On June 18, 1942, a baby named James was born in Liverpool, England. Fast-forward 73 years, and we’re still celebrating his timeless compositions and incredible career with not only the Beatles but with Wings and on his own. In honor of Paul McCartney’s birthday this past Thursday, seven of our REBEAT staffers came up with their favorite McCartney tracks and shared why they hold them so dear.
1) “We All Stand Together” (1984)
Picked by: Emma
When I was a kid, my mom liked to combine her interests with things I could also enjoy. One perfect combo was Paul McCartney’s work with the Rupert franchise, a VHS adventure for which McCartney composed this song. I still absolutely love this tune, the arrangement, the positive nature of the song, and the fact that it’s catchy. His other work is good, too, but my favorite thing will always be this, the first McCartney piece I remember hearing.
2) “C’Mon People” (1993)
Picked by: Jim
Picking a favorite McCartney song can be frustrating, as when you look for a particular quality that makes his music attractive, you can easily come up with at least a dozen songs that encapsulate that. McCartney, as the crafter of pieces that start with a good hook and build to a stunning climax, can claim “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” and “Live and Let Die” as well as this piece; what makes this song the final choice above all others is the positive vibe and encouraging message presented. Coming when it did, as the Cold War ended and at a time when the future seemed especially bright, there was an infectious optimism in the piece that is still evoked when you hear it today.
3) “Maybe I’m Amazed” (1970)
Picked by: Sarah
Attempting to choose my favorite Paul McCartney song almost feels like a betrayal against all the other songs in his back catalog! However, I had to settle on one, so I’ve gone for “Maybe I’m Amazed” as it evokes all kinds of emotions. It contains one of McCartney’s greatest ever vocal performances, at least in my view, and I remember spending many long summer days during my teenage years trying to master the guitar solo. I think I prefer the live version from Wings over America to the original studio version, but it still sounds great in either form. And any song dedicated to the lovely Linda has got to be a winner.
4) “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” (1973)
Picked by: Sally
Nineteen hundred and eighty-five: it’s not just the year after 1984 (or, equally dystopically, the year after Give My Regards to Broad Street); it’s not just the year your humble blurbster was born; it’s also the final track on Wings’ essential LP Band on the Run. McCartney often gets unfairly dinged as the doodler of silly love songs, but “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” proves that he could melt your brain and rock your face off if he puts his mind to it. It’s the most aggressive thing McCartney wrote since “Helter Skelter” — both have that unwavering intensity that’s all the more effective coming from the seemingly cheery, harmless guy who penned “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “My Love.”
Yet while “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” locates the song in a post-apocalyptic hellscape with “no one ever left alive,” McCartney sounds surprisingly jaunty. How could he not, now that he has nothing but time to “get enough of that sweet stuff my little lady gets behind”? Musically, the song starts off a bit more driving and funky than usual for McCartney, but only the pounding piano and a snaking sinister synthline in the background hints that there’s something odd bubbling up. Yet while the world falls apart, the song keeps building, heightened by doubletime passages and pensive interruptions soundtracked by church organ and swoony mini-choir.
When the song reaches its climax, suddenly “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” is 2001 — specifically, the impressionistic and overwhelming psychedelic light show in the film’s final act. Layers of primal grunts, free-verse guitar, spaceship synthesizers, bombastic orchestra, and God knows what else pile on top of and intertwine with each other; when it inevitably topples, it feels like it’s taking all of civilization down with it. In fact, the song goes so far that it boomerangs back to the beginning of the album, capping off with a snippet of “Band on the Run” seemingly beamed in from the last unmanned radio station left on the planet. As a glimpse into a possible future, I’d take “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” over 1984 any day. After all, Orwell didn’t come up with a rockin’ piano riff or have Winston Smith telling Julia to “shake it, baby don’t break it.”
5) “Hi, Hi, Hi” (1972)
Picked by: Erika
Picking my favorite Paul McCartney song is like picking between my 1,000 favorite children. Seriously, this is so hard. But “Hi, Hi, Hi” is always a favorite. It’s super high-energy, especially live. It’s also one of the dirtiest songs ever written. It was so dirty that the BBC banned it for sex and drug references. Funnily enough, their main complaint was based on a mondegreen, hearing “get you ready for my polygon” as “get you ready for my body gun.” But even without that line, references to getting high and “sweet banana” clearly tell a story of getting stoned and having tons of sex — a fun departure for Macca, whose songs are usually PG-13 at most. This performance above is from a 1976 show played to 67,000 fans at the Seattle Kingdome, and from the looks of them, they could directly relate to the idea of being high. The whole concert is available as a video called Rockshow, which happens to contain about 20 of my other favorite McCartney tracks.
6) “Too Many People” (1971)
Picked by: Danielle (the intern!)
As a kid, listening to this song made me feel as though I was in the presence of Paul spreading his wisdom to me, teaching me how to live. “Too many people preaching practices,” he’d sing to me. “Don’t let ’em tell you what you wanna be.” “I won’t, Paul,” I’d think to my 10-year-old self. Little did I realize that most of the song — and that line, in particular — was directly attacking John Lennon and Yoko Ono, whom he believed were being a bit self-righteous in their sermonizing. Young Danielle couldn’t fathom how Paul could possibly write anything mean about John; nevertheless, I’ve grown older and I’m still wild about this song, which to me is a playful commentary on people who try too hard (“Too many reaching for a piece of cake”), people who don’t try at all (“Too many waiting for that lucky break”), and society as a whole.
7) “Souvenir” (1997)
Picked by: Allison
Flaming Pie has been my favorite McCartney album pretty much since the day I discovered it. (It usurped the role previously held by my very first Paul album, Off the Ground, which is great, and if you disagree, you’re wrong.) I had a hard time choosing just one song from it, since it contains nothing but great tracks, including the singles “The World Tonight” and “Beautiful Night.” Not to mention it was the last McCartney album with contributions from Linda before her unfortunate passing. “Souvenir” bleeds with a controlled desperation, as if the protagonist is begging his love interest to be straight with him and not hurt him like others have in the past. But it’s the melody line, the sudden rocky turn, and the pain in McCartney’s voice in certain spots that makes it probably my favorite cut of the album.