Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rock Show


As much as we all love Paul McCartney and have great respect for his songwriting and musicianship, I don't think it speaks very well for his abilities as a producer that two of his biggest post-Beatles hits - "Maybe I'm Amazed," which went to Number Ten in 1977 (and was his highest-rated solo single on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Singles of All Time), and "Coming Up," which went to Number One in 1980, didn't go anywhere in their studio versions but were smashes when they were released in live versions.

18 comments:

Pike said...

"Mull of Kintyre" did great on the UK charts. Better than any Beatles song. (I'm going from memory here.)

T. Nawrocki said...

It was at one time the best-selling single in the history of the U.K., but really, you should hear the live version.

Pike said...

I'd love the live version. I didn't know one existed.

T. Nawrocki said...

It's a joke, son.

Pike said...

You're incredibly cruel.

Gavin said...

I'm afraid "didn't go anywhere" isn't true in relation to the studio version of "Coming Up"--it was rising the charts in a brisk fashion, but DJs at some point started playing the live version on the B-side instead (because it was faster? as a change of pace?) and by the time it reached the top, the live version was getting more airplay.

T. Nawrocki said...

The studio version didn't make the Top Forty, although I can't find whether it made the Hot 100 or not. It did go to Number Two in the U.K., though.

Gavin said...

But it was the same single! The studio version was released on the A side, the live version was on the B side. Billboard combined the airplay of both, as per their standard policy, which means we have no easy way of saying how high the studio version would have ranked without the live version's airplay. (I suppose if we had a stack of old Billboards, we could look up how high the single was ranking when the chart poobahs flipped the billing.)

"Released in April 1980, 'Coming Up' was moving up the Hot 100 when radio station programmers discovered their listeners preferred the 'B' side.... By the time the single reached number one, 'Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)' was considered the 'A' side." (Billboard Book of Number One Hits)

Your general point about McCartney's production skills remains--the live version was better liked than the studio version--but the studio version wasn't a flop, just a casualty of Billboard's accounting.

T. Nawrocki said...

Hmm. I see your point that it was the same single, so a precise accounting would be difficult.

I would be interested to know the chart positions for the album this came from, McCartney II. It originally didn't have the live version of "Coming Up" (and may never have had it, near as I can tell), but when that version became the hit, it was belatedly packaged into the LP as an EP.

Gavin said...

Something I don't know and would be curious to find out: how heavily the Billboard charts in 1980 weighted sales versus airplay. (The general trend across the years gradually minimized sales in favor of airplay, but I'm not sure where matters stood then.)

Rob said...

The live version of "Wonderful Christmas Time" is better. (Dennie Laine does a sick kazoo solo.)

if you look it up in Whitburn, "Coming Up" had an unusually long chart span, which is because the studio version was indeed a total flop. After a couple months of going nowhere, the live version took off very abruptly, rising dramatically in the charts, whereupon the studio version was never heard again, on the radio or elsewhere.

The label hyped the studio "Coming Up" because it was the first single from Paul McCartney, ie not Wings. "Coming Up (Live in Glasgow)," which was the hit, was by Paul McCartney and Wings, making Wings one of those rare (unique?) groups who hit #1 with their very last single.

Pike said...

(Something about Denny Laine being in my ears and in my eyes.)

T. Nawrocki said...

If you count one-off groups, USA for Africa went to Number One with its last (and only) single. So did Dionne and Friends with "That's What Friends Are For."

There have got to be others that I can't think of right now.

Gavin said...

Ahoy, statistical geekery ahead:

"Coming Up" spent 16 weeks on the charts, including 3 at #1.
Macca's other #1 singles, with weeks on the top 40 charts (and at #1):
UA/AH: 12 (1)
My Love: 15 (4)
Band OTR: 13 (1)
LTWTMS: 11 (1)
Silly LS: 15 (5)
With ALL: 12 (2)
Ebony/Ivory: 15 (7)
SSS: 18 (6)

Subtract weeks at the top to figure out how long his #1 songs spent on the chart other than at #1:
11, 11, 12, 10, 10, 10, 8, 12.
So "Coming Up" spent 13 weeks on the chart when not at #1, the most of any of McCartney's chart-topping (non-Beatles) singles (but not by a wide margin).

(Data on how long it took each of those songs to get to the top from their first entry into the top 100 would be more accurate; I feel like an early Bill James approximating catchers' ERAs, knowing that sometimes they got taken out for pinch-hitters.)

T. Nawrocki said...

According to Wikipedia, the "Coming Up" single was released on April 11, 1980, and according to my Whitburn book, it creased the Top Forty on May 10, 1980, which means it took a month to get there.

Is that an unusually long time? I have no idea, so I tried to check how long it took McCartney's other singles to reach the Top Forty, but I ran into a problem: Wikipedia has "Silly Love Songs" as being released on April 30, 1976, but Whitburn has it entering the Top Forty on April 17, 1976. A song so great it was a hit before it even came out! Clearly, I need to find some better sources.

Rob said...

“Coming Up” spent 21 weeks on the Hot 100. It took 2 weeks after release to make the Hot 100, which was unusual for a McCartney single.

"Coming Up" spent 18 weeks on the Hot 100 not at #1, the most of any McCartney #1, as opposed to 12 for "Ebony & Ivory” and "Unclesy Admiralbert," 13 for "LTWTMS," 14 for "My Love" and "Silly Love Songs," 16 for "WALL" and "SSS," 17 for "BOTR." "Coming Up" debuted on the Hot 100 on 4/26/80, and hit #1 on 6/28/80; by contrast, “BOTR” debuted 4/20/74 and hit #1 6/8/74. The only one that took anywhere near as long to hit #1 was “WALL” (debuted 3/25/78, hit #1 5/20/78); “SSS” took surprisingly long (debuted 10/15/83, hit #1 12/10/83) but Lionel’s “All Night Long” was blocking the way.

Of Hot 100 songs that didn’t hit #1, “Let ‘Em In,” “Goodnight Tonight” and “Take It Away” all logged 16 weeks, but the record is 17, “Spies Like Us.”

Note that McCartney’s follow-up “Waterfalls" was a bona fide solo Paul McCartney single, and that it failed to make the Hot 100. (Note also that it went, "Don't go jumping waterfalls / Please keep to the lake.")

T. Nawrocki said...

"Spies Like Us" is terrible.

Gavin said...

Oooh, more data!

Adding up Rob's top 100 info and my top 40 info (or more precisely, doing some basic subtraction), we learn that "Coming Up" spent 5 weeks in between #100 and #41.

Uncle Admiral: 1
LTWTMS: 3
My Love: 3
Eboniry: 4
SLS: 4
SSS: 4
BOTR: 5
WALL: 6

So: "Coming Up" is towards the high end of that range, but certainly not an outlier.

So the next question is "What's the deal on 'With a Little Luck'?" It actually went to the top of the charts very fast, debuting at #70 and hitting #1 eight weeks later. (It was the first single in five months not to come from RSO!) So it must have collected an unusual amount of its 100-41 time on its way down. (Observationally, I can say that songs usually fall much faster than they rise.) Of the five weeks "Coming Up" spent between 100 & 41, it seems that four of them were when it was, er, coming up.