Of the three primary songwriting Beatles’ debut albums, McCartney turned out to be the most predictive of its artist’s future solo career. While he would go on to release several excellent albums, George Harrison really emptied the barrel with his epic All Things Must Pass. Consisting largely of songs stockpiled during the latter half of the ‘60s, Harrison set the bar impossibly high for himself with his landmark 1970 debut. Deeply personal and emotionally direct, John Lennon never matched the focus of his 1970 Plastic Ono Band (though he sadly had far less time than the others to try).
The ramshackle, do-it-yourself vibe of Paul McCartney’s 1970 offering caught listeners seeking the majesty of Abbey Road off-guard. Rather than Harrison and Lennon’s career-defining achievements, McCartney left himself considerable room to improve. McCartney treats the listener to a peek inside his musical subconscious. He put the entire album together by himself, with occasional harmonies from his wife Linda. Most fans are well aware by now of McCartney’s musical versatility. But in 1970, it wasn’t common knowledge just how broad his musicianship skills were. In fact, decades later some respected writers were still misattributing the instrumental credits of certain Beatles songs, unaware of just how many fingerprints McCartney had left on them.
There is no better time than now to revisit McCartney, as it has been remastered and reissued in two configurations as part of the on-going Archive Collection. McCartney was the first major artist to take the one-man-band approach, playing all the guitars, keyboards, percussion, and everything else unassisted. In this regard, the album can even be considered pioneering. Though seldom credited as such, a case could be made for McCartney as a seminal contributor to what became known as lo-fi. Although some of its better-recorded songs were taped in professional studios, several tunes were recorded by McCartney at home using minimal equipment. Not aiming for a polished sound, he didn’t shy away from leaving sometimes sloppy playing on the finished product. It was more about capturing the in-the-moment vibe.
With improvised instrumental tangents (“Valentine Day,” “Momma Miss America”), unfinished fragments (“The Lovely Linda”), minimalist lyrics (“That Would Be Something”), and bizarro experiments (“Kreen-Akrore”), McCartney has a little of every element that has made up his 40-plus-year solo career. Some argue that this is all evidence of McCartney’s sorely lacking discipline. Others consider the wide variety of approaches to be endlessly fascinating. I happen to side more with the latter category. His experiments have been hit or miss over the years, but McCartney is a richly rewarding listening experience even if the songs aren’t wall-to-wall classics. And on top of all that, it has the first (and best) version of “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
The two-disc edition of McCartney includes the original album on disc one and about twenty-five minutes of bonus tracks on disc two. The album itself has clearly benefited from the remastering when compared to the original CD, with crisper highs and a deeper bass end. Several of these songs appeared on the 2001 Wingspan: Hits and History compilation; the sonic upgrade is less apparent in those cases.
The bonus material is geared more towards completists. The biggest disappointment is the full version of “Suicide,” which is heard on the album as a very short excerpt. It’s a strong song (offered to, and declined by, Frank Sinatra), but this is an off-handed run through rather than a releasable version. “Don’t Cry Baby” is just an instrumental mix of “Oo You,” but still interesting. “Women Kind” is a silly demo that doesn’t really inspired repeated listening.
The live tracks include a version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” from 1974’s One Hand Clapping video (found on the Archive Collection reissue of Band on the Run) and three album tracks performed during Wings’ 1979 tour. The 1979 tour is one of McCartney’s most overlooked. It was his last tour to date that featured a set list dominated by solo material, as opposed to the Beatles-heavy sets he’s been doing for the past twenty years. These live tracks come from the December 17, 1979 Glasgow concert, which has been heavily bootlegged over the years. It’s disappointing that McCartney has chosen to piecemeal these tracks instead of releasing them together as a full-length live album.
As with the McCartney II (Archive Collection) reissue, McCartney is available as a deluxe edition that includes both CDs, a DVD, and a hardcover book. The DVD features a short featurette about the making of the album, home movie footage of the McCartney family at the beach, a music video for “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and a few live performances. Most interesting among the live footage are the two songs taken from the Concert for the People of Kampuchea 1979 benefit show.