Maybe it doesn’t have the same way of resonating with the listener like Lennon’s, but McCartney’s voice is just as instantly recognizable. By tackling both ballads and rockers, he’s proved his incredible range as early as The Beatles’ first albums. Listening to the Wings’ material and even some 80s efforts proves he’s remained just as consistent and flexible in the following decades. And here’s ten songs collected from various periods and albums that prove it (click on the titles for links for those available on YouTube):
A rare occasion of Paul using his falsetto. And apparently enough to impress even Brian Wilson, himself no stranger to angelic high vocal deliveries – the story goes that the Beatle played the Beach Boy a piano demo of what would become She’s Leaving Home, and the latter couldn’t help but cry. And of course, the story of the girl leaving home sung from her parents’ perspective is emotional enough on its own, but the delivery is impeccable as well – sounding as if the narrator is trying his best to give an objective account of the events in the verses, but then just breaks down in the chorus.
9. I’ve Got a Feeling
I’ve always thought this song to be sort of a continuation to Get Better – not because the two have that much in common musically, but because McCartney’s optimism is again juxtaposed with Lennon’s skepticism. I don’t think the latter’s deadpan “Everybody had a bad year” would work on its own, but when combined with the enthusiasm of “I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside” – sung in such a manner that nearly makes the listener feel it himself – we get another slice of Beatle magic.
8. Here, There and Everywhere
Just like with acting, sometimes less is more, sometimes the best performances are those that are subtle. Not every song requires its vocalist to go over the top and give it all. Here, There and Everywhere is such an example, a love ballad that wouldn’t be the same if not for the intimate delivery. Paul chooses just the right timber, making it sound as if the protagonist is right there near his loved one, whispering the words in her ear.
Maybe I’m Amazed has always sounded to me a bit out-of-place within McCartney’s eponymous debut – a dynamic, flashed-out masterwork among a sea of homespun, outtake-like ditties. But then again maybe it’s the context that makes it so special – when you least expect, this soaring ballad comes out of nowhere, throwing inspired instrumental passages, unforgettable lyrics and heartfelt vocals at every step. It’s simply how a love song should be approached on all fronts.
Sort of like a silver-age Oh! Darling this one – more raspy and less polished, but just as passionate. New Orleans horns and bluesy guitar licks set the scene for Paul to come on and have a go at emulating his favorite soul singers. The results are obviously not comparable from a technical point of view, but fuck that, rock has always been more about passion than proficiency. And Call Me Back Again definitely sounds like one of those Wings tracks where Paul’s heart truly was in it.
Paul’s very own Happiness Is a Warm Gun? Not quite as far from the truth as you’d think. Multiple sections that manage to connect with each other and flow naturally? Checked. McCartney adopting a different vocal tone for each one of them? Checked again. Everything building up to a ferocious crescendo and him pushing his voice past the limits to match it? You bet.
4. Helter Skelter
Did McCartney succeed with Helter Skelter in his original goal to out-heavy The Who’s I Can See for Miles? Hard to tell, but he sure as hell succeeded in making the heaviest Beatles song ever. The distorted groove chugs along mercilessly, the guitar lines are proto-metallic, and Paul uses his ‘rocking’ voice to maximum effect to keep up with that. Heck, he even manages to make a bunch of lyrics about an amusement park slide sound absolutely terrifying.
Paul’s most nuts song ever? Quite possibly. I’ve given up attempting to find any meaning in the lyrics a long time ago, but it’s that vocal performance that always makes me come back. It sounds like him just going crazy in the studio, screaming, mumbling, grunting and whatnot, without any care in the world of what the ending results might sound like. Luckily enough, he has just the necessary set of pipes to make it work and be enjoyable for us.
Paul McCartney doing his best Little Richard? Or more like the Beatle beating the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer at his own game? Depends on where you look at it from – in terms of sheer “where-the-hell-did-that-come-from” visceral impact, few voices would rank higher than Richard’s. But Paul perfectly understood that when he covered Long Tall Sally, and he gave it everything he could. We get no second to catch our breath or to even think about what lyrics he’s singing, and, combined with a more rocking instrumental background than Richard could ever dream of we might just have the perfect recipe on how to cover a classic.
Lennon once complained about how this song would’ve suited his voice more, and indeed it seems to push a bit in the direction of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), in that you can’t really tell where the love plea ends and where the dangerous obsession begins. McCartney does sing “Believe me when I tell you / I’ll never do you no harm” but the place his voice goes immediately after seems to suggest the exact opposite. It’s those roars and screams that elevate an otherwise passable composition to incredible new highs.