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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.