A realistic, non-critical, snapshot of a pivotal time in the life of a Beatle
Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s
Author: Tom Doyle
Publisher: Ballantine Books
I have a question for fans of The Beatles, and Paul McCartney in particular, who are readers. This is directed at those who have read some or many of the volumes pertaining to the Fab Four. What is the best book on Sir Paul?
Though Man on the Run by Tom Doyle is limited in scope, roughly covering the 1970s, it deserves a place in the pantheon of Beatles’ books. Chief among the reasons is Tom Doyle, who had unprecedented access to McCartney, and more than lives up to his reputation as a sterling music journalist. He is a long-standing contributing editor to Q, and his work has also appeared in Mojo and various publications.
McCartney may have warmed to Doyle being Scottish. McCartney enjoyed “a decades-long relationship with the country,” which is explored here, beginning with the purchase of High Park Farm and the Bohemian lifestyle that evolved from it.
Doyle combines personal interviews and source material into a succinct but detailed narrative account of the aftermath of The Beatles, specifically McCartney’s journey to establishing a new identity. Doyle makes it a fascinating read, one that is hard to put down, and one that you want to continue.
The story provides the context for every recording from McCartney (1970) to Tug of War (1982). There is brief analysis of missteps, some bizarre, and successes. Much of the latter emerges after the birth of Wings, where McCartney reached another pinnacle. The eventual demise of Wings is also included with perspective from former members.
Scattered throughout are accounts of McCartney’s on and off relationship with John Lennon, who, as is known, could be quite surly. Nevertheless, McCartney could take solace in Lennon’s last words on their collaboration, “‘There’s only been two artists I’ve ever worked with for more than a one-night stand as it were,’ he said. ‘That’s Paul McCartney and Yoko. I think that’s a pretty damn good choice. As a talent scout, I’ve done pretty damn well’” (203). Yoko also assured McCartney, telling him “how warmly John had often talked about him in private” (205).
The author provides a poignant account of the impact of Lennon’s death on McCartney. In the aftermath, he was engulfed by a range of emotions that hung like clouds over his mind. It taught him an important lesson: “I’ll never fall out with anyone again in my life for that amount of time and face the possibility of them dying before I get a chance to square with them,” McCartney confided to Denny Laine (205).
Details like this make the book an enriching read. Though it does not always cast McCartney in a favorable light, it feels authentic, getting past the legend and closer to knowing McCartney as he is. Prior to this I had only read a couple of books about The Beatles, but it’s hard to imagine a better one covering this segment of McCartney’s career. He can point to this with satisfaction, recognizing a realistic, non-critical, snapshot of a pivotal time in his life and career.