Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Guitarist, singer, songwriter, bandleader; until 1970 a Beatle and with John Lennon half of the most commercially successful songwriting team of the century; then pursued a solo career. A film of the final Beatle album Let It Be '70 saw him trying in vain to hold the band together; he was unhappy with what Phil Spector did to the music and quit amid acrimony, though it is obvious in retrospect that the group was finished as much by John's choice as Paul's.

George Harrison's electronic experiments were released first, but McCartney's eponymous album in 1970 was the first real solo by a Beatle, exacerbating feelings by its release a fortnight before Let It Be: he wrote, sang, played and produced it all; critics were loudly disappointed, but hindsight reveals homegrown charm. 'Hot As Sun' and 'Teddy Boy' had been intended for the group; 'Maybe I'm Amazed' was covered by Rod Stewart, 'Every Night' by Phoebe Snow. One-off single 'Another Day' was a ballad in the style of 'Eleanor Rigby'. Ram '71 was recorded with wife Linda and included several good songs. They formed the band Wings with Denny Laine and drummer Denny Siewell; debut Wild Life '71 was regarded as a disaster, McCartney's charm dissipated to the vanishing point. The dichotomy of his post-Beatles career and willingness/ability to turn his hand to anything were captured by singles early '72: 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish' was an uncharacteristic political polemic, 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' a nursery rhyme. He had always insisted that the Beatles could just turn up and play, and realized the dream with a scratch tour of UK universities '72; by then Wings included former Joe Cocker guitarist Henry McCulloch, who also played on effective reggae single 'C Moon'. Wings contributed the theme of a James Bond film Live And Let Die '73; reduced to Linda, Paul and Laine, they released Band On The Run that year, a renaissance of McCartney's all-round skills and the best Wings album, incling the rousing title track and 'Jet', fine ballads 'Bluebird' and 'Picasso's Last Words'. Venus And Mars '75 was patchy, with memorable 'Listen To What The Man Said' and 'Magneto And Titanium Man' as well as TV soap opera theme 'Crossroads'; Wings At The Speed Of Sound '76 was better, the jaunty 'Let 'Em In' covered by Billy Paul in USA, 'Silly Love Songs' interpreted as a message to fans. Folksong single 'Mull Of Kintyre' '77 was the biggest-selling UK single ever until Band Aid at 2.5m copies. London Town was weak, Wings Best a good compilation, both '78. Among McCartney's one-off projects were single 'Walking In The Park with Eloise' '74, a song written by his father, recorded and released by the Country Hams; and Thrillington '77, released obscurely on Regal Zonophone as by Percy 'Thrills' Thrillington: it was an instrumental/vocalese version of Ram, and his prank went undisclosed for a number of years.

Back To The Egg '79 was a three-LP set, debut of Rockestra, with members of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Shadows and Procol Harum. A plea from the United Nations for a charity concert for Kampuchean refugees aroused strongest-ever Beatle reunion hopes but it was Wings who played at the Hammersmith Odeon in December 1979 (included in album Concert For The People Of Kampuchea '81). 'Wonderful Christmastime' was McCartney solo single '79; LP McCartney II '80 like the first album was completely solo, revelling in freedom offered by synthesizers and studio technology in 'Coming Up' and 'Temporary Secretary', beguiling (if baffling) 'Waterfalls'. Tug Of War '82 saw McCartney reunited with Beatle producer George Martin and the best album since Band On The Run, with 10cc's Eric Stewart (who would work with McCartney often in future), duets with Stevie Wonder (on 'Ebony And Ivory', no. 1 USA/UK) and with Carl Perkins; the idiosyncratic 'Ballroom Dancing' and one of his best, 'Wanderlust'. Pipes Of Peace '83 also with Martin was not as cohesive but displayed pop charm, including three duets with Michael Jackson. (Jackson outbid McCartney for ATV music publishing '85 including the Lennon/ McCartney songs, and the friendship was over.)

For years McCartney had worked in secret on a film debut: Give My Regards To Broad Street '84 was panned but the soundtrack LP was well received, with good reworkings of Beatle songs and a McCartney ballad of vintage quality, 'No More Lonely Nights', and the cast of guests including Dave Edmunds, Ringo Starr, Chris Spedding and John Paul Jones. McCartney kept a low profile for a while, appearing at Live Aid '85 to sing 'Let It Be'; then Press To Play '86 had guests Pete Townshend and Phil Collins and did not get very good reviews. All The Best! '87 was a greatest hits album. Flowers In The Dirt '89 was better, with guitarists Robbie McIntosh and Hamish Stuart, drummer Chris Whitten and other collaborators, notably Elvis Costello, co-writing four songs and adding a foil to McCartney's sweetness the way Lennon had done (cf. 'My Brave Face'). (McCartney appeared on Costello's Spike '89, likewise softening the latter's habitual grimace; co-written 'Veronica' went top 20 in USA.) There was also a Clare Fischer arrangement on 'Distractions' and input from various pop producers on other tracks. Back In The USSR was released on Melodia in that country '89, in '91 in the West on CD with an additional track and a title in Russian meaning 'Again In The USSR'. He contributed a cover of 'It's Now Or Never' to a charity compilation The Last Temptation Of Elvis '90; further McCartney albums included Tripping The Light Fantastic '90 and the very charming Unplugged -- The Official Bootleg '91 from the MTV performance.

Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio '91 was arranged and conducted by Carl Davis and made the top of the Billboard classical chart; in contrast to the Unplugged set, it was panned by most critics. Even Malcolm Hayes in the Daily Telegraph, who liked it, seemed apologetic, and admitted that 'the music has only two tempi, fast and slow'. Davis's skill at composing and orchestrating film music no doubt came in handy. McCartney's charity work continued, and he kept cranking out the pop with Off The Ground early '93 and Paul Is Live at the end of the year. While his post-Beatles work has been variable, some of it is as good as anything he ever did; he received a unique rhodium disc '79 for selling over 200m albums and an NARAS lifetime achievement award at the Grammys ceremony '90. He became Sir Paul McCartney early '97; he said that Ringo and George now called him 'Your Holiness'. The new album Flaming Pie that year was streaked with melancholy as Linda battled breast cancer; 'Half my songs are very much me doing therapy with myself, and half of them I'm just writing about Desmond and Molly Jones.' Standing Stones was a 'symphonic poem', this time with help from composers Steve Lodder, David Matthews and Richard Rodney Bennett; unfortunately each thought the others had brought the key changes. A biography Many Years From Now by Barry Miles used hours of interviews.

McCartney's further albums have included Run Devil Run '99, Driving Rain 2001, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard 2005, and Memory Almost Full 2007, at no. 3 in the USA his best showing in many years. Further 'classical' albums were Paul McCartney's Working Classical '99 and Ecce Cor Meum 2006.

McCartney has turned out to be the most avant-garde of the Beatles, if only because he has outlived everybody except Ringo. In late 1966 or early '67 when the vocal session for the Beatles' 'Penny Lane' was finished, they recorded an experimental piece called 'Carnival of Light', a 14-minute sound collage perhaps inspired by Stockhausen; this was for an avant-garde music fest at London's Roundhouse, but few have heard it since. 'I said, all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense,' McCartney said in November 2008, hinting that he might make it available soon. In 2000 he released Liverpool Sound Collage, credited to McCartney, Youth, Super Furry Animals and the Beatles. Youth is a producer and musician who has also worked with Crowded House, Depeche Mode, U2, and on Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, finally released in November 2008, as well as with McCartney on three albums in a duo called Fireman: Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest '93 and Rushes '98 might be described as minimalist ambient dance music; then Electric Arguments 2008 was a departure: 13 songs were each written and recorded in a single day, McCartney playing most of the instruments and writing lyrics to music that he and Youth made up on the spot, the method not allowing for any second thoughts. This was 'a seriously good piece of modern rock', according to Jim Fusilli in the Wall Street Journal.

In the way of something completely different, Will Friedwald in the same paper praised Kisses On The Bottom in 2012, an album of pre-Beatle standards (except for two originals) made with pianist Diana Kral, guitarist John Pizzarelli, arrangers Johnny Mandel and Alan Broadbent, and guests such as Andy Stein on violin. The name of the album comes from the Fats Waller hit 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter' ("with kisses on the bottom/ I'll be glad I got 'em", written by Joe Young and Fred E. Ahlert in 1935). The irony was not lost on Friedwald that it was the Beatles who did as much as anyone to put an end to that kind of songwriting; he described the album as 'a much more classy and heartfelt effort [compared to] the other rockers-go-standards projects'. Mitchell Seidel in Jersey Jazz on the other hand thought that Kisses On The Bottom was too carefully assembled, yet at the same time not rehearsed enough: 'McCartney often seems like he's only read the lyrics for maybe the third or fourth time.' This demands a comparison with Electric Arguments, the previous album: what we now call standards cannot simply be tossed off on the spot.

Linda Eastman (b 24 September 1941; d 17 April 1998) was a photographer, later started a vegetarian food company; her lawyer father's client Jack Lawrence wrote 'Linda' for her, a USA no. 1 hit in 1947 (see Ray Noble, Buddy Clark). McCartney adopted her daughter from a first marriage and they had three more children. Linda lived long enough to see their daughter Stella become a successful fashion designer, but their marriage of 29 years ended with her death from breast cancer. At first there was confusion over the date because a spokesman clumsily tried to protect the family's privacy.

McCartney's second wife was model Heather Mills (b 12 January 1968, Hampshire). From a broken home, she had an eventful early life including a divorce of her own; in 1993 she was struck and badly injured by a police motorcycle, losing part of her left leg above the ankle. She sold her story to the News of the World and used the money to set up a foundation for amputees, combining that work with her opposition to land mines. She married McCartney in 2002; they had a baby girl in 2003; there was a messy separation in 2006 and a divorce settlement in March 2008. He married American businesswoman Nancy Shevell on 9 October 2011.