“Coming Up” is a song written and performed by Paul McCartney. It is the opening track on his 1980 solo album McCartney II. Like other songs on the album, the song has a minimalist synthesised feel to it. It featured vocals sped up by using a vari-speed tape machine. McCartney played all instruments and shared vocal harmonies with wife Linda McCartney.
The single was a major chart hit in Britain, peaking at No. 2 on the singles chart. In the United States and Canada, the live version of the song performed by Paul McCartney and Wings (released as the B-side to the single) saw greater success.
In a Rolling Stone interview, McCartney explained how the song came about:
I originally cut it on my farm in Scotland. I went into the studio each day and just started with a drum track. Then I built it up bit by bit without any idea of how the song was going to turn out. After laying down the drum track, I added guitars and bass, building up the backing track.
Then I thought, ‘Well, OK, what am I going to do for the voice?’ I was working with a vari-speed machine with which you can speed up your voice, or take it down a little bit. That’s how the voice sound came about.
— Paul McCartney
John Lennon described “Coming Up” as “a good piece of work” and, according to McCartney, it prompted Lennon to return to recording in 1980.
A live version of the song was recorded in Glasgow, Scotland, on 17 December 1979 by Wings during their tour of the UK. This version was included as one of two songs on the B-side; the other B-side was “Lunchbox/Odd Sox”, a Wings song that dated back to Venus and Mars. Both B-sides were credited to Paul McCartney and Wings.
Columbia Records wanted to put the live version on McCartney II but McCartney resisted the change, wanting to keep it a solo album. Instead, a one-sided 7″ white-label promotional copy of the Wings version was included with the album in North America.
“Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)” has since appeared on the US versions of the McCartney compilations All the Best! (1987) and Wingspan: Hits and History (2001), while the solo studio version is included on UK and international releases.
A different live Wings recording of “Coming Up” appears on the album Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, with an additional verse that was excised from the Glasgow version.
“Coming Up” is also well known for its music video, with Paul McCartney playing ten roles and Linda McCartney playing two. The “band” identified as “The Plastic Macs” on the drum kit (a homage to Lennon’s conceptual Plastic Ono Band), features Paul and Linda’s imitations of various rock musician stereotypes, as well as a few identifiable musicians. In his audio commentary on the 2007 video collection The McCartney Years, McCartney identified characters that were impersonations of specific artists: Hank Marvin (guitarist from the Shadows), Ron Mael of Sparks (keyboards), a ‘Beatlemania-era’ version of himself, a drummer vaguely inspired by John Bonham from Led Zeppelin and Buddy Holly. While others such as author Fred Bronson have suggested that there are other identifiable impersonations in the video, such as Andy MacKay and Frank Zappa. McCartney said the other roles were simply comic relief.
The video premiered in the UK on The Kenny Everett Video Show on 14 April 1980 and in the US on Saturday Night Live on 17 May 1980.
In the UK, the single was an immediate hit, reaching number two in its third week on the chart.
In the US, Columbia Records promoted the live version, which subsequently received more airplay than the studio version. McCartney was unaware of Columbia’s move, otherwise he might have pushed for the A-side, which he thought was the stronger version. An executive from Columbia Records explained the switch by stating “Americans like the sound of Paul McCartney’s real voice.”
In the US, “Coming Up” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales of over one million copies. Although the live version received more airplay and was considered to be the “hit”, Billboard listed the A-side on the Hot 100 for the first 12 weeks on the chart, including three weeks at number one, before switching to the more popular B-side for the remaining nine weeks on the chart.
Paul McCartney – lead vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass, drums
Linda McCartney – backing vocals