Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney was a singer and multi-instrumentalist in The Beatles. Alongside John Lennon, he was half of one of the world's most successful songwriting teams in history.

Paul McCartney and his family, 1940s

Paul was one of the most innovative bass players that ever played bass, and half the stuff that's going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period. He was coy about his bass playing. He's an egomaniac about everything else, but his bass playing he was always a bit coy about. He is a great musician who plays the bass like few other people could play it.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The early years

James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool's Walton Hospital on 18 June 1942. His father Jim worked in the cotton trade and played trumpet and piano in jazz and ragtime bands, and his mother Mary worked as a midwife.

Paul attended the Stockton Wood Road primary school, then went on to the Joseph Williams junior school before passing his 11 Plus in 1953 and gaining a place at the Liverpool Institute.

The following year, while travelling on a bus to the Institute, he met George Harrison, who was also a student there.

In 1955 the McCartneys moved to 20 Forthlin Road, a council house in the Allerton district of Liverpool. It cost them one pound and six shillings a week to live there. The house was bought by the National Trust in 1995, and today is a popular tourist destination. Back then, though, it was an unassuming terraced house built by the local authority in the 1920s.

On 31 October 1956, Mary McCartney died of an embolism following a mastectomy. She was a heavy smoker who had been suffering from breast cancer. The death shook the McCartney family, and later led to a bond between Paul and John Lennon, who lost his mother in 1958.

Jim McCartney was a keen musician who had been leader of Jim Mac's Jazz Band in the 1920s. There was an upright piano in the front room at 20 Forthlin Road, which Jim bought from Harry Epstein's NEMS store, which Beatles manager Brian Epstein would later take over.

Jim encouraged Paul and his brother Mike to be musical, and gave Paul a trumpet following the death of his mother. When skiffle became a national craze, however, Paul swapped the instrument for a £15 Framus Zenith acoustic guitar.

Being left-handed, Paul initially had trouble playing the instrument. He later learned to restring it, and wrote his first song, I Lost My Little Girl. He took music lessons for a while, but preferred instead to learn by ear. Paul also began playing piano, and wrote When I'm Sixty-Four while still living at Forthlin Road.

Paul McCartney met John Lennon at the Woolton fete on 6 July 1957, between performances by The Quarrymen. They became friends and began writing and performing songs together. McCartney later persuaded Lennon to allow George Harrison into the band as lead guitarist in 1958.

With The Beatles

Paul McCartney, 1963

The Beatles, as they became, gradually grew in popularity after performing many times in and around Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany. After Stuart Sutcliffe left the band, McCartney reluctantly took over his role as bass guitarist. He later bought a left-handed 1962 Hofner bass, which became part of The Beatles' iconography during the 1960s.

After The Beatles signed to Parlophone in 1962 and began releasing records, the songwriting partnership of Lennon-McCartney became celebrated. As well as penning the bulk of the band's recorded output, they also wrote for artists including Cilla Black, Billy J Kramer and Peter and Gordon.

As they became a worldwide phenomenon The Beatles relocated from Liverpool to London, but Lennon, Harrison and Ringo Starr eventually moved away from the city. McCartney, however, remained in central London, enjoying the various artistic and cultural benefits of the capital. He lived for some years at 7 Cavendish Avenue in St John's Wood, near to EMI's Abbey Road Studios.

In the mid 1960s McCartney became interested in experimental music, and made tape loops and avant-garde recordings, both with The Beatles and alone. The first to take on a non-Beatles musical commitment, in 1966 McCartney wrote the score for the film The Family Way. It later won an Ivor Novello award for Best Instrumental Theme.

By this time The Beatles had long since tired of touring, having become unable to hear their own voices and instruments above the screams of the audience. McCartney reluctantly agreed to the other members' wishes to stop touring, which they did in August 1966.

When Brian Epstein died in 1967, McCartney made efforts to keep the group together. He effectively led the making of the Magical Mystery Tour film and album, and in 1969 tried to persuade the group to take to the stage once more. Lennon's response was: "I think you're mad."

However, they did play the celebrated rooftop gig on the top of Apple's offices, filmed as part of the Let It Be project. McCartney led the group through their final recorded album, Abbey Road, released prior to Let It Be in 1969.

Paul and Linda McCartney, 1969He was unhappy with Phil Spector's production on the Let It Be album. He also favoured Lee Eastman, father of Paul's wife Linda, when the group were looking for a new manager in 1969. Instead they appointed Allen Klein, a move bitterly contested by McCartney.

Although John Lennon left The Beatles in September 1969, McCartney persuaded him to keep it from the press. Instead, McCartney himself announced the band's break-up on 10 April 1970, during promotion for his first solo album McCartney. The Beatles' legal partnership was dissolved following a lawsuit filed by McCartney in December 1970.

The solo years

As with all the former members of The Beatles, McCartney's solo output was varied, yet also variable in quality - for every Band On The Run it seemed like there was a Frog Chorus. In August 1971 he formed Wings, and in 1977 released Mull Of Kintyre, which remained the UK's highest selling single until 1984. In the 1980s he collaborated with Elvis Costello, and in 1991 released his first classical work, the Liverpool Oratorio. Since then he has released a wide range of albums in a variety of styles, and has undertaken a number of world tours.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1974John Lennon's death in December 1980 led to a media frenzy. Asked how he felt, McCartney was reported as describing it as "a drag". He was pilloried for the comments, and later expressed regret, saying he had been at a loss for words. He later revealed that he had cried all evening in reaction to the news.

McCartney retired from live performances for a time following the death of John Lennon in 1980, although in subsequent years he returned to the stage for a series of world tours. Wings disbanded in 1981, the same year that he, Ringo Starr and George Harrison sang together on the latter's All Those Years Ago, a tribute to Lennon.

From 1976 McCartney began playing Beatles songs again, after years of refusing to. In the 1990s he reunited with Harrison and Starr to work on the Anthology project, and added instrumentation and vocals to two Lennon demos, Free As A Bird and Real Love.

Today Paul McCartney holds the record of being the most successful musician and composer in pop music history.

51 responses on “Paul McCartney

    1. Jay

      Hmm, I wonder if this is true. Maybe as an overall musician, but he certainly isn’t the best at one particular instrument, I would say that title should be reserved for Art Tatum as God of the piano. But maybe Paul, with his incredible talent on bass, guitar, piano, drums and whatever else could take the claim of being the best musician of all time.

      1. DearMe

        It all very much depends on how you are defining ‘best’ 
        Do you mean technically? In terms of how many instruments they’ve mastered? Units sold? Or in terms of how much someone’s music has moved the world?

        Then there’s the question of taste and cultural veiwpoint. 

        It;s enough to make yer ears bleed! 

          1. Lafe P

            Beethoven was from the Romantic Period not the Classical. You can’t compare any composer from other Ages to McCartney or any other modern composer due to the changed social conditions which serve as the context of their music. About all you can say with any degree of confidence is that Paul McCartney – more than any other Beatle even – has enjoyed a success DURING HIS LIFETIME – that Mozart and Beethoven would’ve found incomprehensible. So much of what McCartney has written won’t be appreciated until after he’s as dead as these other musical geniuses.

            1. mr. Sun king coming together

              And if that were to be true, someone wouldn’t have taken the enormous amount of time to dedicate a website (and over a million words) to this man and his bandmates.

              1. curt Bourque

                If Mozart etc. lived in this time they would have websites, but they still would not be as celebrated as Paul McCartney as Classical music is just not on the same level of popularity in modern times as is pop/rock and roll. Listening to ‘here there and everywhere’, ‘yesterday’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ for example Mozart and his crew would probably consider Sir Paul an equal musically at the very least…

                (And if in our modern era, maybe Mozart and friends would have done a bit of rock and rolling themselves ;)

            2. Diana

              Beethoven was both Classical and Romantic, but I’ve been doing piano and music theory for ten years now and he’s always considered Classical, if you have to put him in a period.

    2. Drew

      An indisputable master of the bass, the Beatles main piano player, and arguably the best guitarist in the band (Blackbird, Yesterday, Helter Skelter, the lead all through Taxman, etc). That’s for starters. Watch old you tube videos of the Beatles in concert and Paul is the indisputable on stage leader and notable for how effortlessly he plays and sings in concert. The other Beatles must concentrate much more to play their parts. Let’s not forget one of the most versatile and incredible voices there ever was- your voice is an instrument, too.

      No doubt an incredibly accomplished musician. But what puts him in the running for best ever, in my view, is mostly the music he wrote and the influence he had on other musicians. The oohs and ahhs of their early period were his idea. Beatle harmonies are almost entirely John or George singing the melody with Paul improvising above. Pretty much anything currently termed Beatlesque is from Paul’s music. He was the force behind Sgt Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, the Get Back to basics of 1968, not only the Abbey Road suite, etc, etc, etc.

      And let’s not forget the songs he wrote on those instuments…

    3. Gordon Jr Dix

      Nice to read all of the above information mate. Hey I am not going to ask you to sing & record Searchin
      But if you would like to hear 4 Tribute songs I wrote sang & recorded with 2 of my mates. The least I could do for all the memories of my life in the music bis. Being I am now 66 years young. Wait For Me
      Till The End Of Time / Peace N Love / Bright Light Shining. Junior Dix

  1. robert

    It might be worth remembering that in their day Beethoven and Mozart were pop music artists – meaning they were “popular music” artists.

    It wasn’t considered “classical” in its day. Indeed Mozart especially was a pop star.

    One day hundreds of years from now the Beatles may be considered a form classical music.

    I could be wrong

    1. Diana

      Obviously you have only heard his more popular songs. Here Today is beautiful, and Waterfalls is quite emotional as well. Also Eleanor Rigby, which is one of my personal favorites, couldn’t really be described as cotton candy, what with the string quartet. Paul McCartney had a terrific grasp of melodic shifts and such.

    2. amie

      Listen to “here today” or “wanderlust” (one of my favorites). Paul has a lot of nice happy love, but don’t you dare think that’s all he can do!!

  2. Bronx Boy Billy

    You ain’t kidding, Jammy Jim! Listening to McCartney makes me feel good when I’m down (probably because it’s easy listening, like Billy Joel, Elton John, or James Taylor) but, damn! most of his lyrics… ooh boy! Check out this doozie from his song “The Other Me:”

    I KNOW I WAS A CRAZY FOOL,
    FOR TREATING YOU THE WAY I DID.
    BUT SOMETHING GOT A HOLD OF ME
    AND I ACTED LIKE A DUSTBIN LID.

    1. DearMe

      It’s so funny you pull this lyric out: it’s made me cringe for years, and I ADORE McCartney, all of his work. 
      But that said, the thing I love is that because his lyrics are so obtuse, light or guarded, when some real emotion slips through and he actually lets himself through, it’s even more beautiful. I give you Here Today, You Never Give Me Your Money, Ram On (and WHY do people never pick up that he’s plainly addressing himself in this – having used the stage name Paul Ramon in the Silver Beatles years?), Maybe I’m Amazed or Little Willow as evidence.What a great website!

    2. Beatles's fan

      How about:
      TAKE THESE BROKEN WINGS, AND LEARNED TO FLY…TAKE THESE SUNKEN EYES AND LEARN TO SEE..

      These are from Blackbird. And then there is Hey Jude. And many others that I won’t mention. You Lennon freaks are too much.

  3. gimmeshark

    Beatles music has survived the death of two Beatles. I’m pretty sure it’ll survive Paul. Besides, they were saying 25 years ago they’d be forgotten. And here we are.

    The thing about the Beatles when comparing them to Mozart or Beethoven is that those guys were solo artists, really. The Beatles are such a singular feat because they are as if Bach and Mozart formed a band and collaborated for ten years. The Beatles had two tunesmithing geniuses. Nowhere else do have this happening. Two genius song writers in one band.

      1. a fan

        true, Ringo was quite the songwriter! But seriously George started writing really good songs years after paul and john were writing hit after hit. He was 3 yrs younger and maturity had to be a factor plus his shyness. And it was likely hard to write and be compared to the 2 main writers. He usually had 1 song per album until the later sixties. And not too many hits after the seventies, so not quite in P&J’s ranking but certainly he created some genius material while he was in this material world!

  4. Margie

    I love all things McCartney. I have read many unkind things that are said about him. I don’t understand why so many people under-appreciate him. So, I’ve just decided that it most be jealousy. How many people, living or dead, can say they’re so accomplished? I say ‘Rock on Sir Paul. Rock on.

  5. SatinRose2

    I’m with WhenI’m64, I am 66yrs. old, will be 67 next month. I loved the Beatles and McCartney when I was young, and I love them now that I’m not so young! They were/are the best. What other reason would they and their music be as popular today as it was 50yrs. ago? Rock on Beatles, Rock on Paul McCartney!!!

  6. Jonathan

    Never mind the “best musician ever” stuff; Paul was fabulous (especially a fantastic bass player) but we all know a lot of other musicians where more technically accomplished.

    What McCartney IS, on the other hand (and something oh so more important then technical virtuosity), is simply the greatest pop/rock composer there ever was. Period. What melodies could (can?) this man write. For god’s sake, no one even come close

  7. viewsfromtheseashore

    Recently, I have been re-discovering, The Beatles. It is truly amazing how their early work stands the test of time. The harmonies are simply beautiful.

    Comparing the solo work, to The Beatles work, it seems to me, that within the Lennon/McCartney Partnership, Lennon gave Paul a bit of finesse, certainly in terms of lyrics, whilst Paul gave John some lightness and some accessibility.

    Sometimes, people come together in a particular environment, for a space in time and the chemistry between them creates something unique, beautiful and memorable – For me, this was, The Beatles.

  8. Gabriela

    I love the four of them, each one had their especetial thing, Paul was always the pretty one and he obviously has a great voice, Ringo for me is the cute, is very kawaiii >u< and love how he move his head while he play the drums, about john i love his voice and how he used to make team with Paul, and George I just love his eyes and how he play the guitar, they were and are awesome. I love them as a group and I hope some day I could lisent to Ringo and Paul together in live, that´s my biggest dream ever

  9. randy donaldson

    this band is 2nd to none and paul has written so many different types of music including classical. plus nobody said a word about how much music was written and released by the Beatles in the short time it was, and even pauls newest release is fantastic. myself I discover things about these guys everytime I listen to them

  10. Johnny Bravo

    I’m on the search for a really close, accurate number amount for how many different instruments did John Lennon, and Paul McCartney learn, and use. So, if you can provide such information, I would be most appreciative. Thank you!

  11. Eppo

    (Sorry for my bad english). After all these time and demonstrations, I’m still surprised Paul McCartney is still considered as the ”2nd” one. Paul is undoubtebly the best composer off all time (with Brian Wilson) and also was the pillar of The Beatles band then. Sure, John was innovator and creator, and was alongside Paul for songs and instruments, but this isn’t the political and mythical image of a revolutionary which makes the quality of a musician. The greatest musicologists (and myself LOL !) are unanimous to say Paul is by far an outstanding musician composer ”blessed of the gods” (May be tied with Brian Wilson).

  12. Marcie Stock

    I know that John played banjo, guitar, piano, organ, harmonica, and ukelele . I know that Paul plays bass, both electric and stand-up, guitar, piano, organ, trumpet, drums, and ukelele. There are probably more. Sir George Martin could probably tell you.

  13. jim mcGuire

    just came across songs Paul Mccartney played on according to wikipedia and british archives (drums)- he played on Back in the ussr- dear prudence- Martha my dear -wild honey pie – the ballad of john and yoko-. he played all instruments on McCartney & mcCartney 2 as well as Band on the run-as well as his solo album – chaos and creation in the back yard- in 69 he played on steve millers celebration song& my dark hour and according to wikipedia paul used to change the drum tracks ringo laid down on 4 occassion and thats why he quit.

  14. Gary Drumz

    McCartney , in our generation, is the best song writer , most talented, and most sucessful artist that we know. His work will be remembered long after our great grandchildren are gone. Who else in our lifetime can have that legacy in the music business. Let’s not forget he also shaped the future of music and style. I could go on and on. Yes, there are many extremely talented musicians that are technically on top of their game but which of them will be remembered 100 years from now.

  15. Window Pane Lizard

    Can’t believe my dumb luck at not seeing Paul live! I’m from Canada but live in Hong Kong and because not that many big acts come to HK, my buddy and I went online and managed to land 2 tickets to Paul’s first ever show in Seoul Korea back in May this year. Bought flight tickets, booked 2 nights’ hotel plus days off work: Super excited! All systems were go. Finally…we’re gonna see McCartney! But…, just 5 days before the show, Paul fell ill and the show was cancelled. OUCH! That really hurt as we were SOOO looking forward to it! My biggest disappointment ever. (But of course we understand he needed that time and rest to recover fully to get back out there doing Rock Shows so we may continue hoping for another chance to see him live.) …Needless to say it was a gapingly Macca-less 2-night trip to Seoul! (Great Korean bbq though!)

    Last year, McCartney suddenly added a show in Seattle right when I have my summer holidays. My buddy unbelievably managed to purchase 2 tickets and very kindly gave me first dibbs to go. But just one week prior I paid for flight tickets to the UK for the summer holidays with my lady. Geez! (Sorry Babe.)

    Two years ago, Macca played in Vancouver (finally!) for the first and probably only time. Perfect! Just one problem: I live in HK with no holidays at that time of year! I heard (and keep hearing still) that it was a fantastic show.

    In 1976 Paul played the Kingdome in Seattle. I lived just 3 hours’ drive away in Vancouver. I was 14. It was a school night. Seattle is in another country. Dad said in no uncertain words, ‘You’re not going’. (This concert is now the film Rockshow… …so I can be constantly reminded of what I missed.)

    The Beatles played in my home town of Toronto in 1964 and1965. I was 2 …and 3.

    I’m over the Korean cancellation now.

    (Yeah right.)

    1. Richard Boene

      Well that may be a rather hyperbolic statement, but I have to admit that it is kind of refreshing to see someone applying such a statement to another one of the band members rather than Lennon. (I grew tired of people talking about him that way a long time ago.)

  16. Allan

    Many of you are taking this subject too seriously. Put one of the records on. (I guess my usage of the word ‘record’ gives away my age.) . . . Just listen to the most amazing music of all time.

  17. Hildy

    Paul has the gift of music and he doesn’t compromise in his writing. He takes a song where it needs to go even if he finds it vocally challenging.

    His use of chords is better than is evident with most untutored musicians and he can concoct unique melodies out of simple structures, which is no easy task. He was and is entirely relaxed on bass guitar while singing – it’s generally harder to play a bass line when singing than it is to accompany oneself on rhythm guitar – and he is as much at home with rock as he is with ballads.

    There are some incredible technical musicians around these days but music is a strange entity. You can be the greatest guitar player in the world and yet struggle to write a half decent song. You can also be a poor instrumentalist but possess the gift of composition.

    Paul has both. His bass playing is quite superb and the whole world knows that he can write a song or two, and remember, Paul McCartney is a leftie who grew up in an era when everyone was expected to be right-handed. For sinistral musicians, musical instruments were designed for everyone – except you. I believe Gibson has stopped making left-handed guitars these days, which is a disgrace if true.

    That Hofner bass that Paul plays – I believe he chose it because it’s almost symmetrical and so it doesn’t look odd when it is turned upside-down. Every guitar tutorial book assumed that each player was right-handed. Lefties quickly learn to cope with this but there are problems everywhere. Ringo, another natural leftie, had to cope with drums which are set up for right-handers.

    Paul and John, individually and together, were naturally and instinctively creative. They each have different qualities but I rarely get bogged down in who was best. Having both in the same band was more than enough, and when we add in the efforts of George, how incredible it was that one band had three people who could write memorable and popular songs.

    Paul was my favourite when the band first appeared on the scene and as a leftie myself, I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to see a leftie in the greatest popular music band that the world had ever seen.

    Paul McCartney.

    That name will resonate through the ages.

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