BOOTLEG FILES 489: “James Paul McCartney” (1973 TV special starring the once-cute Beatle).
LAST SEEN: The production can be found on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Sir Paul has never made this available for commercial release.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Somewhat unlikely, but who knows?
Back in early 1973, Paul McCartney was experiencing a new peak in his post-Beatles career. His song “My Love” reached the top of the U.S. music charts, and he was tapped to offer the first rock music theme song for James Bond film “Live and Let Die.” But McCartney also faced problems. Sir Lew Grade, who controlled half of the publishing royalties for McCartney’s songs, was threatening the star with legal action for the somewhat questionable crediting of his wife Linda as co-writer of the tunes. In order to avoid a court showdown, McCartney agreed to star in a one-shot special for Grade’s ATV in return for Linda receiving songwriting royalties.
But the resulting special TV special, “James Paul McCartney,” was something of a mess. “James Paul McCartney” was divided into 11 segments that were either wrapped around a single tune or a skein of songs. The bulk of the production was shot in controlled environments, with applause tracks occasionally added later; a single segment was taped before a live audience. Although McCartney presented the special as being a collaborative effort with his new band Wings, the focus was almost entirely on him and Linda.
The opening segment of the special was more than a bit peculiar: the Wings team performed “Big Barn Bed” with their backs to the camera while standing before a wall of video screens featuring images of applauding audiences. The viewer only gets to see the performers when there is a switch to a close-up of each person. The individual members of the band are identified with on-screen text that offers trivial data (favorite color, weight, etc.).
The second segment only features Paul and Linda. She is taking photographs of her husband while he provides acoustic versions of two Beatles songs (“Blackbird” and “Michelle”) and two Wings songs (“Bluebird” and “Heart of the Country”). Neither McCartney seems particularly enthused in this segment: she goes through her photography with a blank expression and he seems indifferent to the charade.
The third segment is a music video, shot in a pastoral setting, which is tied to McCartney’s much-derided “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The other Wings members return, but most of the focus involves a surplus number of sheep that surround the band. Linda rocks on a tree swing while banging a tambourine, and she later rides a white horse; Paul follows her on a white pony.
The fourth segment puts the band back in a studio, but the camera is mostly in close-up on McCartney as he sings “Little Woman Love” and “C Moon.” Again, McCartney does not appear to be enthused about his performance. When the camera finally pulls back, a full orchestra is revealed – and these musicians offer the lush backing to the hit tune “My Love.” An applause track caps the sequence, although it is obvious that there is no studio audience present during this number.
The fifth segment provides an abbreviated version of McCartney’s weird 1971 hit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Only the first half of the song is featured, with a surreal music video presentation that has no connection to the “Uncle Albert” lyrics. It is unclear why the “Admiral Halsey” section was dropped.
The sixth segment brings McCartney to Liverpool, where he hangs out with his family and their neighbors/friends at a large pub. The happy locals break into spontaneous sing-alongs of old tunes including “April Showers” and “You Are My Sunshine.” Linda is with them and she appears to be enjoying herself immensely; Paul, however, appears slightly bored, though he manages to chat in a cordial manner with those seated around him.
The seventh segment is among the worst things that McCartney ever accomplished: a Busby Berkeley mish-mash that harkens back to the uncoordinated finale of “Magical Mystery Tour.” In this number, McCartney wears a pink tuxedo and a fake mustache while dozens of dancers wear a gender-splitting costume (half of the costume is a male tuxedo with short dark hair, while the other half is a glittery gown with long blonde hair – sort of like Fred and Ginger spliced together into a single body). The choreography and direction is scattershot and McCartney (who cannot walk in musical rhythm, let along dance) lumbers about. “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance” is the song performed by McCartney, and a loud applause track at the end of the number fills the void left by baffled viewers.
McCartney is back in his element with the eight segment, which offers clips from “Live and Let Die” along with a performance of the song in a studio. During the number, a man dressed like a spy sneaks about the studio and ultimately blows up the band.
The ninth segment has British pedestrians being stopped and asked to sing their favorite Beatles songs. This is the only genuinely charming spot in the production, as these happy Brits offers distinctive interpretations of the golden oldies. Never mind that lyrics get scrambled or songs are performed in the wrong tempo – these real people are having the fun that McCartney never displayed in the earlier segments.
For the tenth segment, McCartney finally begins to show signs of relaxation. This is the sequence involving a live audience, and Wings is in full throttle with rocking renditions of “The Mess,” “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Long Tall Sally.” (The latter song was replaced with “Hi Hi Hi” for the British broadcast.) This is also the only time in the production outside of the first segment that Wings exists as a real band, with everyone getting camera time.
For the eleventh and final segment, McCartney offers an acoustic take on “Yesterday.” It was a bit odd that McCartney would close the special by harkening back to his Beatles days rather than offering new music.
ABC broadcast the special on April 16. 1973. Although it was very highly anticipated – McCartney received a cover story on TV Guide – the reviews were dreadful. The New York Times dismissed it as “a series of disconnected routines strung together with commercials for Chevrolet.” The Washington Post was nastier, taking Linda to task as not being her husband’s artistic equal. “Mrs. McCartney’s previous careers … do not qualify her to perform in public,” according to the Post’s critic.
British audiences saw the special one month later, and the U.K. critics were also negative, with the music newspaper Melody Maker slamming it as “overblown and silly.” Even today, the special is viewed harshly – McCartney biographer Kenneth Womack charitably refers to as “a bit of ill-advised schmaltz.”
After its initial broadcast, “James Paul McCartney” vanished from public view. Bootleg copies have floated about for years among McCartney’s fans, but the special has never been made available for commercial home entertainment release. For McCartney addicts that never experienced this production, the entire show is on YouTube in a decent second generation dupe.
McCartney never showed fondness for this special, later dismissing it as “just another gig.” Whether he will ever get around to bringing “James Paul McCartney” back for re-release is hard to say – his 1980 concert film “Rockshow” was recently brought back for a restored theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray release, so perhaps this detour into television might get a digital clean-up. And if not, well … ob la di, ob la da, life goes on.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!
Posted on July 19, 2013 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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