GOING SOLO ? DON’T MIND IF I DO!!!!
Going solo and breaking away from a successful pop/rock group can be highly risky. For some it pays off…for some it’s the dole queue (well not exactly as there’s juicy royalties to fall back on if you were a songwriter in that core) but nevertheless some artist won’t make that leap of faith without a record company and a decent manager to fall back on.
There have been equal successes and failures through the years. Bryan Ferry’s solo career would match his Roxy Music days, while the latter day Justin Timberlake eclipsed anything his former NSYNC members would achieve.. Then you have the ill-timed departures like Tommy Lee who thought he could make a major success as a solo drummer away from his Motley Crew days…. For Tommy see Frida from Abba who’s solo album sank without trace (Agnetha Faltskog fared slightly better), and you could name a multitude of ex-boyband members who decision to go solo was an instant disaster…Shane Filan anyone?
In trying to think of one golden example of mainstream success for over 50 years it’s hard to look past James Paul McCartney. With sales 120 million as a solo artist, 18 grammy’s and a shedload of number 1’s and a Net worth of £1.2 billion it’s fair to say the Liverpudlian has done alright for himself!
It would be a tad unfair to say “Macca” left Lennon, Harrison and Starr in the lurch – the break up of the world’s most successful band was probably coming. Various groups of fans would cite Lennon for his left-of-centre relationship and marriage to Yoko Ono (the opitome of evil to most Beatles followers) however Lennon himself was in no doubt as to where the blame laid.
“After Brian died … Paul took over and supposedly led us you know … we went round in circles … We broke up then. That was the disintegration. I thought, ‘we’ve fuckin’ had it.'”
—John Lennon, Rolling Stone magazine, 1970
A relatively short career of eight years had given way and the most successful group in recording history with sales of over 800 million physical and digital albums worldwide. They have had more number-one albums on the British charts and sold more singles in the UK than any other act. They are also the best-selling music artists in the United States, with 178 million certified units. In 2008, the group topped Billboard magazine’s list of the all-time most successful artists; as of 2017, they hold the record for most number-one hits on the Hot 100 chart with twenty.
I’ll throw the 15 Ivor Novello Awards, one Academy Award (Best Original Song Score for “Let It Be”) and the 7 Grammy Awards – modest by their lofty standards – and you’ll see why no male/female/duo or group will ever surpass such a record.
Nevertheless despite the break-up McCartney immediately immersed himself in a solo role, bringing out his first album “McCartney” in April 1970. This would be a source of Ire with Lennon as McCartney had recorded the album a year early as part of The Beatles, indeed Apple had resisted attempts to have it released while the group were still together.
It proved a highly successful departure from the group, thanks in no part to songs like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and the album went to Number 1 in the Billboard Charts for three weeks (it stalled at No.2 in his native UK.) Off to a flying start less than 12 months from the break-up.
However solo success, though swelling the coffers nicely, McCartney was already a multi-millionaire to this point – was something he wouldn’t persue and retreated to the safety of a group setting again when joining forces with Denny Laine, Denny Sewell and a somewhat limited Linda McCartney to form WINGS.
“I didn’t really want to keep going as a solo artist … so it became obvious that I had to get a band together … Linda and I talked it through and it was like, ‘Yeah, but let’s not put together a supergroup, let’s go back to square one.'” – Paul MCartney
Releasing their first album “Wild Life” in July 1971, the album entered the top 10 in over 35 countries.
McCartney went on to top that with a decade of success with Wings (Band On The Run went to No.1 in 17 countries and shifted 5 million albums between the UK/US) and enjoyed further accolades with songs like “Jet”, “Let Em’ In”, “Silly Love Songs”, and the colossal “Mull of Kintyre” which spent nine week at the top of the charts in Britain.
Could anyone have foreseen such double group success of the likely lad from The Quarrymen before he hit it big with the most famous foresome in musical history?
His superb song-writing credits with The Beatles with cuts such as “Hey Jude”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Let It Be”, and “Yesterday”, “Blackbird”, “Back In The U.S.S.R. and “Yesterday” – a song which started with the title “Scrambled Eggs” and went on to become “Yesterday” the most recorded song in history – you can get 2,200 versions of it – virtually sealed any sort of success since the now 75 year old Liverpudlian would record as a solo artist.
McCartney would disband Wings in 1981 and has since recorded as a solo artist. His first offering alone would be McCartney II (in 1980) with “Coming Up” the standout single (and clever video mimicking some of the Liverpudlians idols) which topped the Billboard charts, but held off the top of the UK Charts by ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” and David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” respectively.
He would strike duo success with two of the most popular Black artists of all time in the unlikely setting of Stevie Wonder “Ebony & Ivory” a worldwide smash and then two songs with Michael Jackson – “The Girl Is Mine” and “Say, Say, Say” though McCartney would fall out with MJ when Jackson bought the rights to The Beatles back catalogue – probably because Paul was too tight to – and never healed the wounds.
A disasterous foray into the Movies occurred with “Give My Regards To Broad Street” which bombed at the Box Office yet produced “No More Lonely Nights” one of his finest solo recordings which featured Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour on guitar.
He recorded throughout the eighties with a string of well known standards “Pipes of Peace”, “Only Love Remains”, and “Once Upon A Long Ago” whilst his live concerts kept the wolves from the door ….ever so slightly mind! He also played a part in the Bob Geldof inspired Live Aid.
A further feather in the cap for “Macca” arrived in the shape of The Beatles Anthology 1-3. Released on the 20th of November 1995 and a welcome get-together with former band-mates George Harrison and Ringo Starr and watched over by George Martin , it predictably scored huge worldwide success and a single “Free As A Bird” , a song originally written and recorded by John Lennon as a home demo in 1977 sold almost 150,000 in it’s first week. It was impressive by 1990 standards but way short of the colossal amounts one of their singles would have sold 30 years earlier – case in point “We Can Work It Out” , released in December 1965 sold 300,000 in it’s first five days of release – as “Free As A Bird” spent 8 weeks at Number 2 in Britain and Number 6 Stateside.
“Real Love” (again written by the late Lennon) was released from Anthology 2 and became the groups last Top 40 single.
The release on Anthology 2 & 3 (in March and October of 1996) featured out-takes and demos from such classics albums like Rubber Soul, Revolver , Sgt. Peppers, and The White Album fared equally as well. Indeed all three double albums went to Number 1 in the Billboard Album Charts which equalled a record by ….Led Zepplin …?….Crosby, Stills Nash & Young..? Simon & Garfunkel you say? No. Funnily enough, Donna Summer! The late Boston Belle still holds that record despite her sad parting from the world in 2012 aged just 63.
MCartney’s `1990 albums might not have topped charts globally , he released “Off The Ground “ in 1993 and “Run Devil Run” a covers album in 1999 but he always scored critical success from his peers – 1997’s “Flaming Pie” was one with multiple Grammy nominations as the success of the ballad “Beautiful Night” which top the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts in America.
I went to see the man himself in 201o in the RDS. At that point hitting his seventies I didn’t expect too much despite the star I would be seeing in front of my eyes, yet he produced a neat 4 hour set which astonished all who witnessed it.
Loved and loathed in equal measure by some, McCartney proves the best example of a band member turned solo artist that hasn’t lapsed in success in any way shape or form.