I was listening to a Wings record and an old roommate started singing, “You’d think the world would have had enough of Paul McCartney, but I look around me and I see it isn’t so.” Critics have had a field day bashing the post-Beatles work of McCartney, but they are missing out on some amazing work.
Because of his past accomplishments, critics and fans take for granted the many moods, styles and genres that McCartney packs into a single album. Yes, you will find a lot of silly love songs, but you will also find a wealth of interesting and rewarding music if you dig just a little deeper.
To help in that regard, here is my list of Top Ten Paul McCartney songs from the post-Beatles era, minus the radio hits (those on his greatest hits album All the Best) that everyone already knows.
#10) Don’t Let It Bring You Down A forgotten track from 1978’s London Town, Don’t Let It Bring You Down packs a lot of styles into one song. It’s part folk, part psychedelic and part blues/slide guitar. The lyrics are simple and hopeful and contrast nicely with the complex music.
“Up And Down Your Carousel Will Go
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Don’t Go Down – Don’t Get Out Of Town
Get To Know How It Goes, How It Goes
When The Price You Have To Pay Is High
Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”
#9) Wanderlust After two albums not up to his high standards, McCartney rebounded with 1982’s Tug of War. The album showcased all of McCartney’s strengths, produced several hits and generated tons of radio play but some of the best tunes remain unknown by the masses. One of those is Wanderlust, in which Paul writes about his 1980 drug arrest in Japan, in which the plane’s captain participated.
“Oh Where Did I Go Wrong My Love?
What Petty Grime Was I Found Guilty Of?
What Better Time To Find A Brand New Day?
Oh – Wanderlust Away
Light Out Wanderlust
Help Us To Be Free
Light Out Wanderlust
Do It Just For Me
Captain’s Out To Make His Mark
This One’s Not To Be.”
#8) Letting Go A minor hit from 1975’s Venus & Mars, Letting Go was a soul song on a pop album and featured some of McCartney’s finest singing.
“Ah, She Tastes Like Wine
Such A Human Being So Divine
Oh She Feels Like Sun
Mother Nature Look At What You’ve Done
Oh I Feel Like Letting Go”
#7) Run Devil Run The title track from McCartney’s 1999 album, Run Devil Run is one of just three McCartney originals on an album devoted to the sounds and songs of Paul’s youth. Chuck Berry could have done this song and McCartney delivers his best earthy vocals to back some driving guitar by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
“By a swamp in Alabama in the cold in the damp
Sittin reading by the light of a kerosene lamp
Lives a holly roller with a mission on her mind
Got to spread the word to anybody she can find
You can hear her screaming any time in night or day
This is what she says to keep the demons away
Run devil run, the angels having fun
Making winners out of sinners better leave before it’s done
When he gets through, he’ll be coming after you,
Listen what I’m saying to you Run . . . Run Devil Run.”
#6) Riding To Vanity Fair McCartney’s last four rock-n-roll albums have been brilliant, if not as commercially successful as his mid-70s pop. Riding to Vanity Fair, from 2005’s Chaos and Creation In The Backyard, was a melancholy song about his marriage to his second wife falling apart.
“That’s the trouble with friendship
For someone to feel it
It has to be real or it wouldn’t be right
And I keep hoping for friendship
But I wouldn’t dare to presume it was there
While you were riding to Vanity Fair.”
#5) My Brave Face McCartney followed up Tug of War with four albums that each received declining critical and commercial success. He ended that streak with 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt. The opening track was My Brave Face, one of several songs written in collaboration with Elvis Costello. This is a song about missing someone, but sung in a catchy, upbeat way.
“Now That I’m Alone Again
I Can’t Stop Breaking Down Again,
The Simplest Things Set Me Off Again
And Take Me To That Place
Where I Can’t Find My Brave Face.”
#4) Picasso’s Last Words The legend goes that Dustin Hoffman challenged McCartney to make a song about Picasso’s Last Words, which Paul accomplished with ease. This song really can’t be appreciated by reading the lyrics, it’s perhaps the most arrangement-driven song in McCartney’s catalog. But just for clarity – here are his last words.
“The Grand Old Painter Died Last Night
His Paintings On The Wall
Before He Went He Bade Us Well
And Said Goodnight To Us All.
Drink To Me, Drink To My Health
You Know I Can’t Drink Any More
Drink To Me, Drink To My Health
You Know I Can’t Drink Any More.”
#3) Back Seat Of My Car The closing track to 1971’s Ram, Back Seat Of My Car was released as a single, but never really took off. Perhaps a bit over-produced, the song sets its sights high and makes no apologies. Its triumphant fade-out chorus of “Oh, we believe that we can’t be wrong!” could just as easily be about Paul and Linda as band mates as Paul and Linda as lovers.
#2) The Songs We Were Singing 1997’s Flaming Pie marked McCartney’s return as an important artist. The opening track, The Songs We Were Singing, sets the stage right away with a classic McCartney song.
“For a while, we could sit, smoke a pipe,
And discuss all the vast intricacies of life
We could jaw through the night
Talk about a range of subjects, anything you like
But we always came back to the song we were singing
At any particular time
Yeah, we always came back to the song we were singing
At any particular time.”
It’s impossible to hear this song and not think about what it must have been like to have been part of the swinging London scene of the late 60s. I picture Mick Jagger and Keith Richards coming to Paul’s house to join the Beatles for some smoke, talk and to compare songs. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!
#1) Maybe I’m Amazed From McCartney’s self-titled solo debut in 1970, the more-popular version is on 1976’s live album Wings Over America.
“Maybe I’m Amazed At The Way You Love Me All The Time
Maybe I’m Afraid Of The Way I Love You
Maybe I’m Amazed At The Way You Pulled Me Out Of Time
And Hung Me On A Line
Maybe I’m Amazed At The Way I Really Need You
Maybe I’m A Man Maybe I’m A Lonely Man
Who’s In The Middle Of Something
That He Doesn’t Really Understand
Maybe I’m A Man And Maybe You’re The Only Woman
Who Could Ever Help Me
Baby Won’t You Help Me Understand.”
The song has it all. It features great lyrics, great vocals, some excellent slide guitar playing and well-timed percussion. The studio version is an excellent song but the live version makes this one of the finest songs McCartney has ever done, including his work with the Beatles.