This is off the top of my head without a great deal of reflection, so take that for what it's worth. Nevertheless, once the Beatles broke up, McCartney and Lennon, Harrison and Starr began cranking out solo albums - none of which reached the standards of the Fab 4. I'm afraid, however, that many people 30 years and under have never listened to even ONE McCartney album, and life's too short to let that happen. So...to encourage purchasing and pirating in order to spread much happiness around - as well as telling you what to avoid - here is how I see the McCartney cannon. Even though I hate that word, especially when it comes to presbyterian pastors with that last name.
ESSENTIAL...DO NOT NEGLECT THESE....BUY THEM NOW.
McCartney (1970) - His first, obviously, after the break-up. Organic. All instruments by Paul. No singles (unless you count "Maybe I'm Amazed), just an acoustic wonderland of snippets, full songs and half-baked ideas perhaps gathered from the scraps of unfulfilled Beatles tracks.
Ram (1971) - Some consider this to be his best post-Beatles work. In much the same vein and feel of the first record, the songs are better developed, more sing-along, a bit more upbeat. The bizarrely beautiful "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (#1 U.S. single) is here and worth the price of the purchase alone.
Band on the Run (1973)- MOST people consider this to not only be his best solo release, but the only non-disappointing one. Not true, but any of these essential albums could lay claim, fairly, to being the best. Anyway - this is probably the one that I would tell folks to buy first. Recorded in Nigeria, Paul was robbed at gunpoint in Lagos and had the master demo stolen leaving he, Linda, and Denny Laine to go back to the studio and start from scratch. His first incarnation of Wings had already quit on him after the 2 prior tepid releases, and so Paul apparently had something to prove. Keith Moon asked Paul at a party once - "Man, I dig the drumming on the Band on the Run cd....who was that?!" "Me," said Paul. He played 4 of the 5 songs on the first side of the album on his last U.S. tour, so that tells you a lot.
Flowers in the Dirt (1989) - A real return to serious form here...a treat from first to last. There are a couple of songs co-written with Elvis Costello including the Beatle-esque single - "My Brave Face." A criminally neglected release, but it came out in the ghetto years of music (1987-1993), so what can I say? Milli Vanilli sold more copies of this for instance.
The Fireman - "Electric Arguments" (2008) - Ok, so McCartney IS the Fireman. So, now that that is clear, this is a classic. It's so great when Paul stops being cute and half-assed and isn't afraid to experiment and is clearly passionate about the songs. Flood's production is the key here - perhaps finally a producer that gets the best out of him rather than be in awe.
THESE ARE WORTHY OF PURCHASING
Londontown (1978) Recorded on a couple of yachts with a lot of ganga thrown in, this is my favorite McCartney album in terms of sound and production. Lots of great tunes here, and doesn't tail off dramatically as the album goes on or get too horribly silly or self-conscious. Just a great album, if not a little twee at times.
Back to the Egg (1979) - Produced by Chris Thomas of Pretenders fame, McCartney went into the studio thinking that he had his strongest collection of songs ever since the Beatles. But something intangible went awry and the magic that McCartney was hoping for simply didn't translate onto the vinyl. A couple of real rocking moments here ("Old Siam Sir," "Spin it Off," "Getting Closer," etc.) with a completely new band (this is the last Wings album...Paul would get busted in Tokyo in the coming weeks, so no tour either).
McCartney II (1980) - Recorded at his farm all by himself on a 16-track, and supplying all the instruments yet again, this is, without question, McCartney's most experimental and unorthodox release of his solo career (excluding The Fireman stuff). Fiddling around with synthesizers - it just sounds weird at times, but is so fresh also. Love it.
Tug of War (1982) - Released after Lennon's death and with production by George Martin, there are those out there that actually think this is his best solo moment. And boy does it come close to being an essential purchase. But...I just find it a little too slick and inconsistent in places, and is greatly hindered by the 2 duets with Stevie Wonder. "Tug of War" and "Here Today" are among the most beautiful tunes in the Macca songbook. And "Take it Away" is most definitely Beatle-esque.
Flaming Pie (1997), Driving Rain (2001), Chaos and Creation (2005), and Memory Almost Full (2007). These 4 are sort of alike to me - a 4 part series so to speak that sees Paul in a resurrection mode, career and inspiration-wise. Yet, these 4 almost did not make the cut...while they all have their great moments, I feel that the production lags, Paul is trying too hard, he sounds old in places, and the boundaries aren't being pushed. Still, all 4 are worth a listen.
NOT SO GOOD...BUT STILL....
Venus and Mars (1975) - The follow-up to Band on the Run saw Paul and Linda and Denny in New Orleans, and....I don' know. I just can't think of a single moment that is memorable. The single - "Listen to What the Man Said" is nice enough, and the album isn't a complete dog...I would be just fine if I never heard this album again...and I haven't since about 1977! Don't wast the cash.
Speed of Sound (1976) - Just download "Silly Love Songs" and "Let 'Em In" and you've got it. Well...while you're at it, download "Beware My Love" too. Then you've got it. Half-assed and half-baked otherwise. Quickly made while taking a break from the road.
Off the Ground (1993) - Don't have a lot to say here. Just check it out if you want to. I didn't tell you to.
LET'S JUST FORGET THIS EVER HAPPENED
Wild Life - (1971) - I remember seeing this album in a record store in like 1975. I had never seen it before and thought it was an import or a bootleg or something. And even as a kid I was always looking for the next McCartney release. This was so bad, it escaped my notice. I No singles, no nothing. Just awful. Really awful.
Red Rose Speedway - (1973) The drought continues. Apart from "My Love," and "One More Kiss," everything here is forgettable. Again, I have no idea why this happened to McCartney...like Samson shorn of his locks and strength. Sad to listen to really.
Pipes of Peace (1983) - 10 years of pretty great creativity found Macca slamming into the wall of mediocrity once again with this release. "Pipes of Peace" is an ok song, but beyond that there are no moments of greatness to be found here.