Joel Goldenberg: The 1970s top-10 hits review Part 30: Paul McCartney

Paul and Linda McCartney in the music video for Another Day.

We now continue our look at the U.S. top-10 hits of the 1970s, with this installment being totally dedicated to the many, many hits of Paul McCartney and, for most of the decade, his group Wings.

Overall, when the Beatles split up, McCartney started off in a somewhat non-commercial direction, at least for his earliest LPs. His first solo album, McCartney, was a one-man band affair — the only really commercial track, Maybe I'm Amazed, inexplicably wasn't released as a single. I'm certain the impassioned ballad/rocker would have made the top 10, or even hit #1.

The experimentation continued with Ram, a much more elaborately produced album, although the pastiche song Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey did hit #1 in the U.S., and wasn't even a single in McCartney's native U.K.

The first Wings album, the quickly recorded Wild Life, is one of my favourite McCartney LPs, but I freely admit almost none of the tracks was commercial enough for a top-10 placing.

The follow-up, Red Rose Speedway, was also rather experimental and almost entirely unsuccessful artistically, but the one commercial track, My Love, did hit #1 as well.

Most of the following 1970s albums saw McCartney hit his commercial stride, particularly the nearly perfect 1973 LP Band on the Run — almost all of its songs could have qualified as hit singles. The overall quality of the albums varied, but there were always at least one or two perfect pop singles.

There is one extra detail, though. McCartney carried on the Beatles', and other U.K. artists, tradition of releasing a good number of singles that were not featured on regular-release studio LPs, as opposed to greatest hits collections. Here are all his U.S. top-10s, as well as one that hit #1 in the U.K. and did not chart at all in the U.S., and my impressions of them.

Another Day: The first of McCartney's non-LP singles, released in 1971 and recorded during the Ram sessions. A sad day-in-the-life story of a woman's dull existence. I neither love nor dislike the song, it's just somewhat understated, fairly melodic and feels as if it's calculated to be commercial. It also seems kind of tentative, surprising considering McCartney's sonic experiments on the Ram album. As noted above, Maybe I'm Amazed would have been a great debut solo single release.

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey: This is more like it. A sort of hybrid of Yellow Submarine (goofy lyrics and sound effects) and the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations (many musical changes). A good mix of adventurousness and Beatle-quality melody.

Hi, Hi, Hi: McCartney (and Wings') preceding hit singles (all non-LP) only hit the top-30, and it's surprising they even got that high. The topical song Give Ireland Back to the Irish would only be relevant to a limited number of Americans, and some of the lyrics ("Great Britain, you are tremendous") are cringe-y. Mary Had A Little Lamb was a weakly melodic reimagining of the children's nursery rhyme that McCartney wrote for his daughter Mary, and the B-side Little Woman Love is a weak rocker. But the non-LP Hi, Hi, Hi, which hit #10, is a strong and fun rocker that has many virtual surround effects. It's kind of reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

My Love: Critics absolutely hate this song, either because it's on the weak Red Rose Speedway album or because they find it treacly. To me, it's near perfect pop and has a wonderful guitar solo.

Live and Let Die: A wonderful, lively James Bond movie title track, and a reunion of Paul with Beatles producer George Martin. This has deafeningly loud cannon sound effects in concert. (By the way, it came out later that Martin also helped McCartney on Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey's orchestral arrangement, but was not credited.)

Helen Wheels/Jet/Band On the Run: All three were included on the U.S. version of the Band on the Run album, but Helen Wheels was a U.K. non-LP single. Helen Wheels is a rocker that reminds me of Hi, Hi, Hi, while the other two were absolutely worthy of the Beatles in terms of craft and inventiveness.

Junior's Farm: A fun non-LP single recorded in Nashville, featuring a wonderful guitar solo from then-new Wings member Jimmy McCullloch.

Listen to What the Man Said: Less substantive than anything on Band on the Run, and almost the entire Venus and Mars album is somewhat whimsical. But this #1 hit was still an earworm, and one of my favourite songs of 1975 when I heard it repeatedly at summer camp. I still find it almost inexplicable that it wasn't included on the Wings Greatest compilation. I guess that album was meant to mainly spotlight non-LP singles.

Silly Love Songs/Let 'Em In: Both are from the Wings At the Speed of Sound album. Let 'Em In is charming and light, but Silly Love Songs evokes the Philadelphia Sound as produced by Gamble and Huff and Thom Bell, and is a nice but defiant response to John Lennon's criticisms of Paul's solo material.

Maybe I'm Amazed: This is not a typo. The version that hit the top-10 was a live one from the Wings Over America triple album. It's a fine performance, but in my opinion doesn't hold a candle to the impassioned original.

The McCartneys took somewhat of a break in 1977, as wife Linda was pregnant with their son James. They stayed off the road, and slowly recorded the London Town album, which came out in 1978. In the interim, Wings released the Scottish anthemic Mull of Kintyre, a massive hit in the UK (the biggest since the Beatles' She Loves You at that point) and a non-event in the States. Yes, it's not really relevant to American ears, but it's still superbly melodic and shouldn't have been relegated to the B-side of Girls' School.

With A Little Luck: London Town was a fairly weak album, but this track from it is one of my favourite 1970s songs. I love the cool breeze feeling from the synthesizer playing, and the song is great from start to finish.

Goodnight Tonight: McCartney was one of several major artists (the Rolling Stones' great Miss You, the Beach Boys' over the top Here Comes the Night) to jump on the disco bandwagon late in the game. This is light, pleasurable fun, and doesn't hold a candle to Miss You.

Next time: George McCrae and others.

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