“That Was Me”Looks At Paul McCartney’s Career

John Lennon, who wrote with Paul McCartney for well over a decade, once said: “At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, I would do anything for [him]. I think he would do anything for me.” He added, in private, that he wished McCartney would “think of me” from time to time in the hope of maintaining a presence in the life of his childhood pal.

McCartney’s music was vivid and lit by a kind of sexual energy, but there was an undercurrent of literary acumen to his work, offering his characters a distinctive language and convincing motivation that was unique to them.

That Was Me: Paul McCartney’s Career and the Legacy of the Beatles by Richard M. Driver is the McCartney book that casts the widest overview of the songwriter’s solo career. It brings him headfirst into the 21st century with such revealing works as Chaos and Creation In The Backyard and McCartney III.

Driver opens his work in America, the country that embraced The Beatles during a time of cultural upheaval where the quartet played among their greatest live shows. In McCartney, the trendy news presses had a handsomely dressed member who balanced out the more acerbic wordplay of the dueling lead guitar players.

The puppy-eyed persona was not really his invention, but McCartney grew into the role, which served him well in the 1970s when he founded Wings, a stage outfit arguably more impressive sounding than the band he’d performed with in the 1960s.

By the time Wings released Venus & Mars, there was no denying the band’s determination to survey grander stages, resulting in Wings Over America, one of the more impressive live albums of the era.

McCartney’s appeal stemmed not just from his talents as a musician but his charisma and altruistic nature. The three musicians at the core of Wings responded to the elements of the dippily-produced Red Rose Speedway with a variety of sharp, singular hooks and crystal-clear harmonies. Red Rose Speedway made no secret who the leader was (McCartney is the only member to grace the cover), leading some to write Wings off as a thinly-veiled mask for a musician too fearful of solo stardom. But Wings were more democratic and malleable than many of their critics suggested, which might explain why Back To The Egg – led by Steve Holley’s choppy drumming – sounded more contemporary and punk oriented than what came before it. Guitarist Denny Laine was no slouch, contributing instrumental flourishes, harmony vocals, and lyrics to the band’s output; “Mull of Kintyre” was one such co-write.

Driver contextualizes McCartney’s work through a series of well-researched chapters by dialing the clock back to the years in which the songs were written. That’s a winning insight into a genre of music too regularly sullied by writers positing their own truths and perceptions onto the band members – and forgetting the music, which was written for fans of the time.

Driver lets the information drive the book, although he occasionally congratulates the songwriting bassist’s instinct to create a sound that was unique to what came before: McCartney, his charming debut, “highlighted the homespun and lo-fi quality of [his music]”, which birthed such insightful ballads as “Junk” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Lennon declared McCartney to be one of two superlative collaborators in his life (Yoko Ono was the second), but there’s no denying that the bassist had the ability to spin strong work, without or without the influence of the elder Beatle.

Like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, McCartney is an original whose repertoire only grows more expressive the longer he’s around, wisely changing to fit the norms of the time. By 2018, McCartney “revamped his marketing” to cater to a younger audience, which might explain why Egypt Station enjoyed a larger chart success than what was nominally reserved for a pop star of his age group. Then again, the material spoke for itself, with the songwriter experimenting with faders, markers, and autotune devices, making it an enjoyable contemporary listen.

-Eoghan Lyng

Fair use image from cover of That Was Me: Paul McCartney’s Career and the Legacy of the Beatles

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