Colette checks in from Summer with a terrific tribute to those fabulous lads from Liverpool, with a focus on the irrepresible Macca at the fore.
Music Maven commentary at the conclusion.
Last week was great for Beatle fans. Paul McCartney was on the Letterman show for the first time, and insisted on performing on the roof of the Broadway theater that used to be The Ed Sullivan Theatre — where (inside) the Beatles made their US debut, 40-plus years ago. Then he played at the opening of CITI Field in New York, which replaced the old Shea Stadium where the Beatles performed, on the their final US tour.
The rooftop concert on Broadway was also nostalgic because it included Get Back, which the Beatles sung on the roof of a London building in 1969 while doing an amazing, impromptu set during the filming of Let It Be. They didn’t know it would be their final performance together, ever. On the “unplugged” album of Let It Be, you hear them chatting about how great it would be to do a tour again.
Alas, it was never to be.
John and Yoko moved to NYC, and created such amazing tunes as Imagine and Woman, before he was gunned down so tragically in 1980. George turned out some fine music too (My Sweet Lord, etc.) on disc, and branched out into producing movies (including Monty Python flicks). Ringo kept drumming, and touring, but low-key as always.
Paul McCartney was the one who kept doing what the Beatles spent their teens and twenties doing together — being a working rocker — and staying remarkably youthful, positive and productive, despite losing his wife and his longtime musical partner, both too young.
After John’s death, McCartney gradually dusted off the amazing Lennon-McCartney songbook — which is simply unmatched by any other pop band. And what a gift it’s been to hear these songs again, by one of the guys who made them, mostly in their grand original arrangements, with Paul keeping the flame going for a new generation of fans and admiring musicians — including Beatles-lovers like American Idol’s Kris Allen (who does Hey Jude on the Idol tour), Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) and Eddie Vedder.
Here are some of Paul’s finest post- Beatle live performances of the Beatles catalogue, culled from the last 20 years — with an emphasis on splendid songs that haven’t been covered extensively by others.
I just want to add for people younger than this Baby Boomer: you can’t imagine how much the Beatles mattered to us. They emerged right after the death of JFK, which was deeply traumatic for the whole nation, but especially us children, and they brought with them freshness, cheekiness and a musical magic that helped us heal.
Paul at the Citi Stadium concert, with Billy Joel (a huge Beatles fan and NY hometown hero) chiming in, on a rousing early hit — the “B” side of I Want to Hold Your Hand.
— I Saw Her Standing There
Sir Paul gave us Beatlemaniacs a treat with his “unplugged” concert in 1991, where he played acoustic instruments and revived gorgeous Beatles harmonies with his new band mates, on fab songs like this from Rubber Soul. Note that he let the gray show in a mullet “do” — now he dyes it, but who cares? The man is ageless:
— I’ve Just Seen a Face (Unplugged)
On this exquisite ballad from Revolver, Paul’s beautiful falsetto gives me shivers …..and, he added accordion!
— Here, There and Everywhere (Unplugged)
Thanks to this timeless ballad, The Beatles eventually started to get serious props from older musicians and “serious” critics, who assumed they were just a pop craze and would fizzle out. I remember my own snobby, jazz musician brother saying, “Well, maybe they’re better than I thought….” Here, Paul is singing it at a charity concert, just him and a guitar, in 1997:
I adore everything on Meet the Beatles, their first American LP. This was their first big hit in England, and it still pleases. I have no idea where this clip originated, but Paul is performing it in a big stadium somewhere with mobs of people groovin':
– Please, Please Me
John’s death hit Paul very hard. He’s paid homage in several ways, but I love this remarkable medley that begins with A Day in the Life from Sergeant Pepper and ends with Give Peace a Chance, best. Filmed during a big concert in the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, in 2008:
— A Day in the Life
Two from the early 1960s, not often covered, but played by McCartney in the last decade at concerts which always drew in several generations, all getting high together on the music….
— I’ll Get You
— I’ll Follow the Sun
The Beatles proved they could ROCK like nobody’s business! They wrote all those pretty love songs, but they loved doing rave-ups too, like this classic, encored by Paul in that Liverpool concert. Note the trademark McCartney Scream! It’s still fearsome –
— Can’t Buy Me Love
At this point, I need to bring The Beatles in on this set. Paul does a tremendous job keeping their sound alive, but it’s wonderful to hear the Real Thing too. They didn’t have decent amplification or recording technology back then. And as Garth Brooks once noted, it’s astonishing they stayed in tune and together despite the dinky speakers, crappy mikes and orgiastic screaming of fangirls! They’d just played together so long in so many little divey clubs in England and Germany, that they were TIGHT:
— Can’t Buy Me Love (the Beatles version, live in 1964)
Here’s Paul dusting off a rock-out crowd pleaser from the 1960s, in the CITI Field concert — at which he played 30 SONGS!
— I’m Down
And The Beatles version at Shea Stadium more than four decades ago…
— I’m Down, Beatles at Shea, 1965
I adore this clip because it shows both their musicianship and great their love and delight in making music together. John is cutting up, George is breaking up, Paul is trying to keep it together, and Ringo is bashing away happily behind them. Pure joy.
Finally, here’s Paul doing Get Back on the Sullivan theatre’s roof — and kidding around with the crowd while they were waiting to start. This is a fan’s video, and expresses the excitement on the street where a lucky 4,000 people were allowed to congregate and watch. (Sir Paul sang several songs they didn’t show on TV, but they’re all posted on YouTube now). So here it is:
— Get Back, July 19, 2009
And here are The Beatles singing it in 1969, on a London rooftop — where the cops broke up their final concert! Well, at least we have this wonderful clip — the good sound makes you pine for what might have been if they’d gotten back on the road.
— Get Back, 1969
Another great contribution from Colette!
I just wanted to interject one small point about the most under-appreciated Beatle of all, Ringo. While he was never the at the forefront of The Beatles and is sometimes forgotten due to his unassuming, laid back style, Ringo is quite a force himself.
After The Beatles breakup, Ringo rivaled Sir Paul in hits in the early 70s. First came It Don’t Come Easy in ’71:
He followed up with one of my personal favorites, Back Off Bugaloo in ’72, Photograph in ’73 and You’re Sixteen in ’74. While lesser recognized, these hits were certainly on par with McCartney’s Band on the Run and Jet and Hell on Wheels, yet Ringo gets the least love of all The Beatles. I recognize that many only associate Ringo with the dreadful 1981 film, The Caveman, but Ringo is a solid one-quarter of The Beatles and is as accomplished as John, Paul, and George.
Lastly, Ringo paid special tribute to John in singing the Lennon-esque I Call Your Name on the 1oth anniversary of John’s death with special help from Joe Walsh and Jim Keltner along with Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty of Traveling Wilbury fame.
While Sir Paul is definitely the Beatles’ standard bearer, even he recognizes the force that is Ringo. I’ll close with Sir Paul getting by with a little help from his friend: