Inspired equally by show tunes, music hall and rock ‘n’ roll, the young James Paul McCartney (whose first guitar, incidentally, was a Rosetti Lucky 7 – essentially a plank of wood with strings) was The Beatles‘ chief source of joyous melody.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting genius called for a versatility unique in pop music.
By 1965 a single session might see McCartney recording larynx-shredding rocker I’m Down followed by the acoustic Yesterday.
But it was the sugary balladeer of Abbey Road which hinted at his solo future – easy to mock but adored by millions.
In 1969, Paul had grown tired of driving from his house in St John’s Wood to Savile Row every day to have the same circular arguments with The Beatles about whether the notorious New York rockbiz accountant Allen Klein should be their manager, and what percentage of their income he should get.
When he filed suit in the High Court in London to end the partnership trading as The Beatles & Co, and appointed a receiver to wind up its affairs as well as to finish its association with Klein, it was little more than a formal conclusion to a process of disintegration that had been going on for years.
Exhausted and defeated, Paul withdrew from London for a simpler life – with his American wife Linda and their daughters – at his farmhouse in Argyllshire, near the Mull of Kintyre (more on that place name later).
By mid-1970, with McCartney vilified nationally as The Beatles‘ executioner, Linda was nursing him through a year-long depression on the farm. She was both rock and collaborator.
Paul’s debut solo album, McCartney (1970), had some excellent moments (Maybe I’m Amazed remains a firm favourite of fans to this day), but largely suffered from its unsophisticated recording process – it was made in Paul’s home studio at St John’s Wood in London – while Ram, a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, demonstrated his consummate skill with a melody.
On 8 November 1971, the McCartneys launched their new band, Wings, at the Empire Ballroom, Leicester Square. Completing the quartet’s line-up were New York drummer Denny Seiwell and ex-Moody Blues singer/guitarist Denny Laine.
The Empire, with its roots in Victorian music hall and Lumiere Brothers moving pictures, provided a suitably historical setting for Wings’ inauguration.
The formation of Wings came as no real surprise, as Paul had always enjoyed being part of a group. What was a shock though, was their debut album, Wildlife. The LP was patently substandard and the rock papers savaged it.
Wings released their first single, Give Ireland Back To The Irish, that month. A horrified McCartney’s response to the events of ‘Bloody Sunday‘ (30 January) when 13 civil rights protesters in Derry were shot dead by British soldiers, the song proved bitterly controversial.
EMI reluctantly sanctioned its release, but as Northern Ireland teetered on the brink, the single was given no exposure whatsoever. Radio 1‘s chart show wouldn’t even mention its title.
Red Rose Speedway appeared, led by the massive hit, My Love, and that summer – with child-friendly single Mary Had A Little Lamb gambolling around the Top 30 – Wings upgraded from a van to an open-topped London double-decker bus and toured Europe.
Incredibly, their third single, Hi Hi Hi, received another Radio 1 ban – this time for sexual innuendo. But an incident on the European tour would have far more serious repercussions than any BBC embargo.
In Gothenburg, Sweden, the McCartneys and Seiwell were arrested and fined for possessing marijuana. Media reports of the bust triggered a second bust at the McCartney family farm by Scottish police.
Paul now found he was denied a US visa, and the drug convictions also kept him out of Japan, one of rock’s most lucrative markets.
1973 found the McCartneys in Lagos, Nigeria, recording their next album. McCullough and Seiwell had both quit the band (Seiwell by telephone only hours before the Lagos flight) reducing Wings to an overstretched trio.
The resulting album, Band On The Run, followed its patchy predecessor to number one in America and became Britain’s best-selling album of 1974. The unqualified triumph did wonders for Paul’s confidence. He was back. He’d made a classic. Even John Lennon said so.
As McCartney now overtook Lennon to be the most successful and critically-acclaimed ex-Beatle the image of Wings changed totally. They joined the jet-set.
By 1976 – once Paul had finally been granted a US visa – there would be $80,000 end-of-tour parties in Hollywood mansions attended by A-listers Warren Beatty and Tony Curtis. Wings – the band that had played Little Richard covers for 50p on the door at Nottingham University – were now grossing $5 million for seven weeks’ work.
Wings officially ended in April 1981 when Denny Laine left. By then Paul had released the solo LP McCartney II (including the hit single Coming Up) and embarking on another new career.
Ebony and Ivory (1982) reunited McCartney with George Martin, his record producer from The Beatles‘ days. The duet with Stevie Wonder was recorded when Paul and Stevie were in the studio together, but the pair were unable to find time to make the video. They appeared together in the promotional clip through the art of modern technology.
McCartney’s 2007 album, Memory Almost Full, marked the end of his 45-year association with EMI and was, instead, sold in 13,500 Starbucks stores as part of a revolutionary deal signed with the planet’s foremost coffee retailer.