McCartney II was issued at a turbluent time in Paul McCartney’s life. In early 1980 Wings had been scheduled to perform a sold-out tour in Japan, with further dates due in China. However, when the group arrived in Tokyo on 16 January, customs officials discovered 219 grams of marijuana in McCartney’s baggage.
He was arrested and imprisoned for 10 days. The tour was cancelled and the various members of Wings dispersed around the globe. Only Paul and Linda remained in Japan; they arrived back in England on 26 January 1980 after charges were dropped.
McCartney had grown tired of Wings, and he threw himself into a publicity drive for McCartney II. The Japanese drugs bust had not harmed his popularity, and he gave a range of interviews to print, television and radio outlets.
Wings reconvened in July 1980 for rehearsals for an unspecified project. They rehearsed again in October at Park Gate Studios in England, with George Martin slated to produce their next album. However, although they rehearsed several songs which later appeared on Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace, on 27 April 1981 it was announced that Wings were no more.
Although McCartney II marked the second phase of Paul McCartney’s solo career, there was a lengthy period of crossover as the Wings era came to a close. It was released in May 1980, but Wings had performed Coming Up during their December 1979 tour.
A live recording from Glasgow during Wings’ 1979 tour was released as a b-side to the ‘Coming Up’ single, along with a Venus And Mars outtake, Lunch Box/Odd Sox dating from 1975. Coming Up reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number two in the UK, following its release as a single in April 1980.
In the US, many radio stations flipped the single and played the live version by Wings. The studio version, meanwhile, caught the attention of John Lennon, who at the time was nearing the end of his househusband period.
Somebody asked me what I thought of Paul’s last album and I made some remark like I thought he was depressed and sad. But then I realised I hadn’t listened to the whole damn thing. I head one track – the hit, Coming Up, which I thought was a good piece of work. Then I heard something else that sounded like he was depressed.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
McCartney later claimed that Coming Up helped spur Lennon into recording once again, following his five-year absence from the public eye.
I heard a story from a guy who recorded with John in New York, and he said that John would sometimes get lazy. But then he’d hear a song of mine where he thought, ‘Oh, shit, Paul’s putting it in, Paul’s working!’ Apparently Coming Up was the one song that got John recording again. I think John just thought, ‘Uh oh, I had better get working, too.’ I thought that was a nice story.
Bolstered by the success of Coming Up, McCartney II topped the album charts in the UK and reached number three in the US, and sold more copies than its predecessor, Wings’ Back To The Egg.
Further singles fared far less well. ‘Waterfalls’ was released in July 1980 in the US but failed to chart. In the UK it was issued a month earlier and peaked at number seven. The b-side was Check My Machine, the first recording from the McCartney II sessions.
The third and final single to be taken from the album was ‘Temporary Secretary’. Issued in the UK only as a 12″ single, it was limited to 25,000 copies and sold out in just 16 hours. The b-side was Secret Friend, another outtake from the McCartney II sessions.
Although critics were divided upon the release of McCartney II, it has since become a favourite among many of his fans. Indeed, its experimental nature pointed the way to his subsequent releases as The Fireman and Twin Freaks.
The first compact disc edition of McCartney II in 1987 included Check My Machine and Secret Friend as bonus tracks. A second reissue in 1993 added the 1979 Wings hit Goodnight Tonight as a third bonus track.
McCartney II was reissued in June 2011 as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, as a single disc, double-disc special edition, two-CD and DVD version with a 128-page hardcover book, double-disc vinyl and digital download.