Throughout Paul McCartney’s illustrious career as a member of both the Beatles and Wings, as well as his solo career, he has released over a dozen live albums and concert films. Clearly, the man has had many memorable live performances. These videos span over five decades and feature obscure rarities as well as some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest hits. As he celebrates his 72nd birthday with a break from his current touring schedule, it is a great time to take a look back at his greatest live recordings.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” (Wings Over America, 1976)
Let’s face it; most live recordings don’t hold a candle to their original album counterparts. “Maybe I’m Amazed”, however, is the rare live version that is an improvement. On the McCartney album, it was sparse, quaint, and unfinished. Still, its heartfelt message struck a chord with Wings fans, as the crowd cheers in anticipation at the beginning of this 1976 live performance. This is the only version that was released as a single, and for good reason, as Paul’s caught-in-the-moment vocals sound even more affectionate and the song finally receives the flourished ending it deserves.
“I’m Down” (The Beatles, Shea Stadium, 1965)
Due to the Beatles’ short-lived touring period and a lack of technology at the time, there are few live recordings of the biggest band in rock ’n’ roll history. However, their 1965 Shea Stadium concert was filmed for a rarely seen/heard TV special. And this dizzying spectacle was the highlight. Spoilsports usually point out that the band clearly acts as if they are under the influence of some illegal drug here, but what a true music fan sees/hears are master musicians celebrating their relatively newfound immense fame. Paul later played homage to his part of that epic performance four decades later on his Good Evening New York City CD/DVD set.
“Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)” (with Wings, McCartney II, 1980)
Paul’s studio take of “Coming Up” was quirky, with an experimental, homemade feel. But its flip side, a rousing live version aided by the amphitheater bombast of Wings, completely turned into something else. Both versions have their own charms, but it’s no wonder why audiences quickly shot this intended B-side to the top of the charts. When was the last time you heard that awesome laser-gun sound effect?
“Get Back” (The Beatles, Let It Be, 1970)
Ever the perfectionists, the Beatles performed “Get Back” on the Apple Studios rooftop three times in a row. I’m not sure which one of those we see here in Let It Be, but what was intended to just be an interesting end to a documentary turned out to be the Beatles’ final live performance. It must have been hard to believe then, but now we can tell that McCartney was putting on a brave face and trying to unite his bandmates together for a nearly flawless performance.
“Helter Skelter” (The Space Within US, 2006)
Fans clamored for Paul to perform this Beatles classic in concert for over 30 years. He wouldn’t oblige them until his 2005 “US” tour, and although this wasn’t his first live version, it is the best on record.
“Soily” (Wings Over America, 1976)
There’s rumored to be at least seven different studio versions of “Soily” recorded, but this live cut remains the definitive release. Paul performs lyrics like “the cat in satin trousers says it’s oily” as if his very life depends upon it. And perhaps those lyrics are purposely nonsensical. It leaves fans with nothing to do but rock out.
“Freedom” (The Concert for New York City, 2001)
It’s a little ironic that an Englishman wrote a song that perfectly expresses the spirit of American freedom, but that’s just what everyone needed to hear in the days following 9/11. Assisted by a stomping, cheering crowd of family members affected by the tragedy, first-responders, and those out to help a good cause, this simple song turned into an uplifting moment of unity.
“Something” (Back In The US, 2002)
Shortly after George Harrison’s death in 2001, McCartney started to add this loving tribute to his live setlists. Singing George’s masterpiece while gently playing the instrument he loved, Paul takes an epic love song and strips it down into a touching ode to a friend.
“A Day in the Life/ Give Peace a Chance” (Good Evening New York City, 2009)
The original Beatles version was a true Lennon/McCartney collaboration so ahead of its time that it used to be virtually impossible to recreate on stage. Fans may have been a little unsure about hearing Paul attempt a live solo version, but they didn’t expect it to be sung so tenderly. However, what really stunned the audience was how he chose to end it. Merging such an unforgettable Beatles classic with John’s solo call for peace was truly inspired.
“’Till There Was You” (The Beatles, Royal Command Variety Performance, November 4, 1963)
In 1963, the world mostly saw the Beatles as a group instead of four individuals. Yet, if one paid close enough attention, their various personalities were starting to show. This could technically be considered his first solo performance, a Broadway ballad sung with minimal involvement from the rest of the group. It’s sweet, romantic, and unafraid of being sentimental—much like most of McCartney’s future solo work.