The McCartney Legacy: Volume 1: 1969-73
- By Allan Kozinn and Adrian Sinclair
- Dey Street Books
- 720 pp.
- Reviewed by Michael Causey
- February 13, 2023
A valuable addition to the ever-growing Beatles canon.
Scholars of the Talmud, Geoffrey Chaucer, or Taylor Swift have nothing on the passion and production of those devotees who’ve gleefully dissected the Beatles since even before the group disbanded in 1970.
Beatle bookshelves groan under the increasing weight of “insiders’ stories,” discographies, and especially the waves of tomes penned by otherwise sane, intelligent people slightly unhinged by their passion and obsession. Whether it’s watching a panel at a Beatles convention, taking an online course centered on the former Liverpudlians, or hanging at a favorite greasy spoon amped up on coffee with like-minded obsessives, I’ve seen people raise their voices while debating all kinds of Fab Four minutiae, including who really played the guitar solo on George Harrison’s “Taxman.” (It was Paul McCartney.)
The surviving Beatles, McCartney and Ringo Starr, each contribute to this mass of remembrances, disagreements, and assessments in ways that both excite and frustrate the faithful. McCartney published his sweeping The Lyrics in late 2021, a work which, at its worst, seemed intent on establishing the Cute One as the T.S. Eliot of pop music and, at its best, offered insight into some pretty keen songs. Ringo’s oeuvre has tended to be more peripheral, such as 2004’s Postcards from the Boys, a fun collection of mail he received over the years from the other three Fabs.
Enter the ambitious, exhaustive The McCartney Legacy. “That’s a pretty scholarly looking book,” a fellow patron said to me while I was reading it recently at Signature Cigars. I see his point. At more than 700 pages, the book rivals any reputable textbook in girth. When I told my stogie-smoking acquaintance the work was a detailed look at Macca’s earliest post-Beatles work, he seemed a bit surprised. Clearly, he’s not one of us.
The McCartney Legacy is more than a worthy addition to the Beatles canon. It’s an overdue appreciation of the incredible output Sir Macca produced as the Beatles dissolved. Dismissed at the time as underachieving — Ringo, for example, remarked that Paul seemed to have forgotten how to write great songs — today, much of Paul’s early efforts, including “Maybe I’m Amazed” and the albums RAM and Band on the Run, are widely regarded as pop-music masterpieces.
Poring over these pages made me feel like I was sitting in the studio with Paul, wife Linda, and musicians like Denny Laine as the musical alchemy was brewing. Even the most devout Beatles scholars will learn a lot from this excellent work. Among many revelations for this gifted amateur McCartney historian, I learned Paul nearly called his first solo album “I’m the One it Hit the Most,” reflecting how he was the most enthusiastic bandmember up to the very end and fought the break-up, and how many seemingly cohesive, classic songs, such as “Another Day,” began as disparate fragments fused by McCartney’s artistry.
Also on display in this fine book are McCartney’s strong work ethic, seemingly inexhaustible creativity, capriciousness fueled in part by lots of pot, and image as a man soldiering on to reestablish himself after being part of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band Planet Earth has ever seen.
I particularly enjoyed the long passages devoted to Wings’ earliest live dates. In typical daft Macca fashion, he had an open-deck bus retrofitted for the occasion, brought along family members, and embarked on a series of virtually impromptu shows at colleges around the United Kingdom. It was a ramshackle, public way to whip his new band into shape.
More intellectual types might say if they could go back in time, they’d want to hang with Shakespeare or warn Caesar to watch his back in mid-March. Me? I’d love to have been in a little car driving on the wrong side of the road and following Wings’ 1972 tour. Now, thanks to The McCartney Legacy, I feel like I was.
Michael Causey is the host of “A Good Hour” on WOWD 94.3 FM and takomaradio.org.