Sir James Paul McCartney was born at Walton Hospital, located in northern Liverpool near his teenage home, where his mother had worked as a nurse, and where his brother, Michael McCartney, was born a year later. His father, Jim McCartney, was a professional trumpet player and gave the young Paul a vital early grounding in music.
The early death of his mother Mary Mohin McCartney from breast cancer when he was fourteen was a formative influence on his life and created an additional bond between him and John Lennon, whose mother had also died young.
Paul McCartney claims Irish heritage on both sides of his family. Paul’s great-grandfather, James McCartney, and possibly also his grandfather, James McCartney II, were born in Ireland. His mother’s father, Owen Mohin, was born in 1880 in Tullynamalrow, County Monaghan in Ulster.
McCartney first rose to fame as a bassist, pianist, guitarist, singer and songwriter for The Beatles. He was initially invited to join John Lennon’s band, The Quarrymen, as a guitarist in 1957, but he eventually took over bass guitar duties in the early 1960s, after the groups formative stint at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, replacing original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.
McCartney formed a close working relationship with Lennon and they collaborated on many songs, although they rarely wrote a complete song together. In fact out of all The Beatles’ songs written, only 27 were done by both of them. Typically, one of them would write most or part of a song and the other would finish it, incorporate it into another song or suggest useful changes. Due to an early agreement between the two, all Beatles’ songs written by either of them are credited to both.
One of McCartney’s greatest songs, covered by a record number of artists, is “Yesterday”. McCartney claims he conceived the melody in a dream, (coupled with the working lyric “Scrambled Eggs / Have an omelet with some Muenster cheese”) and was not sure for some time that it was original. A popular, but false rumor states that the second working lyric was “Oh, my darling, you’ve got lovely legs”.
During the early years of The Beatles' recording career, McCartney developed rapidly as a musician, singer and songwriter. He was heavily influenced by Buddy Holly and Little Richard and Little Richard’s trademark high-pitched “woo', which he used prominently as a musical punctuation on early songs like “From Me to You”.
The left-handed McCartney also became probably the most creative and influential rock bassist of his time, elevating the electric bass from back-row obscurity to prominence, inspiring countless players to take up the instrument. By 1965 McCartney was pressuring the engineers at EMI to get a better bass sound on Beatles’ recordings, frustrated by the relatively weak sound on their earlier records. His bass playing and writing during The Beatles' most creative phase in 1965-67 was heavily influenced by the work of American producer-composer Brian Wilson, leader of The Beach Boys, whose classic album Pet Sounds set new standards for recording and featured bass parts that were unprecedented in pop music. As a result of hearing Wilson’s work, McCartney began to pay increasing attention to both the sound and arrangement of his bass lines, often taking advantage of Abbey Road’s new multi-track tape decks to re-record more complex parts after the basic tracks had been laid down.
During the years of the Beatles' greatest popularity, Paul was generally regarded as the best-looking and aroused most interest in female audiences. Ironically, he was the last to marry and the only one never to divorce. Towards the end of his relationship with actress Jane Asher, McCartney met Linda Eastman, an American photographer. They first met at the June 1, 1967 launch party for Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the relationship blossomed over the next two years. He and Linda married at a small civil ceremony at Marylebone Registry Office in 1969, while he was still a member of The Beatles. He adopted Linda’s daughter, Heather (from her first marriage), and they went on to have three other children (Mary, Stella, and James) together. They remained happily married and utterly devoted to each other until Linda’s death from breast cancer in 1998. The couple reportedly spent less than a week apart during their entire marriage.
In the latter part of The Beatles' reign over pop-culture, Lennon’s interest in the band waned whilst McCartney’s pop ear was never more finely tuned, writing such pop classics as “Hey Jude”, “Let It Be”, and “The Long and Winding Road”.
It is now generally accepted that McCartney was the main motivator for much of The Beatles' later work. After they retired from touring in mid-1966, Lennon and Harrison retreated to secure country estates in the so-called “stockbroker belt” outside of London. But McCartney continued to live in the city, first in a house in the center of town, then at a larger property in St John’s Wood, a short distance from Abbey Road Studios. He was often seen at major cultural events such as the International Times launch party at The Roundhouse (which he attended in disguise). He also avidly delved into the visual arts, becoming a close friend of leading art dealer and gallery owner; also explored experimental film and regularly attended movie, theatrical and classical music performances.
McCartney was fortunate to be one of the few leading British pop stars who did not fall foul of the Drug Squad, as did Lennon, Harrison and many other friends including The Rolling Stones and Donovan.
On the musical side, Paul was the first Beatle to record an outside project, composing (with George Martin) a fine score for the 1966 feature film, The Family Way, for which he won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Instrumental Theme. He also wrote and produced several successful recordings for other artists and on some of these outside productions he worked under a pseudonym, reflecting his enduring fascination with disguises and aliases.
McCartney devised many of their most important late Sixties projects including the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band concept, the Magical Mystery Tour film and record, and the suite of songs that closes the Abbey Road album.
In 1969, despite obvious signs that the band was falling apart, he attempted to convince The Beatles to return to the stage, suggesting the Get Back project, which evolved into their valedictory film and album Let It Be. Although McCartney hoped it might revive them, the film made it obvious that the band was done as a creative force and that bickering, jealousy and the pressures of being The Beatles had driven the four musicians apart irrevocably. Regardless of the internal strife, the band retained their popularity, and the public’s interest in them was only intensified in late 1969 when an urban legend was started that McCartney died and was secretly replaced in 1966.
Although Starr had briefly quit in 1968, and Harrison had done likewise in 1969, it was Lennon who was the first to leave and not return in August/September 1969. However, it was McCartney who finalized the end of the group by announcing it publicly when he released his own solo album (and legally dissolved the band after filing a lawsuit to break up their partnership on December 31, 1970).
By this time, Lennon and McCartney’s friendship had been eroded by years of friction and rivalry, and it was only a short time before Lennon'’s death that they were reconciled at least partly.
As The Beatles broke up in 1970, Paul immediately launched a solo career with his album McCartney, which featured him playing all the instruments and singing all vocals apart from some support from wife, Linda McCartney. While many found this record underwhelming (including Lennon in an interview), it did contain the superlative “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which has remained a centerpiece of McCartney’s concerts ever since. Another successful track was “Every Night”, which was later a hit for singer Phoebe Snow.
McCartney followed this in 1971 with the stand-alone single “Another Day/Oh Woman, Oh Why”, the former of which to some recalled the observational style of his mid-period Beatles’ work. The album Ram, later in 1971, was credited to both Paul and Linda, and featured back-up from, for the most part, studio musicians. While both single and album were commercially popular, many detractors viewed them as largely insubstantial. The album also contained some apparent negative references towards Lennon, notably in the song “Too Many People” (“Too many people preaching practices, don’t let ‘em tell you what you wanna be”); later that year, Lennon responded with the famously scathing “How Do You Sleep?”, to which McCartney responded to with the pleading “Dear Friend”, on Wild Life, the first album released by Wings.
McCartney famously insisted that his wife should be involved with his music — and later tour in his bands so they did not have to be apart while he traveled — in spite of her protests that she was not talented enough. After hearing Linda sing, many seconded her opinion, but Paul’s move was clearly a deliberate act, intended to help dispel some of the lingering Beatles’ mystique and prove his assertion that “anyone can do it”. Despite persistent attacks on her ability (including one notorious 1990’s bootleg concert tape in which her out-of-tune vocals were deliberately mixed to the fore), Linda became a valuable member of McCartney’s bands and an inspiring musician throughout the remainder of her life. (This, in many ways, paralleled the role that Yoko Ono played in Lennon’s post-Beatles’ musical life, just as there would be organizational similarities between Wings and Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band).
Briefly, after an uneven start and despite many personnel changes, Wings became one of the most successful 1970’s rock bands, hitting its artistic apex in late 1973 with the Band on the Run album and its commercial apex in 1976 with a wildly popular world tour.
Despite the devastating blow of the murder of John Lennon in1980, McCartney enjoyed continued success in the early 1980s. His 1982 album Tug Of War was a major success and in the same year he scored two huge hits with duet singles—“Ebony and Ivory”, recorded with soul legend Stevie Wonder, and “The Girl is Mine”, recorded with emerging pop megastar Michael Jackson. Another successful McCartney-Jackson duet, “Say, Say, Say” was released in 1983. He also wrote and starred in the 1984 film “Give My Regards to Broad Street”. The film and soundtrack featured the US and UK top ten hit “No More Lonely Nights”.
McCartney’s friendship with Jackson was short-lived, however. Not long afterwards, Jackson paid a huge sum to acquire the Northern Songs catalogue, which included the publishing rights to most of The Beatles' songs. Although McCartney subsequently approached Jackson hoping to negotiate an increase in his royalty rate, he was turned down.
In the mid-1980s, while making a home movie reminiscing about his days as a schoolboy, McCartney discovered the 1825 building which had once been his old school was derelict. He purchased it, and pursued a dream he had always had of helping his home town of Liverpool in some way. January 1996 saw the dedication of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, of which Paul is the lead patron. On June 7, 1996 Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the building.
In the late 1980s McCartney began a songwriting partnership with Elvis Costello, with the resulting songs appearing on several albums by both artists. The best known of these are the 1989 hit “Veronica”, from Costello’s album Spike, and “My Brave Face”, a modest hit from McCartney’s album Flowers in the Dirt.
During 1989-1990 McCartney staged a major, year-long world tour, in which for the first time he included a substantial number of Beatles’ songs in the set list. The tour was a big success, filling arenas and stadiums at each stop. A similarly-scaled tour took place in 1993.
In the 1990s McCartney was involved in a feud with John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. Their dispute centered on the writing credits for a number of Beatles’ songs. He had wanted to change the credits from the traditional “Lennon-McCartney” to “Paul McCartney and John Lennon” for songs McCartney had primarily composed. Yoko Ono was offended by this move which she felt broke an agreement that the two had made while Lennon was still alive to credit songs as a team. However, McCartney himself has stated that no such agreement ever existed. The two other Beatles agreed that the credits should remain as they always had been and McCartney withdrew his request.
McCartney and his wife became outspoken vegetarians and animal-rights activists. McCartney tells the story of how their vegetarian instincts were realized when they happened to see lambs frolicking in a field as they ate a meal of lamb. In 1991, Linda introduced her own line of vegetarian meals to the general market. After Linda’s death in 1998, Paul pledged to continue her line of food and keep it free from genetically modified organisms.
In 1991 McCartney made his first complete foray into classical music, collaborating with Carl Davis to compose the quasi-autobiographical Liverpool Oratorio. This was received well, in general, although many commented that the music lacked the complexity normally associated with the genre. Liverpool Oratorio had its North American premiere in Carnegie Hall in New York on November 18, 1991 with Davis conducting and both McCartneys in attendance.
In 1994, McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr reunited to release the first of the Beatles' Anthology albums, consisting of alternative takes and live recordings of Beatles’ songs; volumes two and three were released the next year. They also created two new Beatles’ songs by layering new music around unfinished tracks Lennon had made before his death fourteen years earlier.
On March 11, 1997, McCartney was created a knight (Knight Bachelor) by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1998, McCartney’s wife Linda died after a prolonged bout with breast cancer, the same illness that, only a few decades before, claimed McCartney’s mother.
Run Devil Run, one of his most critically acclaimed albums to date, was released in 1999. In the same year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist (he was inducted with the rest of The Beatles in 1988).
In 1997 he made his second venture into classical music with Standing Stone, a work that received a mixed response. In 1999 he released Working Classical, a collection of his pop songs redone for string quartet or orchestra.
McCartney is also a very talented visual artist. For more than seventeen years Paul McCartney has been a committed painter, finding in his work on canvas both a respite from the world and another outlet for his drive to create. His painting, like much of his life, has been a very private endeavor. In April 1999 he exhibited his work for the first time in Siegen, Germany, where it met with critical acclaim, which led to his decision to share the work in galleries across the UK. He is also a big fan of animation, having released Tropic Island Hum, a CD compilation of various animation music that he has done over the years.
McCartney then decided to give another genre a try, and in 2001 he published Blackbird Singing, a volume of poetry. Some of these were lyrics to past songs, while some were strictly poems. He gave readings of these works in Liverpool and New York; the selections were both serious (Here Today, about John Lennon) and humorous (Maxwell's Silver Hammer). That same year he released an album titled Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records that included a version of the Elvis Presley’s hit, “That's All Right Mama”, recorded with Presley musicians’ Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana.
On 20 October 2001 McCartney took a lead role in organizing the Concert for New York City, a celebration of the strength, resilience, and pride of New York and America in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The concert was held at Madison Square Garden and featured performances by The Who, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Destiny's Child, Eric Clapton, Adam Sandler, Bon Jovi, Elton John, James Taylor and many more. McCartney was the final performer and debuted his song “Freedom”, which advocates taking forceful measures against terrorism.
In June 2002 McCartney married Heather Mills, a former model and anti-landmines campaigner, in a highly elaborate ceremony at Castle Leslie in Glaslough, County Monaghan, Ireland. Under her influence, he has campaigned against landmines himself, and donated substantial sums to the cause. In early 2003, for example, he held a personal concert for the wife of banker Ralph Whitworth and donated one million dollars to Adopt-a-Landmine.
McCartney continues to release pop albums (Run Devil Run, Wingspan, Flaming Pie, Driving Rain), as well as campaign for the groups Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among others. Paul and Linda had three children: Mary (named after Paul’s late mother), Stella, and James (after Paul’s late father, who died in 1976). He also adopted Heather, Linda’s daughter from her previous marriage. James (born 1977) can be heard playing guitar in McCartney’s latest albums. Mary is the baby inside McCartney’s jacket in the back cover photograph of his first solo album. Heather is a designer, and can be seen as a young girl in the Let It Be film. Stella is an award-winning fashion designer and animal rights activist.
In 2002 McCartney launched another major American tour, garnering strong notices for an energetic and tight supporting band and an evocative and varied show that appealed to fans of all generations. This leg became the top-grossing U.S. tour of the year, taking in over $126 million. The tour has subsequently continued around the rest of the world in 2003 and 2004.
McCartney performed during the pre-game ceremonies at the NFL’s Super Bowl XXXVI (2002) and was the halftime performer at Super Bowl XXXIX (2005). Unlike in many previous years, he was the only performer in the entire halftime show. His set consisted of “Drive My Car”, “Get Back”, “Live and Let Die” and “Hey Jude”.
McCartney says he hopes to keep playing even after he is 64, a reference to the Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
McCartney performed at the main Live 8 concert (July 2, 2005), playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” with U2 to open the Hyde Park event (the song choice perfectly reflecting the 20 years after Live Aid), then returning almost ten hours later to close the show with “Get Back”, “Drive My Car” (sharing the vocals with George Michael), “Helter Skelter”, “The Long and Winding Road”, and an ensemble rendition of the refrain from “Hey Jude”.
McCartney’s new album, titled Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, utilized long time Radiohead collaborator and producer Nigel Godrich. Recorded in London and Los Angeles in the past two years, McCartney used a backing band in the studio but later decided to play almost all the instruments himself, including drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, block flute, harmonium and flugelhorn. According to McCartney’s official website, the thirteen-track album is “a mix of up-tempo piano driven McCartney instant classics, such as “Fine Line” and “Promise to You Girl” and more introspective darker tracks such as “At the Mercy”, “Too Much Rain” and “Riding To Vanity Fair”. There’s also “Jenny Wren”, which Paul describes as “daughter of Blackbird”, as well as “Follow Me”, which McCartney debuted at The Glastonbury Festival, while on his ‘04 Summer European Tour.
He released a children’s book, High in the Clouds: An Urban Furry Tail, which tells the story of a frog and a squirrel who save the lives of other animals. McCartney teamed up with veteran children’s book author Philip Ardagh and animator Geoff Dunbar. The picture book was released with a first print of 500,000 copies.
Kisses on The Bottom (2012) is a collection of standards Paul grew up listening to in his childhood as well as the two new McCartney compositions “My Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts.” With the help of Grammy Award-winning producer Tommy LiPuma and Diana Krall and her band - as well as guest appearances from Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, McCartney’s new album is a deeply personal journey through classic American compositions that, in some cases, a young Paul first heard his father perform on piano at home. The full track listing reveals that Paul has been both reverent and adventurous in his song choices.
The phrase 'Kisses on The Bottom,’ comes from the album’s opener 'I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter’. Originally made a big hit by Fats Waller in 1935, the song opens with the lines “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you. I’m gonna write words oh so sweet. They’re gonna knock me off of my feet. A lot of kisses on the bottom, I’ll be glad I got 'em.”
As authentic and daring a musical statement as he could make, this is the album Paul has been thinking about making for more than 20 years - and probably the last thing his fans are expecting. “In the end it was ‘Look, if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it’,” he says. In short, Paul believes it is about time “the songs me and John based quite a few of our things on” received the recognition they deserve. Moreover, the record also features a couple of new original McCartney compositions in the spirit of those classics.
“When I kind of got into songwriting, I realized how well structured these songs were and I think I took a lot of my lessons from them,” Paul explains. “I always thought artists like Fred Astaire were very cool. Writers like Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, all of those guys - I just thought the songs were magical. And then, as I got to be a songwriter I thought it’s beautiful, the way they made those songs.”
Determined to approach the record in a new and unique manner, Paul enlisted the help of LiPuma and Krall and her band-who delivered ultra-high quality musicianship and were completely in tune with Paul’s restraint and feel for the music. In the studio, the recording of this album was also a new challenge for Paul who, for the first time ever, performed exclusively in the vocal booth without an instrument - no guitar, no bass, no piano - which led to a vocal performance like no other in his career.
He adds, “It was very spontaneous, kind of organic, which then reminded me of the way we’d work with The Beatles. We’d bring a song in, kick it around, when we found a way to do it we’d say ‘Okay, let’s do a take now’ and by the time everyone kind of had an idea of what they were doing, we’d learnt the song. So that’s what we did, we did the take live in the studio.”
“It was important for me to keep away from the more obvious song choices so, many of the classic standards will be unfamiliar to some people. I hope they are in for a pleasant surprise.”
Over the years McCartney has released work under a number of alter egos which are less commercial and often more experimental than the material released under his own name. In 1967 he produced the song “Urban Spaceman” by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, but McCartney was credited as “Apollo C. Vermouth”.
In 1977 he released an orchestral version of the Ram album under the name Percy 'Thrills' Thrillington. In the 1990s he collaborated with Youth of Killing Joke under the name The Fireman and released two ambient albums, Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest in 1994 and Rushes in 1998. In 2000 he released an album, Liverpool Sound Collage, with Super Furry Animals and Youth utilizing the collage and musique concrete techniques which fascinated him in the mid 1960s. Most recently in 2005 he has worked on a project with bootleg producer and remixer Freelance Hellraiser under the name Twin Freaks.
Prior to the success of The Beatles, McCartney would sometimes use the stage name Paul Ramon(e), a name which inspired The Ramones to name their band.