You’ve heard the hits, from the sublime (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Band on the Run”) to the ridiculous (“Let ‘Em In,” “Ebony and Ivory,” the perfectly named “So Bad”). But what of those tucked-away gems by Paul McCartney?
Let us assure you, after digging past the dreck and tossing away the tossed-off sides, it’s true: Love doesn’t come in a minute. Sometimes, it seemed like it wouldn’t come at all.
But we kept going, and found these — our handful of forgotten favorites from Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles output. (We’re still not forgiving Paul, however, for “London Town.” This little exercise has had us singing toot toot toot toot for days …)
5. “GET ON THE RIGHT THING,” (RED ROSE SPEEDWAY, 1972): A leftover item from the sessions for 1971’s Ram, this track has similar Beatles-esque pretensions — and that, along with its inclusion on the deeply flawed Red Rose, gives “Right Thing” much of its continued resonance.
We find McCartney letting loose vocally, in the style of his old Little Richard sendups, for one of the last times on record — ascending into a rattling fervor, then whooping and calling all the way back down. And he was still composing with an episodic flair that recalled the best moments from the Abbey Road era. The song also rocks in a way that drive-by fans might never have guessed after wading through the gauzy web of strings on “My Love.”
Now, it suffers from one of McCartney’s odder career-long quirks: His occasional inability to write a proper song ending. (“Get on the Right Thing” seems to be drawing to a close at least three times, at the 3:10, 3:22 and 3:43 marks, only to rouse itself once more.) But its soaring chorus, as ecstatic as any McCartney ever wrote, always quickly whisks away such minor complaints.
4. “SEE YOUR SUNSHINE,” (MEMORY ALMOST FULL, 2007): A canny Wings redo, this track’s background vocals, bright and cyclic, so strongly recall Denny Laine and his late wife and bandmate Linda as to transport you completely back into 1976.
This is the kind of pure pop that McCartney parlayed into a soundtrack for the decade immediately following the Beatles’ breakup. And just as welcome. That the title of this album, recorded during a similarly ugly split with now-ex wife Heather Mills, is an anagram for “my soulmate LLM” (Linda Louise McCartney’s initials) wasn’t lost on reporters. Asked the question, Paul reportedly said: “Some things are best left a mystery.”
He’s not one of them, of course. McCartney is supposed to sound like this song. That he meets that standard, so fully inhabits the cliche, during a period of crushing adversity is part of his charm. It always has been.
3. “BACK SEAT OF MY CAR, (RAM, 1971): A soaringly constructed, yet desperately sad closing track and, for me, still the most intriguing moment on Ram.
In keeping with the rest of this album, “Back Seat” is a little unfocused — too overstuffed with ideas, too reliant on multi-tracked McCartneys, not as rustic as his solo debut and somehow tossed-off sounding anyway, simply too long — but yet still perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Ram such a wildly inventive gem: It’s gutsy and unprecious at one point and then a testament to Paul’s enduring pop sensibilities at others.
As McCartney bolts from 1950s-era rock to cocktail-lounge crooning to swooning violins, and back again — all inside of this one final track, mind you — there is a sense of limitless possibility. Ram, foreshadowing the quirky allure of today’s homespun singer-songwriter projects, certainly would have benefited from having someone else to bounce ideas off of, but its essential pop magnetism — its compulsively listenability — simply can’t be denied.
2. “SOUVENIR” (FLAMING PIE, 1997): Inspired by his work on the Beatles’ Anthology project, McCartney began a third-act career renaissance that has continued through 2005’s Chaos and Creation and 2008’s Electric Arguments. Despite working with the sometimes maddeningly prosaic Jeff Lynne, McCartney keeps it surprisingly simple — and as is often the case, produces some of his best, truest work.
Here, McCartney gets underneath a lesser-explored influence of his in R&B, singing with a deep soulfulness over a nervy riff. Gutteral and raw, “Souvenir” doesn’t allow for any of the cute-isms that have always lurked around the edges of McCartney’s work. Instead, it’s scaldingly direct, powered by a dangerously sexy groove — very much in the style of gritty moments like “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “Oh Woman Oh Why” and “Let Me Roll It.”
Then, as his final recitation of the song’s title fades, the ageless scratch of an old Victrola overtakes the song — and McCartney becomes the ghostly, faraway presence. It’s the perfect touch.
1. “TO YOU,” (BACK TO THE EGG, 1979): A deeply underrated cut, likely because it sits amongst a disappointing second-half retreat away from this album’s earlier rock ambitions — notably with an old-saw ballad medley but also the Mills Brothers-inspired “Baby’s Request,” a song so pre-war retro that it’s found a home all over again on the expanded version of McCartney’s 2012 standards project, Kisses on the Bottom.
It’s a shame, though, since “To You” represents this project’s last blast of new-wave inventiveness. McCartney’s vocal is all Ric Ocasek hiccups and post-punk howls, while guitarist Laurence Juber furiously saws away over a fidgety beat — then runs his guitar, in a moment of smeared brilliance, through an Eventide harmonizer during these totally wackadoo solos.
Nowhere else on Back to the Egg is there a greater sense of the fizzy future that never was for this final lineup of Wings. In a few years, of course, this sound would be airing wall-to-wall on MTV.
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