Someone as monumental as Paul McCartney has a lot of notable moments in their life. From breaking big with The Beatles in the early 1960s to signalling the start of the counterculture to landing more number one hits than any other artist, McCartney has conquered nearly every area of music over the past 80 years.
Condensing his incredible career into one brief timeline is nearly impossible, but we’ve compiled some of the most notable and important events from across McCartney’s life into one place. That includes his birth, the start of his music career, his successes, his failures, his family life, and everything in between.
A timeline like this has to be both comprehensive and discerning: we can’t account for every single milestone passed by The Beatles or every last recording session of McCartney’s solo career. Even though there are over 40 entries on this timeline, there are still numerous events and milestones that had to be left out. These are simply some of the biggest highlights in a life and career full of highlights.
The truth is that this timeline is still incomplete as well: McCartney continues to set records and achieve new things as he reaches his eighth decade of life. To celebrate his 80th birthday, here are just some of the biggest moments in the life of Paul McCartney.
A timeline of Paul McCartney’s remarkable career:
James Paul McCartney is born
Born in the Walton area of Liverpool, James Paul McCartney was the first son born to Jim and Mary McCartney. Two years later, the couple welcomed another son, Peter McCartney, known professionally as Mike McGear.
McCartney gets a trumpet, then a guitar, for his birthday
McCartney’s father was an amateur musician who occasionally played in jazz bands throughout England. McCartney showed an aptitude for music early, learning to play the family’s piano by ear.
On his 14th birthday, McCartney’s father gifted him a trumpet, but as the young McCartney was obsessed with the new genre of rock and roll, he soon traded it in for his first guitar.
McCartney’s mother Mary dies
After McCartney’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Mary died from complications during surgery as part of her treatment. The event would have a profound effect on McCartney, leading him to write his very first song, ‘I Lost My Little Girl’, along with the future Beatles track ‘Let It Be’.
McCartney meets John Lennon
McCartney met schoolmate George Harrison in 1954, and by 1957, the two had bonded over their shared love of music. When McCartney attended a garden party at St. Peter’s Church in the summer of 1957, he saw a band called The Quarrymen play, led by a young singer named John Lennon.
McCartney met Lennon in between performances, playing a version of Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ upside down on a right-handed guitar. A few weeks later, McCartney officially joined The Quarrymen.
McCartney officially takes over on bass
Eventually, The Quarrymen evolved into a rock and roll outfit. McCartney invited Harrison to join, and at one point only the trio of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison remained.
With the addition of Stuart Sutcliffe and eventually Pete Best, The Quarrymen became The Beatles and secured club gigs in Hamburg, Germany. When Sutcliffe left the group to continue his art studies, McCartney reluctantly took up the position of the band’s bass player.
The Beatles are rejected from Decca Records
By 1962, The Beatles were regularly playing at The Cavern Club in downtown Liverpool. Brian Epstein signed on as the band’s manager and quickly secured them an audition with Decca Records.
The band were rejected after being told that “guitar groups are on their way out”, but Epstein took the recorded audition tape and shopped it to EMI, where producer George Martin was convinced to meet, and then sign, The Beatles.
The Beatles first single, ‘Love Me Do’, is released
When The Beatles signed to EMI, it was decided that Best would need to be replaced. By August, he was officially replaced by Ringo Starr, and by September, the band officially records their first single, ‘Love Me Do’.
The song, largely written by McCartney, peaks at number 17 on the UK Singles Chart and would later be a number one hit in America in 1964.
McCartney meets Jane Asher
McCartney met actress Jane Asher after a Beatles performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963. Asher would become McCartney’s girlfriend for the next five years, with McCartney moving into Asher’s family house and writing songs for Asher’s brother Peter.
The two became engaged in 1967, but their rocky relationship was officially ended when Asher caught McCartney in bed with American writer Francie Schwartz.
McCartney lands his first official number one hit, ‘From Me To You’
Although Lennon’s ‘Please Please Me’ was a number one hit on many UK charts, it only reached number two on what would eventually become the official UK Singles Chart. The band’s next single, ‘From Me to You’, would be their first true number one hit.
Co-written by Lennon and McCartney, the single carried the unusual credit of ‘McCartney-Lennon’, with the order of the names being switched for every subsequent Beatles release.
The Beatles play ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’
The Beatles had already become massive pop stars in Britain, and Beatlemania was just beginning to hit in America when the band flew into New York for their first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Watched by 73 million Americans, the first song many US fans ever heard from The Beatles was McCartney’s ‘All My Loving’, which opened the band’s first appearance.
‘Yesterday’ hits number one in the US
Between 1964 and 1965, The Beatles landed ten songs at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The final one, however, would be a special milestone for McCartney.
‘Yesterday’ was the first Beatles song to feature only one band member, and its rise to number one showed McCartney that his talents weren’t limited to just The Beatles.
McCartney releases solo music for the first time
In late 1966, George Martin was asked to provide music for the film The Family Way. He, in turn, asked McCartney to compose a string arrangement. Along with the Peter and Gordon single ‘Woman’, it would be the first music McCartney released not to feature Lennon’s name in the credits.
McCartney meets Linda Eastman
At a 1967 Georgie Fame concert at the London club Bag O’Nails, McCartney first met American photographer Linda Eastman.
McCartney was still in a relationship with Asher, while Eastman had divorced her first husband two years prior. The pair would meet again at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and would eventually marry on March 12th, 1969.
McCartney’s first daughter, Mary, is born
Five months after their marriage, Linda gave birth to McCartney’s first child, Mary. McCartney had already formally adopted Linda’s daughter Heather earlier that year, and the couple would go on to have two more children, Stella and James, in 1971 and 1977, respectively.
McCartney ends The Beatles
Although Lennon had privately left the band seven months prior, it was in a press release for McCartney’s debut solo LP that McCartney claimed that he had no plans to work with The Beatles in the future. This statement was widely interpreted as a breakup, even though the group would not legally be dissolved until 1975.
McCartney releases his debut solo LP McCartney
Just a week after causing a major cultural stir by appearing to have broken up The Beatles, McCartney released his debut solo LP McCartney, featuring himself on all instruments.
A combination of ill will towards his perceived part in breaking up his former band and the lack of formal studio polish on most of the tracks caused the album to garner negative reviews, starting a critical trend that would follow McCartney throughout the early 1970s.
McCartney lands his first number one without The Beatles
Paul and Linda released their only album as a pair, Ram, in 1971. Although McCartney attempted to make it more cohesive than his solo debut, critics continued to greet his music with harsh reviews.
McCartney got a notable boost, however, when the single ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ reached number one in America, his first without The Beatles.
Wings release their first album
McCartney decided not to embark on a solo career and wanted instead to form another band. Along with Linda and former Moody Blues singer Denny Laine, McCartney formed Wings and released the band’s first album, Wild Life, at the end of 1971. Like his first two albums outside of The Beatles, Wild Life received mostly negative reviews.
Wings releases Band on the Run
Early 1973 saw the release of Wings’ sophomore album Red Rose Speedway. Despite once again receiving negative reviews, Wings scored their first number one hit in America with ‘My Love’.
After the album’s release, Henry McCollough and Denny Seiwell left the band, forcing the McCartneys and Laine to record their next album as a trio. Band on the Run proved to be Wings’ elusive critical breakthrough, with McCartney once again receiving acclaim for his songwriting efforts.
McCartney becomes the first solo Beatle to tour America
McCartney had been attempting to tour in America since Wings was first formed, but his travel visa had been denied due to his past convictions for marijuana possession.
Finally, in September of 1975, Wings began the ‘Wings Over the World Tour’, and by May of 1976, the tour officially landed in America, making McCartney the first solo Beatle to tour in the US.
McCartney is detained in Tokyo for marijuana possession
When McCartney arrived in Tokyo for Wings’ 1980 Japanese tour, he was immediately arrested for possession of marijuana that was found in his luggage.
He would be held for ten days before being deported without charge. The arrest would precipitate McCartney’s desire to revive his solo career and end Wings, which would officially happen when Denny Laine left the group in April of 1981.
McCartney returns to his solo career with McCartney II
McCartney began recording material by himself after Wings’ final LP, 1979’s Back to the Egg. After being arrested in Tokyo, McCartney decided to release the recordings as his second official solo album, McCartney II. Like its predecessor, McCartney played all of the album’s instruments.
McCartney lands his record 28th number one hit in the US
With the release of the Stevie Wonder collaboration ‘Ebony and Ivory’, McCartney gained his 28th number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the most by any performer in history. Along with his written contributions, McCartney would eventually be credited with 32 number one hits in the US.
McCartney charts his final number one hit in the US
With his second Michael Jackson collaboration ‘Say Say Say’, McCartney landed what remains his final number one hit in the US.
All told, McCartney wrote or co-wrote 32 singles that hit number one in America: 20 with The Beatles, six with Wings, one with Linda, one with Stevie Wonder, one with Michael Jackson, one as a writer of Peter and Gordon’s ‘A World Without Love’, one thanks to Elton John’s cover of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, and one from a Beatles medley by Stars on 45. McCartney’s 32 number one hits remains a record to this day.
McCartney stars in Give My Regards to Broad Street
After having appeared in films with The Beatles, McCartney decided to star in his own feature, Give My Regards to Broad Street.
A meta-commentary on his own life, the movie was greeted by harsh critical reviews, causing McCartney to never again star in a live-action narrative feature film.
McCartney performs ‘Let It Be’ at Live Aid
During the historic cross-continental benefit concert Live Aid, McCartney appeared at the conclusion of the London show to sing ‘Let It Be’. Although plagued by technical problems, the song was a rousing finale for a show that was estimated to have been watched by nearly two billion people.
McCartney embarks on the ‘Paul McCartney World Tour’
McCartney returned to the road following the release of his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt. It would be McCartney’s first world tour in over a decade and would lay the groundwork for McCartney’s record-breaking tours that he would embark on for the next 30 years.
McCartney releases his Liverpool Oratorio
Composing classical music was a long-held ambition for McCartney. He fulfilled his dream with the Liverpool Oratorio, a collaboration with composer Carl Davis. McCartney would go on to record four more albums of classical music over the next 20 years.
McCartney releases his first album with the Fireman
Continuing with his desire to expand his musical horizons, McCartney began a collaboration with Killing Joke bassist Youth called The Fireman which focused on ambient music and experimental recordings.
The Fireman released three albums over a fifteen-year period, and McCartney credits the project with keeping his musical ideas fresh.
The Beatles Anthology is broadcast
McCartney returned to the world of The Beatles in the early 1990s with the multimedia Anthology project. McCartney reunited with Harrison and Starr to provide interviews and polish up studio recordings that represented the first new Beatles music in 25 years. The three recordings would also be the final songs released by The Beatles.
McCartney is granted a knighthood
As one of the world’s most acclaimed and popular musicians, McCartney was granted a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
Officially credited for his contributions to music, the knighthood solidified McCartney’s place as one of Britain’s most important ambassadors.
Linda McCartney passes away
After almost 29 years of marriage, Linda McCartney passed away from breast cancer in 1998, the same disease that had caused the death of McCartney’s mother 42 years earlier. McCartney would play his first live show in over a year at Linda’s memorial concert in 1999.
McCartney is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Less than a year after his wife’s death, McCartney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. The Beatles had been inducted in 1988, while McCartney had inducted John Lennon in 1994.
McCartney ended his speech by advocating for Harrison and Starr to be inducted as well, which would happen in 2004 and 2015, respectively.
McCartney marries Heather Mills
Four years after Linda’s death, McCartney remarried for the first time. His second wife was former model Heather Mills, whom McCartney had been dating since 2000. Mills gave birth to McCartney’s daughter, Beatrice, in October of 2003.
McCartney performs at the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show
Approximately 86 million viewers tuned in to Super Bowl XXXIX, with McCartney selected as the game’s halftime performer.
Despite the honour, McCartney’s selection was given a mixed reception, largely seen as a reaction to Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction from the previous year’s show. McCartney’s performance started a trend of older rock artists headlining the Super Bowl halftime show.
McCartney divorces Heather Mills
After six years of marriage, McCartney and Mills divorced. Their proceedings become tabloid fodder, including the £24.3 million settlement that Mills was awarded.
McCartney marries Nancy Shevell
Three years after his divorce, McCartney married American Nancy Shevell in 2011. The two met in the affluent Long Island community of The Hamptons nearly two decades prior.
McCartney closes the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics
As part of the opening ceremonies that were being held for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, McCartney closed the show that celebrated the host city’s culture and history.
McCartney performed a brief rendition of ‘The End’ before ending with a sing-along of ‘Hey Jude’, once again emphasising his outstanding role in British culture.
McCartney releases ‘FourFiveSeconds’ with Rihanna and Kanye West
Over 50 years since his first chart hit, McCartney collaborated with Rihanna and Kanye West on the song ‘FourFiveSeconds’.
The track introduced McCartney to a younger generation of music fans, including some who had never heard of McCartney before.
McCartney releases McCartney III
McCartney returned to his solo-recording process for the third time during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the release of McCartney III, McCartney became the first artist to have a top-five album in the United States at least once in each of the past six decades.
McCartney is announced as a headliner of the Glastonbury Festival
McCartney was officially announced as one of the headliners of the 2022 Glastonbury Festival, which he had previously headlined back in 2004.
McCartney will be 80 when he takes the stage, officially making him the oldest headliner in the festival’s 50-year history.