REMINISCENT MONDAY: Paul McCartney Stumbles Down 'Broad Street'
  • MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2017

  • Posted by: Robert Steiner

There's no doubt in the world that popular music wouldn't be the same without Paul McCartney. Between The Beatles, Wings, and his own solo work, McCartney has written more hits in his career than most people could muster in a dozen lifetimes, and he's always made it look so damn easy. After all, this is the man that literally rolled out of bed onto a piano and composed "Yesterday," aka the most covered song of all time. For decades, it seemed that McCartney was an untouchable force in the music world, and that his star would keep flying high for years to come. So what finally made his star come crashing down to Earth?

Before we continue, let's make one thing clear: Paul McCartney is still one of the most successful artists of all time, so a "failure" for him still means going gold in at least two countries. He's still selling out stadiums without much trouble, but there's no denying that Paul isn't at the forefront of the music world like he used to be, though that's not completely his fault. Music is a young person's game, always has and always will be, so even the biggest stars will eventually fade when the new generations come along. Paul definitely felt these growing pains by the 1980s, a fact most evident on 1984's Give My Regards to Broad Street, the passion project that was supposed to update McCartney's career for the modern age, but ended up stagnating it instead.


After over two decades of Platinum records, world tours, and endless accolades, Paul found himself at a crossroads in 1980. The Beatles had long been disbanded, and Wings fizzled out unspectacularly after critics mauled their seventh album, Back to the Egg, and their world tour ended early due to Paul's famous arrest in Japan. He decided that it was finally time to go solo, no band required, and this move initially seemed to spell long-term success. After a bit of a shaky start with McCartney II in 1980, Paul found some hits on Tug of War in 1982 and Pipes of Peace in 1983, his 8th and 9th Platinum post-Beatles albums in the US, respectively. Though he was still moving units without much trouble, signs that Paul's career was waning were already beginning to show. Both Tug of War and Pipes of Peace both received middle-ground reviews at best, with most critics citing weaker songwriting and a lack of inspiration compared to Paul's earlier work.

Whether he cared to acknowledge it or not, Paul was noticeably losing steam, and something had to be done if he wanted to continue riding high through the 80s. For his next album, he knew he needed to make a statement, something to prove that the work of Paul McCartney would always be timeless. The result was Give My Regards to Broad Street, an album dedicated to "reinterpreting" Paul's old songs and giving them a proper update for the emerging digital age. But Paul wasn't going to stop there: Not only was the album going to serve as a soundtrack to a Broad Street movie, but it was going to feature as many big names and talent Paul could find to make it the highest profile record of his career. The critics were complaining about the new songs, after all, so why not give them what they wanted with a little bit of a twist?


Give My Regards to Broad Street the movie stars Paul as himself, and the plot, also written by Paul, follows the singer as he tries to find the man who stole the masters of his upcoming album. Along the way, Paul revisits his songs from The Beatles, Wings, and his solo albums in the form of recording sessions and surreal and elaborate dream sequences. Though the main focus was on updating the classics, Paul also threw in several new songs into the mix, including "No More Lonely Nights," "No Values," and "Not Such A Bad Boy." Don't be sad if you've never seen this film, because Broad Street the movie is, in a word, terrible. The plot loses a sense of urgency almost immediately, the dream sequences are uncomfortable at best, Paul isn't exactly the strongest actor even when he's playing himself, and considering his only previous screenplay credit at this point was the atrocious Magical Mystery Tour, the script wasn't winning any awards, either. The movie proved to be a critical and financial bomb, but in the grand scheme of things, the movie's success didn't really matter. The biggest determinate of Paul's individual success was always going to be the music.

Despite being a huge Beatles fan (I've made my fandom clear on this site many times), I had actually never heard of Broad Street until a couple months ago, and on paper, the idea actually sounds like a winning formula. Here was Paul McCartney, one of the most talented artists of his generation, reuniting with George Martin and Ringo Starr in the studio, plus bringing in equally massive talents like David Gilmour, 10cc's Eric Stewart, John Paul Jones, Toto's Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro, and Dave Edmunds among others to play on the tracks. It was a project meant to re-introduce McCartney-penned classics to a new generation, re-worked by the only man who could do those songs justice and recorded with modern, digital technology. All of this sounds like a good idea, and I was honestly curious to hear the record and what was done to the old songs. But, as you probably already anticipated, Broad Street the album was an overall mess, and was McCartney's first outright disappointment of his solo career.


The problems with Broad Street are so numerous it's hard to know where to begin, but the most apparent one has to be the music itself. When it comes to classic songs, especially Beatles songs, it's almost always impossible to make lightning strike twice and capture the greatness of the original version. Even while Paul is the most qualified person on Earth to take on Beatles tracks like "Yesterday," "Here, There, And Everywhere," and "Eleanor Rigby," the Broad Street versions sound incredibly stale and, perhaps worst of all, feel unnecessary. Both "Yesterday" and "HTE" are shortened to around a minute and a half each, making them more like interludes than actual songs, yet on the flipside, "Eleanor Rigby" was attached to the new instrumental "Eleanor's Dream," making the track a drab nine minutes.


Most curiously of all, "The Long and Winding Road" still contains similar orchestration to Phil Spector's version, which McCartney famously hated and vowed to release his original version. He eventually did just that, but at this point in time, Spector's orchestration apparently grew on him, and if anything, the ham-fistedness was only made worse with the addition of…sigh…a saxophone solo. While George Martin was producing the album, it was recorded and mixed with then-very new digital production software, which made the music sound a lot brighter and crisp than tape-recorded records. Digital was definitely trendy at the time, but since technology has vastly improved since then, early digitally recorded albums haven't aged well since the 80s. Not only that, but Ringo didn't even drum on any of the Beatles remakes, as he felt, perhaps more wisely than Paul, that he played the best he could on the originals, and therefore there was no point in messing with what's already great. He ended up only playing drums on Tug of War's "Ballroom Dancing,", a track that wasn't even two years old yet.


This segways to the other huge problem with Broad Street: The final product just came across as confused. While the Beatles and Wings remakes had been released long enough ago, Paul also included Tug of War and Pipes of Peace remakes even though both of those albums were incredibly recent. The new songs didn't fare much better either, as the album oddly included two versions of "No More Lonely Nights," an adult contemporary ballad version and a synth-heavy dance version, and the other new songs sounded as uninspired as the remakes. The album could've used some trimming as well, because while it was able to fit on the brand-new CD format, the time-length was too literally long for vinyl. The result was that the vinyl copies were sold with the disclaimer that the songs were edited for time, and that the full version of the album was only available on CD and cassette, even though very few people had CD players at this point in time.


This inconsistency between formats definitely didn't help album sales, but the damage was already done: Broad Street the soundtrack was released on October 22, 1984 to scathing reviews and overall disappointment from fans. While the album debuted at number 1 in the UK, it didn't hold that position for long, and it peaked at 21 on the Billboard 200 chart in the US, the lowest opening week ranking for Paul at that point. The album failed to go Platinum in the US, and in fact, Paul still hasn't had another US Platinum album to this day. Though name brand was enough to keep his popularity high in his home country, Paul's consistent, worldwide dominance was more or less over with Broad Street. He had one last hoorah with 1989's Flowers In The Dirt, which featured Elvis Costello as a producer and co-songwriter, but Paul never again reached the heights of previous decades.

Though Give My Regards to Broad Street is far from a good record, it's at the very least an interesting and revealing look into Paul McCartney coming to terms with his changing role from "trendsetter" to "legacy act." You can literally hear Paul struggling to honor his old work and still sound new and modern at the same time, and in many ways, he's very clearly conflicted over which path to take. There are the Beatles and Wings songs everyone loves, but they're buried under needless synths and instrumental interludes. The album was recorded with the best modern technology, but it was apparently so modern that it couldn't even fit on a normal vinyl record. Paul wanted to pay respect to his classic works, and yet he changed the songwriting credits to "McCartney/Lennon" versus the typical "Lennon/McCartney." Ultimately, Broad Street is the sound of an aging artist who doesn't know what he wants to do with his career, if forcing out new material or relying on the hits is the best path to take. Since then, it thankfully seems that Paul has come to terms with his legacy, as he's both happily touring with his massive back catalog and releasing new music from time to time. Even though he's no longer the musical innovator he once was, the 75-year old seems completely alright with that. At the very least, when he pulls out "Yesterday" or "For No One" during his live shows, he does them more or less by the book, with no campy synths to be seen.

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