Song of the Day, May 14: Fabulous Garden by Kirsty MacColl

KirstyFabGardToday’s song is a hidden gem by pop genius Kirsty MacColl. For a few years in the late 80s and early 90s, MacColl was everywhere. Her vocals graced albums by a wide array of artists and she turned out a steady stream of her own wonderful discs. She was writing so many songs that some great tracks wound up relegated to bonus and b-side status.

One such standout appeared as the B-side to the single Can’t Stop Killing You from Titanic Days. A bitter dissection of a failed relationship, it features some smart lyrics and a lush delivery. Musically it comes across like a sweet love song and MacColl’s nicely understated delivery makes the sting in its tail even more effective.

If I gave you an inch for every time I was hurt
I’d be pushing up daisies six feet under the dirt
And if you gave me a flower for every broken vow
We’d have a fabulous garden by now

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, September 10: No Victims by Kirsty MacColl

KirstyVictimsToday’s song is No Victims by Kirsty MacColl. It appears on her brilliant second album, Kite, her return to a career of her own after establishing herself as a flawless backup and harmony vocalist. It’s a nice song of independence, with the singer declaring herself

No victim to pity and cry for

A powerful statement wrapped in a beautiful pop setting, it’s one of the finest songs MacColl wrote. It also shows off her brilliant vocal knowledge. A famous perfectionist, she recorded multiple tracks of her own vocals from a wide variety of locations around the studio. The final production treats the listener to a gorgeous chorus of Kirstys chanting “no” in a swirling, potent declaration.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Album of the Week, March 16: Kite by Kirsty MacColl

KiteKirsty MacColl was surrounded by music from birth. Her father was folk legend Ewan MacColl and her mother dancer Jean Newlove. She and her brothers demonstrated an interest — and talent — for music from an early age. After finishing school, Kirsty began singing backup with a local punk band, Drug Addix. An executive at Stiff Records heard their EP and was unimpressed, except for the heavenly voice of the backing singer. Kirsty was signed to the label and released her debut single, They Don’t Know — later a trans-Atlantic hit for Tracey Ullman. She continued to release singles and one album with little impact. Stiff went out of business, leaving her without a label and with some confusion about her contractual obligations.

She met and married superstar producer Steve Lillywhite, who made the most of her vocal talents on many of the songs he produced. Her uncanny sense of harmony, strong work ethic, and ability to blend with a variety of singers brought her into high demand. She worked with dozens of artists, most notably the Pogues, Billy Bragg, and the Wonder Stuff. Her work with the Pogues landed her a #2 single in the UK and a new record deal. In late 1988, she headed into the studio and turned out an amazing album tha proved without a doubt that she was more than just a brilliant backup singer.

Title Kite
Act Kirsty MacColl
Label Charisma Release Date May 8, 1989
Producer Steve Lillywhite
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  34
Tracks
  1. Innocence
  2. Free World
  3. Mother’s Ruin
  4. Days
  5. No Victims
  6. Fifteen Minutes
  7. Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim!
  8. Tread Lightly
  9. What Do Pretty Girls Do?
  10. Dancing In Limbo
  11. The End of A Perfect Day
  12. You and Me Baby

Kite shows off her songwriting, featuring only one cover and three co-writing credits (two with guitarist Johnny Marr, who appears on the album as well). Her sense of fun, skepticism about human motives, and sharp insights form a solid set of tracks, all graced with her amazing vocals.

Things kick off with the sharp Innocence, a track that ironically negates its title as it dissects a heartless executive for his behavior. Witty and pointed, it announces her impatience with the disingenuous. Free World looks at a world crumbling around the edges, demanding personal action to improve the situation. They create a nice one-two punch, announcing Kirsty’s renewed power. Mother’s Ruin slows down the pace while looking at a more personal disintegration. It’s a sad, lovely song that shows off a near-country aspect of her vocals. Next up is the one cover, Ray Davies’ Days, a nostalgic song about lost love. She makes the most of it, lending the song a tender energy.

After those darker ponderings, Kirsty announces her determination with the potent No Victims. It’s a nice testament, especially as she recaptures her career. With some nice sequencing, Fifteen Minutes, looks at how fleeting fame can by, while also skewering someone who might have had fourteen minutes more than he deserved. A trademark of Kirsty’s songwriting is the brilliant kiss-off song. Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim! is a perfect example. With a lovely waltz tempo and more bracing wit, she puts an errant suitor firmly in his place. Tread Lightly shows off another side, making it clear that there is fragility mixed with the determination. It’s a lovely song of tenderness and need, perfectly sung.

What Do Pretty Girls Do? is another look at how fleeting success can be. Sympathetic and demanding at the same time, it’s a powerful look at the pressures on women to conform to an arbitrary beauty standard. Dancing In Limbo is a nicely crafted song about a stagnant relationship. The fragile, circular music perfectly fits the lyrics, capturing a sense of hopelessness. The End of A Perfect Day, on the other hand, is a charming celebration of a wonderful romance. Coy and forthcoming by turns, Kirsty turns in a very fine vocal, making the most of the song. She saves the best for last, ending the album with the beautiful You and Me Baby. It’s one of the finest songs of her career, a sweet lullaby to a couple who work well together through thick and thin.

[The CD includes three bonus tracks that actually add something to the album. Teaming with Marr, she rips off a perfectly angry cover of the Smiths’ You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby. La Foret de Mimosas is an enchanting French language song of love, betrayal and vengeance. Sticking with French, she wraps things up with a spot-on cover of Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Complainte Pour Ste. Catherine, lending it a spine-chilling vocal and spirited delivery. ]

FURTHER LISTENING: Before her tragic death in a boating accident in 2000 (at the age of 41), Kirsty MacColl continued to work with many other artists while occasionally recording her own wonderful albums. All three that followed Kite have something to offer. Electric Landlady is the most inconsistent but has some real high points as she plays with a wider variety of song styles than her usual folky pop. Titanic Days is her darkest album, featuring some of her best-known songs. The finest is Tropical Brainstorm, a joyous album that announced her powerful return to music just before her death. Galore is a solid compilation of album tracks and singles that covers most of her career.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending February 25, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Jump Van Halen 1
R & B Encore Cheryl Lynn 1
Country Stay Young Don Williams 1
Adult Contemporary Think of Laura Christopher Cross 4
Rock Jump Van Halen 6
Album Thriller Michael Jackson 30

UllmanTDKThis week sees a celebrated comedian debut with her lone Top 40 hit. Tracey Ullman began her career as a dancer at the age of 16 and soon branched out into comedy. She became famous for her wide variety of characters and developed a solid following in the UK. She also enjoyed singing, and parlayed her comedy success into a recording contract. Her first album came out in 1983 and was very successful at home. In the US, where Ullman was still relatively unknown, she managed one big single. They Don’t Know was written and originally recorded by the talented Kirsty MacColl. The brilliant pop number was enormously catchy (and featured lovely backing vocals by MacColl). It entered the Hot 100 at #63 this week and charted for four months, peaking at #8 in late April. Ullman continued to chart in the UK, but only had one more minor hit in the US. She continues to perform her unique brand of observational and character-based comedy today with great success.

Song of the Day, February 7: In These Shoes? by Kirsty MacColl

KirstyShoesToday’s song is In These Shoes? by Kirsty MacColl. After label difficulties and a painful divorce, MacColl vowed not to return to the studio until she could make a record she enjoyed. She was true to her word, and the resulting disc — Tropical Brainstorm — is fun from start to finish, one of her finest efforts. This song is a standout, showing off her wit and talent for storytelling.

Told in three parts, the narrator describes her interactions with three different men who offer her varying assignations. Although tempted, she refuses to sacrifice her footwear for pleasure, demanding that they fit their desires into her prefered framework. It’s a lovely song of lust, spirit, independence and fun.

I once met a man with a sense of adventure
He was dressed to thrill wherever he went
He said “Let’s make love on a mountain top
Under the stars on a big hard rock”
I said “In these shoes?
I don’t think so”
I said “Honey, let’s do it here.”

The track was used brilliantly in the movie Kinky Boots as well, one of the highlights of the film. Enjoy this delightful song today.

Song of the Day, September 10: Titanic Days by Kirsty MacColl

MacCollTitanicToday’s song is Titanic Days by Kirsty MacColl. It’s the title track from her fourth album, her first after her bitter divorce from producer husband Steve Lillywhite. The process was so harrowing — and the result so dark — that she swore she would not record again until she could make a “happy album.” It opens with a nearly martial rhythm that soars with lush guitar and strings as she tells the story of a lusty encounter that signals the end of a broken relationship. In a clear, bright vocal, she wonders if there is any hope as she recalls the events , both dreamlike and brutally clear. As the vocals fade, the strings merge with ocean sounds, lulling as they call up the dangerous hints of the title. It’s a marvellous piece and one of her most complex and compelling.

Dream on he says
Dream on he always says
It’s sink or swim
In these titanic days

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, March 29: Billy Bragg’s A New England

BraggNewEngToday’s song is A New England written by Billy Bragg. It appears on his first album, Life’s A Riot with Spy Vs. Spy. A short, simple song, it features Bragg’s straightforward vocals and aggressive guitar. Like most of his music, it has a political bent, in this case personal politics. It kicks off with a line borrowed from Paul Simon’s Leaves That Are Green:

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song

From there, he looks at a stagnant relationship. While the words have a harsh edge, they realistically reflect on the way early romances may not grow as the participants do.

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but that were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care
I don’t want to change the world
I’m not looking for a new England
I’m just looking for another girl

NewEnglandKMTwo years later, Bragg’s friend and frequent collaborator Kirsty MacColl recorded her own version of the song. Where Bragg’s is bitter and sad, MacColl’s is angry, an independent woman singing to a man who abandoned her. The simple shift in pronouns throughout the lyrics creates a powerful change. Bragg wrote an additional verse just for MacColl which helps anchor her approach.

Once upon a time at home
I sat beside the telephone
Waiting for someone to pull me through
When at last it didn’t ring, I knew it wasn’t you

The single became her biggest hit, reaching #7 on the U.K. charts.

Enjoy Billy Bragg’s starkly powerful original and Kirsty MacColl’s brilliant cover today.

Song of the Day, March 15: England 2 Colombia 0 by Kirsty MacColl

KirstyEnglandToday’s song is England 2, Colombia 0 by Kirsty MacColl. It’s a standout track from her delightful album Tropical Brainstorm, a mini-comeback that was tragically her final release.

The song is a wonderful bit of wit, romance gone awry, and classic Kirsty “oh no, you don’t” lyrics. The premise is a single woman looking for companionship at a soccer match. She meets a promising man, only to discover that he’s married with children. She feels as devastated as the losing team; unlike the Colombians, however, she has the option to walk away a winner by rejecting his sleazy advances.

You lied about your status
You lied about your life
You forgot you have three children
You forgot you have a wife
Now it’s England 2 Colombia 0
And I know just how those Colombians feel

In a career of lovely vocals and fantastic songs, this stands out above most of the pack. Enjoy this delightful live version of an amazing song today.

Song of the Day, October 10: Innocence by Kirsty MacColl

Today’s song is Innocence by Kirsty MacColl. It appears on her wonderful 1989 album, Kite, her most consistent and engaging collection of songs. The title is somewhat ironic, as MacColl skewers the subject of the song for wicked ways. The ways that “innocence has passed you by” are so numerous that the lyric works in an amazing word count in the course of four minutes. MacColl hammers out the vocal nicely, delivering one observation after another with withering wit.

Oh innocence has passed you by
A long, long time ago
I was the fly upon your wall
And I saw what you know
Your pornographic priestess left you for another guy
You frighten little children and you always wonder why
Always wonder why

Kirsty MacColl was born on this date in 1959; she died in a tragic boating accident in 2000 at the age of 41. Celebrate her too-short life and spectacular talent with this delightful song today.

Song of the Day, April 17: Free World by Kirsty MacColl

Today’s song is Free World by Kirsty MacColl. Another outstanding track from her great 1989 album, Kite, this one has a strong social tone with a personal edge.

I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
In this free world baby
Got to take it got to grab it
Got to get it up and shag it
In this free world

Enjoy this biting song today.

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