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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ranking Paul McCartney's Albums of the 80's

7:34 PM Posted by Nicole M

With Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt slated to be the next release in "The Archive Collection" in just a couple of months (March 24, 2017), it seemed like a good time to rank Sir Paul's solo albums from the 1980's and see just where Flowers fits into the picture.

Hint: it's at the top.

The 1980's were not particularly kind to Paul, and Flowers came as a welcome breath of fresh air. You'll see why as you work through this list: Paul McCartney's albums of the 80's, ranked from worst to first.

#7 - Press to Play (1986)

Most of the songs were co-written by Paul and 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart by literally pulling lyrics on-the-spot from conversations they were having -- and it shows. Producer Hugh Padgham dared to suggest to Paul that the songs weren't quite ready for the studio, to which Paul responded, "when did you write your last number one?" (quoted in Howard Sounes's book, Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney)

The album reeks of that particular 80's vibe every bit as much as McCartney II does, but it takes itself far more seriously than McCartney II, which makes it worse. At least McCartney II was homemade and almost purposefully kitschy. Press is trying to be an actual studio album. 

Everyone hated it, hardly anyone bought it, and frankly, it's more like "Press to Skip," am I right?

#6 - McCartney II (1980)

This is a bad album. Seriously bad. Like, so bad, it comes all the way back around and starts to become good again. Paul was fresh off a marijuana bust in Japan that had scared him silly, so he ditched Wings and holed up in his home studio with some synthesizers and sequencers and just went nuts. And that's what this album is: it's like hanging out in your stoned roommate's bedroom and watching him dink around with a keyboard for hours while you mindlessly pick at the wallpaper and wonder if Kevin will forget to pick up the orange juice again.

The saving graces that put this album ahead of Press? It's got "Coming Up," for starters. "Temporary Secretary" is kinda catchy after a while, "Summer's Day Song" is wonderfully melodic and had the potential to be a beautiful choral piece, and "One of These Days" finds McCartney in his solo acoustic element. It could have been a really good track, with slightly different production.

The album is a novelty. Not everyday listening, but fun once in a while. Just don't forget: it's awful.

#5 - CHOBA B CCCP (1988)

What do you do when your last album (Press to Play) crashed and burned like a Samsung Galaxy Note 7? You retreat for the cover of ... well, covers. This album is all cover songs, old rock standards like "Twenty Flight Rock" and "That's All Right Mama." But it's fairly uninspiring, and in his Beatles days, Paul once brought a lot more life, energy, and fire to these types of classic tunes.

It's an ok album, but when you're Paul McCartney, composer of "Yesterday," "Eleanor Rigby," "Let it Be," etc., you can do better. Write your own songs, man.

#4 - Pipes of Peace (1983)

Ok, we're getting to the slightly better material here. The title song is decent enough, even if 1983 is a bit late in the game to be singing peace, love, and all-the-children-round-the-world type of songs. Of course, the "Say, Say, Say" duet with Michael Jackson was a number one hit, and that gives the album extra points all by itself.

But after that, it's fairly forgettable material. "So Bad" is sentimental and sweet, but it also sounds exactly like it was written and recorded in 1983. Oh well, at least this album isn't Press to Play.

#3 - Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)

Ohmygosh you guys, this movie was sooooooo bad, but you've got to see it at least once just to say you've seen it. This album is the accompanying soundtrack, and it's 98 percent made up of songs Paul had previously recorded, now re-recorded and produced with the Power of 80's Studio Magic.

Want to hear "Good Day Sunshine" re-recorded and mixed with a more electric-sounding piano, vocals washed in reverb and flange-y effects, and over-processed drums? How about "Yesterday," except recorded with horns instead of the iconic strings? Yeah, you'll love this album, then.

However, it does contain the mega-hit "No More Lonely Nights," and unlike with CHOBA B CCCP, Paul makes the correct choice with this album: if you're going to record a bunch of covers and you're Paul McCartney, you might as well record covers of your own songs.

#2 - Tug of War (1982)

Remember how I said that Press to Play suffered partly because the producer couldn't get away with telling Paul that the music wasn't up to snuff? With Tug of War, Paul joined up with legendary Beatles producer George Martin for the first time since the end of the Beatle Empire, and George, unlike Hugh Padgham, had the clout to offer some real guidance and criticism. The results were undeniable: it went to number one and was nominated for the "Album of the Year" Grammy award. (For the trivia buffs, it lost to Toto's Toto IV and the mega-hit "Africa.")

It's not a front-to-back jaw-dropper like, for instance, Band on the Run, but it has a solid run of really good songs: "Tug of War," "Take it Away," "Wanderlust," "Here Today" (Paul's emotional tribute to his recently-murdered mate, John Lennon), "Ebony and Ivory" (you can't go wrong asking Stevie Wonder to be your duet partner), and even "Ballroom Dancing" is a bit of crazy fun.

Definitely one of Paul's best offerings from the 80's.

#1 - Flowers in the Dirt (1989)

I would almost rank this second and give Tug of War top billing, except for the historical context. Tug of War landed at the beginning of the 80's and was followed by a lot of very mediocre McCartney albums. Flowers in the Dirt was every bit as good as Tug of War, and it brought a dramatic end to a decade of not-so-great records because of how Paul went about accomplishing the task: he embraced his Beatle past.

To begin with, he collaborated with Elvis Costello on the songwriting (Costello, of course, being a fellow Liverpudlian who biographer Peter Carlin called in Paul McCartney: A Life, "the songwriter critics compared most readily to [John Lennon]"). Then there was the music video for the song's opening track, "My Brave Face," which featured shots of Paul playing his iconic Hofner "violin bass" for the first time in nearly two decades -- and these shots were interspersed with private film footage of The Beatles being all young and silly. As Carlin wrote, the message was clear: "This Paul is that Paul. And now he's back to being the most Beatle-y of the Beatles, the act you've known for all these years!"

The opening track is extremely strong, and tunes like "Put it There," "Figure of Eight," "This One," "Rough Ride," and "Distractions" keep the listener engaged -- even if the rest of the album can be a bit meandering. Paul paired the new album with his first world tour since Wings Over the World (yes, it had been over a decade since his last world tour), and just like that, Paul McCartney was back in business. That's why this album stands out among Paul's 1980's offerings, even above Tug of War.

So, who's ready for the release of the remaster?