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Paul McCartney’s essential solo songs

Editorial Staff

John Lennon or Paul McCartney? For Beatles’ fans, it’s not an easy question to answer. The copout, of course, is to say there couldn’t be one without the other (or to just go with George Harrison), but for those who are willing to pick a side, and that side being McCartney’s, this is for you.

Since the breakup of the Beatles, McCartney has never really stopped making music, whether as a solo artist, with Linda McCartney or with Wings. He’s even enjoyed a resurgence as of late, from writing hit singles with Kanye West, Rihanna and the remaining members of Nirvana, to releasing a new album in 2013 (New) and touring the world fairly consistently for the better part of two decades (he lands in Hamilton, Ont. for one night on July 21).

Below, CBC Music’s resident McCartney-ites present their picks for the essential post-Beatles McCartney songs.

‘Maybe I’m Amazed’
McCartney (1970)

When the Beatles broke up and it turned out McCartney had already recorded “Maybe I'm Amazed,” having played all the instruments himself, it immediately silenced the critics who said he'd be nothing without John Lennon. Of course, seven years later when he was cranking out “Silly Love Songs” and so many others like it, it looked like they might have been right, but “Maybe I'm Amazed” still stands tall. Inventive form, arresting harmonic connections, simple, clear lyrics and a genuine, personal window into the wrenching break-up of the world's most beloved band. “Silly Love Songs” is already almost forgotten, but this one may just last. – Tom Allen

‘Single Pigeon’
Red Rose Speedway (1973)

A short little ditty from Red Rose Speedway, McCartney’s fourth post-Beatles release and the second album credited to Paul McCartney and Wings. Continuing a tradition of short songs/ideas that began with the Beatles (think: the Side 2 medley off Abbey Road; or “I Will” from The Beatles) “Single Pigeon” is a largely forgotten song off a largely forgotten album – while Red Rose Speedway was praised upon its release it was eventually dwarfed by the next two releases, Band On The Run and Venus & Mars. With that said, this little tune has continually found a way to get stuck in my head. A most pleasant earworm. – Julian Tuck

‘Band on the Run’
Band on the Run (1973)

You know what’s better than one great McCartney song? Three great McCartney songs. McCartney and Lennon started stitching separate song fragments together while in the Beatles to build these grandiose, art rock statements (think “A Day in the Life” or the Abbey Road medley), but “Band on the Run” is different. Rather than being short fragments that would otherwise be tossed, “Band on the Run” is an intentional attempt to build one song using sections that sound different but are thematically linked. Part one, a slow ballad, begins with McCartney reflecting on being “stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever,” which could be interpreted either as a prison or to the RCA studios in Lagos where they were holed up to record. Part two, a funky rock movement, is a plea for freedom – “If I ever get out of here” – while the final movement explodes into a triumphant release as the band escapes. It’s the crux of the song, the only part containing a more traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, and while it could stand on its own, it’s so much stronger because of what came before. One of his longest singles, “Band on the Run” is McCartney at his most McCartney-esque. – Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Band on the Run (1973)

While Paul McCartney is definitely cool, he's never been as cool as Harrison or (sometimes) Lennon. However friends of mine that have toured the dingiest dive bars on the continent have told me that this song gets love from the most jaded-crust punk to the most earnest karaoke singer. It's catchy, it has multiple singable parts (because God forbid the man writes only one hook), but is maybe more aggressive than he had been up to that point. Typically aggressive McCartney relies on howls and screams, but he relies on 8th-note downstrums almost à la Black Sabbath for his verses. While the lyrics are pretty meaningless, that doesn't mean they're not perfect to belt out late into the night. – Tom Power

‘Live and Let Die’
Live and Let Die soundtrack (1973)

Paul McCartney co-wrote the best James Bond theme with his Wings bandmate (and wife) Linda McCartney, and arguably it’s one of the greatest things their partnership ever produced. Which is saying something, given the talents of their genius designer daughter Stella, the brilliance of “Band on the Run” and the grand spectacle of their Great Love Story. But just listen to that gentle piano intro, and then wait for the bombast to drop: thundering, ominous chords giving way to trills, the momentum of flourishing brass and then another shift and another and another. It zigs and zags, slows and surges with zero subtlety, but tons of flash and a fury of style. It’s tightly controlled chaos, a fight scene choreographed to utter perfection, wherein the danger is implicit: one missed cue and it’s life or death. It’s vivid and vibrant, a thousand fireworks exploding in the sky, the thrill of the chase in your chest matching the wild urgency of George Martin’s orchestral arrangement. — Andrea Warner

‘Call Me Back Again’
Venus & Mars (1975)

He might be the “sensitive” Beatle, but McCartney could rock out, too. For every “Yesterday” or “My Love” there was an “I’m Down” or “Helen Wheels.” The Venus & Mars album was largely recorded in New Orleans, and while most of the material doesn’t absorb any of that city’s musical influence, “Call Me Back Again” does give a nod to the blues. Musically, it sits comfortably beside Abbey Road’s “Oh Darling,” another song that gives an influential nod to New Orleans rhythm & blues, and to musicians such as Fats Domino and Slim Harpo. – JT

Tug of War (1982)
Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)

Tug of War was McCartney’s first solo album after the dissolution of Wings, and he wasted no time in getting back to peak form. A huge part of that was bringing in Beatles’ producer George Martin, whose flourishes are front and centre, especially on the brass accompaniment to this quintessential McCartney solo ballad. And as far as those ballads go, “Wanderlust” has everything you could ask for, including the aforementioned Martin, piano runs, French horns and Ringo! (well, at least on the 1984 version recorded for the Give My Regards to Broad Street soundtrack). – JKG

Elvis Costello’s Spike (1989)
McCartney helped to give Elvis Costello his greatest U.S. success in 1989 with the song “Veronica.” The song combines a happy tune and a heartbreaking story (based on that of Costello's own grandmother): an ageing woman suffering dementia, whose only remaining memory is of the man who got away a lifetime ago. You can hear the rich and fat tone of McCartney's Hofner bass, and Costello is at his storytelling best, but it is the chorus that really clinches the song: Costello's repeated searing high F over a harmonically clever descending bass line, and it's vintage McCartney – right out of “Yesterday” and perfect for the song. Almost makes you think he'd had to bring a nice touch to an edgy songwriting partner at some point in his own forgotten past. – TA

‘Beautiful Night’
Flaming Pie (1997)

When you were a kid in Newfoundland, after school meant waiting for the Simpsons to come on – and then afterwards your mom would watch Oprah. Maybe that's not Newfoundland, that was just everywhere 1995-2000. I would usually walk out of the room to play Sega Genesis when Oprah came on, because it would be about Mary Tyler Moore, or Angels Building Houses or something that 10 year olds aren't necessarily interested in. But I remember walking out the room, my foot just past the living room carpet into the kitchen when my mom called me back – Paul McCartney was on. I was young, but I knew I liked the Beatles record my mom played cleaning sometimes (Abbey Road). There was a debut of Paul's new single and here was this this old guy with a wispy half-mullett sitting at the piano and singing the most beautiful music. I sat there and watched the entire episode and couldn't get that song out of my head. I don't think post-Beatles (or post-Wings for that matter) gets enough attention, and this is piano-ballad is McCartney at his best. – TP