In my recent blog post You may say I’m a dreamer, but will you still love me now that I’m sixty 64, I write about how I discovered The Beatles in 1973 when I was fourteen years old, even though their music played in the background of my young life to that point.
That first Beatles phase lasted a couple of years. I ended up buying all their albums and listened to them constantly. My second Beatles phase came when I was eighteen. I started buying their solo albums. I bought all of John Lennon’s six solo albums, George Harrison’s five solo albums since The Beatles, and I even bought four of Ringo’s six solo albums since the breakup. Yet, I had not bought a single McCartney solo album, and he had put out seven of them by 1977, including his Wings band.
I didn’t buy my first McCartney album until Wings Greatest came out in 1978. The second and last McCartney album I bought, until this year, was his 1982 Tug of War. I don’t know why I didn’t buy another. I thoroughly enjoyed that album and seemed to appreciate his songwriting.
I can’t say why McCartney didn’t resonate with me the way Lennon and Harrison did. Maybe it was because his music didn’t seem to have the same spiritual depth of Harrison’s or the same activist drive that Lennon’s did. Maybe it’s because I was too obsessed with Bruce Springsteen to fit another Beatle in my list of favourties.
I never spent any time until recently thinking about why I didn’t really become a big McCartney fan. Now that I’ve been converted, I do wonder why.
How did I miss the genius of McCartney’s songwriting?
How did my conversion start? How did I see the light?
It started with the Get Back series on Disney Plus that documented the 1970 Let It Be recording sessions. I didn’t have the Disney channel. I wanted to see the series and thought it would eventually appear on another streaming service. But it didn’t. After over a year of waiting I subscribed so I could watch the series. It didn’t disappoint. I’ve spoken to many who have seen the series and quite a few didn’t really like it. The common criticism is that, “it’s just them rehearsing and goofing around in the studio.”
That’s why I loved it. Even though I’m sure cameras did have an impact on their behaviour, you couldn’t hide the fact that these four guys loved each other and absolutely loved playing together. Sure, they had some issues, especially outside of music, but there’s no denying the energy between the fab four when they finally climb up on the roof of Apple Records for what ends up becoming their last public performance.
In addition to appreciating the bond they shared, I also came away from the series with a greater respect for McCartney. It was clear he was the one trying to save The Beatles at that point. Ringo had quit the band a year and half earlier, only to be coaxed back. George quit during the Let it Be sessions, also coaxed back. After the Abbey Road album sessions John announced to The Beatles he was quitting. This was kept quite for months. The first official Beatle to quit was McCartney. However, he did this because he couldn’t cope with their dissolution remaining behind closed doors. It’s now well documented how broken Paul was with the Beatles breakup. While Lennon and Harrison felt liberated, he was devasted.
Recently I bought a few Beatle biographies and a couple of Paul McCartney ones. At the same time that I was reading these I bought McCartney’s latest album, McCartney III. At first, I was disappointed. His voice is not as it used to be. Age has taken its toll. However, I kept listening to it. It grew on me. The music is pure McCartney. Then I downloaded his compilation album Wingspan: Hits and History. I spent a month listening to this album over and over, especially while driving.
My conversion was complete.
It’s beyond me as to why I missed his genius for so long. Maybe it’s because a lot of what he does are merely silly love songs. But as he says in his song, “What’s wrong with that. I need to know.”
I can’t say he’s become my favourite Beatle. It would be next to impossible to displace my love for Harrison’s solo work or John Lennon’s.
I can say McCartney’s post-Beatles body of work firmly confirms his musical genius. What he did as part of the Lennon-McCartney partnership will likely never be matched by any songwriter or songwriting team. What he did on his own with Wings puts him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The fact he continued to record quality songs for another forty years plus beyond the seventies is outside the realm of anything one could imagine. The man is eighty and he’s still at it.
It took me a long time to see the light. But with a little luck, here I am.
Photo credit: MPL Productions.