The success of Paul McCartney as part of the Beatles has been out of this world for 55 years and counting. What about his solo career through? At 76, he is still able to shot to the top of the US album chart as shown by his last effort Egypt Station. He also landed at #1 multiple times with both albums and singles during the 70s and the 80s. Will that be enough to crack the 73 million equivalent album sales registered by his former band partner John Lennon?
Just like him, McCartney jumped into his solo career as soon as the Beatles‘ years were over. In fact, his self-titled debut was even issued one month before their final output Let It Be. They both succeeded to each other at the top of US charts in May/June of that year. This ideal transition continued for many years. Follow up album Ram went to #1 in the US, so did its lead single in the US. The album was blocked at #2 there by Carole King‘s Tapestry, but that was no big deal. Indeed, soon records like Red Rose Speedway, Band On The Run, Venus & Mars, At The Speed Of Sound, Wings Over America, and Tug Of War were chart toppers.
Credited as a solo artist (in his debut), as a duet along with his wife Linda (in Ram), as a team effort along with the Wings (in Band On The Run) or as a member of this latter band (in Venus & Mars), truth is all formulas were winning ones for the British legend. If his chart history is absolutely insane, it’s now time to review his sales figures to see if they impress just as much.
As usual, I’ll be using the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept in order to relevantly gauge his results. This concept will not only bring you sales information for all McCartney‘s albums, physical and download singles, as well as audio and video streaming. In fact, it will also determine their true popularity.
If you are not yet familiar with the CSPC method, below is a nice and short video of explanations. I fully recommend watching it before getting into the sales figures. Of course, if you are a regular visitor feel free to skip the video and get into the numbers directly.
The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC)
There are two ways to understand this revolutionary concept. In the first place, there is this Scribe video posted below. If you are unaware of the CSPC method, you will get the full idea within just a pair of minutes.
If you are a mathematical person, and want to know the full method as well as formulas, you can read the full introduction article.
Now let’s get into the artist’s sales figures in detail in order to apply this concept and define the act’s true popularity!
Paul McCartney’s Album Sales
Original Album Sales – Comments
Both McCartney and Ram were great sellers upon release. At roughly 4 million a piece, they may disappoint in comparison to the Beatles‘ top sellers. It doesn’t that much sense to put these albums head to head though. The latters had albums barely cannibalized by compilations, with many hits released as stand-alone singles which filled their greatest hits packages without negatively impacting catalog sales of their studio efforts.
McCartney on his side had a more traditional career. His big hits are part of his albums, so as soon as he got live and compilations released, his original albums slowed down a lot. In this context and keeping in mind the market size in early 70s, 4 million units is a great, great number.
What wasn’t so great was Wild Life which struggle to do well. This step back could have threatened the selling power of the singer but Band On The Run quickly made him as hot as ever. The LP maintained a ranking inside the very best positions for various months, selling past 8 million copies to date. By 1976 it wasn’t that much behind the Beatles‘ own biggest albums.
After this blockbuster, his popularity started to go down but at a very slow pace. The album format was also booming during the second part of the 70s, so all his new albums up to 1984 managed to maintain sales in multi-millions worldwide, although none reached 5 million.
From Press to Play, his years as a star seller were mostly over, especially in the US. Flowers in the Dirt and Off The Ground did wonders in some European markets, but overall the last 35 years have been lacking cross over hits for McCartney even if his fanbase continues very loyal after all these years. He is up to 61,7 million units sold thanks to his 25 solo albums.
Paul McCartney’s songs sales
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 3 ratio between one album and one physical single.
After selling millions of virtually every single issued as part of the Beatles, one could expect McCartney to continue on this golden road as a solo act. He did.
His first proper solo single was actually Another Day, a single from his sophomore disc that sold over 2 million units. Follow up Uncle Albert easily eclipsed the million plateau too. It was the singer’s first US #1 solo hit.
The debut album didn’t receive physical singles at first. About 6 years later, a live version of Maybe I’m Amazed came out to promote Wings Over America, shifting nearly a million.
Before that, singles out of 1973-1975 albums smashed too. My Love was #1 for 4 weeks in the US while Band On the Run and Listen To What The Man Said made the top too. All these songs sold about 2 million units a piece globally. Helen Wheels and Jet were solid Top 10 hits in most major markets, also selling well.
While no song really went through the roof, hits kept coming. Silly Love Songs (US 5 weeks #1), Let ‘Em In and With A Little Luck moved close to 6 million copies combined.
In-between, the prolific songwriter dropped multiple stand-alone hits too. Hi Hi Hi, Live And Let Die, and Junior’s Farm are million selling orphan songs. Then came Mull Of Kintyre in 1977.
If McCartney needed 7 years before reaching the top post-Beatles in his homeland, he did so in great fashion with this stunning 9-weeks #1 single that moved a record breaking 2 million units in the UK alone. Globally, the song sold in excess of 4 million without getting a US release.
1979’s era Back To The Egg was the first to really flop with no single reaching even the Top 10 in both the US and the UK. Ironicaly, while this marked the end of the continuous string of successful songs for the artist, it’s also when bigger and bigger hits started to emerge.
Coming Up was 3 weeks #1 in the US. After a full 2 years of absence, Stevie Wonder‘s duet Ebony And Ivory led the Hot 100 for an impressive 7 weeks while also topping UK charts. They sold respectively 2.3 million and 3.6 million units.
Then, the Michael Jackson-infested track Say Say Say went on to do even better at 4.6 million sales. A 6-weeks #1 hit in the US, this remains the very last of an all-time record of 32 American chart toppers for McCartney. It’s also his highest selling single in various markets like France and Italy.
This contribution of Jackson to help supporting the LP Pipes Of Peace was a lift return after McCartney helped to pave the way to the historical campaign of Thriller that started with the 2-million selling duet The Girl Is Mine.
No More Lonely Nights with its 1.5 million sales extended even deeper this impressive run. It was the last million seller of the artist, while follow up Spies Like Us from 1985 became his last Top 10 hit. Well, last Top 10 as a leading artist since 2015’s FourFiveSeconds went to #4.
Physical singles from 1986 onwards have been weaker and weaker through the years, which seems fairly natural for a singer up to 44 by that time. Additional releases up to now bring his total to a massive 58 million physical singles on top of the 116 million he sold with the Beatles.
As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1,5 ratio between one album and one digital single.
While the solo career of McCartney was full of Top 10 / #1 hits in many places, his back catalog is nowhere near as loved nowadays.
From his debut album, Maybe I’m Amazed remains one of his hottest tunes. In spite of this, it has recorded a fairly modest 310,000 digital sales so far, made of downloads and ringtones.
As many as 8 songs from Ram came out as A/B sides of singles back in the day, many of which went to the top in some markets. Right now, they are all mostly forgotten as none reaches even 100,000 digital sales, not even Another Day or Uncle Albert.
The same can be said about the former #1 smash My Love which can only claim residual sales right now. We need to go up to the album Band On The Run and its title track to face a song that is still getting some love. With 670,000 sales to date, it is very easily the most popular song out of all his studio efforts. Jet also retain some fame with 130,000 sales in digital formats.
Everything that came out from 1975 to 1980 has been erased from the planet Earth though. Chart toppers like Listen to What the Man Said, Silly Love Songs, Mull Of Kintyre, and With A Little Luck, all register dreadful numbers well below 6 digits.
Shockingly, Ebony And Ivory can’t make it to 100k either. A huge smash in 1982, the song seems to sound very dated for the general public. Say Say Say is arguably bigger, especially since it was boosted by the passing of Jackson. The same can be said about The Girl Is Mine, one of his 3 back catalog sales to break the half a million mark.
The last one is the holiday title Wonderful Christmastime. Hardly his most praised song, the recurrent airplay it receives every year fueled it to nearly 1 million downloads and ringtones.
These fairly low results are strongly boosted by a trio of 2015 hits with modern artists. Along with Kanye West and Rihanna, the legendary author issued several featurings that year. They all contributed to FourFiveSeconds, a 4.3 million selling hit. Then West / McCartney songs Only One and All Day sold roughly 700,000 units each. These 3 songs add for half of the artist’s total of 11 million sales to date in digital singles.
Streaming is made up of audio and video streams. Our CSPC methodology now includes both to better reflect the real popularity of each track. The main source of data for each avenue is respectively Spotify and YouTube. As detailed in the Fixing Log article, Spotify represents 157 million of the 272 million users of streaming platforms, while YouTube is pretty much the only video platform generating some revenue for the industry. Below is the equivalence set on the aforementioned article:
Audio Stream – 1500 plays equal 1 album unit
Video Stream – 11,750 views equal 1 album unit
Equivalent Albums Sales (EAS) = 272/157 * Spotify streams / 1500 + YouTube views / 11750
Streaming numbers of Paul McCartney are fairly disappointing. Out of his 4 top hits, 3 are his recent features on 2015 comtemporary songs. The last one is the holiday title Wonderful Christmastime. Easily his biggest solo hit on Spotify, the track has 79 million streams, a good number but nothing impressive for a career best.
Band On the Run is easily his strongest song from his studio albums. It has 55 million streams on Spotify and a more modest 10 million on YouTube. With also decent numbers, from 20 to 40 million streams on Spotify, are Live and Let Die, Maybe I’m Amazed and Jackson‘s duets The Girl Is Mine and Say Say Say.
A sign of the overall low scores is the presence of his Beatles‘ live renditions among his top 10/20 hits, namely Let It Be and Hey Jude.
Former big hit Mull Of Kintyre perform poorly while the likes Listen To What The Man Said and With A Little Luck can’t make this top 30 in spite of the very low level of streams at the bottom of the list.
Albums-wise, the top performer is far and away Band On The Run with a combined 114,000 EAS. A pack of 5 LPs follow at a significant distance. From 37,000 EAS to 50,000 EAS each are McCartney, Egypt Station, Ram, Pipes Of Peace, and At The Speed Of Sound. Orphan tracks, fueled by various collaborations and live renditions tops at 1,201,000 EAS, a whopping 70% of the total.
Full catalog breakdown
If you are familiar with the artist’s catalog and want to check details of each and every song, you can access to all of them right here.
Paul McCartney’s compilations sales
It sounds fairly logical to add together weighted sales of one era – studio album, physical singles, downloads, streams – to get the full picture of an album’s popularity. For older releases though, they also generate sales of various live, music videos and compilation albums.
All those packaging-only records do not create value, they exploit the value originating from the parent studio album of each of its tracks instead. Inevitably, when such compilations are issued, this downgrades catalog sales of the original LP. Thus, to perfectly gauge the worth of these releases, we need to re-assign sales proportionally to its contribution of all the compilations which feature its songs. The following table explains this method.
The distribution process
How to understand this table? If you check for example the All The Best, these figures mean it sold 7,100,000 units worldwide. The second statistics column means all versions of all the songs included on this package add for 252,503 equivalent album sales from streams of all types.
The second part on the right of the table shows how many equivalent streams are coming from each original album, plus the share it represents on the overall package. Thus, streaming figures tell us songs from the Band On The Run album are responsible for 31% of the All The Best track list attractiveness. This means it generated 2,231,000 of its 7,100,000 album sales and so forth for the other records. We then apply this process to all compilations present on below table.
Compilations sales figures listing
As far as compilations are concerned, the catalog of McCartney was milked 3 times. The first was in the second half of the 70s when his solo catalog was getting large enough to justify compilations. The live Wings Over America and the best of Greatest came out in this context. They sold over 3 million copies each.
About a decade later it was time to welcome the new CD format and he had also added several big 80s hits to his discography. Thus, both All The Best and Tripping were issued. Please notice the figure of the former include both the box and the highlights version while below table breaks down sales of the highlights only.
Although mostly unnecessary, labels used to cash-in from back catalogs around the year 2000 when new music of former legends wasn’t selling anymore. That resulted into Wingspan and Back in the U.S. (released as Back In The World outside of North America).
The most surprising detail is that combined, live albums (over 11 million sales) add for nearly as much as compilation albums (over 12 million sales) while usually the gap is much bigger, easily 1 to 10. Why have these live records constantly done so well in comparison to best of records? Easy: proper compilations focus on McCartney / Wings career, while all live outputs feature renditions of popular Beatles hits. The strength of the latters is obviously much bigger which concludes on these atypical results.
Outside of traditional compilations and lives, McCartney has also been busy releasing various classical and electronic music projets. Dedicated to niche markets, their numbers individually are modest, although they still sold a million units combined.
As a bonus, below are breakdowns of the main selling compilations.
Full Length related records Sales – Summary
Here is the most underestimated indicator of an album’s success – the amount of compilation sales of all kinds it generated. Due to the dependency of sales of the original studio albums on these releases, they are a key piece of the jigsaw. These numbers are obtained by applying the method from the section The distribution process to all packages listed under Compilation sales figures listing category.
The winner is logically Band On The Run which is the strongest album out of all by some margin. Through various releases, it fueled sales of 7.6 million units. McCartney and At The Speed Of Sound come next at a much more modest 2 million.
The impact of the Beatles‘ covers are obvious inside the Live column with 4.9 million units coming from orphan titles as well as 1.7 million for music videos. The number would be even much higher if the dispatching had been done using 100% of streams of their tracks, not only versions credited to McCartney himself. All side projects as well as popular collaborations boost the orphan line to an impressive 10.65 million tally.
Total Album (all types) Sales per Country
Please note the figure of Mexico includes only a pair of albums. Other country-specific numbers may miss sales of a few minor releases, although totals are complete.
Paul McCartney Career CSPC Results
So, after checking all the figures, how many overall equivalent album sales has each album by Paul McCartney achieved? Well, at this point we hardly need to add up all of the figures defined in this article!
Albums CSPC results
In the following table, all categories display figures that way, e.g. in equivalent album sales. For example, singles from Band On The Run released in digital format sold the equivalent of 147,000 albums – 980,000 downloads with a 10 to 1,5 weighting.
As a reminder:
- Studio Album: sales of the original album
- Other Releases: sales of compilations generated thanks to the album
- Physical Singles: sales of physical singles from the album (ratio 3/10)
- Download Singles: sales of digital singles from the album (ratio 1,5/10)
- Streaming: equivalent album sales of all the album tracks (ratio 1/1500 for Audio stream and 1/11750 for Video stream)
Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to the Beatles‘ sales. Of course, as a solo artist McCartney doesn’t come close to the likes Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. Nevertheless, you gotta respect these results since once put into perspective they are still fairly amazing.
Most music artists produce the largest part of their value in a span that last 4 to 8 years. Even someone like Madonna, who is known for dropping big hits over an incredibly extensive period, produced well over half ofher sales with her catalog from 1983 to 1989. And that’s how one should read McCartney‘s numbers: as the decreasing, post-peak part of the career of an artist, rather than as 100% of it.
Once we keep this in mind, releasing 18 million albums in a row that broke the million equivalent album sales is insane. So is recording nearly 18 million comprehensive sales with Band On The Run, his 17th studio album by then, issued a pair of years after an LP that failed to sell 2 million units up to date.
The singer songwriter managed to keep irons in the fire for 10 more years. Up to Give My Regards to Broad Street, all eras moved from 1.7 million to 6.5 million units, with an average of 4.7 million accross 12 releases excluding the one of a kind Band On the Run.
While numbers naturally dropped through the years, albums like Flowers In the Dirt and Off The Ground still performed quite well. The last trio of records have been mostly purchased by his fan base with little interest from the general public.
All these numbers still don’t include the healthy total of 18.6 million sales from orphan titles. They make a tremendous difference since these last songs contribute in pushing McCartney‘s career total past the 9 digits level with 109.9 million equivalent album sales to date. That’s 37 million more than John Lennon.
Singles CSPC results
The list is compiled in album equivalent sales generated by each song. Therefore, these figures are not merged units of singles formats. Instead, it includes weighted sales of the song’s physical single, download, ringtone and streaming as well as its share among sales of all albums on which it is featured.
1. 1973 – Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run [Band on the Run] – 11,320,000
2. 1973 – Wings – Live and Let Die [Orphan] – 5,620,000
3. 1983 – Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say [Pipes Of Peace] – 4,890,000
4. 1970 – Paul McCartney – Maybe I’m Amazed [McCartney] – 4,850,000
5. 1982 – Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder – Ebony And Ivory [Tug Of War] – 4,190,000
6. 1976 – Wings – Silly Love Songs [Wings At The Speed Of Sound] – 3,830,000
7. 1973 – Paul McCartney & Wings – My Love [Red Rose Speedway] – 3,320,000
8. 1976 – Wings – Let ‘Em In [Wings At The Speed Of Sound] – 2,900,000
9. 1973 – Paul McCartney & Wings – Jet [Band on the Run] – 2,770,000
10. 1978 – Wings – With A Little Luck [London Town] – 2,470,000
11. 1980 – Paul McCartney – Coming Up [McCartney II] – 2,140,000
12. 1993 – Paul McCartney – Hope Of Deliverance [Off The Ground] – 2,130,000
13. 1971 – Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney – Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey [Ram] – 1,740,000
14. 1971 – Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney – Another Day [Ram] – 1,660,000
15. 1977 – Wings – Mull of Kintyre [Orphan] – 1,630,000
16. 1984 – Paul McCartney – No More Lonely Nights [Give My Regards To Broad Street] – 1,560,000
17. 1973 – Paul McCartney & Wings – Let Me Roll It [Band on the Run] – 1,400,000
18. 2015 – Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds [Orphan] – 1,280,000
19. 1988 – Paul McCartney – My Brave Face [Flowers In The Dirt] – 1,260,000
20. 1975 – Wings – Listen To What The Man Said [Venus And Mars] – 1,170,000
If you feel inspired by this list, we just created this CSPC Paul McCartney playlist on Spotify!
Thanks to our new ASR (Artist Success Rating) concept, we know that his sales represent 14,16 million times the purchase of his entire discography. Coupled with his total sales, it translates into an ASR score of 223. This puts him below his ex partner John Lennon, but ahead of another giant songwriter, Paul Simon. The ranking of all artists studied so far is available too at this link.
Records & Achievements
- Paul McCartney is the most successful music artist of all-time, the only one to break 500 million EAS combined.
- As a songwriter, Paul McCartney amassed a record-breaking 32 US #1 singles.
- Paul McCartney is the only artist ever who topped the US Hot 100 as a solo act, as part of a duo, of a trio, of a quartet, and of a quintet.
- As a musician, Paul McCartney amassed a record-breaking 27 US #1 albums.
- Along with Phil Collins, Paul McCartney is one of the only 2 persons to break 100 million EAS twice as part of a group and then again with subsequent efforts.
- At 17,846,000 EAS, Band On The Run is the 5th most successful album from 1973.
- Mull Of Kintyre was back the best selling single ever in the UK, the first to sell 2 million units.
NB: EAS means Equivalent Album Sales.
You may be interested in…
… best-selling artists, albums, and singles
To improve your navigation we created several amazing cross-artists lists posted inside the CSPC: Data Collector article. Click on it to see the full listing of all CSPC results compiled so far!
… similar artists
To put figures from this article into perspective, click on the images below to reach career breakdowns of similar artists:
As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!