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Paul McCartney’s 40 Greatest Solo Songs

The definitive guide to his post-Beatles best – chart smashes, psychedelic curiosities, punk, folk, disco and plenty of silly love songs

“I’m proud of the Beatle thing,” Paul McCartney told Rolling Stone in 1978. “It was great, and I can go along with all the people you meet on the street who say you gave so much happiness to so many people. I don’t think that’s corny.” Even though it was Paul’s 1970 solo debut that marked the end of the Beatles, it was Paul’s post-Beatle career that was truest to the band’s world-hugging, happiness-spreading vision, as he channeled his own changing inspirations and desires into beloved hits like “Baby I’m Amazed,” “Jet” and “Band on the Run,” as well as genius obscurities like “Monkberry Moon Delight.” Our ranking of his 40 greatest solo songs is sure to start some arguments (his banned stoner-anthem rocker “Hi, Hi, Hi” makes the top 10 and his radio-dominating global smash “My Love” isn’t here at all), and the picks run from pop to folk to punk and disco and beyond, as well as a few silly love songs – some of the greatest of all time, in fact. 

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18

“Coming Up”

As the Seventies drew to a close, McCartney retreated to his Scottish farm and had some fun with a tape machine. “I got into all sorts of tricks, and I can’t remember how I did half of them,” he said of this tune, a hyper-caffeinated groove with quirky sped-up vocals. Among the song’s many fans was Lennon – “Coming Up” reportedly inspired him to make music again. 

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17

“Junior’s Farm”

This one-off hit was recorded in Nashville while Wings were staying in nearby Lebanon, Tennessee, at the rural home of Curly Putman Jr., a songwriter best known for the George Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” But the song was way more glam rock than country, with a majorly psychedelic cast of characters including an Eskimo and a sea lion. 

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16

“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”

A tasty end to Wings’ finest LP. A sci-fi spectacular driven by McCartney’s barreling bar-room piano, it was just a single line at first: “No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty five.” “That’s all I had for months,” McCartney later said. “‘No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred
and eighty … six?’ It wouldn’t have worked!”

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15

“Silly Love Songs”

After years of doing his best to ignore critics
who saw him as a starry-eyed fool for love, McCartney struck back with this
disco smash. “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know,” he sings
over a giddy bass line and lush strings. He had the last laugh when the song stayed
at Number One for five weeks and topped the year-end charts.

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14

“Bluebird”

Like many of the great songs on Band on the Run, “Bluebird” is a fantasy of escape: Paul and Linda as a pair of lovebirds, flying free in the breeze. The song features a bittersweet melody only McCartney could have written, carried along by guitar that lilts like Brazilian bossa nova and soft-touch percussion from Nigerian instrumentalist Remi Kabaka. 

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13

“Every Night”

“I don’t go out at all,” McCartney told RS in April 1970. “I would rather be in bed than at the clubs.” This lovely acoustic number paints a more complicated picture: McCartney sings about feeling aimless and wanting to “get out of my head” – but when he says he’s decided to stay home with Linda instead, you can hear a hint of sunshine breaking through the clouds. 

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12

“Let Me Roll It”

One of McCartney’s rawest tracks, with slashing, bluesy guitar and reverb-heavy vocals, “Let Me Roll It” has often been seen as a Lennon pastiche. Yet McCartney has consistently denied this interpretation, saying, “You have to remember that, despite the myth, there was a lot of commonality between us in the way that we thought and the way that we worked.”

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11

“Beware My Love”

“We’re trying to make it sound as hard as possible,” McCartney said around the time they recorded Wings at the Speed of Sound. They succeeded with this scorching, multipart rocker, which stands out from the laid-back disco pop on the rest of the LP thanks to McCartney’s pleading vocals and Jimmy McCulloch’s gnarly guitar. 

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Robert R. McElroy/Getty

10

“Venus and Mars”/”Rock Show”

“The whole idea behind Wings is to get a touring band,” McCartney told RS in 1976, “so that we are just like a band, instead of the whole Beatles myth.” But nothing he touched in those days could be “just” anything. The two-part suite that kicked off each night of the Wings Over America tour is a sweeping head trip – from the golden acoustic opening to the rip-roaring crescendo, which rhymes “rock show” with the Dutch “Concertgebouw” and includes a jokey nod to arguably the biggest arena star of the day, Jimmy Page. 

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9

“Another Day”

McCartney was writing so many great songs in the
late Sixties and early Seventies that a perfectly turned pop tune like this
could sit in his back pocket for years: Although he first played it during the
filming of the Beatles’ Let It Be project in 1969, it remained
unrecorded until the Ram sessions in late 1970, when he decided to make
it the first official single of his solo career. It’s a classic McCartney story
song – drummer Denny Seiwell famously called it “‘Eleanor Rigby’ in New
York City” – with Linda’s plaintive harmonies helping to bring the song’s
young female protagonist to life. 

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8

“Hi, Hi, Hi”

McCartney expertly tweaked his gentlemanly image
with this shameless celebration of sex, drugs and guitars. The single promptly
got banned by the BBC: Even Macca couldn’t quite get away with inviting the
ladies to “lie on the bed, get you ready for my body gun.” McCartney
protested that it was all an innocent misunderstanding, telling Rolling Stone
he was really singing, “Get ready for my polygon.” (Much better!) He
also claimed the chorus – “We’re gonna get hi, hi, hi” – “could
easily be taken as a natural high.” Nobody believed him, but it remains
one of his best-loved rockers.

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7

“Junk”

McCartney originally wrote “Junk” for the White Album – check out the excellent demo on the Beatles’ Anthology 3. But it fits even better on his solo debut: A young man looks in a junk-shop window and gets a glimpse of his future, picturing himself as old and forgotten. You can hear McCartney’s determination to make music on his own homespun terms. “I rather fancied having just the plain tapes and nothing done to them at all,” he told RS in 1974. “It’s got the door opening, the banging of the tape recorder, a couple of people giggling in the background.” 

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6

“Jet”

Every Seventies rocker had to reckon with David
Bowie somehow, but only McCartney could outdo him with a hit as swank as this
one. Recorded in Nigeria, “Jet” opens with stately horn fanfare,
before exploding into glam-rock guitars, groovy overdriven synths and a
one-word window-rattler of a chorus. “Jet,” it turns out, was the
name of one of his dogs; the rest of the lyrics are quizzical even by McCartney
standards, full of tantalizing riddles about space travel and suffragettes. “I
can’t really explain what it is,” he later said. “It sounded silly,
so I liked it.”

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5

“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”

McCartney’s first post-Beatles Number One is a
tour de force – a quilt of song fragments and sound effects that clocks in
under five minutes, but feels much longer with all its transitions and funny
voices. “I was in a very free mood,” he said in 2001. “It must
have freaked a few people.” Written with McCartney’s real-life uncle
Albert Kendall in mind, and with orchestral help from George Martin and the New
York Philharmonic, it had a decidedly Beatles-y feel. Even Lennon, who bashed
the rest of Ram, had to admit he liked the song. 

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4

“Live and Let Die”

One of McCartney’s kookiest, hardest-rocking
tunes with Wings was written for the James Bond film of the same name, which
former Beatles producer George Martin had been hired to score. (Some members of
the press mocked the idea of Macca going 007. “I thought, ‘You silly sods!'”
he told RS.) Martin helped arrange breakneck, over-the-top orchestration and a
reggae midsection to chill things out. The song became one of McCartney’s
biggest hits, cracking the Top 10 in both the U.K. and the U.S. To this day, it
has a choice spot in his stadium and arena sets, complete with eyebrow-singe-ing
pyrotechnics.

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3

“Too Many People”

By his second solo album, McCartney had every
reason to be pissed off: His beloved band had dissolved, and everyone seemed to
be blaming him. His frustration spilled out in this startlingly biting track,
recorded in New York. “That was your first mistake/You took your lucky
break and broke it in two,” he scoffs – a direct swipe at John Lennon. “He’d
been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit,”
McCartney said in 1984. Yet the song’s incredibly sweet melody is proof that McCartney
could use his charm as a weapon when he wanted to. “It’s so harmless, really,”
he said in 2001. “Just little digs.” 

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2

“Band on the Run”

If anyone still wondered whether McCartney could
really cut it solo, “Band on the Run” settled the question once and
for all. It’s an audaciously daft multipart suite about a rock & roll
prison break, with hints of escaping his Beatles past. (“If we ever get
out of here” was a phrase George Harrison had muttered in a business
meeting.) But even when McCartney is singing about conflict and confinement, he
gets swept up, hollering in delight. The whole world decided to run along with
him, taking the song to the top of the pop charts here. No one dismissed him as
a lightweight after this.

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1

“Maybe I’m Amazed”

Paul McCartney conjured this simple, immaculate love song on his piano at home at 7 Cavendish Avenue in St. John’s Wood, London – where, with the Beatles’ future uncertain, he’d been testing out some ideas on his new Studer 4-track tape recorder. While several of the strongest tunes that wound up on his 1970 solo debut (“Junk,” “Teddy Boy”) had been written months or years earlier for potential use on Beatles albums, this one was entirely new: a reflection of how lost he felt as he watched the band that had been his life’s work fall apart, and how much he relied just then on the support of his new wife, Linda. There was no missing the fact that “Maybe I’m Amazed” was something special, and so – in contrast with the deliberately DIY recordings that made up most of the new LP – he decided to give the song the full studio treatment, slipping into EMI’s Abbey Road Studios under a fake name with his family in tow. He completed the recording essentially alone, producing it and playing every instrument, with Linda adding harmonies. “We had a lot of fun,” McCartney told RS that year. “We decided we didn’t want to tell anyone what we were doing or go to any companies. It was just swell.” “Maybe I’m Amazed” was the definite highlight of McCartney, released several weeks before the Beatles’ Let It Be movie in 1970, but strangely it was never released as a single, despite significant radio airplay. A live version, however, made the Top 10 in 1977 via his new band’s Wings Over America set. For all the peaks he’d hit in the years and decades that followed, this early triumph remains McCartney’s solo-era signature – an understated but perfect beginning to a truly remarkable second act. 

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