Song of the Day, November 27: Date Stamp by ABC

ABCDateToday’s song is Date Stamp by ABC. It appears on their stunning debut, Lexicon of Love. The album is a strong song cycle about the joys and perils of romance. Date Stamp appears as a warning after the first blush of new love. Over the tight-knit playing of the band, singer Martin Fry ponders what could happen next, landing on the conclusion that “Love has no guarantee.” With beautiful harmony vocals underscoring his doubt and hope, the song is a highlight of a lovingly constructed package.

Enjoy this wonderful pop gem today.

Song of the Day, November 26: All That Way For This by Oysterband

OysterAllThatToday’s song is All That Way For This, the anthemic opening to Oysterband’s brilliant 1992 album Deserters. It sets the stage perfectly for the disc’s explorations of inequity and determination to improve the world. Singer John Jones belts out a series of reasonable wishes for a satisfying life, dashing them against the reality of harsh economics, uncaring leaders, and broken chances. The band swirl behind him with great power, a tight unit that makes just the right space for each player to shine.

All we wanted was something worth it
Worth the labor, worth the wait
Then they take you up to the mountain
You see too late

In the middle of a good time
Truth gave me her icy kiss
Look around, you must be joking
All that way, all that for this

The song remains a vibrant part of the band’s live shows. Enjoy this great live take from 2012 of a powerful song today.

Song of the Day, November 25: All the Time In the World by Gregson and Collister

G&CH&ATimeToday’s song is All the Time In the World. As Clive Gregson’s band, Any Trouble, was breaking up, he heard Christine Collister singing in a local pub. Entranced with her powerful voice, he offered to work with her on future projects. As it happened, Richard Thompson was looking for an additional vocalist for his live band, which included Gregson on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. The pair became a regular part of the Richard Thompson Band on tour and in the studio for a few years. They also began working on their own projects, starting with a Gregson solo disc.

Their live shows were well-regarded acoustic outings. They captured the spirit of these shows on a tape that they sold at concerts. It sold so well that it became their first formal album together, sold as Home and Away, a mix of originals, covers, and old Any Trouble tracks. One of the standouts is All the Time In the World. A quiet, sad tale of domestic abuse, it shows off Gregson’s delicate guitar work and the magical union of their voices.

Enjoy this sad but beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, November 24: Don’t Ask Me Questions by Graham Parker

ParkerHowlinQuestionsToday’s song is Don’t Ask Me Questions, the powerful closer to Graham Parker’s debut album Howlin’ Wind. After a decade of odd jobs and flirtations with a musical career, Parker dived headfirst into the sessions, his musical vision fully formed. Although not credited on this disc, his stalwart backing band, the Rumour, played on every track, providing a solid backdrop for his lyrical explorations. The tracks range from romance (realized and frustrated) to nostalgia to social commentary, all described with Parker’s unflinching realism.

Don’t Ask Me Questions blends the Rumour’s potent pub rock drive with a light reggae influence, forming a surging musical setting for Parker’s rage against a hypothetical all-powerful being. He ponders the grave misfortunes that abound in the world and concludes that any force that allows such suffering can make no demands on him. He spits and snarls the lyrics with barely controlled disdain.

Well I see the thousands screaming rushing for the cliffs
Just like lemmings into the sea, Well well well
Who waves his mighty hand and breaks the precious rules?
Well the same one must understand who wasted all these fools.
Hey Lord, don’t ask me questions
Ain’t no answer in me.

Enjoy this potent pub rocker today.

Album of the Week, November 23: Everything’s Different Now by ’til tuesday

Til_Tuesday-Everythings_Different_Now ’til tuesday was formed in Boston in 1982, by singer / lyricist / bassist Aimee Mann, late of the Young Snakes. She was joined by drummer Michael Hausman, guitarist Robert Holmes, and keyboard player Joey Pesce. The quartet took the town by storm, winning the 1983 WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble and quickly landing a deal with Epic records. With a slick but distinctive New Wave sound and Mann’s earthy vocals and smart lyrics, the band got a lot of early press and  a nice push from the label. Their first single, Voices Carry, was inspired by Mann and Hausman’s breakup just before recording the album. Dark and haunting but carrying a human warmth with Mann’s delivery, it became a hit [#8, 1983] and a mainstay of 80s radio. ’til tuesday wasn’t interested in repeating a formula, however successful, and their second release, Welcome Home, found Mann writing more of the music herself while the group pursued a richer, more complex sound. Critics loved it, but the public was less interested. Pesce left the group, replaced by Michael Montes. Struggling with pursuing her artistic vision while satisfying label expectations, Mann found herself in the midst of another breakup. Her two-year relationship with singer/songwriter Jules Shear came to an end just as she began writing tracks for the band’s third — and final, as it turned out — album.

Title Everything’s Different Now
Act ’til tuesday
Label Epic Released
1988
Producer Rhett Davies
U.S. Chart  124 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Everything’s Different Now
  2. Rip In Heaven
  3. Why Must I?
  4. ‘J’ For Jules
  5. (Believed You Were) Lucky [#95]
  6. Limits to Love
  7. Long Gone (Buddy)
  8. The Other End (of the Telescope)
  9. Crash and Burn
  10. How Can You Give Up?

While Mann has stated firmly that not every track was inspired by the circumstances with Shear, some clearly are (see track 4…), and she has said that it is the most intimate of her early work. Ironically, it’s also her most collaborative, with a number of writers from outside the band pitching in. The result is a heartfelt breakup album that is also powerfully human, blending personal pain with universal themes to create one of the best albums of the 80s and a launching pad for an amazing independent career.

Things kick off with the only ’til tuesday song not written by Aimee Mann, the album’s title track. Penned by power pop rising star Matthew Sweet with Jules Shear, it’s a stirring farewell to a fading relationship. Mann turns in one of her best tuesday vocals, showing off a range she seldom explores and making the most of the emotional energy. It’s followed by one of her own best songs, Rip In Heaven, written with British bassist and singer Kit Hain. Painfully honest, it also charts an ending, reflecting on the contributions both partners make on the path to dissolution. Wrenching and anthemic at once, it’s a small pop masterpiece. Continuing in the reflective tone, Mann allows herself some space to grieve in Why Must I?, a nice look at coping skills — or the lack of them — featuring the fine lyric “Other people get by with either bourbon or God.” This opening trio is a strong statement of purpose, three different, equally compelling looks at endings.

The next track is the most clearly related to Mann’s personal circumstances, the wistful, moving ‘J’ for Jules. With an unflinching, open spirit, she unpacks the relationship with a mixture of sadness and hope, believing “Someday we’ll be happy again,” apart rather than together. Side one wraps with a rare Mann/Shear songwriting credit, (Believed You Were) Lucky. Another reflective piece, this takes a second person view, wondering why a departing partner couldn’t find their own value in the relationship. The pair work well together tying up the emotional weight of the side.

Side two opens with a bit of a departure, the story song Limits to Love, which looks at a self-destructive young woman and the point at which those who care for her must step back. It’s great pop track that changes the focus of the album but still fits the overall tone. Things get personal again with the Mann / Hausman composition Long Gone (Buddy). A darkly introspective song, it finds Mann singing about the difficulties of letting go. With a slow build and a soaring chorus — also featuring some nice vocal work — it picks up the energy musically while hewing to the contemplative feel.

Mann composed The Other End (of the Telescope) with Elvis Costello, a surprising pairing that works extremely well. (Costello enjoyed the song enough to rework it on his later album with the Attractions, All This Useless Beauty.) Mann’s wistful humanity nicely tempers Costello’s barbed wit, creating a perfect I-guess-I-never-really-knew-you song. Their voices blend beautifully, making this a highlight of both careers. Crash and Burn finds Mann and Hain crafting a brilliant post-New Wave anthem, featuring a stirring keyboard line and a bold vocal. With determination, Mann insists on breaking away from the darkest parts of the dissolving relationship. Biting but very human, it’s a perfect conclusion to the break-up themes. How Can You Give Up? adds a cautiously optimistic coda to the proceedings, offering hope for a future love even amidst the rubble of the previous. It’s a smart move, making the most of the album’s overall humanity and giving a welcome bright spot that still resonates with honesty.

Lyrically, Everything’s Different Now is a strong leap forward for Aimee Mann, presaging her future solo work. Musically, she and the band continue to move away from their New Wave beginnings into an early Indie Rock with Power Pop elements. It’s a potent sound that brings all their talents together in a tight, cohesive mix. Darkly personal and reflective, passionately universal in theme, this ten song journey is compelling, sonically satisfying, and ultimately cathartic.

FURTHER LISTENING: Inspired by this more personal work, Mann dissolved the band and began a solo career, slightly delayed by contract problems with Epic — her first of several battles with labels that led her to become a pioneer in independent releasing. All three ’til tuesday discs are worthwhile; Voices Carry is the least consistent but still a distinctive New Wave disc and Welcome Home is a wonderful set of songs by a group growing together. The compilation Coming Up Close features sixteen songs and provides a very good overview of the band’s work.

Mann’s solo work is centered on her smart, often wistful lyrics, quietly earthy vocals, and distinctly melodic song craft. All eight albums have wonderful songs. The finest is Lost In Space, another cohesive, literate meditation on the human condition. Her strong but somewhat inconsistent first two discs — Whatever and I’m With Stupid — are summarized nicely on Ultimate Collection, which also features some rarities and other gems. All the other albums are quite worthwhile, with Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo and @#%&*! Smilers rising above the pack.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending November 24, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go Wham! 2
R & B Cool It Now New Edition 1
Country You Could’ve Heard A Heart Break Johnny Lee 1
Adult Contemporary Penny Lover Lionel Richie 2
Rock Run to You Bryan Adams 2
Album Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution 17

EasyLover2PhilsThis week sees an unusual act enter the Hot 100. Duets between two singers (or even occasionally two groups) are relatively common. Recordings featuring lead vocalists of two different groups — who are still active with their bands — are quite rare. Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire had recorded one solo pop album that received little attention. For his second outing, he turned to Phil Collins, whose work outside of Genesis had outstripped the band’s singles performance. Collins wasn’t quite the white-hot success he would become in the coming year, but he was fresh off the #1 hit Against All Odds and preparing his third solo album. A regular producer and session musician for other artists, he agreed to work with Bailey.

This week Easy Lover, co-written by the two Phillips and Nathan East, bowed at #63. Initially credited just to Bailey, the fact that Collins’ distinctive vocals are part of the mix from the first line resulted in radio stations and the press treating it like a duet. It’s a fun romp that made it all the way to #2, trapped behind the bombast of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is. Bailey never matched Collins’ solo success, although he has released well-regarded jazz and gospel albums. He also continues to record and perform as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Song of the Day, November 21: The Barring of the Door by Silly Sisters

SillyBarringToday’s song is The Barring of the Door. A traditional British song (Roud 115, Child 275), it’s an amusing domestic tale also known as John Blunt (after one of the principles) and Get Up and Bar the Door. The couple in the song argue over who should bar the door to their home, angrily making a pact that the first to speak must perform the chore. They are so stubborn in their resolve that even the presence of burglars in their home does not move them to speak or act. The burglars finally go to far, prompting an outburst from the husband, followed by the wife gleefully demanding that he bar the door since he lost the wager.

Given the nature of the story, there are many versions of the song with added verses and a wide range of ribaldry. It has been recorded many times as well, including fine versions by Ewan MacColl and Martin Carthy. One of the nicest appears on the second collaboration between Maddy Prior and June Tabor, now formally calling themselves Silly Sisters. With a sprightly musical backing, they weave a fine harmony, clearly enjoying the silly tale.

Enjoy this delightful rendition of a traditional tune today.

Song of the Day, November 20: Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed

ReedWildToday’s song is Lou Reed’s only Top 40 entry, Walk On the Wild Side. It appears on his magnificent second solo album, Transformer. Working with producer David Bowie, Reed found a new voice for his tales of the out-of-luck, downtrodden, and marginalized, celebrating them with empathy and wit.

Wild Side is a series of biographical sketches, telling the backstories of some of the people Reed met during his time at Andy Warhol’s Factory. Adding a bit of wry joy to his usual deadpan delivery, he celebrates their courage and individuality while honestly relating their stories. Thunderthighs, a quartet of talented female vocalists, provide delightful harmonies and a distinctive doo-doo-doo musical break. The upbeat feel of the song caught radio programmers attention, allowing a song about drag queens with an explicit reference to oral sex to crack the Top 20, peaking at #16.

A highlight of Reed’s masterpiece album, it’s one of his finest moments. Enjoy this classic hit today.

Song of the Day, November 19: Sulk by Billy Bragg

BraggSulkToday’s song is Sulk by Billy Bragg. He included it on the Accident Waiting to Happen EP released in 1992. It’s a marvelous dissection of a broken relationship, with the narrator asking his partner to be honest about where they stand rather than offering a chilly silence. Bragg is in marvelous voice, displaying his growing confidence and richer nuance of delivery. The track benefits more from the richer instrumentation of his mid-period work than many other songs, with the result being a splendid three minutes of pop mastery.

If you hate me, why don’t you go?
And if you love me, why don’t you let me know?
But you just won’t give me an inch, so
You just sulk.

Enjoy this musical gem today.

Song of the Day, November 18: Matty Groves by Fairport Convention

FapCoMattyToday’s song is one of the most compelling moments in the early days of the British folk rock movement. Matty Groves is a very old traditional British ballad (Roud 52, Child 91). There are references to it dating back to 1613 making it likely that it’s been around since as early as the 14th Century. It’s a classic murder story, which accounts for much of its appeal, and exists in multiple versions with the names of the players changed but the basic events surviving surprisingly intact.

The wife of a nobleman takes advantage of his absence to invite a young man (Matty Groves) to share her bed. A servant overhears their plans and runs off to warn his master. The master returns and catches the pair in flagrante, challenging Matty to a duel. After allowing the young man to dress, lending him a sword, and giving him the first strike, the master kills Matty, only to find that his wife still prefers the dead man. He kills her in a rage and orders the pair buried together, but with “my lady at the top, for she was of noble kin.”

Fairport Convention were in a period of significant transition when they took up the song. Drummer Martin Lamble had been killed in a van crash that injured the rest of the band; the brilliant Dave Mattacks came on board to replace him. Singer Ian Matthews departed, not interested in the band’s move toward traditional music. Veteran folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick joined full-time after pitching in on the second album. Vocalist Sandy Denny, bassist Ashley Hutchings, and guitarists Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol kept the push for more traditional songs, with Hutchings doing significant research before the recording sessions. Wedding that music (plus some very folky originals) to their growing rock confidence, they created the masterpiece album Liege and Lief.

Matty Groves is perhaps the finest track on the disc, a perfect merger of a beloved song with long traditions and the band’s superb chops. The rhythm section of Hutchings/Mattacks/Nicol is amazing, propelling the whole song along with a driving beat. Sandy Denny is in fine voice, a clarion call of urgency as she tells the tragic tale. Thompson, already known for his guitar pyrotechnics, found the perfect foil in the brilliant fiddling of Swarbrick. The two coil around each other, adding a sneaky, sinister groove to the track. After the story is complete, things break into a three-minute jam with Thompson and Swarb’s instrumental work rivalling Denny’s vocal delivery on the first half. It’s folk rock at its finest, establishing Fairport as a force to be reckoned with.

Enjoy this musical masterpiece today.

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