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The 11 best Paul McCartney songs

Why have a top ten when you can have one more? We take on the impossible task of choosing Macca's 11 best songs

Some artists make articles like this harder than they have to be. Fine, release 20 great songs so we have to agonise briefly over which nine to leave out, but don’t be Paul McCartney, effortlessly churning out sheer brilliance across seven decades. It’s just inconsiderate.

When we initially considered Macca for this column, it felt like an exciting challenge. Halfway through listening to his 60s output, it felt impossible. So, if you read this list and decide to pillory us across social media for myriad omissions, fair enough. Still, nobody can argue that the 11 songs below are not only some of Paul McCartney’s best songs with The Beatles, Wings and solo, they’re some of the best songs ever.

11. ‘Every Night’

(Paul McCartney – McCartney, 1970)

‘Every Night’ finds Paul in a strange place, not sure where he’s going or what’s happening, which makes sense seeing as he started writing it towards the end of The Beatles and finished it while on holiday with Linda in Greece. The dichotomy between career turbulence and domestic bliss is evident as he agonises over all the external pressure before confessing that: “Every night I just want to stay in and be with you.”

10. ‘We Can Work It Out’

(The Beatles – We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper, 1965)

The first ever double A-side single in history (thanks to John’s refusal to accept that ‘Day Tripper’ was the B-side), ‘We Can Work It Out’ is both classic Beatles and a sign of their stunning ability to warp pop songs into weird shapes, like that odd ¾ time interlude. And even though it’s primarily a Paul song, it’s also one of the few true Beatles collaborations, Paul’s optimistic verses and choruses contrasting with the existential questioning of John’s middle eight.

9. ‘Band On The Run’

(Wings – Band On The Run, 1973)

The title track off Wings’ defining album has a bit of everything, showcasing the mish-mash of styles that McCartney also employed on ‘Live And Let Die’, which was written and recorded around the same time. ‘Band On The Run’ is arguably more successful, each progression feeling like a more natural step from the last, up until that odd orchestral shift that leads into the most famous section. It’s a “Hang on, what?” moment that works like gangbusters.

8. ‘Paperback Writer’

(The Beatles – Paperback Writer/Rain, 1966)

My favourite story about ‘Paperback Writer’ is that Paul wrote it after being challenged by his aunt to write something other than soppy love songs, like “a horse or the summit conference.” Macca’s own goal was to write a song in one chord, which he almost did except for that pesky solitary C in each verse. What’s indisputable is this song rocks its socks off, with that frankly carnivorous guitar sound and driving momentum.

7. ‘Eleanor Rigby’

(The Beatles – Revolver, 1966)

Four violins, two cellos, two violas, no guitars and some of the loneliest lyrics ever written make ‘Eleanor Rigby’ a startling change of direction for Macca and The Beatles. To call it haunting is an understatement. It’s damn right unsettling and an incredible piece of songwriting that marks the band spreading their wings into damning social commentary.

6. ‘Let Me Roll It’

(Wings – Band On The Run, 1973)

This soulful highlight off Band On The Run has had a second lease of life thanks to its inclusion in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful Licorice Pizza. It deserves enduring adoration and is a reminder that anyone who dropped off when The Beatles ended missed some of Paul’s most inspired moments. You can see its bluesy swagger as a Lennon pastiche (as Jon Landau did) or as a kind of osmosis that proves that even apart, McCartney and Lennon were still deeply connected.

5. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’

(Paul McCartney – McCartney, 1970)

‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ marries two common threads from Macca’s latter-day Beatles work: the piano ballad and the shredded shout vocal. It’s heartening to hear him so loved up that he wants to scream himself hoarse about it, especially considering how painful the previous year had been. Back in 2009, Paul said that this was the song he most wanted to be remembered by. It’s not hard to see why.

4. ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’

(The Beatles – Help!, 1965)

That The Beatles released both Rubber Soul and Help! in the same year is frankly ridiculous. Both showcase their move towards folk rock which brought out some of John and Paul’s best songwriting. There were definite sleepless nights around these parts over leaving the almost-as-brilliant ‘I’m Looking Through You’ off this list, but ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ is just so utterly perfect and stupidly charming with its descending chords, ramshackle performance and lovestruck lyrics. One of Paul’s best love songs.

3. ‘Get Back’

(The Beatles – Let It Be, 1969)

You don’t need context to appreciate ‘Get Back’ but the clip in Peter Jackson’s documentary series of the same name is truly special. Paul sits, strumming away on his Hofner bass, playing something vaguely familiar that starts to shift and realign before your eyes into that tremendous opening riff. It’s genius in action, a moment that only enhances the song. Even after you’ve heard the band rip through it for the 145th time, it remains a powerful, boot-shaking rocker. Moving it up front for Let It Be… Naked was the right move.

2. ‘Here, There & Everywhere’

(The Beatles – Revolver, 1966)

Paul’s written some absolute stunners but there’s nothing else across his seven decades as a songwriter that comes close to the beauty of ‘Here, There & Everywhere’. Supposedly based on ‘God Only Knows’ it feels like the Beach Boys filtered through a particularly English pastoral lens. Macca said he wrote it one morning, sitting by John Lennon’s pool with his guitar, waiting for John to wake up. That just conjures the loveliest image for the creation of the loveliest song.

1. ‘Let It Be’

(The Beatles – Let It Be… Naked, 2013)

Paul McCartney is responsible for more than a few songs that have entered the wider consciousness to the point that babies are born knowing their melodies. ‘Yesterday’ is one, likewise ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, all of which just missed out on this list. ‘Let It Be’ is his crowning glory, a song that elicits goosebumps even after hearing it your whole life. Paul’s stripped-back version on Let It Be… Naked takes it a step further, bringing on wholesale weeping. Thematically, it’s Paul doing what he does best, imbuing optimism and acceptance with near-religious beatification. What could have been so mawkish is instead gloriously transcendent.