by John M. Borack
As a follow up to my recent Ten Favorite Beatles Songs blog post here, I thought it’d be fun to work up a similar list for Sir Paul McCartney. It was nearly as difficult for me to whittle my fave Macca numbers down to a mere 10 as it was to come up with only 10 Beatles tunes; after all, Paul’s now been releasing music on his own for more than 40 (gakk!) years.
So while there is a vast amount of solo material to choose from on albums that range from essential (Ram, Band on the Run) to good (Venus and Mars), bad (Press to Play) and ugly (Driving Rain), I somehow managed to limit the list to 10 choices. In the process, I left off such longtime personal favorites as “Getting Closer,” “Helen Wheels,” “Hi Hi Hi,” “Every Night,” “One More Kiss,” “Warm and “Beautiful,” “Young Boy,” “You Want Her Too,” “Girls’ School” and “I’m Carrying.” Wow, that’s a pretty damned good top 10 right there, isn’t it? But alas, it’s not the toppermost of the poppermost, at least not for me. These are:
10. “Monkberry Moon Delight” – Quite possibly the most completely unhinged and off-the-wall rocker that Paul has ever committed to tape, this track (from the most excellent Ram LP) is five-plus minutes of batshit crazy, with Paul shouting out a set of ridiculously nonsensical, stream of consciousness lyrics over some repetitive guitar and piano riffage, with appropriately bratty-sounding backing vox from the lovely Linda. By the end of the thing Paul’s vocal scatting is so over-the-top wacky that you’re convinced the boy was losing his mind…which, of course, makes the tune all that more enjoyable.
9. “Ever Present Past” – An addicting little ditty from 2007’s Memory Almost Full, it’s at once modern-sounding and classic Macca. Paul has never had a problem sounding au courant (witness his Fireman releases), so not only can you sing along to “EPP,” it’s also got a good beat and you can dance to it…and if anyone has a right to sing about an “ever present past,” it’s certainly Paul McCartney. An underrated but wonderful tune.
8. “Flaming Pie” – The title track from Paul’s excellent 1997 album, it’s a marvelous example of how Paul approached the recording of the entire record – in his own words, to “have some fun and not sweat it.” It’s a jaunty, piano-based number with more nonsensical lyrics that John Lennon would have no doubt been proud of – and as most Beatles fans know, the title of the song comes from an old Lennon goof of a quote about how the Fab Four came up with their name.
7. “Eat at Home” – Another ace number from Ram, this one obviously inspired by the great Buddy Holly, one of Paul’s idols. It’s got the cool, slightly country-influence guitar pickin’, a typically marvelous McCartney melody and Denny Seiwell’s pounding drums driving it home. Nice high harmonies from Linda, too. Coulda (shoulda?) been a single…
6. “Wanderlust” – A stately 1982 ballad that tends to get overlooked when folks speak of McCartney’s finest efforts, it’s a marvelously evocative piece of work that survives a bit of slick ‘80s production. The counterpoint melodies are pure genius, and McCartney sings the hell out of it. For most artists this would be a career highlight; for Paul McCartney, it’s little more than a footnote. Amazing.
5. “My Brave Face” – After the unmitigated horror that was Press to Play in 1986, McCartney definitely had something to prove. After chilling out with an album of covers, he bounced back quite nicely in ’89 with Flowers in the Dirt, from whence “My Brave Face” came. Co-written with Elvis Costello (who was probably responsible for lines such as “I’ve been hitting the town/but it didn’t hit back”), it’s another uber-catchy gem, with sterling harmonies, an outstanding lead vocal, some cool bass runs from Paulie, and a vaguely Beatlesque vibe. Sadly, it was also McCartney’s last top 40 single to date.
4. “Maybe I'm Amazed” – Hard to leave this one off any list of top McCartney tunes, right? Even Paul has called it "the song I would like to be remembered for in the future,” and rightly so. It’s a passionate declaration of love that Paul penned for Linda as the Beatles were splintering, and it manages the neat trick of sounding somewhat sparse and majestic at the same time. A true classic for the ages and one I never tire of hearing.
3. “Venus and Mars”/”Rock Show” – Can’t have one without the other, say I. The savvy Paul probably plotted for these two tracks to be the opening musical salvos for his Wings Over America tour in 1976 when he wrote 'em. They do make quite the show opener, with the gentle, synth-flecked “Venus and Mars” fairly exploding into the pulsating hard rockin’ majesty of “Rock Show.” The Marvel Comics-inspired bridge (y’know, the “In my green metal suit, I’m preparing to shoot up the city” part) only adds to the fun.
2. “Jet” – A long time ago, in a land far, far away, someone perpetuated the myth that John Lennon was the true rocker in the Beatles, while Paul McCartney was little more than Ballad Boy. Of course, Paul had been rockin’ away since the “I Saw Her Standing There” days and continued to do so throughout the Beatles’ career (Hello? He wrote “Helter Skelter,” people!) and in his solo work. “Jet” was one of Paul’s quintessential upbeat numbers, and one that he continues to play live. It glides along on a bed of guitars, some well-placed brass and an absolutely killer bridge. And of course, it passes the Great Song Test: if it comes on the radio, I still turn it up and sing along. Loud.
1. “Junior's Farm” – Okay, this might seem like a somewhat odd choice for my favorite Paul McCartney song ever, but hear me out. To me, it’s got everything. Killer melody? Check. Does it rock? You betcha (special kudos to the late Jimmy McCulloch’s searing guitar solo). Cute/clever lyrics? Sure (Especially the part about the President and the bag of cement, which Paul conveniently excised when he performed the song in concert in 2011). As a bonus, it hasn’t been overplayed to death over the years, either. (See “Silly Love Songs” and “Let 'Em In.”) McCartney and Wings were definitely firing on all cylinders when this was recorded in 1974, and the proof is in the aural pudding. And to think, this wasn’t even on an album at the time, and even though it was a No. 3 hit in the U.S., it is all but ignored on oldies radio today. Shame.
John M. Borack is a Southern California-based author whose latest book is titled John Lennon: Life is What Happens. He is also the author of Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide and is currently working on a book about Paul McCartney and another that celebrates some of the best power pop songs ever, titled Power Pop 360.