A hit single on both sides of the Atlantic, ‘Coming Up’ was the first single to be released from Paul McCartney’s 1980 solo album McCartney II.

Like the other songs on the album, it was recorded during the sumer of 1979 at his home studios in Peasmarsh, Sussex, England and High Park Farm, Scotland. The sessions were experimental and not intended for commercial release, but acted as an escape from the confines of Wings.

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. I did a little version with just me as the nutty professor, doing everything and getting into my own world like a laboratory. The absent-minded professor is what I go like when I’m doing those; you get so into yourself it’s weird, crazy. But I liked it.

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. It’s been speeded up slightly and put through an echo machine I was playing around with. I got into all sorts of tricks, and I can’t remember how I did half of them, because I was just throwing them all in and anything that sounded good, I kept. And anything I didn’t like, I just wiped.

Paul McCartney

While much of McCartney II was experimental and improvised, ‘Coming Up’ bore the hallmarks of McCartney’s classic songwriting skills. It was originally recorded as a piece lasting more than five minutes, but was edited and remixed to make it more commercially viable.

Just days before his death, John Lennon spoke favourably of the song. He had heard it in the summer of 1980 while on holiday in Bermuda.

Somebody asked me what I thought of Paul’s last album and I made some remark like I thought he was depressed and sad. But then I realised I hadn’t listened to the whole damn thing. I head one track – the hit, ‘Coming Up’, which I thought was a good piece of work. Then I heard something else that sounded like he was depressed.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

McCartney later claimed that ‘Coming Up’ helped spur Lennon into recording once again, following his five-year absence from the public eye.

I heard a story from a guy who recorded with John in New York, and he said that John would sometimes get lazy. But then he’d hear a song of mine where he thought, ‘Oh, shit, Paul’s putting it in, Paul’s working!’ Apparently ‘Coming Up’ was the one song that got John recording again. I think John just thought, ‘Uh oh, I had better get working, too.’ I thought that was a nice story.
Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Coming Up

Single release

‘Coming Up’ was released as a UK single on 11 April 1980 as Parlophone R 6035, and reached number two on the charts. In the US it topped the Billboard Hot 100 following its 14 April release as Columbia 1-11263.

It was nice that ‘Coming Up’ went to number one in America. A number one is always nice because you can’t get much higher. I don’t fret if a song doesn’t make number one, but that status is an indicator that people like it.

The single had two b-sides. The first was a live version recorded by Wings at the Apollo in Glasgow, Scotland during their British tour on 17 December 1979. It had become part of the band’s live set before the studio recording was released.

I always thought the single was going to be the solo version. We did the song on your because we wanted to do something the audience hadn’t heard before. The live version on the b-side of the single was recorded on the last night of the tour in Glasgow. In America, a lot of the disc jockeys on the top 40 stations picked up on this side and so it became the a-side in the States. It’s the b-side in the rest of the world.
Paul McCartney

The live recording featured Linda McCartney on vocals and keyboards, Denny Laine on vocals and guitar, Laurence Juber on guitar, Steve Holly on drums, Steve ‘Tex’ Howard on trumped, Thaddeus Richard and Howie Casey on saxophone, and Tony Dorsey on trombone.

In the US and Canada the live version received more airplay than McCartney’s solo recording. It has since appeared on various McCartney compilations, including the North American version of Wingspan.

The single’s second b-side was ‘Lunch Box/Odd Sox’, recorded by Wings in 1975 during the Venus And Mars sessions in New Orleans. Both b-sides were credited to Paul McCartney & Wings.

An innovative video was made for ‘Coming Up’, which featured McCartney playing 10 different roles and his wife in two. The drummer’s bass drum head was adorned with the words The Plastic Macs, and the McCartneys imitated various rock star types. More specific impersonations included The Shadows’ Hank Marvin, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Sparks’ Ron Mael, as well as McCartney’s 1964 self complete with his Höfner violin bass.

We did a rather nice video for it, directed by Keith McMillan, in which I pretended to be all the people who had played the instruments. Which, as it turns out, I had been.

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