The Meaning Behind “Coming Up” by Paul McCartney and How It Lit a Fire Under John Lennon

With “Coming Up,” Paul McCartney proved he could add some experimental flourishes to his sturdy songcraft and still win over the public at large. In fact, this song was so fetching it became a hit in two different versions when released in 1980.

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What is “Coming Up” about? Why did McCartney go about recording the song all by himself? And how did the song inspire none other than John Lennon? Let’s take a look at the making and meaning of this solo McCartney smash.


Paul McCartney must have sensed that Wings, the band that he began in the early ’70s after The Beatles folded, were starting to produce diminishing returns. Their last few records had come up short in the hit department, and they were a bit uninspired compared to standout albums like Band on the Run.

McCartney decided his next project would be solo, as in playing all the instruments himself. That’s why the record, when released in 1980, would be entitled McCartney II, since it was a spiritual follow-up to the DIY McCartney, his first release after the Beatles breakup in 1970. McCartney II wasn’t intended to be a permanent break from Wings, although it ended up being just that when the group disbanded in ’81 during the making of Tug of War.

The album was recorded at a studio on the grounds of McCartney’s Scottish farm. In the case of “Coming Up,” he started off with a drum track and then began layering instruments one on top of another. Even though it’s not nearly as experimental as other songs on McCartney II, it is distinguished by the effects on Macca’s vocal. He explained how he achieved it in his book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present:

“Then I thought, ‘Well, OK, what am I going to do for the voice?’ I was working with a Vari-speed machine with which you can speed up your voice, or take it down a little bit. That’s how the voice sound came about. It’s been speeded up slightly and put through an echo machine I was playing around with. I got into all sorts of tricks, and I can’t remember how I did half of them, because I was just throwing them all in and anything that sounded good, I kept. And anything I didn’t like, I just wiped.”

Maybe that weird vocal effect confused American DJs. Many of them flipped to the B-side, which included a live version of “Coming Up” that was performed by McCartney with the last incarnation of Wings at a concert in Glasgow, Scotland. That version ended up propelling the song to the top of the charts in the United States.

One person who was apparently listening was none other than John Lennon, who had always been candid to the point of harsh in his assessment of his former songwriting partner’s solo efforts. But he commented in one of his last interviews he was impressed by “Coming Up.” McCartney later heard from friends of Lennon the song had lit a fire under Lennon to come up with the goods as he was making his Double Fantasy album.

What is the Meaning Behind “Coming Up”?

McCartney is in optimistic mode throughout “Coming Up,” looking on the bright side and believing he can fill the needs of the girl he’s addressing. Critics have given Macca a hard time for being in this mode too often. Another way to look at it (and the way we prefer) is that few songwriters/artists have ever been able to as consistently induce joy with their music as he has, and this song is a prime example of that quality.

On “Coming Up,” the girl in question wants a love to last forever, a friend you can rely on, and peace and understanding. Maybe that seems like a lot to other guys. But McCartney’s protagonist is all about rising to the occasion, as long as she has the patience for him to get there: Stick around, I say.

In the chorus, McCartney again signals a positive outlook: Coming up, like a flower. This song certainly gave him a reason for such positivity with the effect it had. After all, it signaled that a solo McCartney could indeed again charm the masses, even while getting a little bit experimental.

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