The 25 best songs of Paul McCartney

Sir Paul McCartney's influence as a singer, songwriter, musician, and as a former member of one of the greatest musical acts in the history of popular entertainment have served to make him a revered icon. During his time with the Beatles, he authored some of their greatest hit songs of the 1960s, such as "I Saw Her Standing There," "Can't Buy Me Love," "And I Love Her," "Yesterday," "Paperback Writer," "Eleanor Rigby," "Penny Lane," "Hey Jude," and "Let It Be." After the band's break-up in 1970, he released his first classic solo album which contained the hit single, "Maybe I'm Amazed." In 1971, McCartney formed the band, Wings, with his wife Linda and though it contained a revolving door of members throughout the 1970s, the group released a number of hit songs including "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," "Live and Let Die," "Band on the Run," "My Love," "Silly Love Songs," and "With a Little Luck." In 1980, McCartney went solo and another series of hits followed as he memorably collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson on "Ebony and Ivory," and "Say Say Say," respectively.

Throughout his life, McCartney continually evolved as an artist, musician, and songwriter. He is one of the most-awarded artists in history, having been honored with 18 Grammy Awards, an Oscar, an Emmy, and was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1997, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. As an artist, McCartney has not just written or co-written 32 number one hit songs, he was also the driving force in the Beatles behind perhaps the first true concept album in rock history, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He was also among the first artists to fuse elements of pop, rock, and classical music into smash hit songs that were influential in the growth and development of modern popular music.

Even today, at the age of 80, McCartney still performs to sold-out arenas in every corner of the globe, and adding to his vast portfolio, he has just announced the upcoming release of his new photography book, 1964: Eyes of the Storm. To celebrate his many achievements, EW has selected the following 25 songs that represent the very best from the remarkable career of Sir Paul.

"I Saw Her Standing There" (1963)

Though it was not the first song written by Paul McCartney as a member of the Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There" was one of the first classic hits to be primarily authored and composed by him. He wrote the song in 1962 while driving home from a Beatles concert and worked out its composition at the home of Rory Storm, whose group at the time included future Beatles' drummer, Ringo Starr. At the time, McCartney was dating a seventeen year-old young lady by the name of Cecilia Mortimer who may well have served as the inspiration for the song.

The song was recorded during the grueling sessions for the first great Beatles album, Please, Please Me, when 10 of the album's 14 songs were cut in a single day at EMI Recording Studios (now Abbey Road) on Feb. 11, 1963. "I Saw Her Standing There" is also one of the first from the Beatles to feature McCartney, and not John Lennon, as the lead vocalist. McCartney has included the song on a number of his solo albums and has performed it live on stage with other artists. In fact, it may be the only song that each of the former Beatles would perform during their solo careers in their concert performances.

"Can't Buy Me Love" (1964)

Just before the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964, McCartney wrote this classic hit song on an upright piano while the group was staying in the five-star George V hotel in Paris, France. The song was also recorded in Paris, France, on January 29, 1964, at Pathe Marconi Studios prior to being completed on Feb. 25, 1964, at EMI Studios in London. It only took four takes for the Fab Four to nail this song in the studio during the process of recording it.

"Can't Buy Me Love" was the only Beatles hit song performed in the English language not to be recorded in London. It was released on March 16, 1964, and topped the charts at number one for five weeks during the opening stage of what became known worldwide as "Beatlemania." The song was not just written by McCartney, but it is also him that you hear singing the lead vocal on it, as well. "Can't Buy Me Love," is an uptempo, jangly number that also appeared in the Beatles' first feature film, A Hard Day's Night, which was shown on screens for highly enthusiastic fans across the world during the summer of 1964.

"And I Love Her" (1964)

"And I Love Her," was not just a classic song penned by McCartney, it is one of the most beautiful songs to ever be composed. Though his bandmates would make some contributions to it, with John Lennon contributing to the lyrics, George Harrison adding the signature acoustic guitar riffs, and Ringo Starr playing the bongos, each of them would acknowledge that from its inception, "And I Love Her," was primarily driven by McCartney.

In fact, Lennon would refer to "And I Love Her" as, "Paul's first 'Yesterday'"— referencing the iconic song that McCartney would later author that would become one of the greatest love songs of all time. Interestingly enough, McCartney was dating the famed actress, Jane Asher, at the time in which "And I Love Her," was written, and it was actually penned in the basement of her parents' home in London. Though it is one of the most beautiful ballads of all time and has been covered by a number of artists, including Kurt Cobain, the Beatles only performed the song once live on the BBC's Top Gear radio show on July 14, 1964, which aired two days later. Like, "Can't Buy Me Love," the song appears on both the album A Hard Day's Night and during the feature film.

"Yesterday" (1965)

Perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written in the history of popular music was named "Scrambled Eggs." at one point during its creation. Though the name "Yesterday" came from John Lennon, the song was written and composed by McCartney. It would top the charts for four weeks in the United States during the fall of 1965, however, it was not released as a single in the United Kingdom until 1976. McCartney composed the entire melody for the song in a dream one night in his room which was in the home of Jane Asher's parents in London. He completed the lyrics for it during a vacation trip to Portugal during the summer of 1964.

"Yesterday" was the first Beatles song to use outside musicians and to have the backing of a string quartet. During one of the most memorable moments in television history, McCartney would perform the song solo, live on The Ed Sullivan Show during the evening of August 14, 1965. In 1997, the song would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame during the ceremonies for that year. "Yesterday" has been covered numerous times throughout the years and helped usher in the use of strings in both pop and rock music ballads, a trend that has continues in popular music to this day.

"Paperback Writer" (1966)

Imagine being challenged by your aunt to write a classic hit song. In the fall of 1965, Paul McCartney received just that from his Aunt Lil', who asked him to write a song that was not about love. Her request, in turn, would serve as the genesis for the classic hit song, "Paperback Writer." Later, McCartney would say that after his aunt's plea, the other inspiration for the song came when he saw Ringo reading a book backstage after a concert performance. He completed writing the song while driving from London to visit John Lennon, who was living in Surrey a short drive away.

"Paperback Writer," would top the charts for two weeks in the early summer of 1966. However, the song is also notable because it led to the creation of one of the very first intentional music videos. Filmed on May 20, 1966, by Michael Lindsey-Hogg who later directed the documentary, Let It Be, the group was shown miming to the song in the gardens and the conservatory of the famed Chiswick House in London. It aired for the very first time on the BBC's Top of the Pops, on June 2, 1966.

"Eleanor Rigby" (1966)

By late 1966, the Beatles had dominated the world of popular music in a way in which no other musical group had ever done before. Still, the grind of "Beatlemania" had taken its toll on each of the members of the group by this time, and so they decided that it was time to step away from touring to focus on the process of making great music in the studio.The result of their creative efforts was the groundbreaking album, Revolver, which contained the unique hit song, "Eleanor Rigby," which was written and composed by McCartney.

The song features McCartney backed by a string quartet with his bandmates only providing backing vocals, similar to his earlier masterpiece, "Yesterday." It was a classic hit, but it was the message of "Eleanor Rigby," that would perhaps have the greatest impact. In a recent article for The New Yorker, McCartney wrote that his inspiration for the song was an elderly lady who lived alone that he had the opportunity to get to know very well as a youngster. He wrote that he would often go shopping for her and would listen to her stories and her crystal radio set. He noted, "Just hearing her stories enriched my soul and influenced the songs (that) I would later write."

"Penny Lane" (1967)

For McCartney, "Penny Lane," would serve to give each of us a window into the sights and sounds of his childhood while growing up in the working-class port city of Liverpool. In a way, the song is essentially a guided tour of a street that was a familiar place not just for McCartney, but for each of his bandmates, as well. By the time McCartney authored "Penny Lane," he was heavily influenced by the work of Brian Wilson on the Beach Boys' critically acclaimed album, Pet Sounds.

While recording "Penny Lane," McCartney felt like the song needed an extra component to give the track a lift. Coincidentally, he was inspired to add a piccolo trumpet to the song after watching classical trumpeter David Mason play the instrument during a BBC television broadcast of the second "Brandenburg Concerto" by Johann Sebastian Bach. The electrifying piccolo trumpet solo by Mason that you hear on "Penny Lane," was recorded in just a single take. The song would top the charts for a week in the spring of 1967, preceding the release of the masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

"Hey Jude" (1968)

Originally, one of McCartney's most iconic songs of all-time was actually titled "Hey Jules." Sir Paul wrote this classic hit song to comfort Julian Lennon, the six-year-old son of John, who had divorced his mother in favor of having a relationship with the avant-garde artist, Yoko Ono. In fact, McCartney wrote the entire song during a car ride to visit young Julian Lennon and his mother, Cynthia, after the split with his father.

During the fall of 1968, '"Hey Jude" would spend a whopping nine weeks at the top of the charts. It was also the first single to be released by the Beatles new record label, Apple Records. The development of the song and the White Album revealed the tremendous tensions that were growing in the band. In fact, for a brief time during the creation of the album, Ringo Starr had actually left the band. By the time the promotional video was shot for "Hey Jude," Starr had returned to the band and the clip was filmed with a live audience that came forward to join the group in singing its coda. The song featured McCartney on piano, bass, and lead vocal, and also included a 36-piece orchestra playing in the background. In 2001, this classic hit was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

"Let It Be" (1970)

McCartney wrote "Let It Be" after having a dream about his mother during the stressful and tense sessions in 1968 in the midst of recording what became the White Album. McCartney's mother passed away from cancer when he was 14 years old and that the traumatic pain of this event was a commonality that he shared with his bandmate John who had also lost his mother at a young age. During 2021's Peter Jackson-directed Get Back documentary series, we can see him McCartney actually working on the song as well as its initial recording.

However, "Let It Be" went through a number of changes before it was eventually released to the public. The first version, which was mixed by Glyn Johns, would contain a softer electric guitar solo from George Harrison and strings which had been arranged by George Martin, while the second contained an edgier guitar solo and the strings were mixed more loudly by a new producer, Phil Spector. The George Martin version would become the single version of the song and it would top the charts in the spring of 1970, interestingly enough, just after McCartney himself had announced his departure from the Beatles. "Let It Be," was also the first and only time that his wife, Linda, who contributed backing vocals, would appear in a Beatles song.

"Maybe I'm Amazed" (1970)

"Maybe I'm Amazed," features McCartney playing every single instrument including guitars, bass, organ, piano, and drums. McCartney wrote the song prior to the break-up of the Beatles in 1969, and it appeared on his first album, McCartney.

Inspired by his wife Linda, who had helped him through the difficult period when the Beatles were slowly disintegrating, the tune became an outlet for both his love for his wife and the dedication that he would have to continue creating great music. The song has been covered by a number of artists and groups including Faces, George Lam, Joe Cocker, and Billy Joel. A promotional film was also made for it, much like those that had been made for each of the Beatles singles, and contained stills of McCartney and his family. It aired on the Ed Sullivan Show at about the same time that McCartney himself was announcing his departure from the Beatles.

"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (1971)

Though it was not the first time that he had written a hit song about one of his family members or friends, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" marked the first time McCartney would write about a relative whose name would even appear in the title. The song was not only the first hit to include his wife Linda during this period. It was also the first during his solo career that would include special sound effects that were usually reserved for film or television soundtracks, such as the thunderstorms and environmental sounds.

"Uncle Albert" would top the charts in the late summer of 1971. In particular, the tune was one of the first to feel like two songs in one, as it was written about two differing characters and each part of the track has a different feel from the other. It also contains one of the most memorable lines of any of the classic tracks written by McCartney, "Hands across the water," which gives the euphoric feeling of a singalong with an audience.

"Live and Let Die" (1973)

Pairing two quintessentially British pop icons together, Sir Paul and beloved fictional spy James Bond, "Live and Let Die." was not just a smash hit that reached the top slot on two of the three major US charts at the time, but was also the first James Bond theme to garner an Academy Award nod (it was also nominated for a Grammy in 1974).

Interestingly, the producers for the Bond film, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, wanted McCartney to write the title song for the film, but they actually had either Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston in mind for performing it. However, McCartney would not allow the song to be used in the film if he and his group Wings could not perform it. The decision by McCartney led to perhaps one of the greatest hits of all time to be included in the James Bond canon and the first true rock song to appear in the franchise. It took McCartney just a single afternoon to compose "Live and Let Die" after having read the original spy novel by Ian Fleming. The development of the song at AIR Recording Studios and its arrangement reunited McCartney with the former Beatles producer, Sir George Martin, who also composed and produced the soundtrack for the feature film.

"My Love" (1973)

It is important to remember that when critics slam a song, it can often be diametrically opposed to how it's received by listeners or even other artists, either at the time of its release or even today. Such was the case with "My Love," which was a critical misfire upon release. However, the song from Paul McCartney and Wings actually topped the charts for four weeks in the early summer of 1974. Interestingly, it was written around the time when McCartney was in the process of dealing with the strained relationship with his former bandmates in the Beatles.

The song was penned, as were many of his great love ballads, as a tribute to his wife, soulmate, and at the time, bandmate, Linda. This beautiful, touching number was fittingly featured in the musical program for the memorial services for Linda, who passed away from cancer in 1998. In his concerts and live shows, McCartney also often performs "My Love" as a tribute to her and their beautiful life together.

"Jet" (1974)

"Jet" is one of the biggest hits from McCartney and Wings and was the first single released from their massive album, Band on the Run, in early 1974. It's a pure rock song written and composed by Paul McCartney and is one the very best representations of the amazing variety of tunes to be found on the record. While there has always been speculation as to what inspired this song, the answer is actually quite simple.

In a 2018 interview with GQ, McCartney revealed that he wrote "Jet" while watching a black pony he owned named Jet on his farm in Scotland. Unlike the rest of the classic songs on Band on the Run, which were recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, "Jet" was laid down at Abbey Road/EMI Studios. It's a song that throughout the years has been highly requested by fans of McCartney and is almost always featured in his live shows and on his concert tours. It is truly a power-pop gem.

"Band on the Run" (1974)

The title track from Band on the Run would top the charts during the summer of 1974. As one of McCartney's greatest hits and a timeless classic, "Band on the Run," drew from a number of different inspirations, one of them being a remark from his former bandmate George Harrison, who was concerned about a series of problems with their record label, Apple Records, and their ex-manager, Allen Klein. Just recording "Band on the Run" was an arduous experience as Wings had been reduced to a trio, featuring only McCartney, his wife Linda, and former Moody Blues guitarist, Denny Laine.

However, it became even more harrowing when the group was held up at knifepoint at the Lagos airport while on their way to record the album. During the mugging, they were forced to relinquish the demos for their recordings and therefore had to do all of the work in the studio while cutting the tracks for the album from memory. The first two parts of the song were recorded in Nigeria while the third part was recorded at AIR Studios in London. "Band on the Run" is structured as a three-part tune, with the first part being a ballad, the second an example of pure rock and funk, and the third taking a country-rock turn. The song would garner the Grammy Award for the Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group in 1975.

"Listen to What the Man Said" (1975)

During the summer of 1975, Paul McCartney and Wings would top the charts with this pop hit. Written by both Paul and Linda, "Listen to What The Man Said" is a love song written in the classic mode of McCartney — uptempo, optimistic, and infused with pop, rock, classical, and jazz elements — the latter perhaps inspired by the New Orleans setting of its recording.

One notable part of "Listen" is the classic saxophone solo from renowned jazz session musician Tom Scott, who sat down in the studio and instantly started playing along with the track, which the engineer, Alan O'Duffy, wisely started recording. The ad-libbing is what listeners would hear on the final version, and helped set it on course to become a McCartney classic.

"Silly Love Songs" (1976)

Throughout his remarkable life and career and despite his overwhelming success, there have always been tremendous expectations heaped upon Sir Paul McCartney, perhaps more than any other artist. If there was a song that was a response to his critics and even to his former bandmate, John Lennon, which became a classic hit, it was "Silly Love Songs."

Written as a response to the notion that he could only write silly little love songs, McCartney took what his critics had said and turned it into a number one-charting pop hit. In fact, "Silly Love Songs," became the top song on the Billboard 100 charts for the year 1976. How do you like them apples?

"Mull of Kintyre" (1977)

For Sir Paul, it has not only been important to write songs about the people who have influenced his life, but also the places that have helped shape him. One song that is already on this list that embodies this ideal is "Penny Lane," but "Mull of Kintyre" is much in the same vein. Whereas "Penny Lane," serves to give us a tour of McCartney's childhood, "Mull of Kintyre" is a celebration of Scotland, where McCartney has had a farm that he has lived on and loved and treasured since 1966.

Written along with his Wings bandmate, Denny Laine, "Mull of Kintyre," speaks to not just the natural beauty of Scotland, but also a sense of home. Elements of the recording were actually done outdoors for the song and it features traditional bagpipes, which are, of course, a prominent feature in both the music and culture of Scotland. It was recorded at a time when he and his wife Linda were expecting their third child, James. While it was not as popular in the U.S., in the U.K,, it is one of the best-selling singles of all time, spending a whopping nine weeks at the top of the charts.

"With a Little Luck" (1978)

"With a Little Luck," was released after "Mull of Kintyre" and would become a number one hit for McCartney and Wings during the spring of 1978. By the time the song was being recorded, Wings had become a trio again, just as it had been when the album Band on the Run was being developed.

Written and recorded at the height of the disco era, "With a Little Luck" is perhaps McCartney's most synth-driven track and therefore fits perfectly within the context of its production. The song was written while he was relaxing on his farm in Scotland and was recorded, for the most part, on a yacht in the Virgin Islands named the Fair Carol that had a mobile studio installed in it. Epitomizing the soft rock sound of the 1970s, the song appears on London Town, Wings Greatest, All the Best!, and Wingspan: Hits and History.

"Coming Up" (1980)

When the disco era took most of the world by storm in the late '70s, McCartney was not immune to the trend and at the end of the decade, he recorded one of his funkiest pop songs to top the charts, "Coming Up." Utilizing the sound that would define the period with synthesizers and electronic instruments, the song has more of a grooving feel to it than perhaps any of his previous work. The track was written and recorded at McCartney's farm in Scotland and even the live version, which would top the Billboard 100 charts in the summer of 1980, was recorded at a concert in Glasgow.

"Coming Up" would even have an influence on John Lennon, who after hearing it started to step back into songwriting and making music again. The song featured a notable music video that had both him and his wife, Linda, playing the roles of famed performers and rock 'n' roll stereotypes.

"Ebony and Ivory" (1982)

Since leaving the Beatles, Paul McCartney had rarely collaborated with other artists. But, in the early 1980s, his collaborations with first, Steve Wonder, and later, Michael Jackson would lead to a pair of classic hit songs. This particular tune, which was written by McCartney, was actually inspired by a saying in music that had long been in use prior to him writing it, perhaps as early as the abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century. It came to McCartney at an early age from the Irish playwright, Spike Milligan, who said, "Black notes, white notes, and you need to play the two to make harmony folks."

In other words, it was the keys on the piano and the idea of using them to inspire racial harmony which served as the inspirational force for him writing this song and spurred his desire from the beginning to record it with a Black artist. Enter Stevie Wonder, who lent his vocals as a duet with McCartney. Though "Ebony and Ivory" would take quite some time to develop in the studio due to the conflicting schedules of both artists, once it was released, it became a smash hit single and one of the biggest songs of 1982.

"Say Say Say" (1983)

By 1983, after the release of his global smash Thriller, Michael Jackson was at the top of his game and actually had already collaborated with McCartney on the song, "The Girl is Mine," which was featured on Jackson's massive album. "Say Say Say," meanwhile, was written by Jackson and McCartney for a collaborative effort that would appear on the latter's upcoming 1983 album, Pipes of Peace.

It's a funk-swathed tune that maintains echoes of the disco era that had been dominant prior to its release. The song, which also features Linda McCartney on backing vocals, was cut at AIR Studios in London after the dissolution of Wings in 1981, but not released for another two years.. There is an interesting story related to this particular song. One evening while working on this song, McCartney introduced Jackson to the world of music publishing and royalties. Inspired by McCartney's teachings, Jackson would go on to purchase ATV Music Publishing in 1985, which included the staggering wealth of songs from the Beatles catalog.

"Pipes of Peace" (1983)

"Pipes of Peace" was written for children and also with the goal of promoting global peace during the twilight of the Cold War era. The song was recorded at AIR Studios in London and features McCartney playing the majority of the instruments on the track, including bass, piano, synthesizer, and percussion while also crafting its orchestral arrangement. Along with his wife Linda contributing backing vocals, the Pestalozzi's Children Choir added their voices to the song during a special recording session.

The video for the song, meanwhile, was a touching component that helped propel "Pipes of Peace" to the top of the charts in the UK. In the video, which is based on the famous, "Christmas Truce," event that occurred between British and German troops in 1914 during the first year of World War I, McCartney himself plays both the British and the German soldiers who meet and after doing so, come to realize that they have swapped gifts from home by accident in a poignant scene.

"Freedom" (2002)

This beautiful number was written by McCartney in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. In fact, on September 11, 2001, Sir Paul was sitting on a plane at New York City's JFK Airport when the terrorist attacks occurred and witnessed part of the events from his seat. Almost immediately, McCartney, who had an album slated for release in November, 2001, went to work on "Freedom" in response to the attacks. He also helped organize what became The Concert for New York City, a benefit show that was held at Madison Square Garden on October 20, 2001, to a crowd of 20,000 people.

"Freedom" is pure McCartney and also, pure rock at its finest and features legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. The proceeds from the singles "From a Lover to a Friend" and "Freedom" were donated to the Robin Hood Foundation to aid the families of the 9/11 victims and to the first responders and emergency workers. He also performed the song to millions of viewers prior to Super Bowl XXXVI during the pregame show with the Statue of Liberty in the background and hundreds of children joining him onstage for the event.

"Come On to Me" (2018)

"Come On to Me," is a genuine McCartney rocker that was released in 2018 and made its way into the top 10 on Billboard, marking his first appearance on the chart in that position since 1993. When he wrote the song, McCartney based it on an older gentleman going to a party and seeing a woman and wondering how to approach her. The album it's on, Egypt Station, also contained another hit single, "I Don't Know," which was released just prior to "Come On to Me."

"Come On to Me" was also introduced to audiences on The Late Late Show with James Corden during a memorable "Carpool Karaoke" segment in which McCartney and Corden take a tour of Liverpool through a journey of some of McCartney's greatest hits songs, including "Penny Lane," Hey Jude," and "Let it Be." "Come On to Me" appears at the end of the segment, with McCartney hosting an impromptu concert at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms in Liverpool.

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