Everyone loves a list, right?
Anyway, after biting the bullet and deciding to get a monthly subscription to Apple Music and having been inspired by the awesome Vlogger Rockboy680, I’ve begun a journey through the back-catalogues of each solo Beatle’s output since the ‘Fab Four’ split. I started with George (whose albums I will go back and rank after Paul’s) and then moved onto Paul’s.
Paul’s solo career has always been unfairly criticised I feel. It is perhaps true that in his vast output over the last 40 odd years there have been a few howlers. But he has also produced arguably the most diverse and interesting collection of songs since the Beatles split in 1970; and he’s continued to challenge himself and his listeners all the way through to his latest album in 2013.
Many unfairly state that John is the most ‘interesting’ and talented Beatle; and it’s true that John’s input in the 10 years from the Beatle’s split up to his tragic death in 1981 is fascinating and captivating (for the most part). But I ask myself, would he have continued to create albums that were as interesting as Paul’s in the 80’s and ‘90’s? Most probably; but then I believe Paul would still have given him a run for his money.
Anyway, as Paul’s output is certainly the greatest numerically, this has been a real challenge. Many people’s opinions will no doubt differ from mine here; and this only represents my feelings on the first listen of most of these records, so my own opinion may well change as I become more familiar to the music over time.
Hopefully, this will help fellow first time listeners or people who are interested in listening to more solo Beatle albums but are unsure where to start.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paul McCartney solo, from worst to best! – This was a tricky one!
24. Give My Regards to Broadstreet (1984)
Made as a soundtrack to the ill fated film of the same name, this comprises of a few (admittedly good) original tunes and a reworking of Beatles classics, which, whilst inoffensive, make this album seem unnecessary when taken on its own merits.
Favourite Track: No More Lonely Nights
23. Press to Play (1986)
We’re into full on ’80’s territory here, with sax solos and the cheese ramped up to 11. Pretty cringe-worthy and although there are a couple of good tracks, this isn’t one I’d listen to.
Favourite Track: Stranglehold
22. Choba B CCCP (1988)
A covers album that feels rushed and half-arsed.
Favourite Track: Twenty Flight Rock
21. Pipes of Peace (1983)
Another soulless ’80’s cheese-fest, with the odd good tune thrown in. This is the Paul I thought Paul was, until I found out the Paul that I now know.
Favourite Track: Say Say Say
20. London Town (1978)
Wings’ most soporific, chilled out effort. This is a nice listen, but nothing to elevate it amongst the catalogue.
Favourite Track: Famous Groupies
19. Run Devil Run (1999)
Another collection of mostly covers. Paul seems more interested here however than he did on Choba, and his renditions of familiar and less familiar rock n’ roll songs is an enjoyable listen, if not particularly challenging or remarkable.
Favourite Track: Brown Eyed Handsome Man
18. Back to the Egg (1979)
A funky album that definitely rocks, but on first listen it was pretty forgettable. I’d say this is the album where Paul sounds the most like everyone else around him. It’s inoffensive and fun, but not a grabber.
Favourite Track: Rockestra Theme
17. Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)
More songs to iron to.
Favourite Track: Silly Love Songs
16. McCartney II (1980)
Paul returns to more experimental territory in his second totally self-produced album. There are some interesting forays into more electronic music, but overall I didn’t find this as enjoyable as the first ‘McCartney’ album. Worth a listen though.
Favourite Track: Frozen Jap
15. Off the Ground (1993)
Not up there with the best Macca albums, but pretty fun and I liked this one.
Favourite Track: Hope of Deliverance
14. Wildlife (1971)
Considering this is the first post-Beatle album where Paul decided to work with a band; it sounds surprisingly stripped back and domesticated; following in intent (if not in brilliance) to its homegrown sounding predecessor Ram. It’s a fun, easy-going album, but shows little of the potential of the emerging Wings.
Favourite Track: Dear Friend
13. Flowers in the Dirt (1989)
Still not up there with his best, but a HUGE improvement on the last few ’80’s albums that preceded it. It’s great to hear Paul collaborating with another of my favourite songwriters (Mr. Costello no less!).
Not a bad album this one, and probably my second favourite of his 80’s albums after Tug of War.
Favourite Track: My Brave Face
12. Driving Rain (2001)
I was never going to enjoy this as much as Flaming Pie, but I liked it, and it felt a lot edgier than some of his output. Clearly some of that Costello swagger had rubbed off from the Flower in the Dirt era!
Favourite Track: About You
11. New (2013)
Paul’s most recent album shows he’s ‘still got it.’ It reminded me of Paul Simon’s 2006 album ‘Surprise’ in its intent to push the songwriter out of his comfort zone and into something more experimental. And this album is perhaps more impressive for its stylistic inventiveness than for the strength of the songs; which are solid and sometimes brilliant, but not ‘up there’ with the very best of his catalogue.
Favourite Track: Queenie Eye
10. Red Rose Speedway (1973)
Suffering in reputation from it’s closeness to the seminal album Band on the Run, this is actually a solid album, with a renewed rocking feel after Wild Life that came before it. Paul is climbing his way back to his best here after finding his feet with a new band.
Favourite Track: My Love
9. Memory Almost Full (2007)
This 2007 album is what I would’ve ‘expected’ from a Paul solo album before I had heard more of his more interesting stuff. It’s ‘nice,’ the songwriting is strong (which considering he has been writing and performing new music for 50 odd years by this point is impressive!), but there is little to be fascinated by particularly here. His most consciously ‘pop’ sounding record since the ’80’s, but a lot better than most of his ’80’s output.
Overall, a good, if not gear-shifting album (compared with Chaos or Flaming Pie).
Favourite Track: House of Wax
8. Kisses on the Bottom (2012)
Paul goes full on jazz on this collaboration with jazz pianist, songwriter and wife of former collaborator Elvis Costello, Diana Krall.
Shades of the classic ‘Great American Songbook,’ of the likes of Porter, Gershwin etc.. And like Choba and Run Devil Run this is a collection of mostly covers. But unlike those albums, or other rockers-cum-jazz performers like Rod Stewart et al, this has a great deal of soul and you can tell Paul has a lot of love for the material; rather than just cashing in on a trend.
Probably Paul’s most sweet and romantic effort.
Favourite Track: My Valentine
7. Venus and Mars (1975)
Like Red Rose Speedway, this is an often overlooked classic Paul album. A solid collection of strong melodies and rocking tunes.
Favourite Track: Venus and Mars (Reprise)
6. Tug of War (1982)
McCartney returns to his own devices after the disbanding of Wings, to make one of his most personal albums after the tragic death of his greatest collaborator and on-off friend John Lennon. Not always brilliant, but it’s brilliant bits shine brilliantly. Plus it has possibly the most beautiful song McCartney has ever written, the tribute to his old friend ‘Here Today’
Favourite Track: Here Today
5. McCartney (1970)
When the Beatles split, after producing one of the most jaw-dropping (both in quality and quantity) bodies of work, the Beatle that most likely garnered the most hope for continuing this brilliance was Paul.
Yet, whilst the pent-up George was overflowing with incredible songs he’d finally been able to release on the iconic double album debut ‘All Things Must Pass,’ and John had brought out the emotionally raw ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, Paul brought out the shockingly sparse ‘McCartney,’ which feels about as far removed from the lavishness of Abbey Road as you could imagine. With the exception of the beautiful ‘Maybe I’m Amazed,’ this album feels essentially like a collection of half-finished demos and ideas. Fans at the time must’ve felt disappointed, and with Ram and Band on the Run still down the road, a few concerned fans might have even felt that their favourite Beatle had lost the plot.
However, in retrospect, this is actually a pretty fascinating and highly enjoyable album. There is a similar feel to Paul Simon’s debut album after Simon and Garfunkel split and he favoured the stripped down, intimate sound to the polished, grandiose sound of Bridge over Troubled Water.
There is a charm to Paul’s lo-fi, unfinished approach here. You really feel like you’re privy to a jam session or the workings of a brilliant mind in the process of finding itself again. And it’s a highly enjoyable experience showing that even in an interim phase, Paul hadn’t lost his knack for highly infectious melody and memorable songs.
Favourite track: Maybe I’m Amazed.
4. Band on the Run (1973)
It had to be up there near the top of the list didn’t it? Paul’s most iconic ‘solo’ album; this is a classic album from beginning to end, encapsulating all that made Paul’s post-Beatle output worth listening to.
Favourite Track: Band on the Run
3. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)
In my opinion, Paul’s best post-millennium album; showing a strength of songwriting that hadn’t been matched since Flaming Pie (of which this makes a nice companion) nearly 10 years previously and not matched since (yet). It’s fair to say I LOVE this album!
Favourite Track: Fine Line
2. Flaming Pie (1997)
Love love love this album!
I could pick almost every song off this album as a favourite Macca song, the right ingredients were there from the beginning; spurred on from a re-ignition to make ‘honest,’ fast produced and collaborative songs again after the experience of the revisiting the Beatles history on the Anthology in the ’90’s.
Favourite Track: Calico Skies
1. Ram (1971)
What I love about Ram is how it’s exactly the sort of album Paul wanted to make, similar to it’s predecessor McCartney (1970), but honed in intention and sound. Paul strikes out on his own here, incorporating what made him such a brilliant songwriter in the Beatles, but also showing that he is continuing to progress and go off in other unexpected directions. And whilst being challenging and experimental, It also manages to conjure up a rural, secluded (in a good way) feeling that is as comforting as freshly buttered toast or slipping into a hot bath (not at the same time).
So many great songs, and worthy of much more credit than it gets.
Favourite Track: Too Many People.
Hopefully from this, you can see that Paul’s back-catalogue is definitely worth giving a chance!
Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts or favourite Paul songs in the comments section below.