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Music

The Paul McCartney song that outsold The Beatles

@josephtaysom

Paul McCartney’s work with The Beatles has left a permanent mark on music. His unique songwriting as part of the Fab Four made him a star and confirmed his legendary status. On the other hand, his work with Wings is often sneered at.

The truth is, the group enjoyed astonishing commercial success. Although they didn’t have the same transformative effect on popular culture, Wings deserve their time in the limelight. The zenith of Wings’ popularity came in 1977 when they enjoyed an unlikely Christmas hit with ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, and to this date, the song has sold more copies than anything ‘The Fab Four’ ever produced.

The track itself is a simple love song. However, it’s not about a specific person but instead addressed to an area of land which offered McCartney sanctuary when he needed it most. Following the split of The Beatles, Macca found himself fighting against a tidal wave of depression. His rural home in the Scottish Highlands provided him with respite away from the relentless noise of London and returned him to sanity.

To this date, ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ is one of the best-selling singles in British history and is the first-ever track to exceed two million sales nationwide. However, McCartney never envisaged the song would be a hit, let alone the most successful release of his career.

One picturesque afternoon, McCartney and his bandmate Denny Lane found themselves inhaling in the beauty of the mull whilst nursing a bottle of the area’s finest whiskey and letting their surroundings inspire the creation. To give the track the true Kintyre fragrance, he even recruited Campbeltown Pipe Band, who added an authentic touch to the record.

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Initially, McCartney didn’t even intend to release it as a single, but one of the pipers successfully twisted his arm. “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 recalled.

“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.

Considering the track has outsold anything released by The Beatles, sensationally, his backing band weren’t even professional musicians. Macca later revealed, “They are all farmers, farmers’ sons and an ex-copper from Glasgow. They are a nice bunch.”

While the pipers have the privilege of saying they’ve sold more records than The Beatles, unfortunately, they don’t have the financial rewards to show for it. Thankfully, the pride far outweighed the loss of earnings.

Pipe Master Tony Wilson said, “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.”

Wings successfully captured why McCartney fell in love so deeply with Kintyre. Even though he didn’t opportunistically write it to infiltrate the lucrative Christmas market, the song’s essence appropriately conveyed people’s emotions at that special time of the year and continues to be a stalwart of the festive season.