Have you ever tried to compile a top ten of your all-time-favourite post-Beatles McCartney songs? It’s not as easy as you might think. But here, quite frankly, is mine, though you can forget about ‘Jet’ and ‘C’Moon’ and even ‘Live and Let Die’. I’m sick of hearing them!
10. My Brave Face (1989)
For my number-ten song, I have chosen what was the lead single from McCartney’s excellent Flowers in the Dirt album of 1989. It is one of several tracks from that time attributed to McCartney/MacManus, having been co-written with Elvis Costello, another Liverpudlian songwriter of Irish ancestry, then peddling his highly eclectic Spike album. I still like it on relistening, because it is, you guessed it, quite Beatlesque, with Costello providing some much needed edge (at this time) to McCartney’s songwriting instead of Mr Lennon. You can definitely discern his caustic kitchen-sink-style wordplay within the song (about a simple guy trying to make it on his own after his wife has walked out on him), together with McCartney’s melodic lightness of touch. You can also hear Paul’s iconic hofner bass making a prominent comeback within the track, which perfectly symbolises a much revitalised McCartney after a few fallow years.
9. No More Lonely Nights (1984)
I remember my older brother playing this single to death on its release in 1984 – not only the ‘ballad’ version, but also the VERY 80s-sounding Arthur Baker dance mix included on the 12” record. So it was probably my first introduction to a solo McCartney song and one that can firmly be placed within his ‘soppy balladeer’ tradition. The ballad version still sounds great now when I listen to it, forgetting about the frankly unnecessary film and icky soundtrack that it is taken from: Give My Regards to Broad Street. It also features compelling lead-guitar work from Pink Floyd’s David ‘Dave’ Gilmour, as well as prominent backing vocals from wife Linda. An all-round beautiful tune.
8. You Tell Me (2007)
‘You Tell Me’ is, as far as I’m concerned, the standout track (not a single) from McCartney’s Grammy-nominated and highly successful Memory Almost Full album from 2007, which immediately struck me because of its wistful, yearning and desolate quality within a largely jaunty Wings-esque album full of ‘purposefully retrospective’ songs. While apparently residing in Long Island, USA, we find the singer contemplating a red cardinal and dwelling on half-recalled summers of blue skies and honey bees, asking ‘Were we there? Was it real? Is it truly how I feel? Maybe, you tell me.’ We may assume that the song was a product of an unhappy time when McCartney was in the midst of his split with Heather Mills and harking back to brighter yet seemingly unreal days gone by. The song is certainly affecting in its expression of feeling disconnected from warm feelings once (possibly) felt.
7. Ram On (1971)
I must admit that I found the Ram album (1971) rather tiresome when I first listened to it years ago, due to its relentless whimsicality and perkiness. But on relistening, I realise that you have to approach it in the right spirit in order to appreciate it, in much the same way as you would approach Brian Wilson’s humorous and playful songs on the Beach Boys’ Smile recordings, as big production numbers designed to entertain and surprise, without being particularly deep or profound. The numerous veiled digs at Lennon throughout Ram, and within the album’s artwork, provide an additional element of interest, but after a while you wish that McCartney would just come right out and say what he has to say…a bit more blatantly. In any case, you have certainly got to love the insistent ukulele-driven ditty that is ‘Ram On’, which manages the trick of being both whimsical and melancholy at the same time, while making a pun on his former pre-fame-Beatles alias, ‘Ramon’ – as in Paul Ramon. Clever shit.
6. Waterfalls (1980)
I remembered this love song from a while back, but not all that well, so I decided to download it from iTunes (an internet site that saves you from having to struggle through whole albums (imagine that!)). It certainly warrants a high placing in my chart, because it is taken from an album in which McCartney once more plays all the instruments himself – McCartney II – and therefore has a lovely, homemade, lo-fi and intimate quality to it. The lyrics, expressing the singer’s worry that his missus should engage in dangerous stuff like jumping waterfalls and chasing polar bears, are simple and childlike, yet the melody, together with the track’s synthesizer flourishes, lends them an almost haunting quality. McCartney himself says that he believes the song should have done much better than it did as a single (following, as it did, the big hit ‘Coming Up’), and I agree. He further appears to have picked up the theme of this song for a later Flowers in the Dirt track, ‘Don’t Be Careless Love’, which is another corker, in fact.
5. Dear Friend (1972)
I made a point of downloading this track, ‘Dear Friend’, from the Wings Wild Life album (1972) because I had read about it in the Keith Badman book The Beatles: After The Break Up, where the author extols its brilliance as a track riffing on the rift between McCartney and Lennon (yes, another one of those). On listening to it myself, I was blown away, and flabbergasted that I had never heard it before, reasoning that this was because Wild Life is widely considered one of McCartney’s worst albums. You wouldn’t think that it is addressed to Lennon straightaway, as the lyrics are pretty baffling and incomprehensible, but the singer is seemingly reaching out to John at a time when their relationship is really at its nadir (though there seems to be a confusion over whether this came out before or after ‘How Do You Sleep?’ – I think it was slightly before). He calls out, ‘Dear friend, what’s the time? Is this really the borderline?’ and the song goes round and round in a very sleazy and heavy fashion, with McCartney clearly in a very sombre and self-pitying mood after a few herbal cigarettes, to glorious effect.
4. My Love (1973)
I don’t have a great deal to say about this song, ‘My Love’, taken from the 1973 album Red Rose Speedway, just that it is one of the best ballads that McCartney has ever written, and that it is one of the best ballads that anyone has ever written. It is certainly the best ballad written by someone with a mullet, who has a wife named Linda.
3. Here Today (1982)
I first heard this track, ‘Here Today’, on Nicky Campbell’s Radio 1 show ‘Into the Night’ in the late 80s, at the end of a programme that was dedicated to the music of John Lennon, which I also committed to tape. It is obviously, therefore, a love song to Lennon rather than Linda, and I was later to find out that it is taken from the George Martin-produced Tug of War album from 1982, made soon after John’s death in December 1980. I downloaded it recently and I still find it a deeply touching and beautifully sung song. McCartney himself says that it is written from the position of “I’m talking to John in my head. It’s a conversation we didn’t have”, and we find Paul trying to cut through all the bickering and business fallouts that he went through with Lennon after the Beatles break-up, reflecting instead on their initial relationship when they were just kids starting out as songwriters, with a unique bond. He closes the song: “And if I say I really loved you / and was glad you came along”.
2. Band on the Run (1973)
‘Band on the Run’, from 1974, is obviously one of the most played and well-known McCartney songs ever, and one, indeed, that I first listened to properly on the All the Best! compilation, which I borrowed on cassette from the library in the late 80s. It is, though, a song that I don’t tire of easily, purely because it is an inspired creation, despite its essentially daft lyrics based around the concept of a band breaking out of jail (why would a band be in jail anyway?). It has a compelling three-part structure, beginning with a soft intro (“stuck inside these four walls”), then a rock part (“if we ever get out of here”), and then the actual orthodox rock-song part (“well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash…”). The episodic structure reminds me of the Beatles’ ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ and certainly harks back to the Abbey Road medley. I also think that it influenced the band Franz Ferdinand on their song ‘Take Me Out’, which also has separate parts, and an intro that is probably the best part of the track. I’m all for songs like this.
1. Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)
Most people would agree that ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is not only the first solo classic that McCartney produced, but also that it remains the best ever moment of his post-Beatles career. I first listened to it on his debut album McCartney of course, because remarkably it was never released as a single (not the studio version, anyway), the singer choosing to continue the Beatles tradition of not putting album tracks out as singles. It certainly has the old Beatles magic all over it, because it was recorded at Abbey Road only a short time after the band actually split, and I like to think of it as being on the imaginary next Beatles album, which would also feature Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ and Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Yet the stress and strains of the split itself obviously inform the song, which is another love song to Linda for having helped him through this horrendously difficult time. It is, according to McCartney, the ‘song he would like to be remembered for in the future’, and in terms of his brilliant vocal performance alone, you’d be crazy to think that there was any better solo song in his repertoire than this.