Sir James Paul McCartney turns 70 years old on June 18. While the kids may be wondering who's this Paul McCartney dude -- use the Internets, kids -- those of us who have been following music for a few years know he was the guy who put out that awesome Liverpool Oratorio! and who played bass in The Beatles and The Wings. If it matters, according to Wikipedia, he is one of the most successful songwriters and musical artists of all-time. Sales numbers for Bach back in his day are not available.
What I've foolishly done here is put together the "25 Greatest Beatles Songs by Paul McCartney" and left off "Let It Be," "The Long and Winding Road" and "When I'm Sixty-Four" because I like these other songs better.
My own choices are what they are. The order is nearly nonsensical, since if you asked me to reproduce this list without referring to it, even right now -- it would come out very different. Fact is, you can't go wrong with any of the 25 songs listed. You likely can't go wrong with another 25 Paul McCartney songs that didn't make the list. But I'm sticking to 25! To think, I didn't even make it past anything after he left the Beatles! Wow! I really have wasted my life!
25) Hey Jude: You could shave off a couple minutes of the Na-Na-Na-Na part and I don't think most people would feel bad. It's important that he did it at the time (1968). He gave us the Beatles' longest hit single, but we're not on the clock anymore and I'd like to spend more time with friends and family and the first part of the song, which, true to McCartney's talents, sounds both as natural as breathing and as carefully thought out as an atomic bomb. Well, a peaceful atomic bomb.
24) Yesterday: Yes, yes, the working title was "Scrambled Eggs" and while McCartney's performance with Jimmy Fallon proved it was probably a good idea that he changed the words, the melody is indestructible. Perhaps, because I don't listen much to radio, I've never developed an aversion to this song or maybe it's because it's less than three minutes. I don't have time to grow tired of it or time enough to change it before it's over.
23) The Fool On The Hill: Magical Mystery Tour was a lousy film. The music for it, however, was fantastic. The beauty of the melody suggests Macca was still feeling the heat of Pet Sounds. In my own mind, I like to imagine what rock 'n' roll would've become if, by 1968, people weren't getting back to basics and to the land and instead got weirder and weirder.
22) Helter Skelter: Determined to make the loudest track he could -- why should The Who have all the fun? -- McCartney put this ear-bleeder to tape. It is often considered the Beatles' heavy metal track. I consider it very loud folk music.
21) Blackbird: While Paul was known for his spot-on Little Richard impersonations, he is better known for his ballads, his quiet acoustic songs, and is considered, therefore, the soft Beatle where John would be hard. The question you must ask yourself is what's wrong with playing soft, as long as you're the best at it? I know plenty of guys who play hard and they're awful.
20) I'll Follow The Sun: None other than Beatles producer George Martin singled this track out as one of his favorites. Paul had been kicking it around since the earliest of days -- a recording from 1960 exists -- and by the time it made it to an album (late 1964), it was truly ripe and perfect and needed less than two minutes to say its peace. Within a decade, not only would louder be better, but longer would be better. (I admit, it's a pet peeve of mine that so many musicians insist on wasting time.)
19) Back In The U.S.S.R.: It's an obvious tip of the hat to Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys and further proof -- should you need any -- that McCartney could rock and was as hip and self-conscious as anyone. His decision to write about Russia as if it were Southern California was a humorous conceit that made the song work on a variety of levels. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that it single-handedly ended Communism and brokered world peace!
18) I Will: Another one of McCartney's less-than-two minute wonders. "The White Album" was good for stuff like this, where you could sneak these little songs in the nooks (and the crannies) and have them come across both important and minor, simultaneously. Said to have taken 67 takes, "I Will" was obviously of great importance to Paul. Important enough to make it sound easy.
17) I Saw Her Standing There: Written early enough in the Beatles' career that Lennon helped steer it on course, the song, which appeared on their first album, shows just how smart and advanced the lads from Liverpool were. McCartney swears up and down he stole the bass line wholesale from Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You." I have no reason to doubt him. What's the line, "amateurs borrow, professionals steal"? Yeah, it was the best of songs, it was the worst of…forget it.
16) All My Loving: Who doesn't love the Tim Urban performance of this song on American Idol? I wouldn't know, since I missed it, but I'm sure it was wonderful. Considering this song appeared in 1964 and was solely written by McCartney, it makes you wonder why Lennon and McCartney so easily gave credit and royalties to each other for all those ensuing years. I thought young people had egos?
15) Paperback Writer: What's all this talk that McCartney didn't rock? Sure, he was good at the ballads, but he knew how to do everything. He was the most versatile of the Beatles, able to play Ringo's drum parts, George's leads, and John's rhythms if need be. Just because he had the most classically good looks and liked to please people where Lennon was more likely to test their mental abilities doesn't mean we should rank Paul any lower on the scale. Or figure this, if John Lennon was impressed by his mate, shouldn't we be?
14) Got To Get You Into My Life: The Beatles loved soul music. Yet, many of their earliest attempts to sound like Wilson Pickett didn't even come close. Which turned out to be a blessing, since no one would ever accuse them of ripping anyone off. By adding horns here, the band made their interests more explicit. Don Draper might have been less perplexed if he'd put the needle down on this track instead of "Tomorrow Never Knows." Why, it's almost big band!
13) Michelle: Some say it's sappy. Overrated. Responsible for every parent of a certain age naming their daughter Michelle. Bah, humbug! It's a nice name (you would prefer McCartney had called the song Mulva?) and the bass line alone is enough to die for. Fact is, the track has feel. Even if it won a Grammy and was covered too many times, it has nothing to do with the raw meat of the track. The Free Design nailed it!
12) I'm Looking Through You: Rubber Soul was the Beatles in such a perfect place that anything they did turned to gold. Gold, I tell you! The earlier version of the tune was a highlight on the second volume of the Anthology series. It all sounds so simple. Yet, why was it not?
11) Good Day Sunshine: Everybody stand around the piano and sing a song of praise! To the sun! Uh, oh! False gods? Nah, just better harmonies than most bands and definitely better than the relatives that insisted on singing "Danny Boy" on holidays. The only advantage to Irish heritage? The food! Ooh, boiled cabbage! (Can we order out for pizza, please?)
10) Eleanor Rigby: By featuring a double-string quartet arrangement from George Martin, surely Martin should've been made an official member of the group. The Fab Five! He'd already contributed a number of great performances to their records and he would've sealed the over 30 crowd that kids would stupidly begin not trusting in another year or so… Yeah, "old" people. What do they know? Dad, can I borrow $20?
9) We Can Work It Out: In two minutes and 15 seconds, the Beatles complete a song, where Don Henley, Robbie Robertson (solo) or Peter Gabriel would've been no further than bird sounds, a long synth intro and maybe half of the first verse.(The clock is ticking, folks, on my life!) Lennon added the bridge. You really can work things out when the two people in question are John and Paul. With a proven track record like that, you have to assume they know something you don't about songwriting.
8) And I Love Her: A lot of "differences" in alternate mixes are so minute that you're forgiven if you can't hear them. However, the single-tracked vocal heard on the mono mix of the Something New album vs. the double-tracked vocal on its UK counterpart on A Hard Day's Night is something we all can distinguish. Not that it means anything. But I thought I'd mention it just in case you wanted to sound like an audiophile!
7) Mother Nature's Son: McCartney's time in India studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi led to his writing this fine track that's as satisfying as Chicken Vindaloo (sorry, Paul).
6) Martha My Dear: Everyone's pet should have a song written for them. Or named after them, as McCartney has said the song while named for his Old English Sheepdog is actually about Jane Asher, the girl in McCartney's life who didn't marry him and left the field wide open for "The Lovely Linda" to score the winning goal! (Metaphors-To-Go offers half-baked metaphors at just a third of the price!)
5) Things We Said Today: A tune written in happier times with girlfriend Jane Asher, "Things" looks into the future to think about the things we'll one day feel nostalgic about! This is why Mr. McCartney is a visionary!
4) For No One: For a band, the Beatles sure allowed its members to work alone or with outside influences. Ringo got to play tambourine, while Alan Civil played his Freedom Horn. McCartney hogged the rest of the instruments for himself. Or perhaps he was just being nice, not wanting to wake John "I'm Only Sleeping" Lennon.
3) Here, There and Everywhere: Best known as the song being played on steel drums as Phoebe Buffay walks down the aisle for her wedding on Friends (thanks, Wikipedia!), "Here, There And Everywhere" is widely considered one of McCartney's greatest songs. Maybe the rockers in the house aren't pleased with the mellowness, but have you never been mellow?
2) I've Just Seen A Face: Here's where the Ugly American in me shows his middle finger. UK Beatles fans know this as just a nice little track from the Help! album, but us US fans know it as the lead-off track from Rubber Soul, the song that sets the pace for the entire album, that fits so perfectly next to "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" that we can't imagine trivializing it on side two of another album. Drive your own car, you drafty old Brits!
1) Penny Lane: There's plenty of conjecture concerning what Sgt. Pepper's would've been like had this track and its flip-side, "Strawberry Fields Forever," been included on said LP. It apparently wasn't as good as Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me" to the ears of British audiences who failed to send the double-sided single to #1. But I bravely declare the track to be better than "Release Me" and really don't care how many Humperdinck fans write in to tell me I'm wrong. We all must stand for something.
Happy Birthday, Paul!