Happy birthday to the cute one – Beatle Paul!
James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool this day in 1942, to a part-time musician father and a mother who was a nurse. McCartney would follow in his father’s footsteps as a musician, although he left behind the trumpet in favour of the guitar. He met 16 year old John Lennon at Woolton Fete in 1956, watching John’s band The Quarrymen make up their own versions of popular skiffle favourites for the crowd. At the end of the show, Paul tuned John’s guitar for him (which made an impression), and then played Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty-Flight Rock”. After that, he was in the band. Later, Paul encouraged his school friend George Harrison to bang out a version of Duane Eddy’s “Raunchy” for John while they all road together on the top level of a Liverpool double decker bus. Then, George was in too.
The band gigged around town, and was picked up by a local promoter to go abroad to play rock n’ roll in Hamburg night clubs. The group was a quintet, with Pete Best on drums, and Stu Sutcliffe on bass guitar. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison played guitars and did so for eight hours at a stretch for the patrons of the seedy Reeperbahn section of Hamburg, kept upright only through the use of uppers. Later, McCartney would pick up the bass and make the instrument his own in the earliest version of the Beatles when former bassist Stu Sutcliffe (who never really played) decided to quit the group in order to pursue an art career in Hamburg. The swtich was successful, as was the band (now a foursome) who went on to become arguably the greatest rock band ever.
After sacking Pete Best in favour of Ringo Starr who was another Liverpudlian drummer they’d met in Hamburg, the group was signed to the EMI-owned label Parlophone in 1962. After they signed and formed a relationship with producer George Martin (a perennial McCartney collaborator even after the Beatles broke up), they scored a number of UK hits, then going on to break America with the Lennon/McCartney original “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. In February 1964, the band consolidated their hold on the record buying teen market when they appeared on the National broadcast of the Ed Sullivan show on February 9th of that year. They would later break away from writing strictly for teen audiences, and begin writing for their own peers, and for themselves too, which indirectly raised the artistic profile of pop music as a whole from that point on.
McCartney was turned on by rock n’ roll while still in grammar school – most notably by Buddy Holly who was a songwriting role model, and Little Richard, who informed Paul’s own rock n’ roll shout which served him well in songs like “I’m Down” from the Help soundtrack, “Helter Skelter” and many others. His voice could also be sweet, which informed love songs like “And I Love Her”, “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Golden Slumbers”. Of all the Beatles, McCartney was probably the most well-rounded musician in the band, playing bass, guitars, piano, and even drums when Ringo wasn’t available. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon, which was really more of a healthy competition than it was a collaboration, produced some of the most famous songs in the world, covered by artists ranging from country/easy listening chanteuse Anne Murray to gothic rock band Laibach.
While in the Beatles, McCartney spearheaded their most ambitious album in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, took the lion’s share of the directing of the Beatles’ TV film Magical Mystery Tour, and was the first of the Beatles to admit to the press that he’d taken LSD. Starting in the mid-60s, rumours abounded that he’d died in a car crash and had been replaced by a lookalike – the Paul is Dead rumours.
After the release of the band’s final album Abbey Road, which featured the famed “medley side” that McCartney had championed, The Beatles broke up in April 1970, although their partnership wasn’t fully dissolved until 1974. McCartney would go on to enjoy the most success as a solo artist of all the Beatles. He would score nine number one singles, and seven number one albums during the 70s and early 80s, and would be entered into the Guinness World Book of Records for the world’s most successful songwriter, with his “Yesterday” as the world’s most popular song.
In 1970, he released his first solo album, McCartney which was recorded entirely solo while at home. Some of the songs were recorded in his bathroom for the acoustics. Songs like “Every Night” and “Junk” were understated gems. And his power ballad “Maybe I’m Amazed” stands as one of the best songs he’s ever written. In the 1970s, he made records with his wife Linda (neé Eastman) whom he’d married in March of 1969, a partnership that would last until her death from cancer in 1998. The best of these musical collaborations was 1971’s Ram, which featured the songs “Too Many People”, “Dear Boy”, “Back Seat of My Car”, and the whimsical “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” which was an unlikely hit. He formed another band, Wings, with former Moody Blues singer Denny Laine, and recorded a James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die” in 1973.
McCartney recorded Band on the Run in Nigeria that year, and had his greatest success with it to date with the title track and another single, “Jet” both getting top ten status on American and British radio and the album going triple platinum. Even Lennon liked Band on the Run ! He toured America in 1976 on the back of his smash hit “Silly Love Songs” and recorded the live album Wings Over America, one of the singles being a live cut of his early solo song “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which is arguably the definitive version. In 1978, Wings recorded “Mull of Kintyre”, which is one of the best selling British singles of all time. Soon after the release of his 1980 solo album McCartney 2, Paul was jailed in Japan for possession of marijuana for ten days, only to be released without charge.
During the 80s, he would have some success in collaboration with both Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder on separate tracks, although his Beatles fans weren’t as impressed as the greater record-buying public were. Jackson and McCartney fell out by 1985, when Michael Jackson bought the rights to the Beatles catalogue and wouldn’t negotiate a sale.
By the end of the 1980s, McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello. Some of their songs were written especially for McCartney’s 1988 album Flowers in the Dirt, and others initially appeared on two of Costello’s albums – Spike, and later on Mighty Like a Rose. These collaborations didn’t have the same immediate commercial success when compared with songs like “Say, Say, Say” (McCartney’s last career number one single to date), but McCartney’s credibility was vastly improved by the Costello association. Two more albums would feature McCartney and MacManus (Costello’s real last name) songs – Macca’s Off the Ground in 1993, and Costello’s All This Useless Beauty in 1996.
By the early 90s, McCartney began work on what would become the Beatles Anthology project along with former bandmates George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The project was a documentary made for television about the Beatles, narrated by the Beatles themselves. A coffee table book was also produced as a companion item to the series, along with three volumes of two-disc compilations, outlining the bands’ career from the earliest homemade recordings to alternate versions of popular songs, to unreleased tracks. Contributions from key Apple Corps head, early road manager, and childhood friend to the band Neil Aspinall were also included to round out the narrative of the band’s mythic rise and fall. The television show was broadcast in 1995 to warm critical reactions.
The project produced another significant outcome – two new Beatles singles – “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”. Both songs were John Lennon demos which had been submitted with approval by Yoko Ono, which the other Beatles embellished, creating the finished tracks with the help of producer, former ELO frontman, and Beatles enthusiast Jeff Lynne. The music video of “Free As A Bird” evokes the best of the group, an affectionate tribute to what they had created as a band.
The Anthology project helped to ignite McCartney’s interest in recording a solid album of original songs, which resulted in his best studio effort in years, Flaming Pie, in 1997 which McCartney once again recorded with his son James on electric guitar, Jeff Lynne on various instruments, guitarist Steve Miller, and for the last time, Linda McCartney taking pictures and singing back-up. Among many songs on the album, the most poignant would be his love song “Calico Skies”, one of the finest love songs he’d ever written. The album’s title was a reference to an early John Lennon piece published in Merseybeat fan magazine in the early 60s in which, when addressing the question as to where the name “Beatles” came from, John wrote:
… it came in a vision. A man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them “from this day forth, you are Beatles with an ‘A’. “Thank you, mister man,” they said, thanking him.
The record was the end of an era. Linda died the next year.
After Linda’s death, Paul continued to be busy, releasing rock albums as well as classical ones, along with continuing involvement in various charity efforts. In 2002, he married former model and self-styled activist and charity worker Heather Mills. They divorced acrimoniously in 2007, with final settlement this year. His Grammy-winning 2005 album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, recorded solo with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich at the controls, was not only one of the best albums of his solo career, but one of the best released that year by anyone. His follow-up Memory Almost Full had been started before the Chaos and Creation sessions with a full band. It was the first album released on the Starbucks record label.
When I was young, I wanted to be Paul McCartney. I wanted to look like him, sing like him, and be a musician like him. I used to sing “I Saw Her Standing There” in the shower, dreaming of rock stardom. I learned to play guitar so that I could play Beatles songs.
Paul is still one of my heroes.
Happy birthday, Macca! Thanks for all of the little ditties and good dreams!
Here’s a recent interview with Paul McCartney as shown on Jools Holland’s Later program, which talks about his recent single “Dance Tonight”, Wings, and the Beatles too. And here’s the segment of Paul performing “I’ve Got A Feeling” as referenced in that interview. That song of course is originally taken from the Beatles’ Let it Be, one of the last songs the group performed live, doing so on the rooftops of Apple Corps in January of 1969.
And for those of you who have just woken up from a 45 year coma and want to get caught up, here’s the Paul McCartney MySpace page.
The official Paul McCartney site has even more goodies for fans to appreciate. Send Paul your regards.
Enjoy!, thanking him..