“Paul McCartney is a dope. Why? Because he smokes much too much cannabis. I reckon he and Linda sometimes get through as much as two ounces a day, that’s about £1000 a week. Personally, I wish he’d just stop being so silly.”
-Denny Laine, 1984.
In January 1980, Paul McCartney spent nine days in Japanese prison for carrying just under half a pound of weed with him into customs. The bust scuttled Wings’ first tour in three years and spurred guitarist Denny Laine to quit. Without Laine, the only true member of the band other than Paul and Linda, Wings as an entity ceased to exist; McCartney II, initially planned as a solo “side project,” became Paul’s first true solo album in a decade upon its release in July 1980. John Lennon’s death in December of that year drove McCartney into seclusion, and he emerged in April of 1982 with Tug Of War, a slick collection of varying merit, produced by old friend George Martin and boasting the enormous, ghastly hit “Ebony and Ivory.” McCartney spun his wheels with Pipes Of Peace the following year, and by 1984 had prepared a more elaborate project.
He could have toured, but had no band. Laine popped up on War and Peace (see what Paul did there? Eugh), but the relationship had fractured beyond repair. The market for older vets on the road was dwindling, as well; most of McCartney’s peers, Beatle and beyond, were mired in their own decades of disaster. The McCartney family, too, was an issue–can’t be trekking about the world with four kids in school, and a wife whose musical inclusion is non-negotiable.
What to do? Why, make a movie, that’s what. Write it, produce it, cast Linda, Ringo and Ringo’s wife Barbara Bach, and stock the soundtrack with re-recordings of Beatles songs. (A kind of fuck-you to Michael Jackson, that, but the soundtrack also includes re-works of “Silly Love Songs” and other solo tracks that McCartney owned. For whatever the fuck reason.) Bring in Tracey Ullman, Bryan Brown and Ralph Richardson for a little flair; go absolutely nutso-crazy with some musical numbers, as it’s ’84 and the MTV is what the kids are all about these days. Slap that baby together! Give it a title, something cutesy, how about “Give My Regards To Broad Street?” Yes, yes, that’s perfect, it’s not even funny the first time you say it. And hey, you gotta have at least one hit; bring in David Gilmour to lay down a sweet solo just to be safe. Behold, the first track of Give My Regards To Broad Street:
In retrospect, it’s hard to blame the guy. John’s death rattled each surviving Beatle, and they all dwindled into hiatus toward the end of the eighties. Paul, notorious for working through tragedy, ever the pragmatist, mourning a beloved partner and friend, chafing at the disrespect his work received as that friend’s canon became martyred legend, surrounded himself with family and friends and tried to have fun. He had no songs–apart from “No More Lonely Nights,” there are two new tunes on Broad Street, neither of them any good. His spin into the ether would only continue with 1985’s syntheriffic Press To Play, after which he wouldn’t release anything for four years. Broad Street should have, could have been a fun little excursion, the kind of ramshackle rough-draft half-art from which McCartney never shied. Ramshackle it is not, though, nor fun, nor little, nor even half-art. It’s pumped-up, polished, rabid with colors and “production value,” worth a damn neither as album nor film, not even out of curiosity. It is bad. Or, as Macca himself might say say say, “So Bad.”
Listening to the album is a bizarre experience. Even McCartney’s worst LPs have their share of fun and hooks, but here the arguable pleasures of “Lonely Nights” are as good as it gets. And, as if to torpedo even that bronze star, there are three different versions of “Lonely Nights” on Broad Street. One of them is a thirteen-second “ballad reprise.” The other is a “playout version,” its four-minute album length doubled to eight on a 12″ single that tests the boundaries of believable reality. The other new tracks (“Not Such A Bad Boy” and “No Values”) are buried on side B; “So Bad” isn’t even on the album, perhaps to avoid an inevitable repurpose as the headline of album reviews.
Then there are the remakes. Had McCartney reeled in some ringers and given his old tunes a fresh work-up, the results might have been fascinating. (To be fair, John Paul Jones shows up on the remake of “Ballroom Dancing,” which was released in original form two scant years prior on Tug Of War. 1. Who cares? and 2. What in the hell?) Instead, McCartney recreates his unearthed numbers note-for-note, in the lifeless style of a discount karaoke outfit. The first old favorite butchered is “Good Day Sunshine,” and is all you need to hear to get the picture. Get this over with, and we’ll move on.
From there it goes. “Yesterday,” “Here, There & Everywhere,” “For No One,” “Eleanor Rigby” (appended with “Eleanor’s Dream”), and “The Long And Winding Road.” “Silly Love Songs,” “Wanderlust” and “Ballroom Dancing,” old tracks all, also receive the treatment. The full LP clocks in at a brisk forty-four minutes. (Cassette and CD releases, the latter a first for McCartney, were slightly longer.) Despite that brevity, Give My Regards To Broad Street disappears from the consciousness before its final track begins.
From other artists, this sort of debacle would seem a clear cash-grab, a slap in the face to long-loyal fans. Paul’s investment in the proceedings is genuine, though, and he had (nor has) any need to dupe the public for a quick buck. It’s the most oblivious album of his career, and the sole McCartney release that befits the word “irrelevant.” The movie is even worse, but that’s a barely-there story for another day.
Paul over time found better ways to harness and channel his whims. A decent ’50s-rock cover record, Choba B CCCP, presaged a fantastic ’50s-rock cover record, Run Devil Run; the orchestral curiosity of Broad Street‘s score (released separately from the album) found its way into a variety of classical and instrumental projects. Hell, he’s even gone electro three times as “The Fireman,” and the results have not been bad at all. (He set Ringo to the side after Flaming Pie, which is for the best. They remain friends.) In its own ugly roundabout way, Broad Street became one of a line of McCartney-blueprint albums, a portrait of an artist in transition without a set goal in sight.
The difference between Broad Street and, say, Wild Life, (an album that chronicles Wings’ first jam sessions), though, is that McCartney had no idea he was constructing such a scattershot, long-game thesis. He thought he was making a Paul McCartney album, something fun and new for his fans, and was keeping up with the times to boot. He was not. He was wasting two years of his life on a God damn embarrassment.
Thankfully, he would recover, and, per his ol’ pal Denny’s request (that solo career sure took off, eh, Laine?), would eventually stop being quite so silly.
“Basically speaking, I think ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ is probably a more complete song than some of the ones I’m writing now. But, because I’ve written so many songs, they just can’t be as good as each other. You’ve got to have your ups and downs; you can’t keep churning them out like a sausage factory. From time to time, I do like my modern stuff. I don’t think it’s as rich a vein as the goldmine we were mining then, but I do think there’s some good stuff and I wouldn’t dismiss it all.”
-Paul McCartney, 1984.
There are none. “No More Lonely Nights” wins by default, as it’s basically decent dentist’s-office music.
DUDS and/or DISASTERS
Alright, fine, “For No One” really isn’t so terrible, as the song in any form is unimpeachable, one of Paul’s all-time best. The new version (sigh) keeps it simple with a crack string quartet (different from the original! Amazing!) and McCartney’s finest vocal of the album. How he’s aged is palpable in his voice, too, to an agreeable extent; it’s the only fascination on a record that should have been fascinating.
MP3 only, for $9.50, which is a scandal. Under absolutely no circumstances should anybody anywhere in the known universe pay any kind of currency for this album. The movie is available on DVD, but, again, no.
IN THE MEANTIME…
John’s first official posthumous album, Milk And Honey, was released in 1984. Assembled by Yoko from leftover scraps of Double Fantasy, it is irrelevant.
George released an album called Gone Troppo in 1984 and disappeared until late in the decade, when he resurfaced as a Traveling Wilbury and also released Cloud Nine.
Ringo’s 1983 release, Old Wave (haw!), was made available in neither the States nor the UK. His next album was 1991’s Time Takes Time.
ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE
The trailer to Academy Award-sweeping cinematic milestone, Give My Regards To Broad Street. “Once a villain, always a villain, right?”
George Starostin, who grew up listening to smuggled rock records in Soviet Russia (no, really), has made a return to online reviewing, which is fantastic news. His old website, Only Solitaire, is an addictive, terrifically-written trove of old-school rock writing. Here’s his take on Broad Street.
COMING UP NEXT
Monday, July 4: Double Fantasy, John’s final album, a collaboration with Yoko, released three weeks before his death in 1980. Sneak of a peek: “Watching The Wheels.”