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The Story of Paul McCartney’s 1973 ‘James Paul McCartney’ TV Special

By 1973, Paul McCartney was enjoying a good run of post-Beatles triumphs, having secured a string of solo hits under his belt. The next stop was television, and on April 16, James Paul McCartney hit the U.S. airwaves as a prime-time special on ABC.

The idea behind the show was a showcase for the many talents of McCartney and featured solo and Beatles material, as well as performances from his then-current band Wings. The show featured a mix of live takes, skits, and what amounted to pre-MTV promotional videos for certain songs. The evening opens up with little fanfare before Wings dish up a rocking rendition of “Big Barn Bed” from the Red Rose Speedway LP.

There are candid, if staged, moments featuring Linda McCartney photographing her husband as he plays a solo acoustic set, and Paul with band members hanging out at a local pub, mingling with the regulars. With idyllic surroundings, the band perform their take on “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” while obscure favorites like “C Moon” and “The Mess” sit alongside “My Love” and a rousing and — literally — explosive rendition of his then-current hit, “Live And Let Die.”

One of the more entertaining segments featured random people on the street singing their favorite Beatles songs, often to great, if unintentional, comedic effect. The semi-androgynous, highly stylized dance number “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance,” pours it on a bit thick, but aside from that, it’s a fairly cheese-free hour of rock and roll television. The show is paced well, and the mix of live performances with staged settings is balanced nicely.

The show was panned by critics after it first aired, but time has treated it kindly. It captures McCartney in a good place musically and shows off a good balance of his past, present and future. After the 1973 airing, James Paul McCartney was all-but forgotten about except by diehard Macca fans. To date, it has yet to be released on home video.

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