So what you get here — at least on the first two discs — is all of the short films (many made before they were actually called videos) McCartney made for his solo work, from the McCartney album, through Wings, right on up to 2005's Chaos And Creation In The Backyard.
As such, sitting down to actually watch the first two discs becomes something of a daunting task, simply because so much ground is covered here. When watching the earliest of these short films, for songs like "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band On The Run," and "Silly Love Songs," it also becomes apparent just how limited the technology was back then.
Although these films are often charming (particularly with the use of the Beatles images for "Band On The Run"), and there is likewise little doubt that Paul was clearly on to the possibilities of the promotional film long before MTV, there is no getting around the simple fact of how dated they look today. However, that is also a big part of their charm.
By the time McCartney was actually making videos specifically with MTV in mind during the eighties, he already had a leg up on the competition in the experience department. Even though these latter promo films look equally dated now, McCartney still comes across as ever the charmer.
The video for "Coming Up" is particularly clever, as Paul plays every member of the fictional "Plastic Band" (so named in tribute to his former partner John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band). His take on the Hitler mustached keyboard player for Sparks is particularly hilarious for those old enough to remember that band. Corny as it may seem today, McCartney's duet with Stevie Wonder for "Ebony And Ivory," where they run across the keys of a piano is also a lot of fun to watch.
The most notable of the extras included on the first two DVDs of this set is probably the documentary "Creating Chaos At Abbey Road." Although it is billed mainly as the story of the making of McCartney's 2005 album Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, you also get to see Sir Paul talk about the songwriting process he used when writing with Lennon. He also plays acoustic versions of Beatles tunes like "I've Got A Feeling" and "Lady Madonna."
So you've probably noticed I've held back talking about the third disc here — and that is because I've saved the best part of this set for last. Disc three is what takes The McCartney Years from being a self-congratulatory retrospective, into something that any McCartney fan must own. It includes large chunks of three McCartney concerts, from three different eras. There's the 1976 performance with Wings that became the long since hard to find film Rockshow, as well as McCartney's 1991 MTV Unplugged performance, and the 2004 tour closer at Glastonbury.
Of these three concerts, the 1976 performance with Wings holds the most personal significance for me, given the fact that it is from a show at Seattle's gargantuan Kingdome that I actually attended as a then twenty-year-old fan. Although the quality of the film is grainy, I am absolutely amazed at how good it sounds, as the Kingdome was this huge stadium built out of cement for NFL football that was an acoustical nightmare.
When Jeff Beck played there that same summer in 1976 opening for Aerosmith, he even referred to it onstage as the "Kingdome echo chamber." When it eventually became obvious that the cement building wasn't even any good for the Seattle Seahawks football games, they finally just blew the damn thing up.
The 2004 Glastonbury performance included here is also a great one. When McCartney released his Space Within US DVD documenting his 2005 tour last year — as good, and visually dazzling as it was — I was frustrated with the way they totally chopped up the song "Hey Jude." Here, we get the song uncut in a performance that actually brought a tear to my eye watching all those Brits sing along. Although McCartney's band is on the last night of their tour, they seem particularly energized by the huge crowd.
Mainly because of this third disc, The McCartney Years gets a mild thumbs up here.
As nostalgic a trip down memory lane as some of these videos were, I still found that it was a lot to sit through in one viewing (I actually had to spend two nights watching it). But with the concert footage comes the real payoff.