I get my Beatles fandom honest. My mom turned me on to the Fab Four at an early age, and although her tastes lean heavily toward the early, Beatlemania days, that exposure to their music served as a gateway drug to their whole catalog.
Nearly every Beatles fan has his or her favorite Beatle, and I knew early on that mine was Paul McCartney. John Lennon? He always came across as pretentious and obnoxious — a bit of an ass, if you will. (Although I’ve read that he came close to embracing both conservatism and Christianity before he was killed, so who knows what he could have become?) George Harrison? The “spiritual one” was a bit too weird for my tastes. Ringo Starr? He’s an amazing drummer, but after the Beatles, he became sort of…campy.
But there was Paul. Critics often dismissed him as a lightweight, but with the Beatles, Paul had an affinity for old-fashioned songcraft that helped make the Fab Four’s music stand the test of time. From early on, a sense of devotion characterized his Beatles tunes.
He could write gorgeous rockers, but fans could also count on him for some of the most gorgeous quiet moments in the Beatles’ canon, as well as some chamber-pop masterpieces. He did as much as John Lennon in terms of stretching the band beyond its early, party-music days.
Paul could also do nostalgia masterfully, a trait that stemmed from his affinity for the music his father exposed him to during his youth.
Although many people think of John Lennon as the artistic force behind the Beatles, Paul was the driving force behind the band’s two best albums: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have two of the best albums in music history.
After the Beatles broke up and went their own way, Paul began a career of his own that included his wife Linda, and a new group, Wings. My favorite song from his early career would’ve been at home on one of the Beatles’ later albums.
Shortly after he formed Wings — because he loved writing and performing in a group dynamic — the Beatles’ producer George Martin tapped him to write and record one of the best songs in the James Bond canon.
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Throughout the ’70s, Paul kept writing pure pop gems. The critics didn’t always like what he released, but he made hits (and tons of money). Some of his stuff from this decade still sounds wonderful, and he even had the self-awareness to address those critics who panned him for writing accessible pop music.
In the early years of the ’80s, Paul had big hits in duets with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, but much of the decade was spotty for him. The decades since have been the same, but he’s had some incredible moments.
Paul hasn’t been perfect — as his many weird songs and lackluster albums have proven. Let’s face it: he can be insufferable with the whole vegetarian proselytism sometimes, and when he tries to get political, he gets annoying (witness his cheap shot against George W. Bush when he performed for the Obamas).
But when he’s good, he’s good. There’s something to be said for an artist who has sustained a career over the course of seven decades without resorting to the nostalgia circuit. And while it’s hard to think of a rock star as being an octogenarian — even though he started his career years before my time, that makes me feel old — Paul is still kicking it and creating amazing and original music.
Happy Birthday, Paul McCartney. And while it’s not actually my birthday too, this one’s for you.