It was 36 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to — OOPS! On this day in 1980, Paul McCartney was kicked out of Japan for trying to smuggle almost half a pound of marijuana into the country.
Sir Paul, his wife Linda, and his band Wings were about to embark on what would have been a lucrative tour of Japan. McCartney had not been to Japan since The Beatles tour of 1966, where they were greeted by enthusiastic audiences.
However, this Wings tour would end before it began when Japanese customs officials at Narita airport discovered close to eight ounces of marijuana right on the very top of his suitcase. The cute Beatle was promptly marched off to jail, where he spent the next 9 days behind bars.
This was not McCartney’s first bust for dope. In fact, he had been nabbed more than once, receiving little more than a slap on the wrist. According to the Performing Songwriter web site:
Prior to his arrest in Tokyo, Macca had been busted three times. In 1972, he paid a $2,000 fine for smuggling hashish into Sweden. The same year, he was fined for pot possession in Scotland, and in 1973, he was fined again for growing cannabis on his Scottish highlands farm. The story goes that before the Japanese tour, Paul was made to sign an affidavit stating that he no longer smoked dope, as a condition for receiving his visa. When the pot was found, Japanese authorities felt that they’d “lost face” and had no choice but to arrest him.
While 8 ounces of pot is not an extreme amount, it would have been enough to garner a smuggling charge, which could have kept McCartney locked up for the next 7 years.
As McCartney explained in the Wingspan documentary:
The question that troubled the minds of observers at the time was, “What was Paul thinking?” Half a pound of marijuana was a prodigious amount for one man to carry around for personal use—particularly a man who had had reason to expect especially close examination of his person and his baggage by Japanese customs officials. After all, Paul had been denied a Japanese entry visa just five years earlier due to his numerous earlier drug arrests in Europe.
Twenty years after his 1980 arrest, Paul would opine that his psychological motivation may have been to find an excuse to disband Wings, which he in fact did immediately following his return to England. In another interview, however, Sir Paul offered an explanation that may be the more compelling for its simplicity: “We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” McCartney said in 2004. “This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”
His former writing partner, John Lennon, is said to have opined:
“If he really needs weed, surely there’s enough people who can carry it
for him. You’re a Beatle, boy, a Beatle. Your face is in every damn
corner of the planet. How could you have been so stupid?”
Smartening up, McCartney decided to toe the line while in jail. Ultimate Classic Rock picks up the story:
As Inmate No. 22, he decided to become a model prisoner. As he said
in the ‘Wingspan’ documentary, “I started to realize, “Right, I’m going
to get up when the light goes on, I’m going to be the first up, I’m
going to be the first with his room cleaned, I’m going to roll up my
bed, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’”
After nine days in the pokey, Japan kicked McCartney out of the country.
He returned to Japan in 1990 and subsequently toured there several
Also on this day in McCartney history: In 1991 Paul appeared on MTV’s Unplugged, a performance and CD which revitalized his career.