Paul McCartney: 15 of His Best Under-the-Radar Solo Songs
“When I’m Sixty-Four”? Not quite! Paul McCartney soared past that meta milestone more than a decade ago. In fact, the former Beatle turns 76 on June 18. As a result, in the next few days, you’ll probably scroll past one or two social media posts that pay tribute to the man’s longevity, limitless achievements and best-loved compositions.
But while the hordes will most likely praise “Band on the Run,” “Let It Be,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude” and “Silly Love Songs” (well, maybe not “Silly Love Songs”), I’d like to draw attention to 15 tracks from McCartney’s solo career—a career that started 48 years ago—that just don’t get the love and attention they deserve in 2018.
The criteria is simple: These songs were not “hits,” they’re not “classic rock staples” and/or they’ve simply flown under the radar of casual music fans who utter things like, “Yeah, man, McCartney is the bomb” at dinner parties. The songs are presented in chronological order based on 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 (although he had released the completely unrelated McCartney album in 1970). It was a mostly acoustic, observational, “Eleanor Rigby”-style affair—just light and fluffy enough for John Lennon to mock in “How Do You Sleep?,” a standout track from his own 1971 album, 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 the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” adds a healthy dose of pathos to the track. Unfortunately, the fake-sounding gunshots have the opposite effect. This is the first in a long line of non-album McCartney B-sides, a list that includes “The Mess,” “I’ll Give You a Ring,” “Sally G,” “Flying to My Home,” “Ode to a Koala Bear,” “Zoo Gang,” “I Lie Around,” “Lunch Box/Odd Sox” and “Rainclouds.” It has been included on several recent incarnations of Ram, including the 2012 Ram Special Edition.
“Eat at Home”
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; 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 aforementioned Ram Special Edition.
“Give Ireland Back to the Irish”
Non-album single (Wings, 1972)
This little ditty represents one of McCartney’s few protest songs. It was written in response to the events of Bloody Sunday—January 30, 1972—when British troops in Northern Ireland killed 13 Irish republican protestors. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was one of two Wings singles to be banned by the BBC in 1972. The other one was “Hi Hi Hi,” which was supposedly about drugs and sex. Wait, isn’t McCartney the guy who only writes cute little ballads and love songs? Gee, I guess not!
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, which was supposed to be a double album at one point. There’s even a studio version of the song out there somewhere.
“Big Barn Bed”
Red Rose Speedway (Wings, 1973)
Speaking of Red Rose Speedway, here’s that album’s opening track. Like several of McCartney’s more popular tunes, “Big Barn Bed’s” simplicity is its strong point, right down to Henry McCullough’s basic guitar riff in the intro. The soaring harmonies, shimmering acoustic guitars and weird but fun lyrics about big barn beds and leaping armadillos don’t hurt, either. As a side note, McCullough, Wings’ original lead guitarist, recorded a version of “Big Barn Bed” for his 2011 solo album, Unfinished Business. But, um, you should probably stick with the Wings version.
“Magneto and Titanium Man”
Venus and Mars (Wings, 1975)
Who knew McCartney was a Marvel Comics fan? Well, he was—at least back in the day—and this tune is the proof. The uptempo rocker, as Denny Laine calls in the live clip below, is about three Marvel characters in particular—Magneto, Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo, all of whom were created by some combination of Marvel’s Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Don Heck. When a reporter asked Lee what he thought of the song, he said it was “terrific.” Whether or not you agree, you must admit it features some terrific fretwork by guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (no relation to Henry).
London Town (Wings, 1978)
On “Famous Groupies,” McCartney goes into storytelling mode to recount the tale of a fictional pair of groupies who do some pretty horrible things to the music-biz gents they supposedly adore: “There was a classic story of a roadie nicknamed Rory / who used to practice voodoo on the side / but when the famous twosome suggested something gruesome / All that they found was a crater two miles wide / Which left the music business absolutely horrified.” Wow…what the hell did they do to him?
Anyway, “Famous Groupies” is surrounded by several other gems on London Town, including a forgotten single called “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”
Back to the Egg (Wings, 1979)
Although Back to the Egg cracked Billboard’s Top 10 in 1979, it took a minor 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 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 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 Holley and guitarist Laurence Juber, who’s now considered an acoustic fingerstyle master (probably because he is!). In fact, the song’s way-too-brief guitar solo represents Juber’s shreddingest moment as a member of Wings.
“On the Way”
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 the album’s second single, “Waterfalls,” most 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 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.
Give My Regards to Broad Street (Paul McCartney, 1984)
I’ve always been a fan of this harmless little rocker from McCartney’s 1984 feature film, Give My Regards to Broad Street, and the video (which has been connected to the song since day one), is a big part of the reason. First of all, the clip (and the track) reunites Paul and Ringo Starr, so it’s one of those “half a Beatles song” situations that serious fans get a kick out of. Then there’s McCartney’s bass, his mid-Beatles-era Rickenbacker 4001S, which had gone into hiding since Wings’ 1976 U.S. tour. Last, but not least, is the presence of two “guitarist’s guitarists”—Chris Spedding (with the Gibson Les Paul Classic) and Dave Edmunds, both of whom trade solos during the song’s extended outro (which isn’t heard on the album version). A year later, Edmunds would go on to back Ringo and George Harrison on Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, featuring Carl Perkins.
The video also features a very weird guest appearance by a gigantic 19th-century-fur-trapper-lookin’ dude who could’ve stepped right out of this scene from Clint Eastwood’s classic 1976 Western, The Outlaw Josey Wales.
“Long Leather Coat”
B-side of “Hope of Deliverance” (Paul McCartney, 1992)
This is one of several non-album B-sides associated with Off the Ground, McCartney’s fairly successful 1993 album. The cool, dark mid-tempo rocker sports a typically catchy chorus, a fine, heavily effected guitar solo and a simple but effective keyboard riff. It is, of course (if you’re familiar with McCartney’s pro-animal views), an anti-leather statement. I’ve always thought Off the Ground could’ve used more tunes like this—and fewer tunes like “Winedark Open Sea” or “C’mon People.” C’mon, Paul!
Flaming Pie (Paul McCartney, 1997)
McCartney has released several “return to form” and/or “comeback” albums during his 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 on a few tracks and non-album B-sides). And while the album’s title track and singles (“The World Tonight” and “Young Boy”) enjoyed the bulk of the spotlight, strong 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”
The In-Laws: Music from the Motion Picture (Paul and Linda McCartney, 1971/2003)
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-ish 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 to The In-Laws, a so-so Michael Douglas/Albert Brooks comedy. A different mix surfaced in 2012 as part of the Ram Special Edition.
“That Was Me”
Memory Almost Full (Paul McCartney, 2007)
While Ringo Starr can’t keep from making 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 Beatles-lookin’ 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.” Besides the “blast from the past” vibe, the song has an ultra-cool bass line, a serious groove and a catchy, scat-style chorus reminiscent of “Heart of the Country.”
New (Paul McCartney, 2013)
I’m sort of breaking my own rules here, since “New” was a single that enjoyed a respectable amount of airplay in 2013. But, on the flip side of the equation, what’s the last time you’ve heard this song anywhere besides your iPod or car stereo (if you happen to be an obsessed McCartney fan)? The song is notable because it sounds so much like an archetypal “Paul McCartney song”—like something he cast aside in March 1966 while writing his share of the tunes that would eventually appear on the Beatles’ Revolver. Hey, whatever. It’s a delight to hear the then-71-year-old McCartney referencing his younger self.
Damian Fanelli is the editor of Guitar World. His New York-based band, the Blue Meanies, has toured the world and elsewhere. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram.