Paul McCartney’s Top 10 Solo Deep Cuts

I kept refreshing Popdose on June 18, 2012, looking to see what would be posted to celebrate Sir Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday. The results….nada.

Popdose, I am disappoint.

Far be it from me to interrupt the seemingly endless stream of pimping the latest wares from as many twee singer-songwriters as possible, but this was a milestone birthday for one of the ten most important figures in rock history, and instead we get…..nada?

Again, Popdose, I am disappoint.

So, I guess I’m going to have to do something about this. A day late and more than a dollar and change short mind you, but when you’re dealing with a Beatle, something NEEDS to be done, even if its just a hastily thrown together list [Note: it’s not all that hasty. I’ve been thinking of doing this off and on for a while; not just connected to McCartney’s birthday].

Anyway with all that as preface, here’s my list of the top 10 deep cuts from McCartney’s solo career–and by “solo” I mean all post-Beatles recordings, including Wings; and by “deep cuts” I mean they were never released as singles on either side of the pond. Again, this is my list. If you thing any of my selections are questionable, tell me so in the comments, and let me know which track(s) you’d put in place of mine. Also, I’m going to lay them out here chronologically, instead of trying to rank them from 10th best to best, since that chart varies in my mind from day-to-day.

Every Night (from McCartney, 1970) – I was reintroduced to this song by way of McCartney’s MTV Unplugged concert in 1991. It is a very simple song with a very beautiful melody, which combines McCartney’s skill as a multi instrumentalist (all instruments on McCartney are played by Paul) and his ability (at least at this point in time) to still create a very simple lyric to express emotion without making it too cloying or ridiculous. That gift would unfortunately leave him during most of his Wings period: You’ll note later in my list a nearly-decade long gap which goes hand in hand with what I feel is the weakest point of his writing career.

Dear Boy (from Ram, 1971) – Supposedly written about his wife Linda’s ex-husband, “Dear Boy” is a quick, seemingly simple song that incorporates an almost vaudevillian style of composition with some cool modern studio trickery involving instrumentation and echo, very sharp, almost angry, mocking lyrics that are belied by the tune, and some quite astonishingly-arranged Beach Boys style layered vocal harmonies and inflections. Linda McCartney has probably never sounded better than she does here.

Let Me Roll It (from Band on the Run, 1973) – The closest to a “cheat” on this list, “Let Me Roll it” was a B-Side in the UK to “Jet”, and was eventually a B-Side in the US as well for the same song (after the first round of US pressings featured “Mamunia” on the flipside). However, the song didn’t chart independently, so I’ll give it a pass and an inclusion here because it’s so damn good. Showing the still-existing influence of his former writing partner, McCartney unknowingly both arranged and sung the song quite like it was a track from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, something he only realized when it was brought up to him after the fact. A repetitive, hypnotic guitar riff powers the song, backed with a powerful Hammond organ wash and almost yelled background vocals from the entirety of Wings (which at the time was only McCartney, his wife, and former Moody Blues member Denny Laine).

Here Today (from Tug of War, 1982) – A heartfelt, honest ode to a late friend written for John Lennon in the wake of his assassination, McCartney takes the same tack that Lennon did with “In My Life” by letting the emotion of the tune and delivery supplant any great details in the lyrics in order to tell the story, and like Lennon, he pulls it off. It is, fittingly, one of the most Beatlesque tunes McCartney had written since the end of the group, with Baroque influences coming to the forefront via the production and tasteful string arrangement done by George Martin himself. Its placement at the end of side one on the original vinyl release has left many a listener close to tears while bathed in silence. Even three decades after Lennon’s death, McCartney still gets choked up on the rare occasions he plays the song, such as on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in December 2010.

Wanderlust (from Tug of War, 1982) – Yes, two songs from Tug of War. I couldn’t leave either off. They’re just that strong. The genius of “Wanderlust” is not just the incorporation of both a slightly sea-chanty-like tune and arrangement that fits the subject matter, it is the brilliant use of melody (see “Light out Wanderlust….”) and counter-melody (“Oh where did I go wrong my love….”), then combining the two on top of each other at the end of the song. It may be the most musically distinct and complex thing that McCartney has come up with during his solo years, and is a true standout on what may arguably be the best of McCartney’s solo albums.

We Got Married (from Flowers in the Dirt, 1989) – A lovely flamenco guitar starts off a song which (like most of the rest of the songs on this list) shows the older McCartney writing more and more about the importance of (for good or bad) creating a long term love and partner in one’s life. Here, musings on the ups and downs of the daily rigor of being a spouse is taken to almost epic proportions via a keyboard/synth wash, muted trumpet fills, and the piece de resistance–an insane guitar solo courtesy of one of McCartney’s favorite go-to guest musicians, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

Calico Skies (from Flaming Pie, 1997) – One of the last pieces McCartney recorded that was produced by George Martin, this simple track from McCartney’s first album after the Beatles’ Anthology project is just McCartney and an acoustic guitar, playing what seems to be a traditional folk melody. Throughout this song-not just in the tune and its sparse arrangement-the key is subtlety, whether it be the gentleness in McCartney’s delivery, the way on an almost invisible lyrical turn he makes it (in his words) “a gentle love song that becomes a Sixties protest song”, or the lovely way the song is extended, first by repeating the chorus a second time, and then breaking up the last line the second time through in order to extend the vocal finale just a tad more.

She Said Yeah (from Run Devil Run, 1999) – Originally a Larry Williams B-Side from 1959, McCartney’s cover is the high-point of Run Devil Run, a disc of mostly covers recorded as therapy after the death of Linda McCartney from cancer in 1998. I’ve always preferred this cover to the early Rolling Stones’ version, which is way too fast for its own good. Here, McCartney spreads the song out, delivering one of his finest vocals at age 57 (!!), backed with thunderous drums from Deep Purple’s Ian Paice and slashing guitar work from (once again) David Gilmour.

Heather (from Driving Rain, 2001) – By all accounts, McCartney’s marriage to former model Heather Mills was a disaster, leaving McCartney somewhat separated from his daughters during the marriage and then separated from a good chunk of money after a messy divorce just a few years later. The two best things to come from of it: his daughter Beatrice, and this song–a mostly instrumental that kind-of cribs from Stevie Wonder’s “He’s Mistra Know it All” for part the tune, but adds the McCartney flair for pop arrangement, and a crack backing unit that today is still the base of his touring band. You can tell, at least at the time, that McCartney really cared about the subject of this piece. Maybe if he’s willing to re-brand the song as “Nancy” we can get to hear him play it again.

This Never Happened Before (from Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, 2005) – From incorporation of an ancient-sounding drum-box, to the Bacharach chord progression in the verses, to the small hint at the symphonic blast from “A Day in the Life”, one of McCartney’s best late-period love songs wears its past influences on its sleeve. all while putting forth a beautiful statement regarding the necessity of love–a declaration of personal philosophy from a man known for his devotion to the women in his life, and a fine place to wrap up this list.

  • Guest

    Here’s mine!. I guess I could also add “Fine Line”, “Jenny Wren”, “Dance Tonight” and “My Valentine” since 2005…

    Good call on “Heather”, btw.

  • chadwicktron

    “Heather” is something i think zappa would enjoy in one of his semental moments.

  • MatthewBolin

    All four of the songs you list were actually released as singles, so they were ineligible for my list. Thanks for the nice feedback, though!

  • Rob

    So happy that you picked “Wanderlust.” It really is Macca at his best, thanks to the beautiful countermelody, Martin’s brass arrangement and some really lovely singing. While I do appreciate both “Band on the Run” and “McCartney,” “Tug of War” is my favorite Paul solo album – thanks in large part, also, to “Here Today” and the quality of the singles beyond the treacly “Ebony and Ivory”: “Take It Away,” “Ballroom Dancing” and “Tug of War.”

  • Chris Holmes

    Solid choices all around, but I have to give a shout out to “Temporary Secretary.” Any notion that Macca was all about mush should be dispelled with this one song.

  • Keith

    So nice to see “Tug of War” get the adoration it is due – that album really holds up to constant play, year after year. If anyone here has yet to hear it, you gotta get it, mmm mmm, you gotta get it and you gotta get it good.

  • MatthewBolin

    Would you believe that this was another one I couldn’t include because it was released as a single….but only as a UK 12″, though they sent a promo 7″ to DJs.

  • Jack

    Great list! It’s tough because McCartney is pretty darn good at choosing which songs should be singles! Was “Baby’s Request” from Back to the Egg released as a single? I’d add that one on because it’s a precursor to what he’d be doing 32 years(!) later. I might also include “Too Many People,” but “Let Me Roll It” with that killer guitar riff is probably a better choice for when you want to hear rocking McCartney (and the last Fireman release is good for that too!). I saw McCartney play Fed Ex Field (home of the Redskins) on his U.S. tour, and he paid tribute to both Harrison (playing “Something” on a ukulele [in a FOOTBALL STADIUM!!!]) and “Here Today.” The fact that he (unlike many performers more than half his age) hasn’t lowered the register of songs due to inability to hit the high notes is a testament to whatever he’s doing (meatless diet or occasional joint?).

  • Guest

    Ah. Well, apologies- I didn’t know the rules when I made the list in 2005.

  • Mordalo

    Somewhat ironic, then, that Fiona Apple and The Roots did “Let Me Roll It” last night on Jimmy Fallon.

  • Old_Davy

    Fine choices. I’m a bigger fan of the Wings era than the later years. I would have put on “Too Many People”, “Big Barn Bed”, “Picasso’s Last Words”, “Beware My Love”, and “Cafe on the Left Bank”.

  • Guy Smiley

    Wings had it’s share of dreck, but plenty of great tracks too… Anything from Band On the Run (obviously), and most of Venus and Mars is really great stuff too.

  • Guy Smiley

    It pains me to say it, because he was great too, but Stevie Wonder ruined Tug of War for me. Take his two duets with Paul off the album and it’s pretty damned good. “Ebony and Ivory” certainly had its heart in the right place. Too bad the actual song is such saccharine junk.

  • Guy Smiley

    Sorry, wrong version of “its”!

  • Guy Smiley

    There really isn’t a bad song on this list at all (although I could do without “Heather,” and including a cover would seem to defeat the purpose of the list), but there’s other gems I’d have included or at least considered:

    “Maybe I’m Amazed” (the live version was a single, the studio version was not), “Mrs. Vandebilt” (a single in some countries, but not in the US/UK), “Call Me Back Again,”
    “That Day Is Done,” “Somedays” (a gem that would’ve fit perfectly on Rubber Soul or Revolver), “Flaming Pie,” “Run Devil Run,” “Rinse the Raindrops,” just about anything from the Electric Arguments album, and definitely something from Memory Almost Full (maybe “That Was Me”?).

  • kingofgrief

    They release a 12″ and fail to extend it for club play. A ball dropped (though there was a fine re-edit by Radio Slave that Parlophone did a limited run of in ’03). Had it not been for jury duty, I would have offered (on my radio show) a dual birthday block for both Paul and his closest American peer, Brian Wilson, who turns 70 tomorrow, and “Temp Sec” was among my picks. McCartney II was my favorite “new” album when I was 10, and while it may be flawed, youthful whimsy prevents me from picking it apart.

  • Link Crawford

    A nice inclusion, “Heather”. That album is too dreary for me to have penetrated yet, but that song is its one silver lining for me and has gotten a lot of play. I realize that you have fairly represented Tug of War, but “Ballroom Dancing” wasn’t a single anywhere, was it? ‘Cause that song is one energetic romp…very fun.

    And with the recent release of the remastered/extended Ram album, I have been listening to it like crazy. Ram on…

  • MatthewBolin

    I don’t think including a cover “defeats the purpose” of the list. I never laid out in my criteria that I wanted to focus exclusively on McCartney as a writer, nor was this a list of his ten best solo songs overall. And, considering that the man has put out three songs of mainly covers during the second half of his solo career, I think it is fair to look at those records and point out those performances which are of the highest quality.

    In the case of “She Said Yeah”, I happen to think that it’s one of McCartney’s better vocal performances, that his take on the track might be the definitive version, and at least for me, this song has always been in my rotation when playing my favorite of McCartney’s solo stuff since it came out nearly 15 years ago.

    Now, had this been a Lennon solo list and I decided to include a deep cut from “Rock & Roll”, I think you would have a much more legitimate beef with me.

  • Jonny the friendly lawyer

    “Ballroom Dancing”?
    “Friends to Go”?
    “Heart of the Country”?
    Not fair, these Beatle-based lists, because there’s so much quality. (But keep ‘em coming.)

  • SomethingElse Reviews

    Great stuff, Matthew –NICK

  • Guy Smiley

    Well, we’ll agree to disagree on that one. You chose a great song alright, but given just how many albums Macca’s put out, and given that you ( I would say unfairly) pretty much dismissed the entire Wings era (“Let Me Roll It” aside), I’m not sure a cover was the way to go. In Lennon’s case, because there were a lot fewer albums to choose from, I think including a song from Rock & Roll would make sense.

    You do make a good argument though that Paul’s now made three albums that are all, or mostly, covers.

    Hey, whatever… That’s the fun part of lists like these: It encourages debate. There are plenty of “deep tracks” that were B-sides that, by your ground rules, aren’t up for debate here (again, we’ll make an exception for the awesomeness that is “Let Me Roll It”). I still think you made a fine list!

  • Guy Smiley

    I’ve always liked Ram, and the remaster is great… Plenty of “deep tracks” on that one that may or may not qualify here duie to the criteria of being on a single: “Back Seat of My Car” and “Heart of the Country” (single went to #39 in the UK, not sure if it was single in the US or not), “Eat at Home” and “Smile Away” (top 10 single in New Zealand, top 30 in Australia, not sure if it was ever a single in the US/UK or not). “Back Seat” and “Smile Away” are especially favorites of mine.

    Then, from the non-album single “Another Day” there’s the non-album B-side “Oh Woman Oh Why” which was (thankfully) included on the new Ram two-disc set (as is “Another Day” itself).

  • Clive Young

    “Nobody Knows” from McCartney II is off-the-wall, infectious fun, while “Too Many People” from Ram has easily the best guitar solo of his solo work. I also maintain that “Soily” from Wings Over America was unfairly overlooked, stuck as it was at the end of six LP sides; it’s probably the heaviest solo track he ever put out (and God only knows what he was singing; it’s virtually unintelligible). When it comes to gorgeous, unheralded masterpieces from Tug of War, however, I have to disagree with you–both the title track and “Somebody Who Cares” can beat up “Wanderlust” on the playground and steal its lunch money any day of the week.

  • David Ragland

    Thanks for this list. I love “This Never Happened Before”, “Dear Boy”, and the version of “Every Night” from his Mtv Unplugged album. My version of this list would also include “Distractions” and “The Pound Is Sinking”.

  • David Ragland

    I agree that “Ebony And Ivory” is unlistenable, but I like “What’s That You’re Doing”. It has a good groove and a catchy chorus.