NEW, released in 2013, and he’s recently reissued his 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt. With an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion, his music and talent remain in the forefront of pop culture today.
Paul is a shining example of a tenor, sometimes called a dramatic tenor in classical terms. Having the highest voice of all the Beatles, he favored high harmonies with them, but he also handled low harmonies in songs like “Come Together” and “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”. His clean tone came naturally to him in early years and his piercing resonance can be heard in harmonies of songs like “Anna (Go To Him)”. Over the years he worked on matching the vocal power of his songwriting contemporary John Lennon, which he got the hang of in later years with the group. By that time he often opted for a chesty, low-larynx approach that soars over his bandmates (“Birthday”). Not forgetting his roots, however, he kept his clean tone consistent in the harmonies of songs like “Sexy Sadie”. Along the way he had a consistent soft head voice he shows off in “Here, There and Everywhere”. If the group’s past work was not convincing enough, the release of Abbey Road solidified Paul as a diverse multi-instrumentalist and versatile singer. By the time the Beatles broke up, Paul’s vocal strength allowed him unlimited potential in songs like “Maybe I’m Amazed”. While his “prime” saw its end in 1972 or so, he stayed consistent as a singer and songwriter with Wings until returning to solo albums in 1980. Paul is still active in the music world today, and while his voice has suffered since the beginning of his career, his legacy remains.
Sir James Paul McCartney is one of music’s most recognizable names. He started his musical career joining a band called The Quarrymen that ended up becoming way bigger than he or his friends ever expected. The Beatles are among the most influential rock bands, but Paul managed to sustain a very successful career with Wings and as a solo act. Hits like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Band On The Run” remain essential to your local oldies station. With the Beatles he popularized melodic bass playing and inspired multi-instrumentalists everywhere with his abilities on electric/acoustic guitar, bass (and double bass), piano, organ, and drums. His most recent studio album is
The following is a visual representation of Paul’s range.
His lowest note, A1, and his highest note, C6, are labelled RED. Middle C, or C4, is labelled gray for reference.
Vocal Timeline (WIP): (1958 – 1981)
The following is an in-depth analysis of Paul’s progression as a singer.
1958-1960: Earliest recordings showcase a comfortable range for Paul. Still singing up to A4s in some demos. Listen to “You’ll Be Mine” to hear Paul developing his operatic tone while already having bridging abilities with his improvised vocal line under John’s spoken section. As if singing was the most natural thing ever, he had such a grip at only 17.
1961-1962: Several months of constant gigs has treated him well. The best quality singing of his from this year is the Decca Audition on December 31st. He carries a nice resonance with somewhat of a low larynx in lead vocals, while singing lighter in backing vocals. He’d keep working on that. In this period John is also developing as a singer, but one can only imagine how crazy their live shows were back then. We can conclude Paul developed a lot as a singer during the early months touring in Hamburg, but he may still be looking for the weight and volume that John had. We have a bit more evidence from 1962, with both the “Love Me Do”/”PS I Love You” single and Live At The Star Club. He definitely has more confidence and he’s exploring his range a bit more with screams in live settings.
1963: From the first to the second album, Paul has a good lightness to his clean tone, still favoring performances like “Till There Was You” to John’s “Twist and Shout”. He let John take higher falsetto harmonies on “From Me To You”, with John overpowering him in vocals and in composition. Still, he clearly honed his upper register more than his songwriting contemporary, taking control of high harmonies up to A4 and B♭4. He consistently sings quite well in live settings in 1963, namely shows like Stockholm.
1964: Listening to A Hard Day’s Night, Paul has obviously been adding more weight to his voice. His vocals on “A Hard Day’s Night” and his harmonies on “When I Get Home” are good evidence of this. Beatles For Sale is prone to some awkward-sounding moments due to his apparent obsession with this heavy vocal style. He is still overpowered by John when double-tracking together, very evident in “Eight Days a Week”, but he still looks invincible in live settings this year. I used to consider this year his vocal prime due to the sheer stamina he had. Listen to take 7 of “She’s A Woman” to hear his progress.
1965: Help! comes out in the first half of the year, and Paul is still ironing out his distortion technique. His popular cuts “Yesterday” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face” from this year, however, are definitely sung clean, showing some desire to embrace the most natural part of his voice while developing the rest. Rubber Soul generally echoes this sentiment, with Paul getting closer and closer with “I’m Looking Through You”.
1966: Paul’s singing has taken its toll live, with the infamous Candlestick Park show giving a peek at how exhausted he was singing “She’s A Woman” and “Long Tall Sally”. Revolver is rather tame by Paul’s standard in terms of heavy performances, following Rubber Soul with yet another single performance in this style in “Got To Get You Into My Life”. Notice he’s getting higher and higher, actually reaching two C5s in the fadeout of the song along with his B♭4s throughout. He also sings the song beautifully in clean tone in the Anthology version of the song. I do have a feeling Paul was taking it slow in the studio in other performances to make up for his aggressive singing live the previous years.
1967: Having taken a break from the Beatles, the group returns near the end of the previous year and begins recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At this point there’s not much to complain about in Paul’s distortion, delivering an excellent performance in the album’s title track. Paul otherwise continues his focus on clean singing, embracing his falsetto in several songs like never before. He sings a bit more aggressively on Magical Mystery Tour, however, and this album is sort of a transition in that respect.
1968: A lot has changed in Paul’s voice by the time the White Album sessions begin. The group spent some time in India, and after concluding that trip, dedicating several months recording this double-album. I can explain the jarring change in Paul’s voice by saying he has embraced more chest pulling. He can sometimes carry odd diction in the B4 to C5 area in this period but he distorts rather effortlessly and finally has his own “baritone” singing style that is different from John’s. He tends to outshine John when they sing together in songs like “Birthday”, and “Helter Skelter” goes without mentioning. I recommend checking the Anthology version of the song as well for some excellent B4s.
1969: In early January ’69 rehearsal sessions, Paul sounds perfect to a fanboy’s ears. He sings phrases on light D5s and bridges off high falsettos with ease. He can switch between his styles quickly, whether it be clean tenor, lyric tenor, clean baritone, not to mention his distortion. Not all of this translates to Abbey Road even if he still sounds excellent. Paul shows off his natural tenor again on Abbey Road that we didn’t hear much of on the White Album, while still giving his larynx-lowered sound some thought (“You Never Give Me Your Money” shows both of these) and not forgetting his Rubber Soul and Revolver habit of throwing in one blistering performance with “Oh! Darling”. It’s difficult to argue against Paul as the superior vocalist (and overall musician) at this point.
1970-1971: Paul shows a lovely consistency for the first couple years of the 70s. Paul focused heavily on his first album McCartney after coming to terms with the band’s breakup over the latter half of 1969. Due to his lack of live performing, Paul is able to keep his voice in excellent shape and deliver some demanding vocals by getting proper rest. RAM is simply the platform for Paul’s vocal power, with his singing truly carrying the album to unnerving heights. Later in 1971 he records Wild Life with Wings, delivering several gritty performances. Soft singing all around with lovely head voice. He sounds quite different from his early Beatles performances already, having turned a supposed weakness into his new strength. “Maybe I’m Amazed” culminates his work into one shining piece, showcasing how he flips a switch to access different parts of his voice with relative ease.
1972-1973: Paul’s voice takes a beating after utilizing his aggressive vocal style while touring colleges and small venues with Wings. Songs like “The Mess” showcase how he sounded in those shows; nice and rough. This is the beginning of his vocal sound with Wings. He does a lot less high screams after this period, and interestingly he doesn’t do very much soft singing for a time. Nonetheless, Red Rose Speedway has some excellent vocals by Paul. He keeps his voice very solid up to C5 and either gets lighter or opts for his gritty head voice any higher. “Country Dreamer” has lead vocal G2s by Paul. This is new territory for him as far as low singing goes, a man who used to stick to A2 in lead vocals even though he could make it to F2 or so in backing. Band On The Run displays a bit more diversity in Paul’s voice. For a look at his clean tone, this is your album. He uses a lot less grit in this album. “No Words” has some clean head voice the likes of which Paul rarely displays.
1974-1976: I would describe Paul’s voice in this period as a rather weak version of his singing the previous couple of years. He of course sounds better on record than he did in live shows. His singing on songs like “Magneto And Titanium Man” have some gritty singing up in the fourth octave that’s slightly different than before. During live shows Paul sings with rather lazy diction. He sometimes slurs his phrases and adds in some falsetto ‘woos’. His tone is a bit weaker and maybe more forced in the Wings Over America tour, but he manages some great moments, specifically in versions of “Soily”. His studio performance of “Beware My Love” is terrifying with how shredded Paul’s voice is, and “She’s My Baby” is a showcase of Paul’s midrange at the time. He doesn’t quite have the resonance he was working with before.
1977-1979: Paul has recovered from the really scratchy tone he had after extensive touring with Wings. Paul returns to some softer performances like “I’m Carrying”, which has a nice light tone up to E4 with some falsetto mixed in. He shows off falsetto in “Girlfriend”, which he doesn’t work with near as often as someone like Prince. He delivers excellent harmony vocals in “Deliver Your Children”, and he shows off solid dynamics in “With A Little Luck”. Back To The Egg hails back to the rough tone Paul had before, still showing off dynamics in “Arrow Through Me”. “Spin It On” is quite the painful-sounding belter, though several of the slower songs on this album prove Paul was still using some clean tone here and there.
1980-1981: Paul recorded McCartney II in 1979, not necessarily expecting his project to become his next solo album. Paul returns to a more pleasing clean tone for his vocals on this album, still showing off grit in high singing on “Darkroom”. Despite the pitch edits on “Coming Up”, it still shows his clean singing is in solid shape. At this point Paul’s screams are pretty inconsistent. He was still using them occasionally in the London Town period but at this point he’s given them a rest.
“Best” Vocal Performances (as debated by members of The Range Place)
1a. Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)
1b. Oh! Darling (1969)
3. Monkberry Moon Delight (1971)
4. Helter Skelter (1968)
5. Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey (1971)
6. Long Tall Sally (1964)
7. Golden Slumbers (1969)
8. You Never Give Me Your Money (1969)
9. Wanderlust (1982)
10. Call Me Back Again (1975)
Honorable Mentions: “She’s A Woman”, “I’m Down”, “Fixing A Hole”, “Hey Jude”, “Back Seat Of My Car”, “Wild Life”, “Hi Hi Hi”, “The Pound Is Sinking”
1. I’ve Got a Feeling (Rooftop Concert ’69)
2. Maybe I’m Amazed (One Hand Clapping ’74)
3. Call Me Back Again (Cincinatti Riverfront Coliseum ’76)
4. Soily (Seattle King Dome ’76)
5. My Love (James Paul McCartney Special ’73)
6. Long Tall Sally (Stockholm 1963)
7. She’s a Woman (Atlanta 1965)
8. Beware My Love (Wings Over America)
9. Jet (One Hand Clapping)
10. Honey Don’t (Live at the Cavern Club)
Photo by Linda McCartney