Paul McCartney’s been entertaining people for over 60 years!
Paul had just turned 15 years old when he joined John Lennon in The Quarrymen in 1957. In the ’60’s, John, Paul, George & Ringo turned The Beatles into the most popular and influential music group in history. All those great songs, and yet Paul was only 27 when he made public the group’s breakup in April of 1970. The last time the four of them recorded together was in 1969.
Now what? Paul had a tough time with the split, but he had already recorded his first solo album by the time of the announced breakup.
The April, 1970 album, McCartney, was certainly a commercial success…#1 for three weeks…but was not loved by critics. Paul did the entire album himself… playing bass, all guitars, multiple keyboards, drums, and vocals (with a little bit of help from wife Linda). The showcase of Paul’s skills is “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which sounds like it could have been on Let It Be or Abbey Road, and we would have just figured it was The Beatles. Not far behind are “Every Night” and “Junk”. What hurt the album was that some of the songs, especially the instrumentals, sounded like they were ideas for songs, and not really complete. For some reason, McCartney didn’t release any singles from the album.
In early 1971, McCartney released His first single, “Another Day”. It hit #5 in the U.S., and #1 in several other countries. It’s about a lonely woman (similar to Eleanor Rigby), and is always an good listen.
The sessions for 1971’s Ram album produced “Another Day”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”(#1 hit), “Heart Of The Country”, “Back Seat Of My Car”, and “Too Many People”. The album, billed as Paul & Linda McCartney, was much more fully produced, hit #2 on the album charts, and went platinum. Critics still weren’t on board, but retrospectively, Ram is looked upon mostly favorably.
And then came Wings. Paul McCartney added drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Denny Lane (from the early Moody Blues) to form the group Wings. They quickly recorded the album Wildlife. It has it’s fans (made it to #10), but it’s generally not well thought of, except for a remake of “Love Is Strange”, and the appeal to John Lennon, “Dear Friend”. There was some success with follow up singles in 1972, including “Hi Hi Hi” at #10. 1973 would be better.
Paul McCartney (with Wings until 1980) had his second #1 single with “My Love”, and another #1 album, Red Rose Speedway in April of 1973. Then came James Bond theme “Live And Let Die” (#2).
Finally, in late 1973, Paul released an album that had fans and critics in agreement, Band On The Run. The album contained three hit singles…”Band On The Run”(#1), “Jet” (#7), and “Helen Wheels” (#10) [on the U.S. album only]. It’s a solid album. Rolling Stone reviewer John Landau said with the possible exception of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, Band On The Run is “the finest record yet” from the ex-Beatles. Among the other stand out cuts are “Bluebird” and “Let Me Roll It”. Interestingly, Wings was down to just Paul, Linda, and Denny Lane. Similar to his solo McCartney album, Paul played most of the instruments. Later, he had overdubs of horns and percussion added.
From this point on, Paul McCartney settled into becoming far and away the most commercially successful Beatle. According to Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Top-40 book, Paul McCartney was the most popular singles artist in the 1970’s. More big hits included “Junior’s Farm” (#3), “Listen To What The Man Said” (#1), “Silly Love Songs” (#1), “Let ‘Em In” (#3), “Maybe I’m Amazed (Live) [#10],”With A Little Luck” (#1), “Goodnight Tonight” (#5), and “Coming Up (Live)” [#1].
His follow-up album in 1975, Venus And Mars, was also #1. Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976) was #1, and Wings Over America was McCartney’s 6th #1 album out of 8 releases, not bad.
The London Town album hit #2, and Back To The Egg #8. In 1980, it was goodbye Wings, hello solo (again).
The 1980’s were a real mixed bag for Paul McCartney. They started with his McCartney II album, which was generally panned, but is now seen by some as a milestone in techno-pop. My favorite track from it is “Summer’s Day Song”.
The Tug Of War album in 1982 brought back producer George Martin, and it was another #1 album. Besides the song about his friendship with John Lennon, “Here Today”, the album had the #10 single “Take It Away” and #1 hit “Ebony And Ivory” with Stevie Wonder. McCartney also had a #1 in 1982, “Say Say Say”, with Michael Jackson.
The remainder of the 1980’s saw the albums Pipes Of Peace, Give My Regards to Broad Street, Press To Play, and Flowers In The Dirt.
From the Broad Street album came “No More Lonely Nights”, the medley of “Yesterday/Here There & Everywhere/Wanderlust”, and “Eleanor Rigby” with an extended instrumental piece, “Eleanor’s Dream”. It was interesting that McCartney chose to include four songs from one Beatle’s album, Revolver. Besides the two mentioned above (“Here” and “Eleanor”), he did “For No One” and “Good Day Sunshine”. Flowers In The Dirt was also a pretty strong album, and featured “My Brave Face” co-written by Elvis Costello.
In 1991 the U.S. finally got his Russian release of old rock & roll songs CHOBA B CCCP from 1988. Off The Ground with “Hope Of Deliverance” was released in 1993. That was also the year we saw Paul McCartney at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It was a fantastic concert that mixed his solo and Beatles songs. The surprise for us, was that he played the two Beatles songs that were performed during our wedding…”And I Love Her” and “Here There And Everywhere”. It was unusual that we’d get to hear both, because he would normally select just one of them for a concert. We tell people he knew we were there.
Twenty-four years after Band On The Run, Paul McCartney released what I believe is his next-best album, Flaming Pie, in 1997. The album received the best critical praise and fan support (#2) since Tug Of War fifteen years earlier. It’s no surprise that Paul was working with George Martin again, and he also got help from producer Jeff Lynne. Songs include “The World Tonight”, “Young Boy”, “Little Willow”, “Beautiful Night”, and the two best songs, “Somedays” (very Beatles-like) and “Calico Skies” (which McCartney felt was among his best). It’s my wife’s favorite McCartney solo song. There’s a little anti-war verse at the end, but most of “Calico Skies” appears to be a love song for his wife. The Chorus is: “I will hold you for as long as you like. I will hold you for the rest of my life.” Linda McCartney had been battling breast cancer, and she succumbed to it a year later.
From this point on, Paul McCartney released these albums: Run Devil Run (old rock & roll), Driving Rain, Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard (a success at #6, with 4 Grammy nominations, “Jenny Wren” won for Best Pop Vocal Performance), Memory Almost Full (#3, and a multi-million seller), Kisses On The Bottom (#5, a collection of old American standards, and includes original song “My Valentine”. McCartney won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.), and finally in 2013, New (#3, and over a million sold in U.S.). The last album was fairly successful at updating McCartney’s sound by using young producers, including George Martin’s son, Giles.
Update: In September of 2018, Paul (then 76) released Egypt Station. The album received mostly positive reviews. It debuted at #1…McCartney’s first #1 since Tug Of War In 1982. The standout cuts include the Beatlesque songs “Dominoes” and “I Don’t Know”, plus “Despite Repeated Warnings” which sounds like it came from Band On The Run. There’s also a cool album-ending medley…”Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link”.
Update 2: In November of 2019, Billboard did an article on Paul McCartney (then 77). It featured the successful publishing business, MPL, that he owns, with artist catalogues like Buddy Holly & Carl Perkins, and many American standards. The article included this photo by his daughter, Mary McCartney.
The cover featured The Beatles as the most successful recording artists of all time.
It’s impossible to cover Paul McCartney’s career (and include all his projects) now that it’s 60 years on. But, what we do know is that McCartney is an amazing entertainer, who is still doing 2-and-a-half hour concerts to sell-out crowds. Paul McCartney will go down in history as one of the world’s greatest musicians!
Update: Paul McCartney released his third completely solo album, McCartney III, December 18th, 2020. There’s a review on this site.
Update: The documentary is now available, and it’s excellent. There’s a review on this site.
(This is the second of four articles on The Beatles as solo artists. George is next, and then Ringo).