As John and Paul’s musical partnership dissolved in the late ’60s, their romantic partnerships blossomed; “John and Paul” quickly split into “John and Yoko” and “Paul and Linda.” But though they both dealt with the loss of the Beatles by finding solace in love, how they expressed themselves afterwards couldn’t have been more different. Where John and Yoko turned outward, engaging with the world through performance art, experimental music, and their famous bed-in, Paul and Linda retreated to Scotland to seek solace in nature and domestic life, as Paul battled near-debilitating depression. The McCartney album was the result of that retreat.
While McCartney wasn’t the first solo offering from a Beatle, it may be the most well-known thanks to its timing. Both George and John had already released albums two years before—George’s Wonderwall Music and Plastic Ono Band’s Unfinished Music #1: Two Virgins (NSFW!). But the tension surrounding the McCartney release date’s conflict with Let it Be, and the accompanying press release that effectively announced that Paul had left the Beatles, helped McCartney gain notoriety as a symbol of the end of an era.
Simple, homespun, slightly meandering, and seen a sign of the Beatles’ breakup, McCartney did not receive stellar reviews. Yet the album is a hidden gem that embodies so many of the traits that characterize Paul’s solo career…for better or worse. It’s experimental, largely unfinished, and at times perplexing, but it contains that core of musical genius and sincerity that is pure Paul. Other than the occasional harmonies from Linda, Paul plays every instrument and sings all other harmonies himself, further emphasizing the project’s solo-ness.
Highlights include (song names link to iTunes to preview):
- “The Lovely Linda“: Only 44 seconds long, this “Her Majesty”-style unfinished piece sets the tone for the whole album—bits and pieces of melody, largely inspired by Linda and centered on the couple’s newfound domestic life. If you don’t like this opening, you probably won’t like the album. But if you do, McCartney may be one of your favorites.
- “Every Night“: A mellow love song on the surface, but a closer listen tells the story of Paul’s intense depression during this period, and how his marriage was his saving grace. A great live version of the song also appears on the MTV Unplugged recording.
- “Junk“: Beatles fans may be familiar with this from the Anthology, as it was a rejected song from the Abbey Road sessions (as was another track on this album, “Teddy Boy“). It’s simple, calm, and has a classic McCartney melody. In fact, Paul thought it was so nice he included it twice—the one with lyrics as well as an instrumental version, “Singalong Junk.”
- “Oo You“: A laid back track with one of the best guitar riffs on the album, and possibly Paul’s entire solo catalog. It’s just cool.
- “Maybe I’m Amazed“: McCartney‘s solo breakout song was the one track that received critical acclaim and enjoyed wide radio play. A second recording—the live version from Wings Over America—was released as a single and hit the charts in America and the UK (see my review of Wings Over America for more on the 1976 single).
Many of the other tracks are instrumental, more bits and pieces of melody that sometimes move into laid back jam sessions. It’s a great album to work (or toke) along to, keeping a mellow groove all the while.
The deluxe version (2011) contains two extra CDs worth of tracks, including the full version of “Suicide,” one of Paul’s first compositions that appeared as an 8 second snippet on the original. It also includes a number of live versions of McCartney tracks, as well as a few demos and outtakes that many may not have heard before. Though the extras aren’t earth-shattering, you can get a lot more album for just an extra $4USD (iTunes) if you go with the deluxe over the original.
McCartney is also available as an iPad app, along with four other re-released solo albums. The album apps are really cool, containing all the features of a box set without the weight at a quarter of the price (more on the apps as a whole coming soon).
Bottom Line: McCartney is underrated but worth a spot in my top 10. It may take a few listens to get into its grove, but it contains lots of hidden genius.