Paul McCartney: 10 of His Best Under-the-Radar Solo Songs
“When I’m Sixty-Four”? That’s so 11 years ago.
Paul McCartney turned 75 this a few months back. With that in mind, you’ve probably come across a host of online tributes that laud the former Beatle’s longevity, countless achievements and best-loved songs.
But while the masses will most likely praise “Band on the Run,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die” and “Silly Love Songs” (well, maybe not “Silly Love Songs”), I’d like to draw attention to 10 tracks from McCartney’s solo career—a career that started 47 years ago—that just don’t get the love and attention they deserve in 2017.
They are presented in chronological order, according to their official release dates. Enjoy!
“Oh Woman, Oh Why,” B-side of “Another Day” (Paul McCartney, 1971)
In February 1971, McCartney released “Another Day,” his first single as a solo artist. It was a mostly acoustic, observational, “Eleanor Rigby”-style affair—just light and fluffy enough for John Lennon to take a swing at in “How Do You Sleep?” from Imagine. On its flip-side, however, was “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” a fun yet lonely-sounding bluesy rocker in A.
McCartney’s gritty, screaming vocal, which is right up there with his work on “Oh! Darling,” adds a healthy dose of authenticity to the track. The fake gunshot sounds have the opposite effect.
The song is the first in a long line of non-album McCartney B-sides that includes “The Mess,” “I’ll Give You a Ring,” “Sally G,” “Flying to My Home,” “I Lie Around” and “Rainclouds.” It has been included on several CD incarnations of Ram, including the 2012 Ram Special Edition.
“Eat At Home” from Ram (Paul and Linda McCartney, 1971)
John Lennon wasn’t too crazy about McCartney’s supposedly lightweight early Seventies output, but he did like “Eat At Home,” calling it his favorite track on Ram. The song, with its twangy riff and bountiful guitar parts, could’ve been a hit single for McCartney; instead, it’ll go down in history as merely another album track.
And while McCartney and his band have dug up and dusted off the album’s opener, “Too Many People,” on recent tours, the equally deserving “Eat At Home” is still waiting for its moment in the spotlight. By the way, a previously unreleased live version of “Eat At Home/Smile Away” from Wings’ 1972 tour is available on the iTunes version of the recently released Ram Special Edition.
“The Mess,” B-side of “My Love” (Wings, 1973)
Excluding unreleased material, it doesn’t get much more obscure than “The Mess,” a live track recorded in 1972 and released as the B-side to “My Love” in March 1973. It’s a danceable ode (as the video below proves) that probably started out as several different song ideas that got grafted together in typical McCartney fashion (“The Pound Is Sinking” from Tug of War is another example of the McCartney patchwork method).
“The Mess” was originally meant to be included on Wings’ Red Rose Speedway album (It was supposed to be a double album at one point), and there’s even a studio version of the song out there somewhere.
“Big Barn Bed” from Red Rose Speedway (Wings, 1973)
Speaking of Red Rose Speedway, here’s that album’s opening track, “Big Barn Bed.” Like several of McCartney’s much more successful tunes, “Big Barn Bed’s” simplicity is its strong point, right down to Henry McCullough’s basic guitar riff in the song’s intro.
The soaring harmonies, shimmering acoustic guitars and weird but fun lyrics about big barn beds (huh?) and leaping armadillos don’t hurt, either. As a side note, McCullough, Wings’ original lead guitarist, recorded a new version of “Big Barn Bed” for his 2011 solo album, Unfinished Business. But, um, you should probably start (and stick) with the Wings version.
“Famous Groupies” from London Town (Wings, 1978)
On 1978’s “Famous Groupies,” McCartney goes into semi-comedic storytelling mode to recount the tale of a fictional pair of notorious groupies who do some pretty horrible things to the music-biz gents they supposedly adore: “There was a classic story of a roadie named Rory / who used to practice voodoo on the side / when the famous twosome suggested something gruesome / All that they found was a crater two miles wide / Which left the music business absolutely horrified.”
“Famous Groupies” is joined by other gems on London Town, including the forgotten single, “I’ve Had Enough”; the Elvis-inspired “Name and Address”; and the deep, dark and awesome “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose.”
“Spin It On” from Back to the Egg (Wings, 1979)
Although the Back to the Egg album cracked Billboard’s Top 10 in 1979, it took a beating from critics, something McCartney still mentions in interviews. Big-shot reviewer Robert Christgau gave it a “C,” and Allmusic won’t budge on its tepid two-star rating. It’s all a bit incongruous, really, since many McCartney fans (myself included) consider it their favorite McCartney album.
If nothing else, it is Wings’ most rocking album, with heavy tracks like “Old Siam, Sir,” “So Glad to See You Here” and “Getting Closer” setting the tight, overdriven, solid tone. “Getting Closer” and “Arrow Through Me” got some FM airplay, and “Rockestra Theme,” a thunderous instrumental featuring John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Pete Townshend and David Gilmour, earned a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
But “Spin It On,” an unassuming little album track that clocks in at 2:13, is one of the album’s hidden highlights. It features some superlative playing by Wings’ two newest members, drummer Steve Holly/Holley (I wish Steve would contact me and finally solve the Holly/Holley mystery) and the immensely gifted lead guitarist Laurence Juber, who’s now considered a fingerstyle master. In fact, its too-brief guitar solo represents Juber’s shreddingest moment as a member of Wings.
“On the Way” from McCartney II (Paul McCartney, 1980)
McCartney briefly topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1980 with “Coming Up,” a song that battled it out with Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown.” (Why do I know this stuff?) But besides “Coming Up” and, to some degree, the album’s second single, “Waterfalls,” the rest of McCartney II has faded into the land of early Eighties obscurity.
Which is a shame, particularly in the case of “On the Way,” a stark, blues-based number that features McCartney on heavily delayed vocals, bass, drums and lead guitar. And while no one is implying that the former Beatle is some great, unheralded bluesman, he does a pretty nice job on this track, especially in the terms of the guitar work.
“Souvenir” from Flaming Pie (Paul McCartney, 1997)
McCartney has released several “return to form” and/or “comeback” albums during his solo career, including 1982’s Tug of War, 1989’s Flowers In the Dirt, 1997’s Flaming Pie and 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.
Flaming Pie, in particular, was lauded for its near-Beatles-level of quality (It even features Ringo Starr on several tracks and non-album B-sides). And while the album’s title track and singles (“The World Tonight” and “Young Boy”) enjoyed a good share of the spotlight, stronger tracks like “Souvenir” were generally overlooked. This classy ode to Motown singles of a bygone era sports some gritty vocals and a meaty guitar riff during the choruses.
“A Love for You” from The In-Laws: Music from the Motion Picture (Paul and Linda McCartney, 2003)
The catchy “A Love for You” was recorded during the Ram sessions in 1971 but didn’t make it onto the album, proof that McCartney throws away more decent songs than most artists write. Fans discovered the song in the Eighties when Cold Cuts, an official collection of unreleased McCartney songs recorded from 1971 to 1980, was leaked, bootlegged and finally abandoned by McCartney.
The song didn’t get its first proper release until 2003, when it appeared on the soundtrack album for The In-Laws, the so-so Michael Douglas/Albert Brooks comedy. A different mix of the song turned up in 2012 as part of the Ram Special Edition release.
“That Was Me” from Memory Almost Full (Paul McCartney, 2007)
While Ringo Starr can’t keep from making inane Beatles and Liverpool references on his last few solo albums, McCartney rarely looks back, lyrically, at least. But in “That Was Me,” a song from his critically acclaimed 2007 album, Memory Almost Full, the former Beatle recalls his early, sweaty days on the way up, basically saying, “You know that young mop-topped Beatle guy in those ol’ B/W videos? That was me, this older guy you’re looking at now. All that stuff actually happened, and sometimes I have a hard believing it myself.”
But besides the fun blast from the past, the song has an ultra-cool bass line, a serious groove and a catchy, scat-style chorus reminiscent of “Heart of the Country.”
Damian Fanelli is the managing editor at Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His New York-based band, the Blue Meanies, has toured the world and elsewhere. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram.