Paul McCartney’s place in the pantheon of great songwriters is undeniable. Over the course of his 60-year career, the man has penned classic after classic, both with the Beatles and as a solo artist. Today, on his 71st birthday, we’re taking a look back at the songs we consider Sir Paul’s best. You won’t find some of his most popular songs on here: we (hopefully) don’t need to tell you how great “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” are, and we think these songs shed a different light on McCartney’s songwriting skills that you don’t always hear on his radio hits. You can tell us your favorite tunes from Sir Paul on Elmore Magazine’s Facebook page, but for now, here are our picks:
“For No One” from Revolver: The mid-1960s found the Beatles maturing as songwriters and experimenting with different genres and styles of music in an unprecedented way. While Revolver features one of the band’s most celebrated psychedelic freak-outs (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) and two of their most ubiquitous songs (“Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine”), the true masterpiece of the album may be McCartney’s “For No One.” A stately piano-driven piece, it takes the lyrical themes of Rubber Soul and explores them further and with more depth. Years after its release, John Lennon would say that “For No One” was his favorite McCartney song.
“Blackbird” from The Beatles: The White Album displays the range of The Beatles’ considerable talents, especially McCartney. On the album, McCartney dabbled in everything from country to music hall to hard rock, but the most lasting song he wrote for the White Album may be the beautiful “Blackbird.” Its lilting finger-picked guitar and uplifting lyrics, delivered in a hushed tone that almost becomes a whisper, make this song a bedroom classic.
“The Back Seat Of My Car” from Ram: McCartney’s first two albums, both recorded at his home with just him and Linda, have aged considerably well, even if they weren’t met with critical acclaim upon their release. The second, Ram, is one of McCartney’s best albums, and the epic closer “The Back Seat of My Car” showcases McCartney’s compositional gifts as it shifts from piano balladry to bopping rock & roll.
“Let Me Roll It” from Band On The Run: The differences between McCartney and John Lennon as songwriters are laid out in the songs they wrote in their brief verbal boxing match in the early ‘70s. Lennon struck first with “How Do You Sleep,” but McCartney arguably bested him with “Let Me Roll It,” copying Phil Spector’s production on Lennon’s song but writing a more memorable chorus and none of the ultra-specific insults that inevitably date “How Do You Sleep.” “Let Me Roll It” still holds up almost 50 years later.
“Lonely Road” from Driving Rain: McCartney entered a creative renaissance in the ‘90s with a trio of albums that were among his most intensely personal. The third, Driving Rain, arguably rocks the hardest, and its opener “Lonely Road” sets the tone of the album with hard, searing guitar work. Of course, this being a Paul McCartney song, the song is still a melodic wonder.
“Follow Me” from Chaos and Creation in the Backyard: McCartney’s late-career artistic revival continued with what is arguably his best solo album since the early ‘70s. “Follow Me,” like the rest of Chaos & Creation, returns to the home-spun feel of McCartney and Ram while adding a modern sheen courtesy of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Like the best of McCartney’s songs, it’s uplifting, gorgeous, and instantly unforgettable.