Ranking Paul McCartney’s 5 Best Songs of the ’80s

The ‘80s were tough on a lot of classic rock artists who were dealing with the changing sounds of the times. Paul McCartney not only had to deal with that, but also the dissolution of his ‘70s band Wings and death of John Lennon.

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McCartney managed to rise to the occasion time and again during the decade. He released a pair of his most beloved solo record in the ‘80s (Tug of War and Flowers in the Dirt). Even those albums that didn’t rise to classic status included several standout individual tracks. Let’s take on the difficult task of ranking McCartney’s five best songs of the ‘80s.

5. “So Bad,” from Pipes of Peace (1983)

Pipes of Peace was meant to play as a kind of companion piece to Tug of War, which was released the previous year in 1982. Unfortunately, it was stuck with the lesser material of the two, although it did get a commercial boost from the inclusion of the Michael Jackson duet “Say Say Say.” We’re partial to “So Bad,” an underdog of a ballad that didn’t exactly break chart records (No. 23 on Billboard) when released as a single. But we love the subtleties of it, from McCartney’s tender falsetto vocals to the way the open spaces in the song give way to the big rush of backing vocals in the middle eight.

4. “Take It Away,” from Tug of War (1982)

When Wings gave up the ghost, it freed McCartney from always having to write with a rocking arrangement in mind. A song like “Take It Away” might have never been tackled in that setting. Instead, McCartney gets to work here with a pair of ace drummers in Ringo Starr and Steve Gadd, and the duo give the song an unconventional hiccup in the opening section. The song delves into sophisti-pop in the verses, before McCartney leads a cavalry charge through the chorus. It’s restrained and thrilling all at once, almost like one of his ambitious song suites contained in one single.

3. “Coming Up,” from McCartney II (1980)

Take a listen to the McCartney II album, and you’ll realize that it’s not anywhere near as experimental as its reputation. But “Coming Up” was certainly the most accessible entry point, which made it a great choice for the lead single. It’s also just a ridiculously catchy song. The way that McCartney works the synths and ladles the effects on his vocals combine to lend the song an almost childlike feel. That works with the message of the lyrics, which suggests good times are coming if you just wait around long enough for them to get there.

2. “That Day Is Done,” from Flowers in the Dirt (1989)

The songwriting partnership of McCartney and Elvis Costello proved mutually beneficial, as both came away with excellent songs for their catalog. “That Day Is Done” is the best one McCartney had a chance to record, and it acted as a kind of stately centerpiece for his wonderful Flowers in the Dirt record. It borrows some of the gospel feel of songs like “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road,” but there’s also a kind of woozy blues vibe tugging at it as well. Great lyrics also, reminiscent of the country standard “Long Black Veil” but with a kind of existential twist.

1. “Here Today,” from Tug of War (1982)

There are so many ways that McCartney writing a tribute to John Lennon could have gone wrong, especially in the time period not long after Lennon’s death when emotions were so raw. It is to his eternal credit he avoided the pitfalls. More than that, he went out and delivered one of the most moving songs of his career. And he did it by not worrying too much about how the rest of the world felt about Lennon, but rather by zeroing in on his own very specific relationship with him. Give credit as well to producer George Martin for getting the orchestration just right for maximum heart-tugging.

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