Over the past few years, we’ve lost many music and movie icons, and such tragedy really gets an art appreciator to start thinking; we should honor our living legends while they’re still here. Perhaps one of the greatest living legends still with us today is the one and only Paul McCartney. While listening to the master songwriter, it gave cause for pause: what are Paul’s greatest achievements in songwriting? He had some great ones with The Beatles and some great ones with Wings, but which is the best?
In celebration of McCartney’s 77th birthday, here are 10 of the iconic musicians greatest songs. Enjoy!
10. “Let ‘Em In” (1976)
He was well removed from the Beatles for many years at this point, and flying very comfortable with Wings. Fans of the Beatles who thought none of the lads could hack it on their own were more disappointed about the breakup than possessing the foresight of a music executive. Considering Paul is still selling out any venue he steps in 40 years after this release, we’re gonna lean toward putting him in the “highly successful solo artist” category. There’s something about “Let ‘Em In.” The jump from the bell tones to the rhythmic piano, and the lead in with the lyrics: “Someone’s knockin’ at the door, somebody’s ringin’ the bell.” You can imagine Paul McCartney sitting at the piano, and someone ringing the doorbell, and no one answering the door. Worthy of note: a listener can really hear the maturity in Paul’s voice as he croons. And there’s a rare trombone solo.
9. “Live And Let Die” (1973)
When seeking a great songwriter to pen a few notes for the latest James Bond flick, Eon Productions, and United Artists opted to go with Paul McCartney for the theme and featured song for the movie. Paul and Linda McCartney crushed the lyrical content, and George Martin aided in producing the song and adding a stellar score. Most fans will remember that George died earlier in 2016, and he was responsible for producing a lot of the Beatles work, as well as writing the string score for a particularly gorgeous ballad that will be honored at No. 3 on this list. “When you were young, and your heart was an open book, you used to say live, and let live. (You know you did) But if this ever changing world in which we live in, makes you give in and cry, say live and let die!”
8. “And I Love Her” (1964)
Settling into the mix of The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, “And I Love Her,” was classic Paul wooing every woman within a radio earshot. Therefore, we imagine some living entities in other galaxies and with access to wormholes have heard this guitar-led ballad, and fallen head over heels (if they have head and heels) for Paul McCartney. Or perhaps we’re that species, and Paul is from elsewhere. It’s two-and-a-half minutes of magic, and one of those songs every college bro with a guitar needs to know for the social circles, and impressing all the ladies. The song is officially credited to Lennon-McCartney, but this has Paul written all over it. “Bright are the stars that shine, dark is the sky. I know this love of mine will never die. And I love her.”
7. “Blackbird” (1968)
It was a double album entitled The Beatles, but nearly every fan refers to it as The White Album. Critics and historians refer to it as one of the greatest musical offerings of the 20th century. The song “Blackbird” was inspired by the controversy stirring in the United States during the Civil Rights movement, and the famous Supreme Court decision Brown v. The Board of Education. From that Supreme Court ruling, nine black students were integrated at Little Rock Central High School. It was a move that was immediately protested by the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, who ordered the National Guard to block the entrance of the high school, creating The Little Rock Crisis. It was seeing this that prompted Paul to write the song: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”
6. “Let It Be” (1970)
The title track from the album of the same name, “Let It Be” was the bittersweet insight that fans were afraid to hear. The song was representative of the beginning of the end of the iconic group known as the Beatles. It served as the final single before Paul announced his departure from the band. The real kicker: Paul made this announcement before the album was released. And when the second single, “The Long and Winding Road” was released subsequently, we can only imagine leagues of weeping fans, as their record players worked at an easy 33RPM. “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: let it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom: let it be.” Paul, of course, was singing of his late mother, Mary.
5. “Maybe I’m Amazed” (1970)
What a way to plant a flag in the world of music, while addressing fans’ thoughts of “Will Paul’s solo stuff be any good?” And on his first album away from the Beatles, McCartney, he drops this gem, which is arguably one of the reasons rock bands in the 1970s and beyond thought it was really cool to play power ballads. KISS dropping “Beth.” Who expected that? “Maybe I’m Amazed” is still enjoying frequent airplay, nearly 50 years after it was released. “Maybe I’m a man, and maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something, that he doesn’t really understand.” The whole of McCartney was a little lackluster, as he was still competing with releases from his past life, but having a song like this on his debut album was all the assurance fans needed to know that Paul would still bring the goods for years to come.
4. “The Long And Winding Road” (1970)
This was it. The final #1 hit of the Beatles, a list that includes an impressive 20 chart-topping singles. Their influence on music is still heard today, but no one band has been so fearless as to genre-hop and create the way the Beatles did. And this song is so representative of the sweet and sour possessed by members of the band. When Paul left, his fellow musicians were none too pleased. And for George Harrison, it wasn’t really until Paul wrote: “Band On The Run” (serious honorable mention–it could slide anywhere on this list at numbers 10 through 4) that relations between the former band mates began to really improve. But those feelings were prophesied when Paul wrote: “The long and winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear…” The song isn’t generally considered one of the groups Top 10, but as far as songwriting is concerned, it was exceptionally evolved for the era.
3. “Eleanor Rigby” (1966)
Released originally as a 45, then later with Revolver, “Eleanor Rigby” was an ear-opener for Beatles fans. The stereo production and the stringed arrangement was unlike anything that had ever hit the air before it. Paul was constantly pushing the envelope, and seemingly dissatisfied with anything he’d “heard before.” The use of unrefined stereo on analog offers small moments of lacking precision, and it only adds to the relative perfection of this “pop” song. No guitar. No keys. No percussion. Just strings and voices. “Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been, lives in a dream. Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door, who is it for?” Revolver was definitely that musical offering that kept Beatles fans on their toes: what would the group do next?
2. “Hey Jude” (1968)
It wasn’t always Jude. When Paul wrote the song, he began by singing, “Hey, Jules…” The song was a consolation-offering to John Lennon’s son Julian, when John and Julian’s mother, Cynthia Lennon, were going through a divorce. “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain. Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders. For well you know, that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.” The strained relationship between Julian and John was well-publicized, Julian stating that Paul often served as more of a friend and father figure during his childhood and teenage years. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Julian and John began to work on their relationship, and spend time together again. Regarding the song itself, it was one of the longest releases the Beatles were ever able to consider a hit.
1. “Yesterday” (1965)
In the mix of the Beatles 1965 release Help!, “Yesterday” is one of those timeless songs that still resonates powerfully, 50 years after it was topping the charts. The classic song about lost love, and wishing you could revisit days past, the day prior being the most desirable. A reminder of how fast things change in this life, it is perfectly McCartney. “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as if there here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” This is a song that has been covered over 2,000 times, and is widely considered one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. Classified as baroque-pop, it’s another George Martin string arrangement behind the acoustic guitar that makes the melody soar. This served as the first of Beatles releases that featured a solo vocalist, and it wasn’t thrilling for the other three.