If you’re Paul McCartney, you’ve had a lot of albums and singles released under your name. Many of these have been worldwide hits, no doubt. But you’ve also found the time to put things out that weren’t released as singles or just became little bits of treasure to certain circles of fans. If you’re Paul McCartney, you can continue to do these types of things, as you have tons of money and at this point in your career it doesn’t matter at all if you get back on the charts. Your fans are there and they will embrace something of yours out there somewhere. Luckily, though, you happen to have some tasty non-chart topping album cuts that are worth discussing. If you’re Paul McCartney, we’re going to be discussing those bits right now. If you’re not, just read, learn, and enjoy it all just as well. As Clint Harrigan (whoever the hell that was) said in the liner notes on the back of the first Wings album, “Can you dig it?”
Part One: The '70s
As Paul left behind his legacy in the Beatles and began reworking his solo career, he made it a point to not look back for quite a while. The fans clamored for Beatles songs during live shows, and for a while there was plenty of talk about a reunion. It wasn't until the mid-'70s when McCartney finally started re-embracing his not-too-distant past and started playing a few Fab Four chestnuts live. But he always maintained that Wings was as much a band as the Beatles were and his '70s output is undoubtedly the most experimental of his solo work, as he tried to find his own voice without leaning back on past successes and nostalgia.
“That Would Be Something” – McCartney
Paul went from the great lyrical pursuits of Abbey Road to…this. The first track on his debut album, “The Lovely Linda,” was slight and short. “That Would Be Something” was even less. “That would be something / It really would be something / That would be something / To meet you in the falling rain, mama / Meet you in the falling rain.” That’s it. He then woo-hoos and scats a bit and sings the verse some more. For some reason it’s funky and it works. Coming from anyone else at the time (or now), it would have fallen flat on its ass.
“Every Night” – McCartney
Paul could still write ‘em, even if he was starting all over on his own terms and escaping his recent past as quickly as possible. This song is classic Macca and seems so simple that anyone should have been able to do it. But they didn’t, and it remains a standout from the debut.
“Oo You” – McCartney
When Paul hums along to the opening riff of this tune and then declares “walkin’ tough,” he’s right. This is the funkiest and toughest track from his debut album. When he moans in tune after the line “Sing like a blackbird,” you can’t help but wonder if he’s reacting to his own stress from having just left the Beatles.
“Too Many People” – Ram
The lyrical sniping on albums between John Lennon and Paulie was on. On this track, McCartney sneers about “Too many people preaching practices.” The back of Ram’s sleeve also features a picture of a beetle screwing another beetle. Let’s play nice now, boys.
“Heart of the Country” – Ram
A fine song about clean living and the country air and getting away from everything else that in turn led everyone to believe that you had died and had planted a bunch of clues about it all over various albums by your former band. “Gotta horse, gotta sheep, gonna get me a good night’s sleep” sings Paul just doing his own thing and livin’ off the land. We can dig it.
“Eat at Home” – Ram
Obviously Ram was a much more inspired production than its predecessor, as Paul was trying out a little of everything. Here we have him doing his patented rocking out. Why his abilities to do so were often overlooked by Lennon’s rocking out in The Beatles is beyond me. The guy could kick ass when required.
“Mumbo” – Wild Life
“Take it Tony!” shouts Paul at the beginning of the first song of the first Wings album. He then just starts screaming gibberish for a few minutes while the band boogies. It’s basically a fucking sound check recorded for posterity. The first time I heard it, I thought it was complete shit. These days, I love this album and most of the songs on it.
“Bip Bop” – Wild Life
This is almost a laid-back blues number that is yet another one of those songs that will get lodged in your head after one or two listens whether you want it to or not. Lyrically, it’s genius compared to “Mumbo.” Compared to everything else, it’s a dried turd.
“Love is Strange” – Wild Life
Again, Paulie must’ve been smoking some high grade weed when this album was recorded, as he sounds completely out of it on this cover of ye olde Mickey and Sylvia hit. It’s especially good near the end, when you can hear Linda belting it out over everyone else. God bless her. She really was a great person (and the only gal worth Paul’s time).
“Some People Never Know” – Wild Life
This song is fucking epic. It’s beautiful and moving and is certainly one of those hidden gems of Macca’s. He’s always been good at placing some of his best stuff on otherwise overlooked albums. This is the best song on the LP and is simply stunning.
“Big Barn Bed” – Red Rose Speedway
Why wasn’t this a single? It completely slaughters the goopy dross that is “My Love.” At this point Wings is focused and showing off what it can do when it’s not just knocking out goofy-ass sound check rockers. The opening lines “Who’s that coming ‘round the corner? / Who’s that coming ‘round the bend?” can originally be heard at the fade of “Ram On (part two)” on Ram.
“Get on the Right Thing” – Red Rose Speedway
Macca flexes his rocking-out muscle some more, and while it’s not lyrically superior, the energy and spirit is there and it’s obvious that Wings are gonna be huge, man. Just give ‘em some time.
“Little Lamb Dragonfly” – Red Rose Speedway
Like Ram, this album finds Paul experimenting quite a lot and trying on different hats. This is a nice, longer tune with different movements that echoes his work with the Beatles and as such is a sure highlight of the LP.
“When the Night” – Red Rose Speedway
Another epic gem. This is my favorite song from this album. Everything comes together right here in emotion, music, and spirit. Rarely has Macca been this soulful, and when he kicks it into high gear at the end with that “Yeah, the la-la-la-li-la-li-light of the night fell on me…fell on me!” it’s all over. If you don’t have this album, buy it for this song alone.
“Medley: Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut” – Red Rose Speedway
My God, the lyrics throughout this entire medley are just plain shit. But the music is magical, and that’s all you need here. Paul proves that even in his most simplistic places that he can still pull out the hooks left and right. Good stuff.
“Mrs. Vandebilt” – Band on the Run
Wait a minute. Is Paul taking shots at the Vanderbilts? The title certainly is spelt differently, but he certainly seems to place that “r” back in the middle of the name when he sings it. Hmmmm. Dig the tribal jungle groove and “Ho, hey-ho” chants as this groover zips along.
“Let Me Roll It” – Band on the Run
Another song to Lennon, only this time a patching up of affairs which began on the lesser “Dear Friend” on Wild Life. McCartney shows again he knows how to rock it just as hard as his old pal and lets those guitar breaks speak for themselves.
“No Words” – Band on the Run
The oddball of the album. Seems more like a fragment than an actual song, but has always been one of my favorites from this LP. I think I like the quality of Paul’s voice on it, and just how it comes in and then goes away without really doing anything.
“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” – Band on the Run
Inspired by a joke told to Paul by Dustin Hoffman, this tune is a clever look back at the songs that have led up to this point, quoting both “Jet” and “Mrs. Vandebilt.” Paul was good at those quirky little cut up pieces.
“Nineteen-Hundred-and-Eighty-Five” – Band on the Run
You know what’s best about this song? Just that last explosive note that rings out from the electric guitar and then cuts right back into the chorus from “Band on the Run.” The song is good in itself, but that final moment is the icing on the cake.
“You Gave Me the Answer” – Venus and Mars
Looking back on it, the follow-up to Band on the Run seems slight, but a lot of people really love this album. The singles are indeed killer. It’s just the rest of it that leaves a lot to be desired. On this tune, we have another one to go along with “Honey Pie” and all those sorts of tracks. Vaudeville Paul at his dopiest.
“Magneto and Titanium Man” – Venus and Mars
You can’t go wrong when you sing about superheroes and super villains, or just one or the other. KISS would take the comic book inspiration to their own extremes and make vast fortunes from it. Here, Wings would do it and then leave it for good.
“She’s My Baby” – Wings at the Speed of Sound
On the other hand, this album has better album cuts than singles. Yeah, “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs” are fine, but there are only so many times you can hear them. This song is a bouncy love tune with nice electric piano that could have easily been a hit single as well.
“Wino Junko” – Wings at the Speed of Sound
Jimmy McColloch sings this fine little ditty about an alcoholic. Consider it the album’s “Whiskey Man,” minus the psychosis.
“Must Do Something About It” – Wings at the Speed of Sound
Drummer Joe English gets to sing my fave tune of this album. It’s all about being a loner and the loneliness that ensues from such a lifestyle. No wonder Paul handed it to Joe to sing; what the hell would he know about any of that? Zing!
“Girlfriend” – London Town
Ugh. This album has never been one of my faves, and this song has always basically been the only track I ever really liked from it. It was basically written for Michael Jackson, who did manage to cover it on his Off the Wall album. This is the better version.
“Spin It On” – Back to the Egg
Wings’ final album (which wasn’t originally intended as such) was created in the spirit of doing a harder-rocking album after the soft rock pap that glommed up LondonTown. Unfortunately, it was looked upon as a failure at the time. Too bad, because to my ears it’s always been the group’s finest work. Here, McCartney raves it up real good and rocks more ferociously than he had in years. I can dig it, Clint Harrigan!
“Again and Again and Again” – Back to the Egg
Easily Denny Laine’s best contribution ever to Wings, and one of the best songs on this album. It’s just as tight and terrific as any of the McCartney-penned tunes, showing that Macca had worn off a lot on the former Moody Blue.
“After the Ball/Million Miles” and “Winter Rose/Love Awake” – Back to the Egg
Two separate tracks comprised of two separate fragments each. Paul goes through the motions of soul/gospel/MOR pop/acoustic popster. Only “Winter Rose” seems to drag on a bit too long. The rest are all quite tasty.
“Temporary Secretary” – McCartney II
A headache from hell or one of those songs that’s undeniably catchy after a few listens? It’s both, and for some reason it was released as a single in the UK. God, that synth loop is grating, but it’s funny as hell at the same time. Somehow, Paul managed to lay a good song underneath it. What a card.
“Front Parlour” and “Frozen Jap” – McCartney II
Both of these are very nice instrumentals that will get stuck in your skull quickly. The latter’s title undoubtedly being inspired by Paul’s drug bust in Japan. Both of these tunes also showed that Paul could do more than just noodle around with his new keyboards.
Part II: The '80s
The beginning of the 1980s saw major changes for Macca. He dissolved Wings shortly after the Japanese bust and his second restart McCartney II was met with some success and head scratching. Of course, the biggest change was the murder of John Lennon, which inspired Paul to make one of his best albums ever, Tug of War. He continued to score highly through the mid-'80s, but blundered with the film "Give My Regards to Broad Street" and was criminally overlooked for the wonderful Press to Play. However, a collaboration with Elvis Costello on Flowers in the Dirt pushed Paul back into the arena spotlights once again, allowing him to coast for a while on the lingering fumes.
“Somebody Who Cares” – Tug of War
1982 was a banner year for Paul, as his Tug of War LP received both massive critical and commercial acclaim. With George Martin at the production helm, it was going to be hard for him to miss. This is one of McCartney’s many songs of hope, though rather than being corny and trite like some of the others, it’s got a dark quality to it that makes it a moving work.
“The Pound Is Sinking” – Tug of War
Ah, money. Pink Floyd had a big hit with a song about it, and here Paulie sings about the world’s various currencies and makes it completely not boring. Only They Might Be Giants could have pulled off a similar feat.
“The Other Me” – Pipes of Peace
Move over, Ringo. Paul’s got his drum machine out again. How to classify this one? It’s one of those oddballs that has too many good hooks for its own good. Paul sighs a lot and does vocal percussion voices at the gloriously catchy coda, repeating that talent that he exposed on “That Would Be Something” from his debut album.
“Ballroom Dancing” – Give My Regards to Broad Street
This tune was originally released on Tug of War, but for this soundtrack, McCartney went back and re-recorded vintage Beatles, Wings, and some of his most recent stuff. This version is livelier and kicks a little harder. And who could forget Linda’s hairdo during this sequence in the film?
“No Values” and “Not Such a Bad Boy” – Give My Regards to Broad Street
Two new rockin’ cuts for the movie soundtrack. It seemed as though Paul needed to get heavy again for a bit, and he does so with much aplomb here.
“Stranglehold” – Press to Play
Another criminally overlooked great album sports plenty of songs that weren’t singles or ever played live. This lead-off track finds Paul in rocker mode again with a bit of cinematic production thrown on top. His then-collaborator Eric Stewart knew how to get the best out of Macca. Perhaps even more so than Elvis Costello a few years later.
“Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun” – Press to Play
A faux-reggae insinuation runs through the first part of this tune, with lyrics about some sort of post-war situation. The chorus is another one of those amazing little revelations. “Feel the Sun” is a classic McCartney fragment that is psychedelic around the edges and heaven in the middle.
“Talk More Talk” – Press to Play
McCartney gets extremely tripped out on this track filled with chatter about space ships and “grey flannel trousers.” The drum programming is actually tasty and atmospheric in the tune and doesn’t sink to typical ‘80s drum machine plasticity. Surrealistically inspired!
“Move Over Busker” – Press to Play
Another rockin’ rave-up citing various golden age Hollywood film actors. Whatever got into Paulie’s drink at the time was causing him to write some really great stuff, filled with lots of great lyrics and imagery. Why it didn’t succeed for him is a complete mystery.
“Angry” – Press to Play
Paul hadn’t rocked this hard since Back to the Egg or perhaps even “Helter Skelter.” Keeping with the rest of this gem of an album, the rocking is of a new style, but it’s great to hear McCartney go full throttle at the end. Eric Stewart, please get together again with Paul and write another album. Thank you.
“Distractions” – Flowers in the Dirt
For me, this is the album where Paul starts a bit of a long slide down. Collaborating with Elvis Costello at the time may have helped him some, but it seems like Elvis got the better songs from the experience on his Spike album. The singles, once again, were really good, but the rest of the album left a bit to be desired, I think. Still, this track is further proof that when it gets down to it, McCartney can write a great love song that isn’t all fluff.
Part 3: The '90s – Present
The 1990s found McCartney pretty much doing whatever he wanted. The uninspired Off the Ground was to Flowers in the Dirt as David Bowie's Tonight was to his Let's Dance. It kept him on the charts, but wasn't very entertaining in the long run. After that, the charts didn't seem to matter much to Paul and he spent the rest of the decade squeezing out live albums, bland "classical" music, and studio efforts that didn't offer the long-time fans much hope. However, once the new millennium began, Macca seemed refueled. His work with producer Nigel Godrich gave the fans the great Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, and his latest work Memory Almost Full continued the upward trend.
“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” – CHOBA B CCCP
In 1988, McCartney recorded and released an album of all cover tunes strictly for release in the U.S.S.R. Three years later (and after being bootlegged heavily), the album (whose title translates as “Back in the U.S.S.R.”) was officially issued everywhere else. This is a great, rocking performance of this classic tune with Paul on lead guitar. He gets most of the verse lyrics completely jumbled up, but it’s a terrific performance nonetheless.
“Used to be Bad” – Flaming Pie
In which Paul lets it rip in his own style without the ELO spaceship taking control of his sensibilities. Nice, searing guitar work in this one and proof that Paulie should be bad more often. Bad as in good, that is, kids.
“She’s Given Up Talking” – Driving Rain
It doesn’t matter if you reissue your album with all new cover art after its been sitting on the shelves for a while, Paul. If it stinks, it stinks. “Freedom” stunk, to put it mildly. The rest of the album it was taken from wasn’t very good, either. Yet here we have this song, a bizarre little ditty that seems gloriously out of place from the rest of the dreck. Go figure.
“Friends to Go” – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
God bless Nigel Godrich for kicking Paul in the ass and telling him his shit stinks. He managed to get a terrific album out of Macca for it, so what more could you want? Paul said that this song reminded him of something George Harrison might have written. Whatever the case, it’s sarcastic and lovely all at once.
“Riding to Vanity Fair” – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
Originally this song was being recorded as a faster rocked-up track. It wasn’t working, though, and so Paul came back and slowed it down. As such, to my ears it turned out to be the best cut on the album. Listen to that gut instinct more often, Macca.
"Only Mama Knows" – Memory Almost Full
Paulie shifts things into retro-rock gear circa Press to Play and delivers an instant-classic with a melody he must have had buried in the back of his head for decades and a nice compressed sound in the mix. Hey Paul, stick with this sort of thing in the future. We knew you could still write rockers when you wanted.
"Vintage Clothes" – Memory Almost Full
And on this track, Macca treads back into Tug of War and Pipes of Peace territory. Only his voice sounds a bit aged, but hey, those albums were more than 20 years ago. Still, this is a lovely little tune that confirms Paulie can still write the great pop song no matter what or when.
So there you have it; a truckload and then some of Paul McCartney's finer points that have nothing to do with his hits. As you see, there is a ton of great Paul McCartney music for you to explore if you haven't already done so. Now go make your lists and get some tasty purchases from Macca ASAP.