The Story Behind The Song: Paul McCartney track ‘Mull of Kintyre’, a love letter to Scotland
While Paul McCartney song ‘Mull of Kintyre’ isn’t among the most critically revered work of his career, his poignant love letter to a life in Scotland was one that was most certainly written from the heart. The uplifting message that was sown into the song made it resonate greatly with the general public who, in turn, kept it at the top of the UK charts for nine weeks following its release on November 11th, 1977.
Not only was this Wings’ most successful single in Britain, but it was also the highest-selling single in the country over the entire course of the ’70s. Astonishingly, it has even sold more copies than any single released by The Beatles in Britain, an utterly remarkable and somewhat unbelievable statistic. Kintyre was McCartney’s place of escapism, it helped save him following the devastating split of The Beatles — which almost broke him — but this Scottish retreat allowed the musician to appreciate the quieter side of life. The former Beatle was always grateful for what Kintyre gave him in during his darkest hour and it was finally time for him to pay deserved tribute to it.
Unlike most Christmas singles, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ wasn’t written by McCartney and fellow Wings member Denny Laine to take advantage of a possible festive shaped cash cow. Instead, the song was generated organically and McCartney initially thought the song had no chance of becoming a hit. The duo wrote the song in one afternoon as they inhaled the beauty of the mull whilst nursing a bottle of Whiskey and letting the scenery write the track on their behalf. Wings then enlisted the local Campbelltown Pipe Band who added a sprinkling of Scottish sparkle to the track and suddenly Wings had their unconventional Christmas song.
‘Mull of Kintyre’ would remain the highest selling UK single until 1984 when Band Aid would knock it off the top spot. Although the track never quite travelled as well on the other side of the Atlantic, it still surpassed Macca’s relatively low expectations. It wasn’t until the local pipers who played on the track told him that it should be a single that McCartney even considered the possibility.
“When we finished it, all the pipers said, ‘Aye, it’s got to be a single, that.’ It was up to them, really, to do it. I thought it was a little too specialised to bring out as a single, you would have to bring out something that has something with more mass appeal,” McCartney later revealed.
“But they kept saying, ‘Oh, the exiled Scots all over the world. It’ll be a big single for them.’ Yet I still thought, ‘Yeah, well, but there’s maybe not enough exiled Scots,’ but they kept telling me, after a few drinks,” he added.
The use of the local pipers would later lead to a small controversy following the success of the single after it emerged that the musicians who took part on the recording were only paid a standard union rate for their role. In response to the criticism, McCartney sent a cheque for £200 to each performer but, more importantly, the attention the pipers got from the release allowed the Campbelltown Pipe Band to release their own music.
Pipe Master Tony Wilson proudly stated in 1978: “All the boys are proud to have played on the record. McCartney’s a genius. Paul’s song has done wonders for Kintyre but we won’t be earning royalties from the song. We were paid as session musicians for the job. We did the job and got paid for it and that’s that.”
More important than the success that the track gifted to McCartney was ‘Mull of Kintyre’ putting this Scottish beauty spot on the map for all the right reasons. There was a huge spike in visitors to Kintyre in the wake of the songs’ release which not only boosted the local economy but installed local residents with pride in their area. After the tranquillity Kintyre provided McCartney at his lowest ebb, this song allowed him to finally pay the area back for rescuing him.