Michael Parkinson's greatest music interviews: Paul McCartney, David Bowie and more

17 August 2023, 12:31

Michael Parkinson's best music guests
Michael Parkinson's best music guests. Picture: BBC

By Tom Eames

Michael Parkinson is widely regarded as one of the best chat show hosts of all time, having interviewed some of the most famous and influential figures of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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His long-running chat show, Parkinson, featured some of the most famous and influential figures from the world of music, as well as other fields of entertainment, sports, politics, and literature.

In his gentle but probing style, Parkinson elicited candid and revealing responses from his guests, who often opened up about their personal lives, careers, and passions.

Here are some of the greatest music interviews that Parkinson conducted, showcasing his skill, charm, and wit as a host.

  1. Paul McCartney (1999)

    "Parkinson meets Paul McCartney" Friday 3 Dec 1999 [Part 1]

    One of the most memorable interviews that Sir Michael Parkinson conducted was with Sir Paul McCartney in 1999.

    The chat show host and the Beatles legend had a long-standing agreement that dated back to 1974, when Parkinson agreed to be pictured on the cover of the Wings album Band On The Run in exchange for an interview with McCartney.

    It took 25 years for McCartney to fulfil his promise, but he finally appeared on Parkinson’s TV show on December 3, 1999.

    The interview was a rare and candid insight into McCartney’s life, career, and music. He talked about his childhood, his relationship with John Lennon, his solo projects, and his passion for painting.

    He also performed several songs live, including 'Twenty Flight Rock', 'Yesterday', 'The Long And Winding Road', and 'All Shook Up'. He even played some unreleased songs that he had written for his wife Linda, who had passed away the year before.

  2. David Bowie (2002)

    David Bowie 2002 Interview Parkinson Stereo HD

    In September 2002, the guests one night on Parkinson were two legends in their own fields: David Bowie, the iconic rock star and actor, and Tom Hanks, the Oscar-winning Hollywood star.

    The interview was a rare opportunity to see Bowie in a relaxed and candid mood, as he talked about his life, his music, his influences, and his friendship with Mick Jagger (including a hilarious impression).

    He also performed two songs live in the studio: 'Everyone Says ‘Hi’' from his album Heathen, and 'Life on Mars?'.

    It was also one of the last TV appearances by Bowie before his death in 2016.

  3. John Lennon (1971)

    John Lennon angry on Parkinson

    John Lennon and Yoko Ono were interviewed by Michael Parkinson in 1971.

    It was one of the first episodes of Parkinson, taking place in August that year, just a year after the Beatles had officially split up.

    Lennon and Ono were promoting their new albums, Imagine and Fly, as well as Ono’s book Grapefruit, a collection of conceptual art pieces. They were also outspoken about their political activism, especially their anti-war campaigns such as the Bed-Ins for Peace.

    The interview was thought lost for many years until it was rediscovered and remastered many years later. He asked Lennon and Ono about their relationship, their artistic collaboration, their treatment by the British press, and of course, the Beatles.

    Hilariously, Lennon only agreed to speaking about the Beatles if Parky did the interview with a bag over his head, which he duly obliged.

  4. Bee Gees (1981)

    Bee Gees - Interv. by Michael Parkinson

    In this fantastic interview with the Gibb brothers in 1981, it was just a few years after their Saturday Night Fever chart domination.

    Barry, Maurice and Robin spoke to Michael Parkinson about their childhood, moving to the UK and their early chart success.

    It is a typically warm and relaxing interview between Parky and the band, interspersed with a few singalongs.

    Not only were fans treated with a burst of the first song they ever learned - 'Lollipop', but they also sang 'New York Mining Disaster' and 'Massachusetts'.

  5. Elton John (1998)

    Elton John - Michael Parkinson Interview - 1998

    A year after performing at Princess Diana's funeral, Elton John was back in the public eye to promote his latest album The Big Picture.

    In the interview, he talked about his musical career, his personal life, his charity work, and his views on fame and the media. He also performed his latest single 'Recover Your Soul'.

  6. George Michael (1998)

    George Michael interview with Michael Parkinson 1998

    This was the first time that George Michael spoke publicly about his arrest for public lewdness in Los Angeles earlier that year, which had caused a media frenzy and a lot of speculation about his sexuality and personal life.

    The interview was part of a special edition of Parkinson that featured George Michael as the only guest for the entire hour. The singer talked candidly with Parkinson about his childhood, music career, relationship with his mother, and infamous incident in Beverly Hills.

    It showed Parkinson's skill as an interviewer, as he balanced humour and sensitivity and asked probing but respectful questions. He did not shy away from addressing controversial topics but did not sensationalise or judge them.

  7. Bing Crosby (1972)

    Bing Crosby Parkinson 1972

    A real coup for Michael Parkinson, when he interviewed arguably the greatest living singer at the time, Bing Crosby.

    In one of his last British TV appearances before his death five years later, Bing opened up about his life and career in the interview, giving UK fans a rare insight into a true legend's world.

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