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Beep Beep, Yeah! Paul McCartney On Corden's 'Carpool Karaoke' Is TV At Its Best

Jun 25, 2018
Originally published on June 26, 2018 10:35 am

By now, James Corden has set a very high standard with his Carpool Karaoke TV pieces. Only a million or two viewers watch him on CBS' The Late Late Show when it's broadcast, but YouTube and other social media sites extend Corden's reach phenomenally.

When he was in London two years ago, Corden took Adele on a karaoke car ride, and their spontaneous singalong and conversation has been viewed on YouTube — as of this week — almost 182 million times. Few things on TV or the Internet can generate as much pure joy as a solid Carpool Karaoke segment.

But even by those standards, a new one showcasing Sir Paul McCartney stands above all others. In only a few days, it's been viewed on YouTube more than 14 million times — and with very good reason. Not only does it have all the happiness and goofiness you expect Corden to deliver, but this McCartney karaoke is also unexpectedly tender, touching and meaningful.

Most Carpool Karaoke segments stay in the car and on the road, but Corden takes McCartney to his hometown of Liverpool and on a trip down memory lane — or, in this case, down Penny Lane.

And while Corden drives down that famous street, McCartney's Beatles song of the same name plays on the car stereo, and the two men happily sing along. McCartney enjoys himself so much that he plays tour guide during the song's instrumental breaks — and ends his patter with the expert timing of a veteran deejay, stopping just before the lyrics resume.

The mood switches when Corden asks McCartney about the inspirational positivity of so many of his songs. McCartney tells the story of being visited in a dream by his late mother, who advised him that things would be all right, and to let it be. McCartney wrote the song "Let It Be" as a result, and as he and Corden finished singing along to it in the car, Corden was wiping away tears.

In the car, McCartney also sings a few verses from the first song he ever wrote, then teams with Corden for an energetic duet of "Come On To Me," a new song from McCartney's forthcoming album, Egypt Station. And, of course, since they were driving in Liverpool, they also sang along to "Drive My Car" — with Corden providing perfectly timed car-horn blasts.

All that would have been enough for a Carpool Karaoke segment, but this nearly 24-minute piece was just getting started. Using "Penny Lane" as a jumping-off point, Corden took McCartney to old places from his childhood, including a barber shop, a florist and even his childhood home, which is now a tourist attraction run by the National Trust.

McCartney stepped inside for the first time since he moved away, and gave Corden, and us, a time-travel visit inside his home — including his memories of the bathroom, where he sat and strummed guitar and sang as a kid, because of the echo from the bathroom tiles.

And finally, McCartney and Corden descend on a local Liverpool pub for a surprise appearance. On cue — and the cue was the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night" — the curtain opens, and McCartney and his band stun the unsuspecting pub patrons with a five-song set. It was like the Beatles on the rooftop in Let It Be -- an unexpected, unbilled, amazing moment of musical history.

The Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke ranks, right now, as my favorite TV moment of the year. And on behalf of Corden, McCartney and the band — with a nod to that famous rooftop concert — I'd like to say they all passed the audition. Fifty-four years after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, Paul McCartney is still making exciting, unforgettable television.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Last Thursday, to conclude a week of shows emanating from London, "The Late Late Show With James Corden" presented a new episode of the show's most popular recurring feature, "Carpool Karaoke," in which Corden drives around a guest as they sing along to songs from the car stereo. Last Thursday's guest and what Corden tweeted was quite possibly the best "Carpool Karaoke" we've done so far was Paul McCartney. And our TV critic David Bianculli says there's no possibly about it. To David, it is the best.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: By now, James Corden has set a very high standard with his "Carpool Karaoke" TV pieces. Only a million or two viewers watch his late-night CBS show when it's broadcast, but YouTube and other social media sites extend Corden's reach phenomenally. When he was in London two years ago, he took Adele on a karaoke car ride, and their spontaneous sing-along and conversation has been viewed on YouTube as of this week almost 182 million times. Few things on TV or the Internet can generate as much pure joy as a solid "Carpool Karaoke" segment.

But even by those standards the new one showcasing Sir Paul McCartney stands above all others. In only a few days, it's been viewed on YouTube more than 14 million times and with very good reason. Not only does it have all the happiness and goofiness you expect Corden to deliver, but this McCartney karaoke is unexpectedly tender, touching and meaningful as well. Most "Carpool Karaoke" segments stay in the car and on the road.

But Corden takes McCartney to his hometown of Liverpool and a trip down memory lane - or in this case down Penny Lane. And while Corden drives down that famous street, McCartney's Beatles song of the same name plays on the car stereo, and the two men happily sing along. McCartney enjoys himself so much that he plays tour guide during the song's instrumental breaks and ends his patter with the expert timing of a veteran DJ stopping just before the lyrics resume.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: I used to be in the choir at that church.

JAMES CORDEN: That church there?

MCCARTNEY: St. Barnabas, yeah.

CORDEN: That - you were in the choir?

MCCARTNEY: I was a choirboy.

CORDEN: Thank God for that choir.

MCCARTNEY: Yes.

CORDEN: The voice it's given us.

MCCARTNEY: Yes, indeed. And my brother got married in that church.

CORDEN: No way.

MCCARTNEY: Legendary. Yes, he is. He says hi, by the way.

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND JAMES CORDEN: (Singing) Penny Lane is in my ears and my eyes.

BIANCULLI: The mood switches when Corden asks McCartney about the inspirational positivity of so many of his songs. McCartney tells the story of being visited in a dream by his late mother, who advised him that things would be all right and to let it be. McCartney wrote the song "Let It Be" as a result. And as he and Corden finished singing along to it in the car, Corden was wiping away tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

MCCARTNEY AND CORDEN: (Singing) There will be an answer. Let it be.

CORDEN: Oh, man. It got me emotional there, Paul.

MCCARTNEY: It did. It did.

CORDEN: I didn't feel it coming. It's too much for me. I was - I couldn't feel - I didn't see that one coming around the corner (laughter).

MCCARTNEY: That's great, man. You're - tell you that is the power of music. It's weird - isn't it? - how that can do that to you?

CORDEN: Well, I can remember my granddad, who's a musician, and my dad sitting me down and saying, we're going to play you the best song you've ever heard. And I remember them playing me that.

MCCARTNEY: Really?

CORDEN: If my granddad was here right now, he'd get an absolute kick out of this.

MCCARTNEY: He is.

BIANCULLI: In the car, McCartney also sings a few verses from the first song he ever wrote, then teams with Corden for an energetic duet of "Come On To Me," a new song from McCartney's forthcoming album "Egypt Station." And, of course, since they were driving in Liverpool, they also sang along to "Drive My Car," with Corden providing perfectly timed car horn blasts. All that would have been enough for a "Carpool Karaoke" segment. But this nearly 24-minute piece was just getting started.

Using "Penny Lane" as a jumping-off point, Corden took McCartney to old places from his childhood - a barbershop, a florist, even his childhood home, which is now a tourist attraction run by the National Trust. McCartney stepped inside for the first time since he moved away and gave Corden and us a time travel visit inside his home, including his memories of the bathroom, where he sat and strummed guitar and sang as a kid because of the echo from the bathroom tiles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

MCCARTNEY: There's the bog, which was the acoustic chamber.

CORDEN: The acoustic chamber.

MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Everything sounds better in a bog.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTNEY: Doesn't it?

CORDEN: Absolutely.

BIANCULLI: And finally, McCartney and Corden descend on a local Liverpool pub for a surprise appearance. On cue - and the cue was the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night" - the curtain opens, and McCartney and his band stunned the unsuspecting pub patrons with a five-song set. It was like the Beatles on the rooftop in "Let It Be," an unexpected, unbilled, amazing moment of musical history. Then McCartney invited Corden to join them for the final number, which he did, on "Hey Jude."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

MCCARTNEY AND CORDEN: (Singing) Hey, Jude, don't be afraid. You were made to go out and get her. The minute you let her under your skin, then you'll begin to make it better, better, better, better, better, better. Come on. Na na na na na na na, na na na na, hey, Jude.

BIANCULLI: The Paul McCartney "Carpool Karaoke" ranks right now as my favorite TV moment of the year. And on behalf of Corden, McCartney and the band, with a nod to that famous rooftop concert, I'd like to say they all passed the audition. Fifty-four years after appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show," Paul McCartney is still making exciting, unforgettable television.

GROSS: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching and author of the book "The Platinum Age Of Television: From I Love Lucy To The Walking Dead, How Tv Became Terrific." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about why so many people in the middle class are having a hard time staying middle class. My guest will be journalist Alissa Quart, author of the new book "Squeezed." And we'll hear from Frank Newsome, who sings a cappella hymns in a style that's one of the oldest American music traditions. He's a former Virginia coal miner who now has black lung disease. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

MCCARTNEY AND CORDEN: (Singing) If you come on to me, then I'll come to you. If you come on to me, then I'll come on to you. Yes, I will. Yes, I will. Yes, I will.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.