There is perhaps no artist more heavily entrenched in the esteem of British music than Sir Paul McCartney. One half of the enigmatic songwriting partnership of Lennon-McCartney – and being the driving force behind much of what The Beatles achieved – Macca deserves his place in the pantheon of music. With the latest release of his 2020 album McCartney III, the singer proved he was still able to bob and weave with their latest sounds while also purveying a sense of timeless class.
It’s a trick that McCartney has always held at his disposal. The singer is not only a gifted bassist but an all-round brilliant musician. He’s able to arrange songs with the expert ear of a pop maestro and cultivate original songs and sounds like a well-appointed groundsman. It means when he picks out some of his favourite tracks to share with his audience, it’s worth paying attention as you just might learn something. Luckily, in 2004, McCartney provided just that for Uncut magazine.
Of course, whenever you ask a real music fan for their list of favourite songs, you will always get a different answer. A person’s list of ‘favourite songs’ can change from day to day if not hour to hour, so there’s a heavy pinch of salt to be added. When you remember that this particular person has probably been involved in more studio sessions than we’ve had hot dinners, then it’s perhaps worth just leaving us with the salt-shaker to cover our backs.
In 2004, Uncut compiled a cover feature for Paul McCartney as he got ready to release 2005’s Never Stop Doing What You Love. Of course, the usual patter about the Fab Four was there, but the real piece of intrigue came from a Macca-compiled album titled Paul McCartney’s Glastonbury Groove. It boasted a collection of 17 of his favourite songs and is the closest we’ve ever come to grabbing a definitive list of his favourite hits. Judging by the esteem of the names chosen, it must be difficult for McCartney to squeeze a few more in.
He may have been able to do so, however, if he didn’t include three of his own songs on there. Never one to miss an opportunity for a bit of promotion — a savvy businessman as he is — McCartney included in the list his song ‘Temporary Secretary’ which had been released on his 1980 album McCartney II, the impressive ‘Calicoe Skies’ from 1997’s Flaming Pie, as well as his composition for the London Symphony Orchestra titled ‘Spiral.’ For the sake of clarity, we’ve left those songs off the list.
That doesn’t diminish the quality left on there though. First up is the James Taylor classic ‘Mean Old Man’ which still feels as wonderful today as it did when it was first released. The classics keep coming as well, with Nat King Cole, Colin Hay, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra all making appearances on McCartney’s list of favourites. However, there are three songs that perhaps land heavier than most.
First up is ‘Sunny Goodge Street’ from esteemed British folk artist Donovan. Once billed as Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan, Donovan and The Beatles shared many great moments during their early years. In fact, it was Donovan who attended the Transcendental Meditation retreat with Yogi Mahesh Maharishi and the rest of the Fab Four in the late sixties. During the retreat, the band wrote plenty of songs for the upcoming White Album and Donovan was often party to the happenings. It makes McCartney’s decision to include him all the more poignant.
Another song that will reverberate for McCartney is his former bandmate and old pal George Harrison’s effort. The song ‘Marwa Blues’ is an archetypal Harrison number and speaks highly of moral and spiritual character. When asked about his friendship with George, shortly after his death in 2001, McCartney had some very touching words to say describing the ‘quiet Beatle’, who “didn’t suffer fools gladly,” as a “lovely man, I love him dearly, I grew up with him, and I like to remember all the good times.” Later adding, “[He was a] fantastic guy, with a great sense of humour. I was lucky enough to see him a couple of weeks ago, and he was still laughing and joking.” The duo had experienced some difficulties throughout their careers, so it is some consolation that those moments appeared to be behind them before Harrison’s passing.
While many of the songs on the list will have a staunch place in McCartney’s heart, one song will always be regarded as his favourite—’God Only Knows’ by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Speaking in a past interview, McCartney explained that having the opportunity to perform The Beach Boys classic alongside Brian Wilson was a pinch yourself moment even for the former Beatle: “‘God Only Knows’ is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It’s really just a love song, but it’s brilliantly done. It shows the genius of Brian. I’ve actually performed it with him, and I’m afraid to say that during the soundcheck, I broke down. It was just too much to stand there singing this song that does my head in and to stand there singing it with Brian.”
It’s high praise indeed from arguably the most gifted songwriter in pop music history, and for the rest of the songs on this list too. For McCartney to pick out one of your numbers as a part of his ‘favourites’ collection is some feat. The fact that it may be an entirely different list today, just highlights what a sincere and authentic musician Paul McCartney really is.
Find the playlist of his favourite songs of all time, below.
Paul McCartney’s favourite songs:
- James Taylor – ‘Mean Old Man’
- The Beach Boys – ‘God Only Knows’
- Chinmaya Dunster & Vidroha Jamie – ‘Chance Meeting’
- Nitin Sawhney – ‘Sunset’
- Nat King Cole – ‘The Very Thought Of You’
- Maria João Pires – ‘Nocturne No. 2 In E Flat Major’
- Colin Hay – ‘Going Somewhere’
- Steadman – ‘Carried’
- The Julian Bream Consort – ‘Galliard’
- George Harrison – ‘Marwa Blues’
- Glenn Aitken – ‘The Way’
- Donovan – ‘Sunny Goodge Street’
- Fred Astaire – ‘Cheek To Cheek’
- Frank Sinatra – ‘A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening’