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Paul McCartney

+ {Paul & Linda McCartney} + {Wings} + {Paul McCartney And Wings} + {The Fireman} + {Twin Freaks}

The most prolific Beatle by any stretch of the imagination, Paul (born James Paul McCartney, 18th June 1942 in Liverpool, England) was an integral part of The BEATLES throughout the 60s, while he and JOHN LENNON were easily the greatest contemporary pop writing partnership of the 20th century. The Fab Four officially split on the 11th April 1970 prior to issuing their final album `Let It Be’, all four members having already delivered solo material for Apple Records; one PMc artefact was his orchestral mini-score for THE FAMILY WAY {*4} film soundtrack back in ‘66.
But released three weeks prior to the group’s swansong was Paul’s first solo outing proper, the eponymous McCARTNEY {*6}, which included backing from new American-born wife Linda Eastman (whom he’d married the previous March). By virtue of its relative acoustic simplicity (Paul wrote and played every instrument himself), the record remains one of the better releases from a time when self-indulgence and wildly ambitious concepts were the order of the day. Though berated by many critics at the time, the album (containing one of Paul’s finer efforts in `Maybe I’m Amazed’), topped the American charts, although in Britain it was held off the No.1 spot by SIMON & GARFUNKEL’s `Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Of the rest of the rather ramshackle, home-in-the-studio affair, `Junk’, `Teddy Boy’ and `Every Night’ (later a minor UK hit for Phoebe Snow) were charming and twee in their own quirky way.
The following year, McCARTNEY scored a cross-Atlantic Top 5 with his debut solo single, `Another Day’, and then took the unusual step of co-crediting Linda (though she did actually contribute keyboards, backing vocals and percussion) on the subsequent album RAM (1971) {*8}; okay, LENNON had already teamed up with his spouse Yoko Ono, but sometimes under The Plastic Ono Band billing. Sales-wise, the album reversed the chart positions of its predecessor, spawning the whimsical US-only No.1 single `Uncle Albert –
Admiral Halsey’. The set (bookended by the classy `Too Many People’ and `The Back Seat Of My Car’) had also featured the drumming talents of Denny Seiwell, who, together with ex-MOODY BLUES man Denny Laine (on guitar and vocals), would subsequently form one half of Paul and Linda’s new semi-supergroup WINGS, later that year.
McCARTNEY hit an unprecedented critical low with WINGS’ vaguely reggae-ish debut effort, WILD LIFE (1971) {*4}. Pastoral in song-craft and as horizontally laid-back as a Sunday afternoon by the river, one could safely file tracks such as `Mumbo’, `Bip Bop’ and a cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s `Love Is Strange’ as forgettable fodder.
Unfazed, McCARTNEY took his band out on a low-key college tour, beefing up the band’s sound in 1972 with the addition of Henry McCulloch (who had previously worked with JOE COCKER) on guitar and backing vocals. The next WINGS release was the controversial (and surprisingly successful, given its political sentiments) `Give Ireland Back To The Irish’. Annoyed at a radio ban, WINGS then put music to nursery rhyme with `Mary Had A Little Lamb’, a rather excessive anti-censorship statement that made the UK Top 10 but lost the band a bit of valuable credibility – a thing they’d get used to over time. The McCARTNEYs then underwent a series of drug busts and another pedantic BBC ban with their next hit `Hi, Hi, Hi’; the cutesy B-side `C Moon’ was its surrogate playlist saviour.
The following spring, PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS topped the US charts with the smooch-y single `My Love’, one of the many romantic snapshots from their slightly above average album RED ROSE SPEEDWAY (1973) {*6}. Melodious and deliberately freewheeling and relaxed, the harmonies on `Big Barn Bed’, `One More Kiss’ and parts of the 11-minute closing medley were executed with Paul and Linda’s exacting aplomb, but to many this was indeed a million miles from the day’s in-vogue prog-rock music.
Later that summer was the much more impressive Top 10 hit `Live And Let Die’, a much-covered McCARTNEY-penned theme song taken from the James Bond film of the same name. With the departure of Seiwell and McCulloch immediately prior to recording Paul’s fifth post-BEATLES album, WINGS were reduced to a core of the McCartney’s and Laine, one that endured for the remainder of the band’s career. The trio surprisingly came up with the most successful album of their career, BAND ON THE RUN (1973) {*9}. Where before, Paul and Linda’s compositions had been perfectly formed but lacking in substance, he silenced his critics with impassioned pop-rock of the highest calibre, notably on hit `Jet’ and the opening, nonsensical tour de force title track in three interpolative sequences. In stark contrast to their previous follies, there were no throwaway songs; coming up strongest were `Bluebird’, `Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)’, `Let Me Roll It’, `Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five’ and for Americans only the UK-only smash `Helen Wheels’. The album went on to sell over six million copies during its two-year-plus stay in both the UK and US charts – Paul finally proving his post-BEATLES mettle. Incidentally, the album sleeve featured the trio being caught escaping prison alongside celebrities, Michael Parkinson, Kenny Lynch, James Coburn, Clement Freud, Christopher Lee and John Conteh.
The subsequent addition of Scotsman Jimmy McCulloch (formerly of THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN, et al) and Geoff Britton saw the band expand to a 5-piece again, although the latter only played on one single, the US Top 3 `Junior’s Farm’. His replacement was Joe English, the new line-up recording the mediocre quasi-concept album VENUS AND MARS (1975) {*6}. The album topped the American and British charts all the same (as did lead 45 `Listen To What The Man Said’ in the States), although `Letting Go’ didn’t even make the Top 40, a pattern that would on occasion continue on into the late 70s and beyond. And was it really necessary to tag on their one-minute-version of Tony Hatch’s instrumental `Crossroads’ TV soap theme?
The awkward but defiantly pop’n’roll WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (1976) {*5} had points deducted for McCARTNEY’s well-intentioned but annoying insistence that each band member get a lead vocal (or indeed a songwriting credit), exceptions being the finely honed `Silly Love Songs’ and `Let ‘Em In’ major hit singles.
Prog-rock hierarchy YES and ELP had achieved multi-platinum and lambaste in equal measure for triple live album self-indulgence; WINGS’ pop-rock equivalent WINGS OVER AMERICA (1976) {*6}, was as impressive, if overly long proof of the band’s well deserved live reputation, showcasing McCARTNEY’s vocal and multi-instrumentalist talents to often dazzling effect. At nearly two hours in length, there was room for a few Denny Laine contributions (`Time To Hide’ and his MOODY BLUES/Banks-Bennett nugget `Go Now) and SIMON & GARFUNKEL cut `Richard Cory’, plus a handful of seminal BEATLES re-vamps by way of `Lady Madonna’, `The Long And Winding Road’, `Blackbird’, `I’ve Just Seen A Face’ and `Yesterday’.
Things were looking rather sedate and bleak for most of 1977 (early in the year the band were reduced to a trio once more following the departure of McCulloch and English), while only Paul’s pseudonymous (PERCY) THRILLINGTON {*5} – an instrumental/orchestral take of `Ram’ arranged and conducted by Richard Hewson surfaced in some unpublicized outlets. Incredibly, WINGS bounced back with their biggest single to date, the windswept sentimental indulgence that was `Mull Of Kintyre’. Blissfully oblivious to punk, McCARTNEY even employed a warts ’n’ all Scottish pipe band to give the song that “authentic” Caledonian appeal. It obviously worked; the record stood proudly at the top of the UK charts for nine weeks, becoming the biggest selling UK single ever up to that point. Mysteriously, given the Yanks’ taste for anything remotely Celtic, the single’s flipside `Girls’ School’ was promoted and air-waved in the States, consequently stalling in the lower regions of the Top 40.
WINGS had more US success via the single `With A Little Luck’, a chart-topper from the otherwise nearly forgettable LONDON TOWN (1978) {*5}. Having sold the rights to Paul for the “Scottish” smash, Denny was credited (not Linda) on several tracks with Paul, none more effective than the minor hit title track. The addition of Laurence Juber and Steve Holly failed to prevent another critical pasting with BACK TO THE EGG (1979) {*4}, only Paul’s soft-rock cuts `Old Siam, Sir’ and the Top 30 hits `Getting Closer’ and `Arrow Through Me’ had their moments – weak as they were.
By the time WINGS had officially been laid to rest, Paul had already released the yuletide cutesiness of Brit 45, `Wonderful Christmastime’. His one-man-band McCARTNEY II (1980) {*6} was a vast improvement, a stripped-down affair that heralded a new phase in his career, and his 7th Stateside No.1 via the quirky “live in Glasgow version” of `Coming Up’; the synth-friendly tracks `Temporary Secretary’ and `Waterfalls’ were also worth a spin.
From the international chart-topping `Ebony And Ivory’ (a duet with STEVIE WONDER) in ‘82, the first half of the new decade saw McCARTNEY collaborating with the cream of the MOR/AOR elite. The results were sometimes intriguing, often downright dull, the prime example being the tepid MICHAEL JACKSON “Thriller” track/hit `The Girl Is Mine’; the pair duly combined a year on for another chartbuster `Say Say Say’.
A reunion of sorts with BEATLES producer George Martin resulted in Paul’s most intimate and poignant album for some time, TUG OF WAR (1982) {*7}, a self-penned global-charting record that was as ambitious as it was pop-driven, including a second WONDER collaboration in `What’s That You’re Doing?’ and lead hit `Take It Away’.
1983’s George Martin follow-up PIPES OF PEACE (1983) {*4} slipped back to the sentimental schmaltz of some previous disasters, although it did contain the UK No.1 title track (flipped in the US for `So Sad’) and a second McCARTNEY-JACKSON cue `The Man’.
While fans voted with their feet, critics were not so generous, although they saved their most vicious scorn for GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET (1984) {*4}, Macca’s own vanity feature film and accompanying soundtrack. While Top 10’er `No More Lonely Nights’ was an affecting, if slight, ballad, the bulk of the project consisted of pointless BEATLES rehashes. Was it really as bad as all that? Well, yes and no. Re-recordings of such sacred cows as `Yesterday’, `For No One’ and `Eleanor Rigby’, modified with McCARTNEY’s filmic/classical/brass leanings, were guaranteed to run foul of rock critics; the reality is they could have been a lot worse, and the production could have been worse still. A jazz fusion-esque `The Long And Winding Road’ pushed sympathy to the limit but for the most part they’re palatable enough in their own right; after all, they’re among the best pop songs ever written and it’d take more than a quasi-contemporary makeover to mess with their DNA.
It was two years before McCARTNEY surfaced again, although PRESS TO PLAY (1986) {*4} – partly co-penned with 10CC guy Eric Stewart – failed to rectify matters.
From `Stranglehold’ to closer `Tough On A Tightrope’, this was indeed another albatross around Macca’s neck.
After finding a writing partner in ELVIS COSTELLO (on four cues), McCARTNEY recorded his most committed and consistent work for several years by way of FLOWERS IN THE DIRT (1989) {*6}, a comeback of sorts that highlighted decent duets in `My Brave Face’ (the hit) and `You Want Her Too’. Recruiting a fairly permanent backing band in Paul Wickens (keyboards), Chris Whitten (drums), AWB’s Robbie McIntosh (guitar) and Hamish Stuart (guitar, bass), McCARTNEY set off on another world tour, documented on the double-disc TRIPPING THE LIVE FANTASTIC (1990) {*5}. This was yet another chance to re-activate and re-vamp a plethora of BEATLES classics, as well as some rock’n’roll nuggets once the property of FATS DOMINO, CARL PERKINS, EDDIE COCHRAN, BO DIDDLEY, et al.
An obligatory MTV UNPLUGGED (THE OFFICIAL BOOTLEG) {*6} and the once Soviet set – recorded in 1988 – CHOBA B CCCP {*4} repeated the formula in 1991 without much joy on the critical front; a more than ambitious foray into classical music LIVERPOOL ORATORIO (1991) {*3} saw McCARTNEY working with the likes of conductor Carl Davis and soloist Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
McCARTNEY’s next album proper, OFF THE GROUND (1993) {*4}, again failed to regain critical momentum; tracks such as `Hope Of Deliverance’ or the COSTELLO collaborations by way of `Mistress And Maid’ and `The Lovers That Never Were’ hardly worth the wait of four years. His fourth live album release in as many years, PAUL IS LIVE (1993) {*4} was basically just another excuse to revive the odd exclusive BEATLES track via the concert medium.
Something had to change drastically, but what was to come, no one could have foreseen. The FIREMAN was as mysterious as his early day “Thrillington” LP of ’77, but this time ambient and techno (provided by former KILLING JOKE bassist-come-sampler Youth) was the order of the day through October 1992 McCARTNEY deconstructions STRAWBERRIES OCEANS SHIPS FOREST (1993) {*6}; RUSHES (1998) {*7} and the more recent ELECTRIC ARGUMENTS (2008) {*7} followed the same avant-electro path – the latter even breached both UK and US Top 100’s. Meanwhile, Paul’s solo career was put on ice as he hooked up with his old chums GEORGE HARRISON and RINGO STARR to make the “Anthology” series of compilation albums and videos tracing the history of The BEATLES.
With his profile at its highest since the halcyon WINGS days, Paul released FLAMING PIE (1997) {*7}, a work inspired by his recent projects and a work that finally saw him live up to his reputation as one of the greatest songwriters popular music has ever known. Back to basics and reminiscent of his greatest times, the largely acoustic set (with some strings attached) generated a handful of affecting songs via `The Song We Were Singing’, `Calico Skies’ and `The World Tonight’; Ringo augmented on `Really Love You’ and STEVE MILLER jammed on the bluesy `Used To Be Bad’.
But tragedy was to strike the McCartney household, when wife Linda lost her battle against breast cancer on the 17th April 1998 (Paul was beside her to the end); a tribute album for her work, `Wild Prairie’ was issued that November while Paul was inducted as a solo artist into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame – “about fucking time!” was top fashion designer-daughter Stella’s T-shirted opinion on the matter.
On the music front, Paul was back with a ballsy rock’n’roll near-covers set of some of his favourite cuts, RUN DEVIL RUN (1999) {*6}. Among others, DAVID GILMOUR provided the guitar licks, while the Devil-ish Macca stole all the best tunes including `Blue Jean Bop’, `All Shook Up’, `Brown Eyed Handsome Man’ and his own R&R-styled title track.
But underneath all the showbiz glitz of a comeback tour, Paul was still hurting inside.
A long overdue WINGS anthology WINGSPAN (2001) {*8} was as fitting a tribute as any to Linda’s often unsung talents, while the man himself was back with another solo set in the shape of DRIVING RAIN {*6} later the same year. More adventurous and fresh-sounding than much of the material he recorded in the previous decade, the record wasn’t exactly a creative rebirth but suggested that the pioneering spirit of The BEATLES hadn’t completely deserted him just yet; check out `Lonely Road’, `From A Lover To A Friend’ and `Heather’, the latter about his newfound love, thirty-something former model Heather Mills, whom he married on 12th June 2002. The double live BACK IN THE WORLD (2003) {*5} – entitled BACK IN THE U.S. in the States – was McCARTNEY back doing what he perhaps does best, entertaining a crowd and indulging that crowd with the kind of material they want to hear. Thus there was plenty LENNON-McCARTNEY material alongside WINGS and solo works, although it was hard to avoid the impression of a man going through the motions.
In 2004, McCARTNEY became the latest rock legend to headline Glastonbury, subsequently pulling off another concert coup when he appeared alongside U2 on a rare rendition of BEATLES talisman `Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ at Live8. Later in 2005, Sir Paul took a leaf out of Sir Elton’s book by cutting a back-to-basics solo set CHAOS AND CREATION IN THE BACKYARD {*6}, a transatlantic Top 10, produced by man-in-demand Nigel Godrich. Harking back to his classicist songwriting of yore, much of the material could’ve been slipped onto any post-‘67 BEATLES album, while the acoustic `Jenny Wren’ (a hit alongside the overtly Fab Four-ish `Fine Line’) was McCARTNEY’s most unadorned single in decades. His love life wasn’t so simple however. In May 2006, it was announced that he and Heather were to separate, while newspapers speculated over the possibly record-breaking divorce settlement. With this in mind, he recorded his most gratifying solo work for some time through MEMORY ALMOST FULL (2007) {*7}, and at 64 years of age (poignant to “Sgt. Pepper” fans at least) was in fact 40 years on from that ground-breaking classic LP. Apart from the obligatory live double-CD/DVD release GOOD EVENING NEW YORK CITY (2009) {*6} another in the canon), one can still see the once fresh-faced-but-now-wrinkled retainer deliver further career highlights. Marrying for a third time (this time to New Yorker Nancy Shevell on October 9, 2011), Paul was also back in classical mode via OCEAN’S KINGDOM (released the same month) {*5}.
Always one for nostalgia and sentiment, McCARTNEY was back in the public eye (and both the British and US Top 5) via studio comeback covers set, KISSES ON THE BOTTOM (2012) {*5}, a toast and homage to – one hopes! – great songwriters of a bygone generation. Whether his readings of light-weight standards such as Irving Berlin’s `Always’ and Ray Henderson & Mort Dixon’s `Bye Bye Blackbird’, were Sir Paul on the slide to slipper-and-pipe land, one could at least see the charm next to two newly-penned songs `My Valentine’ and `Only Our Hearts’. Save for the appearances of old muckers ERIC CLAPTON and STEVIE WONDER, Macca was once again letting his heart rule his head. Rather than getting back to the egg so to speak, let’s hope the future holds at least one further stab at rock’n’roll.
Probably aware that his street cred was deteriorating fast, 70-something Sir PAUL McCARTNEY enlisted the help of an array of top-notch producers to come up with a fresh prospective for his 2013 set, NEW {*7}. Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Ethan Johns and Giles Martin (son of the legendary George Martin) cooked up some different angles for Macca to get his hooks into; the rocker `Save Us’ a nice way to kick-start the set. Descriptive and thought-provoking in the sense that the singer might not have used a bus since the early 60s, `On My Way To Work’, played to the quirky nature of its bubblegum backdrop. Ditto the rootsy, `Early Days’ and the title track, eschewing nostalgia like there was no tomorrow. While listening to the saucy `I Can Bet’, the image of OAP love was unconvincing and distracting, although trickster Paul had always a deck of “silly love songs” to disperse, by way of `Looking At Her’ and `Queenie Eye’.
For five long years the McCARTNEY enterprise kept a relatively low profile, although top R&B/hip-hop artists KANYE WEST (on two) and RIHANNA requested the singer’s services on respective 2015 hit singles, `Only One’ (and `All Day’), and `FourFiveSeconds’. Subsequently trading vocals on the ALICE COOPER-led “Hollywood Vampires” and appearing in the Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales movie, Paul kept himself occasionally positive.
Bolstered by a handful of summer 2018 pop downloads (`I Don’t Know’ paired with `Come On To Me’, and `Fuh You’), anticipation was rife enough for his attendant album, EGYPT STATION {*7}, to gate-crash the US No.1 spot (UK No.3); his first to do so in many a year. Rightly or wrongly, “elixir of life” McCARTNEY proclaimed the record a “concept album”, and in many ways his mini-suites defined this category. Swapping Mark Ronson for production ally Greg Kurstin (best-known for ADELE’s “25”), Macca was mostly amiable and reserved for `People Want Peace’, `Despite Repeated Warnings’, `Do It Now’ and finale medley, `Hunt You Down – Naked – C-Link’.
© MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2012-Sep2018

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