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Chicago in Song: 20 Flight Rock

Obscure as I thought the Eddie Cochran rockabilly epic "20 Flight Rock" was these days, there must be some kind of weird karma in the air because I just saw Paul McCartney perform it on PBS's Great Performances.

And guess what? McCartney said it was the song that got him into the Beatles.

The McCartney episode, called "Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road," was indeed a "great performance." Macca was at his affable, cute-Beatle best--all laid back and hipster-y, just the way I like him. Macca performed in front of a tiny audience in the very studio that all the classic Beatles tracks were laid down. I could just picture George Martin in a cardigan sweater peering down from booth, trying to get Ringo to behave.

Macca played about 10 songs, including some from his latest album, Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard (hence the synergistic program title), and none of them were particlarly remarkable--until he pulled out an acoustic guitar and produced a heartbreaking version of "Blackbird." Next he moved behind the piano and plunked out "Lady Madonna" in an time signature that differed from the original. McCartney likened this version to an old lady in new clothes.

For the rockabilly fans, McCartney trotted out a stand-up bass once used by Elvis's bassist, Bill Black, for all those classic Sun Records songs, including "Heartbreak Hotel," which Macca then performed.

But the highlight was McCartney's acoustic rendition of "20 Flight Rock." Now, I had known that McCartney had an affinity for the song, and that he generally worshipped Eddie Cochran, who died in 1960. But what I didn't know was that the first thing he and John Lennon did together on the day they met at a music fair was to work on a version of this song. McCartney said the fact that he knew all the words to it so impressed Lennon that he got a place in John's band, The Quarrymen.

And the rest was history.


Posted on March 2, 2006

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