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Paul McCartney's album covers, ranked

Paul McCartney in 1976 at the St. Paul Civic Center.

Paul McCartney in 1976 at the St. Paul Civic Center.

Living legend Sir Paul McCartney is bringing his brand-new One on One Tour to Minneapolis’ Target Center for a pair of concerts Wednesday and Thursday. The shows will conclude the first North American leg of the former Beatle’s worldwide trek, which began three weeks ago and has earned rave reviews from Seattle to Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Unlike the Out There! Tour that hit a sold-out Target Field two summers ago, the current show isn’t promoting a new record, but instead focused on digging up songs that McCartney hasn’t played live in years — or ever. In fact, the 73-year-old stunned his audience at the tour kickoff in Fresno, California, last month by opening with “A Hard Day’s Night,” a Fab Four tune he had never played as a solo artist.

In light of Sir Paul dusting off buried treasure from his storied chest, let’s explore the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter’s solo catalog from a visual perspective. Join us as we go worst-to-first with Paul McCartney album covers!

17. Driving Rain (2001)

A year after Neil Young slapped a Game Boy Camera photo on his Silver & Gold album, Paul got his rich-guy Casio watch/12-pixel camera out and came up with this bad boy. It’s a slightly higher-quality picture than Shakey’s, but his PR team couldn’t have been happy. 

  1. New (2013)

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    The songs are solid, but McCartney’s unimaginatively titled most recent studio album isn’t helped by artwork that looks like it belongs to Maroon 5. The fluorescent lights are arranged in such a way that what they spell is open to interpretation, meaning this album could actually be called Men, Mom, or Wow and no one would ever know.

    15. Flaming Pie (1997)

    The handwritten script, the action shot of Paul’s face, and the sophisticated font crediting the artist all point towards a stately late-career album cover for a classic rocker. But then the whole thing is deflated by that inexplicable clipart of a warm pie.

    14. Choba B CCCP (1988)

    The title for Macca’s seventh solo LP, a collection of covers, translates to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” in Russian. Appropriately, Choba was exclusively available in Soviet Union (it was meant as a special treat for those living under the Iron Curtain) until that oppressive body ceased to exist.

    This album was 100 percent covers, was named after an old hit, and donned a photo of McCartney that originally appeared in the inner sleeve of Ram ... so nothing but previously released scraps for the Commies. Its artwork would’ve worked much better as a concert poster.

    13. Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)

    Almost in so-bad-it’s-good territory, the art for the musical film spanning a day in the life of McCartney didn’t quite work as a movie poster or album cover. As per the movie’s plot, the singer is supposed to be figuring out how to retrieve his stolen master tapes, but he might as well be racking his brain for new art director candidates.

    12. Kisses on the Bottom (2012)

    Kisses shouldn’t be this close to the bottom, but we’re entering the section where more than a few hours were put into crafting Sir Paul’s album covers. The front of this mostly covers record makes a cool use of perspective, with the text bleeding from the picture frame onto the wall.

    11. Run Devil Run (1999)

    Talk about free advertising. McCartney was walking around Atlanta with his son and daughter in early 1999, and they happened upon a pharmacy called Miller’s Rexall that sold a line of bath salts called Run Devil Run. Later that year, Macca wrote a song named after the bath salts, called his new covers album the same thing, and put a picture of the storefront on the sleeve.

    He had taken some photos himself (maybe with his wristwatch?) that fateful day, but a professional was called in to capture the cover shot. The name on the sign was changed from Miller’s to Earl’s for the final product, but the chance celebrity visit helped the mom-and-pop pharmacy enter the digital age. “We're getting a website up Friday,” said the shop’s co-owner at the time

    10. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)

    True to the title, the Chaos cover is a black-and-white shot of a young Paul playing guitar in the backyard of his family’s Liverpool home. It was taken by his younger brother, Mike, who surely realized that if he could just get one quick shot of his sibling through the window, he’d rake in the royalties 50 years later.

    9. Press to Play (1986)

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The sleeve of McCartney’s sixth solo record finds he and first wife Linda mimicking the glamour shots of the ‘30s. It was taken on a vintage box camera by a noted celebrity photographer of yesteryear George Hurrell. It was a rare turn in front of the camera for Linda, who took lots of shots used for her husband’s album artwork before passing in 1998.

  1. Tug of War (1982)

    The photo of Paul on the Tug of War cover is one of Linda’s works, in which he's either listening intently to a mix of this album’s “Ebony and Ivory” or trying to block out Denny Laine’s pleas for him to reconsider disbanding the recently defunct Wings. The blue-and-red motif, when coupled with the transparent font, makes for a very attractive album cover, especially for 1982.

    7. Memory Almost Full (2007)

    There’s nothing to this album’s artwork beyond a black chair, Paul’s signature, and the album title, but it’s beautiful for its simplicity. The marriage of pink, black, and white makes for one of McCartney’s most aesthetically pleasing, if not deep or nuanced, record covers. The first release through Starbucks’ Hear Music label, the CD featured an insert with a folded-down right corner, something done by the artist to “make people curious.”

    6. Flowers in the Dirt (1989)

    How else could a McCartney album titled Flowers in the Dirt look? Once again, what turns this adaptation of the record’s title into a great sleeve is the striking color palette, ranging from summery yellow to autumnal hazel. The use of what appears to be a painted canvas instead of real dirt also makes for a strong visual effect. Since he was on that literal kick, it’s a good thing Sir Paul didn’t grace this album with its original working title of Lumpy Trousers.

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    5. McCartney (1970)

    Did Paul’s butler think those cherries were just going to pick themselves up? The recently solo singer came up with this abstract photo of spilled cherries for the cover of his debut LP. The fact that no one knows what the hell it’s supposed to mean — the breakup of the Beatles? The wasteful excess of no-longer-hungry rock stars? Worldwide fruit shortages? — makes it one of McCartney’s more intriguing sleeves.

  2. Pipes of Peace (1983)

    As we saw with the Flowers in the Dirt and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard covers, Macca doesn’t shy away from going straight literal with his album artwork. Pipes of Peace (another Linda joint) does this best, simply incorporating pipes of various shapes and sizes against an off-white backdrop. Straightforward yet puzzling, it works perfectly.

    3. Ram (1971)

    By 1971, McCartney was thought to be going off the deep end musically. Ram (a duet with Linda) and the prior year’s self-titled debut were full of strange musical meanderings. He didn’t help matters of his public perception by randomly posing with a ram for the cover of his sophomore effort.

    Even former bandmate John Lennon made fun of the shot by including a postcard featuring him holding a pig by the ears with initial copies of his Imagine LP. Now, the Ram sleeve can be appreciated for its playfulness and general don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. The yellow backdrop and the triangular patterns framing it only enhance this classic album cover.

    2. McCartney II (1980)

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    I’d certainly believe that guy on the cover had been in jail four months earlier. Of course, it was a silly marijuana bust in Japan (how could you arrest Paul McCartney?), but the ex-inmate clearly wanted to cultivate his newfound reputation. In this iconic shot that couldn’t further belie songs like “Temporary Secretary” if it tried, a cooly unkempt Paul stares into the lens, the dual shadows taking the spots where his former Wings bandmates once flanked him.

    1. Off the Ground (1993)

    Oh, that sweet shade of sky blue. Oh, that elegant cursive font unobtrusively placed in the center. The cover of McCartney’s first album of the 1990s looks like the decade that birthed it, in all the best ways. The feet hanging from the top of the photo are those of Paul, Linda, and the band that backed the singer on his 1993 world tour. They were Paul’s idea of poking fun at people who cut off their subjects’ heads when taking pictures. Subtext aside, it’s just an immaculate image.