Paul McCartney gets a bad rap. Sure, he's a beloved pop icon with more platinum records than ordinary folks have missing right socks. But for so long, McCartney's been pigeonholed as the "cute Beatle," supposedly with none of John Lennon’s edge, George Harrison’s groovy vibes, or Ringo Starr's, uh, Ringo-ness. But bounce around McCartney's massive discography, and it's easy to see he's far more complicated, with each project spotlighting a different aspect of his creative persona. Here are a few such "faces," those bits of Sir Paul that portray him not just as the beloved Beatle but a genuine musical chameleon.
Paul and Linda McCartney — Ram (1971)
is like introducing a new girlfriend (in this case, Paul McCartney’s new-ish solo career) to hesitant friends (Beatles fans). At first, these chums hate her unmitigated weirdness and lack of familiarity, wishing McCartney would just reconcile with his soulmate (John Lennon). But then folks started coming around, recognizing the album's wellspring of emotions, even appreciating its sometimes silly tendencies. McCartney's grinning from note one, turning his cheek from the Beatles' bitter dissolution to deliver something almost courageous in its cheesiness.Ram
is Paul as the eternal optimist, tending a rose garden in a thorny world.
Paul McCartney and Wings — Band on the Run (1973)
Following lackluster LPs like 1971'sWild Life
, fans sorely missed the charm and playfulness central to McCartney’s early output. Not to mention, Wings could never truly replace The Beatles. Perhaps recognizing that, McCartney roared back in '73 withBand on the Run
, as much an album as a personal statement. If you've ever forgotten the extent of McCartney's musical wizardry,Band
is a triumph, equal parts kooky jams ("Jet"), gentle ballads ("Manunia"), and arena folk gems ("Mrs. Vanderbilt"). Perhaps the LP isn’tthe
greatest, but McCartney showed that when he’s batting out of the corner, he’s both a prize fighter and a showman.
Paul McCartney — Tug of War (1982)
The early '80s could have been a real downer for McCartney. With Wings already having begun their final flight, McCartney entered the studio to record his 11th solo album around the time of John Lennon's December 1980 murder. Rather than give into despair, McCartney deliveredTug of War.
Although frequently regarded as an excellent pop album, albeit not on par with The Beatles' canon, the album contains more than just hits like "Ebony and Ivory" and "Here Today." It feels like a warm hug from an old friend, 12 tracks to both comfort and console. That sense of catharsis feels almost like a rebirth, a chance for McCartney to start again fresh, and even if the resulting decade wasn't always so stellar artistically, this record remains a high point.
Paul McCartney — Flowers in the Dirt (1989)
is often seen as another drop in a sea of slightly forgotten '80s records (see alsoPress to Play
andOff the Ground
), but go in pretending it’s a brand-new Beatles album and it's a sheer blast. Perhaps that's due to appearances from famous friends like David Gilmour and Elvis Costello, or McCartney's self-awareness at his career prospects near the end of the 20th century. But it just might be the songs, with McCartney crooning about love and life with the wit and charm that brought him to the game. After so many years of trying not be a Beatle, McCartney found the grace and comfort needed to get back to his roots.
Paul McCartney — Driving Rain (2001)
Lennon and McCartney weren’t a mere songwriting duo — they crafted tunes like sculptors or artisan tailors. Perhaps that why 2001'sDriving Rain
feels so important. Despite an hour-plus run time, the two-week recording process stripped away some of that forethought and planning. What’s left is an album more essential than a lot of McCartney’s latter-day work, filled with ballads by a man driven by sheer joy. McCartney even sounds younger across these 16 tracks, newly cheery at the many creative prospects ahead. More than anything, we hear less of the legend and more of the man, a simple crooner in love with the sounds of the world.
Paul McCartney — New (2013)
By 2013, McCartney's name had long been etched into pop music's history books. Rather than merely skate by playing nostalgia-heavy sets at giant arenas, he swung for the fences withNew
. There's bits of his entire catalog here, like the Beatles-esque strum of the title track, or the solemn, Wings-ian "Hosanna." Yet the record's more than a trip down memory lane — it's the kindly Professor McCartney holding court for today's young stars. Each of the 12 tracks is a lesson, be it in sentimentality and romance, the majesty of true psychedelia, or pop's cyclical, life-altering power. McCartney proved a kind and generous teacher, showing the world how to hum happy tunes for life's ordinary moments.
Paul McCartney. 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 East Jefferson Street; 602-379-7800; talkingstickresortarena.com. Sold out.