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The McCartney Legacy: Volume 1: 1969 – 73 Book by Adrian Sinclair and Allan Kozinn Reviewed

If you are a Paul McCartney fan and you think you know his career sideways, you aren’t. I did in depth reviews of every single McCartney and/or Wings albums and I didn’t know all of this stuff. It’s like we knew things, we knew he had a farm in Scotland, and was a family man, considered the kindest Beatle, and a true music guy. But I didn’t know he was paying the other members of Wings $140 a month while they stayed in decrepit sheds near Macca for easy access. I had never realized he was so damn traumatic, a difficult man attempting to rebuild his career with a real band, but how it shaked his confidence and I didn’t realize. He got the best session men available and forced them to be tight despite the real skill of guitarist Henry McCulloch (whose improvised solo on “My Love” is the best part of it) and the other members with the exception were upset at not being really allowed a say in the band.

When it was first released I hated “My Love” so much I failed to appraise the album correctly, I got it right in 2016 when I reviewed all his solo work and was shocked at how much I missed out on Paul’s fourth album, 1973’s Red Rose Speedway. Time has been exceedingly kind to Paul McCartney (plus backing band’s) fourth album; everything the album lacks in intellectual heft, it makes up for in song composition. With nothing much more to say than love matters, what seemed to not much matter compared to his fellow former Beatles, today sounds like a McCartney redux of melodic strength, song structure, and sound pop band economics. On one hand, “Hi Hi Hi” and “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” were both banned on the BBC, on the other hand, nine months after Red Rose Speedway‘s release, Band On The Run arrived. So Red Rose feels indifferent and though with the aid of hindsight, the album is reactionary and self indulgent, it is so in such a way as to include the audience in. In a world where rock was a closeted affair, not unlike today except without the feigned familiarity of social media, McCartney bolted: he didn’t play along here.

Adrian Sinclair and Allan Kozinn keep making the point, over and over again, The McCartney Legacy, taking us from McCartney to Band On The Run (we will be getting Wings Over America in Volume Two), is a look at a man breaking down and then making up. The sheer and overwhelming detail is an astonishing piece of cultural hierography , and while I am sure they have their sense of what McCartney’s music meant to them during that period, this is historical journalism and not rock critic review. When they want opinion they lean in the golden age of rock publications from Rolling Stone to New Musical Express to cash Box to Melody Maker. If you remember, that means a brace of negativity.

According to Literary Hub (here) “Allan Kozinn was a music critic and culture reporter for the New York Times from 1977 to 2014, where he wrote principally about classical music, but was also, in effect, the Times’ Beatles desk” and “Adrian Sinclair studied film at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and served a traineeship with ITV in Yorkshire, England, where he learned his craft as a documentary film editor. Since going freelance 15 years ago, he’s worked for almost every major broadcaster in the world”. Together they have presented not the best book ever written about The Beatles (that would be Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album By Album, Song By Song, The Sixties And After by Tim Riley) but the second best book ever written about the Beatles, as exhausting a study of five years in the life.

The first thing that you’ll notice is how close Wings were to the Beatles, what I mean is that the Paulie you know from Peter Jackson’s “Let It Be” -a cross between Hall Monitor and the last man in the world- is precisely what he does with Wings with one big difference: John Lennon told him where he could shove it. Wings, guitarist Henry McCullough replaced by Jimmy McCulloch, utility man Denny Laine, drummer Denny Seiwell, and keyboardist, Linda McCartney, were in no position to do so.

In 1969 McCartney release the true solo , birth of indie McCartney,and followed it with an album featuring a wife plus a soon to be Wings drummer on Ram, an astonishingly poorly received album from the critics. The album was very successful, # 1 all over the world, except for the US where it reached # 2. It did go platinum here. Though recorded in New York, it took place in Scotland. With the world a mess, Paul discovers himself in family and a simple sort of joy in life. And while it lacked the consistency of McCartney, it was a simple joy to listen to… and still is. Everything McCartney can do, he does do, and while song for song it is good not great, its great moments are so great it emerges as one of McCartney’s best albums.

In 1972 came Wings’ first album, the sublime Wild Life, and the band jumped on a bus and toured English college towns, take a look below:

Though, like everything else that Macca was doing, it met with mixed results but I would have loved to have gone to one.

In 1972, he did a tour of Europe in a double decker. My friend Joe Stevens (Captain Snaps to you) was the tour photography and got thrown off the tour bus because he suggested Paul reform the Beatles. Meanwhile, Paul was trying to get out of the Beatles and suing them for a divorce while fighting back the voracious thief and Apple Manager, Allen Klein (remember Belushi as Klein in “All You Need Is Cash”? Speaking to a mirror: “You ask me where the money is. I don’t know where the money is, but if you want money I’ll give it to you…”) and he couldn’t get his hands on his money and one reason he underpaid the band was because he was having financial problems.

Red Rose Speedway was the first real (and with this line up last) Wings albums. Reading about him recording it, about session after session, putting half finished songs on the backburner and returning to them and fusing them into medleys, memorably on “Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands Of Love/Power Cut”. Somewhere around this time he had two singles banned and his base revolt over his (genius level) rewrite of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, did his first theatre tour of the UK, won against Apple, watched his Beatle brothers cotton onto Klein, had three Wings quit while McCartney and the band were smoking weed constantly (and at least one member had a serious alcohol problem). First Henry quit and then drummer Denny quit and then the other Henry quit and finally Paul took his demos for what would be Band On The Run, along with Denny Laine and Linda McCartney to Lagos to record it. I already knew it was a trip fraught with danger, what I didn’t know was Fela Kuti threatened him because he thought (not entirely incorrectly, Paul and Linda loved African pop as much as reggae, and had planned to add their percussion to the work in progress) Paulo was stealing his sound.

It was a bad trip but the album is considered the return of McCartney with all his powers in tact. If Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was pop art as tragedy, Band On The Run was pop rock as farce. McCartney’s fifth solo album, and huge return to commercial form, took one of his best ideas, the faux band as freedom from the bonds of character, and made it light as a feather, it simultaneously condemned McCartney to and freed him for the positive thumbs up lad that could leave the heavy lifting to Lennon. It is like the psychedelic mental breakdown at the heart of Pepper happened in the middle of the filming of Help. The result was a complete triumph of feel good pop as exciting as the album cover, a sepia tinted, great escape in the highlights featuring most Englishly (James Coburn was the exception) period celebrities from where the imaginary, though not imaginary, band takes off on a flight of fancy. It has no real meaning except this one: it doesn’t mean anything at all, It seems to exist in an alternative reality where pain and loss has no pressure valve, where there are no prices to pay for these violent pleasures known as rock and roll. Paul was back at the top.

Adrian and Allan are not stylists, they are not show offs, everything is there for one reason only: to tell a story starring a man who was in two of the biggest bands of all time. What it teaches me is how great the start of his solo career was, soon At The Speed Of Sound would drop on punk and he would lose a knack he never got back all the way.

Grade: A+

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