Louis Rosen: 1970 -The Singer-Songwriter Comes of Age: Paul McCartney’s First Solo Albums

“Tonight we’re going to talk about Paul McCartney as a solo artist,” host Louis Rosen begins. “Some of you took classes on the first solo albums of John Lennon and George Harrison. (Click to read the stories.)

“Paul McCartney also put out an album in 1970, but I think it’s extremely thin, so we’re going to look at selections from the first two, McCartney and Ram, so you can hear how he made his way.”

Rosen reminds us that the difficulty of The Beatles break-up – both emotional and financial – powerfully affected both group and solo albums. Sense of close collaboration was largely absent. The White Album, our host notes, is like three solo artists, with George still playing a minor role. It was a double set because no one wanted to edit their contributions.

“Tracing back as far as ‘Michelle’ and ‘Yesterday’ we see Paul’s comfort with imitating styles. That starts to become more apparent with Sgt. Pepper. On The White Album, John’s songs are strange and personal, while Paul’s often have fun – with pastiche, country, blues, British music hall, even classical influence on “Martha, My Dear’ which is almost Mozartian meeting rock and roll. There’s something of a chameleon in Paul that becomes even more apparent when we hear him on his own.”

Singer Paul McCartney performs onstage at NYCB Live on September 27, 2017 in Uniondale, New York. (Bigstock photo)

Rosen feels “the general human population” was dissatisfied with respective offerings and makes an excellent observation as to why. With 12-14 songs on a compilation, we heard three distinct voices; different sensibilities, diverse musical interests and influences. Compositionally and lyrically there was such contrast, you were always engaged. “Sometimes material was radically different as in Paul’s music hall tunes or George’s Indian inclinations, at others’ for instance, when Paul’s gentle sweetly beautiful “I Will” is immediately followed by John’s darker, mysterious “Julia” on The White Album – each was enriched by proximity of the other.”

As we learned in previous sessions, none of the Fab Four enjoyed recording Let It Be, none were happy with the results. Unwilling to let it be their swan song and despite acrimony, they went back into the studio to end with Abbey Road. Paul hated Phil Spector’s overproduction of Let It Be and his own lack of control over the work. He’d started to write and record a group of light songs from his home in Scotland.

Apple (their record label) was hemorrhaging money. Its new head, Allen Klein, whom Rosen euphemistically calls unscrupulous, nonetheless made an unexpectedly good deal with the American subsidiary of EMI for royalties. Klein called a meeting. It was important that no one know The Beatles had broken up until contracts went through. John agreed to stay silent and was outraged when seven months later, Paul let it slip in a mock interview he did with himself, including press copies of his solo album. The group was so upset, they evidently sent Ringo to talk to Paul “cause everybody loves Ringo.” (Rosen) McCartney sent him packing.

A couple of years earlier, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had signed a ten year agreement with Apple stating everything any of them did – except writing – would financially feed back into the communal pot. By the end of 1970, Paul filed a lawsuit to get out of the ill-conceived contract. “This is heavy. Nobody’s talking to him. It’s going to take until the end of 1971 till the suit is finished.” (Rosen) In great part because Klein embezzled funds, Paul won.

The album McCartney is made up of what Rosen calls “fragments, sitting at home and grooving. He couldn’t picture who he was outside the band. His wife Linda told him to shave the beard, get out of bed, stop drinking and do what he was good at.” We start with a few songs written while the group was still tenuously together. Paul played all the instruments. “The Lovely Linda” (all of 43 seconds), “Every Night” (a hit), and “That Would Be Something” (five lines repeated to percussive background). Doodles, really.

“Hot as Sun/Glasses” is the musician playing with sound, running fingers inside the rims of glasses to create eerie notes. “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” had been submitted to The Beatles and rejected. We hear “Man, We Was Lonely,” and “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

“In my humble opinion,” Rosen says, “I’ve played the best of McCartney’s first album. When I was 15, I thought, why didn’t he write some more songs? It seemed lazy or that he was afraid of past legacy and intentionally went the other way.” McCartney sold, but critics tore it apart. The ex-Beatle came to New York where Linda had a lot of connections. They put together a band. At this point Paul decided, much like John’s collaboration with Yoko, the next recording would include his wife. “I’m going to teach you if I have to strap you to the piano bench,” Rosen quotes.

“More importantly, he didn’t like to be in the room alone. Recording in Scotland and New York, Linda and the kids were often around. Suddenly songs are credited to both of them and she plays simple keyboard.” (Rosen)

Then Paul releases “Another Day”: At the office where the papers grow, she takes a break/Drinks another coffee, and she finds it hard to stay awake/It’s just another day/Du du du du du du, it’s just another day… Rosen aptly calls it “Eleanor Rigby for a young woman in the city.” The song is excluded from the album out of habit. The Beatles didn’t want their fans to pay twice for the same material.

We then turn to the second solo album, 1971’s Ram. Its first cut is “Too Many People.” McCartney said he had John in mind: That was your first mistake/ You took your lucky break and broke it in two…There’s lots of twang and insistent percussion. The musician described “Ram On” as a push forward. We’re told that when the band traveled, McCartney would sometimes go off on his own using the pseudonym Paul Ramon. Rosen conjectures that “Ram On” is Paul talking to himself. The tune features appealing, if somewhat buried ukulele.

“Dear Boy” is apparently addressed to Linda’s former husband who never saw her for who she was. “Again, here’s Paul reaching into that twee music hall style.” Vocal layering is extensive. The imaginative, if obscure “Uncle Albert” was also a hit. At one point its author said the song was an apology from the younger generation to the older, addressed to his uncle. Number one for six weeks, it evoked polar reactions of “fun” or “obnoxious.” A review in Rolling Stone called the song “suburban pap n’roll.”

“Heart of The Country” is bouncy and bright with terrific scat. “This is what he did to save himself,” Rosen notes, referring to the house in Scotland. “It’s acoustic folk.” “Back Seat of My Car,” which sounds somewhat like Brian Wilson, is saddled with a lightweight lyric. It escapes me. “These are all the songs on the album worth listening to. Once again, there’s a lot of filler. Once again, it sold, but critics were disparaging. Paul’s credibility with his listeners was waning.” (LR)

“So…two solo albums, neither substantial enough on which to spend a class. They get his solo career off to a rough start in terms of credibility if not sales, something with which he continues to struggle.”

Another illuminating, entertaining session.

Opening Photo Courtesy of Mr. Rosen

Other Louis Rosen events at the Y.

About Alix Cohen (918 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.