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“McCartney” At 50: When Paul Went Solo

McCartney

Breaking up is hard to do. Neil Sedaka said so in 1962. Over the next seven years, four Liverpool musicians challenged, changed and confronted the limitations of rock and roll. Since then, every rock group has walked in the immeasurable shadows that John, Paul, George, and Ringo left behind.

Those shadows had disappeared in 1970. Now there was a beardier John Lennon, a proud avant-gardist; a thoughtful George Harrison as a spiritualist, and the band’s drummer as a popular British movie star. Which left Paul McCartney in a future of uncertainty. “Immediately after the breakup of the Beatles, I felt, What am I going to do?” McCartney remembered. “I needed at least a month to think a bit. I went into a period of what everyone called being a recluse, a hermit in isolation. All sorts of little snide articles appeared saying: ‘He’s sitting up in Scotland, looking into his mirror, admiring his image.’ It was not at all true. I was just planting trees. I was just getting normal again, and giving myself time to think.”

Between his duties as a father, husband, and gardener, McCartney´s taste for alcohol had widened. Recently married to Linda Eastman, McCartney´s dependence on his new love meant more to him than any bottle could provide. With her unwavering encouragement, his fingers returned to the guitar, a talent that had stunned the masses with songs like “Yesterday,” “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Mother Nature´s Son.” A precocious melodist, McCartney sang praises to his wife on what opened his self-titled debut solo album.

All through the album, McCartney´s personality washes his listeners with emotion, much as John Lennon´s fury broke through on the fiery Plastic Ono Band, and George Harrison´s metaphysical poetry delighted on All Things Must Pass. Yet where Lennon and Harrison shared their thoughts with the mercurial Phil Spector, McCartney´s first album saw him tackle the arrangements, production, even the instruments, entirely alone. What it lacked in polish, it more than made up for in purity. He’d never again release such an unguarded solo album until 1980. Fittingly, this one-man work was called McCartney II.

Together, the two McCartney´s are among the more experimental of the bassist´s solo work. Take the drum-heavy “Kreen-Akrore”, the blazing instrumental charged with breakneck energy. Or the blues-influenced “That Would Be Something”, hookless and repetitive, nonetheless one of his more fondly remembered pieces. Then there’s the sparky “Valentine´s Day,” a blast of liberated guitars. Without three musicians to dictate to, McCartney was now free to play as he wished, such as the beaming “Hot As Sun-Glasses” and “Teddy Boy” safe from Lennon´s caustic mockery.

Related: “John Lennon’s Most Autobiographical Song”

Yet, McCartney is the more accessible of the two McCartney records. There are three of McCartney´s more beautiful ballads. We have “Junk”, a delicate slice of poetry, “Every Night,” a love song written as sincerely as “And I Love Her,” and the magnificent “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Masked under Billy Martin, a clever nom de plume, McCartney snuck into Abbey Road to record his piano ballad. Waxed in sincerity and raptured intensity, McCartney´s song also featured some of his most committed vocals, the verses coming from his heart, the bridges down from his gut. Vocalists Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, and Billy Joel have since performed this exultant ballad, yet there´s something unimpeachable about the original. If this were the only song he´d written, recorded and released, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would still be deserved.

Related: “Paul McCartney’s ‘Run Devil Run’: A Return to His Roots”

As was the solo career that came after this release. McCartney pointed the songwriter, his family, and fans towards the career he would follow. He´s still following it fifty years later.

-Eoghan Lyng

Image from album cover of “McCartney”

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9 comments on ““McCartney” At 50: When Paul Went Solo

  1. Avatar
    Richard Short

    Very nice article on a very underrated album. And don’t forget that album also had “Man We Was Lonely” and “Ooh You” – more guitar indeed!

  2. Avatar
    Michael Hockinson

    I’ll always think of the “McCartney” album as Paul’s Beatles album without the other Beatles. A number of the songs (“Every Night,” “Teddy Boy,” “Hot as Sun,” “Suicide,” “Junk”) went for test drives during the Let It Be rehearsals. Sure there’s filler, but it deserves all the props the critics didn’t think it was entitled to when it was released fifty years ago. I still can’t embrace the critical revisionism that’s been showered on McCartney II after its Deluxe reissue in 2011. It’s been recast as some kind of experimental masterpiece. The critics reviewing it in 1980 were spot on. Excepting “On The Way,” it’s a crap album.

    • Avatar
      Richard Short

      Man Michael you hit the nail on the head. I’m like you, I always thought McCartney
      2 was way subpar and seeing all the supposed experts tell us how good it was
      30 years later just made me laugh. “On The Way” was a great tune and forgive me if you can but I also like “Waterfalls”.

    • Avatar

      I didn’t connect with MCCARTNEY II at the time either, but I wasn’t that into electronica back then and didn’t have a vocabulary for it. Now I side with the revisionists and hear it differently. It’s not one of my favorite PM records, but I appreciate it more in context now.

  3. Avatar

    Well said. In hindsight, that album felt like a collection of “home movie soundtracks” mingled with potential singles. It was different but it worked, it sold, and fans still love it.

  4. Avatar
    John Monahan

    As an footnote to this fine article it is important to reference the effort of all 4 Beatles in the development of several of these songs to almost finished Beatles versions during the January 1969 “Twickenham Sessions!”

  5. Avatar

    I was only 13 years old when I bought Macca’s first solo album. I was stunned by the raw purity and homespun charm… My ears expecting the lushness of Abbey Road, but it was somewhat closer to the sparseness of the Let It Be album. I, however was still fond of the do-it-yourself nature of the album. I love it for what it is. McCartney finding himself after the juggernaut of The Beatles.

    • Avatar
      Michael Hockinson

      When I hear “McCartney, ” I don’t hear Spector’s Let It Be album (which Paul hated), but rather Glyn Johns’ warts and all “Get Back” album. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Every Night,” “That Would Be Something,” and “Junk” could have been among the songs Paul brought to the other Beatles when they (never) convened in January of the new decade to record their follow-up to “Abbey Road.”

      I’ve always had a fondness for artists who record “McCartneys” – Emmit Rhodes’ eponymous debut immediately springs to mind. Another is Dave Depper, a musician from my hometown, Portland, Oregon, who spent a month in 2010 covering the “Ram” album by himself in his bedroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjGiPxNRxlA

  6. Avatar

    Thank you all very much. As it happens, I’m a McCartney II fan as well. 😉

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