Perhaps Glastonbury at the end of June was indeed the greatest triumph of a career rich in triumphs. Over 100,000 mostly young fans cheered Paul McCartney, who had just turned 80, on the huge Pyramid festival stage.
Respectful and loving guest appearances by US superstars Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) rounded off a belated birthday party for the incredibly vital British music icon.
Before and after, there was often talk of the "ex-Beatle" - a bad reduction after more than five decades of a successful career beyond the "Fab Four". Now, as a kind of sequel to the 2022 Paul McCartney Festival, a chic box is coming out. The vinyl/CD set designed by US painter and graphic artist Ed Ruscha once again demonstrates the solo qualities and stylistic range of the Liverpool singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
A colorful mixture
"McCartney I/II/III" comprises the three self-titled studio albums from 1970, 1980 and 2020, which the master wrote, produced and recorded practically single-handedly at the time. These recordings also mark important milestones in McCartney's oeuvre: They contain his first pieces after the Beatles split ("McCartney I"), another new beginning after the end of the successor band Wings ("McCartney II"), as well as musical greetings from the Corona -Pandemic period that fueled his creativity to such an extent that the now very old gentleman joked about "rockdown" ("McCartney III").
If you want to listen to these three albums with their very different artistic backgrounds in one go, you should be prepared for a colorful mixture. From the modestly arranged songs of the young "Beatlemania" dropout to electronic experiments from the very early 1980s to the self-confident, age-appropriate songwriter pop of a nearly 80-year-old, everything is included.
Appropriately, the 35-song series begins with a declaration of love to the newly wed wife, McCartney's great love "Lovely Linda". And it ends with "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes," which can be taken as a nod to the winter of a long, intense life. Hidden in between are a few songs and instrumentals that are irrelevant to the overall work, but also gems like "Every Night" and "Maybe I'm Amazed (1970), "Coming Up" and "Waterfalls" (1980), "Women And Wives" and " Deep Deep Feeling" (2020).
The shock after the Beatles split
Above all, McCartney's first solo album in April 1970 - just a few days after the Beatles' exit, which was received with shock around the world - was met with skepticism and rejection. The rustic arrangements of the 13 short songs had nothing to do with the pop artworks of the "Fab Four" since the mid-1960s. In the meantime, the debut is judged better, precisely because McCartney so boldly deviated from the path he had taken as a songwriter and arranger.
In a recent YouTube interview with the US broadcaster NPR, McCartney told radio icon Terry Gross ("Fresh Air") about his state of mind after John Lennon's Beatles breakup that he was "very shocked". "As if someone comes along and says: The factory will be closed." He wondered "if we would get back together, and when that didn't happen, we were practically without a job."
You can hear this confusion on "McCartney I", some things still sound half-baked today. "I didn't know what to do at all. I hardly had any idea other than to continue with another band," he admitted in the Gross interview. "But how do you do that after the Beatles? How could anything I would do now be as good as the Beatles, that very special combination of talents?"
After consulting his wife Linda, he saw only one possibility - "to start like the Beatles did: at the base, with small concerts in small clubs". And with a "small" solo debut that enchants today with its LoFi charm. "You can hear I'm in the living room - on the first track with the squeak of an opening door," McCartney now wittily says in his notes to the album. This then became the beginning of a series of "homemade, self-played records".
"McCartney II", charged with bumpy synthesizer sounds, also found little favor with the critics in 1980, but reached number 1 in the UK charts. He felt "a bit like a crazy professor in his lab," McCartney recalls.
Another 40 years later, the pop grand seigneur made a big hit with the melodic and production-technically brilliant lockdown solo work "McCartney III". In contrast to its predecessors, it was immediately celebrated worldwide for its class. You believe every word of "Sir Paul" when he gratefully says: "I'm very glad that I still find such joy in making music."
Shortly thereafter, in the NPR interview, he is the eternally happy boy from Liverpool again: "Hey, I can't believe I'm a grandfather. I'm only 25 years old and I only look older. I think my birth certificate has to to have been forged." Long may he feel so young - as a person and as a musician.
The box set "McCartney I/II/III" will be released on Friday (5.8.) as "Limited Edition Color Vinyl", on black vinyl and three CDs from Universal. All editions come with three photo prints and notes by Paul McCartney on each album. The well-known American painter, graphic artist, photographer and filmmaker Ed Ruscha (84) was responsible for the cover design and typography.
Literature: Paul McCartney (author), Paul Muldoon (editor): Lyrics 1956 to present. German edition. 912 pages. CH Beck Verlag 2021. ISBN-10: 3406776507; ISBN-13 : 978-3406776502. 78 euros.