“Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view,” sang Paul McCartney on “When I’m 64” on the Sgt Pepper… album in 1967. “Two of us sending postcards, writing letters on my wall,” is what he sang on “Two Of Us” in 1969 and released the following year on the Let It Be album. He also covered “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” on his 2012 Kisses On The Bottom album.
His enthusiasm for written correspondence has taken a new turn with the release of a series of official stamps by the Royal Mail in the UK.
Drawing on photographs and album covers from his post-Beatles career, they are offered in a multitude of configurations including: the Paul McCartney Bundle made up of all 12 stamps, a carrier card and special booklet selling for £55.29 ($76.93); the Paul McCartney Limited Edition Prestige Stamp Book selling for £44.99 ($62.60); the Paul McCartney First Day Cover – PSB Pane with Liverpool Postmark for £4.15 ($5.77); and, for those on a budget, the Paul McCartney First Day Envelope for a mere £0.30 ($0.42).
McCartney had posted a teaser on social media the day before with a photo of an old-fashioned post box, eye emojis and the following day’s date.
An appearance on a stamp is an important form of cultural validation that only a small number of popular musicians have ever received. It is not quite up there with having a statue erected or an airport named after you, but it is still a select club.
In 1992, the United States Postal Service announced it was creating an Elvis Presley stamp and opened it to the public to vote on which era of Elvis should make its way onto the stamp – either 1950s Sun Records-era Elvis or 1970s Las Vegas-era Elvis. In total, 1.2 million ballots were cast and, taking 75% of the vote, the younger Elvis was anointed on the stamp that was then released in early 1993.
The Elvis stamp began a series of stamps celebrating pioneers of rock ’n’ roll and rhythm & blues that included Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Ritchie Valens, Clyde McPhatter and Dinah Washington.
Genre-based editions of stamps followed over the years, including ones focused on Broadway musicals, country singers, jazz artists, opera singers, folk singers and Hollywood composers.
In 2013, the United States Postal Service started its Music Icons series of stamps, featuring acts such as Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Sarah Vaughan and John Lennon.
Freddie Mercury has been commemorated a number of times by the Royal Mail with a stamp, notably in 1999 as part of a Famous Britons series and again in 2020 as part of a series of stamps celebrating his old band, meaning that Queen were sharing space with a silhouette of the actual queen.
David Bowie got his own series of stamps in 2017 as did Elton John in 2019. And in a nice moment of cultural exchange in 2012, the US Postal Service and La Poste in France collaborated on a Miles Davis stamp and an Édith Piaf stamp.
Commemorative stamps extend far beyond the world of the philatelist and are best understood as simply another form of merchandise for fans, sitting alongside T-shirts, mugs and keychains – all items to be hoarded by enthusiasts but never used because to use them is to deplete their value.
Even so, letter writing in the age of email, Instagram and WhatsApp is not quite the dying art that some might presume it to be. The Annual Literacy Pupil Survey, conducted between November 2017 and January 2018, found that 36.7% of children/young people wrote letters in their free time, up from 28.9% in 2011.
This is not, of course, McCartney’s first appearance on a set of stamps as The Beatles were given that honour in 2007 with stamps commemorating their album covers.
There is an added poignancy, however, in the fact that with the release of these new McCartney stamps there is a direct lyrical line back to “When I’m 64”. This was one of his earliest compositions and was occasionally played, according to Ian MacDonald in his magisterial book Revolution In The Head, by The Beatles in their days as a club band if there were technical difficulties with the PA system.
The maudlin nature of the song and the fact it was aimed squarely at parents, claimed MacDonald, meant that it received “a cool reception from the group’s own generation” on its release in 1967.
Now well past the age of 64 himself, McCartney might have been castigated by some as a sentimentalist and old fogey while still in his 20s, but he has managed to achieve and maintain a cross-generational appeal that is rare for an artist who first came to public attention in the 1960s. This is for him – both literally and figuratively – simply another stamp of approval.