Point number one: Paul McCartney is one of the three best songwriters in the history of rock music (for those who don't know, the other two are his bandmate and friend John Lennon, and Bob Dylan).
Point number two: Under the bar set in the first category it could be said that his solo career was somewhat disappointing; however it is not for nothing that we are talking about the guy with the greatest melodic facility in the last 100 years. Even so, his solo career is much better than people think and, above all, than what the critics of his time thought, as they were unable, for example, to properly appreciate a masterpiece like Ram. For an unforgivable crime, Paul McCartney is a happy person, with zero traces of being the ‘tortured artist’ or ‘damned’...
In a career that spans more than 50 years McCartney has only left us a couple of absolute solo masterpieces, the aforementioned Ram and Band On The Run, but also a good handful of remarkable albums such as his debut, McCartney, Flaming Pie, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard and Memory Almost Full. Of course, if this were a list of Paul McCartney's best songs without further adjectives, more than 90% would correspond to his time in the Beatles, although we often forget that beyond the mythical walk down Abbey Road, McCartney continued to release great pop songs. These are our ten favorites (although we name 20 more at the end, to go beyond the shadow cast by Ram and Band On The Run).
Maybe I'm Amazed
Although the date of separation of the Beatles is April 10, 1970 - when Paul McCartney made it official - it could be said that the real end point was September 20, 1969 when John Lennon told McCartney that he was leaving the band. It was a hard blow for a McCartney who didn't quite know what to do once his beloved group split. His one consolation was his wife Linda. With all this in mind he composed the best song of his solo career, the song that can look Hey Jude, Eleanor Rigby, Let It Be and other wonders of his time with the Fab Four in the face. A song he recorded on his own on February 22, 1970, the same day he recorded Every Night. On this song he played all the instruments that you can hear in it: piano, bass, drums, organ and electric guitar, possibly his Gibson Firebird, with which he delivers one of the best solos of his career. The piece, like the rest of his debut, is skeletal and lo-fi, quite the opposite of the baroque arrangements that Phil Spector put into Let It Be. This is the naked sound McCartney had in mind in those turbulent times when his friendship with his three best friends was sinking but from which he emerged thanks to Linda's love.
Band On The Run
When the Beatles split up what everyone expected from McCartney was something ambitious and special like side B of Abbey Road - a side that was mainly his work - but in return they received homemade albums with a 'do it yourself' approach that threw everyone a curveball, including his bandmates. We had to wait for his fifth solo effort, his third as Paul McCartney & Wings, to find something similar. Band On The Run, the title track, was a three-part medley, opening as a ballad, transitioning into a big rock piece and becoming one of those sing-alongs, with a slight country twist, that McCartney is so good at.
Live And Let Die
When Paul McCartney was commissioned to do the song for the James Bond movie Live And Let Die, all he was told was that the film title had to appear in it. Few could have imagined that McCartney would write the ultimate Bond song, putting various parts back together as only he knows how. It started with one of his specialties, the piano ballad with a great melody, then a gigantic orchestra came in that seemed a nod to original Bond composer John Barry, and the song became an unstoppable rocker, until the bridge appeared and McCartney went to Jamaica with a bit of reggae. It's an incredible song, recorded with Wings at the same sessions as their Red Rose Speedway album with Henry McCullough playing, probably, the same 1968 Les Paul Gold Top he played with Joe Cocker at Woodstock.
The Back Seat Of My Car
Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson are kindred spirits who were born only two days apart, the former on June 18 and the latter on June 20, in 1942. They were undisguisedly influencing each other during the most productive years of their careers: Wilson came up with Pet Sounds after listening to Rubber Soul and McCartney tried to outdo him by creating Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so it is understandable that their imprint is also noticeable in the latter’s solo career. For example in this marvel that closed Ram you can hear the Californian vibe in those close harmonies and those careful arrangements. In spite of the fact that he has not played it too much live (where he cannot dub on additional voices as he did in the studio) McCartney himself considers it "the definitive teenage song" –being the back seat of the car the place in which the teenagers of the 50s and beginnings of the 60s lost their virginity.
Let Me Roll It
A song that grew out of a brutal, bluesy guitar riff, Let Me Roll It is a primal song with McCartney demonstrating the power of his throat on a cut that many wanted to see as some sort of homage/plagiarism to Lennon. It is as if McCartney had only done piano ballads during his career with the Beatles, forgetting things like Helter Skelter, I'm Down and Oh Darling - a song to which this marvel that appeared on Band On The Run is also related and that could have been unforgettable if he had sung it with Lennon in the Beatles.
A song so good and irresistible that Jellyfish considered it "the sexiest song ever written" and the Australians who gave us Are You Gonna Be My Girl were named after it. It was the debut single from Band On The Run and was somewhere between power pop gem and irresistible glam rock, McCartney puts an intense beat on his Rickenbacker 4001 bass and adds one of those trademark melodies for one of the most infectious songs - and that's saying something - of his career.
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
If this song talked about the meaning of life instead of his Uncle Albert and the made-up Admiral Halsey, it would be praised as the masterpiece it is, but it would also stop being so 100% McCartney. The lyrics are nothing more than a silly diversion from this guy who always saw the optimistic side of life and would rather have a good time, and reflect that, than give life lessons. Musically, however, it is a gem in which he once again unites very disparate pieces and in which his melodic ease, his taste for 'music hall' and his incredible ability to integrate a whole philharmonic orchestra into a pop song come together.
The song that best reflects his state of mind after the dissolution of the Beatles and the one that anticipates the spartan sound of his solo debut. It is also an ode to family life, of which Paul would be the strongest advocate in the following years. With his beloved Martin D-28 McCartney confesses, "Every night I want to get out, get out of my head. Every day I don't want to get up, get out of my bed (...) But tonight I just want to stay in and be with you."
A love song, composed for Linda, in which McCartney uses bossa nova and calypso influences, and which could be considered the direct descendant of The White Album's Blackbird. Bonus points for the fabulous tenor sax solo by Howie Casey and percussion by Nigerian musician Remi Kabaka.
Too Many People
The opening track from Ram made it clear that McCartney was fed up with John Lennon and Yoko Ono telling everyone - including him - what to do. But beyond those jabs at his former partner (which would lead Lennon to write the infamous How Do You Sleep?), the song is another marvel musically, with a great chord progression, great drums and an aggressive melody joined by a couple of remarkable guitar solos. Although there are different versions, I believe both McCartney and studio guitarist Hugh McCracken take solos, with the former, beginning at 1:57, being Paul's, and the latter (and more notable), beginning at 3:06, courtesy of McCracken.
Another 20 notable songs:
Long Haired Lady, 1985, Venus and Mars / Rock Show, Smile Away ,Eat At Home, Coming Up, Here Today, Put It There, Monkberry Moon Delight, Queenie Eye, Hi, Hi, Hi, Dear Boy, My Brave Face, Young Boy, The Kiss Of Venus, Helen Wheels, Fine Line, Junior’s Farm, Hope Of Deliverance, Jenny Wren.