Paul's been passionate about rock music since the age of 13 and played guitar in a band for many years.UK born, he now lives in Florida.
A key songwriter with the most important pop band in history, there can be little doubt that Paul McCartney is a musical genius. In addition to composition, his talents also extend to singing, playing bass, piano, guitar, and drums.
He's been involved with various charities and social, animal rights and environmental projects, including Greenpeace, PETA, Red Cross, and the St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters. He's also been a vegetarian since 1975.
So, why are some people keen to attack him? He attracts way more vitriol than the other three members of the Beatles. John Lennon possessed some serious character flaws, but hasn't receive the same level of criticism.
Fairly or unfairly, there are reasons why McCartney has his detractors and I look at five them in this article.
5 Reasons Why Paul McCartney Is Disliked
Here are 5 accusations that people make against Paul McCartney:
- Bland Music and Lazy Lyrics
- He Caused the Beatles to Split Up
- Emotionally Cold
- Lack of Depth and Seriousness
- McCartney's Feuds
I explore each of the charges against McCartney in more detail below:
1. Bland Music and Lazy Lyrics
Paul McCartney's musical output has long been the target of snide remarks. It's not just his Wings and solo material, even McCartney's Beatles music hasn't escaped criticism. Fellow bandmate John Lennon labelled songs such as "When I’m Sixty-Four" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as McCartney's "granny music."
Part of the issue is that while McCartney is very capable of writing powerful lyrics, his main strength has more often been his talent for creating appealing melodies. Critics would say that this has led to him write numerous pop songs with throwaway words and an earworm tune.
A prime example of this is the Wings song, "Let ‘Em In," which, while popular with his fans, is a source of irritation for others.
McCartney's love songs are also a contentious topic. While his fans tend to see him as expressing his warm and caring side, his detractors perceive his lyrics as overly sentimental and prone to following lazy conventions.
McCartney is more than aware of his reputation on this matter and wrote "Silly Love Songs" as a riposte to his critics. I'm sure that he felt a degree of satisfaction when the track went on to be a major hit.
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2. He Caused the Beatles to Split Up
This accusation is controversial, as the focus for blame really depends on who you listen to. Some people interpret remarks that McCartney gave to a reporter in 1970 as him individually disbanding the group, although McCartney disputes this, arguing that the break-up had already happened by this point.
The main charge against McCartney, though, is that he effectively finished off the Beatles by suing the other members. Sending in the lawyers effectively deepened existing fractures and caused such bad feeling that there was no way back for the band after that.
If McCartney is to be believed, John Lennon already instigated the split before McCartney went public. Lennon had become more interested in his relationship with Yoko Ono and wanted to take a more active role in political and social issues. He'd simply lost interest in being a pop star.
McCartney has also stated that his subsequent legal actions stemmed from disagreements with Allen Klein, the Beatles manager at the time. He had to take legal action against the other Beatles in order to gain release, as they were persistently voting down his proposals.
3. Emotionally Cold
The accusation that there's something cold and calculating about McCartney began in the ugly aftermath of the Beatles split. The greatest example of his empathy deficiency, according to his detractors, was McCartney's reaction to the death of John Lennon.
Lennon was gunned down outside his apartment building, The Dakota, on December 8, 1980, by a deranged fan. When McCartney was asked for a response to the killing, he said, with an apparent lack of emotion: "Drag, isn't it?"
McCartney received a lot of criticism for his reaction. He later explained that he'd been in a state of shock at the time, and that after learning about Lennon's death, "We just went home. We just looked at the news on the telly, and we sat there with all the kids just crying all evening."
4. Lack of Depth and Seriousness
People are bound to compare Paul McCartney to the other members of the Beatles and some have used differences as evidence of his lack of depth.
Certainly when juxtaposed against John Lennon and George Harrison, McCartney can come across as a more mainstream, inoffensive character. There have been a few exceptions, such as his marijuana bust in Tokyo (January 1980) and his controversial song that took a pro-IRA stance on Northern Ireland ("Give Ireland Back to the Irish," 1972). But generally, McCartney prefers to project an everyman image, even if his critics portray him as bland.
By contrast, John Lennon developed a reputation as a revolutionary radical and social campaigner. He relished the militancy of the 1960s and '70s and many took his side in the post-Beatles feud, perceiving Lennon as a more principled and substantial figure than McCartney. Lennon even wrote his scathing and angry song: "How Do You Sleep?" in 1971, targeting McCartney for his apolitical approach and lack of social conscience.
George Harrison, on the other hand, didn't get heavily into politics, but had his Eastern mysticism and spiritual views. This gave Harrison the reputation of being a deep thinker and sage. Aside from the artistic use of religious imagery in songs like "Lady Madonna," McCartney has largely stayed away from religion.
5. McCartney's Feuds
At various times, Paul McCartney has been accused of being big-headed, a control freak, and having a bad attitude. Some of his most fractious relationships have developed into prolonged quarrels.
McCartney's feuds have included:
McCartney's biggest and most bitter feud was with Lennon in the aftermath of the Beatles split. In the early days of the band, the two developed a healthy and constructive creative rivalry, but by the end of the 60s, their relationship had become toxic. The bad feelings went on for years and even resulted in them writing spiteful songs about each other, although they would eventually reconcile.
Collins' grudge against McCartney goes back to an incident at a party in Buckingham Palace in 2002 when Collins asked McCartney for his autograph. McCartney responded, according to Collins, by turning to his then wife and humiliating Collins by saying: ‘Oh, Heather, our little Phil’s a bit of a Beatles fan.’ McCartney later tried to make peace with Collins with mixed results.
The roots of this feud go back all the way to the 1960s, when there was intense rivalry between the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Ever since then there have been recurring arguments over who's the best band. Hostilities were revived in 2021 when McCartney dissed Jagger's band by labeling them a "blues cover band". Jagger jabbed back with a joke about McCartney joining the Stones for a "blues cover later".
The McCartney-Jackson relationship started out well, with the ex-Beatle writing a song for Jackson at the end of the 1970s, and the two teaming up for a series of pop outings. The fall-out happened when Jackson obtained the publishing rights to the majority of the Beatles back catalogue for $47 million in 1985. McCartney would eventually get what was rightfully his, but it wouldn't be until after Jackson's death.
In Defense of Paul McCartney
It really doesn't matter if Paul McCartney has his detractors, given that his legacy and reputation are well-established, mainly through his work with the Beatles.
While it's true that his work with Wings and solo material has been of variable standard, not always reaching the seminal heights of the Beatles, I'm not sure that that justifies the criticism.
McCartney will always have the problem of his later output being compared unfavorably with the Beatles music. However, it should be remembered that they're the greatest pop group that's ever existed. The bar was set so high that McCartney couldn't help but disappoint.
As for Paul McCartney's personality, it could be argued that he's actually adapted well to the pressures of stardom. Ringo Starr succumbed to self-destructive alcoholism after the Beatles split up and didn't recover until the end of the 80s. John Lennon became a drug addict and then a recluse.
McCartney has by and large managed to maintain a healthy lifestyle and family life. For sure, McCartney is guarded about his privacy and he keeps his emotions to himself. This has led many to conclude that he's a rather cold and calculating character, but it's more likely that this is just his way of coping with life under the spotlight.
While McCartney has never engaged in high-profile political stunts, like Lennon's bed-ins, he's promoted multiple charities and causes that are dear to him, albeit in a less showy and more mainstream way. McCartney has a long and extensive track record when it comes to promoting humanitarian, environmental, and animal rights causes.
Like most creative people, McCartney has an ego, and as Peter Jackson's documentary shows, he has some control-freak tendencies. However, the truth is that if you have McCartney's talent and track record, it entitles him to dictate how his music should sound. That doesn't make him a bad person.
© 2022 Paul Goodman