On Saturday, over 50 years after he supposedly died, the very much still alive Paul McCartney will celebrate his 80th birthday. Few people have cast a shadow over popular music as large as Sir Paul’s, and the Beatles have been even more present in the public consciousness since Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back aired last year. One of the main takeaways from that documentary series was how naturally songwriting seemed to come to McCartney, melodies and lyrics pouring out of him whenever he sat down at a piano. Some people may have stopped paying attention after the Beatles broke up, but McCartney’s prodigious creativity never flagged.
The prevailing narrative for many years was that John Lennon was the Serious Artist of the Beatles’ main songwriting team, and when Lennon wasn’t around to act as a foil, McCartney’s music became disposable fluff. That narrative is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. McCartney’s solo work has undergone a well-deserved critical reevaluation since the ’90s, with once reviled albums like Ram and McCartney II now hailed as hidden gems and ahead-of-their time masterpieces. Today, on the eve of Macca’s 80th birthday, it’s time to recognize his genius with a list of 30 essential tracks from his solo career that showcase his breadth, his melodic brilliance, his sly humor, and the unerring humanity beneath his songs.
For the purposes of this list, McCartney’s solo career includes things like Ram, which is credited to Paul and Linda McCartney, and the releases with his post-Beatles band Wings. Not included, however, is McCartney’s classical work or the Fireman, his experimental project with Youth. Obviously, these kinds of lists are subjective and intensely personal, and many of you will have issues with this one. You might hate some of the songs that were chosen, and you might love some that were left off. That’s okay. Feel free to voice your displeasure in the comments while you click through to check out Macca’s best bangers and ballads alike.