LAST YEAR THE QUESTION of “Why was Paul the most successful out of all the Beatles?” turned up on Quora. Of course, I chimed in with an answer. But before I post that here, I want my readers to understand a few things: For the period 1963-1969—you know, when he was a member of a band called the Beatles—I consider Paul McCartney to be the most creative bass player in pop music along with being one of the best songwriters and singers.
That is, in a decade brimming with creativity and vitality, I rank him near the toppermost of the poppermost in the rock and pop music pantheon. Then came the ’70s and instead of new records from the Beatles, we had records from John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Each at his very best didn’t have the smallest part of the magic of the four of them together.
So here is my answer to the question, Why was Paul the most successful out of all the Beatles?:
“Commercially, Paul McCartney’s solo/Wings records have been extraordinarily successful: twenty-two singles made the Top 10 in the US and twenty-six albums have been granted RIAA Gold Records. Artistically, I think Paul McCartney’s solo/Wings records stand as incontrovertible evidence that the real Paul blew his mind out in a car accident in 1966 following the recording of REVOLVER.” 1
Upon hearing McCARTNEY is 1970, I thought that it did not bode well for the careers of the four Beatles without their mates. In fact, it sounded like a bootleg of studio rejects (albeit a bootleg that blew all other boots away for sound quality). I did like the lovely photo of Paul and his daughter on the back cover.
An appropriate answer
Earlier today another Quora reader responded to my answer (a few editorial changes were made to make the answer fit with the house style of this blog):
“I hope you are joking. And it is a bad joke. Music changes. Look at Paul Simon after his breakup with Garfunkel or Brian and the Beach Boys or Chicago after the seventh album. Paul’s music moved on in directions he wanted, unburdened by the other three.
He could have used Lennon’s balancing on some songs but all are filled with melodies and harmonies. He won Grammy awards and was nominated for an Oscar. As you say, he had dozens of hit solo songs and albums and the best tour of the three in the ’70s!”
I didn’t even have to think about an appropriate answer, I just let my fingers do the talking:
“If I was stuck on one of the endless supply of desert islands they abandon rock critics on and was given a stereo and a choice between any one Beatles album or everything Paul has recorded without his former burdensome partners, I wouldn’t even have to think about it. No joke—not a single thought would be needed.”
I could have gone into a little more detail, like asking what the careers of Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, and the faceless members of Chicago have to do with it, or saying that for a certain type of fan from my age group the Grammy Awards have been a farce since inception, or arguing that hit records are not necessarily a sign of excellence, or that “unburdened” is a dreadful choice to refer to John, George, and Ringo’s contributions to Paul’s recordings as a Beatle. 2
But I didn’t. 3
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from this collection of Macca’s albums that I found on Pinterest. I’m pleased to see that the person who put this together included Paul’s first extra-Beatles long-player, the soundtrack to The Family Way but don’t know why ABBEY ROAD is included. 4
1 I didn’t choose REVOLVER as a cut-off point to indicate displeasure with Macca’s stuff on the Beatles records that followed. It’s just that if the “real” Paul left this plane of existence in a car accident in 1966, he couldn’t have been the Paul on the records that followed REVOLVER.
2 “Faceless” is not a judgment but merely reflects my total lack of interest in Chicago’s music. I just looked up Chicago’s discography and discovered that they had thirty-four sides reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Five of their records have been certified by the RIAA as having reached Gold Record Award status, ten reached Platinum Record status, and eight reached Multi-Platinum Record status. All of which means I would have enthusiastically voted to induct them in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I just don’t ever expect to put one of their records on my turntable again.
3 I could have added that if marooned with a stereo (and an unnamed but apparently endless supply of electricity) and one album, I would just as easily choose GRACELAND or BRIAN WILSON to live alone with instead of McCartney’s catalog. Hell’s Belles, if I did think about it, I might choose JOHN LENNON/PLASTIC ONO BAND or ALL THINGS MUST PASS over Macca’s oeuvre.
4 I saw The Family Way decades ago and have (fortunately) forgotten it completely.