Paul McCartney: His Best Solo Songs

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney | Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

In the beginning, The Beatles were a unit, but they drifted apart and developed their own songwriting styles before ultimately calling it quits and embarking upon solo careers in 1970. Their solo work could never hope to measure up to the influence of their work as a band, but the talented foursome that made up The Beatles produced plenty of classic material on their own, perhaps none moreso than Paul McCartney. The Beatles’ greatest master of melody, romance and playful theatricality, McCartney continued to write songs that endure long after the big breakup. These are some of his best.

1. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’

A bulk of Paul’s songs focus on the subject of love and romance — more on that later — but few are as moving, honest, and well-executed as the loving tribute of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which works equally well as a minor piano ballad and a soaring rock epic of overflowing emotion. Paul’s alternating between crooning and wailing provides one of the best showcases for his voice, and his lyrics make a convincing case for the redemptive power and impact of life upon one’s life. Released as a single in 1970 from his first solo album McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed” is likely the most convincing case for Paul’s talents as a solo artist.

2. ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’

The Beatles dabbled in songs that shifted genres and shape again and again within a short time, including classics like “A Day in the Life” and “You Never Give Me Your Money,” but Paul McCartney turned this novelty approach to songwriting into a template for greatness as early as his sophomore solo release (and still one of his best), Ram. “Uncle Albert” is filled with goofy little melodies and skits that might have been minor if Paul didn’t have such a knack for arranging them together into one convincing whole, not unlike a miniature version of Abbey Road‘s closing medley. Just try and listen without getting at least one hook stuck in your head for the rest of the week.

3. ‘Band on the Run’

Yet another of his shape-shifting triumphs, the title track of Paul’s finest release with Wings finds the band doing a little of their own band mythologizing, a la Sgt. Pepper’s. His third solo no. 1 single, the song blend funk, rock, folk rock, and solo into a single five-minute mini-epic composed of three equally-interesting parts without relying upon easy choruses to feel like an immediate classic. Even Paul’s former bandmate John Lennon had to admit it was a “great song and a great album.”

4. ‘Early Days’

Paul McCartney’s greatest talent lies in his ability to blend irresistible pop melodies with rock aesthetics, but he has plenty of power within a more stripped-back form, demonstrated as recently as 2013 on the track “Early Days” from the album New. An earnest folk song with rich production that makes every stroke of the string sound impossibly crisp and mournful, “Early Days” is a fond remembrance of times gone by and the sort of youthful dreams that led to The Beatles’ accidental greatness, the bittersweet nostalgia made all the more powerful with Sir Paul’s aged, almost tearful vocals.

5. ‘Every Night’

McCartney, Paul’s 1970 solo debut, is an album of tossed-off melodies that are catchy and charming even when they sound like incomplete Beatles songs missing a layer or two. “Every Night” is guilty of the same sort of feeling, but the rawness of the production works well for what ultimately amounts to another of Paul’s silly love songs, with a killer melody and a sweet message at its heart — sometimes, there’s nothing better or more therapeutic than doing nothing with the one you love. The two-and-a-half minute ditty is admittedly simple, but Paul finds greatness in simplicity.

6. ‘The Back Seat of My Car’

“The Back Seat of My Car” isn’t quite as unpredictable as, say, “Uncle Albert” from the same album, but it makes up for its relative lack of variation with raucous passion and sweeping drama that makes this rock song feel as powerful as a two-hour film. The orchestral piano balladry of the verses is always giving way to upbeat sections of rock-and-roll melodrama in service of a simple story about young lovers enjoying the night on their own terms. With production and songwriting as accomplished as this, something so small can feel impossibly big.

7. ‘Fine Line’

Paul McCartney’s unfathomable gift for crafting infectious pop rock songs triumph again on his album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, one of his finest releases within a new millennium. A sort of title song, “Fine Line” finds Sir Paul delivering lyrics about peace without ever getting heavy-handed about it, as the song works simply on its own terms for its driving piano lines and building interplay between chorus, verse, and bridge that results in the song’s winning home-stretch, which feels a lot more satisfying than it should for just a three-minute song.

8. ‘Silly Love Songs’

Though the undertones of the disco era may have aged it a bit, “Silly Love Songs” may be the closest thing to a songwriting mission statement Paul McCartney ever recorded, taking head-on the assertions by music critics and even former band mate that he only wrote “silly love songs.” It’s true, he admits, but who can blame him when his songs are this uplifting and clever, piling infectious melody upon infectious melody along with plenty of moving affirmations about his favorite subject, as he insists “love isn’t silly at all.” OK, maybe this song’s a little silly, but it’s also earnest and moving and creative.

9. ‘Live and Let Die’

There’s no shortage of great Bond songs, but the only one written by a former Beatle stands out head-and-shoulders among the rest. Paul uses the opportunity for another one of his shapeshifting classics like “Band on the Run,” this time transitioning between piano ballad and head-bobbing singalong and riveting action score several times within the short space of three minutes. His ability to make every section as riveting as the last speaks to Paul’s unnatural knack for creating compelling melodies.

10. ‘Only Mama Knows’

Another late release, Paul’s Memory Almost Full is an album of good songs weighed down by a few clunkers, but even the cheesier cuts of the album can’t detract from the rocking triumph of a song like “Only Mama Knows.” It begins with mournful orchestras reminiscent of, say, “Eleanor Rigby” before the guitar cuts in and transforms the song into a Wings-era rocker worthy of inclusion alongside “Band on the Run,” for its rich lyrical imagery and its rousing chorus that helps to prove that Paul can still rock well into the new millennium.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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