Linda McCartney has ascended to a place of cultural respect and admiration – and rightly so. Initially derided for her role in Paul McCartney’s early solo career woes, her groundbreaking photography, plus her advocacy for vegetarianism and breast cancer awareness, made her a cult figurehead outside of Paul’s purview. By the time she tragically passed away in 1998, Linda had earned enough accomplishments that she could be viewed outside of the long shadow cast by her husband.
One aspect of her career that hasn’t quite gotten its due respect, however, is her contributions to music. Despite having her name on one of the most influential albums of all time (most “indie” music of the past 40 years wouldn’t exist without Ram) and featuring in the songwriting credits to all-time great songs like ‘Band on the Run’ and ‘Live and Let Die’, there doesn’t seem to be any push to properly cite Linda McCartney as an influential musician or songwriter.
Let’s get this out of the way early: no, Linda was not a terribly talented singer, and no, she wasn’t exactly a professional-level keyboard player either. But since when was music, specifically rock music, predicated solely on technical ability?
Essentially, it comes down to the debatable nature of what Linda McCartney actually contributed to the works that have her name on them. She’s at an inherent disadvantage, with the entire world knowing both her husband’s extensive back catalogue of fantastic writing and her own self-admitted shortcomings as a musician. Paul did create an album entirely by himself right before the two began working on Ram, but there seems to be an automatic jump to the notion that Paul wrote everything and simply included Linda’s name in the credits. In fact, a 1971 lawsuit from Paul’s publisher Northern Songs directly alleges this.
If nothing else, Linda should at least be given the benefit of the doubt. Paul was creating his music in and around his family, and during a period where his self-confidence in his own abilities was at an all-time low, he relied on Linda’s input and support in order to carry on. Is it really so unlikely that Paul asked for suggestions, musically or lyrically, from the one person he trusted most? Especially after having spent the past decade working comfortably within a credited songwriting team?
Over the course of nearly a decade, Linda is credited with writing almost all the original material for Wings’ discography, excluding songs written by bandmates like Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch. It was only on the band’s final two releases, London Town and Back to the Egg, where Paul begins to be credited by himself, apart from a few songs on Ram. All told, Linda is a credited songwriter on 86 songs from both Wings and Paul’s solo career.
Her only solo credit with Wings, ‘Seaside Woman’, is a goofy and amicable reggae tune that doesn’t sound all that different from similar genre-rips that bands like Blondie and UB40 would find success with in later years. It might not be revolutionary, but it is loopy and catchy, and it stands on its own with the other Wings songs of that era of the band’s history (it’s certainly better than ‘Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)’ for crying out loud).
It’s a bit harder to place the songs from her only solo album, Wild Prairie, however. Linda never expressed much, if any, desire to perform without Paul, and the album is mostly a compilation of demos and outtakes that were assembled posthumously. Admittedly, it’s not terribly inspiring, but it has a sort of offbeat charm to it, with Linda channelling a detached vocal cadence not that removed from similarly droll and unrefined singers like Nico and Ian Curtis. Just because she wasn’t making equally emotional and groundbreaking work shouldn’t be held against her.
Linda’s musical legacy, therefore, should be based on the one album that she receives complete billing on – Ram. Linda’s admittedly crude and amateurish edge is what gives Ram much of its charm. Her imperfect harmony vocals and off-the-wall contributions keep the album lively and eccentric, and she inadvertently would end up inspiring scores of future musicians who didn’t have savant-like backgrounds to simply hit record and give it a go.
Perhaps it’s best to compare with McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney. It shares a fair bit of DNA with Ram, but comparatively, McCartney feels half-formed and unfinished. The significant difference was Paul’s willingness to outsource some of the playing and production to other musicians, Linda included. The contributions that Linda provided both inspired and liberated Paul, and because of this, it was only appropriate to include Linda’s name prominently on the album. Despite what anyone might believe to the contrary, Ram is now and forever a collaborative album, and always will be.
Does Linda McCartney deserve a complete critical reevaluation? No, probably not. But should she be given the respect that would come to any other figure whose name is on some of the most acclaimed works of the 1970s? Yes, absolutely. Was she a necessary element to Paul’s rejuvenation after The Beatles demise? Unequivocally. Is she an embarrassing addition to any of the songs or albums she’s featured on? Not at all. Undue acclaim is not necessary for Linda McCartney, but an acknowledgement of the role she had in now-acclaimed music most certainly is.