‘Rock Show’ is a song about the world of the band, and the lyrics, describe the concerts and all festival stuff. Most of the places where we perform are sports arena – Wembley Stadium, Madison Square Garden – but we’ve also played the Concertgebouw in Holland and the Hollywood Bowl. I’m thinking of that line, ‘What’s that man movin’ to and fro?’ We used to have decibel meters. Now people don’t seem to mind it being loud, but back in the seventies they minded. Local governments would send around a guy and he’d stand in front of you, and if your meter went overboard he would report you. Still, there’s a romance to being on the road. Not only people in bands, but the rest of us who grew up wanting to be in bands, are fascinated by that world. And I think probably that’s one reason people like this song.
It was written in 1974, and in those days – and to some degree today – a lot of people who were into concerts were also into alternate thinking. They’d want to know what your sign was, and they’d place some relevance on that. I was never like that. As far as I was concerned, Venus and Mars were just two random planets. But when we released the record, I realised they’re also character – people as well as planets.
The guys in Wings at that time always wanted to do ‘Rock Show’, but I was a bit reluctant: ‘Oh no, not axes and Jimmy Page and silly willy. I’m not sure I want to do all that.’ To tell you the truth, I’m a little bit embarrassed by this song. I’m describing a rock show, but I would have never called it a ‘rock show’. I would have called it a ‘rock and roll show’. ‘You’re in a rock band?’ ‘No, I’m in a rock and roll band.’…
I was really throwing all of these ideas of the planets and ‘the stars’ and the live show – all of these period words – into this one song, which I don’t perform a lot, because of the embarrassment factor. But I’ve also met people who love this song, so I’ve kind of learnt to shut up about it.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
In the studio
‘Rock Show’ was one of the earliest songs recorded for the a href=”/people/paul-mccartney/albums/venus-and-mars/”>Venus And Mars, and it was attempted three times.
The first was on 1 November 1974 at Abbey Road. Take 16 was considered the best, and lasted 7:09, but Wings recorded another 12 takes on 14 and 15 November.
The backing track was finally remade to the band’s satisfaction on 27 January 1975 at Allen Toussaint’s Sea Saint Recording Studio in New Orleans, under the working title ‘Rock And Roll Show’.
Overdubs were added firstly at Sea Saint on 5 February, followed by more on 26 February and 6-7 March at Wally Heider Studios in Los Angeles. The overdubs included additional drums.
We had a lot of trouble with the drumming. We ended up with Jimmy [McCulloch] overdubbing a track and he had much more of a dirty feel – he was out of his skull at the time – but he helped to give it a dirty feel. But in truth we never really made that track come off to me.
Melody Maker, 1 April 1978
‘Venus And Mars’/‘Rock Show’ was issued as a single in the US on 27 October, and in the UK on 28 November, with ‘Magneto And Titanium Man’ on the b-side.
The single peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, but became McCartney’s first UK single not to chart.
The single edit was included on the 2001 compilation Wingspan: Hits And History
Wings performed ‘Venus And Mars’/‘Rock Show’ throughout their Wings Over The World Tour in 1975-76. A performance from 27 May 1976 at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati opens the Wings Over America live album.
I start off with an idea. ‘Rock Show,’ boom. Concertgebouw came into my mind, because that’s one of the places you play in Amsterdam. We played there (during Wings’ 1973 European tour), so I rhymed it with ‘Rock Show’ in an English pronunciation of Gebouw. ‘Long hair’… well, where else? Madison Square. ‘Rock and roll’… well, that rhymes with Hollywood Bowl. Often these things that turn out to be great afterwards are just searches for a rhyme. I could see how you might think, well, he’s doing this… but for me it’s just writing a song. But as it happens, yes, I’d like to play those places, sure.
Paul McCartney In His Own Words, Paul Gambaccini
McCartney performed the songs during his Up And Coming Tour in 2010-11, and the On The Run Tour in 2012.