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The 10 Best Paul McCartney Songs You May Never Have Heard

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It may be hard to wrap your head around the fact that Paul McCartney has now released about twice as many studio albums in his post-Beatles career as he did when he was a part of the Fab Four. As anyone who has ever seen his recent live shows knows, a pretty good portion of his set lists are filled with hits from the 1970s onward to complement the Beatles classics he also includes. But there are many songs that have slipped through the cracks of his towering catalog. Here are the best of the relatively unheard Macca gems. Enjoy!

1. “Dear Boy” (1971)
Ram was McCartney’s first great solo album, a kind of one-man studio effort (with occasional help from wife Linda) that showcased his melodic flair, production cleverness, and off-the-cuff songwriting. This track begins as a simple piano tale of a guy addressing the ex of his new love. But then the backing vocals kick in with countermelodies from every angle, and pretty soon you’re awash in a dizzyingly tuneful sea and won’t ever want to come back ashore.

2. “Dear Friend” (1971)
John Lennon sideswiped McCartney with “How Do You Sleep?” in 1971, a vicious lambasting of Paul’s perceived lack of talent. (To be fair, McCartney probably started it a few months before with the thinly-veiled knock on John and Yoko on “Too Many People.”) Macca’s rejoinder was restrained and a tad sorrowful, a subtle burying of the hatchet found on Paul’s first album with Wings, 1971’s Wild Life. In the song, he acknowledges his post-Beatles life and wonders if his old friendship has some kind of place in it.

3. “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People” (1975)
Venus And Mars found Wings in full arena-rock mode, for good and bad. But McCartney pulls back from all of the bombast in the album’s penultimate suite, a gentle plea to his listeners to consider the elderly instead of just looking right past them. It has that sing-along sway that McCartney is able to conjure better than just about anybody else on the planet, and the two parts of the song coalesce seamlessly, proving that his old Abbey Road medley skills hadn’t diminished a bit.

4. “Beware My Love” (1976)
On McCartney’s energy level alone, this fervent, nearly unhinged rocker from the otherwise tepid Wings at the Speed of Sound captivates. It emerges from a level-headed acoustic opening that provides a bit of misdirection from the ceaselessly upward momentum of the main portion of the song. The lyrics don’t say a whole lot, but McCartney pushes them across with such screaming conviction that they hit home along with the plentiful instrumental hooks. It’s over six-and-a-half minutes long and exciting for every moment of that running time.

5. “I’m Carrying” (1978)
London Town is one of the most underrated albums in Macca’s catalog, one in which the Wings more rocking tendencies are generally backgrounded for studio pop, which is always a strong point for McCartney. And then there’s this luscious ballad, just Paul, tenderly-plucked guitar arpeggios, caressing strings, and a melody as romantic as a moonlit slow dance, which is what you should consider doing with your significant other once you cue this one up.

6. “Wanderlust” (1982)
Tug of War contained a couple smash singles and is also known for McCartney’s heart-rending tribute to Lennon (“Here Today”). But this stirring ode to both the nautical life and the need for personal freedom from the hang-ups of others should be more renowned than it is. You’ll quickly recognize George Martin’s production flourishes, such as the polished instruments and majestic brass. And Macca’s ability to build from a quiet open to a sweeping finish, in evidence since the days of “Hey Jude,” comes shining through here.

7. “Only Love Remains” (1986)
McCartney’s 1986 album Press to Play is generally considered a misstep, as he tried to play pop star by embracing then-current recording techniques at an era in music history when those techniques were fussy and sterile. But producer Hugh Padgham applies just the right amount of gloss to this single that was generally overlooked at the time besides some Adult Contemporary play. Had Macca released this lovely track right as the lead single, the album might enjoy a better reputation. Only the truly heartless could deny this one’s charms.

8. “That Day Is Done” (1989)
Also known as that time Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello got together to write a song that sounded like The Band, this one shouldn’t work on paper, but it soars on the speakers. The tale of heartbreak from beyond the grave recalls the old country/folk classic “Long Black Veil.” The recent reissue of Flowers in the Dirt contains a stunning demo version of the song with Macca and Elvis harmonizing beautifully, but the final studio take is plenty soulful and haunting in its own right.

9. “Little Willow” (1997)
After Jeff Lynne did such fine work with his former bandmate George Harrison and produced the new songs by the “Threetles” for the Beatles Anthology project, McCartney tapped him to work on 1997’s Flaming Pie, one of the peaks of Paul’s solo career. McCartney wrote the song in the wake of the death of Maureen Starkey, Ringo Starr’s ex-wife, as a way of easing the pain of her grieving children. It benefits from Lynne’s gilded production touches, Paul’s heartfelt message, and a melody guaranteed to soften any blow.

10. “Jenny Wren” (2005)
McCartney’s most recent trio of studio albums with original material are as solid a stretch of albums as he has released in his post-Beatles career. Check out this folky, slightly mysterious track from 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard for just one shining example of his late-period excellence. With the title and the acoustic picking, it’s meant to recall “Blackbird,” but it follows a moodier, more melancholy path, embellished by the strangely compelling duduk (an antiquated woodwind) solo. Evocative lyrically and mesmerizing musically, this is one of McCartney’s finest solo moments.

Jim Beviglia

PS. For some other hidden gems by your favorite artists, check out our posts on Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, and The Rolling Stones. You may also enjoy our post Paul McCartney’s “Ram” Reconsidered.

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Staff (courtesy Getty Images)

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37 comments on “The 10 Best Paul McCartney Songs You May Never Have Heard

  1. Totally agree!
    I’ve seen Paul live 4 times, starting 1989 in Chicago.
    Other tunes we probably won’t hear is Martha My Dear., I’ll Give You A Ring, One More Kiss.

  2. The best one left of The list is, “Motor of Love” from the Flowers In The DIRT LP.

  3. Todd Giudice

    I am personally annoyed by people referring to Paul McCartney as Macca. It’s a stupid nickname, even more appalling in print. Also, Ram was not a solo McCartney effort. That was ‘McCartney’. Ram features many other players and is a very live band-sounding album.

    • Todd- Ram was an album done pertty much solo as was described in the article, but not his first solo effert as was asserted. First was the self titled McCartney album.

      • No you are incorrect I am holding teh ram album in my hands as I type this & it states & Ill type it out for ya to read.
        Paul McCartney – lead, harmony and backing vocals, bass, piano, keyboards, guitar, and ukulele on “Ram On”
        Linda McCartney – harmony and backing vocals
        David Spinozza – guitar on “3 Legs”, “Eat at Home”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “Another Day”
        Hugh McCracken – guitar
        Denny Seiwell – drums
        Heather McCartney – backing vocals on “Monkberry Moon Delight”
        Marvin Stamm – flugelhorn on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”
        New York Philharmonic on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “The Back Seat of My Car”

    • Ned Hastings

      I think for the purposes of a wonderful list like this the term ‘solo’ is referring to McCartney’s non-Beatle efforts. In this way, the term includes ‘Paul McCartney’ releases like “Flowers in the Dirt” and ‘Wings’ releases like “London Town”. It certainly shouldn’t be limited to McCartney and McCartney II, just because he’s literally solo on those albums. Thus, Ringo as a solo artist can include the All-Starr Band, Lennon solo can include Plastic Ono Band, and Harrison solo can include Traveling Willburys.

    • Actually, guys, Todd Giudice is correct: ‘Ram’ was NOT “a kind of one-man studio effort (with occasional help from wife Linda)” — there was a drummer (Denny Seiwell) and a guitarist (two different guys) on every track, and some tracks featured additional musicians as well. Paul, naturally, played several instruments on the album, but unlike when he made ‘McCartney’, he was looking for some musical collaboration this time around.

    • Pretty much every male outside the US with a “Mc” or “Mac” in his name is called Mac or Macca.

  4. Albert Hand.

    I just don’t rate Dear Friend. It sounds to me like Paul just doodling. The song goes nowhere, in my opinion. I totally agree with the other nine tracks.

    • Well, Dear Friend was written to John. I don’t think it was “doodling” as much as not having enough words to express his loss at their separation. The song is very deep, if you will listen to the words and think of John….

  5. Great selection of songs there…you could probably easily add another 10 songs to this list, I bet! I would add “Put It There” from Flowers & Dirt – just a beautiful little ballad, so hearfelt, and as a dad, always puts a lump in my throat.

    • Agree, Put It There is a gem! I once meet Paul and shook his hand. While doing so, I said “put it there” and he gave me a smile and a wink!

    • Yes! And ‘One More Kiss’ is a perfect ditty, with really cunning guitar work. Denny?

      • Agree. Probably Henry since it was on Red Rose. Great guitar work on that lp.

  6. Ben van der Pluijm

    Based on your list I’d be interested in the 10 best you may have heard.

  7. My absolute favorite “unknown” McCartney song is “On the Way” from McCartney II.

  8. I’ll second “Put It There” and also add “Summer’s Day Song” from McCartney II.

  9. Great list. One that I would include is “Somedays” from the FLAMING PIE album. From what I understand it was written for his wife Linda who died of cancer. It’s hauntingly beautiful and Beatlesque in evey way.

  10. Albert Barton

    Riding into Jaipur. When I hear it I close my eyes and I’m transported to another time and another place.

  11. Put it there is from tug of war…

  12. Chris Henson

    “Call Me Back Again” will always be my favorite post-Beatles McCartney song. So soulful and wrenching and perfect.

  13. 1. She’s given up talking- Definitely amongst the greatest bass recordings in modern history.
    2. “Footprints” (Snow White Blanket)- the guitar work alone,and excellent lyrics. Love this ballad.
    3. Used to be Bad- he and Steve Miller peel this unknown gem off in one take! Impossible yet true.
    4. Beautiful Night & Great Day- two companion classics Work as one to close out Flaming Pie
    5. Pretty Little Head. Takes you places. Nothing like it.
    6. Tough on a tightrope. You won’t stop singing it and a crisp guitar ????. A bonus track on Press to Play so very obscure ( but personal)
    7. Beware My Love: Kicks arse
    8 Letting Go: Rocks equally hard as #6.
    9. Put It There – super tune whether you have a son or not
    10. Too Many People. Not sure ???? if this qualifies as an unknown but I can’t chance it. It was never released and he rarely plays it live (maybe just one tour) Probably because it was a Lennon Arguement song as per the lyrics, but it’s probably my favorite Paul solo song.

  14. Massiveness successful in Great Britain but practically unknown in the U.S. is Once Upon A Long Ago, a song that deserved better treatment in America

    • Ned Hastings

      I’m glad that song got some love somewhere, besides my home and car. It’s astounding.

  15. Ned Hastings

    I love this list. Like everyone, I too have my pet favorites that aren’t here, but the inclusions of “I’m Carrying” and “Only Love Remains” are enough for me. I don’t just love those songs, I’ve internalized them to the point that they have almost affected my personality. “London Town” was my first McCartney LP, and coincidentally, “Press To Play” was my last (I had switched to CD by the time “Flowers In the Dirt” came out). “Wanderlust” never ceases to bring me unbridled pleasure, and “That Day Is Done” is one of those ‘secular hymns’ like “Let It Be” or “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (I know, different Paul).

  16. I would have liked some love for On The Way. Classic blues jam.

  17. Good list. Off Press though, I’d have opted for “It’s Not True.” And then there’s “Daytime Nighttime Suffering.” And…

  18. I don’t know if this qualifies as lesser or unknown but just in case what about Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five from Band on the Run? That’s epic.

  19. Little Lamb Dragonfly
    Warm and Beautiful
    Average Person
    Another Day
    Junk
    Back Seat of My Car
    Lindiana
    Return to Pepperland
    Waterfalls
    One of these Days

  20. Scott Overfelt

    1. INDIA
    2. OH WOMAN OH WHY
    3. WHOLE LIFE
    4. PRETTY LITTLE HEAD (single)
    5. SO GLAD TO SEE YOU HERE
    6. OLD SIAM SIR
    7. SOILY (studio take)
    8. SECRET FRIEND
    9. SOMEBODY WHO CARES
    10. ONE OF THESE DAYS

  21. Ray Williamson

    This never happened before is my favorite I also love monkberry moon delight

  22. Some of the tracks on “Memory Almost Full” — which I completely managed to overlook when it came out 10 or so years ago — have been working their way up on my list of Paul faves. I’m thinking about “You Tell Me”, “House Of Wax”, “Vintage Clothes”, and “Why So Blue” (from the Deluxe edition).

  23. Randy Ellerman

    Heather on Driving Rain is excellent. Wanderlust is also an all time favorite for me too.

  24. I agree with many of those choices. I would add SAME TIME NEXT YEAR, YOU GAVE ME THE ANSWER, ENGLISH TEA, GOLDEN EARTH GIRL

  25. Was wondering why Ram was listed first. Seems like you neglected “McCartney”. That was the very first Paul solo album, and a great one, it was!

  26. Since I love Paul’s ditties, I must mention YOUR WAY from Driving Rain and YOUNG BOY from Flaming Pie. An overlooked album, imho, is Run Devil Run. Great stuff there.

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