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McCartney
Paul McCartney

Apple 3363
Released: April 1970
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 47
Certified Gold: 4/30/70

Paul McCartneyWhat was it that made the Beatles so special? Why was their meteoric flight across the pop horizon so much more spectacular than that of other, perhaps equally gifted, rock groups? The answers, at this point, are elusive, but their apparent demise as an active performing and recording ensemble undoubtedly will stimulate more and more analyses of the group's remarkable career.

One aspect, at least, should not be overlooked. The Beatles, with their all-for-one-and-one-for-all loyalty and almost symbiotic musical and personal inter-relationships, represented a viable social model for young people. In the early Sixties, youth had not yet come to see itself as a full-fledged subculture, and was striving mightily to find social units that could provide the love, sympathy, understanding, and common outlook that seemed to be absent in the traditional family structure. The Beatles, four obviously disparate and sometimes antagonistic individuals, showed that allegience to a kind of group "good" did not require a sacrifice of creative individuality; on the contrary, it could enhance it.

But the very intimacy of the Beatles as a social and professional unit may have provided a seedbed for the growth of the acrimonious feelings that have accompanied their break-up. That Paul McCartney should have chosen to produce a solo recording quietly, without fanfare, for which he has written all the material, played all the instruments, and sung all the songs (with the exception of a few harmony lines by his wife Linda), that a self-interview originally intended for release with the album -- but deleted in the American edition -- should include pointedly hostile remarks by McCartney about his fellow Beatles, indicates the tangled morass of feelings buried beneath the group's confident superficial demeanor. McCartney, in fact, is reminiscentof a previous effort by the entire group to go it alone -- the unsuccessful television film Magical Mystery Tour. In both cases a kind of home-movies aesthetic prevails -- like too many nephews and nieces parading their amateur skills before the camera (or microphone). McCartney, obviously, is no amateur, but most of the songs he has chosen to include here are little more than fragments of music still on their way toward completion. The five instrumental tracks, for example, sound like last-minute improvisations, marred by McCartney's cumbersome drum playing (and surprisingly out-of-tune bass work) and relying upon colorless, often blues-based, chord patterns. The exception is "Junk," a sweetly fin de-siècle melody that McCartney does twice, as a vocal on side one, and as an instrumental on side two.

Shadows of recent Beatles' recordings touch many of the other songs. "Teddy Boy," filled with "aaahhh, aaahhh"s, comes closest to McCartney's "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," and the chunky guitar struming, simple chords, and hoarse vocal of "Maybe I'm Amazed" are immediately reminiscent of "Let It Be." Similarly, an important line in "Every Night" is almost identical to the opening melody of "You Never Give Me Your Money" from Abbey Road.

The album, in sum, is too incomplete, too hurried, too doggedly self-centered, to serve as a real indication of what McCartney can do. His gifts are too plentiful for him to produce a really bad album, but I suspect that he will have to free himself of the tangle of emotions accompanying the Beatles' recent difficulties before he can truly take wing on his own.

- Dan Heckman, Stereo Review, 8/70.

Bonus Reviews!

The future of the Beatles may be in doubt but not that of Paul McCartney. His solo debut as songwriter/singer is a knockout and the album is sure to soar to the sales heights reached by the Beatles together. His songs are freewheeling, light hearted, and affectionate and his voice is attuned to his pen. His wife, Linda, joins in at times, but it's Paul's album all the way and he can be proud of it.

- Billboard, 1970.

McCartney is better than the Beatles' newest, Let It Be, better than the Beatles together. Which is, after all these years both a sad and an instructive thing to observe. Paul plays all the instruments -- drums, bass, lead, rhythm, piano -- and has in effect become the Beatles in himself, incorporating everything, including possibly the personalities of the other three. His sound is the Beatles still, and that is poignant, because the rest of them are not there, and maybe never will be.

Paul's exhibiting some of the most together sounds any of the Beatles have ever put together. He is still innocent, charming, touching, lyrical, sympathetic, wistful, sad, longing, elfish, and poignant, But he is no longer a Beatle, just a damn fine musician and writer. His drum solo on "Hot As Sun," accompanied by heavy breathing, is work for him, an effort but which in the end comes very naturally. Very heavy head record, too. "Maybe I'm Amazed" is incontestably the love ballad of all time.

- Jonathan Eisen, Circus, 7/70.

It's quite obvious that the best element of the Beatles has been isolated and defined at last by McCartney, a well-paced program of 14 disarmingly simple tunes on which Paul plays all the instruments and on most of which he sings (with wife Linda harmonizing on occasion). The fare includes hard rock ("Oo You"), subtle ballads ("Junk"), soul ("Maybe I'm Amazed") and instrumentals ("Momma Miss America"). There isn't an arbitrary note or a cheap sentiment anywhere and Paul -- despite his lack of virtuosity -- is fully in control of each instrument he essays.

- Playboy, 7/70.

McCartney was, until just weeks before its release date, one of the best kept secrets in rock history. This was largely because Paul had recorded most of it on a Studer 4-track tape recorder at his Scottish retreat in late 1969, overdubbing all the instruments himself; so only his family and a handful of engineers needed be sworn to secrecy. Paul said he wanted McCartney to be a surprise "because normally an album is old before it comes out. Witness Get Back (the ill-fated album planned for 1969 which eventually became Let It Be)."

But the music itself was rather sparing on surprises. For those who thought Paul's musical declaration of independence might fulfill all the promise of his Abbey Road "pop symphony," McCartney was decidedly anticlimactic. True, the fact that Paul handled all the instruments hiself (including bass, drums, acoustic and electric guitars, mellotron, organ, piano, toy xylophone, and bow-and-arrow) was impressive. Yet Paul's tour-de-force, though tastefully performed, offered little of the spectacular musicianship he had brought to Abbey Road.

With one exception, even the tunes themselves seemed relatively second-rate, and, in many cases, little more than unrealized fragments. "Oo You" and the instrumentals "Valentine Day" and "Momma Miss America" (which might have made a marvelous soundtrack to a surfing documentary) were, by Paul's own account, "ad-libbed on the spot." The Mexican-sounding instrumental "Hot As Sun" was based on a riff Paul had dreamed up at age 17. Two of the better songs, "Junk" and "Teddy Boy," sounded like obscure Beatle tunes -- little wonder, since they were rejects from, respectively, the White Album and Get Back. Only "Maybe I'm Amazed," one of Paul's most achingly powerful love songs (and an obvious single, though it wasn't released as such until Wings' live version made the grade in 1977), really stood out from the pack.

Paul himself has since disparaged McCartney as "nothing much." Still, minor doesn't necessarily mean bad. Taken simply as an unassuming evocation of "home, family, love" (as Paul summed it up), the music was certainly pleasant. (The critics' favorite description of the album seemed to be "McCartney's Nashville Skyline.")

But Paul, apparently not content to let the music speak for itself, packaged his record with a somewhat cloying collection of snapshots of Linda, the kids, the dog, the cat, and Paul himself: romping in a bathing suit, performing household chores like a real human being -- even picking his nose. Together with a self-interview inserted in British copies of the album, all this came across as self-serving propaganda to otherwise sympathetic reviewers such as Rolling Stone's Langdon Winner, who wrote:

McCartney is an album that wants desperately to convince. Its explicit and uniform message is that Paul McCartney, his wife Linda and family have found peace and happiness in a quiet home away from the city, and away from the hassles of the music business. This is a beautiful vision and, like most listeners, I wanted very much to believe it was true. On the basis of the music alone I was entirely convinced....

My problem is that all of the publicity surrounding the record makes it difficult for me to believe that McCartney is what it appears to be.... The overall effect of the McCartney literature is to turn the package into an undisguised power play.... What this material is saying is that Beatle fans should recognize that the group is totally defunct and now follow the man who was the real genius of the outfit in the first place.... I cannot help but ask if Paul is really as together as the music indicates, how could he have sunk to such bizarre tactics?

Though McCartney sold 2 million copies, Paul's popularity was in for a steep decline. It did not escape the notice of the "alternative" press that the pleasures McCartney celebrated were distinctly burgeois; and, indeed, it would increasingly seem that Paul, in abdicating the Beatles, had also abdicated from the counterculture.

McCartney first appeared on the Billboard chart on May 9, 1970, reaching #1 and spending a total of 47 weeks.

- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, 1978.

As self-indulgent as Two Virgins or Music for the Lions, yet marketed as pop, this struck me as a real cheat at first. But I find myself won over by its simulated offhandedness. Paul is so charming a melodist (and singer) that even though many of the songs are no more than snatches, fragments, ditties, they get across, like "Her Majesty" extended to two minutes. And though Paul's do-it-yourself instrumentals stumble now and then, the only one that winds up on its fundament is the percussion-based "Kreen-Akrore." Maybe Linda should take up the drums. She wouldn't be starting from any futher back then hubby. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

McCartney's first solo venture recorded in part before the Beatles had officially split. McCartney is an infuriating mix of the blindingly brilliant and "amateur time." "Maybe I'm Amazed" is probably the finest ballad McCartney has ever written while the shuffling "That Would Be Something" cannot be far behind.

The recording, some of it produced on home studio equipment, varies from the stunningly direct to the positively awful -- CD does nothing to disguise the patchy edits, hiss and crude reverb fades, let alone the dreadful tape problems in "Teddy Boy," with its flutter and slipping tape/head azimuth causing drifting treble levels.

Compelling listening despite the lapses in both recording quality and inspiration.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

McCartney's handmade solo debut has a rough-hewn, off-hand quality that invites the listener into his highly melodic, sometimes whimsical musical imagination. The best songs include "That Would Be Something" (lately revived by the Grateful Dead!), "Teddy Boy" (a Beatles outtake), and "Maybe I'm Amazed" (later a hit in a live 1977 version). * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

McCartney is an intriguing notebook of works in progress -- some of which, including "Maybe I'm Amazed," turned out to be among Paul's more fully realized post-Beatles tunes. * * * 1/2

- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Although for years shunned and treated as the devil's plastic, for ostensibly shattering The Beatles' dream, Paul McCartney's first solo album is never less than charming. While Lennon and Harrison were busy making their point and Ringo was busy recording pub singalongs, McCartney released this naive template for his solo career: some blinding songs; some stoned noodles; and some frankly embarrassing tosh.

Recorded during the end of 1969 at home in London's St. John's Wood, McCartney feels wistfully undercooked -- a deliberate reaction to the somooth veneers of The Beatles' swansong, Abbey Road. After all the recent tension of working with the group in the studio, here McCartney worked alone, overdubbing on his Studer four-track recorder with a lone microphone.

The album is full of the touches that both enthrall and infuriate about McCartney. His two Beatles leftovers display these extremes perfectly: whereas "Junk" is wistful, poetic, and vivid, "Teddy Boy" is painfully silly. However, the whole album rests in the shadow of "Maybe I'm Amazed," which arrives late and effortlessly demonstrates just how much an architect of the Abbey Road sound he was. A mature adult love ballad, it is possibly his finest song ever.

Released in April 1970, the album received sniffy reactions from the media, but quickly topped the American charts and reached the runner-up position in the UK. With its symbolic cover and snapshots of his new family, McCartney was not so much a willful post-Fab nose-thumbing as a manifesto of his intent and a catalog for his new life.

- Daryl Easlea, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

(McCartney / McCartney II 2011 Deluxe Reissues) Cut a decade apart, mostly without any collaborators, these two albums feel like outtake sets, in the best possible way: music that chases any crazy idea down a dark alley. Released three weeks before Let It Be in 1970, McCartney announced Paul's love for his wife and the breakup of the Beatles. What makes it so touching is how much it tries to re-create the Fabs. McCartney played every instrument: Ringo-101 drums ("Every Night"), Harrison-ish slide ("Man We Was Lonely"), Lennon blues-rock guitar ("Oo-You"). The masterwork is "Maybe I'm Amazed"; other songs make you wonder what they might've become with his mates around.

1980's McCartney II, made while Wings were on hiatus, was another purely solo effort. "Waterfalls" is a Rhodes-driven ballad that would make a great Adele cover, but what's striking is a kooky experimentalism -- see the leering, Kraftwerk- y "Temporary Secretary" -- that foreshadows the current era of the laptop dance-pop auteur. Both McCartney and II come in deluxe editions, appended with DVDs full of home movies and other ephemera; the best bonus track is "Suicide," a music-hall outtake that collapses under its titular metaphor. For someone who could write perfect pop songs with the effort it takes most folks to assemble a sandwich, these freewheeling records must've been fun to make. They sound like it. McCartney * * * 1/2, McCartney II * * *

- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 6/23/11.

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