Eleven Essential Paul McCartney Albums

In honor of his 71st birthday, let’s sample the best of his post-Beatles work.

Paul McCartney turns 71 years old this week, with 47 albums to his credit. (You could also add his 12 albums with the Beatles to that list.) So looking at his work with Wings, as a solo artist, and part of the electronic duo “The Fireman”, let’s narrow it down to his eleven most essential albums. (Why 11? Because Flowers in the Dirt is so underrated.) Consider number one the starting place for a casual fan just looking for the hits, and the remaining numbers as a guide to becoming a well-rounded, obsessed Macca fan.

1. Wingspan

A thorough overview of the first fourteen years of his post-Beatles work, this is often considered as a greatest hits album. Sure enough, all of his radio hits, from “Uncle Albert /Admiral Halsey” to the live version of “Coming Up” are here, but the “history” half of this set serves as a sampler for several other albums. Do you love the romance of “Every Night”? Get McCartney next. Are you into the simmering “Let Me Roll It”? Then Band on the Run is for you. Not to mention, Wingspan is the only disc you can get the epic “Rockestra Theme” or the cutesy, at-home version of “Bip Bop/ Hey Diddle” on.

2. Wings’ Band on the Run

Adored by critics and fans, it recently got a boost of popularity due to the release of a remastered deluxe edition that included bonus tracks, music videos, an audio making-of documentary, and a hardbound book detailing its entire history. All true McCartney fans know the incredible story behind its creation, but this remains one of his most accessible albums. There’s plenty of rock (“Jet”, “Let Me Roll It”), love songs (“Bluebird”, “No Words”), and uniqueness (“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)”, “Mrs. Vandebilt”), all capped off with the extraordinarily awesome “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five”: one of the most underrated tracks in classic rock history.

3. Memory Almost Full

Reflective and nostalgic, Paul’s most personal album is a better biography than his own book. While the lyrics to “Only Mama Knows” and “House of Wax” are works of fiction, the rest of the tracklist finds him reminiscing about his own experiences. It’s the type of album that a younger man couldn’t pull off, including “The End of the End”, in which he pictures the afterlife and details how he wants to be remembered. The deluxe version is worth the extra effort just for “Why So Blue’s" endearing look at “Eleanor Rigby”-esque loneliness.

4. Wings’ Wings Over America

This was Paul’s only live concert album for decades, and it’s currently his best. Recently re-released, it is worth its purchase price just for Wings’ acoustic cover of “Richard Cory”. Mixed in with the famous live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and a few Beatles covers are some underrated gems like “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” and “Soily”. The set also features a couple of tracks off the awesome yet generally ignored Venus & Mars album. If you only own one McCartney album on vinyl, make sure this is it.

5. Tug of War

Much to the dismay of certain fans and critics, Paul McCartney isn’t just a rocker. On this album, he lets his pop half take over, offering a little bit of everything all in one place. Much more than the infamous “Ebony & Ivory”, it also includes the soaring title track and fun numbers like “Ballroom Dancing”, “The Pound Is Sinking”, and the electronic “Dress Me Up As a Robber”. The closing track is his heartfelt, heart-breaking tribute to John Lennon, “Here Today”, which strikes a chord with anyone who has dealt with the loss of a loved one.

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