August 10 – Paul Wasn’t Thriller-ed By Michael

August 10th was a big day on Michael Jackson‘s calendar. And on the flipside, a big but despised one on Paul McCartney’s.

For Jackson, the day had twofold stature. On the date in 1979, he instantly resurrected what was at that point a solo career that had been in freefall, with the release of his Off The Wall album. It would go on to sell over 20 million copies on the strength of singles like “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and the title track. It quickly launched his adult career as “the King of Pop.” That made him not only a household name, but a lot of money as well. But on this day in 1985, he did what would end up making him a great deal more money – something Billboard called “the shrewdest move of his 40-plus year career.” A move that would make him hundreds of millions of dollars during his lifetime…but cost him one friend. Paul McCartney. Because on this day 37 years back, Jackson bought ATV Music Publishing…which the media basically paraphrased as “the Beatles songs.”

ATV stood for Associated Television, a company started in 1957 by British media mogul Lew Grade. It was primarily, despite the name, a music publishing company. In 1969, the Beatles entered the story, selling their Northern Songs publishing company (which held the rights to all the Lennon/McCartney songs) to ATV for tax reasons.

As it happened, McCartney and Jackson became friends and worked together on a couple of singles. During the time they were making “Say Say Say”, Paul talked of business to Michael…who paid too close attention. McCartney pointed out just how profitable publishing was in the music world, and how he’d bought the publishing rights to Buddy Holly’s catalog. This all apparently surprised Jackson, but was absolutely correct.

Music publishing is an industry as old as recorded music itself, if not older. Originally, it basically did what the name suggests – published music. Back in the pre-radio, pre-gramophone days, the only way to get ahold of popular music was to buy the sheet music and play it yourself, or have someone play it for you. Sheet music was a huge seller at the turn of the last century, and putting out those printed pages made money.

That’s still a part of the biz, but a much smaller one. But, music “publishing” is a huger industry. According to Robert Allen at Universal Music, the companies make their money four ways, one of which is the sheet music, or “print income.” Much more important are the “mechanical royalties,” “synchronization incomes” and “performance income.”

The mechanical royalties are monies paid every time a copy of the music is sold. A specific amount is given to the songwriter for every song on a CD, LP, DVD, sold or downloaded through something like I-tunes. It’s said that the typical rate is about 9 cents per song for a physical hard copy, although there is some variation. Sell a million copies of an album with ten songs you wrote on it, and that’s $900 000 just in writing money, for example.

Performance royalties are another huge source of income. Every time a song gets played on radio, TV as a video, or in nightclubs or other public gatherings, money gets paid to the songwriter. Organizations like BMI and ASCAP keep track of the number of plays, collect the money and distribute it back.

Synchronization royalties are the payments for songs used in movies or TV shows… for example, Stranger Things using Kate Bush’s “Running up that Hill.” These royalties can get into the hundreds of thousands of dollars when big movies or national commercials are involved.

Now, the odd thing is that even though the songwriter holds the copyright, they split the money (generally 50-50) with the publisher. Which seems a bit of a rip-off for the artist, but the publisher does do a fair bit of work for them. Especially when it comes to the synchronization; usually it’s the publisher who agrees to license out a song for movies or TV, sets the fees and does the paperwork. The savvier artists usually try to own their own publishing company though, so they can keep all the income, but few actually do so.

Which leads us back to ATV and Michael. In 1985, Jackson was on top of the world, Thriller was just starting to drop off charts over two years after it had come out, and it alone had made him $50 million or more by then, not counting all his tours and increased earnings from back catalog sales which had picked up. Around that time, ATV’s owners decided to sell. Paul McCartney by now regretted not having control over the Beatles catalog and tried to buy the company. Jackson got wind of it and swooped in at the last minute and outbid the ex-Beatle, buying it for approximately $47 million.

I think it’s dodgy to do something like that,” Paul said of it. “To be someone’s friend, then buy the rug they’re standing on.” When he tried to complain to Jackson about it, the latter reportedly said “oh Paul! That’s just business.” Business got more nasty due to the synchronization royalties. Up until then, Beatles songs hadn’t been leased out for commercials, but under Jackson’s guidance they were…which infuriated Paul. “It kind of spoils it. Just takes the edge off,” he complained, hearing his songs in ads hawking shoes, computers and more. The pair reportedly never spoke again.

But whether or not this bothered the Gloved One is unclear. As Billboard put it, he was “a profligate spender” so he really made use of the newfound income, which included some 4000 songs and had some of Bruce Springsteen’s, Pat Benatar’s, Bob Dylan’s and many more as well as the Fab Four output. In 1995, he sold half his holdings to Sony, who renamed it Sony ATV, for $100 million. Once in the hands of Sony, the publisher grew profligately, buying up other companies like Acuff-Rose, a major country music publisher, and eventually holding rights to over 60 000 songs (it’s since increased considerably from there.) Once again a bit strapped for money, he sold half his remaining share – or one quarter of the company – in 2006 for $250 million. In 2012, Jackson was no more…but that didn’t stop his estate from taking part in Sony ATV’s acquisition of EMI’s publishing division. In 2016, Sony ended their relationship with the deceased singer by buying out his remaining part of the business for another $750 million.

If there’s any message in the whole story, it might be that young musicians would do just as well getting a good manager with some legal knowledge to keep their own publishing rights as they would in bringing in, say a top-notch session guitarist for their records. And be careful what you “Say Say Say” to your friends.

August 9 – Pair Took Wings And Flew The Coop

On a day where we sadly mark yesterday’s passing away of one great ’70s musical icon – Olivia Newton John – we look at a rough patch for another great of the ’70s…and ’60s too! Well, the band was called Wings. And on this day in 1973, two of its members took wing and left. Guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell officially quit Paul McCartney’s band just before they were to depart for Nigeria where they were going to begin recording Band on the Run.

Although commercially Wings were doing quite well, albeit not rivalling the popularity of Paul’s previous band (but then how could they?) , things weren’t happy in the studio or at Paul’s farm. They’d just done the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die”, which had hit the U.S. charts a couple of weeks earlier and had some songs ready for the next album. Band on the Run would be the third one listed as “Wings” and Paul’s fifth since the Beatles broke up. After a relatively cool reception to ’71’s Wild Life, Red Rose Speedway, released early in ’73 had been a hit and gave McC a #1 hit in America with “My Love.”

Denny had been with Wings since its inception. An American, he’d worked with artists like a young Billy Joel back home and seemed to fit in well with the core trio of Wings, Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. Henry had been added in after Wild Life. He’d played in Spooky Tooth and Joe Cocker’s band as well as being the lead guitarist on the soundtrack to Jesus Christ, Superstar. Another little claim to fame of his is he’s the familiar voice saying “I don’t know – I was really drunk at the time” on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

While things initially were OK in ’73 for the band, cracks began to appear. Denny said in a later interview that Henry in particular was upset about a number of things. “Paul pushed (Henry) into a corner. Henry liked to play things differently every time. He had a little jazz in him.” But Paul wanted uniformity and non-variance. “The same way every time,” Seiwell said. “I think henry just had enough of it and left.”

Although Seiwell was in Paul’s better graces, he also resented how domineering the star was – even though they were called Wings, apparently the star saw them as just backing employees of his. there were arguments over the rate of pay (Denny and Henry were apparently getting essentially session pay while the other three were getting full member’s shares of the money) and the idea of going to Africa, and a land in the midst of a civil war, to record seemed the last straw for him. He quit too, something he now says “is one of the few regrets I have, that I didn’t sit Paul down and say ‘we gotta talk about this.’” He still considers Paul a friend and says “I never made music with anybody like him.”

Wings – now a trio – departed for Africa but quickly returned home (seemingly proving the other two’s point; the African studio was poor quality and Paul got robbed at knifepoint while there), getting the album done and soon after adding new guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (no relation to Henry.)

July 18 – Billy Passed Piano To Paul For Last Play At Shea

It was the end of an era in the Big Apple 14 years back. One which appropriately enough looked back at the start of the very same era. For this night in 2008 New York City hosted the “Last Play At Shea”. It was the final concert held at the city’s Shea Stadium, and who could be more appropriate to play a major show there than Billy Joel? Except, just possibly The Beatles. The night was a huge Billy Joel show, but Beatles fans weren’t to be disappointed either!

Shea Stadium was a sports venue in Queens. It dated back to the early-’60s, a time when giant, concrete multi-use stadiums were popping up in all kinds of North American cities. Shea came about out of the city’s embarrassment. New York had been home to three Major League Baseball teams about a decade earlier, but two – the Giants and Dodgers – left for California in the ’50s. This dented the local civic pride. Baseball agreed to give the city a new team…if a new stadium was built for them. The city agreed, and got the Mets, and Shea Stadium as a result.

Ground was broken on the site in early 1961, and the stadium was supposed to open in time for the ’63 Mets to play. The then mayor said a year before that “only a series of blizzards or some other unforeseen problems” could possibly derail the plans. The winter of ’62-63 saw a string of blizzards, and two major stadium contractors going broke. It opened in ’64 instead.

The stadium was big. It had a capacity of about 55 000 for baseball, and could be stretched to over 60 000 for football. While designed for the Mets baseball, designers were savvy enough to make it be able to accommodate football, and indeed the Jets NFL club did call it home for nearly 20 years. Although it had its fans, many considered it a little impersonal and cold, the outfield seats were too high and the few private boxes offered only so-so views.

Obviously, at some point entertainment promoters would come to realize that a 55 000 seat facility in the middle of a huge city could be of use for things besides baseball. Shea Stadium famously found that out in summer of 1965, when the Beatles played the first concert there in front of tens of thousands of screaming young fans. The sound was legendarily bad due to the stadium acoustics and sound system not designed for rock concerts, but it was still a landmark event, as was their return a year later on their final tour.

After that, the stadium saw a number of big concerts. In August 1970 it hosted the “Concert for Peace” with artists including Janis Joplin, CCR, hometown boy Paul Simon and Miles Davis. A year later Grand Funk, at the height of their drawing power set a remarkable record by selling out the stadium even faster than the Beatles had. The Police played in front of over 50 000 in ’83, with Sting comparing it to playing “on top of Everest” and quipping “we’d like to thank the Beatles for lending us their stadium!”. The Rolling Stones played an impressive six nights there on their ’89 Steel Wheels Tour, and Bruce Springsteen ended his lengthy 2003 tour there, bringing along Bob Dylan as a special guest. And in an entirely different type of “concert”, Pope John Paul II held a huge mass and service there in ’79.

But all good things are said to come to an end, and in the case of Shea, it was becoming increasingly unpopular in the 2000s. The Mets saw a number of other teams in cities like Baltimore and Cleveland building newer, slightly smaller but more comfortable stadiums with great facilities…and higher ticket prices. They wanted somewhere new, and the city was ready to see Shea go away. So plans were made for Citi Field, more or less right across the road from Shea, and a demolition firm was brokered.

But before the wrecking ball started swinging, it needed a big send off. Enter Billy Joel.

He booked July 16th and 18th for the last two concerts at Shea.

The 16th seemingly was a good concert, but as one might expect, the “fireworks” were kept for the final show. In front of a sell-out of 55 000, Billy played a great set which would have been well received just of the normal Joel fare…opening with “Angry Young Man” and rolling through 18 or 20 of his greats from the past three decades including “My Life”, “Everybody Loves You Now”, “Allentown,” “Keeping the Faith”, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Only the Good Die Young.” But a landmark date needs some landmark special events, and many artists had fond memories of Shea. So Billy brought in friends. The great and seemingly timeless Tony Bennett joined him on stage to sing Joel’s “New York State of Mind”. Garth Brooks happened by and did “Shameless”. John Mayer picked up the guitar to accompany the “Piano Man” on “This is the Time.” Steven Tyler of Aerosmith came by to do “Walk this Way”, a song resurrected in the ’80s when redone with New Yorkers Run-DMC. Small town John Mellencamp visited the huge city to do “Pink Houses”, and Roger Daltrey of The Who did “My Generation.” Whew. That would have been quite a show. But that wasn’t all.

Pat Tyson is a writer who happened to see The Beatles play Shea when she was a youth in the ’60s. She was in the “nosebleeds” for the Last Play At Shea.

She wrote that Billy seemingly had finished and left the stage, but came back. Encore perhaps? “Billy walks back,” she told Daytripper, “and he says ‘Ladies and Gentlemen … Sir Paul McCartney!’ and everyone went wild! He and Billy played ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and brought the house down. McCartney got a rousing ovation, then left the stage.” But that wasn’t all. He’d later return and Paul “spoke to the crowd and said Shea Stadium had special meaning to him and he was glad to be there.’ With that he launched into ‘Let It Be’ and of course the crowd sang along.” Probably as close as one could get to having the first act to rock the stadium also be the final one.

Much of the concert was released on CD and DVD, appropriately enough debuted at Citi Field in 2010.

As for who might have the best stories to tell of Shea Stadium’s musical past, one might think it could be Pete Flynn. Pete worked for decades for the stadium as a groundskeeper. In 1965 he drove The Beatles from the stage to an exit in the outfield wall. In 2008, he drove Paul from the outfield wall to the stage. Guess Paul told him he could “Drive My Car.”

June 23 – Brits Enjoy Show Three Years In The Making

It’s that time again! Lucky Brits with some time off and about 280pounds ($350) can enjoy one of the biggest showcases of live music, and other entertainment, in the world. After being canceled the past two years due to Covid, the Glastonbury Festival is taking place again in Somerset, England. It’s now the largest ongoing outdoor arts festival in the world, featuring comedy, cabaret, and of course lots of music!

It began rather humbly in 1970, when only 1500 or so showed up for the “Pilton Festival” and paid one pound (perhaps $6 in today’s funds) to see acts like T Rex and Al Stewart. The next year David Bowie headlined, it took the “Glastonbury Festival” name (actually that year it was “Glastonbury Free Festival”) and was in its second day on June 23. About 12 000 showed up, getting in free to see Traffic, Hawkwind, and others besides Bowie play the pyramid-shaped stage. Although there were also some poets and dancers performing, notably absent was Pink Floyd, who’d been scheduled but canceled.

Glastonbury grew in stature through the ’80s, and in 1990 it was this day 32 years ago, day two of three that a (then) record crowd of 70 000 had paid 38 pounds to see The Cure and Happy Mondays among others. Unfortunately that one was marred by looting and a small riot at the end, leading it to be canceled the next year and new policies put in place for security since then. Ten years later, in 2000, it was kicking off again. That year, the headliners for each of the three nights were David Bowie, Travis and the Chemical Brothers. For Bowie, it was a return 29 years in the making, while it was the first time for Travis. The Chemical Brothers, the premier EDM band at the time, had appeared twice before, but never as a headline act. Among the diverse range of acts on the lineup that year were the Pet Shop Boys, Ocean Colour Scene, Eagle Eye Cherry and even Burt Bachrach! It was the first for the new, famous 100′ high pyramid stage and it drew over 100 000 in paid attendance for the third year running. However, they had issues with gate-crashers coming on site, perhaps doubling the attendance, but also causing problems which led the regional council to refuse a permit for 2001 until the organizers got better perimeter security on board.

The event keeps growing though; attendance has hit as high as 175 000 in recent years. In 2017, Radiohead , the Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran were among the highlights those who paid 238 pounds ($310) to enter and pitch their tents! This year’s opened yesterday but the real fun begins on Friday when live music – lots of it – begins. Among those of us in the typical A Sound Day reader generation, the big deal this year is going to be Paul McCartney, who’s headlining on Saturday night, with a two-hour plus set scheduled. It’ll be his first appearance at Glastonbury since 2004, although he had been slated to star in 2020’s lineup, it’s also the last appearance of his “Got Back” tour.  Younger fans perhaps will enjoy the other two nights, highlighted by Billie Eilish Friday and Kendrick Lamar on Sunday. Joining them at various times this weekend on the main, Pyramid Stage will be Crowded House, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Noel Gallagher and Diana Ross. If the main lineup isn’t your cup of tea, there are at least 14 other stages and venues to peruse, with performers including First Aid Kit, and blasts from the past like Billy Bragg, First Aid Kit, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Tom Robinson…and literally hundreds of new and upcoming acts. Or, if tired of music for a bit, campers can check out tents dedicated to charities including Oxfam and Greenpeace, or watch organized debates on topics like “defying the cost of living crisis” or “solidarity with Ukraine.” However, if you don’t have tickets, don’t bother booking a last minute flight to Jolly Ol’ England. The website advises the 142 000 tickets are sold out and it indicates they check carefully to make sure each one is used by the purchaser.

June 18 – 80? Maybe We’re Amazed

One of rock music’s true living legends turns 80 today. Happy birthday Sir Paul McCartney! Few rock stars are household names even in houses that never listen to pop or rock, but Paul is one of those few. Knighted by the queen, first non-American to be awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Music by the Library of Congress, 21 #1 songs with The Beatles in the U.S. plus 9 more since as a solo artist or with Wings… there’s so much to be said about Paul but so little to add to the well-known bio. So instead, we’ll look at Paul in words – words of his own and those of others.

Paul Reflects:

* “I don’t work at being ordinary.”

* “I can’t deal with the press…I hate all those Beatles questions.”

* “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” (Paul is a well-known and outspoken vegetarian, as was his deceased wife Linda.)

* “We were pretty good mates, until the Beatles started to split up and Yoko came into it.” (Speaking about his relationship with John Lennon.)

I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people that call others ‘weird’ that are weird.”

Others Talk Paul:*

* “Paul McCartney is a genius. Paul married rock and roll to beauty and forever raised the bar for composers, musicians and fans.” – actor Alec Baldwin

* “Within the confines of the studio, Paul was the one who sort of saved the situation always and the one who always went that little bit extra to perfect things.” – EMI Records’ engineer Geoff Emerick

* “I’d put Gershwin, Berlin and Hank Williams. I’d probably put Paul McCartney in there too.” Paul Simon answers who he thinks the greatest songwriters of all-time are.

* “Paul was the first love of my life. Yoko was the second.” – John Lennon

* “I’m in awe of McCartney. He’s about the only one that I am in awe of. He can do it all.” – folk singer & Nobel laureate Bob Dylan.

If you want to see the living legend, you’ll have your chance this summer… if you’re in Britain. He’s playing this year’s Glastonbury Festival next week. However, sadly us North Americans have missed out, it seems for this year as he just wrapped up a tour Thursday at Metlife Stadium outside of New York City. And he wrapped it up in style, doing a 40 song show (a bit longer than his usual , though the average for the tour which kicked off April 28 in Spokane was over 30 songs and two hours plus length), highlighted by Bruce Springsteen dropping by to wish him an early Happy Birthday and sing “Glory Days” with him, and Jon Bon Jovi also coming by to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Among the songs he did were 16 Beatles songs in the main part of the concert including “Lady Madonna,” “Love Me Do” and “Hey Jude” , which ended the set. In addition he added in eight Wings songs including “Live and Let Die” and “Jet” plus some of his solo ones. Then he played an encore of “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “Birthday”, “Helter Skelter”, “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry that Weight” and “The End.” An Asbury Park news report said McCartney seemed to get more energetic as the night went by, despite it raining at times, and that “he kicked and skipped as he and his band were taking their bows with Springsteen.” Which gives one hope that maybe we will indeed do what he said before leaving the stage: “We’ll see you next time!”

June 1 – Sir Paul On Her Majesty’s Not So Secret Service

With a character who was a spy in a film called On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, who better to perform a James Bond theme than someone knighted by the queen…Sir Paul McCartney, perhaps? That’s exactly what happened this day in 1973 when Wings put out the single “Live and Let Die.”

It was the theme song of the James Bond movie of the same name, the first starring Roger Moore as “007.” The screenplay writer wanted McCartney to do the theme; producer Harry Saltzman was good with the ex-Beatle writing the song, but wanted a female voice like Thelma Houston or Shirley Bassey (who had a hit in the ’60s with the theme from Goldfinger) to perform it instead. He relented when McCartney refused to write it unless he, and his band, could perform it for the movie.

Not everything McC has written through the years is pure gold, but when he’s “on”, he’s really on…as so many great Beatles tracks highlight. He said he got a copy of the original novel the movie was based on and “I read it and thought it was pretty good (but) writing a song around a title like that’s not the easiest thing going!” Except, apparently it was for Paul. Drummer Denny Seiwell remembered “everybody thought it was cool that we were doing something for James Bond …(Paul) sat down at the piano and said ‘James Bond…James Bond…da da DUM!’ and he started screwing around at the piano. Within ten minutes he had the song written. It was pretty awesome, really.”

Indeed it was.

Wings were recording Red Rose Speedway at the time, and so he worked it into the sessions, with George Martin producing. Paul sang lead of course, and played piano (the bass being left to Denny Laine at the time), with wife Linda playing a keyboard known as an Electone; Henry McCullough was on guitar. Session player Ray Cooper added more percussion while Martin rounded up and directed an orchestra described (slightly derisively) by the NME as “a 3000 piece” one. They released it on Apple Records as a standalone single, just as “My Love” was beginning to drop down the charts.

Billboard loved it, calling it “the best 007 theme” and “one of McCartney’s most satisfying singles”, while over in the land of the Beatles, the NME found “it’s not intrinsically interesting, but the film will sell it and vice versa.”

The public found it interesting, and indeed the film’s success likely helped it (so too would be the fact that to get it on an LP, fans would have had to buy the largely instrumental soundtrack …or wait until 1978, when it put out on Wings Greatest) . It became McCartney’s third post-Beatles gold single in the States, where it peaked at #2, making it the best-performing 007 theme to that point. It also got to #2 in Canada, and was top 10 in the UK and Australia. It was nominated for an Academy Award, for Best Original Song, which it lost to Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” Saltzman got to be close to his original dream for it; instead of Wings, Connie Stevens sang it at the awards show.

Several artists have covered it since, most notably Guns’n’Roses who took it to #1 in New Zealand and #5 in the UK in 1991. Perhaps the most interesting “cover” version though is a parody by Weird Al Yankovic, called “Chicken Pot Pie.” He has frequently played it live, but out of respect for McCartney (whom as a vegetarian objected to the concept), never released it on a record.

May 9 – One Person’s Trash Is Another Pair’s Treasure

You know you’re good when even your trash is red hot. The Beatles, and more specifically Paul McCartney, were hot in 1964. Case in point, the Peter and Gordon song “A World Without Love”, released (in North America) this day that year. It was not quite good enough for the Beatles…but it would soon go to #1 for the duo.

Peter and Gordon were Peter Asher and Gordon Waller, a couple of British lads who fancied themselves perhaps as the next Everly Brothers. Asher’s sister, Jane (an up and coming actress at the time who’d later star in Alfie and show up in TV shows like Brideshead Revisited) was McCartney’s girlfriend at the time, so McC ended up at the Asher’s house on Wimpole St. regularly. One time when he was there, Peter heard Paul playing the foundation to the song. He liked it right away, but Paul wasn’t sure…and later John Lennon thought it was not very good. So the Beatles passed on it. Around that time, Peter and Gordon got signed to EMI, who Asher says “saw us as an English version of the Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul and Mary). They went into the studio with maybe six or seven songs ready…a good start but not enough for a debut LP.

I asked Paul …if that orphaned song was still up for grabs,” Peter recalled. “We still needed three or four songs to record. Paul said we could have it. So I asked him to finish the bridge, and he did!” .

The vocals were stellar, Vic Flick played a brand new Vox 12-string guitar on it and it became their first single. It got to #1 in the U.S. in June, by which time the Beatles had scored four #1s that year! The Fab Four would go on to have a couple more in ’64, giving Paul a hand in writing seven #1 songs that year… a record it would take 14 years to tie (Barry Gibb doing so in 1978.) The song also topped charts at home in the UK, as well as Canada and New Zealand. It would be the only song written by McCartney & Lennon (how it was credited though it was really all Paul’s baby) that hit #1 that wasn’t recorded by the Beatles, though Paul came reasonably close in 1970 with “Come and Get It”, the Badfinger single he wrote.

Peter and Gordon kept at it for another four or five years, but would never match the success of “A World Without Love,” but were not one hit wonders. They’d end up scoring seven more top 20 hits in the States, the biggest of which was “Lady Godiva”, which got to #6 in ’66. After they broke up, Asher went on to success in other ways in music, most notably being the successful manager of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.

April 17 – ‘He Broke Up The Beatles For This?’

The Beatles were done by this day in 1970…but it was when it became pretty obvious to the public. That because Paul McCartney put out his first solo album, simply entitled McCartney.

Now, in reality, the Beatles had done their finale, on the Apple building roof and had already agreed to part ways. But it wasn’t yet known to the public, and there was still one more Beatles album to come out – Let It Be. And other Beatles had stepped out on their own already – Ringo Starr had released his debut three weeks earlier and John Lennon had done some experimental things with Yoko like The Wedding Album, and had formed the Plastic Ono Band which put out their Live Peace In Toronto about five months prior. But these were assumed to be mere side-projects by most. When Paul put one out with only a wee bit of help from wife Linda, people seemed to clue in to the fact that the greatest band of the ’60s were not going to be around in the ’70s.

Paul put out the album (the first of 26 he’s done since the Fab Four) on their Apple label, which made keeping it secret from the others all the more difficult. He began recording it in his home late in ’69, suspended the project for the “Get Back” sessions (documented in the recent hit documentary) then finished it off at Abbey Road right afterwards… at times working in one studio while Phil Spector finished up Let it Be in a neighboring room! When the other Beatles found out, it didn’t sit well with them. They went to Apple to try and get them to roll back Paul’s record release, so it wouldn’t conflict with Let it Be, which was due in only a couple of weeks, and the compilation album Hey Jude which had only just come out. Paul refused, even when Ringo went to his house in person to ask. He admits to throwing Ringo out. Starr said Paul “went crazy” and yelled “I’ll finish you now!” on his way out. He threw gas on the fire when he told interviewers he didn’t miss Ringo’s drumming at all and he didn’t “envisage a time” when he and John would ever write together again.

All of this didn’t sit very well with a number of people – others in the Beatles realm, critics and fans alike. The album itself didn’t help. The overall reaction tended towards “he broke up the Beatles for this?”. That because the record was distinctly low-fi, and had a rather unfinished demo quality to it. Paul played all the instruments on it, in general singing and playing acoustic guitar, recording it on a basic four-track recorder and then later played other instruments like his usual bass, plus drums, some piano and even “wine glasses” and dubbing them in, as well as a few backing vocals from Linda. Speaking of her, her photos on the album cover and inside liner notes (including a famous picture of Paul holding their newborn Mary on the back cover) were one of the few things widely lauded about it.

There were 13 songs, running about 34 minutes, including a few instrumentals, like “Kreene Akrore”, an interesting four minutes of building percussion inspired by a TV show he had seen about natives of the Amazonian rainforest. “Glasses”, as one might expect, featured him playing wine glasses. The album kicked off with “The Lovely Linda”, a ditty that ran under a minute and was designed just to be a sound check for him. The one standout and comparatively finished song on it was “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which kept a low-profile then but became a hit for him when he released a live version with Wings in 1976.

At the time it arrived, few cared much for it. As Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffer said, “many…found the whole confused, tasteless.” The Guardian more clearly stated he sounded like “a man preoccupied with himself…he seems to believe that anything that comes into his head is worth having. And he’s wrong.” Rolling Stone found it “distinctly second-rate” although it did like “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Only the NME liked it, thinking it “sheer brilliance” which “exudes warmth and happiness.” Later reviews became a bit more fond of it. Rolling Stone would this century give it a middling 2.5-stars, allmusic, 4-stars. An undercurrent of feelings that it seemed “unfinished” – songs with potential but left half-baked – ran through most. Songs with titles like “Singalong Junk” didn’t help to change that idea.

Despite not having a hit single, the album did well. It actually spent three weeks at #1 in the U.S. (before being replaced by, what else, Let it Be) and also was a #1 in Canada, and reached #2 at home for him, as well as #3 in Australia and #13 as far away as Japan.

McCartney has reverted to the one-man band approach a couple more times, with McCartney II and just last year, McCartney III.

March 31 – Liverpool Lad’s Love Letter To London

As the 1970s marched onwards, it became increasingly clear that Paul McCartney was the public’s favorite ex-Beatle…but not necessarily the critics. That point was highlighted again on this day in 1978 when his band Wings put out their sixth studio album (and Paul’s eighth since the Fab Four broke up) London Town.

The previous year or two had been busy for them. They’d been hot, had a major world tour and had planned to tour again for much of 1977. But Linda McCartney got pregnant and they decided to stay closer to home and not tour. So they spent their time putting together a new album, starting as a quintet. They recorded several tracks on a yacht in the Caribbean early in the year, working at a leisurely pace. Along the way, drummer Joe English, who was despite his name American in fact, decided to quit to relocate back to the U.S., and guitarist Jimmy McCulloch quit to join the Small Faces, leaving Wings as a core trio of Paul, Linda and Denny Laine again. They finished up recording the 14 song album, plus a couple more, at his beloved Abbey Road studios and George Martin’s new AIR studio, although Paul handled the production.

To keep the fans satisfied, they put out a couple of those songs as a standalone single in ’77 – “Mull of Kintyre” with “Girls School”. As we know, “Mull of Kintyre”, bagpipes and all, was a remarkable smash in Britain, outselling every Beatles single and actually holding the record for the biggest-selling single ever there for over a decade. Hopes were therefore very high for the album. Paul and Linda were in a happy place, apparently and increasingly family-oriented; Rolling Stone compared them to James Taylor and Carly Simon as fast-maturing easy-listening songsters, with Laine along as “Uncle Denny”. They noted he co-wrote two of the “sweetest children’s songs here” – “Deliver Your Children” and “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose.” Much of the album seemed dedicated to kids and family life, rather a departure from much of what was going on in pop at the time (remember that at the time the biggest album around was Rumours, one of the testaments to dysfunctional relationships ever). Among the other songs of note were the title track, “Cufflink” and “Girlfriend”, a song Michael Jackson would cover a couple of years later, plus the first single directly from the album, the upbeat “With a Little Luck.”

Critics were mixed in their assessment but largely underwhelmed at the time. Q gave it just 2-stars. Rolling Stone seemed to appreciate it, but calls it “breezily whimsical” and complain that it sounded unfinished – “’Backwards Traveler’”, it points out starts out great then “ends a minute and seven seconds later, almost as if…nobody had the presence of mind to write or record the rest of it.” Years later, allmusic retroactively thought it reasonably good, giving it 4-stars, the best since Band on the Run. They noted it was “the most song-oriented” record since that one from almost five years prior, and termed it “slick soft rock…as he ratchets up the melodic content…laid back, professional pop” with a “European feel.”

Perhaps it was a little too continental, or a little too laid back. While it did reasonably well, its sales weren’t staggering. “With a Little Luck” didn’t need that much luck to be a hit; the great single got to #1 in the U.S. and Canada (giving Paul six #1s in the States since the end of the Beatles) and #2 in Australia, #4 in the title land. However, the next two singles, “I’ve Had Enough” and “London Town” barely scratched into the North American top 40 and flopped in the UK. Although it went platinum in the U.S. (as well as Australia), it only made gold level in Britain and McCartney was mad. Oddly, he mostly was disappointed at its American reception, and chose to leave Capitol Records in North America, blaming them for what he felt was a lack of success of the album and of “Mull of Kintyre” there. That single, and “Girls School” have been added in to most CD versions of the album, good news for fans looking for those.

A year later, Wings came back with the critically-panned Back to the Egg, and between declining sales and Paul’s Japanese arrest for drugs that scuttled a tour of Asia, the band flew in their own directions by 1980.

March 25 – Sound Of Wings Sped Up Charts

You can let critics get to you and try to adjust to their criticisms. Or you can just have a bit of fun with them and dig in. Paul McCartney decided to opt for the latter with his Wings release Wings At the Speed Of Sound, released this day in 1976.

For three or four years, many critics had complained that McCartney was only writing love songs which were light-weight and bits of fluff, and that his “band” Wings was really not a bad at all but just a vehicle for his own self-indulgent ideas. So for his sixth post-Beatles album (of which, it was the third labeled “Wings”, with two being “Paul McCartney And Wings” and one just being “Paul McCartney” ) he decided to make this an absolute band effort. And write the most lightweight love songs yet.

He and the band recorded it at Abbey Road Studios, like so many of his great recordings before. However, this time around there was no John, George or Ringo around him, nor a George Martin producing. Nevertheless, Wings were no slouches (particularly ex-Moody Blue Denny Laine) and by the Bicentennial year, Paul had learned a thing or two about working the soundboards and he produced the record by himself.

To make sure people got the message that Wings was a band, not just a fictitious entity in McC’s imagination, he let each of the other members sing at least one of the song and take part in writing some of the tunes. Laine wrote and did lead vocals on “Time to Hide” and sang “The Note You Never Wrote”. drummer Joe English took the mic for “Must Do Something About It”, Jimmy McCulloch added “Wino Junko” and Paul’s wife Linda wrote and sang the ode to the joys of domestic duties, “Cook of the House.”

Adding to the band effect was the fact that not only did Linda play keyboards, McCulloch and Laine both played bass and guitars on various tracks. Still, it was Paul who led the way, playing bass of course, but also guitars on some songs, piano on others and singing the majority of the songs on the 46-minute work. that included the two hit singles, “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs”.

Of course critics loved to hate both. “Let ’em In” was probably the silliest, most meaningless song he’d done since “Uncle Albert”… I mean, the whole song revolves around someone knocking on the door and him asking you to let them in. Not exactly “Year of the Cat” or “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. But it was a fun little single and it rose to #2 in their homeland and #3 in North America and earned him yet another gold single from the States.

Silly Love Songs” took on the criticisms head-on. “People have been doing love songs forever…I like ’em, other people like ’em and there’s a lot of people I love. I’m lucky…’you’ may call them silly but what’s wrong with that?” Nothing apparently. The song was a smash, the #1 song of the year in the U.S. in fact, making Paul the first person to have a year-end best-seller with two different acts. (The Beatles had two such songs, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1964 and “Hey Jude” in ’68.)

It all got the album to #1 in the U.S. for seven weeks, and also to #1 in Canada where it was the second-biggest album of the year behind Frampton Comes Alive.

Were the critics appeased? Hardly. In general they doubled-down on their criticisms. Rolling Stone panned it, and later on Q gave it a measly 1-star. Allmusic rated it lowly too, at 2-stars. They noted that it was a “full band effort (which) ironically winds up considerably less cohesive” than past works and suggesting Paul was “resting on his laurels”, although complimenting “Beware My Love” (the “best-written song”) and the “bit of charm” in Linda’s song.

Wings hot streak continued through the year, critics notwithstanding. They were touring North America to great success and later in the year put out the million-selling live album, Wings Over America.