What Would You Do If I Sang Out Of Tune?

John Robb, my old friend and musical ally (I produced a couple of tracks for his band of the time, Sensuround, back in the early ’90s), blogged his views at Louder Than War a few days ago regarding Paul McCartney’s stuttering appearance at the Olympic opening ceremony last week. Like myself, John holds The Beatles in the highest regard, so I was interested to hear his take on things. He’d formulated his article as ‘An Open Letter To Paul McCartney And The Elder Statesmen Of Pop’:

I’d thought about getting my views on the matter down, but I was still forming them, having only got to see the opening ceremony on my return from a pretty full-on weekend, kicking off with a gig in Brighton that took place at the same time as the eyes of the world were on the Olympic Stadium in London, watching Danny Boyle’s £27,000,000 extravaganza unfurl. I managed to catch the last part of the ceremony, including McCartney’s finale, but without any sound (the venue still open and the next DJ now playing), so I had no idea that it had fallen so flat for a significant amount of the population until I’d had a look at what was being tweeted on the subject, some of which was pretty scathing stuff.

Having read what John had to say, I left a comment, which, reading back, pretty much crystalizes my opinion in a concise way, without the sentimentality of  how much the music of this guy, and the band he was in, have enriched my life, and the lives of so many others. Here’s what I wrote:

Good piece John. What struck me about the opening ceremony was that it presented a new Britain, a multicultural Britain of the 21st Century with a wealth of history to draw from, not only in a traditional sense, but by embracing the riches of its pop culture of the past 50 years, of which The Beatles take the central roll.

Time has moved on, and this was clearly symbolized in Paul McCartney’s performance. In many respects it felt like the changing of the guard, which is a good thing, but it was obviously uncomfortable to hear a younger generation criticising one of the main icons of the old. They were right, of course – the climax of the event should have been better served, forward-looking not backwards. It was only a few weeks ago that McCartney was closing proceedings at the Jubilee celebrations, so rather than having the element of occasion this was supposed to represent, that special one-offness, before he’d even started to sing there was a collective moan of ‘not him again’ expressed by a whole chunk of the nation. The sound problems compounded this and, all of a sudden, we weren’t looking at the most successful pop performer of all time, but a 70 year old man who was struggling to hold a tune. The king was very much in the altogether.

It reminds me a bit of Muhammed Ali who, having had a glorious career, just couldn’t stop, and ended up being well beaten by lesser men. Instead of going out in a blaze of glory, it was ultimately a sad demise – the old fighter trying, in vain, to re-capture his youth. McCartney reached too far in his attempt to consolidate what he already has – immortality – and, as you point out, ended up looking like a mere mortal. I only hope that this doesn’t sully his reputation for this younger generation, whose first impression of him is a somewhat cheesy out of tune senior citizen, rather than one of the most vital figures of youthful expression to have graced the 20th Century.

As the songwriting partner of John Lennon, and member of the most influential band of all, who not only blew minds and broadened musical horizons, but also held the key that would unlock a whole new cultural era, Paul McCartney deserves our eternal gratitude. Lest we forget, here’s the footage of ‘Hey Jude’, his Olympic folly, from when it was famously performed for the first time on British TV, broadcast on the David Frost show on September 8th 1968 (having been recorded at Twickenham Film Studios a few days earlier), which, when the opening ceremony appearance is but an inconsequential footnote in his legacy, will remain the defining image of this epic Beatles song – their biggest selling single of all, and one of McCartney’s greatest compositional triumphs:

As Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle is nowadays very much a part of the establishment, so it’s easy to forget that he was once a major countercultural figure, a hero of the psychedelic movement – not least because of his controversial ITN admission, in 1967, to taking LSD. He was the last Beatle to try acid, but the first major rock figure to speak publicly about it, his revelation helping set the tone for the oncoming ‘Summer Of Love’:

His stock may be down at present and, to some, he’s clearly become a bit of a laughing stock. Even the subsequent announcement that he only received a fee of £1 for his Olympic performance, opened him up to the inevitable jokes and jibes that he’d been overpaid. However, the quality of the music he made will always shine through and, hopefully, this will eventually prompt his younger critics to realise that there’s far more to Paul McCartney than the ‘embarrassing uncle’ they witnessed on their TV’s last Friday, and at other recent pompous performances in the presence of royalty.

Hey Jude Wikipedia:

2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony Wikipedia:

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10 Responses to What Would You Do If I Sang Out Of Tune?

  1. TC August 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    If he’d only left it after The End (which I thought was a brilliant segueway from Pink Floyd’s Eclipse), it would not have petered out the way it did. I have always had a love/cringe relationship with Paul. Then I remind myself of just how incredible a vocalist he was on tracks such as Golden Slumber. Could do with not seeing him for a little while now.

  2. Dee August 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Of course this was a low moment in Macca’s career. But this is a man who loves to entertain, who loves the spotlight. When he was asked to do this, of course he was going to say yes.

    And it’s interesting that in the avalanche of mean-spirited, often ageist remarks directed his way, no one questioned the Olympic organizers and Danny Boyle who HIRED McCartney to do this sing-along. Macca didn’t hire himself for this gig. Yet the people who did hire him have let him twisting in the wind. Obviously they misjudged how the nation would react to another rendition of Hey Jude. But it was clear ahead of time that the reaction was going to be “Oh no, not Hey Jude again.” So why did Boyle and the Olympic organizers persist?

    FYI, the negative reaction was mostly in the UK where people seemed intensely insecure about how the opening ceremony was going to make Britain look. The rest of us around the world just viewed it as entertainment. China’s opening ceremony was great but it didn’t change my views about China. Vancouver’s was kind of meh, but it didn’t make me think, “Vancouver sucks now.” It just seems like some defensive nationalistic pride in the UK is prompting people to be downright cruel at McCartney’s expense.

    And by the way, McCartney didn’t announce he’d been paid a pound. Someone else did. Not sure you can blame that on him. You can blame him for wanting to be in the spotlight, but then that’s who he is. You can blame him for wanting to be part of the Olympics when he was asked to participate, singing a brilliant song he wrote that is known the world over. And it was a lovely sing along.

  3. Dee August 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    FYI, according to the Telegraph, it was Emeri Sande, who told the press: “I got paid £1 for my work. It’s there in print and I know because I signed the contract myself.” And then the Telegraph confirmed it with a spokesman for Locog (the opening ceremony organizers). So Paul didn’t announce anything.

    I felt the need to correct that as he’s taking enough cheap shots these days.

  4. greg wilson August 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Hi Dee, thanks for your comments, and for pointing out the source of the £1 story. I’ve amended accordingly. I’d just like to clarify that I wasn’t taking a cheap shot at him by mentioning this, but illustrating how others were continuing to take cheap shots at him in the aftermath.

    I’m a total Beatles obsessive, this very blog was launched with a post acknowledging this fact, titled ‘And In The End The Love You Take Is Equal To The Love You Make’. With this in mind I felt it would be disingenuous not to comment on the controversy surrounding his performance at the Opening Ceremony, and how he is being perceived by a younger generation. I tried to write a balanced piece, which, on the one hand, didn’t gloss over the problems with the performance, but on the other emphasised that this is a cultural giant, who those who are taking the cheap shots at him would do well to show a bit more respect for his legacy. I certainly wasn’t jumping on the ‘kick him while he’s down’ bandwagon.

    Fair comment re Danny Boyle, but it must be difficult to tell Sir Paul McCartney what he should and shouldn’t do. he must have advisers who should have been saying to him ‘don’t you think you need to do something unique for such an occasion, another sing-a-long performance of ‘Hey Jude’ might not cut it this time’. Ultimately the responsibility is Paul McCartney’s – he should have known better (excuse the pun). It’s all good and well to say ‘he loves performing, he loves the spotlight, and he was always going to do it’, but the fact of the matter is he didn’t get it right, and the reason he got slated is a sad consequence of this.


  5. Matt August 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Whilst I respect Paul McCartney and the undisputed impact that he’s made to music, I did think that it was one concert too many, especially coming so soon after the Jubilee (which I actually found painful to watch).
    Sadly I would imagine that he is is not the easiest person to heed advice no matter how well intentioned. I suspect also that the reason “Hey Jude” was chosen was because being a sing along number he knows his voice isn’t as strong as it once was and the audience would help him out.

  6. darren August 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    the bottom line is that out of a career spanning around half a century the only bad thing people can pick up on is one slightly dodgy rendition in an arena with sound problems, not bad going for a 70 year old.

    we’ll gloss over the Frog chorus

  7. Dan Smith August 3, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    I agree with TC regarding ‘The End’, I thought that bit was great and well executed! Regardless as to whether or not Paul sang out of tune, it was the technical f*ck up with playback that messed it up for me, and no doubt many people. Did everyone in the stadium hear that mistake? Or just those watching on TV? Did Macca hear the playback mistake the way that we all did? If he did then it’s no wonder that he didn’t perform as well as he could have done. It also meant that a lot of people thought he was miming! Also, at the end of his performance, just as the camera was panning away to the right, Paul seemed to punch/push against his piano – maybe in frustration at knowing he didn’t deliver as best he could.

    This has been an interesting article put forward by John Robb and Greg, and also by the comments here and elsewhere online.

    With ironic timing? BBC4 broadcast this documentary on July 30th – the Monday following the opening ceremony. First aired in July 2010, it is now available to watch on the BBC iPlayer – available until Monday 6th August:


    (Documentary which looks at how rock ‘n’ roll has had to deal with the unthinkable – namely growing up and growing old, from its roots in the 50s as a music made by young people for young people to the 21st century phenomena of the revival and the comeback.

    Despite the mantra of ‘live fast, die young’, Britain’s first rock ‘n’ roll generations are now enjoying old age. What was once about youth and taking risks is now about longevity, survival, nostalgia and refusing to grow up, give up or shut up. But what happens when the music refuses to die and its performers refuse to leave the stage? What happens when rock’s youthful rebelliousness is delivered wrapped in wrinkles?

    Featuring contributions from musicians Lemmy, Iggy Pop, Peter Noone, Rick Wakeman, Paul Jones, Richard Thompson, Suggs, Eric Burdon, Bruce Welch, Robert Wyatt, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Chris Dreja of the Yardbirds, Alison Moyet, Robyn Hitchcock, writers Rosie Boycott and Nick Kent and producer Joe Boyd.)

  8. liddle t August 5, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    And what is good, Phaedrus,
    And what is not good-
    Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
    Great Britain, Hosts of The Olympic Games Two Thousand and Twelve Years AD
    How to celebrate, who to ask, to persuade even, to be the faces of this historical event.
    Good question.
    During the celebrations of the ancient Olympic Games, an Olympic Truce was enacted so that athletes could travel from their countries to the games in safety.
    Imagine that.
    As long as they met the entrance criteria, athletes from any country, city-state were allowed to participate.
    Imagine that.
    Victors of the Olympics were highly honoured and praised, and their feats chronicled for future generations.
    I imagine, in those ancient Olympic Games they must have had their own honoured and respected citizens of great renoun, guests of high standing,decorated athletes who no longer competed, tho I dont imagine they had a rock star topping the bill at the opening ceremony, and a 70 year old one at that.
    Not that age should stop you doing anything as Hiroshi Hoketsu, who at 71 will be the oldest competitor at London 2012 would lead us to believe. Nor do I think for a moment, that he thought he might make a fool of himself.
    Do we not still live in a world where age is honoured and respected if not above, at least equal to the deeds of ones life?
    Should dear Sir Paul have excepted the invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of The London Two Thousand and Twelve Olympic games or not, only he knows that.
    I wonder if in his mind, whether he thinks he made a fool of himself or not, or even whether he thinks he should have given way to a younger group or face who the younger generation can more readily identify with, really came into the equation when he was asked to perform.
    Did he think, or has he ever thought, ‘I’m a has been, I’ll push over, they must be sick of the sight of me’, thankfully not.
    Whether we are subjective or objective, coming from the intelect, or from the emotional-romantic sides of our nature, whether we agree or agree to disagree, the Quality of Sir Pauls life’s deeds are not in question.
    And that’s what I saw on stage, the Quality of his life’s deeds, up there, for all to see and judge, and maybe for the last time, so why not hey.
    One day he won’t be here, and when that day comes the world will be once more changed forever, and I for one will hang my head for a long time…
    As a final note, news reports on the games ealier this evening, showed Sir paul in the audience, ‘Hay Jude’ could be heard on the PA system, and 80 thousand voices sang along to every word..

  9. Ed August 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    On Fri night we watched the DVD of The Beatles first visit to the US and then the documentary about Lennon during the protests in the US and Nixon trying to deport him. Both great Greg if you haven’t seen them.

    Thought ‘The End’ was great, but how wonderful would it have been if Paul had done ‘Imagine’ instead of ‘Hey Jude’? I’ve alway felt Paul maybe hasn’t managed his legacy as well as say Dylan or Neil Young or definitely Jonny Cash.

    I’ve had an amazing week for music, the best I can remember, Greg and Crazy P and Mr Weatherall on Sat, bunked into the Roses on Mon at Shoreditch Underground, then saw a retrospective of Miles Davis at Ronnie Scott’s on Thurs. Apparently in his later years people tried to persuade Davis to go back and do his earlier stuff, be bop or the seminal Kind of Blue. I’m paraphrasing but the story goes something like this

    ‘Why don’t you you do the old stuff’ they asked him.

    ‘Because I love them’ replied Davis.

  10. Neville Ross November 12, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    This advice should also have come before his performance at the Grammy Awards this year; all that he did was take away the spotlight from the younger stars, and all that it got him was, to a person, Who the fuck is Paul McCartney? Now, in that case, the Bob & June Baby Boom set saved him by blasting the kids (and the world joined in calling a bunch of kids dirty names and worse) but this time, it was evident it wasn’t working, and what happened, happened. Now, maybe he’ll listen.

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