Paul McCartney (and Wings)
Synopsis of Pop Music
"You think that people would have had enough of silly love songs,
But I look around me and I see it isn't so..."
Paul McCartney had his work cut out when he decided to start a solo career. He had played a major role in the Beatles, the most popular and influential rock group of all time, and was one half of Lennon/McCartney, one of the world’s finest songwriting teams. How did he follow up this career-defining success? With further successes, of course. Both as a solo artist and with his side-group Wings, McCartney used his formidable creativity to create a series of albums and singles whose success equaled that of his former world-famous band.
McCartney had been playing guitar from his early childhood days when he joined a band called the Quarrymen alongside fellow student John Lennon. The Quarrymen soon transformed into the Beatles, and the two students became a the prolific, gifted songwriting team that penned the majority of the group’s innovative hits. During this time, McCartney wrote such standards as the oft-recorded “Yesterday,” dreamt up the concept for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and pioneered the idea of the ‘pop symphony’ on the second side of Abbey Road.
By the time the Beatles broke up, Paul McCartney already had his first solo work ready to go. McCartney was a back-to-basics affair on which McCartney recorded and played almost all the instrumentation himself. It contained “Maybe I’m Amazed,” an intense power ballad that would become a staple of his future tours. He followed it up with Ram, an album that mixed off-the-cuff experimentation with sophisticated, carefully-arranged pop in the Abbey Road style. It gave Paul his first solo hit with “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” a jaunty, orchestrated sing-along that shot to #1.
In 1971, McCartney decided to form a group for recording and performing, dubbing it ‘Wings.’ Though several members would pass in and out of its lineup, the two constants were Denny Laine on guitar and Linda, Paul’s wife, on keyboards. McCartney’s first venture with Wings was Wild Life, which included a reggae-inflected version of the r&b classic “Love Is Strange.” The new group toured extensively throughout 1972 and recorded many singles, including the politicized “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” and the guitar-driven rocker “Hi, Hi, Hi.”
In early 1973, Red Rose Speedway was released and became McCartney’s first #1 album with Wings. It mixed effervescent pop-rockers with moodier, orchestrated pieces and ended with an Abbey Road-style medley. It also contained a #1 single in “My Love,” a sweet ballad backed with strings and lovely harmonies. McCartney also wrote and recorded “Live And Let Die,” the theme song for the James Bond film of the same name. This thrilling fusion of uptempo rock and driving orchestration became a #2 hit.
Wings pared down to a trio in late 1973 that consisted of the two McCartneys and Laine. This was the unit that recorded McCartney’s most acclaimed solo album, Band On The Run. This #1 hit album overflowed with lush pop tunes, several of which soon became hit singles. “Helen Wheels” was a sing-along rocker with a percussive sound that went Top-10. “Jet” was a stomping, synth-driven rocker about McCartney’s pet labrador puppy that also went Top-10. The album’s title track, a miniature pop symphony with lyrics that mixed autobiography and fantasy, gave McCartney and Wings another #1 hit.
1975 was another banner year for McCartney and Wings. It began with a #3 hit in the hard-rocking “Junior’s Farm.” Venus and Mars was the next Wings album, following Band On The Run’s pattern of presenting a diverse, carefully-arranged array of pop songs. It gave McCartney his third consecutive #1 album and landed another #1 single in the bouncy “Listen To What The Man Said.” Wings also began the first leg of a world tour at the end of that year. During this time, McCartney drove audiences wild by performing Beatles songs for the first time since their breakup.
Paul McCartney continued his successful world tour throughout 1976, stopping only to record a new album. Wings At The Speed Of Sound was a surprisingly democratic album in which all the members took a turn at singing and also contributed to the songwriting. It featured a #1 hit in the orchestrated, harmony-laden “Silly Love Songs.” “Let ‘Em In,” a catchy plea for unity with a shuffle beat and a prominent brass section, also became a #3 hit.
McCartney and Wings moved their tour onto American shores and captured the excitement on a live triple-album, Wings Over America. It was their fifth consecutive #1 album. In 1977, Wings scored a major hit in the U.K. with “Mull Of Kintyre,” a Scottish-style song featuring a pipe band that became one of the biggest-selling singles in British history. After a brief break, McCartney and Wings returned in 1978 with London Town. Interestingly, part of this album was recorded on a boat. The synth-driven “With A Little Luck” was its major single and it became McCartney’s sixth chart-topping solo tune.
Wings recorded Back To The Egg in 1979, a pseudo-concept album about the power of radio. The moody, disco-styled “Goodnight Tonight” was a non-album single that became a #5 hit the same year. McCartney followed these successes up with McCartney II, a sequel to his first solo album. It was his first work in years without Wings and was recorded at home with no help except from Linda. “Coming Up,” a funky rocker, became the hit from this album. Rockshow, a film of the 1976 Wings tour, was also released that year.
McCartney formally announced the disbanding of Wings in 1981. The next year, he released the critically acclaimed Tug Of War album. This #1 smash was typically lush and ambitious in its sound and included such luminary guests as Ringo Starr, Carl Perkins and Stevie Wonder. “Ebony and Ivory,” a synth-driven collaboration with Wonder about racial harmony, gave the album a #1 hit single. Other standout tracks from the album included “Here Today,” a tribute to his departed friend John Lennon, and the rollicking, brassy hit single “Take It Away.”
In 1983, Paul McCartney sang a duet with Michael Jackson on “The Girl Is Mine.” Jackson soon repaid the favor by guesting on the hit “Say, Say, Say” for McCartney’s next album, Pipes of Peace. McCartney wrote and starred in his first film, Give My Regards To Broad Street, in 1984. Its soundtrack spawned a notable hit in “No More Lonely Nights,” which featured David Gilmour of Pink Floyd on guitar. McCartney scored a Top-10 hit with the film theme song “Spies Like Us” in 1985 and released the Press To Play album in 1986.
McCartney took a break for a while, but returned to action in 1989 with Back In The U.S.S.R.. This fun album of oldies covers was originally intended as a Russia-only release, but would eventually be released worldwide in 1991 because of public demand. McCartney also released Flowers In The Dirt in 1989, which became his most successful album since Tug Of War and featured a few songs that he co-wrote with Elvis Costello. McCartney did his first major tour since the 1976 Wings Tour to promote the album. Like the album, it was a stellar success.
McCartney continued to tour and record throughout the 90’s. Off The Ground was a popular album from 1993 that included the radio favorite “Hope Of Deliverance,” and Unplugged provided a soundtrack to his MTV acoustic performance special. He also began writing full-fledged orchestral works like Liverpool Oratorio and Standing Stone. McCartney even released a techno album under the pseudonym “The Fireman.” When his wife Linda passed away in 1999, he released Wide Prairie, a collection of her recordings that featured Paul on the instrumental backing.
Today, McCartney continues to crank out albums at a furious pace. Flaming Pie was an largely-improvised album inspired by his work on The Beatles Anthology. Run Devil Run was an oldies album, and Working Classical became his third orchestral album. All this activity shows that McCartney shows no sign of slowing down, but he has already achieved elder statesman status for his countless musical achievements. There is no doubt that his boundless creativity and his singular gift for crafting memorable melodies will continue to delight listeners for years to come.
Artist Release History06/12/67 - The Family Way Soundtrack
04/20/70 - McCartney
05/17/71 - Ram
12/07/71 - Wild Life (with Wings)
04/30/73 - Red Rose Speedway (with Wings)
12/05/73 - Band On The Run (with Wings)
05/25/75 - Venus And Mars (with Wings)
03/25/76 - Wings At The Speed Of Sound (with Wings)
12/10/76 - Wings Over America (with Wings)
05/17/77 - Thrillington (as Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington)
03/31/78 - London Town (with Wings)
11/27/78 - Wings Greatest (with Wings)
06/11/79 - Back To The Egg (with Wings)
05/26/80 - McCartney II
04/26/82 - Tug Of War
10/31/83 - Pipes Of Peace
10/22/84 - Give My Regards To Broad Street Soundtrack
08/22/86 - Press to Play
12/05/87 - All The Best
06/06/89 - Flowers In The Dirt
11/06/90 - Tripping The Live Fantastic
11/20/90 - Tripping The Live Fantastic – highlights!
06/04/91 - Paul McCartney Unplugged
10/22/91 - Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio
10/29/91 - CHOBA B CCCP (The Russian Album)
02/09/93 - Off The Ground
11/16/93 - Paul Is Live
02/22/94 - Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (as The Fireman)
05/27/97 - Flaming Pie
09/23/97 - Paul McCartney’s Standing Stone
10/20/98 - Rushes (as The Fireman)
10/95/99 - Run Devil Run
10/19/99 - Working Classical
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsBand On The Run (Capitol)
All The Best (Capitol)