The joke in the ’70s was that a young naïf might exclaim, “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?” Despite a strong early showing from dark horse George Harrison, Paul became the most successful solo Beatle, both in and outside Wings (the ’70s-era band that was rarely anything other than his vehicle): a legitimate pop star whose gift for tunes lets him get away with pretty much whatever he wants, and who spent the first 15 years of his solo career cranking out hit singles, both on albums and between them.
There’s never quite been a definitive single-disc McCartney retrospective, but this 1987 set is as close as it comes in the US. It’s strangely sequenced (opening with the same two songs as Band on the Run) and has a couple of conspicuous absences — no “Mull of Kintyre,” no “Maybe I’m Amazed.” You won’t get much of a sense of Paul’s experimental streak here, and only “Jet” and “Junior’s Farm” suggest how hard he can rock when he’s in the mood. Song for song, though, it’s a document of a protean master of melody who perpetually stakes his claim in crowd-pleasing modes. When disco dominated the charts, McCartney borrowed its sweetening strings and expansive groove to power “Silly Love Songs”; when soft rock was the thing and new wave was just arriving, McCartney frosted the gentle percolation of “With a Little Luck” with futuristic synthesizers; the power-ballad sound of the ’80s bows to Macca’s mastery in “No More Lonely Nights.” He can be sticky-sweet, but his honey is the highest grade.