Yesterday: The Unauthorized Biography of Paul McCartney

I am a huge Beatles fan and have two hundred books on the group and its solo members. Thus I consider myself well-read on this topic. Yesterday: The Unauthorized Biography of Paul McCartney by Chet Flippo came out in 1989 yet I hadn’t read it until now. It was on my Beatles bookshelf for over twenty years. In Yesterday Flippo quotes extensively from other Beatles and Paul books, the overwhelming majority of which I own in the bibliography, so I learned nothing new about McCartney. In fact, he cites some passages word for word directly from the source material and I could identify which book he had consulted, even though Flippo doesn’t footnote where these passages came from.

Since Yesterday was from 1989, it of course does not deal with McCartney’s world tour later that same year (after a thirteen-year layoff) and it does not talk about wife Linda’s battle with and eventual death from cancer in 1998. The first three hundred pages are about Paul’s early musical career before and then during the Beatles, while the next nineteen years from 1970 to 1989 are summed up in a speedy 78 pages. I was disappointed that more time was not spent talking about Paul in the 1980’s: there were a mere 21 pages devoted to that decade, with just one page dealing with Paul’s reaction to the murder of John Lennon in December of 1980.

I will not argue the conflicts that I encountered in this book versus what I have read in other biographies. For example it really doesn’t matter to me whose idea it was, whether Paul’s or John’s, for the endless inner groove of gibberish on the UK pressings of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. What irked me most were all the factual errors. Not a matter of who told whom what and getting a different opinion depending upon which Beatle you spoke to. I do not like to see mistakes in information that could be so easy to verify. I stopped writing them down shortly after Flippo started talking about Paul’s solo career, but some statements–all wrong–that Flippo made are:

The Beatles never played in or toured Finland. They did tour Sweden in 1963 and played two concerts there a year later. The Beatles’ 1966 UK album is entitled A Collection of Beatles Oldies…but Goldies!, not Goodies. The Beatles’ single “Lady Madonna” had a remarkably poor showing on the US Billboard charts, peaking at only #4. While it did hit #1 in England, Flippo claims that it topped the charts in both countries. The collection of the first four 45 rpm singles released on Apple Records was entitled “Our First Four” and not “The First Four”. One of those singles was “Thingumybob” and not “Thingummybob”. The track on the Band on the Run album that was released as a single on the European continent was “Mrs. Vandebilt” and not “Mrs. Vanderbilt”. And one of the rarest albums in the solo Beatles canon is Thrillington by Paul masquerading as Percy “Thrills” Thrillington. Flippo claims it was only released in England. I own this disc and it is an American original copy from 1977. The album was released in both territories.

Flippo paints a portrait of Paul as one who must always be in charge, and is a total control freak. His head always in a cloud of marijuana smoke, one wonders how Paul could be in charge of anything if he is high all the time. Flippo also writes that Paul reveals nothing of himself in interviews. During the Beatle years Paul had many a microphone thrust before his face and he has learned the tricks of a quick wink and a one-liner. Fans like myself find his media act boring and entirely predictable. As long as fans scream and swoon Paul believes that he can simply give them the thumbs up and a smile and nothing more. What we’d really like is a sincere answer and not the cookie-cutter interview he’s been giving for the past thirty years. 

The final part of Yesterday is spent on Paul’s 1984 box office failure “Give My Regards to Broad Street”, a bomb of a movie which nonetheless found me in movie theatres every day of its brief two-week Toronto run. I appreciated Flippo’s details in the making of the movie and in the aftermath of its critical drubbing. 

You won’t learn anything new about Paul McCartney in Yesterday. Flippo has credentials as a rock journalist so this biography reads well and even though there were no scoop revelations in Yesterday Flippo made McCartney’s life story flow like a real page-turner.

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