Looking Back On Paul McCartney’s 1980 Tokyo Drug Bust

Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Press

On January. 16, 1980 Paul McCartney and Wings touched down at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

During his time traveling with the Beatles and afterward, Paul and his bandmates often carried ‘diplomatic bags’, routinely passed over by customs.

Nonetheless, McCarney was warned that the stricter-than-most Japanese officials would not be forgiving were any illicit drugs to be found upon his person.

If Paul were caught he would face a prison sentence and hard labor.

Paul maintained that recalled being informed of the risk but unfortunately, forgot, leading to a “rather a large amount” of marijuana being uncovered in his luggage.

Or so he claimed at the time.

Several years he revealed to Rolling Stone in 2004 that it was always his intention to bring the drugs into the country.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” he shared. “This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”

Things didn’t turn out so well.

Upon being caught with more seven ounces of marijuana, Wings’ 11 date tour was canceled and McCartney incarcerated.

Facing a 7-year sentence Paul spent nine days in custody at Tokyo’s Narcotics Detention Center.

Designated inmate No. 22, McCartney faced several interrogations, diligently cleaning his room daily, bathed with other prisoners and responding to requests from his wardens with gusto.

George Harrison wrote to Paul, sending a telegram to Linda McCartney stating: “Thinking of you all with love. Keep your spirits high. Nice to have you back home again soon. God bless. Love, George and Olivia.”

After 9 days of bargaining, his lawyers managed to convince the Japanese authorities to set Paul free, on the one condition that he leave the country.

Paul left the Detention on January 25.

following his release, Paul decided to dissolve Wings and not long after produced cult favorite solo album, McCartney II.

(The cover the album is either McCarney’s Japanese mugshot or a photo taken to resemble one.)

His arrest though may simply have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We were terrible,” Paul said of Wings in 2016, “We weren’t a good group. People said, ‘Well, Linda can’t play keyboards’, and it was true.  But you know, John Lennon couldn’t play guitar when we started. We knew Linda couldn’t play, we didn’t know each other, but we learned.”

Ultimately Paul’s view of the Wings experience is a positive one: “We had some funny experiences. Looking back on it, I’m really glad we did it.”

And so too is his view on his arrest.

I still am hazy as to how that happened,” he joked in one recent interview, “but it did.”

Paul has also recently given up pot, swearing off the drug in 2015, an experience he wrote about on ‘Happy Without You‘ from 2018 album Egypt Station.

I don’t really want to set an example to my kids and grandkids,” he told newspaper the Daily Mirror. “It’s now a parent thing. Back then I was just some guy around London having a ball, and the kids were little so I’d just try and keep it out of their faces. Instead of smoking a spliff I’ll now have a glass of red wine or a nice margarita. The last time I smoked was a long time ago.”



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