Sunday, February 14, 2010

Top Five Paul McCartney Albums

If you aren't a regular visitor to Ear Farm, bookmark it now. Five weeks ago Mike ranked his top five Paul McCartney LPs on the site, and I have been obsessed with this list ever since. His picks are strong, and I wondered if my list would be the same. So, I have been on a Macca kick for the past month trying to decide if I agree with him. Sir Paul's catalog is vast. I knew a couple of records had no chance of cracking my top five (such as 'Press to Play'), but I listened to just about everything else. The results are "coming up":

5. 'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989)
Most think the '80s were an awful time to be a McCartney fan. I have a different perspective because I grew up in the "me decade." I remember how exciting it was when my father drove me 20 miles to the nearest movie theater (I grew up in the sticks) to see 'Give My Regards To Broadstreet' on opening night or when "Pipes of Peace" was a world-premiere video on MTV. I won't apologize for liking 'Tug Of War' either. McCartney had been pretty quiet in the few years leading up to 'Flowers In The Dirt', but the days preceding its release were exciting ones because the single "My Brave Face", co-written by Elvis Costello, showed they would be good partners on several other tunes. McCartney even said it was his best collaboration since he worked with a certain Beatle. I own the demos from the McCartney/Costello sessions, and I actually like those versions better than the finished record because the production on this album borders on being too slick and polished. But hey, it was the '80s.
Paul McCartney - My Brave Face (mp3)

4. 'McCartney' (1970)
Macca's first solo album (made while the Beatles were still an entity) is not quite a head turner, but I love its understated lo-fi charm. Unlike many of his records to come, there is nothing slick about it. 'McCartney' worked on this one almost completely alone, and it must have been therapeutic as the greatest band of all time was disintegrating. The classic "Maybe I'm Amazed" is the best song on the record, but "Man We Was Lonely", "Junk" and "That Would Be Something" make this one, in my opinion, essential.
Paul McCartney - Junk (mp3)

3. 'Chaos and Creation In The Backyard' (2005)
This past decade was an amazing time to be a Macca fan. 'Memory Almost Full and 'Electric Arguments' from The Fireman were both seriously considered for this list, but I went with this one simply because I have listened to it nearly every week for the last five years. The car I drive most of the time still has a disc player, and I keep a constant rotation of about five CDs. The exception in there is 'Chaos'. I have literally had it in the Jetta wagon for years. If I was honest with myself and had the guts, I would probably rank this one even higher than No. 3. 'Fine Line' was a pretty peppy single, but most of the record has a rather melancholy tone. While listening I often wonder what McCartney thinks of this record today. Although 'Chaos' is a beautiful piece of work, it has his love for Heather Mills written all over it. That's got to be regrettable.
Paul McCartney - How Kind Of You (mp3)

2. 'Band On The Run' (1973)
Now you understand why I couldn't put 'Chaos' any higher. I'm going to get enough hate mail for the inclusion of 'Flowers In The Dirt' without 'Band On The Run' taking a back seat to 'Chaos'. I will echo Ear Farm in saying side one is as good as Macca ever got as a solo artist ("Band On The Run", "Jet", "Bluebird", "Mrs. Vanderbilt", "Let Me Roll It"). For once, fans and critics agree on this one, and 'Band On The Run' marks Macca's most successful non-Beatles album. There's a 25th anniversary edition with a bonus disc that I was very excited about when it was released, but it turned out to be a disappointment. The outtakes are not the complete songs, the live songs are not culled from the 'Band On The Run' era and most of the disc is dotted with bland interviews. I recommend just holding on to your old vinyl version of this one.
Paul McCartney & Wings - Mrs. Vanderbilt (mp3)

1. 'Ram' (1971)
I would love to have something else here just for the sake of an argument, but I knew Ear Farm got it right the second I saw the list. I had 'Wings Greatest' from a very young age, but 'Ram' was the first non-compilation McCartney album I ever owned. Being about 12 years old, I was too young to really appreciate how good this record was. 'Ram' was a complete rediscovery for me when I made the format change to CD a little more than 20 years ago. 'Ram' has a bit of that homemade feel that 'McCartney' had before it, but the songs feel a little more substantial. One of my favorite tunes is the opener, "Too Many People". As the flip side to "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", this probably ranks as his best Macca B-side. If I could only listen to one 'Ram' song the rest of my life, however, this is the one I would choose:
Paul & Linda McCartney - Monkberry Moon Delight (mp3)

If you're curious about the record that just missed this list, the one that got away was 'McCartney II'. The bottom line is I love McCartney, and I can find redeeming songs on all of his albums. These five, however, transcend the singles mentality that mark much of his career.