On this day in 1942, James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool,
England. In the late '50s, he began a songwriting collaboration with John
Lennon that became the basis of the most successful recording
group in popular music history, the Beatles. Apart from co-writing the songs,
McCartney anchored the group's sound with his bass playing and brightened it
with his clear, sweet voice.
The Beatles' marriage of clever, infectious hooks and
intelligent lyrics created a sensation in the mid-'60s, when they
ruled the airwaves. They went on to enjoy 20 U.S. #1 singles, along with
comparable success in their home country and, eventually, the rest of the
In 1967, the Beatles revolutionized popular music with Sgt.
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first pop concept album in
that its songs were thematically interrelated. The masterpiece
also was heavily orchestrated and overdubbed, setting a new standard for
what a rock band could achieve in a recording studio.
By the time they released
Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles were no longer a touring band, choosing
instead to concentrate on studio craft. After finishing the decade with a
number of classic albums that included 1968's eponymous "White" album and
1969's Abbey Road, the Beatles disbanded acrimoniously. By this time,
McCartney already had secured his place in the annals of songwriting with
some of the greatest songs in the history of pop, including "Let It Be,"
(RealAudio excerpt), "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Hey Jude" and "Eleanor
Rigby." But he didn't stop there. He continued with a solo career, choosing to
include his wife, Linda Eastman, in many of his projects.
McCartney's first solo album, 1970's McCartney, was released just
prior to the Beatles' last album, Let It Be. His album -- which contained
the memorable hit "Maybe I'm Amazed" -- was made
strictly at home, with McCartney singing and playing almost everything
himself, and its lyrics were homages to Linda. 1971's Ram was billed as
Paul and Linda McCartney and featured Mrs. M on keyboards and vocals.
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," a track from the album, became McCartney's first
solo #1 hit.
The McCartneys then formed the band Wings, which included former Moody
Blues guitarist Denny Laine, and released the critically reviled Wild
Life (1971). 1973's Red Rose Speedway, though also attacked
by critics, became a #1 album and contained the smash hit "My Love,"
which topped the U.S. charts for four weeks.
By now, McCartney the soloist had earned a reputation for writing sappy love
songs, and though he remained hugely popular with the public, he'd lost some
status as a rock innovator among the press. Band on the Run, also
1973, restored the faith of critics for the time being, as the
McCartneys and Laine crafted a harder-edged effort that was lyrically
interesting and still full of hooks. The title track rose to #1, and
"Jet" and "Helen Wheels" were top-10 U.S. hits.
A new version of Wings, still including Laine, recorded 1975's hit album
Mars, which found McCartney and the band at the peak of their
popularity. After releasing 1976's Wings at the Speed of Sound,
which answered critics in the form of its huge hit single, "Silly Love
Songs," Wings launched a massive international tour to capitalize on
their public favor. The tour broke records in many countries and was
recorded for the triple LP Wings Over America (1976).
"Mull of Kintyre" (1977) became the biggest-selling British single in history
but was a flop in the U.S. London Town (1978), with its hit
single "With a Little Luck," followed, but Wings' momentum was slowing.
The band's lineup, with the exception of Laine and the McCartneys, was
constantly changing. Back to the Egg (1979) failed to produce any major
hits. In 1980, McCartney was arrested for marijuana possession in
Japan and spent 10 days in prison. Then, in 1981, Laine effectively broke up
Wings when he departed because of his frustration with McCartney's
unwillingness to tour following the assassination of John Lennon.
McCartney began working again with Beatles producer George Martin
for 1982's Tug of War, which was issued simply as a Paul
McCartney record, the first since his solo debut. The album was hailed
by critics as a return to the form of Band on the Run and
produced a huge hit duet with Stevie Wonder, "Ebony and Ivory." He scored
another #1 hit -- the last of his career to date -- when he teamed
with Michael Jackson for "Say Say Say" in 1983. He directed his first movie,
the 1984 film "Give My Regards to Broad Street," which produced a
hit soundtrack even though the film itself was a flop. McCartney had his last
U.S. top-10 hit with the title theme to 1985's Chevy Chase movie "Spies Like
Us." When 1986's Press to Play flopped, McCartney slowed down his
recording activity considerably.
He returned with 1989's Flowers in the Dirt, a disc that featured songs
written with Elvis Costello (who co-wrote his own 1989 hit "Veronica" with
McCartney). McCartney backed the well-received
Flowers with his first tour since 1976's Wings excursion, and it
was a major success. A live album taped from McCartney's
appearance on MTV's "Unplugged" program was released in 1991. It was
among the first of innumerable "Unplugged" albums released by a range of
performers. In that same year, McCartney issued Liverpool Oratorio,
his first classical music piece.
McCartney's 1993 album Off the Ground, a return to
pop/rock, was not the success he'd hoped -- it sold only moderately -- but
its tour was just as profitable and well-received as his late-'80s
trek. In 1995 and 1996, McCartney worked with surviving Beatles George
Harrison and Ringo Starr to prepare and release the Beatles'
Anthology series, featuring unreleased Beatles works and a few
songs Lennon left behind augmented with new instrumentation by the three.
Anthology also was produced as a TV special.
The late '90s were eventful for McCartney. In 1997, he was
knighted by the Queen of England. Later that year, he released the
mostly acoustic Flaming Pie, which went to #2 on the Billboard
200 albums chart. But 1998 brought him tragedy: In April, Linda McCartney lost
her battle with breast cancer. McCartney held a memorial service in England
for his wife in June and scheduled a U.S. memorial for later that month.
Whatever musical path McCartney chooses for the future, his legacy of classic
recordings and his unprecedented success as a composer have secured his
place in history.
Other birthdays: Alison Moyet, 37; Simon "Sice" Rowbottom (the Boo Radleys),
29; and Nathan "Alex Vanderpool" Morris (Boyz II Men), 27.