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 setlists 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 heartrending 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.
Photo: Paul McCartney by Neilson Barnard/Staff (courtesy Getty Images)