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Sir James Paul McCartney, CH, MBE (born 18 June 1942) is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. He gained worldwide fame as the bass guitarist and singer for the rock band the Beatles, widely considered the most popular and influential group in the history of pop music. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon is the most celebrated of the post-war era. After the band's break-up, he pursued a solo career and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine.
McCartney has been recognised as one of the most successful composers and performers of all time. More than 2,200 artists have covered his Beatles song "Yesterday", making it one of the most covered songs in popular music history. Wings' 1977 release "Mull of Kintyre" is one of the all-time best-selling singles in the UK. A two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as a member of the Beatles in 1988, and as a solo artist in 1999), and a 21-time Grammy Award winner, McCartney has written, or co-written, 32 songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and as of 2009 he has 25.5 million RIAA-certified units in the United States. McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr all received appointment as Members of the Order of the British Empire in 1965 and, in 1997, McCartney was knighted for services to music. McCartney is also one of the wealthiest musicians in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$1.2 billion.
McCartney has released an extensive catalogue of songs as a solo artist and has composed classical and electronic music. He has taken part in projects to promote international charities related to such subjects as animal rights, seal hunting, land mines, vegetarianism, poverty, and music education. He has married three times and is the father of five children.
James Paul McCartney was born on 18 June 1942 in Walton Hospital, Liverpool, England, where his mother, Mary Patricia (née Mohin; 1909–1956), had qualified to practise as a nurse. His father, James ("Jim") McCartney (1902–1976), was absent from his son's birth due to his work as a volunteer firefighter during World War II. Paul has one younger brother, Michael (born 7 January 1944). Though the children were baptised in their mother's Catholic faith, their father was a former Protestant turned agnostic, and religion was not emphasised in the household.
McCartney attended Stockton Wood Road Primary School in Speke from 1947 until 1949, when he transferred to Joseph Williams Junior School in Belle Vale because of overcrowding at Stockton. In 1953, with only three others out of ninety examinees, he passed the 11-Plus exam, meaning he could attend the Liverpool Institute, a grammar school rather than a secondary modern school. In 1954, he met schoolmate George Harrison on the bus from his suburban home in Speke. The two quickly became friends; McCartney later admitted: "I tended to talk down to him because he was a year younger."
McCartney's mother Mary was a midwife and the family's primary wage earner; her earnings enabled them to move into 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton, where they lived until 1964. She rode a bicycle to her patients; McCartney described an early memory of her leaving at "about three in the morning [the] streets ... thick with snow". On 31 October 1956, when McCartney was fourteen, his mother died of an embolism. McCartney's loss later became a point of connection with John Lennon, whose mother, Julia, had died when he was seventeen.
McCartney's father was a trumpet player and pianist, who had led Jim Mac's Jazz Band in the 1920s. He kept an upright piano in the front room, encouraged his sons to be musical and advised Paul to take piano lessons, but Paul preferred to learn by ear. He gave Paul a nickel-plated trumpet for his fourteenth birthday, but when rock and roll became popular on Radio Luxembourg, McCartney traded it for a £15 Framus Zenith (model 17) acoustic guitar, since he wanted to be able to sing while playing. He found it difficult to play guitar right-handed, but after noticing a poster advertising a Slim Whitman concert and realising that Whitman played left-handed, he reversed the order of the strings. McCartney wrote his first song, "I Lost My Little Girl", on the Zenith, and composed another early tune that would become "When I'm Sixty-Four" on the piano. American rhythm and blues influenced him, and Little Richard was his schoolboy idol; "Long Tall Sally" was the first song McCartney performed in public, at a Butlins holiday camp talent competition.
1957–1960: The Quarrymen
At the age of fifteen, McCartney met Lennon and his band, the Quarrymen, at the St Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton on 6 July 1957. The Quarrymen played a mix of rock and roll and skiffle, a type of popular music with jazz, blues and folk influences. The band invited McCartney to join soon afterwards as a rhythm guitarist, and he formed a close working relationship with Lennon. Harrison joined in 1958 as lead guitarist, followed by Lennon's art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe on bass, in 1960. By May 1960 the band had tried several names, including Johnny and the Moondogs, Beatals and the Silver Beetles. They adopted the name the Beatles in August 1960 and recruited drummer Pete Best shortly before a five-engagement residency in Hamburg.
1960–1970: The Beatles
Informally represented by Allan Williams, the Beatles' first booking was for a residency in Hamburg, starting in 1960. In 1961, Sutcliffe left the band and McCartney reluctantly became their bass player.They recorded professionally for the first time while in Hamburg, credited as the Beat Brothers, as the backing band for English singer Tony Sheridan on the single "My Bonnie". This brought them to the attention of Brian Epstein, a key figure in their subsequent development and success. He became their manager in January 1962. Ringo Starr replaced Best in August, and the band had their first hit, "Love Me Do", in October, becoming popular in the UK in 1963, and in the US a year later. Their fans' hysteria became known as "Beatlemania", and the press sometimes referred to McCartney as the "cute Beatle". In August 1965, the Beatles released the McCartney composition "Yesterday", featuring a string quartet. Included on the Help! LP, the song was the group's first recorded use of classical music elements and their first recording that involved only a single band member. "Yesterday" became one of the most covered songs in popular music history. Later that year, during recording sessions for the album Rubber Soul, McCartney began to supplant Lennon as the dominant musical force in the band. Critics described Rubber Soul as a significant advance in the refinement and profundity of the band's music and lyrics. Considered a high point in the Beatles catalogue, both Lennon and McCartney said they had written the music for the song "In My Life". McCartney said of the album, "we'd had our cute period, and now it was time to expand."
In 1966, the Beatles released the album Revolver. Featuring sophisticated lyrics, studio experimentation, and an expanded repertoire of musical genres ranging from innovative string arrangements to psychedelic rock, the album marked an artistic leap for the Beatles. The first of three consecutive McCartney A-sides, the single "Paperback Writer" preceded the LP's release. The Beatles produced a short promotional film for the song, and another for its B-side, "Rain". The films, described by Harrison as "the forerunner of videos", aired on The Ed Sullivan Show and Top of the Pops in June 1966. Revolver also included McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby", which featured a string octet. According to Gould, the song is "a neoclassical tour de force ... a true hybrid, conforming to no recognizable style or genre of song". Except for some backing vocals, the song included only McCartney's lead vocal and the strings arranged by producer George Martin.
An image of the Beatles, holding marching band instruments and wearing colourful uniforms, standing near a grave covered with flowers that spell "Beatles". Standing behind the band are several dozen famous people.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, "the most famous cover of any music album", wrote Beatles biographer Bill Harry.
The band gave their final commercial concert at the end of their 1966 US tour. Later that year, McCartney completed his first musical project apart from the group—a film score for the UK production The Family Way. The score was a collaboration with Martin, who used two McCartney themes to write thirteen variations. It won McCartney an Ivor Novello Award for Best Instrumental Theme.
Upon the end of the Beatles' performing career, McCartney sensed unease in the band and wanted them to maintain creative productivity. He pressed them to start a new project, which became Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely regarded as rock's first concept album. Inspired to create a new persona for the group, to serve as a vehicle for experimentation and to demonstrate to their fans that they had musically matured, McCartney invented the fictional band of the album's title track.
Starting in November 1966, the band adopted an experimental attitude during recording sessions for the album. According to engineer Geoff Emerick, "the Beatles were looking to go out on a limb, both musically and sonically ... we were utilising a lot of tape varispeeding and other manipulation techniques ... Their recording of "A Day in the Life" required a forty-piece orchestra, which Martin and McCartney took turns conducting. The sessions produced the double A-side single "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" in February 1967, and the LP followed in June. McCartney's "She's Leaving Home" was an orchestral pop song. MacDonald described the track as "[among] the finest work on Sgt. Based on an ink drawing by McCartney, the LP's cover included a collage designed by pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, featuring the Beatles in costume as the Sgt. The heavy moustaches worn by the Beatles reflected the growing influence of hippie style trends on the band, while their clothing "spoofed the vogue in Britain for military fashions", wrote Gould. Scholar David Scott Kastan described Sgt. Pepper as "the most important and influential rock-and-roll album ever recorded".
Epstein's death in August 1967 created a void, which left the Beatles perplexed and concerned about their future. The accompanying soundtrack was released in the UK as a six-track double extended play disc (EP), and as an identically titled LP in the US, filled out with five songs from the band's recent singles. The only Capitol compilation later included in the group's official canon of studio albums, the Magical Mystery Tour LP achieved $8 million in sales within three weeks of its release, higher initial sales than any other Capitol LP up to that point.
In January 1968, EMI filmed the Beatles for a promotional trailer intended to advertise the animated film Yellow Submarine, loosely based on the imaginary world evoked by McCartney's 1966 composition. Matters worsened the following year during the Let It Be sessions, when a camera crew filmed McCartney lecturing the group:"We've been very negative since Mr. Epstein passed away ... we were always fighting [his] discipline a bit, but it's silly to fight that discipline if it's our own".
In March 1969, McCartney married Linda Eastman, and in August, the couple had their first child, Mary, named after his late mother. For Abbey Road, the band's last recorded album, Martin suggested "a continuously moving piece of music", urging the group to think symphonically. McCartney agreed, but Lennon did not. They eventually compromised, agreeing to McCartney's suggestion: an LP featuring individual songs on side one, and a long medley on side two.
On 10 April 1970, in the midst of business disagreements with his bandmates, McCartney announced his departure from the group. More legal disputes followed as McCartney's attorneys, his in-laws John and Lee Eastman, fought Lennon's, Harrison's, and Starr's business manager, Allen Klein, over royalties and creative control.
They are widely regarded as one of the most popular and influential acts in the history of rock music.
Prior to, and for a while after leaving the group, McCartney suffered from a depression. His wife helped him pull out of that emotional crisis by praising his work as a songwriter and convincing him to continue writing and recording. In her honour, he later wrote "Maybe I'm Amazed", explaining that with the Beatles breaking up, "that was my feeling: Maybe I'm amazed at what's going on... Maybe I'm a man and maybe you're the only woman who could ever help me; Baby won't you help me understand... Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pulled me out of time, hung me on the line, Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you." He added that "every love song I write is for Linda."
After the Beatles' break-up in 1970, McCartney continued his musical career with his first solo release, McCartney, a US number-one album. Apart from some vocal contributions from Linda, McCartney is a one-man album, with Paul providing compositions, instrumentation and vocals. Later that year, ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine joined the McCartneys and Seiwell to form the band Wings.
Following the addition of guitarist Henry McCullough, Wings' first concert tour began in 1972 with a debut performance in front of an audience of seven hundred at the University of Nottingham. Ten more gigs followed as they travelled across the UK during an unannounced tour of universities, while avoiding Beatles songs during their performances. During the seven-week, 25-show Wings Over Europe Tour, the band played almost solely Wings and McCartney solo material: the Little Richard cover "Long Tall Sally" was the only song that had previously been recorded by the Beatles.
In March 1973, Wings achieved their first US number-one single, "My Love", included on their second LP, Red Rose Speedway, a US number one and UK top five. Paul's collaboration with Linda and former Beatles producer Martin resulted in the song "Live and Let Die", which was the theme song for the James Bond film of the same name.
After the departure of McCullough and Seiwell in 1973, the McCartneys and Laine recorded Band on the Run. It was a US and UK number one, the band's first to top the charts in both countries and the first ever to reach Billboard magazine's charts on three separate occasions. Rolling Stone named it one of the Best Albums of the Year for 1973, and in 1975 Paul McCartney and Wings won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance for the song "Band on the Run" and Geoff Emerick won the Grammy for Best Engineered Recording for the album. The album also included the top-ten hits "Jet" and "Helen Wheels", and earned the 413th spot on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Wings followed Band on the Run with the chart-topping albums Venus and Mars (1975) and Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976). The tour marked the first time McCartney performed Beatles songs live with Wings, with five in the two-hour set list: "I've Just Seen a Face", "Yesterday", "Blackbird", "Lady Madonna" and "The Long and Winding Road". Following the second European leg of the tour and extensive rehearsals in London, the group undertook an ambitious US arena tour that yielded the US number-one live triple LP Wings over America.
In November, the Wings song "Mull of Kintyre", co-written with Laine, was quickly becoming one of the best-selling singles in UK chart history. The most successful single of McCartney's solo career, it achieved double the sales of the previous record holder, "She Loves You", and went on to sell 2.5 million copies and hold the UK sales record until the 1984 charity single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
London Town (1978) spawned a US number-one single ("With a Little Luck"), and was Wings' best-selling LP since Band on the Run, making the top five in both the US and the UK. Credited to Wings, the band included Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, Gary Brooker, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. Wings completed their final concert tour in 1979, with twenty shows in the UK that included the live debut of the Beatles songs "Got to Get You into My Life", "The Fool on the Hill" and "Let it Be".
In 1980, McCartney released his second solo LP, the self-produced McCartney II, which peaked at number one in the UK and number three in the US. The album contained the song "Coming Up", the live version of which, recorded in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1979 by Wings, became the group's last number-one hit. By 1981, McCartney felt he had accomplished all he could creatively with Wings and decided he needed a change.
Often renowned as one of the greatest singers in pop music, McCartney was ranked the 11th greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone, voted the 8th greatest singer ever by NME readers and number 10 by Music Radar readers in the list of "the 30 greatest lead singers of all time". He is known for his belting power, versatility and wide tenor vocal range, spanning over four octaves.
McCartney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as a member of the Beatles and again as a solo artist in 1999. In 1979, the Guinness Book of World Records recognised McCartney as the "most honored composer and performer in music", with 60 gold discs (43 with the Beatles, 17 with Wings) and, as a member of the Beatles, sales of over 100 million singles and 100 million albums, and as the "most successful song writer", he wrote jointly or solo 43 songs which sold one million or more records between 1962 and 1978. In 2009, Guinness World Records again recognised McCartney as the "most successful songwriter" having written or co-written 188 charted records in the United Kingdom, of which 91 reached the top 10 and 33 made it to number one.
McCartney has written, or co-written 32 number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. As of 2009, he has 15.5 million RIAA certified units in the United States as a solo artist plus another 10 million with Wings.
Credited with more number ones in the UK than any other artist, McCartney has participated in twenty-four chart topping singles: seventeen with the Beatles, one solo, and one each with Wings, Stevie Wonder, Ferry Aid, Band Aid, Band Aid 20 and "The Christians et al." He is the only artist to reach the UK number one as a soloist, duo, trio, quartet, quintet and as part of a musical ensemble for charity.
"Yesterday" is one of the most covered songs in history with more than 2,200 recorded versions, and according to the BBC, "the track is the only one by a UK writer to have been aired more than seven million times on American TV and radio and is third in the all-time list ... [and] is the most played song by a British writer [last] century in the US". His 1968 Beatles composition "Hey Jude" achieved the highest sales in the UK that year and topped the US charts for nine weeks, which is longer than any other Beatles single. It was also the longest single released by the band and, at seven minutes eleven seconds, was at that time the longest number one. "Hey Jude" is the best-selling Beatles single, achieving sales of over five million copies soon after its release.