McCartney 1_detail

The #1 Albums: “McCartney”

Beyond being a detail from the cover of "McCartney," we're not sure what this is, either.

Beyond being a detail from the cover of “McCartney,” we’re not sure what this is, either.

It must be great to be Paul McCartney. All that fame, all that money. And it must be terrible, too, because you have to compete with Paul McCartney, and a reputation that will last until the end of time.

It’s been that way from the beginning. In 1970, at the precise moment the Beatles were making public their inevitable split, Paul released a solo album, McCartney, which was instantly compared to his previous work, and found wanting. John Lennon and George Harrison didn’t like it. Many critics didn’t care for it, either. Too ragged, too full of half-baked ideas, lacking the hook-laden sound everyone expected from a Beatle. Almost 43 years later, it’s easy to hear what they were talking about. But you can also hear it as a declaration of independence—here’s what interests me, Paul is saying, here’s what’s important to me now. Let John and Phil Spector do whatever grandiose thing they’re doing to Let It Be—I’m unplugging over here.

Three tracks on the album stand out: “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which got a great deal of airplay for a song never released as a single (not until the 1977 live version), “Every Night,” which the Beatles noodled on during sessions in early 1969, and “That Would Be Something,” a track Harrison singled out as worthwhile. After the album was released, there wasn’t much left on the shelf—the 2011 re-release contains only a couple of unheard tracks alongside live versions of some of McCartney‘s tracks, all recorded later in the 1970s.

McCartney was released in April 1970, a couple of weeks before Let It Be. (Ringo had been deputized by John and George to go to Paul’s house and ask him to delay the release of his album, and when he did, Paul threw him out.) That brief head start allowed McCartney to reach #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart on May 23, 1970, where it stayed for three weeks before Let It Be overtook it. Take that as a hint about the next installment of this series.

Here’s “That Would Be Something,” a clip that features a nice montage of vintage photos.

  • MichaelFortes

    A little known fact about the studio version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” is that it was, in fact, released as a single, albeit 10 years after McCartney was released. It was available in the 1980s throughout the first half of the decade as part of Columbia Records’ ‘Hall Of Fame’ reissue series, with Wings’ “My Love” on the flip side. It then appeared again in 2001 as a limited edition single on Capitol, paired with “Band On The Run,” to promote the ‘Wingspan’ documentary and album.

    As for the cover, if I’m remembering correctly it was supposed to be a play on the old expression “life is bowl of cherries” and meant to be a sort of metaphor for what Paul and Linda’s life was like during that acrimonious Beatles breakup period.

  • Old_Davy

    I never really understood the cover either, but it sure is an intriguing picture. Too bad it’s the best thing about the entire album.

  • MichaelFortes

    OK, apparently I must have made that up about the cover because I couldn’t find any reference of that sort. It appears it was simply one of many photos Linda took while she and Paul were on holiday. It’s just a shot of cherries that they would lay out for the birds to eat, no special meaning attached to it. Also, the front cover was originally supposed to be the back, and vice versa.

  • JonCummings

    If the Beatles had had a “Douchebag Jar” like Schmidt’s on “New Girl,” I’m pretty sure Paul would have been the most frequent contributor. He was a fuddy-duddy in the acid-dropping department, at least compared to John and George, yet it was Paul who tried to make himself look hip in the British press by being the first to talk about it publicly. The way he became domineering after Brian’s death, beginning with the horrendous decision that was “Magical Mystery Tour,” is well established.

    And then there was the announcement of the Beatles’ breakup, which came in the form of a self-Q&A flier inserted in British copies of the “McCartney” album in which Paul said he had no plans to work with the Beatles again. It’s all continued in the decades since, between the self-serving “It was all really ME! I was the smart/artistic/funny one!” of his authorized sorta-memoir, “Many Years From Now,” and his attempts to get the songwriting credits on his Beatle ballads reversed to “McCartney/Lennon.”

    All of that said, I kinda like the “McCartney” album. It’s better than “Wild Life” or “Red Rose Speedway,” that’s for damn sure. And Lennon probably would have had to put a tenner in the jar every time he brought Yoko into the studio … and several grand when they wheeled in the bed during her troubled pregnancy.

    Wouldn’t it be funny to belatedly discover that Ringo was the biggest d’bag in the Beatles?

  • MikeG

    I always had a warm place in my heart for this album. Loved “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “Every Night”, “Junk/Singalong Junk”, “That Would Be Something”, and even the riff in “Oo You.” Used to wear it out sitting in my room doing homework after school. While not the magnum opus that “All Things Must Pass” would be later in the year, or even the raw, emotional “Plastic Ono Band”, “McCartney” still was a cool slab of Paul noodling in the studio. Maybe after years of listening to Pete Townshend’s demos, or Todd Rundgren’s solo works, hours of Bill Nelson’s atmospheres, as well as a trillion Robert Pollard snippets, I’ve decided I don’t need every tune chrome polished – a little blemish here and there shows a flaw – but even diamonds have flaws. Hey, I think Mac, Lennon and Harrison hit home runs with their disks in 1970, so I may be biased.

  • Guy Smiley

    Wait… You don’t like “Maybe I’m Amazed”? It’s still the best post-Beatles song Paul ever wrote.

    “McCartney” isn’t a great album, but it has the three great songs mentioned in the article (although “That Would Be Something” feels half finished and could’ve used a few more words). I’ve always been partial to the instrumentals (esp. “Momma Miss America”) and I like “Man We Was Lonely” too.

    He would do better, overall, with the next album (Ram), but “Maybe I’m Amazed” alone earns the album a passing grade.

  • Old_Davy

    I like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Every Night” quite a lot, but that’s it for this album. The rest is half-baked unfinished demo quality stuff. I guess it was really a huge disappointment for me when I bought the album as a 9 year old kid, spending my hard-earned $4 on it and it only contained 2 good songs. AND, after the regal majesty that is “Abbey Road”, well, I guess I’m still a tad bitter about it. As an aside, I also bought the self-titled album from Emitt Rhodes the same day, and that album is so excellent, it kind of made up for the disappointment of McCartney.