It’s some fortunate coincidence that Father’s Day this year is falling on the same day as Paul McCartney’s 75th birthday. As we all celebrate our dads, the goofiest dad in rock and roll will be celebrating another year making music that becomes someone else’s punchline.
So yes, “Ebony and Ivory” and “Wonderful Christmastime” don’t make it any easier to love McCartney’s solo work. But from a career spanning 57 years, is there anything worth salvaging?
Apart from the obvious choices (“Band on the Run” was just one of many McCartney tunes predestined to be #1), there are a number of deep cuts that are often looked over.
So in honor of dads everywhere and the music they likely listen to, here are just some of the best deep cuts of the former Beatle on his 75th birthday.
“Junk” from “McCartney” (1970)
In a debut album where McCartney plays every instrument, there’s bound to be hits and misses. Apart from the majestic “Maybe I’m Amazed” is this understated folk love song, as tender as “I Will” but somehow more innocent in its playful lyrics.
“Oh Woman, Oh Why” (B-side single from 1971)
Back when Paul could still do his best Little Richard, he could create a powerhouse performance like in this gut-wrenching revenge blues. The song is peppered with riffs that chop and bend and an octave-jumping voice that would give Janis Joplin a run for her money. For good measure it even includes the sounds of actual gunshots fired in the studio.
“Monkberry Moon Delight” from “Ram” (1971)
In an album full of weird oddities, this is the weirdest on Ram by far. McCartney takes a page from “I Am the Walrus,” pulling together random images and scream-singing them with demented glee. The insistent piano and the menacing guitar is the sound of going headlong towards insanity while having a damn good time.
“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” from “Band on the Run” (1974)
McCartney was always adept at two things in songwriting: creating character studies and turning those studies into mini-suites. What comes through in McCartney’s most underrated song is the empathy he has for Picasso, with a chorus that can shed a tear as much as invite a bar singalong. The callbacks to previous tracks on the album tie it together thematically into McCartney’s most rightfully beloved solo album.
“Here Today” from Tug of War (1982)
“Tug of War” was Paul’s first album after songwriting partner and friend John Lennon was shot in 1980. While other songs on the album may have dated to some degree, “Here Today” still cuts to the nerve. A sombre string accompaniment from George Martin backs lyrics that offer a raw glimpse into a complex but nevertheless close relationship.
“Riding to Vanity Fair” from Chaos and “Creation in the Backyard” (2005)
In the midst of an ugly divorce, McCartney employed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich who challenged him to produce the best material he could. The resulting album yielded McCartney’s richest material in years and was a critical success. This track encapsulates the album’s main theme: bitterness from a broken down relationship.
“Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight” from Electric Arguments (2008)
Paul’s ambient electronic music side-project The Fireman had one forgettable release in 1998 before he decided to resurrect it. This time Paul is singing and the first track hits the listener like a steam train. A thumping, dirty blues backs Paul’s full-throated performance that would make Jack White proud. It had been a while since McCartney had sounded this dangerous, and the critics welcomed it gladly.