Paul McCartney has heard it all during his career. There has been tons of praise — with The Beatles, Wings, and solo — but also detractors. One musician called Paul and John Lennon idiots but covered one of their songs anyway. Sometimes the criticism came from those closest to him. Beatles press officer Tony Barrow said Paul craved constant approval and was “long on promises, short on performance” in his efforts to satisfy fans.
Paul McCartney craved public approval and was ‘long on promises, short on performance’ when he tried to get it
Fans called Paul the cute Beatle. The bassist seemed to smile perpetually. It made him seem like the most approachable and fun-loving member of the group.
According to Barrow, it was by design.
In his book 150 Glimpses of The Beatles, author Craig Brown quotes Barrow comparing John and Paul. Lennon was the dominant big personality. McCartney was the schmoozer, the politician in a bassist’s clothing who would do anything to score points with the public:
“Paul promised people everything — tickets, gifts — then left it to people like me to fulfill the promises. He wanted to look like a good benefactor, and he was long on promises, short on performance. He was a charmer who was a public relations delight, a man who was [a] master of image-making. He is and was a sheer showman, from his bone marrow to his fingertips. He feeds on the approval of his public.”
Beatles Press officer tony barrow
Barrow wasn’t alone in his thinking. Jane Asher saw it, too. Paul’s longtime girlfriend said he was selfish and insecure around fans.
As Barrow mentioned, he believed Paul needed approval. He craved it from fans. He sought it from John, though it rarely came. The times the band’s founding member admitted he liked a Paul song were few and far between.
His Beatles bandmates might have known Paul best. What they saw was a talented musician and songwriter who was also headstrong and domineering. One of the most bitter shots John took at Paul in a 1971 letter was more or less calling him a fraud, someone who pretended to be honest and sincere but only had his best interests at heart.
The bassist more or less guided The Beatles through the making of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, for better or worse. Paul pushed for the band to return to their roots with the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Each of the Fab Four was at each other’s throats nearly the entire time, which did nothing to improve their tenuous relationships. The Magical Mystery Tour film flopped with fans and critics, proving that no matter how hard Macca courted public approval, it didn’t always come.
Paul’s songs and performances displayed the positive side of his need for acceptance
Barrow took a shot at Paul by saying he fed on public approval. John Lennon hinted at that in his angry 1971 letter to his friend and ex-bandmate. Yet the flip side of Paul’s need for approval also came through in Barrow’s criticism.
The press agent said Paul was a showman from his bone marrow to his fingertips, and you can’t ask for more as a music fan. When Macca plays live, he knows what to do — deliver the hits. He knows he has to perform the Wings’ hit “Live and Let Die,” and he does so with a bombastic pyrotechnic display. Paul plays The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” on every tour because he enjoys it. Chances are his fans do, too.
Paul McCartney’s thirst for approval led Beatles insider Tony Barrow to criticize him for promising the world only to underdeliver. Macca was the politician of the group, more or less. Still, his desire to please people also made him a great showman, something Paul’s fans surely thank him for.
For more on the entertainment world and exclusive interviews, subscribe to Showbiz Cheat Sheet’s YouTube channel.