The Singer & The Song (Stylus Music, 1989)

Singer And The Song

Singer And The Song r.jpg

Review
I remember seeing adverts for Stylus Music’s The Singer & The Song towards the end of August 1989. Its aim seemed to be primarily geared towards tapping into baby boomer nostalgia for their lost youth and became a particular favourite for some older neighbours of mine. Indeed, if it had come 12 months earlier, it could have been my first foray into the singer songwriter boom of the late 1960s / early 1970s. As it stands, I’d already made acquaintance with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen by then but the compilation serves as a timely reminder of the more thoughtful side of the swinging era – plus a trio of more contemporary songs blending in amongst their older counterparts with mixed success.

The CD booklet doesn’t do justice to the fine illustrative work by Fiona Hawthorne but the lyrics for each track are reproduced and just about readable. The following caveat applies: “The lyrics on this sleeve appear in their original format. However some of the artistes have used variations in their performances on the album.” On that specific theme, one of Marshall Cavendish’s most popular and enduring part-work projects, The Great Artists series first appeared in 1984 with a relaunch the following January. The full series is in 96 parts, spanning major artists from early Renaissance to Post-modernism. Part 1 came with the usual part 2 free and that’s as far as I got. Van Gogh is on my #2, the cover displaying sunflowers prominently. The opening song is Don McLean’s thoughtful, soothing Vincent which makes use of accordion, marimba and strings. Described by William Ruhlmann as “sympathising with Van Gogh’s suicide as a sane comment on an insane world.”

James Taylor’s Fire And Rain also explores a similar theme; outlining his reaction to the self-inflicted death of his childhood friend Suzanne Schnerr. This news was kept from him for six months as friends feared it might distract him from recording his debut LP. Other themes in the song include depression, drug addiction and fame. Enter Donovan, a year before he would be immortalised by the Happy Mondays on Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches. Catch The Wind was his first release and was re-recorded the What’s Bin Did And What’s Bin Hid album, without the vocal echo and strings and with a harmonica solo added. That’s the version here; if you want the original 45 you need the Try For The Sun box set. Next comes the very current Cathedral Song, a ghostly and beautiful triumph from Tanita Tikaram’s wonderful Ancient Heart. “‘Cause all the others want to take my life.”

“I know my obituary has already been written. It starts out, ‘Doot, di-doot, di-doot…'” Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side with its interlocking basslines and controversial lyrics was a thrilling discovery for me in the mid-1980s. Its inclusion on Dave Fanning’s Fab 50 (think 1986 or 1987) was the gateway. During ’89, New York was earning serious critical plaudits and became one of my favourite records of the year. Following: Leonard Cohen’s beautifully haunting Suzanne, a paean to a platonic relationship and the opening track on his debut album. What an introduction to the world. And then Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely), a memory of a colourful, lovely time and being a tourist in your own youth. We get the album version which is longer than the radio edit, having extra stanzas beginning “You go to the embassy parties…” and “You’re in between 20 and 30…”

Marcus Anderson on Where Do You Go To (My Lovely):
“This song was originally thought to be about actress Sophia Loren who came from an impoverished childhood. But Peter later explained it was about a girl he fell in love with but who later died in a hotel fire. With this information you can put together the hidden and incredible beauty of this song. The story actually begins in the refrain when he asks his childhood girlfriend to tell him her secret desires. Peter then describes to us her dreams, starting from the first verse. Toward the end he hints at the reality, that they are just two lowly born children sharing her dream of being the fictitious Marie Claire, the personification of her private fantasy based on the fashion magazine of that name, and which she shares only with him. Finally, Peter posthumously proclaims to her (us), in a powerful hidden confession, his deep love lost so tragically. Having now told him her secret heartfelt desires that they both share, he now knows where she goes in her dreams, and he can truly see inside her. Peters master stroke of genius is that he dedicates to her memory a projection of her dream of living the life of Marie Claire in this incredible song of love. It is perhaps one of the greatest love songs of all time, hidden in poetic license, waiting for the worthy listener to discover.”

“The hero would be me. . . heroes often fail.” Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind remains one of the greatest ’70s ballads. Moving, touching, haunting and inspired by divorce. Equally downbeat is Aztec Camera’s gut-wrenching How Men Are, mysteriously credited to Roddy Frame in the booklet – although it and the next two songs don’t quite gel. There’s a live version of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain that I am trying to date – the Martha’s Vineyard live performance is from 1987 but I don’t think is it. And then Enya’s Orinoco Flow – they might as well have included The Wombles. Normal service is resumed on Elton John’s romantic Your Song, a glowing tune that took on new meaning when played at my cousin’s wedding in 2006. And then the rambling man himself, Tom Paxton and his simple yet effective Last Thing On My Mind, which dates back to 1964.

Three different studio recordings of Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London have been released as singles in varying territories and reissued on various occasions. The first version was from the 1970 Transatlantic compilation Revisited and got its first single release in France and West Germany that year. The next was from the US pressing of the 1971 LP You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here and got got a Dutch 45 release during the spring of 1972. The third version was first released in 1974 as a Reprise single, topped the UK charts and was included in the 1975 album Streets. That’s the recording here, wonderfully affecting and still topical. The location was Surrey Street Market. Meanwhile Chelsea Morning, while only appearing on her second LP, Clouds, was written by Joni Mitchell in 1967 but was recorded by three other artists before her – Fairport Convention, Judy Collins, Jennifer Warnes. Brilliantly played and composed, Chelsea Clinton was named after the song. Bill and Hilary having heard Collins’ version playing during a stroll through Chelsea, London.

Not to be confused with Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe, Kris Kristofferson’s Me And Bobby McGee is a quintessential tale of two drifters on their brief journey through the American south. They reach California and then go their separate ways. Which brings us to Albert Hammond’s It Never Rains In Southern California, a prime pick for a “super hit” of the 1970s that got all the airplay but very little chart success. The subject is a struggling actor who doesn’t make it. Alienation, creativity, travelling and a longing to be connected – all themes of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, the first of three late ’70s tunes that close this album. Next come The Pretenders with the emotional and vulnerable Kid, complete with new wave hooks that maintain a 1960s spirit. We close with Chris Rea’s Fool (If You Think It’s Over); his debut single whose inspiration was the experience Rea’s younger sister Paula had had some years previously of being devastated at losing her first boyfriend. Sadly it’s not the original 7″ (you need Hard To Find 45s On CD Volume 8) but the 1988 remake from New Light Through Old Windows. File under Middlesbrough soul stew.

Favourite tracks
Joni Mitchell – Chelsea Morning

Peter Sarstedt – Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne

Lest we forget
Albert Hammond – It Never Rains In Southern California

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Rock City Nights (Vertigo / Polygram TV, 1989)

Rock City Nights

Rock City Nights r

Review
Vertigo and Polygram TV released a follow up to Hot City Nights during the autumn of 1989. Once again, it relied on television advertising to push sales with the futuristic urban theme repeated on the front cover. In this instance, we get 18 tracks (two more) while the CD booklet contains adverts for its predecessor and The Marquee – 30 Legendary Years.

“Take the heat once more.”
Four artists are repeated on this second volume – Queen, Big Country, Marillion, INXS. The opening song on A Kind Of Magic sets the scene, One Vision in single edit form. And then Bon Jovi’s You Give Love A Bad Name, the first track I heard from them, taken from the enormously successful Slippery When Wet – a school music library favourite. Read more about those days in my review of The Chart Show – Rock The Nation. All hail Mark Shaw and Then Jerico; Big Area had that immense vibe; a bittersweet epic. It entered the UK charts around the time of my 17th birthday. “This sounds like an album track. It’s stronger than their old stuff but it’s just not a single.” said Mica Paris when reviewing Big Country’s King Of Emotion for Number One magazine. She had a point; at 4:50 the rocking lead 45 from Peace In Our Time was screaming out for some form of pruning.

The In The Army Now album was not held in high regard by Rick Parfitt. Disappointingly Red Sky was not remixed or extended for its single release but remains a thrilling slice of efficient rock boogie. It’s followed by Fish on his final furlong, the aggressive/progressive Incommunicado, first fruits from the awesome Clutching At Straws. Now it’s an enduring memory from a tape I aired in Art class coming up to the Inter Cert. Right Here Waiting was a huge hit around the time Rock City Nights emerged but it’s the previous single, Satisfied that’s here. This edgy and anthemic tune reached #52 in the UK but topped the US charts. You’ll remember the next one from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, the Power Station’s Some Like It Hot which really works in these surroundings, fuelled by Tony Thompson’s insane drumming. 1985 was really the year of side project heaven.

The Final Countdown was such a massive hit for Europe, all over Europe, that no matter what followed, it would be perceived as an anti-climax. Rock The Night doesn’t disappoint and became a favourite anthem for some of the boarders in my school. Next come INXS with the impossibly brilliant Need You Tonight – burning up discos for 18 months – and the moody driving delight from Texas, I Don’t Want A Lover. I clearly remember seeing the billboards for Southside that March. The album cover art was derived from the poster for the film Paris, Texas, which inspired the band’s name. From Don’t to Won’t: Tom Petty’s spectacularly defiant I Won’t Back Down was curiously absent from 1989’s canon chart compilations but finds a home here. “There ain’t no easy way out.” And while The Living Years was breaking our hearts earlier in the year, it’s a gold oldie from 1985 that follows – Silent Running. You could call it a synth masterpiece from the old testament.

The closing five numbers of Rock City Nights all hark back to an earlier age. Toto’s Africa peaked in the early spring of 1983 while Boston’s classic rock staple, More Than A Feeling, dates from 1976. “All the planets were aligned when they created this song.” reminisces Fi Handley. We get the longer Boston LP cut; still it goes straight to the heart. From 1977’s Rumours, Fleetwood Mac’s album-in-every-home-a-heartache comes the blitzing Go Your Own Way. The ultimate goodbye song, you can hear shattered dreams in every note. Fast forward four years to early 1981 and it’s a hazy sound of Mount Garrett AKA the top road as I walk home from school. Rainbow’s I Surrender, played loudly by Douglas Walsh or Gordon Boucher. Finally, I’m taken back to the Ritz cinema and their packed showing of Rocky III as Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger brings the curtain down on a fine compilation.

Favourite tracks
Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down

The Power Station – Some Like It Hot

Lest we forget
Status Quo – Red Sky

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Rhythm Of The Sun (Telstar, 1989)

Rhythm Of The Sun

Rhythm Of The Sun r

Review
Arriving just in time for summer ’89, Telstar’s Rhythm Of The Sun is a cheap and cheerful reggae cash-in that was compiled in association with CBS, Island, Virgin, Polygram and Jetstar. The atmospheric photo was shot by Mike Peters and the design from Mainline. Back then, my primary exposure to the genre was listening to various chart singles, buying a Bob Marley’s Legend in 1985 and getting copies of assorted UB40 albums. So this CD became a kind of touchstone, something I’d play early in the mornings at a soft volume.

“18 Cool Summer Sounds” is the tagline and for the opening sequence, Telstar play it safe. Bill Withers found a new audience in 1988 with remixes of Ain’t No Sunshine and Lovely Day courtesy of Ben Liebrand. The Sunshine Mix of the latter is sacrilege to some older listeners as it relies on a programmed drum sound but for me, it’s very evocative of that carefree era. The overplayed Wild World (Maxi Priest) and Don’t Turn Around (Aswad), a pair that were absolutely caned everywhere. Going right back to 1978 and disco fever for track 4, Third World’s maximum joy cover of The O’Jays Now That We’ve Found Love. He came from Jamaica with a thirst for success: in mid-1970 Nicky Thomas’ interpretation of The Winstons version of Love Of The Common People resulted in a UK hit (reaching #9). This in turn led to a European tour and a relocation to the United Kingdom. Next is Eric Clapton’s ultra-cool I Shot The Sheriff (a shorter fade of the album version), taken from The Cream Of… a big-seller in the late ’80s with a VHS release arriving in 1989.

True story: sometimes tourists can romanticise their destinations and then find that their expectations don’t quite match reality. 10cc nail this on Dreadlock Holiday with a tale based on real life events that took place in Barbados. We’re on a roll as Grace Jones follows with My Jamaican Guy – the elusive 7″ single version – that was overlooked on 1985’s Island Life compilation. The music video by Jean-Paul Goude is memorable for showcasing Jones’ narcissism. Flashback to 1981 for Sugar Minott’s lilting Good Thing Going. A memory from Jason Finch: “Just remember my dad used to drive me and my brother around north and east London on Saturday morning while he did ‘errands’. We had the Capital Top 40 on the whole time, which used to run from 9-12 on Saturdays. Oh such great times. The sun used to be shining. 1979-1982.” And then from 1983, Wham! and their deep Club Tropicana. Fun, energetic, positive, escapism, catchy, infectious, LIFE! But hidden depths as it satirised package holidays. “Don’t worry, you can suntan.”

Time for the curious story of the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. A smooth groove which incorporated other styles such as violins, jazzy beats, classical and traditional African sounds. Minnie The Moocher was produced and arranged by Mykaell Riley and is a slick, almost old world in its delivery. Moving on, Kid Creole’s classy I’m A Wonderful Thing Baby; August’s surely got the funk. Back to ’78, Uptown Top Ranking was recorded by Jamaican teenagers Althea Forrest and Donna Reid, and comprises of the girls ad-libbing to Trinity’s Three Piece Suit. Played endlessly by John Peel and a chart topper ensued. PLAY LOUD AT PARTIES was the recommendation for the joyful Soul Shakedown Party, a Bob Marley classic. Son Ziggy pops up shortly with Tomorrow People. In between are Sly & Robbie with their unique jam Boops, a densely-layered production that’s a fascinating collision of urban sounds. Signing off: Ken Boothe’s 1974 #1 Everything I Own (a smash for Boy George in ’87 also) and Freddie McGregor’s pure Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.

Favourite tracks
Grace Jones – My Jamaican Guy

Sly & Robbie – Boops (Here To Go)

Lest we forget
Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra – Minnie The Moocher

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