Paul McCartney isn’t a punk, but he is a disruptor. For a long time, the fresh-faced assassin looked like butter wouldn’t melt, and he emerged with a veil of innocence surrounding him. In comparison, there were no niceties attached to the punk movement, which arrived with all the decorum of a group of drunken desperados.
Apart from the occasional faux-pas over the last 60 years, McCartney has largely kept a pristine reputation. His loveable boy next door persona has allowed him breathing room from the baying mob. It took a few years and a televised drugs revelation before the media turned on him, with Macca initially enjoying the leeway that punk groups were never permitted or craved.
The Beatles infiltrated popular culture with a polite smile and walked through the front door humming away. On the contrary, punk bands didn’t feign to be anything but unashamed louts. Instead, they made their entrance into the vernacular via a window they’d just smashed open with their bloodied fists.
Punk was deliberately provocative. It didn’t work unless the shock factor existed, and at first, even Paul McCartney was taken aback by its vitriolic pneuma. They were a new generation who grew up in a frenzied world, and this thuggish looking coterie of bands were the owners of his former crown as the voice of the youth.
McCartney’s time as the face of all-things radical had ended, and it was down to bands like The Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Clash to lead a revolution. Macca was refreshingly excited by the burgeoning scene, but only admired the changing of the guard from afar.
“At first it was shocking, because until then you’d known the status quo,” he admitted to The Quietus in 2008. “It hoped to be shocking and in some ways it was. But the thing was that the music was great and suddenly realised, after a day or two of horror – [Adopts posh voice] ‘My God! What’s going on! What’s happening to our England?!’ – that these guys were just shaking it up and it needed shaking up.”
He continued: “My daughter was really into punk at the time. She went to Clash concerts and Damned concerts, Billy Idol and shit . . . she went to the whole thing. You couldn’t deny that it sounded fresh, but I was coached by my eldest daughter.”
Adding: “I understood that it needed to happen. It was a great thing and something like ‘Pretty Vacant’ as a record, is really good. It was produced by Chris Thomas, who we knew – he was George Martin’s assistant and had worked on some Beatles stuff.”
McCartney knew the need for change was necessary and that stagnation only ends dismally. He appreciated punk yet, recognised it was for his daughter’s generation, and they wanted something from music that he couldn’t offer.
The last dregs of loving energy from the swinging sixties had long evaporated. Britain was a much angrier, more hostile, and divided place. Punk gave a voice to those crying out to be heard and represented a forgotten generation.
The Beatles were the quintessential band of their time, and timing is everything to achieve zeitgeist status. When punk rolled around, the public had grown tired of old-fashioned rockstars residing in their Los Angeles mansions. They wanted people they could relate to with shared attitudes and worries, which is what punk provided.