Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle

Paul McCartney passed through town this summer on what seems like a never ending tour playing Beatles, Wings and solo hits. Despite some battles with ill health, the septuagenarian puts on an epic show, displaying no shortage of energy. Contrast this with after he left The Beatles in 1969 and locked himself and family in a cottage in Scotland, producing the quiet, low-key McCartney and Ram albums, the covers of which reflected his new rural lifestyle. Tom Doyle's new biography Man On the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s takes us from those quiet initial years of retrenchment to once again heading one of the world's biggest bands in Wings, and then eventually winding up where he began by putting out a quiet, quirky solo album.

McCartney seemed conflicted with the idea of being a bandleader who could make the majority of decisions in a musical group as opposed to being part of a more democratic environment. When he decided that he needed a group of musicians to support his vision he formed Wings with former Moody Blues guitarist/singer Denny Laine and other musicians who came and went following various personality conflicts. The consensus among musicians who served under McCartney is that while he may have paid lip service to having a variety of voices in the band, in reality they served as paid help for a demanding man who was impossible to know.

It's interesting to see the road that McCartney and Wings took from trying to launch impromptu gigs at college campuses to filling massive halls following the success of the Band on the Run album. Of course one of the tantalizing bits that runs through this book are the various potential Beatles reunions. My favorite anecdote is when McCartney and Lennon were hanging out at Lennon's New York City apartment when Saturday Night Live jokingly offered the Beatles $3000 to perform two songs. McCartney and Lennon considered rushing down to the SNL studios and taking them up on the offer before deciding not to bother. Can you imagine? While various Beatles seem to have been up for at least some one-off reunions during the 70s, the problem seemed to be getting all Beatles on board at the same time. Perhaps this was for the best as The Beatles never soiled their legacy by selling out or putting out product that didn't match their previous output.

The relationship between McCartney and Lennon is another interesting facet of this book. While the end of The Beatles was contentious and involved lawsuits, and Lennon went through some hard times with alcohol and drug abuse that made a friendship challenging, by the time Lennon was murdered they seem to have reconciled enough to hang out and reminisce. McCartney's love of marijuana is also well documented in this book, with his eventual bust in Japan (followed by a week-long jail stay and tour cancellation) serving as a particularly puzzling lapse in  judgment.

This book was a fairly breezy read, as the author chooses not to delve too deeply into analysis of particular albums (though some of the albums are so lightweight  that perhaps a deep analysis is impossible). He shares the stories, with occasional dirt (though not enough to make it sleazy) and an obvious affection for McCartney's musical output. My favorite anecdote from the book involves throwing a record release party that Dean Martin attends (though I won't ruin the punchline for you). McCartney's solo output has been reevaluated in the last few years with many approving voices singing out their love of some of McCartney's more neglected works while hits like Band on the Run, Live and Let Die and Silly Love Songs continue to get played on the radio. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well written music biography.

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