HomeCultureBooksMust Reads

The new book that explores Paul McCartney's legacy

The new book that explores Paul McCartney's legacy

Jeremy Blackmore talks to the authors of The McCartney Legacy, a deep dive into Sir Paul McCartney's solo career 

Sir Paul McCartney’s headline Glastonbury set this summer was a triumphant celebration, not only of his legendary Beatles career, but of five decades as a major solo artist. Yet while he remains arguably the most written about and photographed musician in history, most biographies pay his post-Beatles career scant attention. It’s something which the respected veteran music journalist, author and critic Allan Kozinn and award-winning documentarian Adrian Sinclair have set out to correct with a groundbreaking, multivolume set The McCartney Legacy.

Volume 1, covering the period 1969 to 1973, is released this Christmas by Dey Street Books and tells the definitive story of those tumultuous post-Beatle years, offering fresh insight into McCartney’s motives at a time when his career choices often appeared haphazard and disorganised.

Paul McCartney performing at Glastobury 2022

Paul McCartney performing at Glastobury 2022 © Raph_PH, via Wikimedia Commons

Setting the story between The Beatles’ demise and 1973 offers Kozinn and Sinclair a compelling redemptive narrative arc: McCartney’s journey from a man with his reputation at its lowest, to one standing on the cusp of fresh critical and commercial success with second band Wings. Choosing to tell their story without foreknowledge, the authors allow it to unfold as if it’s happening in real time and without looking ahead to the outcome of any particular actions. It’s an often breathless and riveting read.

"Setting the story between The Beatles’ demise and 1973 offers a compelling redemptive narrative arc"

In stark contrast to The Beatles’ latter years, the Paul McCartney in these pages is uncertain; someone responding to criticism rather than driving the agenda. Stung by his former bandmates’ criticism of him as a controlling presence in the studio, and unjustly blamed for The Beatles’ split, he builds a new band from the ground up, but finds his perfectionism and the gruelling legal problems arising from The Beatles’ split impacting upon any dreams of forging a new band of musical equals.

His early albums sold well but unfairly earned some of the harshest reviews of his career. While more than vindicated in retrospect—Ram in particular is now viewed as a classic—McCartney veered from low-fi home demos to lavish studio productions, from bluesy rock to nursery rhymes. The McCartney Legacy offers a welcome reassessment of those records and sets out for the first time a detailed breakdown of every recording session, not in dry detail but in vivid colour. The authors take readers inside the studio against the backdrop of the myriad legal battles going outside. It’s often surprising so much great music was made.

The tumultuous post-Beatles years

Talking about the inspiration for the book Kozinn says: “We undertook this mainly because as much as Paul has been written about, we didn’t feel anyone had looked at his work in the kind of detail we wanted to read.

“Why his solo career has been given short shrift is tough to answer, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that when The Beatles broke up, an influential part of the press set up a distinct Lennon vs McCartney opposition, with Lennon as the cool revolutionary and McCartney as a middle-of-the-road singer of silly love songs. That divide has persisted, but if you listen seriously to McCartney’s post-Beatles work, it’s clear that’s not a fair assessment.”

"Writing the book has swept away several long-accepted myths and fictions"

Inspired by the painstaking research behind Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn’s remarkable work Tune In, Kozinn and Sinclair went back to source material such as contemporary interviews and session logs. They also conducted dozens of fresh interviews with musicians, producers, engineers and road managers, several who had not previously spoken about their work with McCartney or in any depth. It has been a lengthy process but one which swept away several long-accepted myths and fictions in the process.

Says Adrian: “Finding and exploring sources as close to the event as possible is critical to painting an accurate picture of incidents that took place over 50 years ago—hence we spent eight years researching this period. But because Nigerian press coverage of his visit was so limited, establishing a precise timeline for Paul’s eventful Lagos trip (during the making of Band on the Run) was difficult. But when the pieces finally slotted into place, the nightmarish chain of events that happened in Lagos—ending in Paul collapsing in the studio—finally began to make sense. But McCartney can be forgiven for not remembering the dates and details of every event that has taken place during his lifetime, I can barely remember what I went into a room for most of the time.”

Kozinn and Sinclair headshot

Adrian Sinclair and Allan Kozinn © HarperCollins Publishers

Wings drummer Denny Seiwell was interviewed at length and crucially made available the diaries he and his wife Monique kept during the early 1970s. These proved invaluable in helping to establish an accurate timeline.

“Because his journey with Paul began in October 1970 and ended almost three years later, Denny Seiwell knows Macca better than most, and during the making of this book we spent more than 10 hours in conversation with Denny,” says Adrian.

“Paul’s relationship with his sidemen was complex. On one hand, he was desperate to go back to page one with Wings, they made their first album in a couple weeks (much like The Beatles recording and mixing Please Please Me in a matter of days), and Wings’ first concerts were low-profile gigs like The Beatles’ Cavern Club appearances. But Paul quickly realised whatever he did would be judged against his work with The Beatles—there was no escaping his past. Trying to reach that high watermark with Wings made life difficult for every member of the group.”

Navigating a solo career

Newly married with young children, the Paul McCartney at the start of his solo career found his home life changing as profoundly as his professional one. Linda McCartney emerges from The McCartney Legacy as her husband’s saviour, both personally and creatively. She became his muse in song, but also his sounding board and a pivotal figure in helping him move onto the next stage of his life as a solo artist, something he found hard to imagine at first amid a deep depression in late 1969.

Says Sinclair: “Linda McCartney’s role in Paul’s musical rebirth has been washed away by a torrent of negative press over the years. First, she and Paul were sued by their music publisher when they claimed they were co-writing songs together, then the music papers questioned her legitimacy as a member of Wings. Critically, Linda rarely got a break and must have been incredible thick-skinned to put up with the relentless attacks she faced. But Linda really did stick her neck on the block for Paul, and over time became an integral member of his band and served as his creative muse for three decades.”

Photo of Paul and Linda McCartney with Bhaskar Menon, president of Capitol Records. The photo was taken at the Los Angeles Forum Club during the 1976 Wings Over America tour.

Paul and Linda McCartney with Bhaskar Menon, president of Capitol Records, 1976 © Capitol Records, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kozinn has interviewed McCartney on several occasions for The New York Times. Having spent the past eight years researching this pivotal period in his life has given him a deeper understanding of a musical enigma.

“Paul McCartney is a very complicated man, as anyone who has lived a life like his would have to be,” he says. “He gives the impression that what you see is what there is, and to an extent, that’s true. But it’s by no means all there is, and I think working on the book gave me a far better perspective on the many layers that make him the person, and the artist, he is.”

"Five hundred years from now, people will still be talking about Paul McCartney"

For Sinclair, McCartney’s Glastonbury appearance underlined the importance of writing this book.

“It crystallized my thoughts about thoroughly and properly documenting his life for future generations. The Beatles were undoubtedly the most influential band in popular music history, and with a solo career expanding beyond five decades, has become of the most revered, influential, and important figures in the history of popular culture. Five hundred years from now, when I’m six feet under, people will still be talking about Paul McCartney, a man who grew up in social housing in Liverpool and grew up to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and hopefully our volumes will help future historians better understand the crests and troughs of his incredible musical life.”

The McCartney Legacy

The McCartney Legacy is published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Available to pre-order now.

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter