What Really Happened In “James Paul McCartney” TV Special

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 06: Singer Paul McCartney performs during the Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show at Alltel Stadium on February 6, 2005 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

In the early days following the Beatles’ breakup, Paul McCartney had already achieved success with a series of solo hits. His next move was to venture into television with the James Paul McCartney special, which aired in prime time on April 16, 1973, on the ABC network in the United States.

The program was intended to showcase McCartney’s diverse talents, including both Beatles and solo material, along with performances by his current band, Wings. The special incorporated a mix of live performances, skits, and pre-MTV style music videos to promote certain songs. The program began modestly before Wings launched into a lively rendition of “Big Barn Bed” from their Red Rose Speedway album.

In April 1973, ABC aired a television special called James Paul McCartney, which featured performances from McCartney and his band Wings, both live and staged. The show included scenes of Linda McCartney taking photographs of her husband playing solo and the band socializing at a local pub. The setlist included both popular songs like “My Love” and lesser-known tracks like “C Moon” and “The Mess,” as well as an energetic rendition of McCartney’s then-hit “Live And Let Die,” complete with pyrotechnics.

Although James Paul McCartney was criticized by reviewers when it initially aired on ABC in 1973, it has aged well. The program offers a mix of McCartney’s past, present, and future work and showcases him at a good musical point. Despite being largely forgotten after its airing, the show was rediscovered in 2018 as part of the deluxe reissue of Red Rose Speedway and released on DVD.

The show’s pacing and balance between live and staged performances were well-done, and while some segments were a bit over-the-top, like the stylized dance number “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance,” overall, the show was a solid hour of rock and roll television with little cheesiness. One standout moment was when members of the public sang their favorite Beatles songs on the street, leading to some unintentionally comedic moments.