It’s safe to say that Paul McCartney’s debut solo album was never part of a grand masterplan. A selection of home recordings, studio tracks, Beatles rejects and ad-libbed offcuts, McCartney was a swiftly assembled collection, released to coincide with The Beatles’ break-up, that divided fans and critics alike.
McCartney was far from a spent creative force by the end of 1969, but had devoted much of his time to works by The Beatles, Mary Hopkin and Badfinger. As a result, he resorted to reworking old songs, improvising others and recorded several instrumentals.
They were almost throwaways, you know? But that’s why they were included. They weren’t quite throwaways. That was the whole idea of the album: all the normal things that you record that are great and have all this atmosphere but aren’t that good as recording or production jobs. Normally that stuff ends up with the rest of your demos, but all that stuff is often stuff I love.
The earliest song on McCartney, Hot As Sun, dated from the Quarrymen days, and was part of that band’s early repertoire. ‘Junk’ and ‘Teddy Boy’ were composed in India during The Beatles’ sojourn with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the summer of 1968, and both were performed during the strained Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969.
Although they pulled together a final time to record the Abbey Road album, by the middle of 1969 The Beatles knew their time as a band was all but over. McCartney had fought to keep them together during their final months, but had eventually given up as legal, business and personal wranglings overshadowed their music.
McCartney was dejected and pained by the group’s collapse, and retreated into depression and alcohol dependency. He was lifted by the love of his wife Linda, whom he married in London on 12 March 1969. She encouraged him to channel his energies into new projects, leading to the recording and release of the McCartney album.
The album polarised fans, with many feeling disappointment that McCartney had seen fit to issue so many half-finished songs. Even his fellow former Beatles were restrained in their praise, with George Harrison describing it as disappointing. He astutely noted that, with few checks on his output, the quality would continue to be variable.
‘That Would Be Something’ and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ I think are great and everything else I think is fair, you know. It’s quite good, but a little disappointing, but maybe I shouldn’t be disappointed, it’s best not to expect anything, then everything’s a bonus. I think those two tracks are very good and the others just don’t do anything for me. The arrangements for Teddy Boy and Junk, with a little bit more arrangement could have sounded better. Me, Ringo and John, not only do we see each other, but we see so many musicians and other bands, maybe Paul does too. But I just get the impression that he doesn’t. That he’s so isolated from it, he’s out on a limb. The only person he’s got to tell him if the song’s good or bad is Linda. In the Beatle days, if someone came in with a song that had a corny line and some of the others got a bit embarrassed by it, we’d say it!
John Lennon, perhaps inevitably, compared McCartney to his own solo work.
I was surprised it was so poor. I expected just a little more, because if Paul and I are sort of disagreeing and I feel weak, I think he must feel strong. That’s in an argument. Not that we’ve had much physical argument, I mean when we’re talking – but you expect the opposition so-called. So I was just surprised. And I was glad, too. I suddenly got it all into perspective.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner