In honor of Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday on June 18, LightBox culled various photography archives to feature 70 iconic images of the Beatle—one for each year of his life—with text from the introduction of TIME’s new book, Paul McCartney: The legend rocks on, by James Kaplan.
He is the most ordinary of extraordinary men: a historical figure with a common streak, a genius who’s still not entirely sure where it all comes from, or came from.
“I’ve always had this thing of him and me,” Paul McCartney told Barry Miles, his authorized biographer, in 1996. “He goes onstage, he’s famous, and then me; I’m just some kid from Liverpool … this little kid who used to run down the streets in Speke … collecting jam jars, damming up streams in the woods. I still very much am him grown up.
“Occasionally, I stop and think, I am Paul McCartney … hell, that is a total freak-out! You know, Paul McCartney! Just the words, it sounds like a total kind of legend. But, of course, you don’t want to go thinking that too much because it takes over.” And yet, “when I go on tour, I’m glad of the legendary thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to try and entertain 60,000 people in a Texas stadium with just the guy next door.”
No, that wouldn’t do at all. And so—still, in 2012—he steps out on the stage of whatever arena he may be playing, in whichever corner of the world—it scarcely matters where or what language they speak; everyone knows him and loves him, everyone knows the words to all the songs—and, as the roar rises to the rafters, begins singing, for the umpteenth time and with undiminished joy:
Roll up, roll up for the magical mystery tour, step right this way …
Today—inconceivably—he turns 70, and he’s still rolling. Fast. In the months before the big day, he seemed to be everywhere at once: touring in Helsinki and Moscow and Liverpool. Getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Playing at the MusiCares benefit (where he was honored as Person of the Year). Playing at the Grammys. Attending his daughter Stella’s fashion show in Paris. Vacationing in St. Barts with his wife Nancy Shevell—and then touring some more, in Rotterdam and Zurich and London.
It was almost as though, if he moved fast enough and squeezed in enough events, he might sideslip the 18th of June altogether and proceed to the next golden stage, untouched and untallied. Exactly the kind of dream a little kid running down the street in Liverpool might dream.
Except that no one, in his wildest imaginings, could have dreamed all that had happened to him in the years between then and now.
All four of them had remarkable faces, but only his was beautiful, the big-eyed, long-lashed looks saved from mere prettiness by a persistent, perhaps willfully untended, five-o’clock shadow and those asymmetrical, ironically arched brows, which seemed to say, I’ve got the goods. No, really. Think I’m kidding?
He had the goods, and then some. “Oh, beyond measure—on a Mozart level,” the musician and record producer Peter Asher told TIME recently, speaking of the musical gifts of the brash young -Liverpudlian who, beginning in 1963, dated his sister Jane and, though already famous, bunked in the attic of the Asher family’s town house on Wimpole Street: the attic where the melody of “Yesterday” came to him one night in a dream.
That, of course, was many yesterdays ago. And while Paul McCartney’s youthful beauty has gone the way of youth, the immense musical talent endures, along with, at the biblical three score and 10, something perhaps even more remarkable: “He keeps on going,” says another longtime acquaintance, the writer and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “He doesn’t have to. He’s got all the money and all the success, and he’s written some great songs. In Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real … there’s [a line]: ‘Make voyages, attempt them; there’s nothing else.’ I think that’s Paul.”
At 70, he voyages still, maintaining a schedule that would give pause to a man half his age: a 30-concert tour in 2011-2012, from the Bronx to Bologna, Moscow to Montevideo to Mexico City. “My wife says he’s an alien from the Planet Fab,” says Paul “Wix” Wickens, the keyboardist in the band that has backed McCartney for the past 10 years. (The band also includes bassist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bassist Brian Ray and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr.)
“If you’re enjoying it, why do something else?” McCartney asked Rolling Stone, rhetorically, earlier this year. His pleasure in his art and his craft seems as pure as it was when he first picked up a guitar almost 60 years ago. “He absolutely loves music,” Wickens says. “He loves to play. And he loves being involved. He’s always doing something. When we [in the band] are not working, he is not not-working. He does relax, and he does take holidays. But he puts his head into other places, not just pop music, because he likes a challenge, he likes just to be doing it.”
Funny, the things an ordinary man will come up with.
Excerpted from TIME’s new book; Paul McCartney: The legend rocks on, by James Kaplan, copyright ©2012 by Time Home Entertainment Inc. To buy a copy, go to time.com/mccartneybook.