Paul McCartney's post-Beatle career usually gets dismissed. And this won't be any different. Paul had the talent and ability to become a first-class Rocker. Anyone who's heard The Beatles' "I'm Down" or the scream that kicks off the Rock version of "Revolution" knows McCartney could have been a contender. While showing brilliance here and there, his career had a safe pop sheen. Not that he had to suffer (other than slights from critics whose opinions didn't seem to bother him much -"Silly Love Songs" was his only rebuttal) for his decision.
His post-Beatles career was more successful than his former bandmates combined. And he was the only ex-Beatle to launch, not one, but several successful world tours. Having fought the hardest to keep The Beatles going, Paul founded the highly successful Wings. Yes, John Lennon had the short-lived Plastic Ono Band and Ringo Starr fronted his All-Starr Band (consisting of several 'name' performers) but despite the talent involved, neither was comparable to Wings - gold and platinum records and mega tours - the big leagues.
The group resulted from McCartney's desire to perform live again following the release of his first two solo albums "McCartney" ('70) and "Ram" ('71). Unlike The Beatles (a partnership of at least two creative equals) Wings was firmly under McCartney's control. That led the other band members to feel stifled creatively. McCartney tried to finesse this by allowing each member a lead vocal per album and shared songwriting credits. That really didn't do much good. A song here or there rarely assuaged a musician's ego and only rarely were these efforts comparable to what McCartney produced.
Having bitterly complained, along with George Harrison and Ringo, at Yoko Ono's constant presence during Beatles' recording sessions, Paul now installed his wife Linda (keyboards and vocals) as a band member. Former Moody Blues' guitarist Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell were also added. The following year ('72) guitarist Henry McCullough joined.
After a series of low key, often unannounced concerts, Wings was ready to fly. With "Wings Wildlife" ('72) and "Red Rose Speedway" ('73) the group built a decent reputation but it was snatching victory from certain defeat that sealed Wings' reputation. Prior to the group's departure to record in Nigeria both Seiwell and McCullough quit. Paul, Linda and Laine decided to go on. The result was Wings' high water mark "Band On The Run" ('73). They continued the streak with "Venus and Mars" the following year. Capping a hugely successful U.S. tour the live "Wings Over America" was released. Soon though, the magic was gone as Wings began a slow, comfortable decline. Even with the addition of guitarist Laurence Juber and drummer Steve Holly, Wings could not rise above mediocrity as Paul dabbled in disco and other pop styles.
Wings splintered yet again. This time Paul (with Linda) finally gave up on the group concept and embarked on a solo career and unfortunate duets with Stevie Wonder (the horrible "Ebony & Ivory") and Michael Jackson (the passable "Say, Say, Say" and the truly wretched "The Girl Is Mine"). He did manage a good duet with Elvis Costello on "Veronica."
As one gets older in the public eye, accolades begin to come. McCartney was no different. In '96, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II becoming "Sir Paul."
Linda, Paul's soulmate, succumbed to cancer in '98. A year later Paul released his best album in ages "Run Devil Run" which contained Rock 'n' Roll classics and a couple appropriate (they fit in) originals. His performance was fresh and lively as he soared with the material.
In '02, Paul married former model Heather Mills. The much younger Mills had a prosthetic leg resulting from a motorcycle accident years earlier.
The year had another rare McCartney misstep. Unlike Lennon who could wake up to controversy, McCartney really had to push. Aside from an '80 pot bust in Japan (which blew over quickly after he was deported) and his relationship with Mills (or lack thereof), McCartney's life was low-key and respectable. Where he ran into a buzz saw was messing with The Beatles legacy by flipping of the songwriting credits. McCartney/Lennon? Why not? Many songs were largely, if not solely, his creations.
In '62, when The Beatles released their debut single, "Love Me Do," the songwriting credit was Lennon/McCartney. But the next two singles, "Please Please Me" and "From Me To You" were credited to McCartney/Lennon. However, with the release of "She Loves You" it reverted back to Lennon/McCartney - which is how it remained for the remainder of The Beatles career.
As part of their creative partnership, John and Paul agreed from the beginning to share credit. That's why Lennon's name appears on "Yesterday," a song by his own admission he had nothing to do with, and McCartney is listed as a co-writer of "Strawberry Fields." As Lennon once said "we had our fingers in each other's pie."
Moving ahead thirteen years, The Beatles were gone and "Wings Over America" dropped. The album's five Beatles' covers were presented as 'McCartney/Lennon' compositions. Lennon voiced no objection and the change garnered very little attention.
Before his death Lennon didn't seem to really care about the order of Beatle song credits. But when it came to a decision he supported the status quo. "I'm happy with the way it is and always has been," he said. "Lennon and McCartney is still the Rock 'n' Roll trademark I'm proud to be a part of - in the order it has always been." McCartney seemed to concur. "It's something that I don't have a problem with anymore."
But with Lennon deceased for over two decades, The Beatles' songs on McCartney's live album "Back In The U.S." were credited to 'Paul McCartney and John Lennon'.
This time the blowback was fierce. McCartney was roundly criticized for attempting to re-write Beatles' history. Altering the arrangement seemed a tad petty (even though it had been done before) - and even insecure. After all, McCartney was in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, both as a member of The Beatles and on his own and was, according to The Guinness Book Of World Records, the most successful songwriter in history. He probably should have just 'let it be'.
Continuing to tour, as a major draw at that, McCartney released "Chaos And Creation In Backyard" in '05.
For a fellow rolling through his sixth decade McCartney seemed to possess an uncanny knack for getting press. First, he turned 64. Hardly exceptional unless you wrote and recorded a classic song about doing just that nearly four decades earlier. So there were all sorts of "When I'm 64" stories. But that was just the beginning. McCartney received the Wyler Award for his animal-rights activism at the Humane Society of the United States' 21st Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills. Back in the U.K., he was presented the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism prize at the 2007 Enjoy England Awards for Excellence. "It's great to think that in some small way I've done something to help tourism for the place of my birth, which I'm so proud of," said Sir Paul. Over the years, thousands of fans made the trek to dreary Liverpool to see The Beatles' old stomping grounds. And even The Sunday Times of London got into the act. According to their annual poll, McCartney was the third-wealthiest music figure in the United Kingdom.
All that was a nice diversion from the horribly public and downright nasty divorce proceedings. The split came with a settlement of nearly $40 million for Mills.
The dust had settled somewhat when Mills ventured to the U.S. on a grand self-promotion effort that included appearances on the reality TV show Dancing With The Stars. Of course everyone wondered whether her artificial limb would come flying off mid-number. It didn't. In the end, the controversy blew over like a summer squall.
McCartney later admitted that marrying Mills was one of the biggest mistakes in his life. "I suppose it has to be a prime contender," McCartney told Q Magazine. "But I don't wanna down anyone." He went on to add that his daughter Beatrice was the lone bright spot.
Then there was the 40th anniversary of "Sgt. Peppers." Just as McCartney's self-titled solo debut had trumped "Let It Be" engendering great bitterness among his former bandmates, "Memory Almost Full" more or less took any steam out of the anniversary (since it was released only four days later).
"Memory Almost Full" was started in '03 but abandoned. Eventually, McCartney returned to the project and tried to fix what was wrong. Along the way, he parted with Capitol Records and signed with Starbucks' Hear Music label - their first artist. The move insured extensive play in the countless Starbucks coffee shops around the world. Oh, but the slickest marketing move was yet to come. McCartney used the Home Shopping Network to promote the album. A 30-minute special on "Memory Almost Full," premiered on HSN. There was in-studio footage as McCartney discussed recording the album. Of course, fans could buy it through the network. "It's a very personal record . . . drawing from memory, like memories from being a kid, from Liverpool and from summers gone," said McCartney of the 13-track collection.
Having weathered the explosive and confrontational divorce from the often toxic Ms. Mills, McCartney found himself unexpectedly at the center of yet another controversy. He played Tel Aviv in '08, his first-ever concert in Israel.
The show was part of the country's 60th anniversary celebration. "We are planning to have a great time and a great evening," said McCartney prior to the concert. "We can't wait to get out there and Rock." A planned mid-60's Beatles concert was cancelled supposedly due to fears the Fab Four might corrupt the Israel's youth. Forty years later, there was still something to argue about.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called for McCartney to cancel. "We strongly urge you to uphold the values of freedom, equality and just peace for all by joining this growing boycott against Israeli apartheid," said a PACBI press release. OK, that's fine. But then a crackpot militant Islamic preacher, Omar Bakri, weighed in saying McCartney would be in danger if he followed through with the show. "We have what we call 'sacrifice operatives' who will not stand by while he joins in a celebration of their oppression," maintained Bakri. "If he values his life Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel."
Fortunately, the concert went off without a hitch. "I'm bringing a message of peace and I think that's what the region needs," said McCartney. Highlights included a rendition of Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" with the audience joining in. "Tonight you sang it, you want it," said McCartney.
For any other artist McCartney's '09 activities and accolades would have been enough for an entire career. In April, Paul and Ringo performed together at the David Lynch Foundation's Change Begins Within benefit concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall. A few days later, McCartney was off to California where he headlined the first night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio. He played "I've Got A Feeling," "Paperback Writer," "Sgt. Pepper's," "Helter Skelter" and "I'm Down" (The Beatles), "Let Me Roll It" (Wings) and "Run Devil Run" (solo). Some wondered whether McCartney would appeal to the Alt-leaning Coachella crowd. No worries, he simply blew them away.
Keeping his animal-rights profile high, McCartney unveiled a campaign encouraging vegetarianism in the United Kingdom. The Meat Free Monday initiative asked participants to refrain from eating meat on that day. "If this was to happen it could have a hugely beneficial effect on the climate," said McCartney. The campaign was already in the U.S. and Australia.
To promote his U.S. tour, McCartney made his first-ever guest appearance on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman (in the same theater where The Beatles were introduced to America on the Ed Sullivan Show) in '64. As part of his appearance McCartney played a surprise set on the theater's marquee (not a rooftop performance but close). Still, it drew a huge crowd, blocked traffic and garnered a ton of press - which probably was the main objective. Two of the seven songs performed were televised on Letterman. McCartney then headlined the first concert held at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets (baseball). As a member of The Beatles, McCartney performed at the Mets' old ballpark, Shea Stadium, in '65. He also appeared at the final Shea show the previous year. The '09 concert resulted in the live album "Good Evening New York" containing The Beatles' classics, "Day Tripper" and "A Day In The Life," with McCartney singing Lennon's part on the latter as well as his own. On Thanksgiving evening, ABC broadcast a one-hour special titled Paul McCartney: Good Evening New York City. He then embarked on his first European tour in five years to support the CD/DVD.
Enough? Oh no. At the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Awards in London (the music royalties organization is worldwide) Paul nabbed the Songwriter of the Year award due largely to the release of the remastered Beatles catalog. And the Library of Congress announced that McCartney was the winner of the Gershwin Prize of Popular Song. "It's hard to think of another performer and composer who has had a more indelible and transformative effect on popular song and music of several different genres than Paul McCartney," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
The award was presented at a concert hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House (6/2/10). "After the last eight years, it's great to have a president who knows what a library is," said McCartney (perhaps channeling Lennon), getting in a dig at former President George W. Bush.
Of course, that comment didn't sit well with some Republicans. Former Bush press secretary Dana Perino, called the remark "ungracious and undignified." Note, she didn't dispute it.
The ex-Beatle performed "Michelle" (for Michelle Obama) and "Got to Get You Into My Life" and Stevie Wonder did a rendition of "We Can Work It Out." The concert also featured Faith Hill, Jack White, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and Dave Grohl.
McCartney's next visit to D.C. was free of controversy. He was an award recipient at the 33rd annual Kennedy Center Honors. "President [John F.] Kennedy was such an icon for us in the '60s and his presidency was so inspiring for so many people that it is a great pleasure for this kid from Liverpool to receive this honor," said McCartney in a statement. The 12/05/10 gala honored the ex-Beatle and other luminaries for their contributions to society.
Then it was off to New York where McCartney made his third appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live. He stayed in town for his first ever show at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. During the two-hour concert McCartney told the audience, "I just want to just soak in the Apollo. This is very special for us British boys. The holy grail."
Returning to London, McCartney performed for just 300 fans at the 100 Club on London's Oxford Street. The well-known Punk shrine (The Clash and Sex Pistols performed there), the city's oldest live music venue, was under threat of closure due to a rent increase. McCartney rallied the crowd at the sold-out lunchtime show playing "Let It Be," "All My Loving," "Eleanor Rigby" and "Hey Jude." He closed with a medley of "Yesterday," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" and (appropriately) "The End." It was the smallest venue McCartney had played in a decade.
Anyone who has followed McCartney's career for even a nanosecond comes to the realization that the legend has a schmaltzy side ("Yesterday"). So it was hardly surprising that Paul released "Kisses On The Bottom," a collection of songs written "a long, long time ago." "My dad used to play the piano at home, so I heard all these songs from him," said McCartney. The '12 set featured cameos by Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder.
Note: Paul McCartney has also recorded Classical, Soundtrack and experimental albums. This list focuses on his pop and Rock efforts.
1971 Ram (Paul & Linda McCartney)
1971 Wild Life (Wings)
1973 Red Rose Speedway (Paul McCartney & Wings)
1973 Band on the Run (Paul McCartney & Wings)
1975 Venus and Mars (Wings)
1976 Wings at the Speed Of Sound (Wings)
1978 London Town (Wings)
1979 Back to the Egg (Wings)
1980 McCartney II
1982 Tug Of War
1983 Pipes Of Peace
1984 Give My Regards To Broad Street
1986 Press to Play
1988 Back In The U.S.S.R or The Russian Album
1989 Flowers In The Dirt
1993 Off The Ground
1997 Flaming Pie
1999 Run Devil Run
2001 Driving Rain
2005 Chaos And Creation In The Backyard
2007 Memory Almost Full
2012 Kisses On The Bottom
1976 Wings Over America
1990 Tripping The Live Fantastic
1990 Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights!
1991 Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)
1993 Paul Is Live
2002 Back In The U.S.
2003 Back In The World
2009 Good Evening New York City
1978 Wings Greatest
1987 All The Best!
2001 Wingspan: Hits And History
The best Wings albums, which were recorded between '73 and '75, are "Band On The Run" and "Venus and Mars." They are clearly more pop than Rock but they have their moments. From "Band On The Run," both "Jet" and "Helen Wheels" are great guitar driven pop-Rockers. But the outstanding tracks are Laine's haunting "Time To Hide" and Paul's "Let Me Roll It," which is the best Lennon impersonation ever recorded. After all, McCartney worked with the guy for fifteen years.
"Venus and Mars" contains the title track along with the inventive "Rock Show" and the rollicking "Medicine Jar." McCartney's remaining output with both Wings and his eventual solo career features pop and MOR material.
A major exception is "Run Devil Run." Released in '99, the set covers Rock 'n' Roll tunes like Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop." McCartney is totally engaged, giving knock out performances working material that hasn't been driven into the ground. It has a far friendlier and more upbeat feel than mainstream Rock 'n' Roll covers Lennon released in '75.
Anyone hoping that McCartney had rediscovered his Rock N' Roll roots were surely disappointed with "Chaos And Creation In The Backyard." It's sounds more like "Caution And Conformity On The Living Room Couch." "Fine Line," a passable opening track, has some energy and spunk ("whatever is more important to you is what you've got to do"). Aside from the upbeat "Friends To Go" and "Promise To You Girl," which sounds like a '66 Beatles' LP track (that's good), much of the album just lays there. "Jenny Wren" is an acoustic snooze while "English Tea" feels like a "White Album" reject (not good).
If McCartney has a weakness, aside from cloying ballads and syrupy sentimentality, it's an overriding desire to be liked. "Dance Tonight" opens "Memory Almost Full." With a mandolin and McCartney's disarming vocals the song could have easily fit on "McCartney." It's as if he's saying "look, it's just me an ordinary bloke." He's not and Folkish tunes don't really cut it. The next track, "Ever Present Past," is a more palatable and energetic take. Two of the album's better songs, "Vintage Clothes" and the 'career retrospective', "That Was Me" also delve into the past. "Uncle Albert" reappears in the form of "Mr. Bellamy" while Paul gets Bluesy, for the better, on "Gratitude." And here's the maddening part, the one time McCartney uncorks it, he delivers his best performance. The uptempo "Only Mama Knows" has a catchy guitar line as he sings about being "on the road to ruin." McCartney is not on the road to ruin, even if stuck in an airport, and never will be. After all, he's "Sir Paul" and extremely wealthy (even with Mills taking the petty cash and the money under the sofa cushions). But it's nice to know he still thinks he has a little of the wild, reckless Rocker left in him.
McCartney's legend looms largest not with Wings or as a solo artist. It is for taking the helm during The Beatles' final years as the group's de facto leader, songwriter and singer. Many songs from that period are fan favorites and serve as a linchpin for McCartney concerts. On "Back In The U.S." the backing band has enough drive and focus to keep up with their star attraction (which is an improvement over many other live efforts). It's no small achievement since McCartney is an "old school - let's give 'em a show" entertainment machine. He is charming not edgy.