It was 50 years ago today (April 17th, 1970) that Paul McCartney released his first solo album apart from the Beatles. Although McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had all produced and released solo projects before, the McCartney album was the first solo mainstream record released in the aftermath of the group's breakup.
McCartney featured an assortment of tracks recorded at home and in the studio, featuring McCartney on all instruments, with the help of his wife Linda McCartney on harmonies. Several of the songs were Beatles-era rejects, such as “Junk,” which was originally intended for the band's 1968 self-titled double set commonly known as the “White Album.” Early versions of “Every Night,” “Teddy Boy,” and a snippet of “Maybe I'm Amazed” were also rehearsed by various members of the band during the next year's Let It Be sessions. The instrumental track “Hot As Sun,” also performed during the January 1969 sessions, dated as far back as 1960.
Although Lennon had quietly quit the band the previous September, none of the Beatles said anything about the split publicly until McCartney issued a self-penned interview included in the press copies of album. McCartney recalled how the press release issued with the reviewers copies of McCartney broke the news of the Beatles' breakup and the end of his partnership with John Lennon: “It was actually months after we'd broken up and no one was saying anything. And I was putting out a crazy little release, press release with the McCartney album, 'cause someone had said to me, 'We need some press on this, you better do something.' And I didn't want to sit down and be interviewed; I didn't feel secure enough to do that. So I said, 'Well, we'll make up a question and answer thing.' So I said to, actually it was (Beatles aide) Peter Brown, I said to him, 'Write me out a questionnaire of what you think they'd ask me.' So I just filled it all in, like a questionnaire. And it all came out weird. The press got it; it looked like I was trying to do a real number. John then thought, y'know, 'A-ha, he's done the announcement of the Beatles' split.' But, I mean, I thought months after, someone had better do it.”
McCartney recalled the sessions in 1999 during the production of his Wingspan project, saying that, “Some of the songs on McCartney I had tried with the Beatles and they hadn't worked out. The Beatles were breaking up and nobody had any patience. . . So I thought, 'Right, I'll do it on my own.'”
McCartney explained that over the years, the original McCartney album — which was recorded partially at home — has become known as rock's first “indie” album: “It has got a sort of 'indie' thing. Y'know, its now what would be called an 'indie' thing. To me, then, it was just for me, knockin' around experimentin' with some sounds and not worrying how it was gonna turn out. I think that was one of the secrets. With this stuff it was like, I wasn't really doing it with anything in mind; it was only when I had a bunch of the songs together and people started to say, 'Well, that's your new album, is it?' 'I said, Well, not. . . no. . .' 'Well, it sounds like it.' And I was persuaded.”
McCartney, who still performs “Maybe I'm Amazed” live in concert, admits that the song is a definite emotional period piece for him: “'Maybe I'm Amazed' sums up the time for me. Y'know, Linda and I had just got together and that song was my amazement at getting with this great girl. It just worked. I didn't really stress out over it. I just made this song up and thought of lyrics, like, y'know, 'hung me on a line,' 'pull(ed) me out of time,' and things — just little phrases that occurred to me about this relationship.”
The cover, which featured a symbolic photo of a bowl of spilled cherries, included the iconic back cover photo of McCartney holding his infant daughter Mary tucked into his jacket. The photo, along with the inner gatefold cover spread, underscored what McCartney claimed at the time was his ultimate message: “Home, family, (and) love.”
In 1999, Neil Young inducted McCartney into the Hall of Fame as a solo artist. During his speech, Young took the time to explain what he appreciated about McCartney's first solo album: “I loved that record because it was so simple. And there was so much to see and to hear, it was just Paul. There was no adornment at all, there was no echo, there was nothing. There was no attempt made to compete with things he'd already done. And so out he stepped from the shadow of the Beatles.”
Although no singles were released from the album, “Maybe I'm Amazed” was regarded as an instant classic, gaining massive AM and FM radio airplay. In 1977, a live version of “Maybe I'm Amazed” peaked at Number 10 on the charts. Until recently, the song has nearly always opened the piano set of McCartney's concerts.
During Wings' final tour in 1979 McCartney finally debuted two of the McCartney album's standout tracks in the band's set lists incorporating full band arrangements on “Every Night” and “Hot As Sun.”
McCartney revisited the McCartney album during his 1991 taping of MTV's Unplugged, which featured a return to “Every Night” and the live debuts of “That Would Be Something” and “Singalong Junk.”
It would be a full decade before McCartney would release a true follow-up to the McCartney album. 1980's synth-oriented McCartney II, which included the studio version of McCartney's Number One hit “Coming Up,” and peaked at Number Three on the album charts.
Ringo Starr's former producer Mark Hudson says that if he had the chance to produce McCartney, he'd love to pick up exactly where the McCartney album left off: “I would love to get my hands on him, because I think I would like to do a nastier (sounding) record with him — not louder. Like (sings) 'Walk like a woman!' — 'Oo You,' and 'Maybe I'm Amazed.' There was a simplistic vibe to that.”
HBO's Eastbound And Down viewers heard a snippet of a 1970 McCartney album deep classic during the series premiere episode — with “Momma Miss America” being played during one of the show's scenes. The song got a second lease on life when it was featured in the 1996 Cameron Crowe film Jerry McGuire. Paul McCartney recalled recording the song at home in London's St. John's Wood: “It was great, it was a very free album for me to do, 'cause I would just get up and (yawn) 'Breakfast' and wander into the living room and do a track. So, it's got that feel on it. Y'know, there's a lot of stuff that you might have thought twice about — but I didn't. Like instrumentals, like 'Momma Miss America' — crazy little instrumentals. But, I sorta like 'em. And I hear 'em now, I think — 'Did I do that? Oh, that was cheeky, that was nice.'”
McCartney sold two million copies upon its release and topped the album charts for three weeks, staying in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 charts for 13 weeks.
Sadly, 18 years to the date of the album's release (April 17th, 1998) — and 22 years ago today — Linda McCartney died after a long bout with cancer. She and Paul had been married 29 years.
In June 2011, McCartney released remastered and expanded editions of 1970's McCartney and 1980's McCartney II as part of his ongoing “Archive Collection.”