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Paul McCartney Biography

Inductee: Paul McCartney (vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards, drums; born 6/18/42)

Paul McCartney was the first of the Beatles to work on an extracurricular recording project (the soundtrack to the 1966 film The Family Way) and also the first to release a bonafide solo album of songs (McCartney, which appeared as the Beatles were dissolving in 1970). McCartney has been the most prolific ex-Beatle and has also enjoyed the greatest measure of commercial success.

Between his work with the Beatles and as a solo artist and leader of Wings, McCartney has written or co-written more than 50 Top 10 singles. With and without Wings, McCartney has been extremely prolific, averaging an album a year since the appearance of McCartney. Moreover, he’s been eclectic as well, not only recording pop and rock but also dabbling in various classical forms and ambient dance music. In the post-Beatles era, McCartney has cracked the Top 40 35 times. When combined with the Beatles’ 49 Top 40 U.S. singles, it is a matter of statistical fact that Paul McCartney is the most successful pop-music composer ever and the second greatest hitmaker, behind Elvis Presley. Without question he is one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

Beyond the numerical achievements, McCartney’s career is noteworthy for the purposeful way in which he demystified himself as a rock star in the wake of the Beatles. During the Seventies – a decade of ego-tripping superstars, flamboyant glam-rockers and defiant punk-rockers – McCartney modestly presented himself to the world as a family man who happened to be a working musician. His songs often celebrated the mundane pleasures of everyday life. As a songwriter who delights in the quotidian, as opposed to edgier rock and rollers steeped in mystique and risk-taking, McCartney has rarely been a favorite of rock critics. However, his body of work – some of it admittedly lightweight, much of it unjustly dismissed – has given boundless pleasure to the music loving public. Having been the primary melodist within the Beatles, it is not surprising that McCartney’s knack for an ear-catching pop tune remained very much in evidence. 

McCartney’s low-key solo debut belied the turmoil that attended the simultaneous breakup of the Beatles. Recorded on a four-track machine, this collection of simple songs and fragments found him playing keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. A one-man show that added up to an evocation of (in his own words) “home, family, love,” McCartney anticipated the singer-songwriter movement that would fill the early-Seventies void after the chaos and clamor of the Sixties. McCartney appeared in April 1970, two weeks before Let It Be, the Beatles’ last studio release. A year later came Ram, credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. (The couple were married in March 1969; it was the second marriage for Linda.) Ram became a favorite with FM rock deejays and even yielded a Number One single, the whimsical, ambitious “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”

For the rest of the decade, save for the odd solo single, McCartney devoted his creative energies to Wings. Under the banner of Wings, McCartney worked with Linda (who played keyboards and sang) and a fairly stable lineup of musicians. Technically, Wings were an entity longer than the Beatles, though there occurred several personnel changes between their formation in 1971 and disbanding 10 years later. McCartney clearly intended Wings to be perceived as a band, and he willingly submerged his identity within the group framework, especially on Wings’ much-maligned 1971 debut, Wild Life. Their best recording – it was, in fact, attributed to Paul McCartney and Wings – was Band On the Run (1973). Recorded in Africa by the McCartneys and singer/guitarist Denny Laine (formerly of the Moody Blues), it struck many as McCartney’s attempt to deflect criticism that his post-Beatles’ work lacked substance. The album and its three Top 10 hits ("Jet," “Band on the Run” and “Helen Wheels") were catchy, energetic and fun, much like the best of the Beatles.

With the addition of guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English, Wings expanded to a five-piece band for Venus and Mars. Commercially, McCartney had his finger on the pulse of the Seventies. Five consecutive Wings albums – Red Rose Speedway, Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound and Wings Over America (a triple live album) – topped the album charts. At the height of punk rock in 1977, McCartney must be considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Wings’ sentimental tribute to hearth and home, “Mull of Kintyre,” became the best-selling single in British history. So popular were Wings that in 1978, the group could fill a 13-track best-of, Wings Greatest, with nothing but hits. In 1979, Wings switched labels, from Capitol to Columbia, and released their last album, Back to the Egg. The group officially disbanded in April 1981.

McCartney resumed his solo career with 1980’s McCartney II. He followed it with Tug of War (1982), which reunited him with Beatles producer George Martin and was regarded as his strongest outing since Band On the Run. McCartney duetted with Stevie Wonder on Tug of War‘s “Ebony and Ivory” and sang with Michael Jackson on “The Girl Is Mine,” which appeared on the latter’s Thriller. Another duet with Jackson, “Say Say Say,” turned up on McCartney’s Pipes of Peace (1983). Give My Regards to Broad Street, a feature film and accompanying soundtrack, released in 1984, included his reworkings of several Beatles songs.

The McCartney catalog has swelled since the mid-Eighties as he’s tackled an eclectic assortment of projects. These include a solid run of solo albums (Press to Play, Flowers in the Dirt, Off the Ground, Driving Rain, Memory Almost Full), live albums from world tours (Tripping the Live Fantastic, Paul Is Live, Back in the U.S. and Good Evening New York), an acoustic session for MTV (Unplugged: The Official Bootleg), an album of vintage rock and roll covers (Choba B CCCP, initially released only in the Soviet Union), and a pair of electronic “rave” albums issued under the alias “The Fireman.” McCartney also explored classical forms with his Liverpool Oratorio (1991), written with conductor Carl Davis, and the orchestral piece Standing Stone (1997), composed in celebration of the 100th anniversary of EMI, his record label. Also in 1997 came Flaming Pie, a modest masterpiece that nodded to the past while reaffirming his skills as a pop craftsman. McCartney claimed to have been inspired by his involvement in the BeatlesAnthology, the 1995 TV miniseries and three-volume retrospective of the Fab Four’s recorded work: “The Anthology was very good for me because it reminded me of the Beatles’ standards and the standards that we reached with the songs,” he said.

Another project close to his heart was Wide Prairie, an album of songs by his late wife, Linda McCartney. Highly regarded in her own right as a photographer, animal rights activist and vegetarian cook (not to mention wife, mother and inseparable companion) Linda died of breast cancer in 1998. McCartney returned to his rock and roll roots for the 1999 album Run Devil Run, whose 15 tracks were cut in only one week-much like the Beatles had worked back in the early days. Erasing any doubts that he’d “gone classical,” McCartney asserted, “I still love my rock and roll.”

McCarney has remained extremely active into the 21st Century. In 2001, he helped organize the Concert for New York City for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which he witnessed from the tarmac of JFK Airport in New York. He also released an album, Driving Rain, which included a song, "Freedom," about the attacks. In 2005, he performed at the Live 8 concert in London, and in 2012 - the year he turned 70 - he released Kisses on the Bottom, a collection of standards, and he performed at Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee Concert and at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

McCartney has scored more than 60 gold records, and he has sold more than 100 million CDs and 100 million singles. Despite his age, it appears that Paul McCartney will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.