Why So Many Critics Hated Paul McCartney’s Early Solo Records

While The Beatles were headed toward the breakup, their final performance in Let It Be showcased a heavy sound as a band. Once the group officially disbanded, fans might have expected more of this rocking style.

That definitely wasn’t the case with the first solo album by Paul McCartney. Tunes like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Lovely Linda” found Paul in full pop-music mode. Critics weren’t wowed by it but generally respected the half-finished songs and simple approach Paul took to the music.

In the coming years, Paul teamed up with his wife Linda to produce Ram (1971), and reviews were less favorable. By the time of Wings’ Wild Life (1972) and Red Rose Speedway (1973), critics decided they heard enough. One reviewer called Wild Life “third-rate suburban pop.”

As a reconsideration of the albums in Billboard pointed out, others were just as unforgiving. Frankly, you wouldn’t have expected this treatment for a former Beatle. But Paul’s soft-rock direction rubbed many the wrong way.

Reviews described Paul’s tunes as ’embarrassingly puerile’ and ‘sentimental drivel.’

Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney from Wings performs live on stage at The Theatre Antique in Arles, France on July 13, 1972. | Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

When last seen on the roof of the Apple building, The Beatles were firing through “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” Billy Preston was on keys and the music was soulful and hard-edged. For his part, Paul seemed buoyed by the power of the music.

But what he did on his own was basically the exact opposite. Upon hearing “3 Legs” from Ram, you might have to agree with the “suburban pop” label. As for “I Am Your Singer” from Wild Life, Rolling Stone’s reviewer described it as “embarrassingly puerile.”

Robert Christgau, the Dean of rock critics writing in the Village Voice, referred to Red Rose Speedway as “quite possibly the worst album ever made by a rock and roller of the first rank.” For Christgau, the “aimless whimsy” and “lightweight” nature of Paul’s tunes sank the ship.

Of course, Paul was forced to clear the impossibly high bar he and his fellow Beatles set for themselves the previous decade. It didn’t help that John released his soul-baring debut — or that George delivered his epic All Things Must Pass — in late 1970. Paul had been outdone by both.

Paul’s fellow bandmates also didn’t seem to like his solo work.

30th November 1972: Paul and Linda McCartney with members of their pop group Wings. | Evening Standard/Getty Images

After Paul took a few pot-shots at his old songwriting partner on
Ram, John responded with the savage “How Do You Sleep?” in ’71. On that track, with George playing slide guitar behind him, John described Paul’s efforts as “Muzak to my ears.”

In 1972’s “Back Off Boogaloo,” a rollicking Ringo tune (also with George on guitar), Paul’s old drummer referred to him as “meathead,” adding “don’t pretend that you are dead.” Ringo then said “everything” Paul tried to do “sure sounds wasted.”

In brief, critics weren’t the only ones hammering Paul for his solo work. Clearly, his old bandmates favored a rawer, edgier sound than Paul. As Christgau said, “I tolerated McCartney’s crotchets with the Beatles because his mates balanced them out.”

Paul and Linda heard the criticism and responded with 1973’s Band on the Run. On that album, you get “Let Me Roll It” and “Jet,” heavier works for a heavy time. While it won’t win over a metal crowd, Paul’s turn back to rocking was a big improvement.

Eventually, critics realized that you couldn’t compared the talent of The Beatles to Wings. That made for more forgiving reviews. As for commercial success, that basically never stopped for Paul.

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