Paul McCartney is such a preternaturally gifted songwriter that he could probably write a song in his sleep — and given his productivity over the last half a century, there’s a chance that at some point he did.
On Friday, McCartney, 78, will release “McCartney III,” the latest album in a career that’s yielded dozens of LPs and even more dozens of singles since the Beatles called it quits 50 years ago. His rate of work — on his own; with his late wife, Linda McCartney; with his band Wings — has led many to accuse him of diluting his talent.
But he’s never seemed to care: Indeed, the charming and eclectic “McCartney III,” which he made largely by himself while quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic, proudly evokes 1970’s “McCartney” and 1980’s “McCartney II,” each widely described at the time as being full of tossed-off trifles.
To mark the new album’s arrival — in a week he has all to himself thanks to Taylor Swift moving the release date of her “Evermore” on his account — we’ve ranked every one of Sir Paul’s post-Beatles singles, from worst to best, in the list below. (An accompanying Spotify playlist follows the No. 1 entry.) Using information from McCartney’s official website, Discogs and the amazingly comprehensive Paul McCartney Project, it seeks to include the A-side of every single commercially released in either the U.S. or the U.K. as well as the duets and collaborations in which McCartney took a lead or coequal role; it does not include various remixes, charity group efforts — or, as it happens, anything from “McCartney III,” since, as with his first self-titled set, he didn’t issue a single in advance.
82. “Fuh You” (2018)
No problem with a veteran act singing about sex — nor with a veteran act recruiting a young hitmaker, as McCartney did Ryan Tedder. But the nagging piano hook irritates 10 seconds in, while the cutesy lyrical feint offers coarseness with no real jolt. A failure of taste and of courage.
81. “(I Want to) Come Home” (2009)
Written for a Robert De Niro movie. Nominated for a Golden Globe. Remembered by nobody.
80. “Once Upon a Long Ago” (1987)
“Puppy dog tails in the House of Lords / Tell me, darling, what can it mean?”
79. “Tug of War” (1982)
Overblown orchestral nonsense that didn’t exactly sell a reunion with the Beatles’ ingenious producer, George Martin.
78. “Pretty Little Head” (1986)
“I had a new studio…,” McCartney once said of its genesis — chilling words from a rock star with wheels to spin.
77. “Hope for the Future” (2014)
From the soundtrack of a big-budget video game, half a song’s worth of melody dressed up with enough production flash for two.
76. “Stranglehold” (1986)
Having hired producer Hugh Padgham to help him find a contemporary sound, McCartney certainly found it.
75. “Spies Like Us” (1985)
Tellingly, this throwaway title song from the Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd comedy is not on Spotify.
74. “In a Hurry” (2019)
Busy but aimless.
73. “Dance Tonight” (2007)
As forgettable as a cup of coffee from Starbucks, which somehow was McCartney’s record label at the time.
72. “From a Lover to a Friend” (2001)
Nice bass part, otherwise a bit mopey.
71. “Only Love Remains” (1986)
Corniness snatched from the jaws of elegance.
70. “C’mon People” (1993)
A pretty elaborate production for a pretty lightweight message.
69. “Nod Your Head” (2007)
Why don’t we redo it in the road?
68. “Off the Ground” (1993)
Laziness has its charms.
67. “Come on to Me” (2018)
A song about consent for the Oldchella crowd.
66. “Transpiritual Stomp” — the Fireman (1993)
Producer Youth plays Brian Eno to McCartney’s David Byrne for this ambient-electronic side project.
65. “Freedom” (2001)
Inspired by 9/11 — events McCartney witnessed while sitting in a plane on the tarmac at New York’s JFK Airport — this reassuring folk-rock stomp-along met the emotional needs of its moment (if not the geopolitical complexities to come).
64. “Get Enough” (2019)
Macca goes Bon Iver.
63. “I Don’t Know” (2018)
A minor song in a minor key.
62. “We All Stand Together” — with the Frog Chorus (1984)
Created for an animated short film starring Rupert Bear; still beats “Yellow Submarine.”
61. “Où est le Soleil?” (1989)
An itchy dance-funk jam born out of the sessions for “Flowers in the Dirt.”
60. “Party Party” (1989)
59. “Home Tonight” (2019)
An “Egypt Station” outtake that sounds like it, exquisitely mic’d drum set and all.
58. “Press” (1986)
“Oklahoma was never like this,” McCartney sings — a line that “can mean whatever you want it to mean,” he’s said.
57. “Old Siam, Sir” (1979)
Scratchy riffs from Wings’ guitarists — in this case old hand Denny Laine and newcomer Laurence Juber — to go with Macca’s scratchy vocal.
56. “Ebony and Ivory” — with Stevie Wonder (1982)
Is the central metaphor adequate to the task of racial reconciliation? It is not. Yet the tragedy of McCartney’s meet-up with one of Black pop’s auteurs is that their lively vocal interplay successfully makes the argument the song’s childish lyrics keep undercutting.
55. “Biker Like an Icon” (1993)
“I like confusing titles,” McCartney once said.
54. “All My Trials” (1990)
Wistful live recording of a traditional protest-folkie favorite.
53. “Pipes of Peace” (1983)
Do-gooder save-the-children pop is rarely done with such a light touch.
52. “Tropic Island Hum” (2004)
Macca returns to cartoon music, this time with an eye on New Orleans.
51. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (1972)
With backing vocals by two of McCartney’s daughters, who surely knew the words.
50. “This One” (1989)
Say it like “the swan.”
49. “The Back Seat of My Car” — with Linda McCartney (1971)
With dramatic strings played by the New York Philharmonic.
48. “Letting Go” (1975)
A strutting, soulful blues-rock jam that gets a jump on the soon-to-come “Miss You” by the Beatles’ old frenemies the Rolling Stones.
47. “Junior’s Farm” (1974)
The title refers to the summer Wings spent at songwriter Curly Putman’s spread near Nashville. But there’s nothing country about the song’s glam-adjacent lick.
46. “Helen Wheels” (1973)
A vrooming Chuck Berry-style road song with London, not California, on the driver’s mind.
45. “Take It Away” (1982)
A “lonely driver … switches on his radio” and gets more than his fill: Steely Dan in the verse, Buddy Holly in the chorus, the Carpenters in the bridge.
44. “The Christmas Song” (2012)
Mel Tormé and Robert Wells’ holiday chestnut is hard to screw up; McCartney, accompanied by Diana Krall on piano, acquits himself just fine.
43. “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” (1975)
A fist-pumping arena-rock song (with Allen Toussaint on piano) about fist-pumping arena-rock songs.
42. “Hi, Hi, Hi” (1972)
McCartney called it “a perfectly harmless little rock ’n’ roll song,” which didn’t stop the BBC from banning it thanks to lyrics about getting high and doing it like rabbits.
41. “Put It There” (1989)
A lovely acoustic number built around a friendly expression McCartney’s father used to deploy: “Put it there if it weighs a ton.”
40. “Walking in the Park With Eloise” — the Country Hams (1974)
Another one for old Mr. McCartney — in this case a Dixieland-style jazz tune written by Sir Paul’s dad and recorded in Nashville (under an alter ego) with help from the esteemed Chet Atkins.
39. “London Town” (1978)
Like Paul Simon doing “Penny Lane.”
38. “Getting Closer” (1979)
Like Paul McCartney doing Cheap Trick.
37. “Birthday” (1990)
Concert rendition of the rowdy White Album cut from McCartney’s embracing-the-old-days “Tripping the Live Fantastic” LP. Screamy in a good way.
36. “Fine Line” (2005)
The chugging piano makes it go — especially the wrong note that feels right.
35. “Ever Present Past” (2007)
“Searching for the time that has gone so fast,” he sings. Yet the zippy robo-garage groove looks ahead, not behind.
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34. “The World Tonight” (1997)
Noted Beatle whisperer Jeff Lynne coaxes a hard-riffing rock gem from his idol.
33. “Figure of Eight” (1989)
Not terribly high on the list of McCartney’s achievements — but not terribly low either! — is paving the way for the New Radicals, who seem to have based their entire cult-fave 1998 LP on this yearning pop-rock tune.
32. “No Other Baby” (1999)
Following Linda’s death in 1998, McCartney sought comfort in recording some of his favorite rock ’n’ roll oldies, including a sensual rendition of one not-quite-popularized by the Vipers.
31. “My Valentine” (2012)
A suitably silky original from Macca’s not-bad standards album, “Kisses on the Bottom.”
30. “New” (2013)
In a bouncy song about romantic (or is it creative?) renewal, what charms is the grain of age in McCartney’s voice.
29. “Let ’Em In” (1976)
Perhaps McCartney’s least likely top five hit, this isn’t even much of a song — just a juicy rhythm-section groove overlaid with piping woodwinds and the names of various people (including the Everly Brothers) for whom a door should be opened.
28. “I’ve Had Enough” (1978)
Wings’ “London Town” album — which, to the annoyance of classic-rock chauvinists irked by Linda’s membership, made the band a longer-lived recording entity than the Beatles — is loaded with plush late-’70s synth textures. But here Macca and Co. haul out the fuzzy guitars for a tantrum about paying the taxman to build an unwanted bomb.
27. “Beautiful Night” (1997)
McCartney had the Beatles on his mind big-time after the multimedia “Anthology” project began rolling out in 1995, and nowhere is that clearer than on this stately midtempo number with an orchestral arrangement by Martin and drums and backing vocals by one Ringo Starr.
26. “Hope of Deliverance” (1993)
The briskly strummed acoustic guitar and syncopated Latin percussion call back to Wings’ “Goodnight Tonight.”
25. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” — with Linda McCartney (1971)
McCartney won his first Grammy as a solo act — and scored his first post-Beatles No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 — with this episodic, “Abbey Road”-style production number in which he ponders what older folks might think of his indolent generation.
24. “Temporary Secretary” (1980)
Is this DIY synth-pop oddity Macca’s weirdest tune? It’s definitely the Cute One’s creepiest.
23. “Another Day” (1971)
Recorded during the sessions for “Ram” (but not included on that album), the first official single of McCartney’s post-Beatles career avoids any superstar la-di-da for a tenderly observed account of one woman’s ordinary life.
22. “Young Boy” (1997)
An indelibly Beatlesque chord progression topped with an intricate guitar solo by Steve Miller.
21. “The Girl Is Mine” — with Michael Jackson (1982)
The first of McCartney’s collaborations with Michael Jackson to come out (though “Say Say Say” and “The Man” were recorded earlier), “The Girl Is Mine” was released as the lead single from “Thriller.” “Thriller”! Made perfect sense in 1982; seems totally insane now.
20. “Jenny Wren” (2005)
A fingerpicked acoustic ballad à la “Blackbird” with an eerie solo on the Armenian duduk to remind you that McCartney had Radiohead’s producer, Nigel Godrich, in the studio with him.
19. “Arrow Through Me” (1979)
A shimmering yacht-rock jam funky enough that Erykah Badu sampled it for her 2010 track “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long.”
18. “Waterfalls” (1980)
A stripped-down R&B ballad winsome enough that TLC remade it as its 1994 smash “Waterfalls.”
17. “Say Say Say” — with Michael Jackson (1983)
McCartney’s most recent Hot 100-topper is more of an even playing field, vocally speaking, than you may remember (or imagine). Great horn arrangement too.
16. “Live and Let Die” (1973)
Can pyrotechnics be built into a piece of music? Wings’ shamelessly showy Bond theme — the first to be nominated for an Oscar — argues convincingly that they can (even if the song’s full pop-trash potential was only later realized by Guns N’ Roses).
15. “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979)
He mentions a “choir of children,” yet the kiddie choir never shows up — a gift unto itself.
14. “Goodnight Tonight” (1979)
A disco-flamenco delight with a killer bass line and a decidedly married-with-children view of sex: “Don’t get too tired for love,” McCartney pleads.
13. “No More Lonely Nights” (1984)
From the flop “Give My Regards to Broad Street” film, a sumptuous power ballad with creamy keys, aching vocals and flashy electric guitar by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
12. “Coming Up” (1980)
The name of this band is Paul McCartney.
11. “With a Little Luck” (1978)
Recorded on a boat in the Virgin Islands — and featured in a Farrah Fawcett movie called “Sunburn” — this is slick white-soul schmaltz done precisely right — and in a year with no shortage of competition: Before it at No. 1 came the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” and Player’s “Baby Come Back.”
10. “Maybe I’m Amazed” (1977)
This concert rendition from the triple-live “Wings Over America” drags a little, and McCartney’s singing feels less aflame with passion than in the studio take on his debut solo album. But “Maybe I’m Amazed” remains one of rock’s great love songs: a secular-gospel hymn of praise to a woman helping “a lonely man who’s in the middle of something” — namely, the breakup of the biggest band in history.
9. “Mull of Kintyre” (1977)
For a songwriter, genius can show itself in a finely wrought melody or a vivid turn of phrase. It’s also seen in the evocation of a place, as McCartney does with bagpipes and windswept acoustic guitar in this gorgeous shanty — at one point the biggest-selling single of all time in the U.K. — about Scotland’s “dark distant mountains” and “valleys of green.”
8. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” (1972)
Exhibit B: this fierce Celtic rocker that McCartney wrote in response to Northern Island’s Bloody Sunday, when more than a dozen civil rights protesters were killed by British soldiers. The song’s political thrust was widely viewed as Macca’s attempt to keep up with John Lennon (though it’s also got some freewheeling “Like a Rolling Stone” energy). And he caught plenty of flak for appearing to condone the actions of the Irish Republican Army. But the crunching guitars and raw vocals are an undeniable thrill.
7. “FourFiveSeconds” — with Rihanna and Kanye West (2015)
On Spotify, this improbable intergenerational team-up outdraws McCartney’s solo tunes — and many of the Beatles’ hits — by hundreds of millions of streams. Yet it wasn’t just a play for new listeners: As much as he’s leaning toward his younger collaborators (including Rihanna in one of her finest vocal performances ever), McCartney is pulling them toward him in this warm acoustic number, which went on to become a regular part of his live show.
6. “My Brave Face” (1989)
Co-written with Elvis Costello, this crisp and relentlessly hooky guitar-pop jam would appear to demonstrate McCartney’s absorption of his collaborator’s style — until you remember how completely Costello had absorbed McCartney’s before the two even met.
5. “Listen to What the Man Said” (1975)
Over a lightly skipping groove that sounds like it could go on forever, McCartney and his Wings mates float cool, jazzy vocal harmonies as session-pro saxophonist Tom Scott noodles around behind them. Finishes with a handsome strings-and-harp coda that looks ahead to Macca’s dabbling in classical music. Bumped the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” from atop the Hot 100.
4. “Jet” (1974)
Nobody, including McCartney, has any idea what it’s about, which does nothing to limit the swaggering exuberance of Wings’ glammiest hit.
3. “My Love” (1973)
The lyric is almost laughably modest: “And when the cupboard’s bare / I’ll still find something there with my love.” (Oooh, sardines.) But McCartney never made a lusher, more enveloping ballad than this one about Linda — a partner, we’re meant to understand by the sophistication of the song’s chords, for whom even the most flowery words would fail to do justice. A swank guitar solo by Henry McCullough further boosts the romance of a single that spent four straight weeks at No. 1.
2. “Band on the Run” (1974)
Who else could have seen that the wildly disparate parts of this multi-section epic would fit together so neatly? Singing not coincidentally about escape, McCartney — who’d decamped to Nigeria with Linda and Laine — zigs and zags among twinkling close-harmony pop, creeping funk and strummy country-rock with effortless pizazz.
1. “Silly Love Songs” (1976)
The factory-floor clanks at the beginning let you know he’s in on the joke before he even opens his mouth: Yes, he churns this stuff out like so many widgets — but wouldn’t you if you could? “Silly Love Songs” isn’t just McCartney’s genially trolling response to critics (and a certain former bandmate) who said his work was too lightweight or too commercial. So joyful it could bring a tear to your eye, the sparkling disco-pop smash is a manifesto from an unabashed believer in love’s ability to change lives. Sure, he made more complicated music; of course, he revealed a deeper literary flair. But the magic of “Silly Love Songs” — maybe the purest distillation of McCartney’s guiding emotional philosophy — is the way it elevates happiness to an idea worthy of a life’s work. “How can I tell you about my loved one?” he wonders as the clockwork arrangement ticks along in impeccable time. Wink wink — he’d already figured it out.