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.