Paul McCartney released his second self-titled solo album during May of 1980, just about ten years after the first. He spent the intervening decade touring and recording with Wings, with whom he sold tens of millions of albums and performed to sold out stadiums and concert halls worldwide. It cemented his reputation as one of the superstars of the music world and established his identity outside of The Beatles.
McCartney II was a return to basics as it was recorded in his home with the microphone plugged directly into the back of a 16-track tape machine. He wrote all the tracks, played all the instruments, sang all the songs, plus produced and engineered the album. The only help he received was Linda McCartney’s backing vocals.
The album has now returned in in a cleaned-up, remastered form with a bonus disc of songs, which is ten minutes longer than the original release. This album, and its predecessor McCartney, are the latest additions to his Archive Collection. As with all the releases in the series, there is also a 3 CD, 1 DVD box set, and for the brave at heart, a 180 gram vinyl edition.
I tend to prefer his 1970’s work with Wings as it has more punch and the group setting tended to keep his lightweight pop tendencies in check. Still, the years have been kind to McCartney II, and while it may not be his strongest release, it has grown on me and there are a number of tracks worth revisiting.
The studio version of his number one live hit, “Coming Up,” the ballads “Waterfalls” and “One Of These Days,” the fun “Bogey Music,” and “Nobody Knows,” which has a “Get Back” vibe, remain excellent, if underappreciated Paul McCartney songs.
The bonus disc is hit-or-miss, but there is some very worthwhile material. There is the live version of “Coming Up”” that includes another verse but not the introduction and chanting contained on the original single release. “Blue Sway,” with the Richard Niles Orchestra, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Paul McCartney has created. “Mr. H Atom/You Know I’ll Get You Baby” has a goofy appeal. On the other hand, the ten minute, mostly instrumental “Secret Friend” is a bit much, as is the non-orchestrated, ten minute version of “All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway.”
While McCartney II may not be a consistently strong album, it is nevertheless representative of Paul McCartney’s mind and music circa 1980. It is not a starting point when exploring his music, but is essential for any serious fan.