In Loving Memory of James Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney, the Singer-Songwriter
James Paul McCartney (18 June 1942 to 11 September 1966) gained worldwide fame and acclaim as a lead vocalist, singer-songwriter, and bass guitarist, for the Beatles—the greatest and most influential rock band of all time. As the traditional narrative goes, Paul and bandmate, John Lennon, co-wrote their vast catalog of songs.
Paul is said to be the primary writer of his own songs (usually the ones for which he sang lead) just as John is said to be the primary writer of his own songs. However, once they recorded and released their songs as the Beatles, whether written by Paul, John, or by ghost writers, all were officially attributed to the writing team, “Lennon-McCartney.” The Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership remains the most successful in history.
After Paul’s demise, his successor continued the legacy, writing and performing in Paul’s name with the Beatles act, with his band, Paul McCartney and Wings, as a solo career, and with many collaborations including, most notably, with his wife, Linda (Linda Louise Eastman McCartney) but also with many others including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, the Frog Chorus, and Rihanna/Kanye West.
In all, Paul McCartney is credited with writing, or co-writing, 32 songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In the United States, where the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) awards certification based on the number of albums and singles sold, Paul McCartney is credited as having 25.5 million RIAA-certified units.
Paul is best remembered and represented by his song, “Yesterday,” which he wrote and recorded without assistance from his Beatles bandmates. Thousands of artists have covered that song, making it one of the most covered songs in popular music history
“Mother Mary calls to me.”
James (“Jim”) McCartney (1902-1976) and Mary Patricia Mohan (1909-1956) married at St. Swithin’s Roman Catholic chapel in West Derby on 15 April 1941. Fourteen months later, on 18 June 1942, Mary gave birth to their first son, James Paul McCartney. Paul’s brother, Peter Michael McCartney, was born nineteen months later, on 7 January 1944.
Paul and Mike (each going by their middle names) were born in the same hospital as where Mary worked as a nurse and midwife. She was the family’s primary wage earner. Jim worked in the cotton trade, and played in Liverpool ragtime and jazz bands, but only received meager wages.
Mary rode a bicycle to make house-calls for her patients. Her highly demanding work often required her to be away from home, leaving hours before sunrise, sometimes riding on streets that were thick with snow, and then working long hours before returning each evening to her husband and sons.
Her challenging employment qualified the family to move into their home at 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton in south Liverpool, Merseyside, England, in 1955. The house was built and owned by the local authority. The next year, a few months before Paul’s 14th birthday, Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to a surgical procedure to fight that cancer, she died of embolism later that same year on 31 October 1956. Mary was only 47 years old.
Ten years after moving to Forthlin Road, Paul bought his father a much nicer home in Heswall, a wealthy part of the Wirral. That was in 1965, the year before Paul joined his mother.
Paul’s Musical Heritage
Paul and Mike McCartney grew up together. Being born only about a year and a half apart, they were very close, and spent a great deal of time together, and shared interests. In particular, they both embraced their father’s passion for music, which he had embraced from his father. Jim, in addition to exposing his sons to a great deal of live music (while in the Forthlin house), connected the radio in the living room to extension cords connected to two sets of headphones so that Paul and Mike could each listen to Radio Luxembourg at night when they were in bed. Likewise, it had been important to Joe (Jim’s father) to expose Jim to great music.
Paul’s grandfather, Joseph McCartney (born 1866), had a boundless passion for music. He loved to sing, and to attend live music performances, formal or informal. He was delighted by a night out to see an opera, but more often got together with friends to make their own music. At home, Joe played the double bass. In public performances in the park with the local Territorial Army band, and with the Copes’ Tobacco factory Brass Band where he worked, Joe played an E-flat tuba.
Joe and his wife, Florence “Florrie” Clegg McCartney, had seven children: John (Jack), Edith, James (Jim), Ann, Millie, Jane (Jin), and Joe. With the importance of music in that household, it was hoped that the legacy of joyful music would continue on through their posterity. Although Joe was successful in encouraging a love of music in his children, he failed to get them to value classical music over the more popular music of their time.
James (“Jim”) McCartney, the third of Joe and Florrie’s seven children, was Paul and Michael’s father. Jim learned to play the trumpet and piano by ear. At the age of 17, he started playing ragtime music—which his father considered uncultured “tin-can music.” In Jim’s first band, the Masked Melody Makers, they all wore black masks as a gimmick until one night when the masks all fell apart. The group renamed themselves, Jim Mac’s Jazz Band.
Jim’s brother, Jack, who played the trombone in that band, composed his first tune, “Eloise.” No lyrics were written for it. Many years later, after Jim shared the song with William, it was recorded by Paul McCartney and Wings, who released it as, “Walking in The Park with Eloise,” giving Jim the writing credit.
While living in the Forthlin house, Jim purchased an upright piano from Harry Epstein’s North End Music Store (NEMS). Much later, Harry Epstein’s son, Brian Epstein, became The Beatles’ manager.
Although Jim arranged piano lessons for Paul, the lad had difficulty focusing on the lessons. Paul found sheet music confusing, and was discouraged by it. He never did learn to read sheet music (unlike “Billy Shears” who had been trained in music theory, and who, right after inheriting Paul’s role in 1966, composed the soundtrack to The Family Way).
Letting go of the frustration of sheet music, Paul decided to follow his father’s example of learning to play by ear. Although Paul never became a great pianist, that less sophisticated approach worked well enough for him that at the age of 16 to use that family piano to compose the rudimentary melody of “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
Paul’s “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
“When I’m Sixty-Four” went on to be used by the Beatles, and eventually became the first song that “Billy Shears” recorded (with considerable embellishment) that made it to the album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That recording began between sessions of working on John’s, “Strawberry Fields Forever” (William’s first recording as “Paul” with John).
The following is from the unofficial memoirs of Paul McCartney, The Memoirs of Billy Shears:
Recording of “Strawberry Fields Forever” being done, as we had all supposed, . . . we rehearsed, and then spent the rest of that reserved five-hour session recording “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Paul had written that tune at a relatively young age, . . . and added the lyrics years later . . . in their early Cavern Club days . . . to give them more performance material. Eventually, it became their stand-by song to play [on the piano] whenever the electricity went out, or when their amplifier blew a fuse.
At first, recording “When I’m Sixty-Four” felt disastrous! Billy explains:
Entering EMI studios all alone, on 8 December, for my own private three-hour afternoon recording session, I overdubbed my lead vocal. As I listened to it, I became nervous, concerned that my voice was obviously lower than Paul’s. I imagined him doing the song sounding younger, more rooty-tooty. Mine now sounded much too self-serious, even turgid. That evening we all met together in studio two. In going over it, others felt the same way. It was not at all like Paul. The best way for me to describe it is to say it is like my Vivian Stanshall act at the end of the Magical Mystery Tour film. A tongue-in-cheek, affected, cabaret sort of a song, it had a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band feeling to it. That is the way I sang it. However, the humor did not carry well. It sounded too sincere for such absurd lyrics. . . .
. . . On 20 December, we were back to working on Paul’s old “Sixty-Four,” but all agreed to have that work interrupted for each of us to do interviews for the weekly television series, Reporting ‘66.
Returning to the studio the next day, three session musicians added clarinet to “Sixty-Four.” . . .
. . . [On 30 December] I let George Martin know what we needed to do to fix my “When I’m Sixty-Four” recording. I told him I would sound more like Paul if we sped up the track, picking up the tempo a bit . . .
Even though George agreed that it would make me sound younger, more like Paul, he immediately rejected the idea. The change was too substantial. However, I insisted. We had to do it. As George protested, I persisted and prevailed. The master take had been recorded in C major, but was sped up in order to raise the key by one full semitone (half step) to the key of D-flat major (C#). To the delight of all of us, . . . It sounded a lot more like him.
After Mary’s death, Jim married Angela Williams, and adopted her daughter, Ruth McCartney (born Ruth Williams, 15 February 1960), from a previous marriage.
For the latest news about Sir Paul McCartney, visit www.PaulMcCartney.com
See also the website dedicated to the official and unofficial memoirs of Paul McCartney, www.MemoirsOfPaul.com