“I hit the bottle,” he admits. “I hit the substances.” He was eaten up with anger – at himself, at the outside world. He could describe it only as a barrelling, empty feeling rolling across his soul.
The excerpt above could be applied to any number of people down on their luck. Paul McCartney probably wouldn’t be the first name to come to mind. This doesn’t describe the Sir Paul McCartney of today but is his honest assessment of the late 1960s, soon to be ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. I haven’t laid hands on the newest McCartney biography that came out in 2016, but Tom Doyle’s Man on the Run (2013 – Ballantine Books) all but jumped off the book rack, demanding my attention.
We all know the story of The Beatles. We can click on YouTube and see the impossibly dark haired McCartney surrounded by his crack post Wings solo band. What we don’t hear more about is the rocky road McCartney traversed to get from then to now. Cue Maybe I’m Amazed, because I had no idea how far down McCartney fell before he climbed back to the pinnacle of success. Doyle certainly left no stone unturned trying to explain McCartney’s “struggle to escape the shadow of The Beatles,” and as Sir Paul told Doyle, “You have to be honest about your past. I was such a daring young thing. We were on this wacky adventure.”
Doyle’s book opens with Paul and Linda McCartney hiding out at High Park Farm in Scotland. McCartney had purchased the run down farm set on 183 acres overlooking Skeroblin Loch in 1966. Linda had encouraged him to fix the place up a bit, but the lack of hot water and the remoteness left them living, “like a couple of hippies. . . it wasn’t sort of dirty, but it wasn’t clean.” Paul added a generator to power his back to basics four-track studio set up in the barn. He dubbed it Rude Studio. It was here that Linda further encouraged her depressed husband to write music again. Linda was worried and as Paul began working on a song about their, “less than idyllic self-imposed exile,” his backslide into self doubt at least began to slow. Man we was Lonely was the musical therapy that, coupled with their relatively normal domestic situation began to lift McCartney’s spirits. They frequently drove into Campletown for supplies and as Linda pointed out, “we were not cut off from the world. We were never hermits.” Music and family began to reverse McCartney’s downward slump and he began to feel that he had reached beyond the nadir of his depression. He stopped hiding out in a bottle and self medicating. His rising mood, however, did not raise him from the dead.
The whole “Paul is dead” thing began at Iowa’s Drake University and in the days before the internet, it went viral before anyone know what that meant. This perfect storm of conspiracy theory and fantasy blew up around the same time the McCartney’s settled in at High Park Farm. While Paul initially found it an amusing shot in the arm to the sales of the recently released Abbey Road album, increased press incursions into their life on the Kintyre Peninsula (to gather proof that he was indeed still among the living) became too much to bear.
As the legal wranglings of 1969 gave way to 1970, the McCartney clan were back in London trying to adjust to life in the city. Linda was the focus of vicious physical and mental attacks from McCartney’s more rabid female fans (including packages mailed to her containing excrement and foul graffiti painted on their outer walls). The attempts by producer Glyn Johns to distill a workable album out of The Beatles’ Get Back sessions were not going well. Nobody brought it to Paul’s attention that Phil Spector had been brought into saturate The Long and Winding Road with strings and schmaltzy effects to the detriment of a great song.
With a four-track recording desk borrowed from the Abbey Road studio, Paul began to put together his first solo album at home and on his own. The unrestrained freedom of his DIY recording sessions continued the musical therapy sessions he had begun at High Park Farm. When it became necessary to deploy the project to an actual studio, Paul and Linda booked Morgan Studios and treated the sessions there more like a holiday than a working session. The end result wasn’t nearly as polished as Abbey Road, but it was pure McCartney and for the first time in a long time, he was enjoying himself and making new music.
McCartney was set to be released in April of 1970 and it put a much needed positive spin on his broken confidence. The other Beatles were incensed that Paul’s solo effort was scheduled to be released a week before Let it Be (the renamed Get Back album), so they sent Ringo over with a handwritten note from George and John requesting that he delay so Apple Records would not have competing releases out at the same time. The visit did not go well. Contractual negotiations with Allen Klein were not going well either as the other three Beatles wanted to sign a management agreement with him and Paul did not. Ringo beat a hasty retreat in the face of a furious McCartney’s response to the delay request and in the end, McCartney came out and Let it Be was delayed. It wasn’t the first or last shot fired in the war that would kill off The Beatles for good, but it certainly pushed the band closer to the inevitable showdown that would do just that.
As the viciousness of the business dealings with the other Beatles and Allen Klein escalated, the McCartney’s retreated back to Scotland. Paul’s insecurities flared and he again hit the bottle until Linda’s father helped him realize the sober reality of the situation: to put The Beatles behind him, he would have to sue his bandmates. The Beatles as a group would have to be laid to rest for Paul to escape the insufferable thought of working with them or Allen Klein’s ABKCO label.
By then end of 1970, the suit would be filed and the McCartney’s would be on a ship headed for America. The legal fight would bring him back to London in February of 1971, but the plan for January was for Paul to start recruiting musicians to record McCartney’s next album. Living in New York in a sort of musical and legal limbo, Paul began to lay the foundation of the band that would become Wings. This is where we will pick up the story in Part 2. In the meantime, we will spin music from both The Beatles and McCartney on WOAS-FM 88.5, Your Sound Choice
Top Piece Video – McCartney giving the low down on working in his studio circa 1997.