Paul McCartney Released Music Under A Bonkers Fake Persona
Paul McCartney could release an album made out of nothing but armpit noises, and it'd still get rave reviews and have hundreds of heartfelt acoustic covers on YouTube within the week just because he's Paul McCartney. But, could he do the opposite? If the bass player and second-best drummer for The Beatles (after Pete Best, obviously) put out an album and told no one he made it, would anyone care? Well, we already know the answer because something like that happened in the '70s.
In 1977, British people with nothing better to do than read classified ads noticed a series of curious messages about the comings and goings of someone called Percy "Thrills" Thrillington, such as "Percy Thrillington wishes to advise friends that he is feeling thoroughly invigorated by the crisp and brisk ski-ing conditions in Gstaad" or "Percy Thrillington trusts that all his friends will not be offended by today's little japes to which he had no choice but to succumb on account of his liking for schoolboy pranks." Believe it or not, these were not coded messages for some sort of human trafficking operation.
There were also various radio ads about this Percy individual, and several female journalists received a single red rose and a card with Thrillington's name engraved in gold lettering, which was the pre-internet equivalent of sliding into their DMs. Just when the whole thing was approaching Batman villain territory, it turned out that it was all an early case of viral marketing for an album called Thrillington, whose cover depicts a ram-headed mutant playing the violin in fancy clothes.
The album claims to be "produced by Percy Thrillington," who, according to the liner notes, is also a conductor, arranger, marketing expert, and filthy rich person. A short biography explains that Percy was born in an English cathedral in 1939, went to Louisiana for 5 years to study music "on the trot," and eventually secured a recording contract after befriending the generous, brilliant, and no doubt massively-donged Paul McCartney. By the way, the classy ram man on the cover isn't as random as he might seem, because the whole Thrillington record is actually a jazzy orchestral "re-imagining" of McCartney's 1971 album Ram, the one that was in part a passive-aggressive dig at John Lennon (which Lennon responded to with the aggressive-aggressive "How Do You Sleep at Night ").
Other than this bio, there were a couple other pieces of evidence of Thrillignton's existence: a 1971 notice that the first artist signed by McCartney's new company was "an Irish bandleader named Percy Thrillington" and a single publicity photo of "Percy" in a tuxedo standing in a field, although he looks rather youthful for someone born in 1939.
According to his biographer, the name Thrillington was "on the tip of the tongues of most everyone in London." Unfortunately, it looks like those people don't buy records because Thrillington's reception has been described as "mostly unnoticed." Rolling Stone gave it a poor review, and Variety's can be summed up as "at least whoever made this is having fun." Still, the album became a collector's item due to rumors that Thrillington was secretly McCartney himself -- which he only confirmed in 1989. The guy in the photo was a random farmer McCartney and his wife found on a field in Ireland and took photos of, because when two members of Wings ask you to put on a tuxedo and pose for them in the middle of nowhere, you say yes.
The full story is that McCartney produced the album in 1971 in collaboration with arranger Richard Hewson, long-time Beatles engineer Tony Clark, and the leaky toilet at Abbey Road studios, whose performance can be heard at 4:18 here:
Once the album was finished, McCartney apparently forgot about it for six years, at which point he decided to use it as an excuse to mess with his fans. He tried to do something similar in the '90s when he co-authored an ambient techno album under the name "The Fireman," but someone leaked his identity to the press right before the album was released (probably the record company, having seen Thrillington's sales figures).
More recently, McCartney revived his Percy persona when Thrillington was remastered and included in Ram's 2012 re-release, and he even created a Twitter account for the character -- which is appropriate since Percy was basically doing Twitter already in 1977.
Fortunately, there are no records of Percy DMing pictures of his "ram" to journalists, as in-character as the idea might seem.
Top image: VARA, Capitol Records