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  • Writer's pictureEmma Hyman

I Also Don't Know Why I Made This: Emma Hyman's Definitive Guide to Paul McCartney's Solo Career

At the start of summer of 2022, I was driven by what I can only describe as ego-maniacal masochism to take on one of my largest musical projects yet. Inspired by my love of musical gate-keeping, I decided that it was in my best interest to listen to every single post-Beatles Paul McCartney album–a task that, frankly, defeats the purpose of gate-keeping (can you even gate-keep music from one of the most popular musicians of all time?). Would I recommend this task to literally anyone? Absolutely not. But, thanks to the fruit of my labor, all of you readers at home will now have a handy-dandy guide to all of the McCartney you will ever need!

Since 1969, Paul McCartney has released 16 solo albums, 7 Wings albums, 5 classical albums, 3 electronic albums, and 8 miscellaneous/cover albums. For the sake of preserving any remaining sanity and self-respect that I might still have, I am limiting my list to his solo and Wings work, because frankly, 23 of 39 albums is more than enough Paul McCartney for one person. I originally had this idea back in May of 2022, after having the privilege of seeing Macca in the flesh on the second stop of his Get Back tour, an experience I will forever cherish as truly one of the greatest concerts I have ever seen. Did I get covid? Perhaps. Would I do it again? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Why should you trust my judgment on this matter? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that you really do not need to take on this challenge for yourself unless you have absolutely nothing better going on (and even then, I still wouldn't recommend listening to all 23 albums). So maybe you use this as a personal McCartney tour guide or maybe you don’t, but I will not be missing an opportunity to clout chase with boomers over who the biggest McCartney fan is (it’s me, FYI). Anyway, without further ado, here is my uncensored opinion, organized from worst to best, on the last 54 years of McCartney.

Want to follow along? Listen to my favorites in order here: Spotify Apple Music


Driving Rain (Pop - 2001)

Paul McCartney (1 Hour, 7 Minutes)


Kicking things off strong with the worst of McCartney’s discography. Driving Rain is an excruciatingly long tribute to his late wife, Linda, his new (and now ex) wife, Heather, and 9/11. Am I inclined to cut him some slack given that he had only lost his soulmate a few years prior? Absolutely–I’m not a monster. However, and maybe I’m just looking at this in hindsight, I really hate the two songs about Heather Mills. Even at the age of six, I knew Heather Mills was no good (although I did have that idea because I read an unholy number of tabloid magazines around the time of their divorce), and so to have to sit through two entire songs about how great she was now that Linda’s dead pissed me off. I was worried for a brief moment that I had maybe misinterpreted the album’s eleventh track, “Heather,” to Mills rather than his step-daughter. However, I think that calling your step-daughter the “queen of [your] heart,” would be a little weird. If you’re in the mood to memorialize 9/11, feel free to check out “Freedom,” McCartney’s song inspired by his experience watching the Twin Towers fall from a parked plane in the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Ultimately, if you’re looking for an album about grief, marriage, and 9/11, there are plenty of other options that I would recommend before this one.

“Favorite” Songs (Favorite is maybe pushing it): Driving Rain, Tiny Bubble.


McCartney III (Rock - 2020)

Paul McCartney (45 Minutes)


Honest question: Did people really enjoy this album or was I missing out on some dumb inside joke? That being said, I did enjoy more songs on it than I had anticipated, but I think that the bar was already set fairly low. My two main takeaways from the album were that “Find My Way” (the album’s lead and only single) is just the affirmations of a senile old man who “know[s] [his] left from his right,”, and the song “Lavatory Lil” is just a indie-rock, craigslist reimagination of “Polythene Pam.” I’m glad Mr. McCartney had something to keep himself busy with during the early months of the COVID pandemic, but I don’t believe that this album deserved the fame and glory that it was granted upon its release. Also, how many songs about birds is this man going to write, holy hell.


Egypt Station (Rock - 2018)

Paul McCartney (57 Minutes)


This lost five points straight off the bat for having not one, but two songs about casual sex–I’ll get back to that in a moment though. Anyway, I enjoyed this better the second time around, because when I first listened to the album back in early 2020, I absolutely HATED it. However, being able to appreciate this album more the second time does not negate the fact that “Fuh You'' is unironically one of my least favorite songs of all time. I wholeheartedly believe that Ryan Tedder deserves to be charged with elder abuse for that song alone, and it ruins any real enjoyment of the album for me. I understand that Ryan Tedder is a pop-hit machine and was helping crank out commercial garbage all over the place at that point in time, but to drag Sir Paul down with him feels criminal and I did not consent to hear a 79 year old man perform the lyric “I just want to fuh you” on stage. I’m not saying that Macca hasn’t made a sexy tune or two in his day, but those songs were not written for and recorded by a man in his mid 70s. And let me tell you, Mr. Mark Ronson (more on him later) would have NEVER stooped this low for a hit. Ryan Tedder better get his ass back to Oral Roberts University because he’s going to hell for this song alone.


Run Devil Run (Pop - 1999)

Paul McCartney (41 Minutes)


I want to give this one a high score because it is honestly a really good listen, however, that feels like cheating because technically he only wrote three of the album’s 15 songs. “But Emma, you said you weren’t doing any cover albums!” Yes, I did say that. But, I’m a liar and I’m going to cut the man some slack on this one. The album is, at its very core, a ‘back to basics’ album for McCartney. Prompted by the loss of his wife, Linda McCartney, only a year prior, Run Devil Run features Macca’s arrangements of a number of pop and rockabilly tunes from his youth, making the album feel very reminiscent of early Beatles. This is compounded by his performance at Liverpool’s Cavern Club for the album’s promotion. It is a comfort album, and it features the contributions of great musicians like David Gilmour and Mick Green. But, just as no one would consider Beatles for Sale to be one of their finest works, Run Devil Run is certainly not a shining example of McCartneys musicianship. After all, three original tracks do not make an original album.


Pipes of Peace (Pop - 1983)

Paul McCartney (39 Minutes)


This album was just a bit too commercial pop-y for my liking. Pipes of Peace is generally a filler album and while it’s not terrible, it for the most part feels rather underwhelming. Coming directly after Tug of War, his 1982 album that is widely regarded as one of his best, Pipes of Peace just falls short of living up to the expectations created by its predecessor. The song “Tug of Peace” was also a fairly weird way of tying together the two albums, and I personally didn’t see much use in it. Overall, a pretty middle of the road album.


Flowers In The Dirt (Rock - 1989)

Paul McCartney (54 Minutes)


I’m not saying this is a bad album, but I am saying that the fact that this is denoted by Apple Music as the second of two ‘essential’ Paul McCartney albums feels like a gross overstatement. I enjoy the notes of synth-rock/80s power pop that are on the album, but from time to time, those notes fall flat and feel forced. Elvis Costello worked with Macca on this album, and while I enjoy his input, nothing about it really stands out. Unlike the input of Michael Jackson on Pipes of Peace (“Say, Say, Say”), Stevie Wonder on Tug of War (“Ebony and Ivory” / “What’s That You’re Doing”), or Jeff Lynne on “Flaming Pie,” Elvis Costello is just sort of there and his input doesn’t stick out as a must-listen track. Ultimately, this album feels more like a commercial apology for his more playful and experimental work from earlier in the decade.


Off The Ground (Rock - 1993)

Paul McCartney (50 Minutes)


Relistening to this album for this project was probably the first time in about eight or nine years I had heard the album in full. This album has a real nostalgic power on me in that I still love all of the songs that I always have loved; However, my return didn’t really open me up to anything new to appreciate and love. It is absolutely a middle of the road McCartney album and while I wouldn’t dissuade people from listening to it, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who isn’t already ass-deep in his discography.


Press to Play (Pop - 1986)

Paul McCartney (45 Minutes)


I think that this album, which was his last album before 89’s Flowers In the Dirt, has a lot of character, and for that I personally think it is better than Flowers. Press to Play definitely didn’t perform super well when it was released, and I think that is in part because you can tell McCartney is playing around a lot more on this one than he does on Flowers. Flowers, being built to be a commercial success, feels a bit like a fuck you to Press to Play, which is so much more interesting than its successor because, on this, McCartney didn’t feel the need to release something that worked for everyone. I feel like Press had its work cut out for it from the get go, given that 1986 is the same year that some of the 80s greatest pop hits, including Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer,” Prince’s “Kiss,” and Run DMC’s “Walk This Way” were released, so the album had more than enough competition on the commercial airwaves.


Flaming Pie (Pop - 1997)

Paul McCartney (53 Minutes)


Did I like this album? Yes. Will I be blasting Flaming Pie from now on? Probably not. It is a very sweet album and you can absolutely feel his immense love for Linda, who at the time was fighting a battle with cancer that she lost within the year following the album’s release. Overall, the album doesn’t necessarily stand out. It takes a more acoustic approach than his previous album, Off The Ground, but it doesn’t quite have the lo-fi, independent feel of McCartney I, which is his only other album that I would fully put in the acoustic category. I did love his work with Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne on songs like “Flaming Pie” and “The World Tonight,” and I think that his presence grounds the album in a sense of consistency, rather than it just being a mish mash of acoustic tracks McCartney had acquired throughout the mid-90s. The only other notable feature on the album is “Great Day,” which features Linda’s last backing vocal appearance, which is very Ram-like in nature (more on Ram later). Ultimately, there’s a missing energy on this album that makes it solidly mid-level McCartney.

Favorite Songs: Calico Skies, Great Day, Flaming Pie


Wings (47 Minutes)


I was honestly surprised when relistening to this album by how unimpressed with it I was. For the longest time, this was my favorite post-Beatles Macca album, however, it is honestly mid for the most part. Similarly to Off the Ground, there is a nostalgic quality to this album that I will always love–as a small child, I poorly attempted to write a rom-com (I was 7) named “Silly Love Songs”–but retrospectively, this is probably Wings’ weakest album. In theory, I do understand McCartney’s desire to include the efforts of all Wings’s members in the album’s songwriting; However, when your band only has three consistent members, it’s probably okay to keep the songwriting between them. Speed of Sound is absolutely a sappier album than the rest of Wings’ collection, but I think that furthers the nostalgic hold that it has on me. I also think that “Time to Hide” might be one of Denny Laine’s best contributions to Wings’ discography (and that’s saying a lot since Back to the Egg’s “Again and Again and Again” has been a consistent favorite of mine throughout this project).

Favorite Songs: Silly Love Songs, She’s My Baby, San Ferry Anne, Time to Hide.


Memory Almost Full (Rock - 2007)

Paul McCartney (42 Minutes)


I was not expecting to enjoy this album as much as I did, but honestly, it is a really fun album. I think it is in the same vein as Off The Ground in that it is tremendously approachable, but it isn’t an album I would recommend for people just starting their McCartney journey. Sure is a fun album for something written about a tremendously tumultuous and public divorce!


New (Rock - 2013)

Paul McCartney (46 Minutes)


My 12-year-old self would have eaten this album up if I had listened to it in full when it was released. It is a very solid album, but I feel like it didn’t get the appreciation from the public that it deserved. This album is where my Mark Ronson comment from earlier comes into play. I’m not by any means saying that Mark Ronson is the greatest contemporary producer or anything; However, if we’ve seen anything over his career, it’s that the man is far from just a commercial pop machine. Unlike Ryan Tedder, Mark Ronson’s appreciation for McCartney is tremendously clear on the album–he didn’t just make an old man sing a silly (and insufferable) song about sex. Maybe that’s a low bar, but I will stand for no Mark Ronson slander in this home. Additionally, I have adored the song “Queenie Eye” since the album’s release and finally checking New out in full gave me a new appreciation for the track.

Favorite Songs: Queenie Eye, New, Early Days, Looking At Her.


Londontown (Rock - 1978)

Wings (51 Minutes)


This was the final Wings album that I had listened to in order to complete my deep dive, and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing as a bad Wings album. This and Wings at the Speed of Sound might not be as strong as the rest of their catalog, but they’re still great albums and well worth your attention. Londontown is largely a very playful and upbeat album; However, from a production standpoint, there is nothing particularly standout or special (unless you count them recording it on a luxury yacht in the middle of the Virgin Islands), and it isn't as playful as some of their other albums. My one true complaint about this album is that Denny Laine’s one addition to the album, “Children Children,” is fucking grating. However, Londontown does have one of the best McCartney bonus tracks, “Mull of Kintyre,” so I would say that makes up for Denny Laine’s shortcomings.


McCartney II (Rock - 1980)

Paul McCartney (39 Minutes)


This is an album that I had been very skeptical about for a long time and it took me YEARS to finally listen to it in full, despite the fact that I enjoyed every song from the album that I was familiar with. I think that in the last year or so, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the three McCartney albums, but that appreciation was reliant on the understanding of how and why the albums were made–as an independent passion project for McCartney to fully showcase his multi-instrumental talents and production chops. You can tell that McCartney is having fun, and is making the music for himself, rather than exclusively for critical and public acclaim. In general, I don’t think that McCartney II is the strongest example of Macca’s solo musical ability, but god, is it catchy. Easily, the weakest songs on the album are “Frozen Jap” (sir, this came out in 1980–that wasn’t appropriate then, and it definitely isn’t appropriate now) and “Bogey Music” because they’re both kind of ridiculous, but I do appreciate them from an experimentation standpoint. Additionally, while “Temporary Secretary” should probably be grouped in with those two, I give it bonus points because I have terrorized so many unsuspecting victims with that song, and I think it’s funny, so +2 for entertainment value. More than the album itself, I think what is important or interesting is the context for which Macca recorded and released the album. Honestly, releasing an album of random shit you had worked on a year prior simply because you got kicked out of Japan for trying to bring in 200 some-odd grams of weed into the country is kind of a power move. Cool it with the “Frozen Jap” shit though–not a good look, man.


Back to the Egg (Rock - 1979)

Wings (42 Minutes)


Back to the Egg is the seventh and final studio album by Wings. It is a very cool concept album, and I wholeheartedly believe that as a society, we are sorely lacking all of the Rockestras we so desperately need as a society. I fully believe that 78% of our problems could be solved simply by having more Rockestras. Why is no one looking to get to the bottom of this? Overall, I loved this album, and I really enjoyed the resonant influence that Jeff Lynne and ELO played on the overall production of the album. There’s a very nice, funky energy that is present through the first half of the album, although it does slow down a bit around the 10th track with “After the Ball.” Those last few songs aren’t bad, but they do shift the tone of the album in a way that I felt was slow and didn’t particularly love; However, they’re definitely stronger than some of the other Macca tracks that I had deemed weak. Once again, I am team Rockestra all the way, so this album is definitely worth a listen.


Paul McCartney (47 Minutes)


This was a really sweet album, and I am honestly sort of mad that it took me so long to find it. Out of all of his albums where he effectively plays every single instrument (I’m looking at you, McCartney Trilogy), this one has the smoothest and most cohesive production. I think that that is largely due to his outsourcing the production to Nigel Godrich, who got his start working with Radiohead and Beck. This is definitely my favorite of McCartney’s 21st century discography, although I think it sucks that this didn’t get the concert play time that it rightfully deserved. This also provides a great look into Macca’s rocky relationship with ex-wife Heather Mills, and adds even more reasoning as to why I will never regret not liking Mills, even from a young age. For those of us in the room who didn’t spend most of 2008 reading tabloid magazines, here’s a very brief summary of Macca and Mills’ rocky (if not silly) divorce: In 2006, McCartney and his then wife, Heather Mills separate, with Mills blaming the split on McCartney’s daughter Stella, whom Mills described as “jealous” and “evil,” (this was after Mills told New York Magazine that Stella McCartney had issued a press release discussing how much McCartney liked her new step-mom–McCartney’s team denied this). She proceeds to ask for over £100 million, which McCartney counters by offering just over £15 million. The judge overseeing the case sides with McCartney, finding evidence offered by Mills (who was representing herself in court) to be less than sufficient. Mills responds by pouring water on Paul McCartney’s lawyer in court. Overall, this case was prime tabloid material. Anyway, boo Heather, stan Macca.


Tug of War (1982)

Paul McCartney (Rock - 41 Min)


I know that, at large, people really love this album, but I was definitely skeptical going into it, simply because it came in the direct aftermath of McCartney II, and so I felt this could either be hit or miss for me. That being said, this defied my expectations and I enjoyed it overall. “What’s That You’re Doing” was fun, funky, and fresh and “Here Today” will forever be one of the saddest songs in McCartney's repertoire, and is a beautiful tribute to former creative partner, John Lennon. Unfortunately, I cannot begin to explain how annoying I find “Ebony and Ivory.” It is just way too fucking gimmicky, and after Macca and Stevie Wonder blessed us with “What’s That You’re Doing” 25 minutes earlier in the album, “Ebony and Ivory” comes off as boring and overrated. To be honest, it sounds like it would have made for a great theme song for some cable TV buddy sitcom. Closing an otherwise great album with "Ebony and Ivory" felt like a crime. Tomatoes. Boo.

Favorite Songs: What’s That You’re Doing, Here Today, The Pound is Sinking, Somebody Who Cares.


Wings (Rock - 43 Min)


Admittedly, before I listened to this, I fully confused it with Back to the Egg. They’re very different albums. I don’t really understand where this confusion stemmed from. Either way, I love me a ‘lil Wings. I enjoyed this more than I ended up enjoying Back to the Egg–it has more of a classic rock sound rather than the synth-heavy emphasis found in Back to the Egg. Overall, this is absolutely a very solid McCartney pick. Additionally, while I typically don’t consider remastered b-sides and singles, “Junior’s Farm” never fails to go hard, so I feel like it has to get some sort of honorable mention.


Wings (Rock - 41 Min)


This was a favorite of mine as a kid, but I hadn’t listened to the whole album for a long time by the time I got to reranking this one. I love his lyricism on this, and the history behind this album adds such an excellent layer to the piece as a whole. Band of the Run comes at an interesting point in McCartney’s solo career because, at the time, McCartney had yet to regain his artistic credibility in the wake of the Beatles breakup, so he decides to record the third Wings album in a sunny, exotic location where him and his bandmates can spend their days on the beach and their nights in the studio. Turns out, Lagos, Nigeria three-years after the end of a civil war did not make for the relaxing vacation they had in mind. The band, which only consisted of the McCartneys and ex-Moody Blues founder Denny Laine since the rest of the band quit a week before traveling to Nigeria, recorded the album at the substandard EMI Lagos studio, not without plenty of challenges; At one point Paul and Linda McCartney were robbed at knifepoint, losing books of handwritten lyrics as well as demos they planned to take into the studio to record. On another occasion, McCartney suffered a bronchial spasm while in the studio, brought on by too much smoking. The recording of Band on the Run was a riot, to say the least. From a musical perspective, I think this album is perfectly approachable for the first time Wings fan, while also carrying so much niche history and weight behind it that a more nuanced fan can still have a field day breaking it down. *Chef’s Kiss*


Wings (Rock - 42 Min)


This album goes to show that the 70s was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best post-Beatle McCartney era. While I prefer Ram and Wild Life over this one (we’re getting to that), this album carries the same heart and soul found on those two, just with a more refined and produced sound. You can also hear a bit of Paul’s ragtime influence, which doesn’t come out as much in his work post-Beatles. While that influence is minimal in this album, I think it still stands out a bit on the track “Single Pigeon.” There is also a clear blues influence through tracks like “Big Barn Bed.” While this album sounds more refined than his previous, it is still before he really started playing around with more grand production styles, and so this is very much tried and true McCartney. Lastly, I understand why people think songs like “My Love” are sappy and old, but those people are boring and wrong. I will never not love that song. #JusticeforMyLoveandSillyLoveSongs


Wild Life (1971)

Wings (Rock - 38 Min)


Paul McCartney really was just out here in the early 70s cranking out some of the best and most underappreciated indie-rock albums of all time. That being said, I do understand why people weren’t immediately blown away with Wild Life because, frankly, I was almost in that same boat. The first couple of songs are just the skat-ramblings of a madman, but from the third track, “Love is Strange,” on, the whole album picks up and really makes a name for itself. Additionally, “I Am Your Singer” is wholeheartedly the best Linda-led track in both Wings and Paul’s solo discography. Also, I’m genuinely bitter that they chose not to include Wings’ debut single “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” on the studio release. I get that it was banned from broadcast on the BBC so it would have done poorly sales-wise, but stand by your guns, man–put the song on the album. Regardless, Wings really came out of the gate swinging with this debut.

Favorite Songs: Some People Never Know, Wild Life, I Am Your Singer, Tomorrow.


McCartney (1970)

Paul McCartney (Rock - 33 Min)


On one hand, I see how some people prefer this over Ram. Maybe it’s slightly more accessible and maybe it is more straightforward, but it’s no Ram. Regardless, it is assuredly the best self-titled McCartney album. It is really cut back and simple and the whole thing makes for a lovely rainy day album. Can’t go wrong by going for this one.


Ram (1971)

Paul and Linda McCartney (Rock - 43 Min)


Last but most certainly not least, we have the greatest non-Beatle McCartney album ever made. Aussie Youtuber Elliot Roberts has an excellent video on whether or not Ram should be considered one of the first, if not the first, real Indie-rock albums. Frankly, I would say it should. You can see a lot of influence that this had on not only indie production, but on the style and sound itself. While not as refined as albums like Red Rose Speedway, the sound is clean and the production is tighter than on McCartney. It is more playful and artistic than most of his early solo works, and you can see a clear pathway from how McCartney went from this to Wild Life. The fact that he very rarely, if ever, plays songs from this album live feels like a personal affront. I would literally sell my soul to see “The Backseat of My Car” in person. This album might not be ideal for the beginner McCartney fan, but it is well worth everyone's appreciation.

Favorite Songs: Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, The Backseat of My Car, Long Haired Lady.

You might ask, after listening to 23 Paul McCartney albums in full, what takeaways do I have for my dear reader at home? Well, for one, there is no reason that anyone, especially a casual listener, needs to listen to this much Paul McCartney. Don’t get me wrong, I love Paul McCartney, but there is such a thing as too much McCartney. Second, if you’re going to take the plunge into Macca’s discography, start with the 70s. I stand by the fact that the best post-Beatles McCartney all stems from the 70s, and I feel like that comes from the freedom Macca felt to explore his sound individually, and break from the expectations put on him by critics after the breakdown of The Beatles. When everyone expected him to fall in line with the solo work of John Lennon and George Harrison, McCartney took his music in a different direction, working to find the sound that works for him, not just the sound expected of him. The 70s, since it’s the Wings era of McCartney, is rock-heavy, but paves the way for the pop-experimentation that we see from McCartney in the 80s. If you’re a casual listener looking more towards his pop era, I would say the early 80s is where you’re going to find some of his best pop-adjacent work. And lastly, if you’re looking for a 9/11 memorial album, just stick with Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising–no one asked for Driving Rain, and no one needs it anyway.

Thank you for sticking with me through my epic journey through the work of Paul McCartney. I hope you learned something along the way–I know I sure did!

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