Beguiling Paul McCartney box set of eponymous solo albums showcases the former Beatle's deep range

"McCartney I II III" takes Sir Paul fans from 1970 to 1980 and ends in 2020's "rockdown"

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published August 5, 2022 9:30AM (EDT)

Paul McCartney performs on stage with Wings, Netherlands, August 1972. (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images)
Paul McCartney performs on stage with Wings, Netherlands, August 1972. (Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images)

As a member of the Beatles and as a solo artist, Paul McCartney's musical achievements are difficult to describe, given the vast nature of his work and its impact upon world culture. The Beatles are, unquestionably, popular music's outlier, which makes Paul the über-outlier.

Over his long career, Beatle Paul has fashioned himself as the veritable master of the pop event. And the new limited vinyl edition box set, "McCartney I II III" — that's "McCartney" (1970), "McCartney II" (1980) and "McCartney III" (2020) — is no exception. Significantly, it captures the ex-Beatle's most interesting long-running project, outside of his experimental Fireman concept.

The release of "McCartney" occurred during the fallout from his announcement of the Beatles' disbandment, acting as an artistic statement, a blueprint if you will, for much of his early solo career, including the Wings era. With McCartney playing all of the instruments as a kind of one-man band, the LP served notice about the homespun nature of his post-Beatles work, particularly evident on such early records as "Ram" (1971) and "Wild Life" (1971).

But "McCartney" was no mere trifle, featuring the career-defining "Maybe I'm Amazed" and highlighting throughout Paul's unmatched talents as vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Songs like "Junk" and "Every Night" continued his efforts, refined during his Beatles heyday, as a balladeer for the ages.

In many ways, "McCartney II" is the most beguiling entry among the eponymous trio, with its brash experimentation and techno sound — rendered, pointedly, before techno was cool. His estranged songwriting partner John Lennon famously heard the album's lead single "Coming Up" on the car radio that spring, later citing the tune as a watershed moment in his coming return to the music business. "I thought that 'Coming Up' was great," he remarked later that year, in an interview with Robert Hilburn. "And I like the freak version that he made in his barn better than that live Glasgow one," adding that "if I'd have been with him, I'd have said, 'That's the one to do.'"

Along with "Coming Up," "McCartney II" features such fan favorites as "Temporary Secretary," a masterpiece of spellbinding electronica, and "One of These Days," the LP's showstopping acoustic ballad.

Which brings us to "McCartney III," which he recorded during the early months of the pandemic — or "rockdown," as he termed it, in reference to our near global lockdown in 2020. Arriving 50 years on the heels of "McCartney," the third LP in the trilogy finds the musician as fresh and inventive as ever.

With songs like "Long-Tailed Winter Bird," "The Kiss of Venus," and "Find My Way," "McCartney III" reminds us that as long as there is air flowing through his lungs, Paul will continue producing unparalleled popular music. Long may he reign.

Love the Beatles? Listen to Ken's podcast "Everything Fab Four."

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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