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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

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“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 “Maybe 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.

[Editor’s Note: A version of this list was originally published in September 2017]

From Rolling Stone US

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“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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“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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“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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“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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“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 storysong — drummer Denny Seiwell famously called it “‘Eleanor Rigby’ in NewYork City” — with Linda’s plaintive harmonies helping to bring the song’s young female protagonist to life.

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“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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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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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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“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 uncleAlbert 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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“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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“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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“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 businessmeeting.) But even when McCartney is singing about conflict and confinement, he gets swept up, hollering in delight. The whole world decided to run along withhim, taking the song to the top of the pop charts here. No one dismissed him as a lightweight after this.

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“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.