Since April of this year Paul McCartney has been knocking out three-hour sets for sellout crowds in arenas and stadiums all over Europe and North America on his latest One on One Tour.
His 38-song set list includes over two dozen Beatles’ classics plus an assortment of Wings’ hits. He’s also been playing hour-long sound checks before the main show at each venue, performing different songs for special audiences.
What’s refreshing about the approach of this 74-year-old entertainer, which he spelled in a New York Times interview last week, is his commitment to give audiences what they want.
When asked by the Times reporter what he thought of Bob Dylan’s preference to perform only new songs on his current tour, McCartney responded:
I’ve thought about that a lot…My concern is for the audience. I remember when I went to concerts, particularly when I was a kid, it was a lot of money to save up. So I imagine myself going to my show: Would I like to hear [McCartney] play all new songs? No.
This focus on satisfying the customer was also the Beatles’ philosophy, McCartney pointed out, which meant recording dazzling album cuts and two-sided hit singles. (The Beatles had nine two-sided hits, including "Something"/"Come Together," "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" and "We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper.") The priority was always on the customer getting, in McCartney’s words, value for money.
Wonderful to hear from someone who can do whatever he wants. (Sir Paul’s net worth is north of $800 million.) Yet there’s no scarcity of established stars who seem content to do what they want, which sometimes means skipping their best-known material because they’re sick of performing it.
McCartney often reminisces about attending concerts as a young, wide-eyed rock & roll enthusiast—and he still puts himself in the shoes of concert-goers.
[I] try to do a show that I would like to go and see. So I first of all sit down and think, if I was going to see him, I’d want him to do this, and he couldn’t leave out that, and I really hope he’ll do this. So those songs are the starting point.
Of course someone attending one of his shows today is unlikely to be the impoverished teen McCartney was, but the principle is the same: Get into the mind of the customer and imagine what she or he wants. This practice probably had something to do with The Beatles’ being the most commercially successful entity in pop music history—and McCartney being one of the top five box office draws today.
This reminds me of the blues’ great, Robert Johnson, performing jazz and hillbilly standards—along with his own astonishing blues compositions—on street corners in Greenwood, Mississippi in the 1930s. Johnson never became a big draw (he died too young) but he was a huge blues talent. Yet it never kept him from playing the schmaltzy hits of the day—if that's what folks on the street asked for.
I guess he too had that crazy notion that he should give people their money's worth.