Paul McCartney

TrackAlbum / Single
Maybe I’'m AmazedMcCartney
From A Lover To A FriendDriving Rain
That Would Be SomethingMcCartney
Goodnight TonightParlophone 7” single (1979)
Helen WheelsApple 7” single (1973)
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty FiveBand On The Run
Uncle Albert / Admiral HalseyRam
Let ‘'Em InWings At The Speed Of Sound
Temporary SecretaryMcCartney II
Check My MachineWaterfalls B-side

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Contributor: Glenn Smith

Ok, so this guy comes out of Liverpool in 1970 releasing his self-titled debut album featuring timeless songs such as Every Night, Junk, and the one that started it all for him, Maybe I’m Amazed. So let me introduce to you the one and only Paul McCartney. Ah, if only it were as simple as that, but no … Paul, like John, George and Ringo, had to have his solo career judged against, and juxtaposed with, their collective and individual genius within that little beat combo known as The Beatles. With Paul there are many dud spots as a solo artist, but all that is forgiven when considered against the prodigious output of the timeless melodies, musicianship, innovative instrumentation and arrangements that mark his solo career. And no, I’m not separating Wings out from his official solo stuff, apologies to Denny and Linda, but these are Paul McCartney songs.

Paul’s solo career starts with the superb McCartney (1970) recorded while still officially an anointed Fabster. Its release was the catalyst for them to finally face the inevitable and split. Maybe I’m Amazed is the final piece in his late 60s’ piano composed triptych together with The Long And Winding Road and Let It Be. As the ascending notes slowly hove into view you can see the doleful eyes looking up at you as he prepares to deliver his greatest soul vocal performance. More than a love song, this is a man ground down, glad for his woman but scared of what is going on, what he doesn’t understand. You would too if the greatest cultural event of the twentieth century, something you helped create, was falling down around you. I’m not sure he has topped it since. I bookend Maybe I’m Amazed with From A Lover To A Friend (Driving Rain 2001), a haunting, gentle piano piece from a very different man; a man comfortable that his legacy and his greatness are set in stone.

McCartney also gives us the delightful blues That Would Be Something, a showcase for his multi-instrumental prowess, in particular his funky sliding, gliding bass line, a riff that Rick Danko would have been proud of. And he can slap and pop with the best of them as shown on the very groovy Goodnight Tonight; cool bass and great repetitive chorus line. Paul, like the other Fabs, placed great value on the standalone single and Good Night is a classic example. As is the early 70s, one chord rocker Helen Wheels (it’s in A, get your tennis racquets out and try it). This was the taster to what was coming in Band On The Run (1973) and the selection from that extraordinary album is the last track, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five, a driving piano/bass boogie which highlights his ability to distort and contort that voice of his. This one comes over like a demented Fats Domino, undercut by a sinister maracas shake.

The list finishes with four tracks that are bracketed together to highlight McCartney’s songwriting prowess. He loves to paint pictures and write of characters living lives that only he can imagine. When he gets it wrong it is truly awful (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer). But when it is right it is stupendous. Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey is paired with Let ‘Em In. They take you into strange musical landscapes: there is lots happening there, they build and build, all the while occupied by interesting characters, real and imagined; but while never truly sad they have that faint patina of nostalgia that is so ever present in all of McCartney’s work. The trombone in Let ‘Em In, the flugelhorn in Uncle Albert earworm the melody and ease us into a little bit of warm sadness for the past.

There is a nice symmetry to starting with McCartney and finishing with McCartney II. Although in a completely different place emotionally, McCartney II finds him back at home, noodling and doodling, putting the drums in the toilet and, like in 1970, playing all the instruments. And he let his mind run free with these two loopy synth driven classics: Temporary Secretary, and the hugely influential, Check My Machine (both 1980). The sampling and edits in Check My Machine predate most of what was to come in hip hop. And I’ll bet Damon Albarn gives thanks to Macca on a daily basis.

Paul McCartney official website

Paul McCartney Concert Setlists

Paul McCartney biography (iTunes)

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles…

The Beatles (see Toppermost #25); John Lennon (see Toppermost #31); Ringo Starr (see Toppermost #103); George Harrison (see Toppermost #404).

TopperPost #233

7 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Mar 25, 2014

    About 250000000 ‘wot no?’s. But with an artist of the calibre of Sir Paul, that’s going to happen. Yes, he drops clunkers. But he’s always creative. And there’s always neat little touches which just take a song and lift it: the stupendous bass-line of ‘Silly Love Songs’ or the harmonies on ‘Phil and Don’ in ‘Let ‘Em In’ (the only harmonised line)…. great job.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    Mar 25, 2014

    Congratulations Glenn on tackling the seemingly impossible. I won’t attempt the ‘what no’ – I will enjoy your selections and your essay. Thanks for reminding me Maybe I’m Amazed is NOT on ‘Abbey Road’ or ‘Let It Be’ and I’d forgotten all about the single ‘Helen Wheels’.

    I am aware Sir Paul has a side project ‘The Fireman’ (as in the character in Penny Lane). Has anyone explored this work, is there sufficient for a ten?

  3. Peter Viney
    Mar 25, 2014

    Paul McCartney “classical”, Paul McCartney as “The Fireman” and Paul McCartney as Percy “Thrills” Thrillington are perhaps better held back for Another Day.

    Whoops! That’s one I want to add. The problem with Paul is that he has been so prolific that it is impossible to distil it to ten. And I like every one of Glenn’s ten. The three I’d put immediately in a ten are Maybe I’m Amazed, Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey and Let ‘Em In. But “Band on The Run” was probably his biggest success, and I have to do the obligatory Toppermost “Wot no …!” response on Band on The Run and Jet. Tug of War title track? McCartney II was my second most-heavily played album, and I’d take Coming Up and Waterfalls.

    Ten? Another Day / Maybe I’m Amazed / Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey / Jet / Band On The Run / Girlfriend (London Town) / Let’ em In / Coming Up / Waterfalls / Tug of War.

    Have you noticed that gets us to only 1984? But nine of Glen’s ten stop at the same point. Thirty years ago? That’s because thinking it through I had ten unmissable ones by then as I can see Glen did. Paul definitely needs another twenty to bring him up to date. however, I would avoid live stuff. I think he tours on the cheap and that shows in the live work.

    And I remind everyone that Mull of Kyntyre was the UK’s best-selling single for many years, and that while overblown, the version of “Live and Let Die” in the film American Hustle had me playing it for a week this year.

    We can’t mention Paul without talking about bass playing. I’ve had this discussion with various bass players as to “who’s the greatest” and while you might choose James Jamerson for riffs, Bakithi Kumalo (Graceland) and Jaco Pastorious for technique, people keep coming back to Paul as the best of all. As one bass player said, ‘A lot of players can technically play what Paul does. It’s that none of them would have thought of doing what he does in the first place.’

  4. Martha Rosin
    Mar 25, 2014

    It’s really weird to read a list like this and find you’ve chosen pretty much every track I would have picked. It’s like I wrote it myself!

    Of course you could put together a completely different list of 10 and it would also be excellent: 1. Junk 2. Every Night 3. Ram On 4. Eat at Home 5. Monkberry Moon Delight 6. Listen to What the Man Said 7. Magneto and Titanium Man 8. Arrow Through Me 9. One of These Days 10. Secret Friend

    Ram is my favorite. It’s brilliant start to finish. The brother album to Brian Wilson’s Smile, though Ram is more personal and confessional, and angrier (if you’re paying attention).

    And to David Lewis who pointed out that harmony line in Let Em In: I didn’t know that! Thanks.

  5. Andrew Shields
    Mar 25, 2014

    What no ‘Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time’, ‘We All Stand Together’ or ‘Ebony and ivory’ ? …just joking.

    Must say I find that whole chirpy chappie routine Macca does these days incredibly irritating…

    But if I was going to choose from ‘Band on The Run’ (his best solo album after McCartney) I would have had the title song or ‘Jet’ or ‘Picasso’s Last Words’…

  6. David Lewis
    Mar 26, 2014

    Martha: my pleasure.

    I thought Live and Let Die, if only for its cleverness: the film is set partially in Jamaica, and manages to bring in a reggae motif. Again, you can NEVER limit it to 10. Jet is a perennial favourite of mine (even if he mispronounces ‘Suffragette’ to a hard ‘g’ for actually sound rhyming reasons). Waterfalls… again, just ace. And ‘Coming Up’ actually inspired John Lennon to start writing again. 240000997 more ‘wot nos?’

    • Glenn Smith
      Mar 26, 2014

      That is a great list Martha, and yes Ram is a criminally neglected album. Coming Up was on the cusp if only because it drove JL back into the business as David has rightly pointed out. My initial list was 42 ,including all of Band on the Run except for Mamunia. And I completely agree with Peter’s and David’s references to his bass playing,especially in his Alembic and Rickenbacker phases. He is one of the few great songwriters that can write with bass at the forefront of the composition and still keep it melodic.

      Live and Let Die and Mull of Kintyre, what to do,what to do. I had a run of playing Live and Let Die after it was used in the opening scenes of episode 2 of Life on Mars,which was just perfect. Mull of Kintyre, well as McCartney has said, you try and write a bagpipe song! Too good.

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