It’s so easy to take Paul McCartney for granted and think he’ll always be around. Even at a time when the deaths of many legendary figures—David Bowie, Prince, Chuck Berry, Tom Petty, and now Aretha Franklin—are fresh in the collective memory, it still requires effort to imagine a world without Paul. Just watch him on Carpool Karaoke. He’s so youthful and energetic! The man’s 76, going on 26! He’s not leaving us anytime soon!
I hope that’s the case, forestalling the future that music critic Steven Hyden considers in his recent book, “Twilight of the Gods,” about the eventual extinction of classic rockers like Paul. In the meantime, let’s just be thankful that the Cute Beatle is still very much alive, and still making music, touring, and using his prolific, otherworldly talents to bring joy to this world. He’s a gift from above. Even jokes about him are the best.
With that in mind and with Paul’s next studio album, “Egypt Station,” set for release on September 7, I’ve compiled a list of “10 Paul McCartney Songs You Should Like.” Two quick notes: 1) This is an appreciation of Paul’s work outside of the Beatles. There’s nothing by the Fab Four here. 2) I deliberately excluded Paul’s most popular and successful solo/Wings material.
You probably don’t need to be told that you should like “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Band on the Run,” “Live and Let Die,” and so on. Instead, this list includes deep cuts, lesser-known singles, and a few personal favorites, with at least one song from every decade of Paul’s post-Beatles career. Arranged chronologically, it’s meant to be an overview, even if it’s strongly weighted toward Paul’s vintage 1970s output.
Now to the music.
‘Every Night’ (‘McCartney,’ 1970)
“Maybe I’m Amazed” towers above everything else off “McCartney,” Paul’s homespun debut solo record, but don’t overlook “Every Night.” It’s a touching and understated acoustic love song in which Paul paints a picture of his depression as the Beatles splintered (a lot of getting drunk and sleeping in) and his reliance on “the Lovely Linda” for stability and healing.
“But tonight I just want to stay in and be with you,” he sings. The chorus of “woos” that follows is irresistible.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ (‘Ram,’ 1971)
“Monkberry Moon Delight” is not easy to pin down or classify. It’s a total madhouse of surrealist imagery and untamed vocals that still manages to work as a song. Over a darkly rollicking, piano-driven tune, Paul howls at the moon about “a piano up my nose,” “the horrible sound of tomato,” and plenty of other nonsense. The man sounds off his rocker, especially in the way he strains to hold out notes. It’s a memorizing performance and one of numerous reasons to listen to Paul’s second post-Beatles album, “Ram.”
‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five’ (‘Band on the Run,’ 1973)
The first half of “Band on the Run” contains the album’s most popular offerings, but its best song doesn’t arrive until the very end. The dramatic closer “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” is a masterpiece.
It fires on all cylinders: that piano hook that won’t let you go, the loopy effects, the abrupt tempo changes, the massive instrumental buildup and climax, and the bookending reprise of “Band on the Run.” It’s a thoroughly cinematic creation that puts you in mind of a sci-fi movie from a bygone era. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” may just be the coolest song that Paul has ever recorded.
‘Magneto and Titanium Man’ (‘Venus and Mars,’ 1975)
Yes, it’s goofy. Yes, it’s frivolous. Yes, it’s the kind of song that Paul’s critics over the years have cited as evidence of his intellectual shallowness. None of that matters. Every time I listen to “Magneto and Titanium Man” and hear Paul’s silly story about comic book villains and a robbery, I get the same instant buzz.
It’s an insanely catchy little ditty highlighted by a wonderful array of vocal parts (oohs, aahs, doos, etc.) that lend so much color and buoyancy to the song. Sometimes it’s okay to say yes to Paul’s lightweight indulgences.
“Letting Go,” the subsequent track on “Venus and Mars,” is also worth your time.
‘Beware My Love’ (‘Wings at the Speed of Sound,’ 1976)
“Beware My Love” is a major outlier on “Wings at the Speed of Sound.” Best known for “Silly Love Songs” and “Let ‘Em In,” the 1976 Wings album doesn’t exactly excel at getting one’s blood pumping. It’s pretty soft, pretty cheesy, pretty midtempo. And then there’s the urgent and forceful rock of “Beware My Love,” which sounds like a war zone by comparison.
On the strength of Paul’s gritty lead vocal, Jimmy McCulloch’s guitar heroics, and a bracing conclusion, it hits hard and brings the intensity. I recommend this live rendition from the “Rockshow” concert movie, which dispenses with the studio version’s unnecessary intro and showcases Paul in all of his gaudy mid-‘70s splendor.
‘What’s That You’re Doing?’ (‘Tug of War,’ 1982)
In a better world, this would be the Paul McCartney-Stevie Wonder collaboration that people know, not “Ebony and Ivory.” In a better world, this would flat-out be one of Paul’s most popular songs. “What’s That You’re Doing?” is six-plus minutes of lusty, propulsive, sweat-drenched electro-funk glory that just doesn’t quit.
Even with that running time, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, as the groove keeps firing and the energy keeps coming (I especially dig the shout-out to the Beatles toward the end). The song is simply too much fun and too memorable to be a relative unknown in Paul’s body of work.
‘Beautiful Night’ (‘Flaming Pie,’ 1997)
In my view, the most emotionally powerful moment of Paul’s post-Beatles career comes about halfway through “Beautiful Night,” a lovely piano-and-strings ballad off “Flaming Pie.” Although it dates back to the mid ‘80s, the song wasn’t officially released until 1997, several years into Linda McCartney’s battle with breast cancer.
“So let me be there/Let me be there/Let me be there with you in the dead of the night,” Paul sings, as the George Martin-conducted orchestra takes flight. It’s hard not to hear those words as anything but a desperate prayer for his wife and himself. It’s devastating. Linda died the following year, and the effect is only partially blunted by the song’s rousing, celebration-of-life outro (which features Ringo Starr on vocals).
‘No Other Baby’ (‘Run Devil Run,’ 1999)
After Linda’s death, Paul’s next project was “Run Devil Run,” a superb album of mostly 1950s rock ‘n’ roll covers plus a few originals. These songs had shaped Paul’s creative imagination as a young man.
The best of the bunch is “No Other Baby,” which Paul and former Pink Floyd member David Gilmour transformed from a jaunty skiffle tune into a tender and stately electric-guitar ballad. Think Roy Orbison, but updated.
Once again, it’s obvious that all of Paul’s thoughts and emotions are trained on Linda. “I don’t want no other baby but you,” he affirms. The depth of feeling really comes through when he lets loose on his vocal. That man can sing!
‘Fine Line’ (‘Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,’ 2005)
“Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” is Paul’s finest record of the twenty-first century, thanks in large part to the production work and exacting standards of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Most notably, Godrich persuaded Paul to play almost all of the instruments on the album. The collaboration led to some friction between the two, but the outcome was a very disciplined and cohesive set of songs.
Right out of the gate is the excellent “Fine Line,” a piano-powered mover with enough bounce and orchestral energy to convince you it’s a lost ELO cut. Maybe Paul was just returning the favor for all those times Jeff Lynne and company had borrowed from the Beatles.
‘Cut Me Some Slack’ (‘Sound City: Real to Reel,’ 2013)
The Grammy-winning “Cut Me Some Slack” resulted from a jam session between Paul and the three living members of Nirvana. It’s a solid track, rocking heavy and hard, with obvious nods to “Helter Skelter.” The real joy, though, lies in seeing this unlikely supergroup assembled together and playing the song live. Watch below.
There’s bassist Krist Novoselic on one side and guitarist Pat Smear on the other. There’s Paul deploying his classic rock ‘n’ roll scream and soloing on a funky cigar-box guitar. Right behind him is Dave Grohl doing exactly what God put him on this earth to do.
It’s an awesome sight all around, but I especially love the shots of Paul and Grohl together. Two lovable and chummy music legends using their combined prowess to spread the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll. Amen to that.