Paul McCartney’s gift for light-pop songwriting has made him the most commercially successful ex-Beatle and one of the most successful songwriters of the century. He answered his critics in 1976 with the single “Silly Love Songs”, one of many post-Beatles hits. If, as some critics maintain, his solo work hasn’t measured up to the standards of his collaborations with John Lennon, McCartney has still shown a consistent talent for writing songs that are tuneful and popular. McCartney was also the only ex-Beatle to form a permanent working band; Wings, which he led from 1971 to 1981, recorded for more years than the Beatles. Sir Paul is the only ex-Beatle to date to have been knighted.
Paul McCartney grew up in working-class Liverpool. His father, James, led the Jim Mac Jazz Band in the 1920s. A few months after his mother, Mary, died of breast cancer in 1956, Paul bought his first guitar and learned to play. In June 1956 he met Lennon and asked to join his band, the Quarrymen; McCartney’s rendition of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” at a subsequent audition won him entry.
In 1963 McCartney met Jane Asher, to whom he addressed many of his best-known love songs, and on Christmas Day 1967, at a McCartney family party, he announced their engagement. But by July 1968 the engagement was off. Soon after, he met American photographer Linda Eastman, whom he married on March 12, 1969.
In April 1970, only two weeks before the scheduled release of the Beatles’ “Let It Be”, McCartney released his first non-soundtrack solo album – a one-man-studio-band LP recorded in Campbeltown, England, in late 1969. The double-platinum “McCartney” (#1, 1970) had a pronounced home made quality; it was spare and sounded almost unfinished, but it also contained “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which became an international hit and McCartney’s first post-Beatles pop standard (the Beatles had only recently disbanded as the tune became a hit). The winsome, homespun-ditty motif continued with “Ram” (#2, 1971), credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. It also inspired Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”, a vicious, thinly veiled attack on McCartney. Meanwhile, “Ram” yielded two major hit singles in “Another Day” (#5, 1971) and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, which made #1 in America.
Later in 1971 McCartney formed Wings, which was intended as a recording and touring outfit. Along with Linda, Wings featured American session drummer Denny Seiwell and ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. Wings “Wild Life”, with Linda McCartney on keyboards and backup vocals, sold only moderately, failing to yield a hit single. In 1972 ex-Grease Band guitarist Henry McCullough joined. McCartney spent 1972 releasing several singles, including “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” (#16 U.K.) (rush-released after the January 1972 “Bloody Sunday” incident in which British soldiers killed 13 Irish civilians in Londonderry, Ireland; the song was banned by the BBC), “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (#9 U.K., #28 U.S.) (yes, the nursery rhyme), and the hard-rocking, mildly salacious “Hi Hi Hi”. Only the latter was a major U.S. hit, going to #10 in 1973.
“Red Rose Speedway” (#1, 1973), the next Wings album, yielded a #1 hit single in the U.S. with the heavily orchestrated ballad “My Love”. Also in 1973, McCartney was arrested and then released on a drug charge, and he did his own television special, which received mixed reviews in both the U.S. and the U.K. Later Wings made its first tour of Britain and recorded the title theme song for the James Bond film “Live and Let Die”, which went to #2 in the U.S. Laine released a solo LP, “Ahh Laine”.
After Wings U.K. tour, Seiwell and Henry McCullough left the group. Denny Laine accompanied Paul and Linda to Nigeria to record “Band on the Run”. While each of the previous Wings albums had ended up going gold, “Band on the Run” (#1, 1974) went triple platinum in short order and yielded two Top 10 hit singles – “Helen Wheels” (#10, 1973) and “Jet” (#7, 1974) – and the bouncy title track minisuite (#11, 1974). It also included McCartney’s answer to Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” in “Let Me Roll It”, and featured a cover photo of McCartney accompanied by such celebrities as film actors James Coburn and Christopher Lee.
McCartney formed a new Wings, recruiting guitarist Jimmy McCullouch from Thunderclap Newman and Stone the Crows and drummer Geoff Britton, a British karate expert. They recorded “Junior’s Farm” (#3, 1974) in Nashville in 1974 and later that year went to New Orleans (where they found new drummer Joe English) to record “Venus and Mars”, which yielded several hit singles (including the #1 “Listen to What the Man Said”) and went platinum. “At the Speed of Sound” found McCartney giving his band members a chance to compose and sing much of the material, but McCartney’s own contributions were almost all hits. Two went gold: “Silly Love Songs” (#1, 1976) and “Let ‘Em In” (#3, 1976). Shortly after the album’s release, Wings completed a world tour that had begun in Britain on September 9, 1975 and ended on October 21, 1976. The “Over America” triple-record live album was recorded on that tour.
In 1977 McCartney, under the pseudonym Percy Thrillington, recorded an obscure, all-instrumental version of “Ram” and produced Denny Laine’s “Holly Days”, a solo album of Buddy Holly songs. A live “Maybe I’m Amazed” hit #10 in 1977. That year saw the release of the McCartney-Laine “Mull of Kintyre”, based on a Scottish folk song, which became the first single ever to sell 2 million copies in Britain and was a minor hit in the U.S. as well. It was McCartney’s first British #1 single since he’d left the Beatles. Later that year, under the name Susie and the Red Stripes, McCartney and Wings had another minor hit single in the reggae-inflected “Seaside Woman”.
After “London Town’, which yielded another #1, “With a Little Luck”, Jimmy McCullouch departed for the re-formed Small Faces. “Back to the Egg” failed to yield a hit and sold unspectacularly. In January 1980 McCartney was arrested for possession of marijuana in Tokyo at the beginning of a Japanese tour, jailed for 10 days, then freed and not prosecuted. Soon after, he and Wings embarked on a British tour, after which drummer English left. McCartney then organized all-star benefit concerts for the people of Kampuchea and released “McCartney II” (#3, 1980), his first one-man-band album since his solo debut. It contained the #1 hit “Coming Up”.
In April 1981 Denny Laine announced he was leaving Wings, the reason being McCartney’s reluctance to tour because of the death threats he was receiving in the wake of John Lennon’s murder. McCartney continued with the well-received “Tug of War”, a solo album featuring a host of guest performers (Laine, ex Beatle Ringo Starr, Beatles producer George Martin), most notably Stevie Wonder, who sang with McCartney on the #1 hit single “Ebony and Ivory”. “Tug” also yielded a #10 hit in “Take It Away”. McCartney sang on Michael Jackson’s “The Girl Is Mine”, a Top 10 hit in 1983. Jackson returned the favor by singing on “Pipes of Peace’s” “Say Say Say”, which topped the chart later that same year.
Embittered by the 1967 sale of publishing rights to his and John Lennon’s Beatles songs to British film producer Lew Grade – a sale made while the Beatles were in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – McCartney has invested extensively in pop-song copyrights over the years. Among his holdings are the entire Buddy Holly catalogue, “On Wisconsin” and “Autumn Leaves”. However, shortly after “Say Say Say” was a hit, McCartney advised Michael Jackson to invest in music publishing – and Jackson later bought the Northern Songs catalogue, which included all of the Beatles songs McCartney had written with Lennon. McCartney never hid his anger at the move, especially when Jackson began licensing Beatles tunes for television commercials (such as “Revolution”, used in a late ‘80s Nike sneaker ad). McCartney later told Musician magazine that “Complications with Yoko” (whose son Sean was a close friend of Jackson’s) had prevented him from making a competitive bid for his own songs.
In 1984 McCartney made a dramatic feature film, “Give My Regards to Broad Street”, set within London’s music industry, which was roundly panned by critics. Its soundtrack (#21, 1984) consisted largely of re-recorded Beatles and McCartney hits; the album went gold, and one new track, the ballad “No More Lonely Nights”. Became a #6 pop hit. He scored a #7 pop it in 1985 with the theme song to the comedy film “Spies Like Us”. “Press to Play” (#30, 1986), found McCartney collaborating with ex-10cc Eric Stewart; the album’s only hit was “Press” (#21, 1986). In 1988, as a sort of glasnost gesture, McCartney released an album of rock oldies exclusively on the Soviet Melodiya label under the title “CHOBA B CCCP” (“Back in the USSR”, roughly translated). For “Flowers in the Dirt” (#21, 1989), McCartney collaborated on some songs with Elvis Costello (McCartney also co-wrote and played on a couple of tracks on Costello’s “Spike”, including “Veronica”). The album yielded a hit in “My Brave Face” (#25, 1989), but McCartney was reportedly quite disappointed that the album failed to chart higher, despite a 1989 world tour (with a band featuring ex-Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh and ex-Average White Band bassist Hamish Stuart) that was documented on “Tripping the Live Fantastic” (#26, 1990).
In early 1991 McCartney became one of the first major artists to release an album from his appearance on MTV’s “Unplugged” acoustic showcase; “Unplugged (The Official Bootleg”) hit #14. Later that year McCartney released CHOBBA B CCCP in the U.S. (where it reached only #109) and unveiled his first classical work, “Liverpool Oratorio” (#177, 1991), which failed to impress classical critics. McCartney returned to pop with “Off the Ground”; the album entered the chart at #17 but dropped quickly and failed to yield a hit single. His New World tour fared better, and resulted in another live album, “Paul Is Live” (#78, 1993). In April 1993 McCartney was joined onstage by Star for “Hey Jude” at an all-star Earth Day concert in Los Angeles.
In 1994 McCartney quietly assumed the pseudonym the Fireman and released “Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest”, a techno-dance collaboration with ambient producer Youth (a second Fireman album, “Rushes”, would follow in 1998). Executed with far less stealth was the massive “Beatles Anthology” project, in which he reunited with George Harrison and Ringo Starr for a documentary mini-series and three double albums of demos and live rarities (all three topped the U.S. chart). “Anthology 1 “ and “2” each included a “new” Beatles track (“Free as a Bird”, #6, 1995 and “Real Love” #11, 1996, respectively), which were built upon John Lennon demo recordings.
McCartney was knighted by the Queen of England in 1997. Later that year he released “Flaming Pie” (#2) (the title a reference to a joke Lennon told about how the Beatles got their name), which featured guest appearances by Starr, George Martin, Steve Miller, Jeff Lynne and McCartney’s son, James on guitar. He closed out the year by releasing his second classical piece, “Standing Stone” (#194).
On April 17, 1998, McCartney lost the love of his life when Linda succumbed to breast cancer. Except for the 10 days he spent in jail in Japan, the couple had never been apart. Though her musical talent was often questioned by critics, Linda found great success in other endeavors: as an animal rights activist, photographer, vegetarian cookbook author and vegan frozen foods entrepreneur. The couple had four children: Heather (from Linda’s previous marriage), Mary, Stella and James. After a year of mourning, McCartney went back into Abbey Road studio with a new band (including Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice) and began recording the vintage rock & roll covers (and three new originals) that made up “Run Devil Run” (#27, 1999). He celebrated its release with a on-off gig at Liverpool’s Cavern Club on December 14, 1999, which was broadcast over the Internet to an audience of more than 3 million. Earlier that year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.
The year 2000 saw the release of “A Garland for Linda” (#7 Classical), a benefit album of modern classical pieces, including McCartney’s own “Nova”.