By Matthew Cheadle
Yesterday (Monday 18th) was Sir Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday. There’s very little to say about him that’s not already been documented; Beatle, founder of Wings, solo artist, publisher, animal rights activist, vegetarian, father of five, Knight of the Realm, the list goes on. Add to this that the Guinness World Records call him “the most successful composer and recording artist of all time”, that he is the most successful songwriter in UK chart history, and one of the wealthiest men in Britain. Not bad for a working class lad from Liverpool.
There’s more (of course); his song, ‘Yesterday’ has been recorded by over 2,200 artists (more than any other song ever), he has sales of over 100 million albums and singles, ’Mull of Kintyre’ was the first single to sell 2 million copies in the UK, and he has written or co-written 32 songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Not at all bad for a working class lad from Liverpool.
There is, of course, way more to Sir Paul than mere lists of mind blowing achievements. As a ‘Beatle’, he was massively influential in changing and then forging the path of popular music, and many of the songs he wrote and sang touched lives and defined eras in ways that most politicians and religious figures can only dream of.
There is neither the need nor the time to go into a retrospective of the man here, but I would like to bring one common misconception to light and attempt to correct it. Seen historically as the cute or even ”soppy” Beatle, McCartney’s creative influence in the band has often been over looked, when in fact it was he perhaps more than any of the others who strove to drive the group onwards artistically. For example, in the mid-sixties, just as London was hitting its swinging peak, McCartney was a single man living in the center of town, dating actress Jane Asher at the time and immersing himself in all the culture and the cool that the city had to offer, whilst the rest of the band was ensconced in the Surrey countryside, cozied up with family and/or drug distractions. As a result, ‘Macca’ opened himself up to new music and musicians and other contemporary artists and poets. Influenced by avant-garde musician, John Cage, McCartney created what he called “electronic symphonies”; tape loops of voices, instruments and sound effects, cut up, stuck together, slowed down, sped up, turned backwards and so on. Some of these ideas were later used on Beatles’ recordings, most famously ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, and often mistakenly attributed to John Lennon, who was frequently seen as the greater creative force because of his ‘edgier’ personality and songwriting.
In 1967 it was McCartney who had the idea that The Beatles should create characters for each band member and record an album that would be a performance by that fictitious band, thus giving them the freedom to experiment with songs. McCartney said, “‘Let’s not be ourselves….Everything about the album will be imagined from the perspective of these people, so it doesn’t have to be the kind of song you want to write, it could be the song they might want to write.” So was born ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’
McCartney was also the driving force behind the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ project a few months after the release of “Pepper’s”. It was an attempt to make a film based around new Beatles songs with a coach load of ‘ordinary people’ having magical adventures. Whilst the film itself, broadcast the day after Christmas in the UK, was poorly received, the songs (and subsequent US album) reached number 1 in the US again. On the subject of the less than stellar movie, McCartney humorously said, “I’m not sure whose idea Magical Mystery Tour was. It could have been mine, but I’m not sure whether I want to take the blame for it!” So let’s not forget McCartney was more than just the doe-eyed crooner of romantic ballads.
There is so much more to tell and, no doubt, to discover about the extraordinary life of an extraordinary creative talent, who at 70 is still going strong releasing new albums and touring the world. He is, to all intents and purposes, the last performing link to The Beatles legacy before our very ears and eyes, and doing so with his ever present boyish enthusiasm! Happy birthday Sir Paul.