Paul McCartney Carries the Legacy On

Musician Sir Paul McCartney performs at Citi Field Friday, July 17, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

You could pick just about any Paul McCartney song at random and be assured of playing a hit. In concert, McCartney can still raise the roof, unless, of course, he happens to be playing on it, CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason, reports.

On a sleepy summer day in New York, Paul McCartney didn't just want to sing, he wanted to make a statement:

"And they said, well, you could do it outside on Broadway on the marquee. And I got a bit nervous. I said, 'Well, let me think about that,'" McCartney recalled.

But there he was that July afternoon, a Beatle above the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater singing "Get Back."

When McCartney performed for "The Late Show with David Letterman," he was getting back to where it all began.

Forty-five years ago it had been the Beatles' name on the marquee, when the group made its American debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

From this theater on that day in 1964, John, Paul, George & Ringo shook pop culture to its very core. And Sir Paul's rooftop reappearance echoed both the beginnings of Beatlemania and the end of the Beatles.

In 1969, the Beatles gave their final performance on the roof of the London studios of Apple Records.

"That was the echo, obviously, was playing on the Apple roof. I thought I could do that. I know how to play rooftops," McCartney said. "It was very exciting. You know, I'm an English guy, you know. So this is New York. This is Broadway."

It's no exaggeration to call Paul McCartney a living legend.

Not long after the entire remastered Beatles catalogue was re-released, McCartney met us at New York's Morrison Hotel gallery and seemed entirely at peace with what he's called his "ever present past."

"I'm very lucky I've got so much great stuff to look back on," he said.

He played two hours of hits at New York's Citi Field this summer and didn't scratch the surface of his catalog.

With the Beatles, Wings and solo, McCartney has written or performed over 100 hit songs. The Citi Field gig, recorded for McCartney's latest album, was the first concert at the new ballpark - just as the Beatles played the first concert at its predecessor, Shea Stadium, in 1965.

"Fifty-six thousand people," McCartney said. "It's the screams, you know, it's like a million seagulls."

McCartney wanted to complete the circle, and at Citi Field he paid tribute to his old songwriting partner, John Lennon.

"I wrote this after he passed away and it was stuff I never said to him - a kind of imaginary conversation," the former Beatle said.

His song, "Here Today," acknowledges his differences in later years.

In the decade before the Beatles' bitter 1970 breakup, Lennon and McCartney collaborated on an astounding body of work.

"Looking back on it, I think we wrote a total of something like 300 songs, close to 300. And every day we went to write a song, we would spend probably 3 hours, we wrote one. There was never one occasion on all those occasions when we didn't write one," McCartney remembered.

The group first went into what became Abbey Road studios in 1962.

"Brian Epstein, our manager, would ring John and I up the week before and he'd say, 'You're going in the studio next week.' We'd go, 'Yeah.' He said, 'And you've got a week off to write the album.' And we'd go, 'Yeah. Wow! A week!'"

In the beginning, producer George Martin wasn't persuaded the boys from Liverpool could write their own material.

"I hate to say it, and it's not very modest, I always thought we were good," McCartney said.

It was the song "Please, Please Me" that finally made George Martin a believer. After the session, he turned to the group and said, "You have a number one record."

"John and I, you have to say, it was very special," McCartney said of Lennon. "We kind of taught each other. And we learned at the same time, so we climbed the same ladder."

He's been seen with another partner these days: New York businesswoman Nancy Shevell. McCartney, who went through a very public divorce, says he doesn't know if he will ever remarry.

But at 67, he's still getting plenty of offers.

Over three days this summer, Sir Paul McCartney played to 120,000 people at Citi Field.

"In some ways, I'm still like a kid. I really - I really feel kind of honored taking my jack plug and pluggin' it in to a great big amp," he said. "I love that still today. That hasn't worn off, that idea."

For more info:
"The Beatles on Record" (The History Channel)
Broadcast dates:
Saturday, December 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT
Saturday, December 19 at 7 p.m. ET/PT
Wednesday, December 23 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT (Official Site)

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"