With McCartney II, Paul McCartney attempted to tap into the new-wave zeitgeist

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McCartney II, released on May 16, 1980, was appropriately named. As with Paul McCartney’s eponymous 1970 solo debut, it arrived after the dissolution of another band — first the Beatles and then Wings. In both cases, McCartney closed himself into a studio to work on solo productions, with varying results.

Both show a willingness to strip down what had become a varnished sound. In 1980, as with 1970, Paul McCartney was coming off a huge production (1969’s Abbey Road with the Beatles and 1979’s Back to the Egg with Wings), but there is a broad disparity — more pronounced than ever — in how these recordings have aged.

McCartney comes off as more organic, a simpler expression — like someone trying to work out his own sound. McCartney II was, truth be told, fatally hobbled from the first by Paul McCartney’s own poor mechanics with the synthesizers he chose to experiment with throughout. He was, it’s clear, trying to tap into the new-wave zeitgeist. But this didn’t pass for innovation back in 1980, and today McCartney II sounds at times laughably dated.

Really, though, neither is a complete success. Left to his own devices, Paul McCartney can be, by turns, a reasonable facsimile of his hitmaking self (as heard here on “Coming Up” and “One of These Days”), then a touch too comfy (“Waterfalls” and “Summer’s Day Song”). He’ll toss off an interestingly gritty rocker (the underrated “On The Way”) and then do something stunningly reckless with his gift and his loyal audience (“Kreen-Akore” from McCartney, for instance, is unlistenable; “Temporary Secretary” from II is worse).

For all of his talents, Paul McCartney’s best work has often come when there was someone to bounce things off of, be that John Lennon or George Martin, Elvis Costello or Denny Laine. In keeping, the live version of “Coming Up,” recorded with Wings at Glasgow, Scotland in 1979 during their final tour, became the hit version — a Billboard No. 1 in June 1980.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • 3brettb3

    To each their own. I think McCartney II is a brilliant record that actually stands up better today. And the argument that he needed help from others to be at his best is a tired one. Many of his best Beatles songs had little to no input from Lennon.

  • MichaelFortes

    I think the implied chronology is off here. While McCartney II was indeed released after Back To The Egg, it was actually recorded in mid ’79, months before Wings’ final tour. When it was released the following year, Paul was still rehearsing Wings for a possible follow-up to Back To The Egg that would become a solo album. Bootlegs of these rehearsal sessions exist. After Paul decided to dissolve Wings in early ’81, the material he was rehearsing with Wings became part of his next solo album, Tug Of War. In fact, Denny Laine is present on some of Tug Of War and its follow-up, Pipes Of Peace.

    Paul himself helped to perpetuate the myth that he broke up Wings soon after his Japanese arrest in early 1980 by implying as much in the Wingspan documentary. But it has been documented elsewhere that his decision to finally end Wings was formalized and announced via a press release a year and a half after McCartney II was recorded, and about a year after Wings played their final concert.

    And for whatever it’s worth, McCartney II has always been one of my favorite McCartney albums. It’s charm, much like with the first McCartney, lies in the lack of any initial intention to release the recordings. It’s so freewheeling and honest and quirky that it’s hard not to get caught up in its spirit of play and fun. It’s certainly what I would call one of my “desert island discs.”

  • A.L.

    It’s a brilliant album,

  • BellBino

    It’s a brilliant album. And Nick DeRiso has proven himself tone deaf, as usual, about McCartney. DeRiso’s views are so dated. Why is it that young critics can hear what a great record this is, and old critics like DeRiso, stewing in his own silly prejudices, can’t? Temporary Secretary is amazing. Period.

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