Paul McCartney

(b. 1942)

It's tempting to imagine how different the world would be today if Paul McCartney hadn't run into John Lennon on July 6, 1957, at the Liverpool church fete where Lennon's group the Quarrymen was performing. But it's also hard to imagine that, even if the Beatles had never existed, McCartney's prodigious talents and considerable ambition wouldn't have found an outlet somehow, or that he wouldn't have become an influential cultural figure even if the British rock explosion that the Beatles ignited had never happened. 

It's an oft-repeated if overly simplistic meme that McCartney was the facile Pop tunesmith to Lennon's adventurous artistic radical. In fairness, though, much of McCartney's early post-Beatles work did little to dispel that image. While his former partner was establishing his credentials for brutally frank self-examination and fearless political provocation, McCartney was leading Wings and singing the praises of "Silly Love Songs" and "My Love." But the effortlessness of his eager-to-please songcraft made it easy to overlook the quality and imagination of such Wings albums as Red Rose Speedway and Band on the Run, or the fact that his post-Beatles catalog contains a prodigious amount of first-rate music.

If anything, McCartney's output has grown richer and more accomplished in the years since his 70s/80s commercial peak, with such critically acclaimed albums as Press to Play (1986), Flowers in the Dirt (1988), Flaming Pie (1997), Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard (2005) making a strong case for his ongoing creative vitality. In the latter half of his career he’s collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Costello, recorded albums of traditional Jazz and Pop standards (Kisses on the Bottom) and 50s Rock and Roll classics (Run, Devil, Run), written and produced a musical (Give My Regards to Broad Street), and written orchestral music (Liverpool Oratorio) and a dance score (Ocean’s Kingdom). He’s the most successful composer and recording artist of all time, according to Guinness; among the many honors bestowed on McCartney was being knighted in 1997 for his contributions to music.