Goodbye The Beatles: Looking back at Paul McCartney’s first album away from John, George and Ringo
“It’s a simple fact,” John Lennon snorted in his interview to Jann Wenner. “[He] can’t have his own way, so he’s causing chaos. I put out four albums last year, and I didn’t say a fucking word about quitting.”
Lennon focused his words on Paul McCartney quitting The Beatles, steering his rage at the bassist’s doe-eyed demeanour, his taste for “granny music” and his love for Linda Eastman, a bon viveur turned singer whose angelic falsettos rang through the choruses of Lennon’s loathed Let It Be. Then there was George Harrison, the numinous guitarist whose journey to forgiveness left little room for his Liverpudlian schoolmate. The scorching “Wah Wah” cut McCartney’s chidingly as his slide licks mirrored the venom cascaded through Lennon’s sickening How Do You Sleep? Ringo Starr, the band’s affable, yet diminutive drummer, met with a shaken fist from the songwriter when he tried to delay McCartney’s solo album as it went toe to toe with The Beatles swan-song. He, though shocked at Lennon’s callous behaviour, came to view McCartney’s masterpiece Ram with sour disdain. As did Lennon, who famously proclaimed: “I thought it was awful! McCartney was better because at least there were some tunes on it, like ‘Junk’.”
‘Junk’, an elegy of lyrical ceramics, called the attentions of the many who listened to the song. There, in the middle of a sanded, makeshift record, it left little with an insight into the visionary behind the primordial Magical Mystery Tour, but gave them a melody deliciously concentrated on the lucid properties of the everyday widget. Yet, with 50-year hindsight, it said everything about McCartney, now doubling as father and artist. Closing the group’s gallant tractates to disseminate the meanings and assiduities of the rock idiom, McCartney had opted to pour his wine tinted demons into rose tinted melodies as a means of escaping the Fab Four. He didn’t need to be fab, he didn’t need to be pretty. But in the vestige of a Highland Scottish home, reflected in the eyes of three females (his wife and two daughters), the fixtures and duties of everyday housework a respite from the hotels and studios of band craft, McCartney could sing about the fabulously pretty in the eyes of the everyday. Fame had taken the mystery of the ordinary from the young writer. Now, in his purest work, McCartney could find the extraordinary from the ordinary.
There was beauty in the heartbeat of a baby whose hands he could hold. Photographs from Linda’s collection showed a man free from the turbulence of a collapsed Empire, both inside and outside of the Beatle orbit, encased as he was with a child. An infantilised milieu brought out the childlike spirit which fires through burning art, ‘Valentine Day’ and ‘Hot As Sun/Glasses’ brimming as they did with the childlike veneer of starry-eyed wonder. Lyric free, both tunes exemplified the varied responses a song expresses. To the adult’s ear, it provided a pined respite, to the child’s a mirror to their internal lullabies. Steering the fuelled optimism was a dishevelled man whose daily routine came the furthest from optimism. “I nearly had a breakdown,” McCartney admitted in 2001. “I suppose the hurt of it all, and the disappointment, and the sorrow of losing this great band, these great friends…”
Writs rested on his table. Wine passed through his lips. Linda took it on her personal journey to steer her newly wed mate from the bottle to the backdrop from which he could put together his word paintings. Her duties were recognised on the magnanimous ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, a vast opera of unfiltered virtue which rivalled McCartney’s greatest works. Brittle and vulnerable in voice, the song shifted from sombre to the thunderous choruses which showcased McCartney’s impassioned retorts in their most furious resolution. In a career of carefully rehearsed stage patter came a four-minute blues rocker which shook its listeners in all of its spontaneity, validity and humility. It was a romance further paid tribute to on the wistful ‘Every Night’, the melodious ‘The Lovely Linda’ and the sparse ‘That Would Be Something’.
Much like Lennon’s raw Plastic Ono Band, McCartney’s debut cobbled together a number of White Album leftovers, the behemoth Lennon proudly attested as the fabs finest, yet surprisingly McCartney’s work hewed closer to the Beatles self-titled original in all of its eclecticism and rustic charm. Both found themselves as men excited by their new material, Lennon in his form as liberal iconoclast, McCartney in his guise as parental elegist. On the cover, McCartney stood with his newborn May and sheepdog Martha, the pet that had influenced his jaunty Beatle ballad standing near the women who would sing on McCartney’s C’Moon. Linda, whose photos graced the album’s intimate cover and whose harmonies rang with her husband, began her journey as McCartney’s most essential sideman. Whether singing through a larynx or a moog, Linda appeared on every Paul record until her death in 1998.
That such a beautiful photograph of family bliss was spoiled by a contrived questionnaire which detailed McCartney’s intent to quit the Beatles caused many within and without the Beatles circle to despise the album. And yet the purity, prettiness and posterity of the album stamped itself on the record buying public, one of them a blossoming songwriter. “I loved that record because it was so simple,” Neil Young admitted at McCartney’s Rock and Roll Hall induction. “There was no attempt made to compete with the things he had already done. And so out he stepped from the shadow of the Beatles.”