Remember those long-ago days when people in the USA first got hip to the Beatles? Seems there was an avalanche of publicity, much of it of the fawning variety, when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr invaded our shores. I was swept up in it, just like every other kid at Hexter Elementary School in Dallas. Choosing a “favorite” Beatle was almost obligatory, and the one I chose without hesitation was Paul. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I was drawn to his handsome face and bubbly manner. He seemed to epitomize coolness and joy up on the stage, in interviews, in every setting. I liked him, yeah, yeah, yeah.
All through the years that the Beatles played and recorded their (mostly) superb music, until the final split came in 1970, I thought McCartney was the top guy. Of course, I knew Lennon had actually started the band and its predecessor, the Quarrymen. In many ways, McCartney, Harrison and Starr deferred to the strong-willed Lennon. Nevertheless, it was my sense that the key to the Fab Four’s success was Macca. And after reading a 500-page biography of “Sir Paul” in September 2016, I feel so more strongly than ever. If this is true, it is only a matter of degree because Lennon was fundamental to them becoming more than just another Merseyside band imitating Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other Americans who led the rock & roll revolution. Nor do I mean to ignore the contributions of the “junior members”—Harrison and Starr. More on them later.
McCartney and Lennon combined to write approximately 180 songs, some masterpieces, some merely good and a few stinkers. With George Martin in the control room, they were vastly improved before being put on vinyl and offered to the world. In fact, a lot of those songs were more one man than the other. I do not claim to be musically sophisticated (I did not graduate from Juilliard, and I’m still learning how to play the kazoo), but I adhere to the advice that country & western star Willie Nelson’s mother gave him: “Music is whatever’s pleasing to the ear.” To my ear, McCartney’s stuff sounded better. His tunes or those on which he predominated were the finest the Beatles produced. He had a certain je ne sais quoi.
After the breakup of the band, they went their separate ways. I think many of McCartney's songs in the early and mid-1970s ("Mamunia," "Another Day," "Let 'Em In," and "Heart of the Country," for example) were up there with the best the Beatles ever did. And when he founded Wings, he turned out more great music. Not all of it, I confess, sounded wonderful. McCartney got some well-deserved bashing for lightweight tunes with meaningless lyrics and in fact saw his reputation fall in the opinion of hard-eyed music critics. He was accused of writing saccharine pop songs, unworthy of a man with his talent. Most contended that he missed Lennon. Undoubtedly he did, but the opposite is true as well.
Let’s go back to the Beatles days. Of the four, McCartney was best suited to pushing the group forward to record producers, writers or whoever might help them get the heck out of Liverpool. More than the others, he seemed to grasp their achievements in the musical and cultural spheres. But he could be difficult. Pushy. A bit too sure of himself. He and Lennon both were guilty of treating Harrison and Starr with disrespect. Harrison, in particular, should have been acknowledged and encouraged to compose more songs ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something" were gems) and assert himself in the studio. McCartney collaborated, but he also tended to give orders; he thought himself a better drummer than Starr. All this alienated Lennon no end. By 1968 and 1969, he was ingesting so much LSD that he could barely see straight and was in no mood to put up with McCartney’s obstreperous ways.
No account of Macca would be complete without mentioning Linda Eastman, whom he married in 1969. They had a vibrant union that lasted until her death nearly 30 years later. Her background was photography, not music. That, however, did not prevent McCartney from including her as a member of Wings. They toured and recorded numerous albums with her as a very weak link. The woman tried her best to master the keyboard and failed. She could not even play the tambourines well, and she was a woeful singer. That made no difference because Paul was Paul, and Paul always got his way, so Linda was in the band. One wonders what the others like Denny Laine and Jimmy McCullough—serious musicians—thought of sharing the studio and stage with this neophyte. None dared to complain to the big boy.
Finally, Paul and Linda were hard-core vegetarians, adamant and self-righteous in presenting their views. Want to hang out with them? You gotta go veggie. If you wore leather shoes in Linda’s presence, be prepared to get upbraided. They had a menagerie of animals on their farm in Scotland, some of whom were carnivorous by nature. That made no difference as the McCartneys insisted on feeding them a veggie diet. In the 1980s and 1990s when McCartney and his new band went on worldwide tours, their audiences were subjected to lectures about the evils of meat consumption. Fans who paid $125 for seats at his concerts had to put up with such nonsense; surely some grumbled. I know I would have. These days, whenever I lay into a hamburger or steak or fish or pepperoni pizza, I ask sarcastically, “What do you think about this, Paul and Linda?”
Four years after she died, McCartney remarried. Wife No. 2 was Heather Mills, a person with a checkered (claiming falsely to have been kidnapped and sexually abused at age eight, working as a topless model, shoplifting and more) background. He would come to regret this very much, as there was an acrimonious divorce in 2008. I simply cannot understand why the rich and famous McCartney—with his choice of female partners—would have married a woman whose lower left leg had been amputated after a traffic accident. I suppose it speaks well of him that he could overlook this disability. He has since moved on to Wife No. 3, Nancy Shevell, a Jewish-American woman whose father is an east coast trucker with ties to organized crime, whose uncle (also with links to the mob) committed suicide, and whose brother died of a drug overdose. Oh well!