Fifteen years ago today, Linda McCartney died of breast cancer, only 56 years old. We remember the activist and songwriter. Written by Linnea Crowther. Originally published April 2011.
In 1969, the unthinkable happened. It was an event that devastated young women in England, America… all over the world. What was it that broke their hearts and dashed their dreams?
Paul McCartney, the last remaining bachelor Beatle, got married.
His bride, the former Linda Eastman, won McCartney’s heart while she was working as a celebrity photographer. Sent from her New York home to London on assignment to take pictures of “Swinging Sixties” musicians, she ran into McCartney several times during her assignment. They met again in New York a few months later, and McCartney was smitten. He asked her to come to London, they soon married, and fans everywhere had to give up their dreams of marrying a Beatle.
Linda McCartney’s marriage to Paul happened at a time when the band was on the rocks, and the Beatles’ breakup was soon to follow. Though Linda didn’t have much involvement in the music of the Beatles, she was to play a big part in Paul’s next band, Wings. Still, she didn’t always get the credit she deserved.
Paul was determined that Wings wouldn’t just be the backup band for his recognizable name and voice (despite the fact that the band came to be called Paul McCartney & Wings). From the start, he encouraged his bandmates to contribute to songwriting and vocals. Though Linda only sang backup and played keyboards on the first Wings album, she recorded lead vocals on a song she wrote for the band’s second album, 1973’s Red Rose Speedway. Her “Seaside Woman” was scrapped from the final version of the album and it languished unreleased until 1977 (when it would be released under the band name Suzy and the Red Stripes).
The song was written at a time when Linda was feeling despondent about her musical abilities. On earlier albums, Paul had given Linda co-writing credits on his songs. ATV, the company that owned the Beatles’ Northern Songs catalogue, was suing Paul over this practice, because it transferred royalties to his own publishing company rather than ATV. Upset by this, Linda felt ATV’s suit implied she was incapable of writing – Paul’s response was that she should write a song. The couple was at a favorite vacation spot in Jamaica at the time, and the breezy reggae track was born.
Perhaps the exclusion of “Seaside Woman” from Red Rose Speedway aggravated Linda’s already-present insecurity about her musical talent: though she continued to contribute keyboards and backing vocals, and she co-wrote the majority of Wings’ songs with Paul, her lead vocal contributions were few and far between. But for Wings at the Speed of Sound – the follow-up to the smash Band on the Run – she once again turned in a lead vocal performance on a song she wrote, “Cook of the House.”
Guitarists Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch also contributed lead vocals to Wings at the Speed of Soundas part of Paul’s attempt to refute criticism that Wings was just a vehicle for his own talents. It was an effort he stuck with over the years, though every one of Wings’ singles was sung by Paul.
Linda continued to face accusations that she lacked musical talent. Critics and music fans alike were quick to point out any moment when her vocals strayed a bit out of tune. At one point, radio DJs gleefully got their hands on a tape of “Let it Be” with Linda’s backing vocals isolated and enhanced – it successfully spotlighted the imperfections of her voice. Some musicians would pack it in and quit singing in the face of that kind of ridicule. Linda kept going – and sometimes thwarted her critics with a deliberately silly vocal style.
Linda McCartney struggled with criticism throughout Wings’ career, and during her last world tour with Paul, she limited her contribution to hand-clapping. Fans noted that she looked a lot more relaxed without her vocal and keyboard duties.
Linda McCartney was much more than just a part of her famous husband’s band. She was a notable photographer, an animal rights activist, a mother of four – and, genuinely, a songwriter who contributed much to Paul’s compositions. But on the anniversary of her April 17, 1998 death, she deserves to be remembered as the musician she was.