The Beatles spent the last three years of the 1960s breaking up. By the spring of 1970, little more than a snarled set of business relationships was keeping them together.
Each Beatle was pursuing his own path beyond the group. In the spring of 1970, after being isolated for months on his farm, Paul McCartney issued an abstruse “self-interview” promoting the upcoming release of his debut solo album, McCartney.
Despite its lack of polish, McCartney, even 50 years later, means home to my ears and heart.
The album grabbed headlines as an official announcement of a Beatles breakup.
The “McCartney” album’s gestation began eight months earlier following Beatle John Lennon’s revelation in a band meeting in September 1969 that he wanted a “divorce” from the Beatles.
Paul, bereft and aimless, withdrew to his farm.
It reminded me of my own experience in a two-room cottage, nestled behind a large main house in a forested neighborhood in Fort Salonga, a small hamlet on Long Island. It was a converted horse stable with cracked plaster walls and exposed wooden rafters.
Despite the cottage’s shortcomings, it brimmed with character. But I really relished it because of how much it both physically and emotionally reminded me of High Park Farm, McCartney’s rugged, second home in Campbeltown, Scotland.
His months there created an estrangement between him and his now former band mates and was also marked by a bout of severe depression and alcohol abuse.
But Paul and wife Linda, along with Heather and newly arrived baby Mary, adopted a simple lifestyle and cozied up to domesticity. It proved to be Paul’s deliverance.
With Linda’s encouragement, Paul stepped out of the shadow of the Beatles and began writing songs for McCartney.
He used loose arrangements and avoided the George Martin-inspired musical sophistication of works like “Abbey Road.” Instead, he returned to the back-to-basics philosophy that had been the original concept for the “Let It Be” project a year earlier.
With ideas in place from his Scottish sabbatical, Paul and family returned to his London home just before Christmas 1969, where he began working on his four-track Studer recorder at his Cavendish Avenue home.
Under a pseudonym he recorded at Morgan Studios and at Abbey Road and played all the musical instruments–acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards and drums.
McCartney was widely criticized. It’s fragmentary songs were called rudimentary.
Geoffrey Cannon of the UK’s Guardian newspaper dismissed it as an album that had “no substance.”
Rolling Stone deemed the album “so modest it barely registers.”
Parts of the album were an indication of the mediocrity that would plague Paul’s future records, but it also demonstrated how fluently the man knew how to compose a melody.
Sure, some of the songs are modest, but there is also a palpable air of “home” that’s resonates on almost every track.
Most of the album’s songs are fetchingly frayed with a homemade quality that’s charming and warm.
The lyrics of “Every Night” suggest the strenuous situation Paul was going through with the imminent breakup of the Beatles, but also reflect optimism.
The patchy “Lovely Linda,” complete with door squeak and giggle, is a slice of life from under Paul’s roof.
While inducting Paul into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, Neil Young praised McCartney.
“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 attempt made to compete with the things he had already done,” he said.
My favorite song, the elaborate and sincere “Maybe I’m Amazed,” is a heartfelt thank you and expression of love to Linda for helping to pull him out of the hole.
The track aches with passion and has been the soundtrack of a few of my relationships over the years.
Early in my career in education I overheard an attractive student teacher say that the dreamiest thing a man could do was to sing and play “Maybe I’m Amazed” for her on the piano.
I immediately bought the sheet music after school, figured out the chords, and the song has been part of my wooing repertoire ever since.
While Paul had sheep grazing in his grass and Martha his dog frolicking through the high heather, I had animals, too.
Horses next door whinnied, rabbits hopped through the ivy, and my yellow-eyed gray cat Horatio was my roommate.
Just as Paul composed and found solace at his farm, I also wrote and enjoyed my time at the cottage. The unkempt field of crabgrass and dandelions outside my door, not unlike Paul’s farm, was a source of inspiration.
I spent many hours out there, in the shade of the flanking oaks, thinking and writing. On autumn evenings, as crickets chirped and bats swooped, I fed my chimenea twigs as its flames illuminated my notebook.
Some listeners may still declare that McCartney lacks depth, but there is nothing shallow about a man yearning for a domestic lifestyle.
Editor’s note: The album received mostly negative reviews, and McCartney was vilified for signaling the end of The Beatles. Criticism focused on the album’s seeming under-production and for its unfinished songs. But the ballad “Maybe I’m Amazed” was consistently singled out for praise. Commercially, McCartney benefited from the publicity surrounding the break-up. The album topped Billboard’s album chart for three weeks before, ironically, being surpassed by the full Beatles album Let It Be. In 2011, the album was reissued with bonus tracks as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.