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40 Years Ago: ‘James Paul McCartney’ TV Special Airs

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By 1973, Paul McCartney was enjoying a good run of post-Beatles triumphs, having secured a string of solo hits under his belt. Next stop, television! On April 16, ‘James Paul McCartney’ hit the US airwaves as a prime time variety special on ABC.

The idea behind the show was a showcase for the many talents of Mr. McCartney, and featured solo and Beatles material, as well as performances from his then-current band Wings. The show featured a mix of live performances, skits, and what amounted to pre-MTV type videos for certain songs. The evening opens up with little fanfare before Wings dish up a rocking rendition of ‘Big Barn Bed’ from the ‘Red Rose Speedway’ LP.

There are candid, if staged, moments featuring Linda McCartney photographing her hubby as he performs a solo acoustic set, and Paul with band members hanging out at a local pub, mingling with the regulars. With idyllic surroundings, the band perform their hit (yes it was a hit) take on ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb,’ while obscure favorites like ‘C Moon’ and ‘The Mess’ sit alongside hits like ‘My Love’ and a rousing and (literally) explosive rendition of his then current hit, ‘Live And Let Die.’

The special was produced and directed by Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion. The duo were also behind one of the most legendary rock and roll television experiences, the 1968 Elvis comeback special. The show is paced well, and the mix of live performance with staged settings is balanced nicely.

One of the more entertaining segments featured random people on the street singing their favorite Beatles songs, often time to great, if unintentional, comedic effect. The semi androgynous, highly stylized dance number ‘Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance,’ pours on the limburger a bit thick, but aside from that, it’s a fairly cheese-free hour of rock and roll television.

The show was panned by critics after it first aired, but time has treated it kindly. It captures McCartney in a good place musically and shows off a good balance of his past, present and future. After the 1973 airing, ‘James Paul McCartney’ was all but forgotten about, except for diehard Macca fans. It was never released on home video, and to date, has yet to be released on DVD. Maybe with the ongoing McCartney reissue series, that will soon be rectified.

Next: Top 10 Underrated Paul McCartney Songs

Watch ‘James Paul McCartney’

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