Thursday, June 18, 2015

Paul McCartney: 10 of his Greatest Hidden Gems

As Sir Paul McCartney turns 73 today, it's a good time to revisit some of his enormous catalog of music. He has, of course, written and performed countless classic tunes, with the Beatles and in his post-Beatles career. "Hey Jude," "Let it Be," "Yesterday," "Live and Let Die," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band on the Run," "Here There and Everywhere"... the list goes on and on.

But often overlooked are the many hidden gems that don't have the notoriety of his biggest hits, and there are many. There are dozens of great McCartney songs that that vast majority of the public have never heard or paid much attention to. Here are 10 of Paul McCartney's best lesser-known songs. Combined they create a sorta alternate career retrospective, a history of some of Paul McCartney's deep cuts that didn't become massive hits.

"Oh Woman, Oh Why" - 1970
This bluesy rocker features a terrific vocal by McCartney. It was recorded during sessions for Ram, but was chosen to appear as the b-side of McCartney's first post-Beatles single, "Another Day," in February 1971. It's a fiery track that might have been a hit in its own right if given a chance. It's been included as a bonus track on the deluxe reissue of Ram and the album is better for its presence. 

"Little Woman Love" - 1970
This bouncy piano ditty was recorded during the sessions for McCartney's Ram album, but it didn't make the cut. Macca resurrected it two years later as the b-side to his "Mary Had a Little Lamb" single. Many American DJs, not particularly charmed by McCartney's attempt to turn a nursery rhyme into a pop song, flipped the 45 and played "Little Woman Love" instead. It's a charming, effortless pop song that shows McCartney's playful side.

"Sally G" - 1974
While staying in Nashville in 1974, McCartney was inspired by the country music scene and decided to record a couple tracks. "Junior's Farm" became a fairly popular single, and its mellow, pleasant countrified b-side, "Sally G," also earned enough airplay in the  U.S. to enter the Billboard Hot 100. McCartney has always loved exploring different genres, going back to the early days of The Beatles with songs like "Til There Was You," so it's no surprise that eventually he'd get around to country (he'd already explored it a bit with "Rocky Raccoon").

"Girl's School" - 1977
McCartney's 1977 single "Mull of Kintyre" was a massive #1 single in his native U.K, becoming one of the biggest hits of his career. American audiences and radio programmers were bewildered by it, however, so they turned to the b-side, the searing rocker "Girl's School." Recorded during the sessions for the London Town album, "Girl's School" received enough airplay in the U.S. to graze the lower reaches of the Top 40, but it's largely been forgotten.

"Daytime Nighttime Suffering" - 1979
This elaborately produced slice of melodic pop was the b-side to McCartney's 1979 single "Goodnight Tonight," a major hit recorded during the sessions for Back to the Egg. McCartney has expressed his appreciation for "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" multiple times over the years, even going so far as including it on his post-Beatles retrospective collection Wingspan. It's hard to imagine it wouldn't have been a substantial hit had it been released as a single.

"Arrow Through Me" - 1979
Back to the Egg is perhaps the most underrated album of McCartney's career. It was not well-recieved by fans or critics upon its release in 1979, and it didn't score any major hits. "Old Siam, Sir" was the lead single in the U.K. while in America the label chose "Getting Closer." Neither made much impact. "Arrow Through Me" was released as the second single in America, and it made a brief appearance in the Top 40. It deserved better. A slick soul/pop song reminiscent of something Michael McDonald might record, "Arrow Through Me" is one of those should-have-been hits that somehow slipped through the cracks.

"Rainclouds" - 1982
McCartney scored one of the biggest hits of his career in 1982 with "Ebony and Ivory," his syrupy duet with Stevie Wonder. Tucked away on the b-side is "Rainclouds," a fairly simple and catchy acoustic piece featuring The Chieftains' Paddy Moloney on uilleann pipes (Moloney's part was recorded on the day John Lennon was murdered). "Rainclouds" is a nice piece, but he had so much strong material for his Tug of War album that it ended up not making the cut. As of now it's never been released on CD, although with deluxe reissues of Tug of War and Pipes of Peace on the horizon, that will likely change.

"Figure of Eight" - 1989
McCartney's 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt was a major comeback after the commercial disappointment of his prior release Press to Play. Critics hailed it, and although it sold well, the days of Paul McCartney's singles reaching the upper levels of the pop chart in America at this point were pretty much done. It's a shame because the album is loaded with great tunes, especially the rocking third single, "Figure of Eight." McCartney recorded a new version of it for single release using his touring band, and it's one of his finest rock songs. It deserves far more attention and esteem that it has received.

"Little Willow" - 1997
One of Paul McCartney's loveliest ballads, "Little Willow" was written in memory of Maureen Starkey, the former wife of Ringo Starr who lost her battle with leukemia in 1994. The beautiful and heartbreaking song was included in McCartney's stellar 1997 album Flaming Pie, which stands among the best of his career.

"Appreciate" - 2013
For McCartney's most recent album, 2013's New, he worked with producer Giles Martin (son of George), and two of the hottest names in the business, Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns. Working with a strong batch of songs, McCartney and his collaborators created an album that sounds modern but still has that classic Paul McCartney melodic genius. One of the highlights is "Appreciate," an ambitious and atmospheric track with a hard-rocking chorus. McCartney filmed a striking and elaborate video for the song that is a must-watch for his fans.

No comments: