They Say It’s Your Birthday: Thoughts on McCartney at 80

Performing in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo: Matt Whittaker)

I was sitting in the stands at Wake Forest University’s stadium in Winston-Salem, NC, last month, reliving an experience I’ve had too many times to count through the years — watching Paul McCartney in concert.

As I watched Macca perform for me and about 33,000 other folks, including Leslie and our son, Bill, and daughter, Olivia, it struck me that, although I’ve only met Sir Paul a handful of times, and I’m sure he wouldn’t know me from any of his other millions of fans, this man has been a major part of my life for nearly 60 years.

During the time The Beatles were together, I never really thought about which one of them I liked best. I was a Beatles fan, though I always was drawn to McCartney’s music. But, that really was more of a first among equals situation.

Favorite Beatle was a matter of choosing a first among equals.

That continued to be the way I viewed the Fab Four once the solo era dawned, although there was no doubt I tended to favor Paul’s musical efforts. I bought everything that all four of them released, however.

Actually, George Harrison was my “first Beatle” in a couple of important respects: the first one I saw in concert, and the first one I ever met and interviewed.

That interview with George came a few months after Leslie and I had been joined by my brothers, Jon and Tim, to see Paul and his post-Beatles band, Wings, perform at Atlanta’s old Omni coliseum. Leslie and I went back the next night for a second show.

It wasn’t until early the next year that I became a rock critic for a living, and started going to concerts at least weekly (sometimes more often). But, despite seeing most of the major acts touring between 1977 and 1986, those Wings shows remained atop my list of the best I’d ever seen.

Still, I don’t think I ever really had said out loud where I stood on the individual Beatles until one night in the early 1980s, when I was sitting in a private hotel bar in New York City, interviewing Lionel Richie. We got to talking about the Fabs, and he asked me my favorite Beatle.

Without thinking, I replied: “Paul.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I’m a Paul guy, too.”

McCartney’s 1976 concerts with Wings were favorites.

I finally got to meet McCartney in the fall of 1984, when I was invited to be part of a group of half a dozen journalists who interviewed him in a conference room at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, in advance of the release of his film “Give My Regards to Broad Street.”

The movie itself was one of his least successful solo efforts, but I’ll always look on it fondly, because of the hour I got to spend, sitting immediately to Paul’s left, asking him as many questions as I liked, and snapping pictures. That was a great day.

In later years, I attended several of the press conferences Paul used to do in each city on his tours, and I usually got to ask him at least one question.

On one occasion, I accompanied a friend to interview some of the members of Paul’s band the afternoon of a concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Afterward, trying to find our way out, we suddenly found ourselves on the floor of the Garden in front of the stage — on which Paul and the band were about to do their sound check. This was in the era before they started selling pricey sound check tickets, so Macca gave us a look like, “You’re not supposed to be here.” We quickly skedaddled.

McCartney and his band during their 1993 tour.

A couple of years later, once Paul had started doing expanded sound-check performances for small audiences of fans, someone with the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (of which Macca is the patron) arranged for me and brother Tim to be in that select audience in New Jersey.

Ready to go to sound check, we asked at the hotel desk if there was a shuttle to the stadium, and they told us to watch for a van out front. One pulled up, and we got in. It turned out, they must have thought we were with Paul’s MPL organization, because once on the shuttle, we noticed that right behind us were cases of instruments labeled, “MPL, 1 Soho Square, London.” The looks on the faces of some fans we knew, as they saw us ride into the stadium in an MPL van, were priceless.

Another memorable occasion where I got to interact directly with Macca was in 2002, when he met the media before another show at Madison Square Garden. On that tour, Paul did a solo keyboard medley of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “Carry That Weight” from the “Abbey Road album, and, in the middle, instead of the “any jobber got the sack” lyric, he sang, “this is the bit where I can never remember the words, but it doesn’t matter, maybe I’ll remember them by the end of the tour.” Of course, it was a planned bit that he rehearsed and repeated every night — he even had it on his teleprompter.

At the press conference, I asked him about it, noting that ” … one thing you do, so far every night, is you deliberately flub the lyrics to ‘You Never Give Me your Money’ …”

Macca interrupted me: “Don’t give the game away! It’s a showbiz secret!”

I went on, asking him what the genesis of that bit was, and why he decided to do it every night. He explained that when he’d first done it by accident, it got a laugh, so he decided to keep it in. “I actually do know the lyrics now,” he said, “but I don’t really like ’em … so I decided, just sod it, we’ll have a laugh at that point.”

Jon Bon Jovi singing “Happy Birthday” to Macca.

From 1989 on, when he returned to touring, post-Wings, going on the road became a regular thing for me, too, as I visited cities across the U.S., as well as London, to see Paul perform. Most of the time, I was accompanied by close friends or family — including, as they got older, my kids.

Not surprisingly, young Bill and Olivia became Paul fans, too. Before we headed to Winston-Salem for Macca’s recent show there, Livvy told me that she has decided she wants to attend a concert on any tour Paul does, because you never know when it might be the last chance you’ll get to see him perform.

And, so, there we were, watching McCartney, just shy of a month from his 80th birthday, still doing a show that’s about twice as long as those put on by many younger acts.

At the end, he bid the audience farewell with a familiar line: “See ya next time!”

That sounds like a plan.

Happy 80th birthday, Paul, and thanks for all the good times and great music.

Bill King

McCartney at 80.

We asked other members of the Beatlefan family for their thoughts on Paul McCartney turning 80. Here’s what they shared. …

There aren’t many performers in any area of pop culture whose professional careers span 60 of their 80 years in this life and are still ongoing.

Bing Crosby, 51 years after his career began with Paul Whiteman, had just been in a very successful European tour when he died of a heart attack on a golf course in Spain. Frank Sinatra made his first professional record weeks before the beginning of World War II and had a Top 5 album (“Duets”) in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

But, Paul McCartney really tops them all. He’s easily the greatest pop music songwriter of the past 60 years, with only Burt Bacharach reasonable competition. Taking into account his barrier-breaking work with The Beatles, the second chapter of his musical life with the various lineups of Wings and a genre-hopping and commercially successful 52-year post-Beatles career, McCartney has a still-active body of musical works unparalleled, particularly in its diversity, in the history of popular music.

And, two nights before his 80th birthday, he played a three-hour show in a stadium in New Jersey and was onstage for the entire concert, which was played before a sold-out crowd that, age wise, virtually spanned his lifetime, from toddlers to baby boomers. 

Watching him strum on his bass and pull “Get Back” out of nowhere in Peter Jackson’s Beatles docuseries of the same name, we can see up close just how special a talent Paul McCartney is.

No one is remotely in his league.

Al Sussman

(Al is Executive Editor of Beatlefan.)

McCartney has remained a vital performer through the decades.

In January 1994, my mother and I attended a Frank Sinatra concert a month after Ol’ Blue Eyes had turned 78 and returned to the charts with his “Duets” album.

His voice was far past its 1950s glory days, but he still could do some interesting things with it, even in its ragged state. Plus, he was the Chairman of the Board. A mythic figure. Attention needed to be paid.

But, it wasn’t a concert where I — or anyone else in the arena — could really relax. From the start, Sinatra was shaky, dependent on Teleprompters that surrounded him. His patter with the audience was minimal. At one point, near the end of the concert, it seemed like he was going to cry. My mother, in fact, was in tears at the end of the concert.

“It’s hard to see him like that,” she told me as he exited the stage.

Today, Paul McCartney is turning 80, two years older than Sinatra was at that show. McCartney just completed a run of American shows where he performed for close to three hours. It’s likely he’ll be back for more concerts before too long. Who knows, he might have another album or two still in him.

The fact that McCartney is still a credible and vital performer as he enters his 80s is something we all should be celebrating today.

Brad Hundt

(Brad is Senior Editor of Beatlefan.)

McCartney at the beginning of his solo career.

I was 9 years old when The Beatles first visited the U.S., so I can barely remember a time when Paul McCartney was not an important figure in my life — and, a consistent influence.

A top-drawer melodist with an inventive sense of harmony, he has spent the past 60 of his 80 years showing that, as a friend of his put it, there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done — writing songs, performing on a variety of instruments (and as one of the rock world’s most flexible singers), making tape experiments, turning his hand to classical composition and now musicals, writing children’s books, painting.

You get the impression that, if he’s neglected any fields of artistic endeavor, it was so that he still has something to try in future years.

And, that’s why I’m looking forward to the next 80.   

Allan Kozinn

(In addition to being a Contributing Editor for Beatlefan, Allan is the author, with Adrian Sinclair, of “The McCartney Legacy, Vol. 1, 1969-1973, due from Dey Street/HarperCollins on Dec. 13.)

Paul and Linda.

We’ll be discussing Paul McCartney’s contributions to music and culture for at least the next 80 years. Meanwhile, he carries on business as usual: performing, recording, writing — following his every whim.

And, he still can surprise us: Writing tunes for a musical version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Who saw that coming? Could an octogenarian still top the charts? Who knows? But, if anyone could, it’s Paul.

Happy birthday, Macca, and thank you. 

John Firehammer

(John is an Associate Editor of Beatlefan.)

McCartney at sound check in Knoxville during the Got Back tour. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

Paul McCartney shows all of us that learning and creativity never stop at any age.

The past 10 years have been as active and productive as any other time in his life. He released four albums; in the case of “New” and “Egypt Station,” he worked with some of the hottest artists/producers today, including Ryan Tedder and Mark Ronson. In 2014, he composed “Hope for the Future” for the video game Destiny, and in the next two years collaborated with Kanye West on three songs. Add to that his composing songs for the upcoming “It’s a Wonderful Life” stage musical, and the fact that he’s still touring to sell-out audiences, and the 80-year-old musician shows no signs of slowing down.

His just-concluded Got Back tour demonstrates that, not only can he still play close to three-hour concerts, but he also appeals to a wide variety of ages. When I recently attended his Orlando show, I discussed the concert with my Uber driver on the way back to the airport. She commented that she couldn’t believe one person could draw so many age groups, and what a rarity that is in today’s music. Indeed, many artists attract either teenagers or adults; McCartney’s fans range from children to, well, 80-year-olds!

He continues to be an inspiration to me and countless others who admire his never-ending curiosity, passion for art and ability to connect with millions of fans worldwide. 

Kit O’Toole

(Kit is an Associate Editor of Beatlefan)

McCartney is still turning out new work, including children’s books.

On August 12, 1982, Frank Sinatra helicoptered into Chicago’s Navy Pier for a massive open-air concert before tens of thousands — including me. My interest in attending, though, was different from most. I wanted to get a sense of what a “far future” Paul McCartney show might feel like. At that moment, Frank was an energetic 67, and Paul a mere 40 years old. 

The lesson of that show: Age as a definer doesn’t matter if you’ve still “got it.”

Four decades later, McCartney has lapped Sinatra in his active performing career. In fact, among McCartney’s contemporaries and inspirations, Macca stands in an elite circle still at work, with the likes of Dylan and Ringo (both now 81), Paul Simon (80), and jazz performers such as Herbie Hancock (82), with Mick and Keith (78) right behind.

But, for McCartney, it is more than performing familiar songs at a certain age benchmark. He has continued to be engaged, not only energetically drawing from his deep catalog onstage, but also exploring different types of projects. (On tap: A stage musical rendering of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) 

Some may work. Some may not. That’s consistently been the case with Macca at any age.

By the time Sinatra reached age 80, he was comfortably withdrawn from public life and touring, with his final new recordings (“Duets”) released the previous year.

With McCartney, the ongoing Joy of Creativity is still there, along with a deep sense of history. Crystalized onstage in his recent tour, you can see it there in his live/film vocals with John Lennon. Like his audience, he, too, is a Beatles fan. Celebrating that. And whatever else is yet to come. 

Walter J. Podrazik

(Wally is a Contributing Editor for Beatlefan.)

McCartney during his Fort Worth show on the Got Back tour. (Photo: David Persails)

Macca @ 80; this phrase has been used often over the past few weeks, but with a difference. The age of 80 usually is considered to be 15 years after retirement age. Our kid has proved he’s just getting warmed up.

During this short Got Back tour, you could see the excitement rising with every show. After 2.5 years of waiting, hoping it would come to be, Sir Paul hit the stage with the most elaborate, animated show yet. He sang a duet every night with John Lennon, thanks to Peter Jackson, and, thanks to COVID-19, we didn’t have to put up with some ga-ga fan coming out onstage every night.

If Sir Paul doesn’t have another hit record left in him, so what? He is 80, for Christ’s sake!

Happy birthday, Sir James Paul McCartney, wishing you plenty more to come.

John Sosebee

(John is a longtime Beatlefan contributor.)

McCartney has many fans who came to his music long after his days with John Lennon were over.

In the wash of tributes posted on the internet to celebrate Paul McCartney’s 80th birthday, the sweetest one I’ve seen was shared on Twitter by @VisitLiverpool. In a short video, a group of children from Stockton Wood Primary School in Speke — where Paul studied when he was a boy — take a Magical Mystery Tour bus to Penny Lane, where they sing the roundabout’s namesake song with gusto.

Those little tykes — so excited to wish Sir Paul happy birthday — have a world of Macca music and magic yet to discover.

The rest of us can look back in amazement at the ways his extraordinary talent has touched the world and our own lives.

Whether we go as far back as the heady days of Beatlemania, fell under his spell with that other group, Wings, or became a fan at any time since, Macca has given us music, joy, inspiration, comfort, reasons to believe, and the best singalong ever composed. He’s done it all with graciousness, grace, good humor and loyalty to his mates and his roots.

Thanks, Paul, from this fan of 58 years and counting. Shine on ’til tomorrow!

Kathy Urbanic

(Kathy is a Contributing Editor for Beatlefan.)

McCartney waving the flag of Ukraine.

Paul McCartney has been a part of my popular culture consciousness since 1964 — reinforced and kept there by participating in the production of Beatlefan, which has been going since its creation in 1978.

He has been a major artistic and cultural factor all of his adult life, and, by all accounts, has used his talents and charisma well.

Eighty years old. His life has been impressive. 

Leslie King

(Leslie is General Manager of Beatlefan.)

Macca was joined by Bruce Springsteen to close out his tour. (Photo: Bob Gannon)

They say it’s your birthday, so happy 80th, Sir Paul — painter, classical composer, poet, environmentalist, vegetarian crusader, recipient of 21 Grammys, knight of the realm, the avant-garde Beatle, companion of honor, MBE, Companion of Honour, bass player extraordinaire, national treasure and Mr. Thumbs Aloft. 

How do you really measure success with someone who is 80 years young? It seems astonishing that he quit the most influential band there ever was before he was 30. What puts this in sharp focus is when you realize that he’s had a solo career for the past 52 years

Comedian Alan Partridge may have been joking when he said Wings were the band that The Beatles could have been, but people seem to forget how just how huge Paul’s post-Beatles band was in the 1970s.

And, McCartney continues to work, exploring new ways of creating music, and still touring. At 80, he has a work ethic and a hunger that should put younger musicians to shame.

For me, it goes beyond music. McCartney always has seemed to be a good role model for how to succeed and still have a good family life — which, if you think about the craziness of the Beatles era, is a real testament to how great the guy really is.

So, let me raise a glass to you, Sir Paul, and say thank you so much for helping to provide the soundtrack to my life. Here’s to many happy returns.

Simon Rogers

(Simon is the London Editor of Beatlefan.)