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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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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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