Plenty of musicians have impressive back catalogs and prestigious songbooks to their credit. But the exalted 50-plus-year oeuvre of Sir Paul McCartney is something else. He's bringing a fraction of those celebrated songs to a sold-out Target Field on Saturday night, for the first full-stadium rock 'n' roll show in the ballpark's history.
There will ultimately be nothing to complain about in McCartney's song selection during his upcoming performance -- with typical set lists on his current tour stretching to a generous 39 tracks -- but we dug through Macca's impressive collection of musical gems and found 13 overlooked numbers.
This spirited tune was originally a b-side to "Help" released in the summer of '65. "I'm Down" began the long tradition of U.K. acts not including killer b-sides on their official full-length studio albums, and it remains one of the hardest-rocking numbers in the Beatles' early catalog. The group recorded this song in a prolific session that also saw them lay down finished versions of "Yesterday" and "I've Just Seen a Face," proving that every time the Fab Four stepped into a studio during this highly productive period all George Martin had to do was hit record and wait for the magic. But hidden within the relentlessly upbeat tempo of the track was a desperate plea from McCartney, letting attentive listeners know that there were dark moments inside the mad, chaotic world of Paul and his Beatles cohorts.
"I'm Looking Through You"
This rollicking Rubber Soul jam was featured on McCartney's recent tours, but hasn't been included in the sets during his current string of shows. That's too bad, because the track really lets loose in the bridge following the acoustic-guitar driven verses. When the electric guitar kicks in, they reinforce the sting of McCartney's kiss-off to then-girlfriend Jane Asher, as well as his percipient look at how the band was treated differently by everyone now that they had become worldwide superstars. This emphatic number represented a quick transition from the darling "I Want to Hold Your Hand" Beatles who had their adoring female fans incessantly shrieking, to a band that clearly wanted their space and wasn't afraid to call out old hangers-on who just couldn't act naturally around them.
"Drive My Car/The Back Seat of My Car"
The lead-off track to Rubber Soul seems tailor-made for rocking big stadiums. It's all too easy to picture massive crowds singing the jubilant "Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!" part of the chorus, as McCartney takes it all in with his winsome smile. Plus, it would make a smooth and suitable pairing with the rousing section of "The Back Seat of My Car," one of the hit singles drawn from McCartney's 1971 album Ram. Cars and long drives have long been an inspiration to McCartney in his songwriting (see "Helen Wheels" on the following page, as well) and tying these two tracks together would be a way of unifying two radically different times of his creative career that both were motivated by the pleasure drawn from taking a ride.
"Got to Get You Into My Life"
This brass-laden number has long been one of my favorite McCartney numbers, and I'm including it on this list for purely selfish reasons. This track anchors the strong finish to Revolver along with Lennon's psychedelic gem "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- two numbers that brazenly prove the duo's impressive creative progress as songwriters over the scant three years spent in the intense public spotlight. In addition to the soulful horns, McCartney's impassioned vocals resonate boldly above the vibrant arrangement. There are also clear references to the drug culture that was permeating the Beatles' lifestyle -- and much of society in the '60s -- at the time, with McCartney later admitting that the song was essentially "an ode to pot."
"Why Don't We Do It in the Road"
I've always felt that this White Album stomper could stretched out into a full-fledged jam as opposed to its scant 1:42 running time. And what better place to extend this bluesy, percussion/piano-filled track than in a live setting? Since Paul ostensibly recorded this number mainly on his own in the studio (with Ringo later adding drums and handclaps) he could expertly lead a full band through a scorching live take, with each member of the group taking a few quick bars for a seamless solo. It never quite gets its proper respect amid the chaotic sonic hodgepodge of The White Album, perhaps due to its preposterous title. Plus, including this number in his sets would also provide the 72-year-old McCartney an opportunity to take a seat at the piano if he needs to catch his breath during his marathon sets.[page]
"Helen Wheels" is the boisterous first single drawn from Wings' hugely successful third album, Band on the Run. The track is named after Paul and Linda's trusty Land Rover, and the lyrics document the lengthy drive from Glasgow to London. The feisty riff echoes the glam-rock swing of T Rex, while the chorus is predictably catchy, like nearly all McCartney numbers. The song was a top 10 hit in the States, warranting an inclusion on the U.S. pressing of Band on the Run (while the track was left off of the U.K. versions). It would go over really well with a large crowd looking to dance to whatever Paul throws their way.
"Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet"
This trio of songs would make for a brilliant start to any large-scale stadium show, as evidenced by the video above, which is drawn from McCartney's 1980 live concert film, Rockshow. Of course, now there would be 100 percent fewer bubbles and smoke emanating from the stage, but the songs themselves would still properly ignite any performance. "Venus and Mars" is the title track to Wings' 1975 album, McCartney's first post-Beatles release on Capitol Records (after leaving Apple behind following Band on the Run). The exuberant "Rock Show" is also drawn from Venus and Mars, and those two tracks -- the first pair on the record -- were released as a combination single in the fall of '75. "Jet" continues the rowdy spirit of "Rock Show," and forms a natural conclusion to this energetic trilogy of hits.
"So Glad to See You Here"
Before diving into this feature, I had absolutely no idea that Back to the Egg existed. It turns out that Egg is Wings' critically and commercially unsuccessful 1979 album, despite "Rockestra Theme" winning a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Heavy promotion from Columbia and the mere fact that McCartney was involved kept this record from being a total flop, but fans and critics alike were turned off by many aspects of this album. Then there's "So Glad to See You Here." The sheer level of talent on this song (as well as "Rockestra Theme") is astounding -- including David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, and Denny Laine on guitars, John Bonham on drums, John Paul Jones, Ronnie Lane, and Bruce Thomas on bass, along with McCartney on piano and a whole host of other talented musicians chiming in. Keith Moon was supposed to join the supergroup, but died one month before the recording sessions took place (and was subsequently replaced by the Who's stand-in drummer, Kenney Jones). The song absolutely slays -- echoing the agressive churn of the Who mixed with the sexy pulse of David Bowie. And because this jam exists, I will always have a soft spot in my music-loving heart for Back to the Egg.
I included Sir Paul's electro-pop cult classic "Temporary Secretary" in this list just because the song is so weird -- so freakishly out there -- that if McCartney ever did play it live for his current crop of fans, it would most likely blow their middle-of-the-road minds. This is as futuristically experimental as Macca could possibly get in 1980, and the left-field synth-rock jam has only gotten cooler with time. It was featured on McCartney II, an album filled with sonic digressions, but ultimately none as strange as "Temporary Secretary." McCartney played every instrument on the track, and that brazen, singular artistic vision beats at the synth-heavy heart of the song. I will always applaud McCartney for the bold chances he has taken with his sound over the years, especially when it would have been so easy, and profitable, to churn out "Yesterday" over and over again. And he's never taken quite as big of a career risk as he did when releasing "Temporary Secretary," especially when you consider that his next single was the Stevie Wonder-assisted equality ballad "Ebony and Ivory."
"Take It Away"
This has always been one of my favorite of Paul's solo songs. The arrangement is light and airy, yet still packs a punch, while the chorus draws you in and has you singing along even if it's your first time listening. It also features a Beatles reunion of sorts, as Ringo Star joins the legendary Steve Gadd on the drums, while uber-producer George Martin plays the electric piano. The track is the second single (following "Ebony and Ivory") lifted from McCartney's 1982 solo album, Tug of War, which went on to earn a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year in '83 (an award that eventually went to Toto for Toto IV -- hard to deny the appeal of "Rosanna" and "Africa," I guess.). But while McCartney couldn't quite match the success of his famous former bandmate, John Lennon, who won Album of the Year in '82 for Double Fantasy, Paul still managed to put together one of the most commercially successful albums of his career, as Tug of War topped the charts across the globe, generating yet another stone-cold classic hit in a long career that has been absolutely full of them.
Thanks for the music, Sir Paul. And if you need any more help with the setlist for Saturday night, you just let me know.
Paul McCartney. Saturday, August 2 at Target Field. Sold Out. Info.GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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