The last time I attended a Paul McCartney concert — October 19, 2005, if you want to be precise — I had a peculiar and unexpected revelation: I have accepted that the Beatles are no more, that they ceased to be long ago and I would never, ever experience the thrill of seeing them live. The Beatles exist today solely on record, and I am reconciled to it and have moved on.
I probably had this revelation by around “Please Please Me,” a tune seeing its first McCartney performances on that tour, and something of a taboo-breaker, at least to my memory: it was the first time McCartney played a Beatles song on which John Lennon originally sang the entire lead vocal. (Not counting “Strawberry Fields” on a previous tour, which McCartney played as an explicit tribute to his ex-partner.) Hearing it was a thrill, to be sure — and, coming as it did after some 20 or so Beatles selections at that show, it also brought home to me not only what I was seeing, but what I wasn’t seeing, namely the three other guys who first played on that song and made it what it was. To put it another, perhaps more personal way, the more Beatles songs I heard, the less special it became to hear one — and I wanted hearing a Beatles song to be special. Incredibly, I found myself wondering: Does he have to play this many Beatles songs?
I know, I know: why else go to a McCartney concert? Well, to hear Paul McCartney, would be my answer. It’s not as though McCartney hasn’t made a respectable solo career for himself; he was one of the most successful acts of the ’70s, and even at his lowest artistic ebb was still usually good for a hit single. I don’t want to gloss over the unevenness of his output (and for what it’s worth, my very favorite Beatles songs tend to be Lennon’s), but I maintain he’s still an artist worth appreciating in his own right, and since that night in Chicago, I’ve defiantly longed for something I know is never going to happen: a Paul McCartney concert with only a scant few Beatles songs in the setlist, or even — heresy of heresies — no Beatles songs at all.
This is not quite as ludicrous as it sounds. Back when the four ex-Beatles were alive and pursuing active music careers, they exhibited a dignified reluctance to ride too blatantly on their former group’s coattails. John Lennon might occasionally do “Come Together” or a tongue-in-cheek “I Saw Her Standing There,” George Harrison slipped “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in between the ragas, and Paul McCartney’s globe-smothering Wings tour, as preserved on Wings Over America, included just five Beatles songs out of 28. If you care to know the math, that’s a total Beatles volume of about 18% . The rest of those 28 songs were McCartney/Wings singles and album cuts — McCartney didn’t need no stinkin’ Beatles to give the punters a great time.
That was long ago, of course, and since then McCartney’s shows have gotten progressively more Beatle-y. In fact, let’s make a fun little table, using the live albums as the official benchmark of their corresponding tours, along with an example from his most recent outing:
|Album/Tour||Total Number of Songs||Number of Beatles Covers||Overall Beatles Percentage|
|Tripping the Live Fantastic (1989-90)||37||16||43%|
|Paul Is Live (1993)||24||11||46%|
|Back in the World (2005)||36||22||61%|
|Good Evening New York City (2008)||33||21||64%|
|July 19, 2013 (Seattle, WA)||39||27||69%|
See a trend there? That Seattle show in particular (go check it out) actually shocked me a little bit. It made me think of Pauline Kael’s famous review of Star Wars, which she said was like getting a box of Cracker Jacks that was all prizes. Around the 1989 tour, I recall McCartney telling an interviewer why he led off his concerts with material from his then-new release, Flowers in the Dirt: “I can’t just go out there and say, ‘Welcome to the show. Here’s the Beatles stuff.'” Nowadays, “the Beatles stuff” is the show. But does it really have to be?
I have long believed that it doesn’t, and that in some way it shouldn’t. For this listener at least, the increasing preponderance of Fab Four songs in McCartney’s setlists just serves to underscore that the Beatles are inimitable and irreplaceable and perhaps ought not to be plumbed quite so wantonly. (Aside: This has nothing to do with the question of whether or not McCartney “has the right” to play Beatles songs, which always seems to come up around this subject. Of course he does. And so does everyone else. It’s a non-issue. Moving on.) So, while I think an occasional sprinkling of Fabs tunes is fine and welcome, for this exercise I set myself the challenge of creating a typical gargantuan McCartney setlist without relying on any Beatles songs whatsoever (including any non-originals covered by the group, the same metric I applied in tabulating the above). And I must confess: it wasn’t the slam dunk I thought it would be. But with a little thinking (and a little going back to some of the albums to check how a particular song held up through the years), I did it, and I can honestly say this is a McCartney show I would love to go and see. So here goes, with occasional commentary.
(Note: As of this writing, New is McCartney’s most recent release, but I am creating this list as a straight-up hits show, not an attempt to promote an album.)
- The World Tonight
- Off the Ground
- Hi Hi Hi
- That Day Is Done
- Let Me Roll It
- Vintage Clothes
- My Brave Face
- Crippled Inside
- Behind That Locked Door
Paul has incorporated shout-outs to Lennon and Harrison into his shows for a while now, and I’d love to hear him tackle these solo tunes; the rockabilly rhythm of “Crippled Inside” in particular fits him to a tee. I had a thought that it would be particularly rich to hear McCartney do “How Do You Sleep” in the first person, but we mustn’t expect too much.
- With a Little Luck
- Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
- Heart of the Country
- Every Night
- Rock Island Line
Forget the Beatles — let’s take it straight back to Lonnie Donegan.
- You Tell Me
- Here Today
(End acoustic mini-set)
- Coming Up
- Sing the Changes
- Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
- Dance Tonight
- Medley: Ballroom Dancing/Temporary Secretary/Take It Away/Spies Like Us
Most of McCartney’s ’80s output has disappeared from classic rock radio — not always deservedly. How fun would it be to hear him pay tongue-in-cheek tribute to those days with this medley? Admit it: this would kill.
- The Song We Were Singing
- Mull of Kintyre
- One of These Days
- Junior’s Farm
- Hippy Hippy Shake
I’m pushing the rules a bit with this; it was never recorded by the Beatles in the studio but did appear on Live at the BBC. I think this would come off more as an inside joke than a “He’s playing the Beatles!” fangasm.
- We Got Married
- Let’s Love
Originally written by McCartney for Peggy Lee. If McCartney wants to do his crooner routine, I’d rather hear this than anything on Kisses on the Bottom.
- Silly Love Songs
Yep, time to bring it back. I’ll bet this would kill too.
- Say Say Say*
*This song would only be performed in cities where Macca can get a high-powered guest like Justin Timberlake to sing MJ’s parts. Which, seriously, how cool would that be?
- Cut Me Some Slack
- Band on the Run
- Come and Get It
Forgot this one was his, didn’t you?
- Too Many People
- Live and Let Die
- No Other Baby
- Maybe I’m Amazed
Since we can’t do “Hey Jude.”