McCartney Times

The Best Song From Every Paul McCartney Album

The Best Song From Every Paul McCartney Album

The Best Song From Every Paul McCartney Album
January 11
10:05 2019

Picking the best song from every Paul McCartney album doesn’t always mean checking the Billboard charts.

True, the former Beatles star went on to notch nine No. 1 songs as a solo star and leader of Wings. In all, he’s claimed 23 Top 10 smashes, most recently with “FourFiveSeconds,” a 2015 collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West that rose to No. 4. But, a scant four of those big hits made our list.

Elsewhere, we delve into treasured deep cuts, forgotten gems and also-ran singles. That so many praise-worthy tracks can be found that far off the beaten path speaks to McCartney’s astonishing depth as a songwriter, and his astonishing longevity in an industry often governed by flashes in the pan.

Our focus was on McCartney’s post-Beatles rock records, so some notable releases did not make the cut. We skipped his five classical albums, including 1991’s Liverpool Oratorio; oddities like 1977’s Thrillington and 2000’s Liverpool Sound Collage; the first two ambient-instrumental Fireman collaborations; and Kisses on the Bottom, his 2012 collection of mid-century standards.

That still leaves room for focused examinations from a remarkable career that already included playing a huge role in the Beatles’ record-holding run of 20 chart-topping tunes. Highlights include his work with Denny Laine and Linda McCartney, George Martin, Elvis Costello and Youth, solo songs that were solo in the most complete sense of the word, some notable covers, and a string of more recent comeback successes.

Which earned a place on our list of the best songs from every Paul McCartney album? Keep scrolling to find out.

McCartney’ (1970): “Maybe I’m Amazed”

McCartney didn’t aspire to the Beatles’ towering achievements on Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road, but instead came off as a loose, surprisingly unvarnished expression — like someone trying to work out his own sound. That can be the album’s strength, but also a notable weakness. Some of this, quite frankly, just sounds like noodling around. But then there was “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Begun while with the Beatles, it emerged later from a very different place: McCartney is simply boiling with emotion, both light and dark. Yet, this tucked-away track didn’t initially get its due. Until finally, in 1977, it did – as a live remake from McCartney’s second group Wings went to No. 10.

‘Ram’ (1971): “Back Seat of My Car”

In keeping with the rest of this album, “Back Seat of My Car” is a little unfocused: It’s too overstuffed with ideas, too reliant on multi-tracked McCartneys, not as rustic as his solo debut and somehow tossed-off sounding anyway, and simply too long. But yet it still perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Ram such a wildly inventive gem. It’s gutsy and un-precious at one point and then a testament to McCartney’s enduring pop sensibilities at others. As he bolts from ’50s-era rock to cocktail-lounge crooning to swooning violins, and back again – all inside of this one final track, mind you – there is a sense of limitless possibility.

‘Wild Life’ (1971): “Dear Friend”

Often thought of as a response of John Lennon’s Imagine-era sniping, “Dear Friend” actually dated back to the sessions for Ram – well before the acid-tongued “How Do You Sleep?” hit store shelves. How their internal band issues evolved into such a public display of enmity remains a matter of intense fan debate. What remains clear, these many years later, is that McCartney reached back across the divide first. He’s captured in a haltingly conciliatory mood, something perfectly imparted during this moody, minor-keyed rumination. “Dear Friend,” in fact, begins with four unanswered questions, underscoring his sad confusion. Later, Richard Hewson’s strings arrive with a crescendo, like a heart breaking.

‘Red Rose Speedway’ (1973): “Get on the Right Thing”

Another Ram-era leftover, this track has Beatlesque pretensions — and that, along with its inclusion on the deeply flawed Red Rose, gives “Get on the Right Thing” much of its continued resonance. There’s a lot to love here. McCartney sings in the style of his old Little Richard send-ups for one of the last times on an original song. His vocals ascend into a rattling fervor, then whoop and call all the way back down, while still tracing a chaptered compositional style that recalls the best moments from Abbey Road. The song also rocks in a way that drive-by fans might never have guessed after wading through the gauzy web of strings on “My Love,” his song for wife and bandmate Linda McCartney.

‘Band on the Run’ (1973): “Band on the Run”

Wings were suddenly whittled down to just a core group of three, and it put McCartney in a fighting stance. You hear it right away, as a torrent of emotion synthesizes on this album-opening title track. “Band on the Run” skillfully weaves a desire to break free of the Beatles with an age-old outsiders mythology, setting a tone for everything that follows. This restlessness, a sense of destiny unfulfilled, pushed McCartney to new creative places – and he used every tool in his pop-music shed. That’s true for this episodic triumph, but also the whole LP. No McCartney project has held together so well, and none showcases his many strengths so successfully.

‘Venus and Mars’ (1975): “Call Me Back Again”

McCartney refused to rest on his laurels after issuing his best solo album. Instead, he set about rebuilding Wings in advance of a far more stylistically diverse recording. As with the follow-up, Venus and Mars didn’t always work. But it remains an amiable artifact from a time of deep domesticity for McCartney, an era when – likely, in part, because of the success surrounding the multi-platinum Band on the Run – he finally seemed free of the weight of his Beatles fame. That allowed him to try out things like this simmering deep cut, which may be the best Wings song you’ve never heard. Tony Dorsey’s bright brass blasts send McCartney into howls of pain, as he shreds a lyric reportedly aimed at his missing friend, John Lennon.

‘Wings at the Speed of Sound’ (1976): “Beware My Love”

A rare standout moment from the lesser sibling in a suddenly stable two-album run for Wings. McCartney was simply trying too hard to make his second band as democratic as the first, far more talented one had been. He was also in a rush to complete the LP before hitting the road for a celebrated U.S. tour. That led to a few notable missteps – At the Speed of Sound simply had too much Wings, and not enough Paul McCartney – and some songs that didn’t have the heft they might have with more care. The muscular “Beware My Love” breaks the mold, as McCartney pushes himself into a remarkably layered complexity. Even here, however, he was too much of a team player, keeping a better version in his back pocket that featured John Bonham rather than Wings’ Joe English on drums.

‘London Town’ (1978): “With a Little Luck”

Oddly enough, Wings promptly began falling apart. By the time sessions for London Town were complete, the group was reduced once again to a trio – but five years later, they couldn’t pull off another Band on the Run. Instead, London Town often feels small scale and too precious, save for this synth-driven, R&B-influenced U.S. smash. “With a Little Luck” taps into a well of emotion not heard elsewhere, hinting at McCartney’s feelings as a homesick Joe English returned to the U.S. and guitarist Jimmy McCulloch left for a stint with the reformed Small Faces. In truth, this project desperately needed a jolt of punky attitude. McCartney must have realized it, as he subsequently set about restructuring Wings for a final time.

‘Back to the Egg’ (1979): “To You”

A deeply underrated cut, likely because it’s part of a disappointing second-half retreat away from this album’s earlier rock ambitions. That’s a shame, since “To You” represents a last blast of New Wave inventiveness on Back to the Egg. McCartney’s vocal is all Ric Ocasek hiccups and post-punk howls, while Laurence Juber furiously saws away over a fidgety beat — then runs his guitar, in a moment of smeared brilliance, through an Eventide harmonizer during these totally wackadoo solos. Nowhere else is there a greater sense of the fizzy future that never was for this last lineup of Wings. In a few years, of course, this sound would be airing wall-to-wall on MTV.

‘McCartney II’ (1980): “One of These Days”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, McCartney appears with an acoustic guitar for one of the strongest tracks on a goofball experimental dud of an album. Sure, he double tracks, and weirdly synthesizes, his voice. But that’s the extent of the adornments found on this quietly effective ballad. Now, “quietly effective” may sound like a backhanded compliment; it certainly would have been a huge disappointment in previous decades. (With its pastoral imagery, “One of These Days” sounds like it could have been a throwaway from the White Album.) But in the ’80s, and on an album that found McCartney focused so completely on at-home doodles with a newfangled keyboard, that counts as high praise.

‘Tug of War’ (1982): “Take It Away”

Celebrated at the time as a partial Beatles reunion, “Take It Away” certainly starts that way, with an off-kilter rhythm courtesy of Ringo Starr and all of the tasteful hallmarks of a George Martin production. The song’s most interesting new element, however, comes from 10cc alum Eric Stewart, whose presence clearly sparked McCartney to dabble in some of that group’s now-famous layering of background vocals. “Take It Away” ends with a soaring loop of wordless sighs from a thousand Pauls, Erics and Lindas. In between, you have one of McCartney’s patented pop confections, featuring a feverish horn counterpoint, deceptively intricate bass, and an utterly indecipherable narrative. Classic McCartney.

‘Pipes of Peace’ (1983): “Sweetest Little Show”

If Pipes of Peace sounds like Tug of War leftovers, that’s because it’s exactly that. McCartney called Michael Jackson back in for another duet, but “Say Say Say” came off as utterly facile after “The Girl Is Mine.” McCartney’s scattered attempts at modernizing his sound feel forced, and became immediately dated. Even a collaboration with Ringo Starr (“So Bad”) falls flat. “Sweetest Little Show,” another of those held-over tracks, stands out because of its effortless, Wings-like exuberance. There’s a reason for that: It grew out of July 1980 jam with the now-departed Denny Laine. Later, a fun interlude on guitar sparked this spontaneous round of applause from the assembled studio assistants, and McCartney left it in.

‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ (1984): “Not Such a Bad Boy”

On an album that represents the nadir not just of McCartney’s ’80s output but quite possibly of his career — yes, he re-recorded Beatles songs; no, that wasn’t a good idea — this flinty little number arrived like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. McCartney, at this point, had scarcely attempted a rock song since the often-overlooked final edition of Wings flew apart, and “Not Such a Bad Boy” shows just what an awful loss that had been — even as it points the way to tougher next-decade projects like Run Devil Run.

‘Press to Play’ (1986): “Stranglehold”

This song’s positioning as the lead track on the often exhaustingly mechanized Press to Play should have had McCartney brought in on false-advertising charges. Still, we find here the first frail flowerings of a creative rebound for McCartney, as he sets a smart little reed-honking groove, then barks out the lyrics with a whiskey-shot of vigor. For all of the times he’d gotten lost in billowing clouds of whimsy — or in the case of this album, billowing clouds of Fairlight synths — McCartney very nearly pulls off a “Jet”-level anthem here. Unfortunately, Press to Play was basically rounded out with a gleaming pile of MTV-ready, Hugh Padgham-produced dreck.

‘CHOBA B CCCP’ (1988): “Twenty Flight Rock”

This album was meant to be retro fun, to loosen things up with some cover songs after the pinching techno vibe found on Press to Play. As such, there’s not much to grab on to for non-historian types. And a number of these songs had also already been officially released as B-sides before this Russia-only import – CHOBA B CCCP means “Back in the U.S.S.R.” – finally saw wider release in 1991. That said, Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” will always hold a special place in Beatles lore, since that’s the song young McCartney used to play his way into John Lennon’s band. Time has clearly changed McCartney’s relationship with the piece, as he downshifts into a brawny lope, but he still sings it with a knowing merriment.

‘Flowers in the Dirt’ (1989): “My Brave Face”

This smashed the ’80s-era mold for McCartney collaborations, after a series of let-down moments with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Instead, McCartney is goosed along here by Elvis Costello, who encouraged him to return to his mop top-era Hofner bass. “My Brave Face” was eventually cut live with McCartney singing and playing at the same time, closing the loop on a song that represented the very best kind of throwback. It seemed the spell of recent disappointments could only be broken with a tougher outside voice, a leavening new presence in the vein of John Lennon. McCartney found that person in Costello, who helped him back to the charts – and, more importantly, back to respectability.

‘Off the Ground’ (1993): “Mistress and Maid”

Another Elvis Costello co-write, “Mistress and Maid” traces a line of theatricality back to “Eleanor Rigby,” while Paul “Wix” Wickens’ keyboards recall the kaleidoscopic “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” There’s even a Beatle-y orchestral element. But this is no friendly reminiscence. Instead, in a hard-eyed twist, the song becomes a broadside call-and-response attack on male chauvinism. McCartney pulls no punches, and it feels like Costello’s fingerprints are all over that choice. He also worked with McCartney on “Veronica” and “You Want Her Too,” scowling and howling with a spittle-flying venom that both recalled McCartney’s earlier work with John Lennon and then – on “Mistress and Maid,” at least – helped McCartney move past it.

‘The Flaming Pie’ (1997): “Souvenir”

Despite working with the sometimes maddeningly prosaic Jeff Lynne, McCartney keeps it surprisingly simple — and as is often the case, produces some of his best, truest work. Here, McCartney gets underneath his lesser-explored R&B influences, singing with a deep soulfulness over a nervy riff. Guttural and raw, “Souvenir” doesn’t allow for any of the cute-isms that have always lurked around the edges of McCartney’s work. Instead, it’s scaldingly direct, powered by a dangerously sexy groove — very much in the style of unvarnished moments like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Let Me Roll It.”

‘Run Devil Run’ (1999): “No Other Baby”

Still stung by Linda’s death, McCartney was feeling nostalgic as the ’90s drew to a close. In keeping, he returned to the music of his youth, of many people’s, but sang it all through the prism of adulthood — with all of its many losses. That’s best heard during his take on “No Other Baby,” originally issued in the late ’50s by Bobby Helms (he had a hit with “Jingle Bell Rock”) and then covered by the now-forgotten British skiffle group called the Vipers. The final refrain: “I don’t want no other baby but you!” McCartney sings, almost menacingly. “I don’t want no other baby,” he then sings, quieter still. His loneliness is gut-wrenchingly palpable.

‘Driving Rain’ (2001): “Spinning on an Axis”

Strangely self-conscious, Driving Rain found McCartney struggling to combine two parts of his craft – a natural inclination toward ornate pop and an interest in lengthier forms. McCartney was also trying to balance the loss of wife Linda with the arrival of a new love. “Spinning on an Axis,” the best thing on a surprisingly uneven project, tries to lay all of that aside. McCartney shucks his occasional penchant for overthinking, opening with a loose rumination and then catching – and keeping – a gritty little groove. That gives the song a first-take freshness. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to break the logjam on the often-impenetrable Driving Rain. It seems there was simply too much going on inside McCartney’s head.

‘Chaos and Creation in the Backyard’ (2005): “Anyway”

This record started out with the same producer as Driving Rain, and a studio set up involving McCartney’s touring band, before Nigel Godrich arrived and blew it all up. Good thing. Now principally working in solo situations, a typically winking McCartney made his most serious and most unfussy project ever. Still, there’s a consistency in tone – of quietness, really – that might lead to distraction for those enamored with McCartney’s more obvious quirks. The album-closing ballad “Anyway” solves this issue, ending things on a more expected, orchestral-laden note. Everything feels familiar again, from a refrain which seems to recall the earlier “Little Willow” to a piano signature straight out of “People Get Ready.” That puts a bow on one of the very best McCartney LPs of any era.

‘Memory Almost Full’ (2007): “See Your Sunshine”

A canny Wings redo. This track’s background vocals, bright and cyclic, so strongly recall his work with Denny Laine and Linda McCartney as to transport you completely back into 1976. “See Your Sunshine” is the kind of pure pop that McCartney parlayed into a soundtrack for the decade immediately following the Beatles’ breakup, and followed a similarly ugly split with his second wife. Of course, McCartney is supposed to sound like this song. That he meets that standard, so fully inhabits the cliche, during a period of crushing adversity is part of his charm. It always has been.

‘Electric Arguments’ (2008): “Sing the Changes”

Paul McCartney advanced notions first explored on 1994’s Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest and 1998’s Rushes, a pair of ambient/electronica instrumental collaborations with former Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover (aka “Youth”), by going much deeper into the purity of first-take songcraft. The zenith came with “Sing the Changes,” a track that instantly became a setlist fixture. That makes sense, since it sounds so much like prime ’70s-era McCartney – only with a rugged, modern spin. He ruminates with a childlike wonder, returning to the kind of wide-open spaces that characterize his best work, but only after Youth scuffs it up some. Check that, scuffs it up a lot.

‘New’ (2013): “Queenie Eye”

“Queenie Eye” goes further back, with a ruminative orchestral opening, the fizzy word play, nervy grooves and a processed vocal that point like a streaking arrow to McCartney’s late-’60s successes with George Martin. When the song comes to a momentary pause, it’s as if the dream-state reverie is complete. But a newly confident McCartney isn’t done. He may have called the album New, but here he’s thinking in the most thrilling of old ways. In fact, McCartney closes out “Queenie Eye” by doing what every Beatles trope says he should do: Start all over again, with a swirling chorus of vocals, a banging piano and a second sudden stop. All that’s missing is the cool haircut.

‘Egypt Station’ (2018): “I Don’t Know”

McCartney’s first No. 1 album since 1982 opens with this looming sense of doubt, a most surprising emotion from the world’s most famous progenitor of silly love songs. You expect him to be glib, to sing about some made up thing like Father McKenzie’s unheard sermons or Uncle Albert’s boiling kettle. Instead, he uncovers something far more revealing in the all-too-rare expression of his own thoughts. These verses, perhaps the bleakest McCartney has ever penned, eventually give way to a gorgeous, more typically consoling chorus. McCartney’s piano figure guides you along, tracing this brilliant juxtaposition perfectly.

Source: The Best Song From Every Paul McCartney Album

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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