It started as a Bond theme, now it’s a legend: Wings’ 1973 song ‘Live and Let Die’ turns fifty this month!
In this ever-changing world in which we’re living, the song has been covered many times over the years – perhaps most notably by Guns N’ Roses in 1991 – and has been released on compilation albums such as Wings Greatest, All the Best!, Wingspan and Pure McCartney. More recently, it was included as part of Paul’s collection The 7” Singles Box, and this week sees its release in Dolby Atmos for the first time.
The track is also a staple of Paul’s live set, so if you’ve been to a show, chances are you’ve witnessed the crazy pyrotechnics that go off at the chorus and crank up the heat in every venue! It’s clearly still a favourite for Paul and the band to perform, so to mark this incredible milestone, we sat down with Paul and asked how he feels about ‘Live and Let Die’ today…
PaulMcCartney.com: Today, we’re celebrating fifty years of ‘Live and Let Die’. How do feel about the song fifty years after its release?
Paul: I don’t believe it, do you? I’m only forty-five! But no, it's always very weird when you get these kind of anniversaries because I don't keep count. I have no idea if it's coming up for fifty or sixty years or whatever. It’s shocking really, but in a nice way. I think, ‘Where did the time go?’ It’s nice that the song has lasted though, and people still enjoy it.
PM.com: Do you still think of it as a Bond song, or do you now associate it more with your live set?
Paul: I think it's a bit of bit of both. It felt like an important historical thing, writing a Bond song. The idea was suggested to me by Ron Cass, who was a guy who ran Apple Records at the time. He said, ‘Have you ever considered doing a Bond film?’ And I said, ‘Well, I would. But no one has asked!’. So, he spoke to the film’s producers, and then they came back and gave me the title ‘Live and Let Die’.
I went away and started thinking about that phrase. To me, obviously what happens is you think of the usual saying, ‘live and let live’. And then think about how you’re going to get to the opposite which is, ‘live and let die’. It was a little conundrum, but I enjoy those; it's like putting together a short story or something. I got the book the film was going to be based on, read it, and did the song the next day.
Ever since then, we’ve played it in our live shows, and we have these big pyrotechnic explosions that make people jump. Because of that, I now think of it as this big performance piece, and I do enjoy shocking people with the first bang! So, it’s definitely taken on a new meaning for me beyond the Bond film.
PM.com: Did you always know that the song would lend itself to the pyrotechnics in the live shows? Was this in your mind when you wrote the song?
Paul: No, not really. I thought it would just end up on the soundtrack of the film, as it did. But when we started performing it to big audiences, we got a bit creative and thought of all the explosions in Bond films. That’s what they’re all about! So, we got our pyrotechnics guy – who is amazingly called ‘Shaky’ – and together we worked it up. He did the explosions, and then we got our lighting guys to come in and add some sympathetic lighting to it, then our stage designer did the film that comes up behind us where we kind of blow up the Houses of Parliament and stuff like that. It all came together as a really nice moment in the show.
By adding these big explosions, you know it's going to make people jump out of their seat, and what we all love to do as a band is watch the front row. You can see the people who haven't been to the show before because it shocks them! If it’s a couple, they look at each other, and go, ‘Oh my God, did you see that?’ Which amuses us.
PM.com: Are there any particularly memorable performances of the song that you can remember?
Paul: Yes! In the early days of doing it with all the explosions, I remember this very old lady at the front. At a guess, I’d maybe say she was ninety or something. She was loving the show, and I'd started singing the opening lines of the song, ‘When you were young, and your heart was an open book…’ But then I looked at her and thought, ‘Oh God! We’re going to kill her! What do we do?’ I carried on and got to the crucial bit, ‘Say live and let die’ and... BOOM! The explosions went off. I sheepishly looked over, expecting the worst, and she was going, ‘Yeah!’ She was loving it! So, we didn't kill her; we thrilled her!
Forewarned is forearmed, so if you’re a bit jumpy (or ‘Shaky’!) – it’s probably best to sit a few rows back at Paul’s shows! We’re getting heart palpitations just thinking about it… And you can now hear the song clearer than ever, as ‘Live and Let Die’ is available to stream in Dolby Atmos on all supporting platforms
Got a question for Paul? You can ask via social media on Twitter or Instagram, or by posting in the Paul McCartney Official Fan Group on Facebook.