Paul McCartney has composed and recorded a myriad of songs over the past 60 years. So many of them have become standards; “DNA” songs that seem to have always existed. Coming up with that kind of material is a channeling “gift” that I do not think you can learn. You either have the ability or you don’t (at least on this human 3D plane of existence). But what is also amazing is the amount of so many high-caliber songs in his catalog that never received much airplay or were rarely if ever performed live. Hopefully, this article will entice the novice Paul McCartney fan to want to explore in more depth the genius of this most musical man who turns 80 on June 18th, 2022.
These are listed in no particular order
# 32 – Love Is In The Open Air
First on our list is a lilting 3/4 time instrumental, Love In The Open Air that Paul McCartney composed for the 1967 movie The Family Way. It is somewhat classical in nature and with the help of George Martin’s orchestration, (nylon guitar, flute, clarinet, violins, cello) points the way to Paul McCartney’s orchestral manifestations that would take place in the early 90s and beyond. The composition won an Ivor Novello award in 1968.
# 31 – Momma Miss America:
This guitar, piano, bass and drums instrumental found on his first solo album released in 1970, is a rather complex work that is edited into two sections. As far as I know, he never produced another instrumental with this montage technique. Paul McCartney plays all the instruments and it’s a nice 4:00 ride that rocks and is catchy enough to listen to over and over again. No computers on this number. A good one to write your own melody to!
# 30 – I Am Your Singer:
Although Wings’ first album, Wings Wild Life was not well received when it first came out in 1971, it has aged well. It’s a cozy homemade, unpretentious collection of songs. This particular tune is an intimate love song of sorts with tasty guitar tremolo and Linda taking the lead in spots. And though she is not a technically great singer (by her own admission) her tone has a certain charm that would eventually be a staple to many Wings songs. The mix of this tune is dry and intimate; an attention-grabber right from the start.
# 29 – When The Night
The song “When The Night,” falls into a slow 50’s ballad genre that sounds instantly familiar. The lyrics are romantic and simple and it is not a major Paul McCartney composition but Paul McCartney’s melodic approach and his inviting vocal move this loss leader into the memorable zone after a listen or two. It resides on 1973’s Red Rose Speedway album.
# 28 – Little Woman Love
Little Woman Love is a snappy number originally recorded during the “Ram” sessions in 1971. It features Paul McCartney playing some funky piano and jazz musician Milt Hinton killing it on upright bass. It’s an upbeat pop/ rocker with a rockabilly feel. It was eventually released as the b-side to Wings’ 1972 harmonically sophisticated children’s single “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
# 27 – Love In Song
Love In Song is from the 1975 album Venus And Mars. It is a slow, Appalachian-sounding ballad that toggles between G-minor and G-major. This is a harmonic approach Paul McCartney has used in many of his songs but not as blatantly as this. The arching melody sits well with the lyrics of heartbreak and Paul McCartney’s warm vocal manages to be yearning without being over the top cloying.
# 26 – Spirits of Ancient Egypt
Spirits of Ancient Egypt is again from 1975’s Venus And Mars collection. Denny Laine takes the lead vocal on the verse while Paul McCartney sings the lead on the chorus. The song is a combination of “boogie” (think Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister”) interjected with an Egyptian-flavored melody in the chorus. The lyrics are surreal and comical.
# 25 – The Note You Never Wrote
Speaking of Denny Laine, The Note You Never Wrote is often overlooked on the Wings at the Speed Of Sound album. It is credited as a Paul McCartney composition but it features Laine on lead vocal. The string arrangement by Fiachra Trench is striking along with the echoing drums, spacey synth part and killer guitar solo played by Jimmy McCulloch. The arching melody sings a vague story of espionage and loss of love. It’s a unique sounding track in Paul McCartney’s catalog.
# 24 – San Ferry Anne
San Ferry Anne is a deep cut off the 1976 album Wings At The Speed Of Sound. This little unassuming ditty breezes along in a minor mode with intricate sax and flute played throughout. The song stands as one of PPaul McCartney’s jazzier efforts.
# 23 – Spin It On
Punk meets melody on the highly frenetic Spin It On. This energetic, punkish rocker can be found on the last Wings album Back To The Egg from 1979. It is notably one of the fastest songs (tempo-wise) Paul McCartney has ever recorded. The close harmonies add to the excitement of the track.
# 22 – Daytime Nightime Suffering
Daytime Nightime Suffering was the flip side of Goodnight Tonight. It actually got airplay back in the day and according to interviews I’ve read, it is one of Paul McCartney’s favorite solo songs. No wonder why. It’s a catchy song built with variations and contrapuntal sections (a little like “Silly Love Songs”) but more compact. The message is a very sympathetic view of the struggle woman have to go through in this lifetime – very much in line with Lennon’s “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World” but of course more commercially accessible.
# 21 – Oh Woman Oh Why
Oh Woman Oh Why is the b-side to Paul McCartney’s first solo hit “Another Day.” It’s a cranky – frustrated rocker. Paul McCartney demonstrates his amazingly controlled singing/screaming technique throughout. And lyrically along with the sound of pistol shots make this the exact opposite of Daytime Nightime Suffering. It’s an odd song in his catalog, to say the least. I doubt he will ever perform it live especially since Lennon’s gun-related death.
# 20 –Stop! You Don’t Know Where She’s Come From
This ditty (not a love song by any means) is sung in a New Orleans type of voice. The tossed-off New Orleans feel of the song is what I find so attractive. The cautionary tale is a rare subject matter for Paul McCartney. This may have been an improv. Whatever the case, it’s funky and earworm worthy. It can be found in the deluxe edition of the Tug Of War.
# 19 – She’s My Baby
She’s My Baby was originally recorded in 1976 and is on the Wings At The Speed Of Sound album. It’s a cute little song seldom played on the radio back in the day but the version I chose here comes from the album Working Classical. Paul orchestrated it for a string quartet and it plays well in this setting. A strong song has that ability. The composition was performed at memorial concerts for his late wife Linda.
# 18 – Riding To Vanity Fair
Riding To Vanity Fair is a song from 2005’s CD Chaos And Creation. It’s a dark and moody number about Paul McCartneyreaching out to someone but forever being rejected. He says it’s not about his ex-wife Heather but it sure sounds like it could be. The sadness of the melody against the chords and the slow tempo makes this unique in Paul McCartney’s most optimistic catalog. Worth a few listens if you are in the reflective space.
# 17 – Two Magpies
Two Magpies is from the Fireman’s 2008 release, Electric Arguments. It’s a simple, charming folk tune Paul is so good at writing. The minimal lyrics about a boy and a girl are colored with a production (aided by producer Youth) that sounds like it was recorded in the early 20th century. And Paul McCartney’s trembling voice is right up front to really cast a mood. The entire two-minute and twelve-second song is like a miniature scratchboard painting as opposed to an oil painting.
# 16 – I’m Carrying
I’m Carrying is a sentimental song Paul wrote for the “London Town” album in 1978. It was recorded on a boat. The arrangement is simple: One falsetto vocal, acoustic guitar, and strings. George Harrison has been quoted as saying that he really loved this track. I’m thinking it has to do with the diminished chords that are used throughout. George had a penchant for using them in his own work.
# 15 – You Want Her Too
You Want Her Too. This song resides on the Flowers in the Dirt album and it was co-written with Elvis Costello. The main feature of this 3/4 time piece is that it features both Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello trading vocals with just the right amount of passion and panache. Thus, there is a real Lennon and McCartney vibe going on here. The production is very Beatle-esque in a Sgt. Pepper sort of way with a surprise big band ending for a twist. Other songs by McCartney and Costello worth checking out: “Mistress and Maid, So Like Candy, Pads Paws And Claws, Veronica and My Brave Face.”
# 14 – That Was Me
That Was Me is a forgotten rocker whose lyrics tell the condensed tale of Paul McCartney reflecting on his early life and how it has led up to this amazing one he has now. The song features a cool scat sung in tandem with a guitar lick that is very reminiscent of his Ram classic, “Heart Of The Country.”
# 13 – Golden Earth Girl
Golden Earth Girl is a semi-classical piano vocal number accompanied with oboe and flute dictated by Paul. The lyrics are surreal (fish – sunbeams – eggshell seas etc…) and most probably written about Linda. It’s a delicate tune that is reminiscent of something American composer Stephen Foster might have written. The song resides on the 1993 album “Off The Ground”.
# 12 – Vanilla Sky
Vanilla Sky is a one off number from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie Vanilla Sky starring Tom Cruise. Director Cameron Crowe asked Paul to come with a tune after watching a preview of the film. He immediately took the title of the movie and came up with song in a few days. He recorded the entire piece that week. The song is mainly just vocal and guitar with some atmospheric whistling synthesizer parts. The “do-do” scatting (a second hook) is slightly reminiscent of his 1968 song “Mother Nature’s Son”. His intimate singing has a subtle sexiness to it that is immediately alluring. The song was nominated for an academy award for best original motion picture song.
# 11 – Country Dreamer
Country Dreamer is the flip side of the Wings single “Helen Wheels” (1973), though it was recorded a year earlier in 1972 and slated for the album Red Rose Speedway. It’s a charming, breezy country earworm that plays very unpretentious. It was eventually included on the 2010 re-master of Band on The Run and the 2018 re-mastered version of Red Rose Speedway.
# 10 – The Mess
The Mess is a live recording (with a few overdubs) found on the flip side of the “My Love” single in 1973. It was recorded at a concert Wings did in The Hague, Netherlands, 1972. It’s a classic rocker with strong vocals and electric guitars by Henry McCullough and Denny Laine. The outro is a half time breakdown that is reminiscent of 1974’s hit “Junior’s Farm.”
# 9 – The Other Me
The Other Me is a warm, upbeat pop / R&B tune found on 1983’s “Pipes of Peace” album. Paul McCartney’s vocal is clear, intimate and sincere. It sounds like something you’ve heard before but can’t put a finger on. Catchy and melodic and simply pure McCartney.
# 8 – Looking At Her
Looking At Her: This song found on Paul’s 2013 album New was produced by George Martin’s son, Giles. It’s pure Paul McCartney pop (euro-pop) with a catchy guitar part and a very intimate vocal. The chorus is memorable on the first listen. The acoustic guitar solo is a nice addition to the heavy synth parts that dominate the production. This one and the song “Alligator” for me are the highlights from this CD.
# 7 – Sticking Out Of My Back Pocket: Souvenir
Sticking Out Of My Back Pocket: Souvenir. Written on a Jamaican holiday this is a 3/4 rocker and gospel number all at the same time sung with a confident soulful vocal. It resides on the 1997’s Flaming Pie. Paul McCartney admitted he was thinking of Wilson Pickett when he wrote it. The electric guitar part and its phrasing has a very Lennon-esque quality to it. The outro has Paul’s voice running through a cheap sound sampler giving the crackling allusion of an old 78 vinyl record.
# 6 – Tiny Bubbles
Tiny Bubbles comes from the 2001 “Driving Rain” CD. It’s a bouncy, funky number with some of the melody reminiscent of George Harrison’s song “Piggies”. Paul said the lyrics were a stream of consciousness but they bring up a cool concept of the world being just that – a tiny bubble. The song grows on you with repeated listening.
# 5 – Somebody Who Cares
Somebody Who Cares: A relaxing guitar-based ballad that is found on 1981’s “Tug Of War” album. It was written for a legendary drummer – Steve Gadd and legendary fusion bassist Stanley Clarke. An expertly crafted tune produced by George Martin.
# 4 – Dominoes
Dominoes is found on McCartney’s 2018 release Egypt Station. The melody here, against some of the minor 6 chords is reminiscent of George Harrison’s classic dirge “Isn’t It A Pity.” Thus, the verses have a rather melancholy vibe to them. They are however taken to a more upbeat, driving chorus sung with multilayered vocals. The lyrics are very philosophical and discuss how every part of our lives are like dominoes. Once something falls over it affects everything else and yet life goes on and in the end (according to Paul) everything turns out ok.
# 3 – Big Boys Bickering
Big Boys Bickering is the B-side to the single “Hope and Deliverance” released in 1993. Along with the song “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” it is one of the few protest tunes in Paul McCartney’s catalog. The word “f##k” comes up several times in the lyrics and I believe this is his only to use of it in a song. It still maintains Paul McCartney’s gift for accessible pop but it was obviously banned on commercial radio. It was performed live at the “MTV Up Close” concert.
# 2 – Return To Pepperland
Return To Pepperland is a song that was never officially released. It was recorded in 1987 and produced by legendary Phil Ramone. It’s a jaunty number with many key shifts. Playful in its execution, heavy on 80’s synth production, and coated with some dense harmonies. It was written as a tribute to the 20th-anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper. The lyrics are a collection of thoughts about some of his relatives (real or imagined) and the middle section (venturing into a minor key) is shout out to the freeing of Nelson Mandela. Bizarre.
# 1 – What Do We Really Know?
What Do We Really Know? is a McCartney composed tune that Paul offered to his brother Michael for his 1974 album “McGear”. On this track, Paul performs a short but tasty bass solo alongside some nasty guitar soloing from Jimmy McCulloch. The surprise coda rocks with pouncing drums, heavy electric guitar and Paul screaming “What Do We Really Know?” The lyrics are philosophical and Paul asks the question – What do we really know about music? Well, as it turns out we don’t (or at least I don’t) know exactly what the essence of music is or where it stems from but I do know in the hands of someone as talented as Paul McCartney it’s a powerful force that can have a lasting, positive effect on one’s soundtrack of life.
Written by John Tabacco
32 Underrated And Obscure Paul McCartney Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article.