At 72, Paul McCartney has had a long, illustrious career -- most of it post-Beatles, though all too many forget that the Beatles lasted a mere 10 years. Still, Sir Paul's history starts with the Quarrymen, which morphed into the Beatles, the most popular rock band, and one of the best selling, of all time.
Innovation was the key to the Beatles success. Sure, they were cute, wore long hair when others didn't, and could harmonize better than most R&B groups. But their music went way beyond the simple melodies and pop trappings the songs offered to a welcoming public. There were also strings, classical instruments, horns, overdubs, backmasking and other wild studio trickery that was pretty unheard of at the time. It got wilder as the band aged, discovered mind-expanding drugs, and found that advances in musical equipment and recording equipment erased many conceptual roadblocks.
McCartney was responsible for many of the innovations even as John Lennon got credit for being the wild one. Both has a major say in Beatles happenings (eventually leading to the group's disbandment), yet it's important to note that Paul was responsible for "Helter Skelter" and "Wild Honey Pie" and even conducted the orchestra for "A Day in the Life."
McCartney's solo material continued in the same vein. His debut solo recording featured McCartney on every instrument, with all original songs. Each subsequent album (solo or with Wings) broke new ground in some fashion as a mix of straight-ahead pop songs and farther-reaching experiments. Band on the Run was a tight, powerful affair with a mix of songs from the funky "Mrs. Vanderbilt" to the druggy "Let Me Roll It," a scorching "Jet" and the gritty "Helen Wheels." His wild, orchestral send-up that same year as the title track to the James Bond flick Live and Let Die resulted in a Grammy win.
Sir Paul continued in this vein through the 1970s, mostly for the better, adding forays into glam, soul, hard rock, with the occasional prog or orchestral experiment tossed in. Not everything was great, despite the willingness to go experiment in any direction. His collaborations with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, while strong sellers, were basically saccharine crap. McCartney does get bonus points, however, for joining forces with Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover (aka Youth) for the electronica album (as The Fireman) Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest in 1993. It wasn't spectacular, but McCartney wasn't simply content playing it safe, like so many other aging artists. Instead, he remained true to the ethos that drove him in the first place -- making innovative music that also meant something to him.
And Mac didn't let up in his 60s or even on into his 70s. In 2005, he released Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, once again playing all the instruments. At the "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief," McCartney "filled in" for Kurt Cobain, joining remaining Nirvana members Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear. Sir Paul rocked as if still a kid.
His most recent album, New, came out last year. On it, McCartney sought out younger, cutting-edge producers to once again, reshaped his sound, persona and musical outlook. Don't let his cute demeanor fool you -- Paul McCartney has never hesitated to go out on a musical limb, no matter how thin.
How that transfers to his live concerts -- well, even those can be wildly unpredictable. And that's a good thing.
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