Released a scant week after Paul McCartney announced he was leaving The Beatles — as shrewd a marketing move as it was dastardly, as Lennon had already announced his intention to leave but was convinced to temporarily keep it to himself for the good of the band — McCartney wasn’t exactly Paul’s first solo project (he had previous scored the John & Hayley Mills film “The Family Way”). But it was easily his most important, his opening salvo and statement as a solo artist freed from the frustrations and expectations with which he had been encumbered as a Beatle.
The result is… certainly something nobody expected. This was a true solo effort; Paul played every instrument on the album! Guitars, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, mellotron, vocals (with the only assist coming from wife Linda on some backing vocals), Paul did it all with a 4-track recorder, either at home or in the studio. And as a result, the entire album feels entirely homemade.
McCartney is a trifle, but a pleasant, interesting one. Other than the smash hit “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which is easily as great as anything he ever recorded as a Beatle (although never released as a single; the version from his live “Wings Over America” album went top 10), there’s little else that can be categorized as truly great. What we do have is Paul, for all intents and purposes, getting the Beatles taste out of his mouth and recharging his batteries.
Some of it works nicely. Some of it is forgettable. Some of it is leftover Beatle material. Most of it sounds like interesting outtakes. It’s a testament to where Paul’s head was at in late 69/early 70. “That Lovely Linda” is a throwaway, a twee bit of improvisation he did while testing out his 4-track recorder. “That Would Be Something” is a repetitive piece of piffle, a gentle toe-tapper with some nice acoustic accompaniment. At its best, it would have been a throwaway track on The White Album.
“Valentine Day” is the album’s first of five instrumentals. Even though he played it entirely himself, it sounds like any other band simply warming up. For the album’s first three songs, we’ve had nothing terrible but nothing really substantial. Thankfully the first fully formed song appears next with “Every Night”, a strong, heartfelt tune with great hooks and musicality that we expect from McCartney. And at just over 2.5 minutes, it’s gone too soon.
“Hot as Sun/Glasses” is the 2nd instrumental of the album, which starts with a bit Paul composed in his Quarrymen days and gives it a nice Caribbean spin. It’s instantly more memorable than “Valentine Day”. The 2nd portion of the track “Glasses” isn’t as good; it consists of tones generated from the rims of glasses, and then breaks into a vocal portion that ends abruptly. Loved the first part of the track; the second, not so much.
“Junk” is another gentle, pleasant acoustic number that Paul had originally demoed for (but was left off) The White Album (it can also be heard on Anthology 3). It’s fairly forgettable and, at 2 minutes in length, is gone just in time. The problem is, again, it feels like a lesser Beatles track that was left off a studio album for good reason. This is a criticism that will haunt McCartney — often unfairly — for much of his solo career.
“Man We Was Lonely” has that sweet tremolo on the opening lick, and I appreciate the vaudeville/ragtime feel of the chorus (although it gets grating real fast.) Linda’s backing vocals are shaky during the verses. An OK song at best, mediocre at worst. The parts are definitely better than the whole.
As we get to Side 2 with “Oo You”, Paul is FINALLY starting to rock out again. Nothing wrong with getting down-home and folksy, but he was starting to veer into repetition and Granny music territory. “Oo You” is a solidly good tune, with a strong, punchy rhythm guitar track and some soulful basslines. The rock vibe continues into “Momma Miss America”, the 3rd instrumental track and probably the most fully realized one so far. Decent track, but at this point in the album the jam noodles are starting to get a bit tiresome.
“Teddy Boy” is another Beatles leftover, a bouncy, acoustic number from the “Get Back” sessions. I like this little tune, a sort of “Rocky Raccoon” spiritual sequel, and the chorus is kind of infectious. It moves right into “Singalong Junk”, the fourth (!) instrumental, this time a retread of “Junk” from earlier in the album. I actually like the instrumental version MUCH better. Maybe because the lyrics are all sorts of dopey treacle.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” is next. As mentioned earlier, it’s 37 delicious flavors of awesome.
“Kreen-Akrore” closes the album with its 5th and final instrumental. At 4:14, it’s the longest (!!) song on the album. It starts with a jungle rhythm, moves into rock territory with crashing guitars and a drum solo (!!!), then into odd chanting, percussion, heavy breathing, distorted guitar licks, more drum fills, and then ends with organs and guitars in crescendo… all for nought. A disappointing ending.
McCartney is an odd album. It’s a down-home, homemade, “I’m gonna noodle around and see what happens” loose-feel project that didn’t amount to a whole lot, but overall isn’t a bad effort. I love “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and really like “Teddy Boy”, “Oo You”, “Every Night”, and “Singalong Junk”. The rest of the album is OK-to-forgettable, and only “Kreen-Akrore” really stinks. If you take this album as it should be taken — as Paul goofing around in the studio to see what he can come up with — it’s a gentle, enjoyable romp. But there’s little on it that’s truly lasting.
I find it interesting that the album’s cover (photographed by Linda) features a bowl of cherries, given that this album invites cherry-picking more than perhaps any other McCartney solo effort. I also view it as a Beatles breakup statement; that new cherries could be found where the older ones had been irreparably scattered. One thing is for certain: when Paul would get to his next solo album, things would be much different. For the better.