Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!
When I was young I bought my pop music on Cassette. If you made a bit of money on your birthday you could head to the shops and buy yourself an album. (If you’d really cleaned up with the relatives you could get two.) The only vinyl player we had in the house was very much off-limits to the children, mainly the domain of curious spoken word affairs that the grown-ups found funny. Although they had covers that tended to give me nightmares.
The one key thing I remember about that time was the fact that most purchases were made completely context-free. I didn’t really know the history of any of these artists. I didn’t really know who was cool or not. The only things you’d get to learn about the artists would be from whatever information you’d find when unfolding the paper insert. Which, if I’m honest, I never bothered to do.
It was at this time that I purchased Paul McCartney’s 1984 album Give My Regards To Broad Street. Mainly on the strength that I liked “The Frog Chorus” (that turned out not to be on it). I think I knew he was famous and knew about The Beatles. Sort of. But the album was in the shop, I’d heard of him. so I bought it.
Looking back, the most striking thing about it is that I really didn’t know how albums were meant to work back then. Which meant I didn’t realise what an odd beast this one was. It’s full of McCartney re-recording his own back catalogue, yet at the time I thought that was completely normal. If you’d written a “Yesterday” – or even a “Silly Love Songs” – and liked it, why not record it again and put it on an album? It all made sense.
Of course buying this stuff without having an inkling of the wider context of the release means I missed two key details. That this wasn’t just another album. It was the soundtrack album to a film Paul McCartney had made. Even more than that, the film it was the soundtrack to also had a tie-in computer game. Both are interesting, if amazingly flawed, curios.
I didn’t see the film till many years later, when the internet meant you could acquire a copy that most people involved had tried to pretend never happened. It’s such a curious beast, a sprawling narrative that seems to be a flimsy excuse to run together a set of slightly weird, but hardly visionary, set pieces. Alongside musical numbers and cameos from Paul’s showbiz chums. Rewatching the film again, it captures a moment when the entertainment industry in this country didn’t really know what it wanted to be, and are just winging it. I don’t think Paul knew what he wanted it to be. More than that, I don’t think the British Film Industry in general knew what it wanted to be. It seems to be a lot of very talented people being very talented at making something weirdly directionless.
As such it’s dated in a way that earlier McCartney projects haven’t. An insane project when the British Entertainment industry had huge amounts of money, flapping around for new ideas. For all that there are nice moments in it, there’s no future here. Even the weak pun in the title had a limited shelf life – London’s Broad Street Station was to be shut within a few years of the film’s release. Rumours that it had vanished out of sheer embarrassment by association cannot be confirmed.
There being no future though is not something that can be said for the fact that the film attempted to come with a tie-in videogame. Alright, the game isn’t very good, involving driving around a very basically rendered London trying to find the master tapes for the album. Attempting to find online versions to play is tricky, and probably not worth it. But it’s maybe worth watching a few minutes of one of the online videos of someone playing it. If only to listen to its glorious early computer game music rendering of McCartney’s own “Band On The Run”. No version of which appears on the album.
In attempting to market an album, a film and a computer game for this project, McCartney is suggesting how the future of entertainment might work. These are all great ideas in theory. It’s just the execution lets it all down. Maybe Peter Jackson might find old footage of the game’s many development hours that can be edited and restored to make a brand new revisionist documentary. But I’d understand if they chose not to bother.
In the end, attempting any of these three projects just takes me back to the initial disappointment of discovering that “The Frog Chorus” was not, in fact, on this cassette. Because that tune is genuinely a work of genius, and I’ll run anyone down in fake pixel London who disagrees with me.