Paul McCartney throughout his career has been the quintessential artist in that the best songs from his albums have never been the biggest hits. He has dozens of great songs since the disbandment of The Beatles in 1970, while also managing to record nine hits that reached the number one spot.
Sir Paul’s dilemma, as well as that of many songwriters since, has been summed up by Rudyard Kipling. That literary legend famously professed in a famous poem about the East and West that the twain shall never meet, and the same can be said for great songs opposed to hit songs.
Technically, great songs and hits do meet when it comes to albums, and McCartney’s discography serves as the perfect example. Consider the smash album Band On the Run, which contained popular hits like the title track and “Helen Wheels.” Both of those tunes received constant airplay in 1974, but the best song on that album is the little-known “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Four.”
A few years later came the London Town record, which actually had three songs better than its number one single “With a Little Luck.” The acoustic country-rock gem “Deliver Your Children,” the satirical “Famous Groupies” and the catchy “Café on the Left Bank” are all superior to the hit from that 1978 album.
From Venus and Mars McCartney nailed another number one, but again it was not the standout track. That honor belonged to “Medicine Jar” with its eerie echo effect against an intoxicating electric guitar riff.
Still, McCartney’s number one singles are good enough to warrant some admiration, so here is a ranking of those songs from the best to the merely good.
Uncle Albert/ Admiral Halsey from McCartney
Only a few moths removed from his work with The Beatles, this multi-layered single hit the top spot on September 4, 1971.
With a Little Luck from London Town
A catchy refrain and gorgeous orchestration propelled this tune to number one in 1978.
Listen What the Man Said from Venus and Mars
It was on July 19, 1975 when this love ballad reached the highest possible destination for a song.
Silly Love Songs from Wings At the Speed of Sound
John Lennon had famously criticized McCartney for his occasional simplistic love ditties, so this particular tune was Sir Paul’s response to his former songwriting partner. On May 22, 1976, the supposedly silly song hit number one.
Title Track from Band on the Run
The fact that it made the top spot (June 8, 1974) despite running well over the three minute mark is a testament to just how catchy it was.
Coming Up from McCartney II
His foray into disco and techno music is evident on this hit, which topped the charts on June 28, 1980.
My Love from Red Rose Speedway
As he had done with “Yesterday” years earlier, McCartney showcased his ability to create a slow-paced ballad with this track that surpassed all others on June 2, 1973.
Say Say Say from Pipes of Peace
Michael Jackson joined him for this contagious hit, whose climb to the top on December 10, 1983 was greatly aided by a creative video set in the Old West.
Ebony and Ivory from Tug of War
Stevie Wonder co-wrote and sang with him on this declaration for racial harmony, which hit number one on May 15, 1982.