- Timeline This film has been released in 1973
- Filming date:
- Feb 19, 1973
- Filming location:
- ATV Televion Studios, Elstree, Borehamwood, UK
More from year 1973
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James Paul McCartney is the title of a 1973 television special produced by ATV and starring English musician Paul McCartney and his then current rock group Wings. It was first broadcast on 16 April 1973 in the United States on the ABC network, and was later broadcast in the United Kingdom on 10 May 1973. It was issued on DVD (its first home video release of any kind) as part of the super-deluxe Red Rose Speedway box set in December 2018.
Paul McCartney agreed to star in a television special for the British ATV network in order to settle his two-year legal dispute with Sir Lew Grade. As the owner of the network and its music publishing division – and, by extension, the Beatles’ Northern Songs catalogue – Grade had objected to McCartney crediting his wife Linda as his co-writer since 1971, citing her lack of professional experience as a songwriter and musician. McCartney’s commitment to the television project allowed him to retain the second composer’s publishing royalties, which otherwise would have been assigned to Grade’s company.
James Paul McCartney was McCartney’s first such special since the Beatles’ 1967 television film Magical Mystery Tour and was intended to showcase his versatility as an artist and entertainer. Many of the portions featured his and Linda’s band Wings; in others he would perform alone. ATV hired Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion as producer and director, respectively, although McCartney was assured full creative control over the program’s content. Having recently completed their second album, Red Rose Speedway, Wings travelled to Marrakesh in early February 1973 to plan and rehearse for the show.
The program opens with a live performance by Wings in front of an audience of television screens.
Song: “Big Barn Bed“
A short music video-style performance set in an outdoor location of McCartney’s version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
Songs: “Mary Had a Little Lamb“
Another music video segment, this time for “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey“. The “Admiral Halsey” section of the song was not included in the final broadcast version, however.
Songs: “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey“
A short voice-over from McCartney introduces a segment set in the Chelsea Reach public house near Liverpool. This features members of his family and Wings in a pub singalong.
Songs: “April Showers”, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag”, “You Are My Sunshine”
A Busby Berkeley-style musical number, featuring dancers dressed in half-man/half-woman costumes.
Songs: “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance”
“Beatles Medley”: a filmed segment with street passers-by singing various Beatles songs (off key) to comedic effect.
Songs: “When I’m 64”, “A Hard Day’s Night“, “Can’t Buy Me Love“, “She Loves You“, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da“, “Yesterday“, “Yellow Submarine“
“Wings in Concert”, recorded on a sound stage at ATV Elstree Studios (Borehamwood), before a live audience.
Songs: “The Mess”, “Maybe I’m Amazed“, “Long Tall Sally” (US broadcast only; the UK and other European market replaced this with “Hi, Hi, Hi“)
McCartney performed “Mama’s Little Girl” as part of a medley during this television special, though it was not broadcast.
Critical reception to the program was highly unfavourable. According to authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter, the show “was roundly panned by every critic with a pulse, and was not a stunning success in the ratings either”. Melody Maker stated: “McCartney has always had an eye and ear for full-blown romanticism, and nothing wrong with that, but here he too often lets it get out of hand and it becomes over-blown and silly.” The New York Times‘ reviewer described it as “a series of disconnected routines strung together with commercials for Chevrolet cars”, while The Washington Post criticised the amount of screen time allocated to Linda McCartney, saying that “her previous careers … certainly don’t qualify her to perform in public.”
Writing for Rolling Stone, Lenny Kaye found McCartney “remote and distant from the camera” and added: “if the consequent production did nothing to heal McCartney’s ongoing image problem, it certainly didn’t help his musical offerings, which came off as forgettably ordinary and certainly disappointing.” Referring to the former Beatle’s return to television, Alan Coren of The Times wrote: “[James Paul McCartney] was not the sort of programme you make a come-back with. It was the sort of programme you make a come-back after.”
Among more recent critiques, Peter Doggett describes the special as “insipid” and “unrecognisable as the work of the man who had conceived Magical Mystery Tour“. Robert Rodriguez writes that, in its attempts to present McCartney as all-round entertainer, the show embarrassed and alienated his rock audience, and that even the in-concert segment was lacklustre. Rodriguez concludes: “the band must surely have been conscious of their shortcomings alongside virtually any other recording act of the day. When Henry McCullough buries his head in his hands during the [McCartney] solo finale of ‘Yesterday,’ one feels his pain.” Tom Doyle contends that the show “wasn’t all bad” but considers the “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance” segment and the Chelsea Reach pub scene to have been particularly ill-advised for McCartney’s image at the time.
The special was never released on VHS.
In 2018, a DVD remaster was released as part of the “Paul McCartney Archive” deluxe reissue of Red Rose Speedway.
The American critics were very square about it, I mean really square. They said Paul was too cute and what that has to do with it, I don’t know! I think everybody expects God to appear whenever Paul does anything. Personally, I liked the show. But we had to compromise a lot in it, like a lot of our ideas were not in it. You see, it depends if you are going towards the critics or the people. The people loved it.Linda McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off The Record 2 – The Dream is Over: Dream Is Over Vol 2” by Keith Badman
I think it worked for what it was. We wanted to do a drag sketch. Do you remember the bit at the end with the dancers? At that point, I was going to come on stage dressed as Diana Ross and Linda was going to be dressed as a man. But they didn’t think that was a very good idea. It was a kind of Chevrolet show, and you couldn’t go too far or they wouldn’t show it. As far as we were concerned, it was a start. We all got on telly and we all got some experience working with cameras and stuff. But I think we could do better… I lot of people liked it. Elton John had it showing on his last plane trip. Although he had a choice, he wanted to watch our movie.Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles: Off The Record 2 – The Dream is Over: Dream Is Over Vol 2” by Keith Badman
I was thrilled when I saw the ’James Paul McCartney’ film on TV the other day. I found the personality piece on each member of the group really funny – especially Linda’s. – Jacqueline Kirk.
In my eyes the TV film was great. It was so good that my friends who were really against Paul and Wings are now all saying to me ’I didn’t like Wings, but I must say that was impressive’. I liked the pub scene best, oh yes, at the very end when Paul sang ’Yesterday’ – my dad said ’Oh no, not Paul McCartney again!’ but I saw him look over the newspaper! – Yet the next day I read an article ’Why Wings failed to take off’, and said how bad the show was!? – Gillian Maxim
I thought the TV special was really good, despite what some critics thought about it. I asked about 20 people (friends and work mates) what they thought, and all except one enjoyed it. I also asked three older people what they thought of it and they enjoyed it too, so I think the critics must be really out of touch with what the majority of people like. I hope it won’t be long before we see Paul and Wings on telly again.
I would like to thank Paul and Wings very much for the TV spectacular. I thought it was fabulous and only regretted that we haven’t got a colour TV. My favourite scene was the one where Paul, dressed in an evening suit and platforms was dancing with those male/female dancers! Really a great idea, and Paul is a better dancer than I thought. The piece where they were playing football was very funny and the scene where Wings played to a live audience was just fantastic!!! – Joan LausonFrom Wings Fun Club newsletter #3
McCartney: a teenybopper with wife and kids?
PAUL McCARTNEY dealt a blow for liberty and self-expression here when the ABC network devoted an hour of television prime time to his special, “James Paul McCartney”.
This may be considered a television ‘first’, since there’s always the possibility that solo specials from other former Beatles or big heavy rock groups may now be forthcoming.
We saw the band Wings relaxed and in good humour, warming up as the camera dollied in for close ups. While this was going on, typed mini-biographies were superimposed over the picture.
Each musician had evidently been asked to supply real and middle names, height, weight, birth date and place.
It was interesting to note that all gave their real names except Linda, who mentioned neither her maiden name of Eastman nor her pre-McCartney marital moniker.
Neither Linda nor Paul gave their weight, although Linda said that hers “varied”. Linda didn’t give her birthdate or place. although everyone else did.
(Drummer Denny Seiwell listed that he was as “American as kidney pie”). Colour of hair was also requested. and Mrs. McCartney charted hers as ‘strawberry blonde.’
After the band close ups, the cameras moved back to show the “audience”. dozens and dozens of stacked-up TV monitors showing people madly applauding. Very expensive technicality. that. but it worked extremely well.
(It was also somewhat suggestive of the TV production scene in “A Hard Day’s Night”, when Victor Spinetti yelped “Cut!” in front of five TV monitors).
The programme commenced with an acoustic guitar medley built around “Black Bird”, segueing into “Michelle”, and concluding with “Mary Had A Little Lamb.
On “Michelle”, Paul crooned as if he were Gilbert Becaud and Linda, dressed to the Bianca and a half, snapped pictures with expensive cameras as rapidly as David Bailey, frantically diving and bobbing for angles.
“Mary Had A Little Lamb” was, appropriately, shot at a bucolic lakeside setting. complete with Linda tinkling a tambourine and drifting from a tree, attired, this time, à la Little Miss Muffet, in a billowing innocence white dress and a Gainsborough chapeau with streamers.
Cut to “Heart Of The Country”, with the band frolicking in a rowboat together (rub a dub dub). then to lovely Linda astride an enormous white station, hair flowing Lady Godiva style (but wearing expensive threads), followed by a zany motion clip of paunchy Paul galloping behind on a small Big White Steed of his own.
Paul apparently wants to be a permanent teenybopper idol and he’s taking along his wife and kids. He’s like a grown-up David Cassidy or a tubby David Bowie charming, but anaemic. bouncing, but babyish surrounded with expensive tackle. human and electronic.
Another cutesy segment opened with Linda pouring tea over milk and sugar while Paul read his paper to the tune of “Uncle Albert Admiral Halsey” which was unaccountably chopped off by one of the numerous Chevrolet commercials.
“Uncle Albert” had rain noises, location office shots, and a slick fisheye lens sequence with close-ups of old people on telephones. something like a cinematic mating between Richard Lester’s Beatle films and Luis Bunuel’s “Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoise.”
Then it cuts to a Liverpudlian autobiographical sequence where little Paulie is surrounded by massive numbers of friends and relations, including Gerry Marsden. formerly of Gerry and the Pacemakers. pints of bitter all around, and Paul’s Aunt Jinny who had encouraged him to play music as a child.
They sang, too, rounds of such vintage goodies as “April Showers”. “Lone Way To Tipperary”, and “Pack Up Your Troubles”. Linda looked nauseated during this farce.
A shrug of the shoulder, with a wink from Paul’s eye, as if to say “See what I’m powerful enough to do in prime time?”
Explosions, hydroplanes, and plenty of McCartney scruff’s were in evidence via borrowed footage from “Live And Let Die”. There was a stadium type concert hall towards the end which worked at attaining an almost real aura of Beatlemania.
It is hard not to be cynical, as it was all so contrived, despite the fact that some of it worked. There was a live bit with a Little Richard song, “Long Tall Sally”, where the tinny TV sound was made even worse suddenly when the bottom fell totally out of that segment.
There was a mindless muzak Beatle medley, with oldsters chirping one line each in wretched voices of “When I’m 64”. “Please Please Me”. “Ob La Di. Ob La D ” and “Yellow Submarine”.
And there was a Bushy Berkley like segment with dancing girls and a song unmistakably derivative of much smarter Cole Porter type material (or even derivative of something by John Lennon).
Wings wore flashy, but not trashy versions of street wear, and made several costume changes for the various scenes. It was all an obvious showcase for Paul, nothing more, and often a good deal less.
Henry McCulloch played strong lead guitar, while Paul performed primarily on bass and piano, with a gift of acoustic guitar up front.
Linda laid out some simple lines and chords on the piano, but didn’t do anything out of the ordinary and kept well out of the way if the band did happen to start cooking.
Denny Seiwell did nothing elaborate on drums, but kept time and stayed in his place. There you have it, McCartney fans: the man and his friends. shown doing what they like best, and playing at being pop stars for fun and profit.
He seems to have lost respect, generally, for his music, and he capitalises on and makes sport of the Beatles at the same time. His only serious performances were material from his three solo albums and his theme song for “Live And Let Die”.
I talked to at least half a dozen music-absorbing friends and they all agreed that although there were some fleeting musical diversions the overall production was low-level rubbish, a waste of time, energy and money.From New Musical Express – April 28, 1973
McCartney lets it all hang out
JAMES Paul McCartney, to judge from the TV spectacular of the same name to be beamed into homes across the length and breadth of the country on May 10, has finally let it all hang out.
Following in the well-worn path of the traditional British rock and roller see Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard for examples he has emerged from the quiet years after the Beatle break-up as a fully-fledged bona-fide all-round entertainer.
James Paul, equally at home with a steamy old rocker like Long Tall Sally or a nonsense singalong like Mary Had A Little Lamb, can tap out a song and dance with the best of them, shows a delicate touch of whimsy, and looks as if he’s going to combine the Jekyll and Hyde roles of greasy teenage rocker with Wings and that of television personality at the same time.
At any rate, there doesn’t seem to be any need for him to worry about what he’ll be doing when he’s 64.
Denny Seiwell, drummer in Wings, told RM last week that the band’s aim was to appeal to everybody from six to 60. With a leader in Paul, they’ll be all right. If ever there was a man who understood what pop is, it must be him – nothing ever gets too heavy, there’s always a touch of the mickey-take to prevent a complete topple over into dreadful schmaltz.
The show, which is basically light entertainment and no more, is a showcase for Paul’s amazing ability to be all things to all men, women and little lambs.
Mind you, he doesn’t sing Give Ireland Back To The Irish. The tone of the show is set when you see the lovely Linda, bearing an increasingly striking resemblance to David Bowie, cavorting across fields on a white horse, in slow motion, followed by a speeded-up Paul on the same horse.
Mary Had A Little Lamb comes through on sound while everybody rows across an ornamental lake, Linda swings on a swing and several sheep heave into view.
Then comes Paul’s bringing it all back home section, shot in a Liverpool pub; the beer flows, Paul touches his dad for a few notes, Gerry Marsden smiles hello, Auntie Dill too, and everybody sings You Are My Sunshine, Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles except Linda, who being American, doesn’t know the words. Now that should knock them out in the States, the British Pub in real life. Almost.
There’s a gently campy production dance number, straight out of the Busby Berkeley / TV Toppers book, in which Paul wears slicked-down hair, pink tails and golden shoes, and dances pretty well, until the picture flashes to Paul and Linda saying that American popcorn was always better than the English variety, and the band, on a studio stage surmounted by a threatening emblem, launch into the theme from Live And Let Die, the new Bond film. On come the film clips of motorcycles crashing; Roger Moore in a speedboat that leaps out of the water, all sorts of fun and games.
“A Beatles Medley” says the fancy lettering on the screen, and as in a Polo commercial, men and women in the street have a go at She Loves You, Yellow Submarine and others; they’re usually grossly out of tune but having a good time, and the dubbed-on backing track has a bit of fun trying to adjust to their unusual timing and pitch.
Finally we come, at long last, to a set of live numbers from the whole band, of which I’d have preferred a little more and a little less of the soft-centred variety bandbox corn.
Wings show themselves to be a great little band, playing pop in the best sense of the word. Over their two years together they’ve grown tight and tasty and, as Denny Seiwell said, have learned to keep it utterly simple. The only suspicion of ego-trip comes from Paul, who knows how to use his face to best advantage for the camera, but after all, a good frontman is no easy thing to come by.
Henry McCullough’s The Mess, a stomping twelve-bar rocker, is followed by Paul’s Maybe I’m Amazed the song of which Rod Stewart once declared “If you don’t know it then I don’t know where you bin” which leads into the biggest treat of all as far as all of us in the ATV preview room were concerned.
Feet of staid-looking TV executives started to twitch the minute Wings launched themselves into what else but Long Tall Sally, the Little Richard classic that the Beatles’ used to close their act within the early days.
The revelation is that Paul, unlike many an ex-rocker, can still crank out that incredible screeching high-register voice as he approaches his middle years; the old edge hasn’t gone.
Finally, the titles roll and we’re left with Paul on a stool playing a solo acoustic rendition of Yesterday to the rest of Wings, who are sitting at his feet. But, having seen what the band are capable of, they aren’t going to have to play on nostalgic reminders of former glory.
At a time when good, spirited simplicity is at a premium in pop, you could do worse than put your money on Wings to be one of the biggest successes of ’73, and a few years to come.From Record Mirror – May 5, 1973
Last updated on August 14, 2023