Of all the solo careers of the Beatles members, Sir Paul McCartney has had the most prolific one and is certainly rock royalty. During the 1960s he was the bassist of what would become the most influential and successful rock band of all time, as well the other half of the legendary Lennon-McCartney songwriting team. He was also the brains behind the Beatles’ immensely successful, influential and groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.
After the Beatles, McCartney marked his solo debut LP in 1970, McCartney, a Billboard Top Ten album. He also formed his own band Wings, together with then-wife Linda. Also known as Paul McCartney & Wings, they became one of the popular and commercially-successful bands of the 1970s.
He has also received numerous awards, including several Grammys, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as member of the Beatles and as a solo artist) and is the member of the Order of the British Empire.
Early Life and Years as Member of the Beatles
Paul McCartney was born James Paul McCartney in Liverpool, England, on June 18, 1942. His family, especially his father, was musically-inclined, as his father had been a member of the jazz and ragtime bands in Liverpool.
During his youth he became more interested in music. He met would-be Beatle bandmates George Harrison in 1954 (while they were schoolmates at the Liverpool Institute) and John Lennon in 1957 (while Lennon was performing with his band The Quarrymen at St. Peter’s fete in Woolton). Like the other British kids those days, McCartney was also caught up by the rock and roll and skiffle craze. McCartney and Harrison soon joined the Quarrymen, as well as Lennon’s art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe. By 1960 they had changed their name into the Beatles and recruited drummer Pete Best.
Over the next two years, the band played in local clubs in Liverpool and in Hamburg, Germany. Brian Epstein later managed the band, after hearing them on a record of “My Bonnie” where they backed Tony Sheridan. The band later sacked Pete Best and replaced him with Ringo Starr in 1962.
The lineup of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr aka The Beatles endured until their split in 1970. During the height of Beatlemania, McCartney was sometimes referred to as “the cute one.” Within the band, McCartney was the most musically-accomplished. He was one of the primary songwriters of the band along with Lennon, which formed the legendary “Lennon-McCartney” team. Although most of the Beatles’ songs were credited to “Lennon-McCartney,” many of them were written separately by one of the two.
McCartney wrote his own songs that became many of the Beatles’ classic hits. His most enduring and successful song contribution to the band was 1965’s “Yesterday,” which generated more than 2,000 cover versions around the world.
McCartney was also the brains behind Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, which was a total and radical departure from their simple rock and roll and pop sounds and lyrics. It was a breakthrough not only in terms of commercial success, but also created a revolutionary aesthetic and cultural impact. He also was behind the creation of Magical Mystery Tour made-for-TV film and album in 1968. While the film was roundly lambasted by critics, the album on the other hand was a #1 best-seller.
As part of The Beatles, he wrote or co-wrote an impressive array of songs that have become iconic in the world of music. His contributions often blended seamlessly with John Lennon’s in their famous Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. Here are ten of the most celebrated songs primarily attributed to Paul McCartney during his time with The Beatles:
- “Yesterday” (1965): One of The Beatles’ most famous songs, known for its melancholic melody and McCartney’s solo performance with a string quartet.
- “Hey Jude” (1968): A ballad written to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian during his parents’ divorce, it’s known for its extended fade-out with a sing-along chorus.
- “Let It Be” (1970): Inspired by a dream about his mother during a period of tension within the band, this song became a defining anthem of hope and comfort.
- “Eleanor Rigby” (1966): A song that stood out for its classical string arrangement and poignant lyrics about loneliness.
- “Blackbird” (1968): A solo McCartney performance on the “White Album,” featuring intricate guitar playing and lyrics that reflected the civil rights movement.
- “Penny Lane” (1967): A nostalgic song that paints a vivid picture of a street in Liverpool, characterized by its colorful imagery and innovative production.
- “Get Back” (1969): Originally conceived as part of the “Get Back” sessions that eventually became “Let It Be,” this song is known for its upbeat tempo and classic rock ‘n’ roll feel.
- “The Long and Winding Road” (1970): A poignant ballad featuring a lush orchestral arrangement, marking one of the band’s last hits.
- “Paperback Writer” (1966): A rock song that was a departure from The Beatles’ usual love-themed material, focusing instead on a novel writer.
- “Can’t Buy Me Love” (1964): An upbeat, rhythm-driven song that became one of their most popular early hits.
The Beatles broke up in 1970 due to their artistic, business and personal differences. Like the rest of his former bandmates, McCartney struck out on his own. He released his first solo album McCartney in 1970 and, along with wife Linda McCartney, Ram in 1971. That same year he formed his own band Wings.
Marriage to Linda McCartney
Paul McCartney and His own Band, Wings
The first line-up of Wings consisted of the McCartneys – Paul on bass guitar and lead vocals, and Linda on backing vocals and keyboards – guitarist Denny Laine (formerly of Moody Blues), and drummer Denny Seiwell. The band’s first album Wild Life (1971) was poorly received and a relative flop. However, the follow-up Red Rose Speedway (1973) fared much better, thanks to their first #1 hit “My Love.” By now the band had a new member, Henry McCollough, on vocals and guitar. McCartney and Wings also supplied the soundtrack of the James Bond flick Live and Let Die with the title song, which became a #2 hit in 1973. After embarking on their first British tour, McCollough and Seiwell left the band.
Wings would achieve a bigger success with 1973’s Band On The Run, buoyed by hit singles “Helen Wheels” (#10 on the Billboard Hot 100), “Jet” (at #7), and the title track which went to #1. Following the album’s success, the band continued with new members Jimmy McCollouch and Geoff Briton. The newer version of Wings released 1975’s Venus And Mars (which featured the #1 hit single “Listen To What The Man Said”) and 1976’s Wings At The Speed Of Sound which became the band’s first album to feature songwriting contributions from the other members.
Wings At The Speed Of Sound spawned three hit singles: the disco-fied “Silly Love Songs” (at #1), “Let ‘Em In” (at #3), and “Maybe I’m Amazed (at #10), one of Paul’s greatest love ballads to his wife Linda. Wings supported the album with their first (and record-breaking) international tour.
After the massively successful tour, the band went on a hiatus, with some of the members working on their own projects. Late in 1977, Wings came back with a single “Mull Of Kintyre,” a paean on McCartney’s home in Scotland. On Christmas day, the single became a #1 UK hit. After the single’s release, McCollouch left the band to pursue a solo career.
Band Members in Wings
McCartney’s Arrest and the Disbandment of Wings
In 1978, the band released the albums, London Town (1978) and Back To The Egg (1979), both of which went to platinum, although it failed to spawn big hits. Later members included Laurence Juber (lead guitar), and Steve Holley (drums).
In January 1980, the McCartneys and Wings flew to Tokyo to do a tour there, but it was halted when customs officials found the couple with cannabis on their luggage. Paul was arrested and jailed for days and was later deported from the country without charges.
McCartney went out on his own again, releasing his album McCartney II (1980) which produced the hit “Coming Up.” After John Lennon had been murdered, McCartney refused to tour and that prompted Laine – the other band member to have stayed the longest since their inception, aside from the McCartneys – to leave the band for good. And, in 1981, Wings was no more.
McCartney as a Pop Music Legend
Post-Wings, McCartney continued his career as a solo artist, having churned out best-selling records and top-grossing tours. He has also collaborated with Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Eric Stewart, David Gilmour and many others. McCartney starred in a film that he wrote and produced, Give My Regards To Broadstreet, whose cast also included Starr. While the movie was panned by critics, the soundtrack album became a hit.
During the 1990s, he joined forces with Harrison, Starr and Beatles producer George Martin to record and release the three Anthology albums, all of which became successes. In 1997, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II; but the following year tragedy struck when wife Linda succumbed to breast cancer.
McCartney has received lots of accolades and honors, including two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (one for being a member of the Beatles in 1987 and another as a solo artist), and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, aside from knighthood honors from the Queen. Still, he refused to rest down on his laurels and has remained very much active in the music industry and it seems that there are no signs of slowing down. In 2012, he performed at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in London and issued another album Kisses On The Bottom which netted him a Grammy trophy in 2013 for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Oon October 14, 2013, McCartney released his sixteenth studio album New which received generally positive reviews. In December 2020, he released “McCartney III,” a solo album where he played all the instruments, part of a trilogy that started with his debut solo album.
McCartney has remained an active live performer, embarking on extensive world tours. His concerts are known for their length, energy, and setlists that span his entire career, from The Beatles’ hits to his solo work. He has collaborated with various contemporary artists, reflecting his ability to bridge generational gaps in music. This includes work with artists like Kanye West, Rihanna, and younger bands and musicians. He has also ventured into writing, including children’s books and poetry, showcasing his versatility as an artist.
Now in his 70s, Paul McCartney is rock royalty and a living legend, and no one can deny that. But retiring from the industry he much loves seem to be very far from his mind; instead, it looks like that he has only just begun.