Apple, UK, 1970
Artwork by Paul & Linda McCartney, Gordon House and Roger Huggett
Photography by Linda McCartney
Nineteen hundred and seventy was the year Paul McCartney grew up. After 10 years of unprecedented backslapping and screaming, the cold, hard hangover of the new decade dawned as Paul worked on his first solo album.
McCartney was written partly as keeping-head-above-water survival therapy in Kintyre during what he calls “one of the worst times of my life”, and partly as spur of the moment flights of fancy as the songs were recorded, and the artwork reflects both these moods.
Both the music and the look of the album are overwhelmingly influenced by Linda McCartney, whose photographs are displayed throughout. The cover is remarkably stark and unfab, featuring a still life of a bowl of spilt cherries – possibly a nod to Paul’s interest in the nature of chance at the time. One could wonder if a conscious decision was made not to show Paul’s image on the front cover at all, much for the same reason that he recorded parts of the album at Morgan and Abbey Road studios under the pseudonym Billy Martin, keeping the project under wraps until it was ready.
The artwork as a whole was put together by Gordon House of Hipgnosis and designer Roger Huggett – both of whom had previously worked on Beatles albums and continued to work on Paul’s solo endeavours – following a rough mock-up from the McCartneys but really, the album is dominated by Linda’s homespun but remarkable photographs. The back cover is illustrated by the iconic ’69 shot of beardy Paul with baby Mary, an image which has become emblematic of the Paul ‘n’ Linda happy families love story.
More of the same can be found inside the gatefold: Paul on the beach, Paul looking moody or silly, kids, family, animals and landscapes; the stuff that went on to characterise Linda’s photography career in capsule form – candid images of family life seen through Linda’s eyes. Again, the cosiness of the images and the homemade vibe reflect what Paul was attempting to do with the album, creating music from the safe womb of the family and avoiding the mounting difficulties of the outside world.
Controversially – and blowing the Beatle myth right open – also included in press copies of the album was a typed-up sheet of paper detailing the de facto demise of the band, and sending already frayed friendships and business affairs spiralling into an unholy mess. The pink questionnaire and a yellow information sheet were stuffed into envelopes with the album by the McCartneys at their home on Cavendish Avenue. Paul: “We were actually enjoying ourselves like children, Linda and I, actually enjoying life for the first time in a while. And I had put the killer scoop in there, and then I just sent this out to the press.”
McCartney was received by the public and critics alike with mixed emotions, mostly as they all expected it to be another Abbey Road, and as such were destined to be sorely disappointed. Rolling Stone called it “distinctly second-rate”, whereas NME went with “an immensely warm and pleasurable album”. Despite the record reaching #1 and #2 in the US and UK respectively, no single was issued, although a promo clip was made for ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, which was broadcast on US TV. The lack of a single – and the lack of promotion of the album by Paul generally – was the result of the scheduling problems of fitting both McCartney, Let It Be and Ringo’s Sentimental Journey into the spring of ’70, and the recriminations and running away to the country it spawned.
A slice of whimsy with a depressive if sugar-coated undercurrent, McCartney presaged the ups and downs of his solo career, and the homespun artwork perfectly fitted his mood of detachment and withdrawal from the world.