As anyone who has been to see him live in the last few years will know, Paul McCartney does a very good job indeed of managing his past and his present. Before he even left the Beatles he’d written a song implying how difficult it would be to live a life outside them – but in the room he makes it look pretty easy. Classic Beatles number follows huge-selling Wings song. Something from the new album dropped in there to change the pace. Even if you were compiling a mixtape you’d hesitate putting “Live and Let Die” before “Hey Jude” (too much? Too strong?), but McCartney, inevitably, pulls it off.
He has a huge wealth of music to draw on, and that’s what we’re celebrating in this overdue new deluxe edition of our Ultimate Music Guide. 2022 hasn’t only been the year Paul celebrated his 80th birthday, it’s also marked 60 years of top-flight recording, and here we look back on a substantial chunk of it. On the following pages, you’ll find in-depth reviews of every Paul solo album from the experimental, intimate debut McCartney from 1970, all the way to his most recent rockdown, 2020’s McCartney III.
It’s been an incredible 52 years solo so far and the variety of material Paul has issued reflects the ebb and flow of some enduring themes. The interest in being in a band which might get back on the road, and back to basics. There’s the engagement with contemporary recording trends, and working with vogue producers. You will have enjoyed the respectful nods to his matchless past career, and to his departed colleagues. Then there’s the joy of the off-piste self-titled albums, in which, released from his high expectations of himself, McCartney does very much his own thing.
What’s just as gratifying is that when the time has been right, Paul has also taken the time to talk to us about what he’s been doing. This doesn’t generally mean a tour of the new album, but a generous and extended roam around the rolling estate of his entire career – and how being in the Beatles has informed who he is now. In his wide-reaching 2020 interview with Uncut included here, for example, Paul tells Michael Bonner about how John Lennon is never far from his thoughts when he’s writing new songs. Specifically, thinking back on his guidance about when to persevere, and when to completely rethink something.
“We collaborated for so long, I think, ‘Okay, what would he think of this?” Paul remembered. “What would be say now?’”
Meeting the other Beatles, he continues, gave him permission to find freedom through creativity. Surely these days, Uncut ventures, being Paul McCartney, he can do whatever he wants? Paul’s answer is tellingly humble.
He laughed. “I wish I knew I was Paul McCartney, it would be so much easier… Look, you can achieve a lot of fame, but you’re still the same person inside. Hopefully, you grow and learn things – but we’re all a bit fragile inside. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s life, isn’t it?”