There’s no denying it: Paul McCartney gets a lot of hate. Not just from outside the Beatles fan community, but within it too. But why? What is it about him that offends certain people so much compared with his bandmates?
In his excellent book, Dreaming the Beatles, Rob Sheffield writes that if you dislike The Beatles, it’s because you dislike Paul. Whatever problem you might have with them, it’s all because of him. I can’t disagree with that, because I’ve come across it so many times. Whenever I encounter people who don’t like The Beatles, they start ranting about how much Paul gets on their nerves. And when I meet people who are huge John Lennon fans in particular, they often tell me they don’t like Paul.
One theory I have, harsh though it may sound, is that some people dislike Paul simply because he isn’t John. We’ve all heard the clichés; John was the Smart Beatle, Paul was the Cute Beatle. John was the sharp, witty, sarcastic one who didn’t care what you thought of him, while Paul was the polite, image-conscious charmer who gave the press what they wanted. John was the rock and roller, and Paul was the purveyor of irresistibly catchy pop tunes. Anyone who has heard Paul channelling his hero Little Richard knows that it’s not as clear-cut as that, but these myths are still gospel for a lot of people.
After John was tragically killed in December 1980, two things happened. He was deified (which is not something he would have been comfortable with), and the anti-Paul hysteria reached its peak. This was prompted in part by Paul’s infamous TV reaction to John’s death, in which he said the words that would haunt him for years: “It’s a drag.” Of course, the man was clearly in shock, and anyone who had reporters in their face looking for an immediate response to the murder of one of their oldest friends would undoubtedly have said something similarly off the cuff. Yet Paul was vilified for supposedly not caring, and it was this single incident which defined his public image for a long time.
When a musician dies before their time, it’s easy to remember only the good things they did and forget that they were human beings with flaws like anyone else. This is certainly what happened with John, and he came to be viewed almost as a saint. As a result the narrative changed, and with John no longer around to set the record straight, it became easier for some to claim that the other three Beatles were lesser talents — and, because there was such an intense rivalry between John and Paul in particular, it was inevitably Paul who became the target of people’s misplaced bitterness. It’s only in the last few years that the general public has come around to the idea that Paul was probably the most experimental one of all.
For a long time, Yoko Ono was viewed as the one who broke up The Beatles. But there were also those who blamed Paul. Although he fought behind the scenes to keep the band together when everyone else was getting fed up with each other, he ended up being the one who announced to the press (via his first solo album) that he was finished with The Beatles. It didn’t matter that the others had been harbouring these feelings for quite a while; to actually come out and say it was over made Paul the bad guy who shattered the dream.
Paul has always had a reputation for being Mr. Enthusiastic. From very early on, he won over the press with his charm and cheerful attitude. But as the years went on, this became one of the things about him that people were most irritated by. Since the ’80s, his ‘thumbs aloft’ shtick has been much parodied, and he has been accused of being so overly conscious of his public persona that he can never let his true emotions show. I once spoke to someone who admitted to being “suspicious” of Paul for being so PR-savvy, but when you’ve been in the game for as long as he has, you’d have to be.
The fact that Paul has very rarely let his guard down in public doesn’t mean he’s unfeeling — in the case of both John Lennon and his late wife Linda, he has preferred to deal with his grief in private, and then when he has felt ready to do so, he has expressed his feelings on those relationships through his music.
Which brings us to another of the most common criticisms levelled at Paul: that he has lost his edge musically. Even before the end of The Beatles, John liked to sneer about what he called Paul’s “granny music”. Songs like ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ typically fit into this category, but those who like to defend Paul will say that they are examples of him experimenting with different musical styles.
He has also been accused of writing too many “silly love songs” (something he brilliantly turned back on his critics by penning the Wings song of the same name, which became a number one hit — no doubt annoying the critics even further). Sentimentality has never gone down too well with music writers, but you just have to admit that a good old-fashioned love song makes you feel better about the world, and where Paul’s career is concerned, there are plenty of them to choose from. Okay, he doesn’t always hit the target, but when he does, there really is nobody better.
As a writer, Paul is so prolific that it’s been said he seems to find it too easy. This has had its advantages, such as when the entire melody for ‘Yesterday’ came to him in a dream. But at other times, people have accused him of having no filter; of being lazy and releasing half-finished songs that don’t really go anywhere. It’s hard to deny that he has done this on more than one occasion, but sometimes a shamelessly catchy melody is all is takes to make you fall in love with one of his songs. Take ‘Let ‘Em In’, for example, a hugely successful Wings hit that he still plays live to this day. Those who hate this song seem to really hate it. They say there is absolutely no substance to it; it’s just a little ditty about people knocking on your door, and letting them in. And they’re right; that’s all it is. But I dare you not to whistle along and think, “Damn, that brass is really great!”
Paul’s reputation has improved in recent years, probably as more people are realising that we need to cherish the two Beatles we’ve got left. Either way, no matter what he’s done, there will always be someone ready to criticise him at every opportunity.
Personally, the thing that offends me most about Paul is this mullet: