March Through Time: Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney is one of the world’s most popular songwriters and performers. He’s also one of the wealthiest, and with good reason. His solo work continues to this day, but most fans focus on the live shows (if they can afford the ticket prices). Rather than attempt to cover his entire output, I’ll confine my comments to his first quarter-century or so of post-Beatles releases.

  • McCartney (1970) – Made at a time when one-man-bands were quite uncommon, it’s a homespun affair that nonetheless reflects the care and skill of its maker. And the songs hold up.
  • Ram (1971) – Somewhat dismissed at the time of its release, this record has since undergone a reassessment; it’s now recognized as an excellent album. “Back Seat of My Car” is the best McCartney tune most people have never heard.
  • Wild Life (1971) – Somewhat dismissed at the time of its release, this record has not received a reassessment akin to the one afford its predecessor. It’s a bit slight, but by no means bad. Odds are you’ve not heard any of it, which is weird when one thinks about it.
  • Red Rose Speedway (1973) – This one flew under the radar as well. Its structure is not unlike Abbey Road, and there are some gems buried among the, well, not-gems. Remarkably, the bonus tracks appended to later-day CD reissues are among the best. For all his myriad gifts, Paul hasn’t always been the best arbiter of his music’s quality.
  • Band on the Run (1973) – A classic, of course. But you knew that.
  • Venus and Mars (1975) – A sentimental favorite, this one finds McCartney and his band leaning into their newfound fame. Even the deep cuts are stellar.
  • Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976) – A bit more democratic, which means that there are weak spots. But some of the best tunes come from the band members not named McCartney! A must-hear.
  • London Town (1978) – Alas, the band fell apart. This trio album (Paul, Linda, Denny Laine) has a breezy character, some good songs, and not a lot of rock.
  • Wings Over America (1976) – A triple album, it’s Wings beating all other comers at the live album game. A great souvenir for those of us who didn’t make it to the show.
  • Back to the Egg (1979) – With new members and a terrific set of songs, this album found Paul on fire, making his most eclectic set of songs in years. Underrated to be sure.
  • McCartney II (1980) – This, on the other hand, is overrated, at least in my view. A bit sterile and one-dimensional, it takes the one-man-band approach too far. It’s a critical fave, but I must dissent.
  • Tug of War (1982) – A melancholy album, featuring the production talents of Paul’s old pal George (Martin). Some really good songs in there, but a few clunkers as well.
  • Pipes of Peace (1983) – Don’t get me started. This one’s dross. I like to blame Michael Jackson (the era’s most overrated artist) but Paul deserves his lumps as well.
  • Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984) – Okay, so the film was unwatchable. But the music here has its moments. The remakes of classics don’t hold a candle to the originals, but they don’t stink. And the version of “No More Lonely Nights” with David Gilmour is lovely.
  • Press to Play (1986) – There are actually a few decent tunes amid the piffle here, but not enough to make it worth listening to all the way through. And all-star cast makes not a bit of difference.
  • Снова в СССР (1988) – The first hint that Paul still had some good work left in him, this record found him relaxing and doing what he does best: entertain.
  • Flowers in the Dirt (1989) – The triumphant return. Working here and there with Elvis Costello, he made a great record. Simply essential.
  • Off the Ground (1993) – A more modest affair – sort of a Wild Life to Flowers – it still has some really good songs. But “Biker Like an Icon” is… just awful.

As you’d expect by now, the rest of Paul’s output features some true gems and some okay ones. Worth finding is 1977’s Thrillington, an easy listening instro version of Ram.