Paul McCartney’s All-Star ‘Rockestra Theme’: A Who’s Who

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Paul McCartney during the recording at Abbey Road Studios, October 3, 1978

Paul McCartney during the recording at Abbey Road Studios, October 3, 1978

There’s an old adage that everyone in show business knows everyone else. You’ll be watching TV and see a star actor in a three-way conversation chatting up a musician and a morning host at some charity event, looking like old chums. All the while, you’re thinking: “How do these people know each other?” The answer, of course, is that there’s a secret celebrity club. Once you’re a member, you merely flash your top-secret celebrity badge and you’re accepted! It’s that simple.

We’re thus fascinated by the classic rock one-off supergroups that are occasionally assembled, whether they’re for charity projects like Live Aid or We Are The World. Occasionally, a superstar is able to pull off an assemblage of big name musical talent for a recording project because, after all, they all know each other. Such was the case in 1978 when Paul McCartney was recording Wings’ Back to the Egg album.

For the album’s largely instrumental “Rockestra Theme,” McCartney recruited a (literal, in two cases) Who’s Who of star musicians: Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and John Paul Jones, Wings’ own Denny Laine and Linda McCartney among other band members, The Who’s Pete Townshend and Kenney Jones (subbing for Keith Moon who had died one month earlier), Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Small Faces’ Ronnie Lane, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker and more.

The celebrity gathering recorded the song on October 3, 1978, at Abbey Road Studios where it was produced by McCartney and Chris Thomas. Our Classic Video is a “making of” clip that cuts so quickly it’s hard to catch all of the boldfaced names in action.

The Back to the Egg album laid an, er, egg with few positive reviews and only two modest hit singles in the U.S.: the #20 “Getting Closer” and #29 “Arrow Through Me.”

“Rockestra Theme” was performed live in December 1979 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon at one of a series of concerts to benefit the victims of war-torn Cambodia. The Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, as they were known, featured a lineup brimming with British musical talent, many of whom appeared on the studio version of the song.

Related: Our feature on the 1979 all-star Concerts for the People of Kampuchea

“Rockestra Theme,” went on to earn a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Listen to the original studio recording

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. John Rose
    #1 John Rose 5 October, 2020, 10:04

    I wonder who got Pete’s hat in the live video and if they still have it.

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  2. kmack63
    #2 kmack63 15 April, 2021, 11:10

    I believe that “Arrow Through Me” was a top 40 hit from this album as well

    Reply this comment
  3. BMac
    #3 BMac 4 October, 2023, 09:29

    And quite coincidentally, just played this on the weekend radio show last Saturday, while mentioning its Grammy and its…something like 20 different people playing on it!

    Reply this comment

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