Solo Paul McCartney is full of crap. As folks have remarked for longer than I’ve been alive, his music from 1971 on misses the Beatles. It is no match for even the worst cut on The While Album. But if you approach any of the Fab Four’s solo work with lowered expectations — as though you had a chance to curate the lost sequel to The White Album, itself three or four solo albums in disguise — you will find plenty of demos, finished takes, outtakes, and officially released throwaways (OK, let’s just say “toss-offs”) worth considering. Two of Paul’s most celebrated albums, Ram and Band on the Run, are not as choice as some in the McCartney camp would have you believe. Yet a quick stroll through the vaults (on YouTube or Spotify) offers some amazing finds — and will fire your imagination to dream up the spotless solo career he should have had.
Firstly, “Oh Woman, Oh Why” and “When the Wind is Blowing” from the Ram sessions. They are minimalist gems of a sort. On both tracks McCartney gets into a slow, unfussy groove. Free of whimsy and the desire to impress, their raw, slightly downbeat modesty belong to a history of the man that feels new and ripe for discovery.
Then there is “Zoo Gang,” a kind of instrumental kin to “Live and Let Die” (which is arguably the man’s best official release in the wake of the Beatles’ demise). Originally the b-side to the “Band on the Run” single, “Zoo Gang” is now on the deluxe version of the Band on the Run CD (and it’s pretty easily found on YouTube, too). With shades of Lalo Schifren and Quincy Jones, “Zoo Gang” sports an early 70s spy shuffle that could be the theme for any radio or TV show with a bit of intrigue. I hear it and imagine Monty Newman in velvet trousers, playing a Minimoog with one finger while a band of session players fresh from a Jean Claude Vannier production jams with perfect precision. And look at that: it actually was the theme tune for a short-lived U.K. series* about French Resistance fighters. Cool.
*I read that McCartney and company do not play on the version featured in the show (Jungle Juice do?). Whatever. The differences are so subtle they barely register.