It’s been fifty years since Paul McCartney released his self-titled debut and announced himself on the world stage as a solo artist. Just a week on from his iconic interview in which he announced the split from The Beatles, Macca was out on his own. Now, fifty years later and McCartney III, the Beatle’s newest record, is poised and ready to be released.
In the years that followed McCartney leaving The Beatles, he quite rightly took his songwriting skills to the top of the charts and back again, with the odd mega-movie soundtrack thrown in for good measure. Here, we’re bringing you 10 of Paul McCartney’s greatest solo songs and it provides a crystalline image of a musician who is unmatched in resolute pop sensibilities.
Now, we’re not being strict to our title here. There are plenty of songs from Paul McCartney’s time with his band Wings but we determine the singer’s solo career as from the moment McCartney arrived some fifty years ago. The truth is that Wings was a vehicle for McCartney’s creativity, rather than any traditional band set up, so it’s right to consider this all within the same canon.
The songs below show off a star determined to make his own name. McCartney is happy to cross genres and fit to type where needed. He is always intent on making music that, as well as expressing himself, can be universally adored.
Paul McCartney’s best solo songs
10. ‘FourFiveSeconds’ (2015)
Undoubtedly Paul McCartney’s biggest hit during the latter part of his career, the song is actually more akin to a duet between Kanye West and Rihanna, but Macca provides ample enthusiasm as dedicated guitar Strummer.
It’s his most recent appearance in the singles charts and is a testament to his undying ability to hear a pop-smash in a song, no matter the genre. While we’re not sure we’ll see many similar releases from Macca on the forthcoming album, it did show that the singer was able to turn his hand at pretty much anything.
9. ‘Bluebird’ (1973)
A moment from Wings on the seminal album Band on the Run that sees McCartney take himself and Linda into a fantasy world of romantic visions. He and his wife fly as high as the titular bird in the rose-coloured ditty.
Unlike some of McCartney’s composition, it’s a complex tune too. The melody is straight out of the McCartney masterclass book and sees a lilting guitar carry the tune will bossa-nova and gentle percussion guide us home.
8. ‘Hi, Hi, Hi’ (1973)
Whether it was a deliberate attempt to shake off his clean-cut image or was Macca letting himself go, this celebration of sex, drugs and rock and roll soon landed McCartney in the BBC’s bad books.
The single was banned by the BBC for containing lyrics that invited women to “lie on the bed, get you ready for my body gun.” Macca did backpedal a little, suggesting it was natural high he was referring to but nobody believed him and we were left with one of his most beloved rockers.
It’s a joyful tune that is certainly worth revisiting.
7. ‘Jet’ (1973)
If you were a rock artist in the seventies chances are that you had to align yourself somehow to glam rock. Bowie had taken over the rock world and his glittered style of power anthems was beginning to make waves in the charts. It meant most acts added a touch of glam to their sets.
McCartney’s attempt saw the singer not only reach for Bowie’s rocking style but also his bizarre lyric sheet. ‘Jet’, the name of his pet dog, was full to the brim with odd lyrics and quizzical arrangements. Yet somehow it all just kind of, works.
It speaks highly of Macca’s ability to work within his parameters and still deliver some confounding creativity.
6. ‘Junk’ (1970)
This McCartney album track was actually written for The Beatles White Album yet, on McCartney’s debut solo effort, it feels even more pertinent. The song focuses on a young musician looking around a junk shop while being haunted by the image of himself as an old and forgotten man.
It worked as a meta-statement on his debut record and allayed any fears that Macca may fall flat without his band. It was a blank page that McCartney enjoyed, “I rather fancied having just the plain tapes and nothing done to them at all,” he told Rolling Stone in 1974.
“It’s got the door opening, the banging of the tape recorder, a couple of people giggling in the background.”
5. ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973)
It may have been the first James Bond film to feature Roger Moore as the titular character but all the talk was about Paul McCartney reuniting with Beatles producer George Martin.
The 1973 track is a swashbuckling and rambunctious theme song and has found its way into most of Paul McCartney’s live sets. The song will forever be a piece of Bond memorabilia and prove that Macca could throw himself at an epic tune and still come out on top.
4. ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’
It would be McCartney’s first post-Beatles number one and will go down in history as one of his most beloved tracks. Much of Ram was lambasted by John Lennon but even he liked this experimental number.
Perhaps because it sounded very much like the Fab Four. An orchestral arrangement provided by George Martin and the New York Philharmonic helped to elaborate the track written about Macca’s real-life uncle. It makes this one of Macca’s most memorable pieces.
3. ‘Band on the Run’ (1973)
McCartney formed Wings in 1971 but it wasn’t until 1973’s Band on the Run that the group truly took flight. It’s undoubtedly the group’s best work and sees McCartney put a nail in his time with The Beatles in the titular track.
‘Band on the Run’ is actually a blow by blow proposition that Macca had shared with the Fab Four as a way of regaining their vigour—by playing a series of small club shows. It would never come to be but Wings’ song is the perfect ideal of what could’ve been.
Perhaps one of his most famous compositions, ‘Band on the Run’ is archetypal pop songs.
2. ‘Too Many People’ (1971)
One Ram track acts as the perfect distillation of McCartney’s life in 1971. Having split from his familial band in The Beatles, Macca was now public enemy number one after bearing most of the blame for the disbandment.
It wasn’t something McCartney was prepared to take lying down. So as a retort to Lennon’s continued flouting of his talent, McCartney wrote a song aimed directly at John. “That was your first mistake/You took your lucky break and broke it in two,” he snorts in ‘Too Many People’. “He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit,” McCartney said in 1984.
Somehow McCartney manages to take the swipe at his former writing partner through one of his sweeter melodies that perhaps hinted at the vulnerability behind the attack.
1. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ (1970)
The track was initially written for Linda McCartney back in 1969 and then found a home on Macca’s first solo effort McCartney, but it never really took off commercially until it was released in 1977 as part of Wings Over America and climbed the charts.
It’s no wonder the song was so successful considering it’s voracious and heartfelt core. Lyrically, it is some of McCartney’s best work, managing to toe the line between poetic mystery and connective content. In our opinion, it’s as close to completely describing the all-encompassing feeling of ‘love’ that pop music has to offer.
Following the break up of one of the most solid relationships Paul had in his life, with the loss of The Beatles, Linda offered him a place of respite as well as the freedom to express himself explicitly. McCartney chose this song to let it all hang out.