I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There were ten initial rounds, and now we’re into the second of three four bonus rounds which will cover soundtracks, compilations, music related movies, and box sets, with draft order determined randomly by round.
Reviewing my Desert Island list up to this point, I’m surprised that only a couple of the first eleven have a heavy element of personal nostalgia attached to them. Some of my chosen titles go back forty-fifty-plus years, but I didn’t start listening to a few of them until I reached adult age in the early 1990’s. My compilation selection, however, is almost a purely nostalgic one. Not that I don’t listen to Wings anymore, but I’m pretty much a regular release fan as opposed to hits collections these days. And for those occasions when I want to hear a cross section of McCartney’s music, Wingspan eclipsed Wings Greatest in 2001. Actually, 1987’s All the Best! did that before, but I digress. While my older brothers had the individual albums downstairs, Wings Greatest, released in 1978 just before the final Wings album with yet another lineup, was my singular Paul McCartney record for a few years, and I wore it out on my hand-me-down record player as a kid.
I have a similar relationship with hits comps almost across the board. When I was young, it was mostly a matter of finance – I had to get the most bang for my (or my mom’s) buck. Hits comps were albums unto themselves. This was true with greatest hits releases by The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, James Taylor, the Eagles, and others. As I got older and wanted to explore a band or individual artist I was unfamiliar with, compilations were a logical place to start. That’s how I got into Bobs Dylan and Marley, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, Leonard Cohen, Fairport Convention, and others.
Looking at the Wings Greatest track listing, it’s still a good album. I don’t care if I ever hear Band on the Run or Jet again – thankfully they’re the first two tracks on the Band on the Run album and I can easily skip them – but I still enjoy the rest of it, even Silly Love Songs and Let ‘Em In. Five of the songs were initially issued as singles only: Junior’s Farm, Hi, Hi, Hi, Live & Let Die, Another Day, and Mull of Kintyre, so in a way it almost was a “new” album. And, those are still among my favorite McCartney songs. Paul shows no sign of slowing down, and hopefully the upcoming McCartney III release will produce a few more great ones. As for his back catalog, Wings Greatest represents comfort and familiarity with a simpler time in my life. It’s been years since I actually owned this album, but I even culled its tracks from Wingspan into a “Wings Greatest” playlist. Because I’m a nerd like that.
Criteria for this list and all my rankings going forward include but are not limited to:
May include “Best Of” compilations
May include albums produced by the artist, even if their playing or singing on the album is minimal
May include live albums
May include box sets
Number of albums listed may vary depending on catalog
I reserve the right to change my mind about the order down the line
In short, my silly subjective rankings, my silly subjective rules, so let’s get to it…
As with ranking George Harrison’s albums, assigning numerical values to Paul’s catalog is going to take a minute simply due to the volume of his work, and I’ll be leaving much of it out (cough-mid-1980’s-cough). Here’s how my favorite Macca albums stack up:
15. Wings Greatest (1978)
This is a purely sentimental choice. But as a child, I wore. this. thing. out. on my cruddy record player that sounded maybe slightly better than AM radio. This, Wings Over America, and Back to the Egg were the McCartney albums I had in my juvenile collection, while my brothers had the rest of his catalog in their collection in the basement. I used to “crank” Junior’s Farm and Live and Let Die, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Another Day and Mull of Kintyre. I haven’t owned a copy of it in years, but to illustrate what a dork I am, I’ll admit that not long ago I culled the songs that appear on Wings Greatest from the double disc Wingspan and put them in a playlist by themselves, in proper order. You know, to listen to while playing with my little plastic army men or coloring with my crayons.
14. Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976)
To his credit as well as his detriment, Paul went to great lengths to present Wings as a band that he was a member of, as opposed to his backing band. A couple of my favorite songs on this album are sung by Denny Laine (The Note You Never Wrote and Time to Hide), but a song that almost seems was included as a gag was Linda’s Cook of the House (may she be resting in peace). Beware My Love and Let ‘Em In are solid, and I’ll go ahead and admit that, for what it is, Silly Love Songs stands up just fine all these years later. I might’ve had this album rated higher if much of it wasn’t covered on the subsequent live album which I do have rated better.
13. London Town (1978)
This album continues to slowly grow on me 40 years on. Recording began in 1977, and it was a bit of a mellow come down after the craziness of the Wings Over the World tour the previous year. This one received a fair amount of spins in my basement growing up, with Cafe on the Left Bank,Deliver Your Children (sung by Denny), I’m Carrying, With a Little Luck, and the title track as my favorites. I could see this album jumping up a few spots in a year or two.
12. Electric Arguments (2008)
Electric Arguments has an un-McCartney-like spontaneity that’s refreshing to hear. The entire album was recorded in 13 days – spread out over a year. (I guess Paul even plans out when he’s going to be spontaneous.) It’s all over the place as heard in the opening three songs: Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight (a non-love song to his ex-2nd wife, whatever her name was), Two Magpies, and Sing the Changes.
11. Wild Life (1971)
This is Paul’s third post-Beatles album, and is a step back from the one which preceded it. But it has aged better than expected, perhaps because of its simplicity. Dear Friend, another message to John but with a conciliatory tone, is an overlooked gem.
10. Venus and Mars (1975)
Wings were nearing their mid-1970’s zenith with this record. I still enjoy it, but as with Wings at the Speed of Sound, it is heavily featured on Wings Over America, which I prefer. Love in Song is my favorite tune not performed on the live album.
9. Flaming Pie (1997)
When McCartney released this one, it had been (in my opinion) 15 years since he’d recorded a really good album. In the interim there was 1988’s Russia Album of covers which showed he still had his chops, and 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt which got me excited at the time but sounds a little slick for me at this point. Finally, in 1997, he “got back” so to speak.
I remember driving along a country road the first time I heard The World Tonight and how giddy it made me feel. That guitar riff and its tone sounded like something right off Band on the Run, and I was very pleasantly surprised to hear him belt out the vocals as if to shout “I’m back!” The album is maybe a couple of songs too long (Used to be Bad and Really Love You), but that’s a minor criticism. If You Wanna, Somedays, Calico Skies, Great Day – I’d put these among his best solo tracks. I think I know what I’m going to listen to later tonight…
8. Tug of War (1982)
As I go through this list, I’m reminded of just how much style variation there is on Paul’s releases not just from album to album, but song to song. Nowhere is this on display more than on Tug of War, produced by George Martin and with its recording cast that ranged from Carl Perkins to Stevie Wonder. It was a huge success all over the world, with Take it Away and Ebony and Ivory being the smash singles.
This is another sentimental album of McCartney’s for me. It was released in April of ’82, and was on the radio a lot during a very fun summer spent at the city swimming pool and playing whiffle ball in the back yard. The Cardinals won their first World Series title in my lifetime that fall. It was a very good year. Then one of my older brothers returned from a year studying overseas, got the album, and I spent the following summer becoming well-versed in the entire record while hanging out with him in his makeshift dark room in our basement while he developed his film. This is the stuff “serious” music critics don’t consider. Every song is a keeper in my book, even the excessive Ebony and Ivory. My favorites include Take It Away, Here Today (his tribute to John), The Pound is Sinking, Wanderlust, Ballroom Dancing, and the title track.
7. Wings Over America (1976)
There was something very magical about live albums in the 1970’s, and for me Wings Over America (and Frampton Comes Alive) was as grand as it could get, especially when listening to it while hanging out with my big brothers. Oh man, those gatefold covers, the photos, the POSTERS! This Wings triple live album extravaganza, out just in time for the American Bicentennial Christmas, was an instant favorite in our house. Looking at it now, it seems more like a live greatest hits compilation. But back then, a couple of Macca’s albums heavily represented on Wings Over America were still new.
I saw Denny Laine live recently, and he told the story of how Paul asked him before the tour if he had anything he could play during the acoustic set (other than Picasso’s LastWords [Drink to Me]), and he didn’t, so he chose a Simon & Garfunkel tune he always liked, which was Richard Cory. Laine made it his song in my mind on this record (although the original is still great), but when he performed it recently the audience still expected him to exclaim that he wishes that he could be…John Denver. Alas, the reference just doesn’t hold up anymore, and Denny doesn’t use it.
6. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)
It’s hard to believe this one is 13 years old. Paul reached out for a change in production for Chaos, and I’ll just lazily quote wiki to explain why this was such a good decision:
“Paul McCartney hired (Nigel) Godrich to produce his album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) after being recommended by Beatles producer George Martin. Godrich fired McCartney’s touring band, and demanded that McCartney abandon songs Godrich found clichéd, over-sentimental, or sub par. The album was nominated for several Grammys, including Album of the Year, and Godrich was nominated for Producer of the Year.”
Godrich had previously worked wonders for Radiohead and Beck, with the latter’s Godrich-produced Sea Change being one of my favorite albums of the 2000’s. There’s something to be said for very established acts getting out of their comfort zones with new producers who have fresh ideas. Off the top of my head, this worked extremely well for Dylan when he hired Daniel Lanois, and for Johnny Cash with Rick Rubin. I still consider Chaos to be a recent album in the McCartney canon, and deem it his best album of the last 20 years.
5. Red Rose Speedway (1973)
Red Rose Speedway just seems like one of those albums that has always been around in my world. It was neither dynamic nor boring. I’ve always liked the tunes, and the late Henry McCullough’s guitar solo in My Love is the best rock ballad guitar solo I’ve heard. And it only happened because McCullough stood up to McCartney when his boss inevitably tried to tell him how to play it. It had a booklet stapled into the gatefold with an odd assortment of photos (including neked ladies!) that kept me curious if not entertained as a wee lad.
The record was trashed by critics upon its release; it came on the heels of Wild Life, and the reevaluation of McCartney and Ram were years away, so this was seen as another batch of lazy, middle of the road tunes by a songwriter now on cruise control, resting on his Beatles laurels. Only when people began to accept that they were who they were as solo artists – in Paul’s case someone who often thrived on light weight rock songs and love ballads – was his post-Beatles work taken more seriously or at least viewed more fairly by critics. Fortunately for Paul, there have always been plenty of fans out there like me who enjoy the occasional silly love song, critics be damned. Big Barn Red, My Love, Get on the Right Thing, and Little Lamb Dragonfly keep me coming back to this one.
4. Band on the Run (1973)
An obvious classic in the Paul McCartney catalog, I don’t have much to say about it other than to this day I wonder why he thought it would be a good idea to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to record it. Things turned out rather badly for him while there, and he was fortunate to make it back to Jolly Old England to finish it. It’s a great record with many personal fond memories attached to it. However, these days I do tend to begin listening with track #3 (Bluebird) as Band on the Run and Jet have been played to death on the radio.
3. Back to the Egg (1979)
This is no typo, no misplacement in the ranking order. This is one of my favorite McCartney albums, period. The rockers on it are crunchier than any of his solo work prior to it, the pop as good as anything on the radio in 1979 (listen to Arrow Through Me and tell me Michael Jackson couldn’t have recorded it for his Off the Wall album that same year), the ballads and medleys as “Paul” as anything he’d done in years. And the Rockestra/So Glad toSee You Here recordings? I don’t know of too many supposed light weights who can recruit David Gilmour, Hank Marvin, Kenney Jones, John Bonham, Pete Townshend, John Paul Jones, Ronnie Lane, Gary Brooker and others to play all together on the same songs. I simply don’t understand why Paul has dismissed this album. Maybe it has to do with memories of his Japan bust and the end of Wings a year later. I was eight years old when Back to the Egg was released in 1979, and I’ve owned a copy ever since. A very unique, very cool album.
As mentioned above, I saw Denny Laine in a small venue recently. His drummer these days is his old buddy he recruited into the final Wings lineup, Steve Holley. I had an opportunity to chat with both of them, and when I shared my personal Back to the Egg testament with Holley, his response was, “Yeah, it’s got a few good bits on it.” I couldn’t tell if he was being humble or if he doesn’t like it, like his old boss.
2. McCartney (1970)
Another childhood/basement album for me that I later copied onto cassette from my uncle’s LP (he of the Cheerios as representative of the 4000 holes in Blackburn/Lancashire) before finally purchasing my own proper copy so that McCartney could eke out a living. There are days when I want to hear something a little more interesting or complex, such as a King Crimson album, but if I haven’t yet tired of simple music like that on McCartney I doubt I ever will.
This is such docile music, so it’s hard to imagine any controversy surrounding it based solely upon listening to it in 2018. However, it definitely caused a stir when it was released in April of 1970 a few weeks ahead of Let it Be, much to the chagrin of the other three Beatles. Publicly, it was seen as Paul breaking up the Beatles. This of course was rubbish, since John had already announced to the group the previous September that he was leaving but withheld announcing it publicly for business reasons. But Paul’s inclusion of his self-interview in early pressings of his album was the first fully public shot across the bow in a feud which sadly would consume much of their lives in the ensuing years. And, as with his other early albums, music critics hated it and seemingly hated Paul too. Have a look at some of the reviews mentioned in the wiki article linked at the bottom for example.
The album sounds to me like Paul achieved what he wanted to artistically: a very stripped down recording while playing all the instruments himself. He wrote much of it at his farm in Scotland while in depressed exile after John announced to the group he was leaving. He then recorded it mostly at his home in London on what was by then rudimentary equipment for a major act. While the Wings Over America version of Maybe I’m Amazed became the hit, the home studio version here is just as good in its own way. There aren’t really any standouts among the rest of the tunes; it’s just fun to listen and sing along to (hence Sing Along Junk?).
1. Ram (1971)
Ram and McCartney are 1-A and 1-B as far as I’m concerned. Ram, his second album, is another one with a domestic feel to it, though not as crudely recorded so his solo debut. I think of it as a happy record, loose with some good rockers. Upbeat as most of it might be, the back and forth pettiness between Paul and John was now in full view for fans on their albums, with audio and visual references on Ram that provoked John into writing How Do You Sleep for his Imagine album. The critics? Same story as his other work, but at least they’re finally catching up with their positive reassessment.
This concludes my long-winded McCartney list. I welcome any attempts to bring me around to albums of Paul’s I’ve dismissed from my top 15. Best bets are McCartney II, Pipes of Peace, Flowers in the Dirt, The Russia Album, Unplugged, Driving Rain, and New.