McCartney has worked on film scores and classical and electronic music, released a large catalogue of songs as a solo artist, and taken part in projects to help international charities. He is an advocate for animal rights, vegetarianism, and music education; he is active in campaigns against landmines, seal hunting, and Third World debt. He is a keen football fan, supporting both Everton and Liverpool football clubs. His company MPL Communications owns the copyrights to more than 3,000 songs, including all of the songs written by Buddy Holly, along with the publishing rights to such musicals as Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line, and Grease. McCartney is one of Britain's wealthiest men, with an estimated fortune of £750 million ($1.2 billion) in 2009.
McCartney was born in Walton Hospital in Liverpool England where his mother, Mary (née Mohan), had worked as a nurse in the maternity ward. He has one brother, Michael, born 7 January 1944. McCartney was baptised Roman Catholic but was raised non-denominationally: his mother was Roman Catholic and his father James, or "Jim" McCartney, was a Protestant turned agnostic.
In 1947 he began attending Stockton Wood Road Primary school. He then attended the Joseph Williams Junior School and passed the 11-plus exam in 1953 with three others out of the 90 examinees, thus gaining admission to the Liverpool Institute. In 1954 while taking the bus from his home in the suburb of Speke to the Institute, he met George Harrison, who lived nearby. Passing the exam meant that McCartney and Harrison could go to a Grammar school rather than a secondary modern school, which the majority of pupils attended until they were eligible to work, but as Grammar school pupils they had to find new friends.
In 1955, the McCartney family moved to 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton. Mary McCartney rode a bicycle to houses where she was needed as a midwife, and an early McCartney memory is of her leaving when it was snowing heavily. On 31 October 1956, Mary McCartney, a heavy smoker, died of an embolism after a mastectomy operation to stop the spread of her breast cancer. The early loss of his mother later connected McCartney with John Lennon, whose mother Julia died after being struck by a car when Lennon was 17.
McCartney's father was a trumpet player and pianist who had led Jim Mac's Jazz Band in the 1920s and encouraged his two sons to be musical. Jim had an upright piano in the front room that he had bought from Brian Epstein's store. McCartney's grandfather, Joe McCartney, played an E-flat tuba. Jim McCartney used to point out the different instruments in songs on the radio, and often took McCartney to local brass band concerts. McCartney's father gave him a nickel-plated trumpet, but when skiffle music became popular, McCartney swapped the trumpet for a £15 Framus Zenith (model 17) acoustic guitar. As he was left-handed, McCartney found right-handed guitars difficult to play, but when he saw a poster advertising a Slim Whitman concert, he realised that Whitman played left-handed with his guitar strung the opposite way to a right-handed player. McCartney wrote his first song ("I Lost My Little Girl") on the Zenith, and also played his father's Framus Spanish guitar when writing early songs with Lennon. He later learned to play the piano and wrote his second song, "When I'm Sixty-Four". On his father's advice, he took music lessons, but since he preferred to learn 'by ear' he never paid much attention to them.
McCartney was heavily influenced by American Rhythm and Blues music. He has stated that Little Richard was his idol when he was in school and that the first song he ever sang in public was "Long Tall Sally", at a Butlins holiday camp talent competition.
At the age of 15, McCartney met John Lennon and The Quarrymen at the St. Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton on 6 July 1957. He formed a close working relationship with Lennon and they collaborated on many songs. Harrison joined the group as lead guitarist, followed by Lennon's art school friend, Stuart Sutcliffe, on bass, and Pete Best on the drums. By May 1960, they had tried several new names, including "Johnny and The Moondogs" and "The Silver Beetles", playing a tour of Scotland under that name with Johnny Gentle. They finally changed the name of the group to The Beatles.
From May 1960, The Beatles were booked by Allan Williams, to perform at a club in Hamburg. For the next two years, The Beatles remained in Hamburg for much of the time, performing as a resident group in a number of Hamburg clubs. During their two-year Hamburg residency they returned to Liverpool from time to time, performing at the Cavern club. Prior to the end of the residency, Sutcliffe left the band, so McCartney, reluctantly, became The Beatles' bass player. The Beatles recorded their first published musical material in Hamburg, performing as the backing group for Tony Sheridan on the single "My Bonnie". This recording later brought The Beatles to the attention of a key figure in their subsequent development and commercial success, Brian Epstein, who became their next manager. Epstein eventually negotiated a record contract for the group with Parlophone in May 1962. After replacing Best with Ringo Starr on drums, The Beatles became popular in the UK in 1963 and in the US in 1964. In 1965, they were each appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). After performing concerts, plays, and tours almost non-stop for a period of nearly four years, and giving more than one thousand four hundred live performances internationally, The Beatles gave their last commercial concert at the end of their 1966 US tour. They continued to work in the recording studio from 1966 until their breakup in 1970. In the eight years from 1962 to 1970, the group had released twenty-four UK singles and twelve studio albums, along with further US releases
After the breakup of The Beatles, McCartney continued his musical career, in solo work as well as in collaborations with other musicians. After releasing his solo album McCartney in 1970, he worked with Linda McCartney to record the album Ram in 1971. Later the same year, the pair were joined by guitarist Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell to form the group Wings, which was active between 1971 and 1981 and released numerous successful singles and albums (see discography). McCartney also collaborated with a number of other popular artists including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Eric Stewart, and Elvis Costello. In 1985, McCartney played "Let It Be" at the Live Aid concert in London, backed by Bob Geldof, Pete Townshend, David Bowie, and Alison Moyet. The 1990s saw McCartney venture into orchestral music, and in 1991 the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society commissioned a musical piece by McCartney to celebrate its sesquicentennial. He collaborated with Carl Davis to release Liverpool Oratorio; involving the opera singers Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Sally Burgess, Jerry Hadley and Willard White, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the choir of Liverpool Cathedral. The Prince of Wales later honoured McCartney as a Fellow of The Royal College of Music and Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music (2008). Other forays into classical music included Standing Stone (1997), Working Classical (1999), and Ecce Cor Meum (2006). It was announced in the 1997 New Year Honours that McCartney was to be knighted for services to music, becoming Sir Paul McCartney. In 1999, McCartney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and in May 2000, he was awarded a Fellowship by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. The 1990s also saw McCartney, Harrison and Starr working together on Apple's The Beatles Anthology documentary series.
Having witnessed the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks from the JFK airport tarmac, McCartney took a lead role in organising The Concert for New York City.
In November 2002, on the first anniversary of George Harrison's death, McCartney performed at the Concert for George. He has also participated in the National Football League's Super Bowl, performing in the pre-game show for Super Bowl XXXVI and headlining the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXIX.
McCartney has continued to work in the realms of popular and classical music, touring the world and performing at a large number of concerts and events; on more than one occasion he has performed again with Ringo Starr. In 2008, he received a BRIT award for Outstanding Contribution to Music and an honorary degree, Doctor of Music, from Yale University. The same year, he performed at a concert in Liverpool to celebrate the city's year as European Capital of Culture. In 2009, he received two nominations for the 51st annual Grammy awards, while in October of the same year he was named songwriter of the year at The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Awards.
On 15 July 2009, more than 45 years after The Beatles first appeared on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show, McCartney returned to the Ed Sullivan Theater and performed atop the marquee of Late Show with David Letterman.
On 13 December 2009, McCartney performed the final songs of the UK's X Factor talent show. Following his rendition of "Live and Let Die", Simon Cowell quipped, "on behalf of all of us, you're through to the next round."
McCartney was portrayed in the 2009 film Nowhere Boy, about Lennon's teenage years, by Thomas Sangster.
Although McCartney's relationship with John Lennon was troubled, they became close again briefly in 1974 and even played together for the only time since the Beatles split (see A Toot and a Snore in '74). In later years, the two grew apart again. McCartney would often call Lennon, but was never sure of what sort of reception he would get, such as when McCartney once called Lennon and was told, "You're all pizza and fairytales!" McCartney understood that he could not just phone Lennon and only talk about business, so they often talked about cats, baking bread, or babies. According to May Pang, during Lennon's "Lost Weekend" with her they planned to visit McCartney in New Orleans, where McCartney was recording the Venus and Mars album, but Lennon went back to Ono the day before the planned visit after Ono said she had a new cure for Lennon's smoking habit.
In a 1980 interview, Lennon said that the last time he had seen McCartney was when they had watched the episode of Saturday Night Live (May 1976) in which Lorne Michaels had made his $3,000 cash offer to get Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr to reunite on the show. McCartney and Lennon had seriously considered going to the studio, but were too tired. This event was fictionalised in the 2000 television film Two of Us. His last telephone call to Lennon, which was just before Lennon and Ono released Double Fantasy, was friendly. During the call, Lennon said (laughing) to McCartney, "This housewife wants a career!" which referred to Lennon's househusband years, while looking after Sean Lennon. In 1984, McCartney said this about the phone call:
“ Yes. That is a nice thing, a consoling factor for me, because I do feel it was sad that we never actually sat down and straightened our differences out. But fortunately for me, the last phone conversation I ever had with him was really great, and we didn't have any kind of blowup. ”
Linda McCartney, speaking in the same 1984 interview stated:
“ I know that Paul was desperate to write with John again. And I know John was desperate to write. Desperate. People thought, Well, he's taking care of Sean, he's a househusband and all that, but he wasn't happy. He couldn't write and it drove him crazy. And Paul could have helped him... easily. ”
On the morning of 9 December 1980, McCartney awoke to the news that Lennon had been murdered outside his home in the Dakota building in New York. Lennon's death created a media frenzy around the surviving members of The Beatles. On the evening of 9 December, as McCartney was leaving an Oxford Street recording studio, he was surrounded by reporters and asked for his reaction to Lennon's death. He was later criticised for what appeared, when published, to be an utterly superficial response: "It's a drag". McCartney explained, "When John was killed somebody stuck a microphone at me and said: 'What do you think about it?' I said, 'It's a dra-a-ag' and meant it with every inch of melancholy I could muster. When you put that in print it says, 'McCartney in London today when asked for a comment on his dead friend said, "It's a drag."' It seemed a very flippant comment to make."
McCartney was also to recall:
“ I talked to Yoko the day after he was killed and the first thing she said was, "John was really fond of you." The last telephone conversation I had with him we were still the best of mates. He was always a very warm guy, John. His bluff was all on the surface. He used to take his glasses down, those granny glasses, and say, "It's only me." They were like a wall, you know? A shield. Those are the moments I treasure.”
In 1983 McCartney said:
“ I would not have been as typically human and standoffish as I was if I knew John was going to die. I would have made more of an effort to try and get behind his "mask" and have a better relationship with him.'”
In a Playboy interview in 1984, McCartney said that he went home that night and watched the news on television—while sitting with all his children—and cried all evening.
McCartney carried on recording after the death of Lennon but did not play any live concerts for some time. He explained that this was because he was nervous that he would be "the next" to be murdered. This led to a disagreement with Denny Laine, who wanted to continue touring and subsequently left Wings, which McCartney disbanded in 1981. Also in June 1981, six months after Lennon's death, McCartney sang backup on George Harrison's tribute to Lennon, "All Those Years Ago", which also featured Ringo Starr on drums. McCartney would go on to record "Here Today", a tribute song to Lennon.
In 1977, George Harrison had this to say about working with McCartney:
"There were a lot of tracks though where I played bass...because what Paul would do, if he's written a song, he'd learn all the parts for Paul and then come in the studio and say, 'Do this.' He'd never give you the opportunity to come out with something. Paul would always help along when you'd done his ten songs-- then when he got 'round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually. ”
While being interviewed circa 1988, Harrison said McCartney had recently mentioned the possibility of he and Harrison writing together, to which Harrison laughed, "I've only been there about 30 years in Paul's life and it's like now he wants to write with me."
In September 1980, John Lennon had this to say about Harrison and McCartney's working relationship:
"I remember the day he called to ask for help on "Taxman", one of his bigger songs. I threw in a few one-liners to help the song along, because that's what he asked for. He came to me because he couldn't go to Paul, because Paul wouldn't have helped him at that period.”
In late 2001, McCartney learned that his former classmate, neighbour and bandmate, and friend of over 45 years, George Harrison, was losing his battle with cancer. Upon Harrison's death on 29 November, McCartney told Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra, Good Morning America, The Early Show, MTV, VH1 and Today that George was like his "baby brother". Harrison spent his last days in a Hollywood Hills mansion that was once leased by McCartney.
On 29 November 2001, the day Harrison died, McCartney said "George was a fantastic guy...still laughing and joking...a very brave man...and I love him like...he's my brother."
While guesting on Larry King Live alongside Ringo Starr, McCartney had this to say about the last time he saw Harrison; "We just sat there stroking hands. And this is a guy, and, you know, you don't stroke hands with guys, like that, you know it was just beautiful. We just spent a couple of hours and it was really lovely it's was like...a favourite memory of mine."
On the first anniversary of George Harrison's death, McCartney played Harrison's "Something" on a ukulele at the Concert for George.
McCartney is listed in The Guinness Book Of Records as the most successful musician and composer in popular music history with sales of 100 million singles and 60 gold discs, "Sir Paul McCartney became the Most Successful Songwriter who has written/co written 188 charted records, of which 91 reached the Top 10 and 33 made it to No.1 totalling 1,662 weeks on the chart (up to the beginning of 2008)."
In the US, McCartney has achieved thirty-two number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including twenty-one with The Beatles, one as a co-writer on Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", nine solo, with Wings or other collaborators, and one as the composer of "A World Without Love", a number one single for Peter and Gordon. In the UK, McCartney has been involved in more number-one singles than any other artist under a variety of credits, although Elvis Presley has achieved more as a solo artist. McCartney has twenty four number-one singles in the UK, including seventeen with The Beatles, one solo, and one each with Wings, Stevie Wonder, Ferry Aid, Band Aid, Band Aid 20 and one with "The Christians et all". McCartney is the only artist to reach the UK number one as a soloist ("Pipes of Peace"), duo ("Ebony and Ivory" with Stevie Wonder), trio ("Mull of Kintyre", Wings), quartet ("She Loves You", The Beatles), quintet ("Get Back", The Beatles with Billy Preston) and as part of a musical ensemble for charity (Ferry Aid).
McCartney was voted the "greatest composer of the millennium" by BBC News Online readers and McCartney's song "Yesterday" is thought to be the most covered song in history with more than 2,200 recorded versions and according to the BBC, "The track is the only one by a UK writer to have been aired more than seven million times on American TV and radio and is third in the all-time list. Sir Paul McCartney's Yesterday is the most played song by a British writer this century in the US." After its 1977 release, the Wings single "Mull of Kintyre" became the highest-selling record in British chart history, and remained so until 1984. (Three charity singles have since surpassed it in sales; the first to do so, in 1984, was Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?", whose participants included McCartney.)
On 2 July 2005, he was involved with the fastest-released single in history. His performance of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" with U2 at Live 8 was released only 45 minutes after it was performed, before the end of the concert. The single reached number six on the Billboard charts, just hours after the single's release, and hit number one on numerous online download charts across the world. McCartney played for the largest stadium audience in history when 184,000 people paid to see him perform at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 21 April 1990.
McCartney's scheduled concert in St Petersburg, Russia was his 3,000th concert and took place in front of 60,000 fans in Russia, on 20 June 2004. Over his career, McCartney has played 2,523 gigs with The Beatles, 140 with Wings, and 325 as a solo artist. however, the outlook on the upcoming concert looked dim, after several days of rain. Only his second concert in Russia, with the first just the year before on Moscow's Red Square as the former Communist U.S.S.R. had previously banned music from the Beatles as a "corrupting influence", McCartney hired 3 jets, at a reported cost of $36,000 (€29,800) (£28,000), to spray dry ice in the clouds above Saint Petersburg's Winter Palace Square in a successful attempt to prevent rain.
The day McCartney flew into the former Soviet country, he celebrated his 62nd birthday, and after the concert, according to RIA Novosti news agency, he received a phone call from a fan; then-President Vladimir Putin, who telephoned him after the concert to wish him a happy birthday.
In the concert programme for his 1989 world tour, McCartney wrote that Lennon received all the credit for being the avant-garde Beatle, and McCartney was known as "baby-faced", which he disagreed with. People also assumed that Lennon was the "hard-edged one", and McCartney was the "soft-edged" Beatle, although McCartney admitted to "bossing Lennon around." Linda McCartney said that McCartney had a "hard-edge" — and not just on the surface — which she knew about after all the years she had spent living with him. McCartney seemed to confirm this edge when he commented that he sometimes meditates, which he said is better than "sleeping, eating, or shouting at someone".
The minor planet 4148, discovered in 1983, was named "McCartney" in his honour.
On 18 June 2006, McCartney celebrated his 64th birthday, a milestone that was the subject of one of the first songs he ever wrote, at the age of sixteen, the Beatles song "When I'm Sixty-Four". Paul Vallely noted in The Independent: