Paul McCartney has long since stepped out of the shadow of The Beatles, but he’s now looking back at a moment when the idea of embarking on a solo career after the Fab Four’s breakup was seen as a huge risk.
On his website, Sir Paul responded to a question from a Twitter user who asked what the “biggest professional risk” had been in his career.
“The main question I had was whether to keep going after The Beatles, because it was a hard act — some might say, an impossible act — to follow. The ingredients in the Beatles were so unique. You had John right there, who could have made any group brilliant. Then you had George’s talent, and Ringo’s, and then me,” McCartney explained.
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“Once that band had finished, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and trying something new was really risky. Then, of course, having Linda in Wings, when she was not a ‘musician’, was a risk too. When the reviews started to come in a lot of them focused on her, asking, ‘What’s she doing in the band?’ And that was hurtful. But I rationalized it by thinking about when we started The Beatles and none of us knew our chords — over time we got better and picked things up,” he continued.
“In the early days of Wings, we decided to go right back to square one, taking a van up the motorway and playing little spontaneous gigs at universities for students, rather than jumping straight in with big live shows,” McCartney recalled. “I’d doubled back to almost being nothing — just some guy in the band ± and now I was earning my fame again. By the time the mid-’70s came around when we were doing a big American tour, that was the vindication of it. We were so tight and had come up together, as it were. The risk paid off.”
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Despite taking such a big risk, McCartney admitted that risk-taking isn’t really in his nature.
“I’m quite careful normally,” he said. “There’s a couple of times in life when you are forced into taking a risk. After The Beatles, this was my situation: ‘Do I keep going with music, or not?’ Well, I want to keep going. So, ‘How am I going to do it? Am I going to have a band, or am I just going to busk outside train stations? How’s it going to work?’”
John Lennon, on the other hand, was McCartney’s “polar opposite” when it came to taking risks.
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“If there was a cliff to be jumped off, John would jump! He would just dive into things, and I would sometimes have to rescue him and say, ‘Hey man, you shouldn’t be doing that!’ Or, he sometimes wouldn’t pay his taxes, for example, and so I said, ‘You’re going to have to, or you’re going to jail!’ But then it was very exciting to be around someone with such a different personality. That was part of the fun and attraction,” McCartney shared.