Graded on a Curve:
Paul McCartney,
The 7″ Singles Box

The continued intense interest, unprecedented influence, and mythology of The Beatles can sometimes obscure and undervalue the musical contribution of the solo works of the four Beatles. More significantly, the works from the four that came after what is perceived as their solo heyday in the 1970s are given even less fair treatment.

Ringo Starr’s studio work has probably received the least praise, but his live All-Starr bands and his film and television work add more to his creative resume. John Lennon didn’t have a chance to move forward with his music, due to his senseless murder in 1980. One of the joys of the lives of fans of Lennon would have been to see what he would have done musically over the decades. George Harrison had some post-’70s glory with his Cloud Nine album and especially his two albums with the Traveling Wilburys, not to mention his place in cinema with Handmade Films.

Paul McCartney, however, has had a fruitful, if uneven, post-’70s musical life. While he has released some truly classic albums throughout his entire Wings and solo career, some of his albums have been inconsistent. Much of his work during the ’70s was as part of the group Wings with his wife Linda, Denny Laine, and a rotating cast of studio and live members, most notably Denny Seiwell, Henry McCullough, Jimmy McCulloch, Geoff Britton, Joe English, Laurence Juber, and Steve Holley.

His output as a singles artist is more consistent, as is evidenced by the uber 7″ Singles Box. Released in a limited, numbered quantity of 3,000 and including 81 singles (plus a 148-page booklet), the set is housed in a Redwood pine and Birch Ply wooden art crate that was made in the UK, while the actual entire physical package was made in France. This is a wide-ranging collection that covers 50 years. It is a remarkably consistent and listenable experience and McCartney’s uncanny knack for writing catchy, yet quirky and adventurous songs, with charm and wit, is in full display.

What’s even more amazing is that this collection doesn’t actually include all of the various singles and non-album tracks of his solo career. McCartney has released official solo, collaborative, or limited single releases that actually come close to 130 in number. This box contains 15 singles, not previously released officially in the 7-inch format. Also, each box contains a randomly selected replica test pressing of one of the singles.

The singles are housed in replica sleeves from a wide variety of countries other than the UK and the US, including Sweden, Belgium, Israel, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, France, and Japan. A number of the latter singles are Europe or Global releases. This choosing from various single releases from around the world is the same concept used for The Singles Collection from The Beatles, released in 2019. Most of the non-UK and non-US releases come from the ’70s releases.

The singles were remastered and cut at Abbey Road studios. One of the interesting variations is the mono promotional release of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”/”Too Many People,” the only mono mix in the box. There are three singles here that contain more than two songs, including “The World You’re Coming Into”/”Tres Conejos”/”Save the Child”/”The Drinking Song,” which is really more like an EP taken from The Liverpool Oratorio, featuring Kiri Te Kanawa, one of McCartney’s classical works. There are five live solo tracks and three live tracks originally from McCartney’s time with The Beatles. Three soundtrack singles are included. There are also his duets with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. The 1989 “Party Party” single features an art etching on the B-side.

Hearing the different ways songs were presented for the singles market provides insight into the sound of singles in the ’70s. While the album had become the dominant music format at that time, hit singles were still important, as physical, 7-inch singles were still readily available in record stores and sold in large numbers. One of the revelations of listening to the singles in this box is the B-sides, many of which have never been issued on LPs or CDs. Also notable are various edits of songs and, as previously mentioned, rare promotional mixes.

Some of the B-sides are as good as any A-sides released by other artists in the period when 7-inch vinyl was a common format. “Beware My Love,” the B-side of “Let ‘Em In,” is as good as anything McCartney recorded in the 1970s. “Too Many People;” “Heart of the Country;”” Daytime, Nightime Suffering;” Magneto and Titanium Man,” and just about any of the B-sides from the Band on the Run period are particularly strong.

It’s interesting how many singles in the box are associated with the Band on the Run album from 1973. The album was a major critical and commercial success and the music from it was big with album buyers and singles from the album dominated the charts. It continued McCartney’s ubiquitous presence in music at the time (after “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “My Love”), and singles post Band on the Run (“Junior’s Farm,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” and “Silly Love Songs”) were also big hits.

Especially in the ’70s, but well into the ’80s, McCartney’s music was just at home with rabid record album buyers as it was with a music industry still driven by hit singles. Some of these singles also offered collectors the opportunity to own not only the latest album, but singles, either with some association with the current album, or those singles that were not somehow connected to an album. Also, the inclusion in this box of singles from the 1970s and 1980s that were released outside of the US and UK from the 1970s and 1980s (which back then were harder to find through import channels) makes this a treasure trove for collectors, who might have missed some of the rarer singles releases the first time around.

While some of the acoustic or country-flavored singles have a lovely, wistful and melancholy feel, sometimes they have a subtle funky, almost R&B rhythm edge. This is good time music and a continuation of the joyous music he made throughout his years with The Beatles.

The ’80s started out strong for McCartney, especially with his McCartney II, Tug of War, and Pipes Of Peace albums, but as with other artists from the 1960s, the middle ’80s was sometimes a period of transition for him. McCartney disbanded Wings in 1980. He then starting working with new collaborators and by the time he made the Flowers in the Dirt album, in 1989, he had found strong footing again, as evidenced by such singles as “Figure of Eight,” “My Brave Face,” and “This One” included here. His first CD-single was “Once Upon A Long Ago,” from the period when he worked on sessions with Phil Ramone.

As for the latter singles from the ’90s and onward, one is reminded of how McCartney continued to write songs perfect for the pop charts. Some of those songs were a bit underrated at the time, but also reflected how entrenched the industry was in full-length albums, with the heyday of the CD all but eliminating the physical vinyl single that was ubiquitous for decades. CD singles never really caught on, but once iTunes became popular, the single, although now most prevalent in a non-physical format, went through a revival.

It’s a testament to McCartney’s staying power that, through all of these music delivery and industry changes, he continued to write and record songs that could make waves as a single. Music included here from this period, from Flaming Pie in particular, is very strong. One of the highlights of the 2000 singles is “Jenny Wren” maybe one of the best songs McCartney has ever written since leaving The Beatles and excluding his 1970s output.

Some of the 2010 singles included in this box, display another vocal side of McCartney that is often under-appreciated. They include “My Valentine,” backed with “Get Yourself Another Fool,” from his Kisses on the Bottom album from 2012, and “Christmas Kisses,” which includes “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” backed with “Wonderful Christmastime.” Because the man’s talents are so vast, his ability to be able to sing like the crooners from the great American songbook era is sometimes overlooked. The most recent singles are particularly strong, such as some of the singles from his Egypt Station and McCartney III period.

What could be a lot of fun, for professional or even amateur DJs, would be to create one’s own mixtape, or mixtapes, from the 160 songs here. Or, even to take singles from The Beatles singles box and mix them with singles from this new McCartney box. There are so many singles here that maybe didn’t chart very high or receive critical praise, but that don’t sound dated, and, in fact, some have become part of the classic McCartney canon.

This is a remarkable reissue and it ranks as one of the best Beatles-related reissues ever. It’s a lot of music to digest and no review coming so soon after its release can fully capture the variety, quality, fullness and sweep of the music here.


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