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


This is FRESH AIR. Next week, we'll be featuring interviews with some of the actors, writers and producers who have been nominated for Emmy awards this year, including comedy host John Oliver from HBO's "Last Week Tonight," supporting actor Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Paper Boi on FX's "Atlanta" and writer-producer Scott Frank, creator of the Netflix Western series "Godless."

Today we'll end the show with my recent review of a TV segment by another of this year's Emmy nominees, James Corden, host of "The Late Late Show" on CBS. This segment in which Corden did a Carpool Karaoke visit with Paul McCartney was presented again in prime time this week as an expanded CBS special. Before it first aired, Corden tweeted that it was, quote, "quite possibly the best Carpool Karaoke we've done so far," unquote. As far as I'm concerned, there's no possibly about it. It is the best. And in one month, it's attracted more than 30 million views on YouTube alone. Here's what I said when the segment first aired.


BIANCULLI: 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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

CORDEN: The acoustic chamber.

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


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."


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 (ph), 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.


CORDEN: Here we go.

MCCARTNEY: (Vocalizing).


MCCARTNEY AND CORDEN: (Singing) Say now, I saw you flash a smile.

BIANCULLI: On Monday's show, we begin a week of Emmy-nominated guests, starting with John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," who tells us about taking a close and comic look at a subject like NRATV. Also, Brian Tyree Henry, who plays the rapper Paper Boi on the FX series "Atlanta," on the impact of music in his life from marching bands to his parents' vinyl collection. Hope you can joins us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.


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

CORDEN: (Laughter).

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.