort of political agitation. However, this ignores that Paul’s parents were both of ‘the Liverpool Irish’, so he has a legitimate ethnic concern about the conflict in Ireland.
As if in reaction, the next single is the ‘utterly innocuous’ ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ (UK no. 9, US no. 28, AUS no. 17) in May 1972. Raising small children, Paul McCartney discovered the full text and thought “it would be interesting for everyone to find out what the words to the original nursery rhyme were.”
Beginning in France on 9 July 1972, Paul McCartney And Wings commence a twenty-six date European tour. “We have to get worked in before doing any big shows in Britain or America,” says Paul. However, on 10 August, Paul, Linda and Denny Seiwell are all arrested in Gothenburg, Sweden, for possession of marijuana. They are all fined but allowed to continue with the show and tour.
December 1972 sees the release of another single, ‘Hi Hi Hi’ (UK no. 5, US no. 10, AUS no. 29) backed with ‘C Moon’. ‘Hi Hi Hi’ is, again, banned by the BBC. From the title and the recent marijuana bust, it may be thought to have got in trouble due to drug references, but it is brought into disrepute for sexual references. The hard-rocking track directs “I want you to lie on the bed / Get ya ready for my polygon.” A mildly annoyed McCartney says “Our publishing company…got the lyrics wrong,” using ‘body gun’ instead of ‘polygon’ which, according to the author, “makes it much more specific.” Quite how a geometric object figures into the original version is something of a mystery. The reggae rhythms of ‘C Moon’ added to the glam rock A-side makes this an impressive effort.
On 8 March 1973 Paul McCartney incurs another marijuana-related drugs fine. This time he is charged with cultivating marijuana plants on his Scottish farm. Paul claims ‘that the seeds were given to him by some fans and that he didn’t know what they would grow.’
On 9 April 1973 Paul McCartney And Wings release the single ‘My Love’ (UK no. 9, US no. 1, AUS no. 5). This is a heartfelt, romantic piece that, Paul confirms, is about his wife, Linda: “And when I go away / I know my heart can stay with my love / It’s understood.”
A television special, ‘James Paul McCartney’, is aired on Britain’s ATV Network on 16 April 1973.
The album ‘Red Rose Speedway’ (1973) (UK no. 5, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is released on 30 April and contains the single ‘My Love’. This set is considered ‘a giant step beyond’ the previous album, ‘Wild Life’.
In May 1973 Paul McCartney And Wings play their first (official) show in Britain.
The strain of the tour results in both Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell resigning from Wings.
In June, Paul McCartney issues ‘Live And Let Die’ (UK no. 7, US no. 2, AUS no. 5), the theme tune to the latest James Bond movie. The track briefly reunites McCartney with George Martin, The Beatles’ long-time record producer. It’s a big, cinematic production with a reggae mid-section. “I didn’t feel that I could go and do a little acoustic number for a Bond film,” Paul says in reference to the bombastic super-spy subject of the movie.
In October 1973 Paul McCartney And Wings release the single ‘Helen Wheels’ (UK no. 12, US no. 10, AUS no. 17) b/w ‘Country Dreamer’. During World War Two, ‘Hell on Wheels’ was a slogan British soldiers daubed on their jeeps or troop-carriers. Fond of a pun, Paul McCartney christens his landrover ‘Helen Wheels’. The locations checked off in the lyrics – Glasgow, Carlisle, Liverpool, Birmingham – follow the path from McCartney’s farm in Scotland down to London. It’s a witty, electrifyingly propulsive track. The flipside, ‘Country Dreamer’, is a pleasant rural idyll, adding up to another good quality single.
The decision is made to record the next album in Lagos, Nigeria. Without Henry McCullough or Denny Seiwell, Paul and Linda McCartney are accompanied only by the faithful Denny Laine. Paul’s multi-instrumental ability is put to good use as he plays all the drums himself. “I love to do [drumming],” he says. “If I play it, I’m still kind of composing.” There is some concern among the locals that McCartney is there to ‘steal’ African rhythms. This prompts the visitor to snap, “I’ve done perfectly all right without your music so far. Nobody’s gonna steal your b****y music.” As the irritation of a grain of sand leads to the production of a pearl, perhaps it is the tensions of the sessions that prompt McCartney to make his finest album. ‘Band On The Run’ (1973) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is released in December. The cover image shows a group dressed as convicts caught in a spotlight, seemingly in the midst of a prison break. Paul, Denny and (a hard to recognise) Linda are in the group along with six other identities: (i) television chat show host Michael Parkinson; (ii) actor, comedian and singer Kenny Lynch; (iii) Liverpool boxer John Conteh; (iv) columnist, gourmet and grandson of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, Clement Freud; and actors (v) James Coburn and (vi) Christopher Lee. The title track, ‘Band On The Run’ (UK no. 3, US no. 1), has three sections. The first two are short and introductory: the sad “Stuck inside these four walls” and the grim “If I ever get out of here.” Then, following the jailbreak, the main ‘Band on the run’ piece features an insistently strummed acoustic guitar. It’s a complicated structure, but it works well. ‘Jet’ (UK no. 7, US no. 7) follows this track. This is a punchy, brass-driven number about Paul’s dog, a black Labrador puppy. Early uncertainty about the pooch’s gender accounts for the line “You know I thought you was a little lady.” ‘Let Me Roll It’ is seen by some as a riposte to John Lennon. The song certainly appropriates some of Lennon’s style, its soulful approach punctuated by harsh electric guitar, but the Lennon / McCartney combo – however artificial it may be in this instance – is always a good one. The shuffling, slow acoustic number ‘Picasso’s Last Words’, is based on a meeting between McCartney and Dustin Hoffman. The Hollywood actor had learned that the final utterance of the famed cubist painter Pablo Picasso was “Drink to me / Drink to my health / You know I can’t drink anymore.” Hoffman thought it sounded like a good idea for a song and was both pleased and astounded when McCartney began composing it on the spot. Other tracks, like ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Mrs Vandebilt’, have some exotic percussion and are, perhaps, the source of the rumours about alleged musical colonialism. Later editions add ‘Helen Wheels’ and ‘Country Dreamer’, but those songs are not part of ‘Band On The Run’ in its original state, an album so good ‘that all McCartney’s later work will be measured against it.’
The next task is to rebuild Wings. On 15 June 1974, Geoff Britton, a karate expert, is announced as the new drummer and wunderkind guitarist Jimmy McCulloch rounds out the team when he makes his debut on their next single, released on 4 November 1974. “Take me down, Jimmy,” urges Paul McCartney just before the talented youngster’s exemplary solo on this, Paul McCartney’s best ‘solo’ single, ‘Junior’s Farm’ (UK no. 16, US no. 3, AUS no. 12). It’s all a bit of a lark but, buried in the lyrics, is a comment on the rising tide of inflation: “I took my bag into the grocer’s store / The price is higher than the time before / Old man asked me, ‘Why is it more?’” Still, it’s the sharp, polished hard pop rock that really sells the song.
On 2 March 1975 a police officer in Los Angeles pulls over a car for allegedly running a red light. Paul McCartney is at the wheel. More interest is directed to the passenger. Linda McCartney, unlike her husband on this occasion, is charged with possession of marijuana.
Before their next album, Wings undergoes another line-up change. In an odd coincidence, British drummer Geoff Britton is out and is replaced by American drummer Joe English. This follows the equally coincidental swap of Henry McCullough for Jimmy McCulloch. This line-up of Wings is probably the most satisfying: Paul McCartney (vocals, bass), Linda McCartney (keyboards, backing vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Jimmy McCulloch (guitar) and Joe English (drums). The McCartney –English rhythm section is really tight. McCartney, now employing a Fender Precision bass, has become an even better player at this stage of his career.
Following the example of ‘Band On The Run’, ‘Venus And Mars’ (1975) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 2) is recorded in foreign climes, in this instance, New Orleans, Louisiana, in the U.S.A. Released in May, the title invites all sorts of speculation. Venus and Mars are the planets on either side of Earth and, in Roman mythology, they were the gods of, respectively, love and war. The title song, ‘Venus And Mars’ (US no. 12, AUS no. 34), appears in two different iterations on the album, one at the top of each side. In the opening, over a lonely, flute-like synthesiser line, Paul McCartney sings “A good friend of mine follows the stars / Venus and Mars are alright tonight.” By one interpretation, this means a groupie who follows the famous Linda (Venus) and Paul (Mars). Another reading has it being an astronomer observing the lights in the heavens. By side two, it is all recast as a science-fiction epic with “Starship 21-ZNA9”. The album’s biggest hit, ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ (UK no. 6, US no. 1, AUS no. 14), is a summery burst of affection: “Soldier boy kisses girl / Leaves behind a tragic world / But he don’t mind / He’s in love and he says ‘Love is fine’.” For those who prefer a tougher rock orientation, there is the steady rhythm and corrosive guitar in ‘Letting Go’ (UK no. 41, US no. 39, AUS no. 34): “Oh, she look like snow / I wanta put her in a Broadway show.” The bouncy keyboard pattern of ‘Magneto And Titanium Man’ is highly addictive. The song also name drops The Crimson Dynamo, making a total of three super-villains from Marvel Comics. “I love the names,” confirms Paul. “I love the whole comic book thing.” ‘You Gave Me The Answer’ is a fruity 1930s dance hall pastiche sounding like something that would have been played by The Jim Mac Jazz Band, the combo fronted by Paul’s Dad. “You’ll never be crowned by the aristocracy,” sings Paul, as if through an old-fashioned wind-up gramophone speaker. ”To their delight, you’d merely invite / Them in for a cup of tea.” ‘Venus And Mars’ is the first album credited to, simply, ‘Wings’, rather than ‘Paul McCartney And Wings’. If it is not the equal of ‘Band On The Run’, it is fairly close.
‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’ (1976) (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 2), released in March, is ‘the first real team effort’ with the rest of Wings contributing some vocals and songwriting. ‘Silly Love Songs’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 20) is virtually the McCartney manifesto: “You’d think the people would have had enough of silly love songs / I look around me and I see it isn’t so.” The vocals for the song become a round, with Paul, Linda, and Denny Laine singing over one another in turn. ‘Silly Love Songs’ also boasts some strong bass-playing from Paul. ‘Let ‘Em In’ (UK no. 2, US no. 3, AUS no. 65) employs an introduction with chimes. The piano skeleton of the song is underpinned by martial drumming. The lyrics portray a parade of visitors including such familiar faces as “Brother Michael, Auntie Jin” and “Phil and Don [a.k.a. The Everly Brothers]”. ‘Beware My Love’ demonstrates a harder edge to the band’s sound.
This album is followed by a U.S. tour beginning on 3 May 1976 that is the source of the live triple album ‘Wings Over America’ (1976) (UK no. 8, US no. 1, AUS no. 3) in December. A live version of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ (UK no. 28, US no. 10) is issued as a single.
Joe English leaves Wings and, on 8 September 1977, Jimmy McCulloch also calls it quits. Tragically, McCulloch is found dead ‘of undetermined causes’ on 28 September 1979. He was 26.
Just as it had been at the time of ‘Band On The Run’, Wings is reduced to the trio of Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine.
The next single in December 1977 consists of two songs Paul McCartney creates to win wagers. His adopted daughter Heather, now 14, bets McCartney that, in the punk rock / new wave era now dominating music, he can’t score a number one with a rock song. McCartney’s response is the headlong blur of ‘Girlschool’. He wins the bet – sort of. ‘Girlschool’ probably only reaches such heights because it is the other side of ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ (UK no. 1, US no. 33, AUS no. 1). A friend bet Paul that he couldn’t write a traditional Scots air but ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ disproves that, with bagpipes strategically employed. It’s a sentimental piece that wins hearts – though perhaps not that of young Heather. (Note: A ‘mull’ is a Scottish term for a headland or promontory.)
‘London Town’ (1978) (UK no. 4, US no. 2, AUS no. 3) is recorded by the three-piece version of Wings. ‘With A Little Luck’ (UK no. 5, US no. 1, AUS no. 11) is almost entirely made up of electronic synthesiser tones, lending it an unusual, futuristic veneer. It’s an optimistic piece though, as McCartney observes in a later interview, “I’m not really a cynical person.” The other standout from the album is the tough-minded rock of ‘I’ve Had Enough’ (UK no. 42, US no. 25, AUS no. 49). These two songs are atypical. The title track, ‘London Town’ (UK no. 60, US no. 39), is more representative of the album’s overall sound. It is a folky disc of acoustic textures and harmonies.
There is a stab at disco with the 1979 single ‘Goodnight Tonight’ (UK no. 5, US no. 5, AUS no. 6). For this song, a new line-up of Wings is assembled with the existing trio joined by Laurence Juber (guitar) and Steve Holly (drums).
‘Back To The Egg’ (1979) (UK no. 6, US no. 8, AUS no. 3) in June displays a hard rock sensibility on tracks like ‘Getting Closer’ (UK no. 60, US no. 20, AUS no. 57), ‘Old Siam Sir’ (UK no. 35) and ‘Arrow Through Me’ (US no. 29). Also of note is the assembly of the ‘Rockestra’ for a couple of tracks, an all-star cast including David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd), Pete Townshend (of The Who), John Paul Jones and John Bonham (both of Led Zeppelin). Chris Thomas co-produces the album with Paul McCartney.
The year of 1979 closes with seasonal anthem ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ (UK no. 6, AUS no. 61).
Preparatory to a Japanese tour, Paul McCartney visits that country. On 16 January 1980 the Japanese authorities arrest McCartney for possession of marijuana. He spends ten nights in jail before being deported. The tour is cancelled. “I can take pot [marijuana] or leave it,” McCartney claims. “I got busted in Japan for it. I was nine days without it and there wasn’t a hint of withdrawal. Nothing.” Denny Laine writes a song about the experience, ‘Japanese Tears’, but it is vetoed by McCartney. This is sufficient cause for Laine to resign from Wings. The only person, besides Paul and Linda, to have been present in all the group’s incarnations, the departure of Laine also spells the end for Wings. Years later, Paul reflects, “I used to think that all my Wings stuff was second-rate stuff, but I began to meet younger kids, not kids from my Beatle generation, who would say, ‘We really love this song.’”
Paul McCartney marks the start of his new solo career with ‘McCartney II’ (1980) (UK no. 1, US no. 3, AUS no. 6), released in May. As with its earlier namesake, Paul again plays all the instruments. It includes the ‘effervescent, dance floor crossover hit’, ‘Coming Up’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 2). Also present is the stately ‘Waterfalls’ (UK no. 9, US no. 106, AUS no. 31).
On 8 December 1980 John Lennon is murdered. “It’s so tragic, the circumstances in which he died,” mourns McCartney.
Lennon is memorialised in the song ‘Here Today’ on the next Paul McCartney album ‘Tug Of War’ (1982) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 2). This is the first of three albums produced by McCartney’s former Beatles mentor, George Martin. African-American pop star Stevie Wonder is roped in to sing a duet on ‘Ebony And Ivory’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 2), a plea for racial harmony using the simile of the black and white keys “on my piano keyboard.” Also included are ‘Take It Away’ (UK no. 15, US no. 10, AUS no. 18), a song about playing on stage, and the world-weary title track, ‘Tug Of War’ (UK no. 53, US no. 53).
Also in 1982, Paul McCartney duets with another African-American pop star, Michael Jackson, on ‘The Girl Is Mine’ (UK no. 8, US no. 2, AUS no. 4), a track from Jackson’s album ‘Thriller’.
‘Pipes Of Peace’ (1983) (UK no. 4, US no. 15, AUS no. 9) sees Jackson return the favour as they swap lines on ‘Say Say Say’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 4). The title track, ‘Pipes Of Peace’ (UK no. 1, US no. 23, AUS no. 36) is also issued as a single.
‘Give My Regards To Broad Street’ (1984) (UK no. 1, US no. 21, AUS no. 10) is the soundtrack to a motion picture featuring Paul McCartney. Some Beatles classics as well as tracks from his last two solo albums are remade for this project, but it also includes at least one more worthwhile new song, the classy pop piece ‘No More Lonely Nights’ (UK no. 2, US no. 6, AUS no. 9).
Hugh Padgham is brought in to co-produce ‘Press To Play’ (1986) (UK no. 8, US no. 30, AUS no. 22). The (sort of) title track, ‘Press’ (UK no. 25, US no. 21, AUS no. 47) becomes a single.
‘Flowers In The Dirt’ (1989) (UK no. 8, US no. 1, AUS no. 3) has a host of producers – including Mitchell Froom and Neil Dorfsman – working on different tracks. When news circulates that Paul McCartney is co-writing some songs with new wave doyen Elvis Costello, hopes are high. It is thought that Costello’s acerbic lyrics may offset McCartney’s melodies in the same way as John Lennon’s words did in The Beatles’ days. The Costello / McCartney venture proves short-lived but it does result in ‘My Brave Face’ (UK no. 18, US no. 25, AUS no. 30), a song featured on this set.
‘Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio’ (1991) (US no. 177) is a work of classical music rather than rock or pop. McCartney continues a parallel career with further classical music releases: ‘Standing Stone’ (1997) (US no. 194), ‘Working Classical’ (1999), ‘A Garland For Linda’ (2000), ‘Ecce Cor Meum’ (2006) (UK no. 141) and ‘Ocean’s Kingdom’ (2011) (US no. 143).
Not content with that, Paul McCartney diversifies further with a series of ‘electronic projects’ of experimental music under the pseudonym of ‘The Fireman’: ‘Strawberries Oceans Ships Forests’ (1993), ‘Rushes’ (1998) and ‘Electric Arguments’ (2008) (UK no. 79).
Meantime, his more mainstream work appears on ‘Off The Ground’ (1993) (UK no. 5, US no. 17, AUS no. 8) and ‘Flaming Pie’ (1997) (UK no. 2, US no. 2, AUS no. 9).
He is knighted in March 1997 becoming Sir Paul McCartney.
Linda McCartney dies from breast cancer on 17 April 1998. In a cruel irony, this is the same disease that claimed the life of Paul’s mother.
Paul McCartney continues to record, issuing ‘Run Devil Run’ (1999) (UK no. 12, US no. 27) and ‘Driving Rain’ (2001) (UK no. 46, US no. 26).
On 11 June 2002 Paul McCartney weds his second wife, model and activist Heather Mills. They have a daughter, Beatrice (born 28 October 2003).
‘Chaos And Creation In The Backyard’ (2005) (UK no. 10, US no. 6, AUS no. 33) is the next album in the Paul McCartney catalogue.
Paul McCartney and Heather Mills separate in April 2006 and divorce on 12 May 2008. ‘Memory Almost Full’ (2007) (UK no. 5, US no. 3, AUS no. 33) is released between the two events.
On 9 October 2011 Paul McCartney marries for a third time. Nancy Shevell, the Vice-President of ‘a family-owned transportation conglomerate’, is his new spouse.
The unfortunately-titled ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ (2012) (UK no. 3, US no. 5, AUS no. 15) (the title is intended to mean symbols of affection at the end of a letter) consists mainly of cover versions of old pop and jazz hits. ‘New’ (2013) (UK no. 3, US no. 3, AUS no. 22) pairs McCartney’s fresh original compositions with some of the industry’s better known modern day producers. He works with the likes of Paul Epworth (known for producing Adele), Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse), and Ethan Johns (Kings Of Leon).
‘Pure McCartney’ (2016) (UK no. 3, US no. 15, AUS no. 26) is a two disc compilation album drawing material from all of Paul McCartney’s solo albums as well as his work with Wings.
Paul McCartney’s music was unconventional for a rock artist. It appealed to a wider audience than the average rock star. “I like the idea that people hear my stuff,” he said, “and if it’s commercially successful, that’s a good sign that it’s being heard.” Part of that wider appeal was Paul’s image as an ‘ordinary’ person – a man with a wife and kids, a ready smile, and a cup of tea. It’s remarkable that such things as his multiple marijuana busts just seemed to slide off this polished façade. If his work was occasionally patchy, this was largely attributable to the same thing his teachers at school complained about: a failure to buckle down. When pushed, he was capable of greatness, not just amiability. In a long and varied career, Paul McCartney had many moments of greatness. Not bad for an ‘ordinary’ chap! ‘Paul [McCartney] simply wanted to create the kind of music that his father could have played for his own sweetheart.’ If McCartney’s work ‘evinced a decline into cozy domesticity, Paul never pretended to like it any other way.’
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 127
- ‘Shout –The True Story Of The Beatles’ by Philip Norman (Corgi Books, 1981) p. 28, 43, 44, 45, 67, 203, 273, 354
- ‘The Love You Make – An Insider’s Story Of The Beatles’ by Peter Brown, Steven Gaines (Pan Books, 1983) p. 21, 22, 23, 66, 71, 86, 87, 120, 134, 148, 192, 215, 334, 335, 357
- ‘Parkinson’ (U.K. television program, ITV Network) Paul McCartney interview conducted by Michael Parkinson (17 December 2005)
- ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 110, 114
- wikipedia.org as at 20 May 2013, 1 January 2014, 4 January 2017
- ‘The Beatles’ edited by Jeremy Pascall, Robert Burt (Octopus Books, 1975) p. 14, 15, 18, 71, 72, 73
- brainyquote.com as at 24 June 2013
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 31, 133, 156, 186, 197, 202, 203, 212, 213, 229, 234, 240, 256, 263, 274, 277, 302, 308
- Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 24 June 2013
- ‘Paul McCartney – In His Own Words’ – interview conducted by Paul Gambaccini (Omnibus Press. 1976) (reproduced on wingspan.ru)
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 357
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Solo Beatles’ by Allan Kozinn (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 225, 226, 227
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 69
- ‘The Australian Contemporary Dictionary’ – Editor – J.B. Foreman, M.A. (Collins Publishing, 1965) p. 329
- ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) – ‘New’ review by Cameron Adams (17 October 2013) p. 44
Song lyrics copyright MPL Communications Ltd
Last revised 12 January 2017