No retrospective of vintage live Paul McCartney would be complete without his popular tune “Coming Up.” Since this column is entitled “Deep Beatles,” however, we want to explore a different version than the 1979 “Live at Glasgow” hit. Instead, we dig deeper to reveal the dance-oriented treatment from the Knebworth ‘90 concert. With his stellar all-star band in tow, McCartney kept the crowd on its feet by incorporating touches of hip hop with a dash of disco. This may sound like a risky move, but McCartney has frequently dabbled in the dance music realm.
As any McCartney fan knows, “Coming Up” first surfaced on 1980’s McCartney II album; like the other tracks, it maintained a robotic sound that McCartney experimented during that time. The song gained further attention with its humorous (and technically advanced for its time) video, where McCartney and wife Linda portrayed all members of the fictional band the Plastic Macs. McCartney and Wings debuted the song during their 1979 UK tour (he also performed the track with slightly different lyrics as part of a 1979 benefit concert for Kampuchea), with a version recorded during their Glasgow, Scotland performance. While “Coming Up” became an immediate hit in the UK, the studio single stalled in the US until some DJs began airing the live version–the flip side of the “Coming Up” 45. Interestingly his label, Columbia, wanted to include the live version on McCartney II; McCartney vetoed the idea, citing his desire for McCartney II to be a true solo album without any Wings presence.
“Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)” helped propel the single to the top of the US charts; for the first twelve weeks on the chart, Billboard listed the studio version (including three weeks at number one); during the remaining nine weeks, the magazine changed the listing to the live recording.
Flash forward ten years: McCartney was undergoing his first tour under his name alone, and his first in a decade. One stop on the highly successful venture was the June 30, 1990 Knebworth Festival, an all-star music fest on the grounds of Knebworth House, near the village of Knebworth in Hertfordshire, England. McCartney was part of an impressive lineup, headlining with Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Genesis, and Pink Floyd. Due to his long absence from the road–as well as his rock royalty status–he wowed the crowd with a setlist featuring a John Lennon tribute medley, a handful of Beatles tunes, and a few solo tracks. His touring band consisted of music industry pros: ex-Average White Band member Hamish Stuart on guitars and vocals; onetime Pretenders member Robbie McIntosh on guitar and vocals; top studio drummer Chris Whitten; and keyboardist and singer Paul “Wix” Wickens, who still performs in McCartney’s band.
With Linda as second keyboardist and background vocalist, McCartney tore into a very danceable version of “Coming Up.” This being 1990, he apparently decided to update the track by adding a sample and stronger disco beat. “Get on up! Get into it!” chanted a sampled voice while Whitten pounded on the drums. Keyboards and bass immediately dominated, establishing the song’s rhythm. Using a much gruffer voice than on the studio recording, McCartney growled the opening lines: Want a love to last forever / One that will never fade away.” Throughout the track, Stuart echoed McCartney’s lines, harmonizing with him on lyrics like “Stick around / Stick with me.” Wickens played an important role, as his keyboard riffs laid down the track’s melody.
In this live version, an extended drum break allowed a drum machine to briefly take over the beat, with another sample of a voice repeating “yo, check this out man!” accenting the tempo. Throughout the performance, McCartney and his bandmates frequently exchanged smiles, seemingly enjoying themselves. Linda, in particular, worked hard to maintain the crowd’s energy. In general, “Coming Up” served as the perfect attention-getting opener to McCartney’s Knebworth set.
“Coming Up” accomplishes what McCartney intended: it establishes a party atmosphere, blending pop with some R&B. He would go on to explore dance music further, whether through remixes, his side project The Fireman, or tunes he cut specifically for dance markets (“Goodnight Tonight,” “Ou est le Soleil”). Ultimately concerts are about having a good time celebrating the artist’s music, and the Knebworth ’90 version of “Coming Up” certainly accomplishes that goal.