19 June, 2016

The Best of the Best-Ofs: Paul McCartney
(revised and updated)

For someone so prolific, Paul McCartney has released very few compilations, averaging less than one per decade. Pure McCartney is only the fourth – far less than contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Elton John and even John Lennon, who was only given ten years for a solo career and spent five of those in semi-retirement.

And of these four compilations, the new release is the only one to include his entire post-Beatles career. Here, I will compare it to the others from a previous post in this occasional series.

Pure McCartney - 2016
Firstly, the title is perfect. Shying away from a hits or best-of per-se, the sleeve notes and promotional material state that the album was compiled “with nothing else in mind other than having something fun to listen to.” All the hits you’d expect are here and the remainder of the 4-disc set is evidently made up of Paul’s personal favourites from what I believe the young’uns these days call “deep cuts.” Of these album tracks, many are finally getting the recognition they deserve such as Arrow Through Me and Don’t Let It Bring You Down, while others have already enjoyed a recent resurgence such as Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five and… um… Temporary Secretary.

As you might expect, it does lean a little heavily on the most recent album New but apart from that, it covers pretty much all phases of Paul’s career equally. About time too! Only two regular albums are not represented here; Driving Rain, which is understandable given the painful phase of Paul’s life that it represented, and more oddly, Flowers in the Dirt. Perhaps this is because the latter is being given a deluxe reissue later this year.

There will be minor quibbles. For instance, I think The Song We Were Singing would have made a perfect opening track, and I don’t think anyone would have minded if Bip Bop and Press were bumped for, say, London Town and C’mon People, but did I change the face of 20th century music? No, I did not. This does contain the only CD release of Hope for the Future. It also includes the 2015 remix of Say Say Say, which features more Michael Jackson vocals than the original. It might have been nice to include some other recent non-album singles like Vanilla Sky and (I Want To) Come Home but again, these are minor quibbles.

Despite jumping several decades in places, the sequencing works well providing good flow and contrast across some very different songs. New masters of the tracks are used where available but unfortunately the tracks from Memory Almost Full (ironically, the McCartney album in most dire need of a remaster) are still “brickwalled.”

Predictably, the more reasonably priced 2-disc version preferences the radio songs more but still has an excellent overview of McCartney’s work.

For: Career-spanning, personal, only album release of Hope for the Future
Against: 4-disc version is expensive
Band on the Run from Pure McCartney

Wings Greatest – 1978
Does exactly what it says on the cover. Wings only made one more album after Wings Greatest, the excellent but hit-free Back to the Egg so it can still be considered the definitive Wings collection. It does stretch the definition just a little by including two tracks originally credited to Paul & Linda McCartney, but no-one could possibly begrudge that. It includes five non-album singles but for reasons of space, leaves out Listen to What the Man Said. Wings Greatest was the only album until Pure McCartney to contain the full version of Junior’s Farm.

For: Succinct
Against: These days, represents a comparatively short phase of McCartney’s career.
Band on the Run from Wings Greatet

All the Best – 1987
Originally released as a double-LP All the Best contains nine tracks that were also released on Wings Greatest and add the hits from the 80s. It includes the first album releases of C Moon, We All Stand Together and Goodnight Tonight, although the latter was not included on the single CD. Contains one new song, Once Upon a Long Ago.

The US version of All the Best had a slightly different tracklisting, and includes the live version of Coming Up, (which was the A-side of the single in the US) rather than the album version.

For: Great artwork, Only album release of Once Upon a Long Ago
Against: CD version drops three tracks.
Band on the Run from All the Best

Wingspan – 2001
Released alongside the television documentary and book of the same name, Wingspan is sensibly divided into two themed discs, Hits and History. The collection does employ a rather curious definition of Wings’ career. While it’s fair enough to include pre-Wings tracks from McCartney and Ram, it also covers part of Paul’s post-Wings careers, but suddenly stops in 1984.
On the Hits side, it’s all the usual suspects – ten tracks previously included on Wings Greatest and fourteen that had been on All the Best. The History side delves deeper and does a good job of being a true best-of, including underrated tracks like Heart of the Country, Take It Away and Rockestra Theme. It also includes an early demo of Bip Bop/Hey Diddle, which was previously unreleased and should have remained so. Where available, radio edits included which may be interesting for completists but does an injustice to a beautiful song like Waterfalls, and wasn’t Junior’s Farm already short enough? Again, Coming Up is replaced with the live version on the US version. The smarter thing to do would have been to include it on the History disc, since the live version has never been available on CD outside the US.

For: Comprehensive, separate Hits and History discs, remastered.
Against: Edited versions, weird time period.
Band on the Run from Wingspan

If you had to choose one, choose...
Pure McCartney, 2-disc version. Go for the 4-disc if you want. Wingspan goes into more detail between 1970 and 1984 but Pure McCartney is just that – the first collection including live albums that doesn’t sell half his career short.

See also,

The Greatest - 1998
Japan-only release that is interesting for including My Brave Face and Hope of Deliverance, but bloody expensive. For collectors only. 

Never Stop Doing What You Love – 2005
This collection was issued as part of a sponsorship deal with and investment company. Although never commercially released, it has been available online from certain sellers. It’s mostly a predictable collection of hits, but also includes Put It There, The World Tonight and Calico Skies.


  1. I have held out to see if Best Buy or Target would feature bonus tracks on their cds, but they haven't. BTW, I have "(I Want To) Come Home" on a radio only cd. As far as I know, it's the only way to get it on cd.

  2. At least I won't have to skip through Vanilla Sky. Never cared for that song.