Clearly upset by the breakup of The Beatles, Paul McCartney spent much of the 1970s focused on his new material with Wings. Although he performed ‘Yesterday’ and ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ onstage, they were meant as a palette cleanser between the more rambunctious rock numbers his ’70s band specialised in.
Following John Lennon’s murder in 1980, McCartney acquiesced to nostalgia, and started making overtures to the greatest band of the 1960s. Give My Regards To Broadstreet featured a startling version of ‘The Long and Winding Road’, complete with a string arrangement that was infinitely more respectful to the vocal and lyric than the 1970 original; Bob Geldof encouraged him to sing ‘Let It Be‘, casting away the shackles of disharmony for a yearning performance based on immediacy and presence; and then there was his disarming version of ‘Get Back’, bolstered by a soaring backing vocal from Tina Turner herself.
Determined to do the rocker justice, McCartney arrived at the 1986 Prince’s Rock Gala at London’s Wembley Arena with a keen ear on the band, and a keen eye on the audience. Seated in the audience was Princess Diana, who can be caught clapping enthusiastically to the pounding number. And although the future king of England couldn’t match her enthusiasm, Prince Charles can be seen clapping politely to the music, keenly aware that the songwriter had written about making a move on his mother on Abbey Road 17 years earlier.
Eager to enjoy the performance, pianist Elton John lets loose, exhibiting a solo that recalled the Fats Domino records of McCartney’s youth. Genesis vocalist Phil Collins moved himself to the drum-kit at the backstage, although he must have envied Bryan Adams when he saw the guitarist sharing a microphone with the surviving Beatle.
From one Paul to another, 1980s heartthrob Paul Young tackled the second verse, before inviting Turner to sing the closing bars with thunderous aplomb. Dire Straits bassist John Illsley was onstage, so McCartney opted to play rhythm guitar, the role he had intended for himself in The Beatles in 1960.
It’s a riveting performance, replete with energy, verve and infectious enthusiasm. By the time the last fill has ended, the audience are up on their feet, aching for another encore. Where The Beatles’ version of ‘Get Back’ sounded clumsy, hampered by a plodding solo that was played lazily by John Lennon, this new version is rife with energy, culminating in an excitement that was sorely missing from the rooftop performance back in 1969. To The Beatles’ credit, they were forced to abandon their set early after a number of residents complained about the noise pollution.
Judging by the reaction of the audience at the Prince’s Trust, the only complaints lodged that night were that it wasn’t long enough. Other highlights from the night included Dire Straits’ pummelling version of ‘Ḿoney For Nothing’, complete with a chirpy vocal from former Police bassist Sting, and a strangely yearning version of ‘Sailing’ from Scottish singer, Rod Stewart.
But no one wanted to topple The Beatle in question, and you can see McCartney’s joy at the rapturous reception ‘Get Back’ received. He had struggled to get guitarist George Harrison to contribute to the band’s proposed live project in 1969, and couldn’t expect anything more than a ramshackle 40 minute set from Lennon before the rhythm guitarist left the band, but here he could play the rock number in the way it was always intended.
And as if rising to the challenge, Harrison performed at the 1987 Prince’s Trust Rock Gala, unveiling ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ for the first time in years. Collins played drums again, although this time he was accompanied by Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton, who played the propulsive lick on the 1968 original, arrived to play the guitar solo. It led many to think that McCartney, Harrison and Starr could make some music together, although when they did put their differences aside to work on ‘Free As A Bird’, the result was so banal sounding that critics took greater interest in the video that went with it.
Enough conjecture: This clip from 1986 is excellent, and showed McCartney belonged on the stage. And with any luck, he’ll return to the boards once more in 2022.