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Paul McCartney has been a working musician for so long that it’s hard to remember that he and The Beatles were once new to the game. The Beatles got a lucky break playing on The Ed Sullivan Show and soon became internationally famous. They started playing in front of massive crowds in arenas and stadiums, but Paul still got nervous about performing one song on the Sullivan show in 1965.

Paul McCartney, shown backstage at The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, once said he was scared to perform live on Sullivan's show in 1965.
Paul McCartney and The Beatles backstage at ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 | CBS via Getty Images

Paul McCartney and The Beatles perfected their craft playing live

The beauty of the internet is that any musician can release a song or album and start building an audience. The Fab Four had to cultivate a following the old-fashioned way — by playing live. 

The Beatles spent years playing concerts to build their audience. Paul, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John Lennon honed their chops with residencies in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s. When they weren’t entertaining the Germans, the Fab Four played shows across the U.K. 

The Beatles had already played shows in Sweden and France (as well as the British Isles) by the time they played Sullivan in early 1964. They added concerts in Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain by the time they played for Sullivan in 1965, but McCartney was still nervous about performing on the show.

McCartney battled his nerves as he went solo for one song on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

Paul was well versed in playing in front of large audiences by the time The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the final time in 1965. However, one element of that performance was drastically different, and it had Paul feeling a bit nervous, as he once told David Letterman (via YouTube):

“I had to stand somewhere here, and there was a curtain, and the audience was out there. We were kind of very new to America. Loving it, but a little bit scared, and I had to do ‘Yesterday,’ my song, on my own. And I’d never done this. I’d always had the band with me, but suddenly they said, ‘You’re doing ‘Yesterday.’ So I’m standing there going, ‘C’mon, get it together, it’s OK.’ And the floor manager, the guy on the curtain, came up to me and said, ‘Are ya nervous?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Ya should be. There are 73 million people watching.'”

Paul McCartney explains why he was nervous performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965

In The Beatles’ later years, Paul, John, and George each had a strong desire to work on their solo hits or put out their own records while still recording together. But Paul, sitting in the same studio where Sullivan taped, told Letterman his rendition of “Yesterday” was the first time he played solo during The Beatles’ heyday. Paul told the stagehand he wasn’t nervous, but his inner monologue pep talk paints a different picture.

Paul didn’t detail who “they” were — his bandmates, the producers, the band’s manager — but whoever made the call had Macca feeling aprehensive about performing “Yesterday” for more than 70 million people.

Macca knocked his ‘Yesterday’ performance out of the park, and it was one of The Beatles’ biggest hits in the U.S.


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Whether or not Paul was truly put on the spot to perform alone on Sullivan, he crushed his solo rendition of the song. Sweaty from playing under the studio lights in a suit, one can hardly tell he felt any jitters. He hit all the vocal notes and expertly strummed his acoustic guitar with just his fingers.

Both Paul and John earned songwriting credits for “Yesterday,” but it was Paul’s baby. Macca refused to play the song on early Wings albums, and he didn’t need to. The song had already established itself as a hit.

“Yesterday” spent 11 weeks on the Billboard charts, including four weeks at No. 1. It went to the top of the singles charts shortly after Paul McCartney overcame feeling nervous as he played the song solo on The Ed Sullivan Show.

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