Gibson.com wishes Paul McCartney Happy Birthday today. Few lives have been as thoroughly documented as the life of Paul McCartney. Biographies – both of The Beatles and Sir Paul – number in the hundreds, many filled with minute details about the public and private life of the former Beatle. Still, we managed to unearth a few interesting tidbits that may have eluded all but the most avid fans. Feel free to chime in, in the comments section, with interesting McCartney facts we might have missed.
10. The artist who showed him the option to play guitar left-handed was … Slim Whitman.
McCartney’s father bought him a trumpet for his birthday when McCartney turned 14, but the young lad had his Dad exchange it for a cheap acoustic. The future Beatle struggled mightily with the instrument until he happened upon a photograph of Slim Whitman, the country yodeler who played guitar lefty-style. McCartney flipped his guitar, modified the string setup, and soon wrote his first song, a ditty titled “I Lost My Little Girl.”
9. Long before the edict came down from Brian Epstein, McCartney himself insisted that he and Lennon be nattily attired.
In the very first show McCartney did with The Quarrymen, he outfitted the band in matching shirts and string ties. Furthermore, to set himself and Lennon apart from the others, he came up with the idea that the two frontmen should wear matching cream-colored blazers. All of 15 at the time, McCartney muffed his first turn in the spotlight when he botched his featured guitar solo on the Arthur Smith tune, “Guitar Boogie.”
8. “Yesterday” is the most recorded song in history. But nipping at its heels is a song by … Tony Orlando and Dawn.
According to Guinness World Records, more than 1,600 different cover versions of “Yesterday” have been recorded to date. The popular standard, “Stardust,” ranks second, with more than 1,500 recorded versions. Incredibly, however, the 1973 Tony Orlando and Dawn hit, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” rates nearly as high, with well over 1,000 recorded versions out there, somewhere.
7. It was he who salvaged The Beatles’ legendary summit with Elvis Presley.
While in Los Angeles in 1965, The Beatles went to Elvis’s house in Bel Air to meet The King for the first time. According to McCartney biographer Peter Ames, Lennon irritated Presley with talk of Vietnam and by flirting with Elvis’s wife, Priscilla. McCartney saved the day with the words, “Can we play some music?” An impromptu jam ensued (with Elvis on bass) wherein the group played a clutch of Presley hits.
6. The only instance in which McCartney has utilized a string quartet, other than on “Yesterday,” was on a tribute song he wrote for John Lennon.
String sections have been employed on lots of McCartney’s songs, of course, both with the Beatles and post-Beatles. But with the exception of “Yesterday,” the only time McCartney enlisted a string quartet was on “Here Today,” the moving remembrance of John Lennon he wrote for his 1982 Tug of War album. Tug of War also marked McCartney’s reunion with George Martin, who produced the disc.
5. One of the first bands he tried to sign to Apple Records was … Chicago.
During a trip to Los Angeles in the spring of 1968, when McCartney was trying to get the newly-launched Apple Corps off the ground, he went to the Whisky a Go Go to take in a B.B. King show. An upstart group called Chicago Transit Authority happened to be on the bill as well. Impressed, McCartney tried to recruit them as an Apple artist, but alas, the group were already in talks with Columbia Records.
4. His favorite band at the dawn of 1965 was … The Who.
Released in January 1965, The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” impressed McCartney to the point that he proclaimed The Who his favorite band. Coming at a time when groups like Herman’s Hermits and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders were dominating the charts, McCartney’s proclamation was remarkably prescient. Throughout that year, The Who would assail the singles charts with soon-to-be classics like “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” and “My Generation.”
3. Before they became Wings, McCartney’s post-Beatles band nearly became … a paint thinner.
In August 1971, when he was trying to get his post-Beatles band off the ground, McCartney was having a terrible time coming up with a name for the nascent group. Among the top name-candidates floated were The Dazzlers and, for reasons unknown, Turpentine. Alas, while praying for his wife, Linda, as she was giving birth to their daughter, the image of “wings” kept springing to mind.
2. He began reversing The Beatles’ “Lennon-McCartney” songwriting designation as early as 1976.
Although The Beatles first album, Please Please Me, featured songs credited to “McCartney-Lennon,” McCartney famously acceded to pressure to henceforth adopt the designation, “Lennon-McCartney.” But when Wings released their live triple-album, Wings Over America, in 1976, McCartney elected to designate the five featured Beatles songs as “McCartney-Lennon” compositions. He continued the practice on other post-Beatles albums.
1. His 1980 hit, “Coming Up,” was a prime factor in John Lennon’s decision to get back into music.
This charming ditty, from McCartney’s homespun 1980 album, McCartney II, was first heard by Lennon as he was traveling with his assistant, Fred Seaman. The next morning, Lennon confessed to Seaman that he couldn’t get the song’s distinctive riff out of his head. Seaman later said the track stirred the muse in Lennon. “If Paul was writing decent music,” Seaman wrote, in his memoir, “John felt compelled to take up the challenge.”