Everything But The Girl – Another great Eighties band, singer Tracey Thorn and instrumentalist Ben Watt – they each wrote the songs. They seemed to arrive in 1984 fully formed, their sound unique, their style unlike any other. They sing slow and usually sad sort of songs, Tracey’s voice is haunting and low, subtle and gorgeous. Ben occasionally sings too, but his playing is gentle and matches the voice perfectly. They seem timeless to me, encapsulating the sort of sound of The Carpenters (see C) without the sickliness, the sensibility of the Sixties and Seventies without the pop stuff. Anyway, I discovered them slowly too and have worked back, buying a boxset of their first few albums to remind me what I had initially missed. Eden arrived in ’84 and was a gentle debut – no really obvious singles, but a nice collection. I particularly like opener ‘Each and Every One’ and ‘Frost and Fire’ – but sometimes it is hard to distinguish individual songs, the album has a feel and it is just so pleasant to listen to you don’t really notice that one song has ended and another has begun. Love Not Money followed a year later. Another gentle record full of yearning vocals and soft arrangements. Again, no tracks really stand out but a nice addition to my collection. Their third album Baby the Stars Still Shine Bright and they found their sound. A bit sparser production, less guitars, more orchestration and Tracey’s vocals centre and strong. The songs themselves were better too, more mature and dynamic. I really like this record; it seems far happier; several of the songs they wrote together too where before they wrote separately. Again, the songs tend to blend but I do like the opener ‘Come On Home’ and the closer ‘Little Hitlers’. Of course when we only had vinyl it was important that the first and last tracks on each side were winners – now, with CDs and wretched downloads, none of that seems to matter. Oh Well. Idlewild came out in ‘89; and now by album number 4, they seemed to have finally cracked it. The songs are even better; Tracey’s voice even more yearning and the production almost not there. Some great songs too; ‘I Always Was Your Girl’, the teenage memory ‘Oxford Street’ and the saddest song ever ‘The Night I Heard Caruso Sing’ sung by Ben about the places his father loved in Scotland and that now they were loading bombs into those hills. But all the songs are good on this one – hard to pick favourite; a classic album. Strange, during the Sixties I thought Music could get no better – then the Seventies became my favourite – but now I am really loving these Eighties bands. The Nineties saw Ben and Tracey recording their next album in L.A. The Language of Life is a silky smooth lounge album, the songs are almost indistinguishable as the production swamps everything in a syrupy laid-back jazz smooch. Boring as fuck. Only the track ‘Driving’ has any sort of life in it. Oh well. The follow-up, Worldwide (1991) was much better, Tracey’s voice clear and centre and the production sparkling; Maybe they had been looking for a new sound or a new audience, I don’t think they found either. But they returned with a great album and a good batch of songs. Best are ‘Misunderstanding’, ‘Frozen River’ and ‘Boxing and Pop Music’ – in all a great album, I love it. Then they released a covers album Accoustic which was great. Actually it is only half a covers record and half either original or re-recorded songs. Quite pleasant but not really one of their best. Some good versions of well-known songs but nothing really new. Amplified Heart (1994) was a better effort. A return to their trademark soft style, best songs ‘I Don’t Understand’, ‘Missing’ and ‘’We Walk the Same Line’. Then something strange happened, or maybe it was inevitable. The ‘Dance Music’ and ‘Rave Scene’ was sweeping the world, and a couple of DJs took two of their songs ‘Driving’ and ‘Missing’ and put ‘Dance Beats’ on and they became underground hits. Tracey Thorn recorded a couple of incredible tracks with Massive Attack (see M) for the album Protection, And they decided to record a whole album with a ‘Dance; sound; Walking Wounded (1996) was quite a big hit and had a couple of top ten singles too (it also had a brilliant cover photo). I really like the album, Tracey’s vocal fits smoothly into this trip-hop sound; the songs are quite good too, especially the title track and ‘Wrong’ and ‘Single’. The album was really quite a triumph. But the band were almost exhausted, Ben having major health problems and their next album was their last (so far). Temperamental (1999). This is a complete dance album with vocals almost incidental and sadly it seems to miss the whole point of Everything but the Girl, which was intelligent lyrics and gentle melodies. Oh well. Maybe they realized it too as this was their last effort, both almost retiring from the scene apart from occasional guest vocals, although Ben has released a couple of solo albums. I have 3 compilations of theirs, mostly because of rare ‘B’ sides etc. Home Movies (1993) this features a single cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s (see S) ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’, later covered by Rod Stewart (see S). Platinum Collection is a good compilation too – but the best is Like The Deserts Miss the Rain, which is a few rarities and Tracey’s songs with Massive Attack and later stuff including an Italian single ‘Coscovado’ – a geat dance track. And a few other re-mixes make this maybe one of the most interesting of their career.
Eurythmics – were a phenomenon of the Eighties. After the nonsense of punk and the advent of the New Romantics, pop really needed a new sound and the Eurythmics filled the void perfectly. Dave Stewart (see S) and Annie Lennox (see L) exuded modernity and chic, mastering the new sounds of drum machines and synths and a voice that could both shatter glass and soothe in the same sentence they took the World by storm. Every album was full of hits which are still popular today; none more so then their second Sweet Dreams 9are made of this) 1983. The title track is sheer brilliance with its bass line and gorgeous vocals, it just rolls along. Also great from that album is ‘Love Is A Stranger’, but I also like ‘Jennifer’ and ‘This Is the House’, which mirrors what Talking heads (see T) were singing about in America. A lovely album of songs. The same year they also released, on the back of huge success, Touch. Here their trademark sound was sharpened, the androgynous look ramped up and, if anything, the songs got even better. Three huge hits ‘Here Come The Rain Again’, ‘Who’s that Girl’ and best of all ‘Right by Your Side’. They were now unstoppable, in a way they had carried on the sound and look from Bowie (see B) and Roxy (see R) but with a bit more mass appeal., and that secret ingredient danceability. So, another great album where even the non-hits were damned good tracks. My next Eurythmics album is 1986’s Revenge. This is a more hard rock album, more guitars and less ‘poppy’ synths – somehow it works, and yet I miss the earlier sound. I suppose that five years of success must take its toll, constant touring and promoting new singles, all of which were hits too. Oh, it must be so tough at the top; or at least staying at the top. By now Eurythmics were rock royalty and could do anything – well, almost. Some great songs on this one – ‘Thorn In My Side’, ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ and ‘The Miracle of Love’. Dave Stewart still producing and the music for the songs, Annie wrote the lyrics. But I think strains were showing, as they inevitably must. And maybe we have a clue from the album titles, ‘Sweet Dreams’ ‘Touch’ ‘Revenge’ and now Savage (1989) – they were certainly having an on-off relationship at the time. Anyway, the album. Another absolute classic, with an edge this time – opener ‘Beethoven’ is not about the composer at all, but a relationship falling apart. ‘You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart’ says it all – there is even a song (quite cheerful as it happens) ‘Do You Want To break Up?’. The title track is a bitter sweet song, but much of the other songs somehow leave me feeling a bit flat.
The band broke up at the end of the Eighties after 9 albums, but reformed twenty years later for that lucrative World Tour and one more album. I also have a Greatest Hits, which is full of familiar old songs. Annie Lennox had a faltering career as a solo artist. Dave Stewart became a full-time record producer.
Melissa Etheridge – well, I have always been very partial to girl-singers, or to be correct female vocalists. And I have always been on the lookout for a new woman’s voice. And sometimes you find a gem, and sometimes they just don’t really succeed. Melissa falls into a half-way category. Her first album blew me away but it has been a case of diminishing returns and I stopped after about 4 studio albums. That is not to say she wasn’t a great singer – but somehow the magic mantle slipped and I lost interest. Her debut album 1988’s self-titled Melissa Etheridge had all the best songs and a raspy voice and intensity which seemed so new and vibrant, and a reminder of a recent past which was being overwhelmed by synth driven soft rock. But this record was indeed superb; one of the best debut albums in my collection – and I became a convert. Best songs ‘Similar Features’, ‘Chrome plated Heart’ and ‘Late September Dogs’. The great batch of songs were most probably the result of years of trying to break through, and she obviously brought her best songs to this record. It often seems to happen, and then when the record company want an album a year you have to write new ones which is far more difficult. Next up is a live promotional EP, Melissa Etheridge Live, which is now a real rarity. Superb vibrant versions of songs form her first album. Loved it.
I did buy her next album on vinyl but it failed to impress me as much although still a very good record Brave and Crazy., best tracks ‘No Souvenirs’, ‘You Can Sleep While I Drive’ and ‘Royal Station’. I have only bought her records now and then when I see them in charity shops or very cheap, Yes I Am (1992) was her breakthrough record and sold well, especially in her native America. Well, the record is okay – but somehow it doesn’t have the magic of her first record. Why is that? I mean, why do we love a certain record and yet another, possibly equally as good doesn’t hit the spot. I think that familiarity is the answer. The first record we buy of an artist is usually played to death and you know every song inside out, but the next ones are played and filed away and only listened to occasionally – but that first tone, the time you fell in love with that artist just stay sacred. It doesn’t always happen though; I have with certain artists liked them more with every new release. Anyway this record seems just a bit too shouty for my liking, as if she is trying that bit too hard. Not bad record at all though – best songs ‘Come to my Window’ and ‘I’m The Only One’. Only one other studi0 album 2001’s Skin, which I found more to my taste – a gentler sound, slightly deeper voice and not so strident. Best tracks – ‘It’s Only Me’, and ‘Please Forgive Me’. Ah, how often do I discover, in this archiving exercise that a record I had sort of rejected, put to one side and moved on to others – is a real gem. So, I will now keep at least one eye open for anything else from Melissa Etheridge, a real genuine artist of deep integrity – and not a bad singer either.
I also, of course have her Greatest Hits; which is a good place to start. One thing I am not sure I should mention – but Melissa has campaigned for years for gay rights – and like Joan Armatrading, her songs are always about you, gender unspecified. Still works brilliantly for me. And I quite like the songs I hadn’t had already…
The Enid – Well, another strange one. The Enid are a classically trained prog-rock group from the mid Seventies who successfully, but short-lived, achieved a small following by marrying Classical and Rock quite successfully. However rather than incorporating classical into rock they seemed to play and compose classical music using some rock guitars and drums. Led by pianist Robert Godfrey who had been associated with Barclay James Harvest (see B) they had a minor hit with Aerie Fairy Nonsense (1977) – a rather delightful light classical album with just a touch of pomp. It is really all one piece, to my ears at least. An oddity I must admit. In 1979 they released what was their best seller, Touch Me. I am not so fond of this as its predecessor, it isn’t so quaint – and frankly a bit boring. It is slightly ruined too by a rendition of ‘Land Of Hope and Glory’; however ‘Albion Fair’ is nice and ‘The Skye Boat Song’ a good ending. They went on and on and released many albums, none of which I have been tempted to buy. Maybe I just miss the singing (of which there is none) or just find it too repetitious.
John Entwistle – again a one -off. Of course, he was the bass player, and occasional songwriter for The Who (see W) – and who can argue with such credentials. One album only Boris The Spider (Live). The Who had a few periods of inactivity or semi-retirement and John toured with his own band The Ox. The actual album isn’t that good really – but still.
ENZSO – (1996) is another rarity. Eddie Rayner, keyboard player with Split Enz (see S) formed ENZSO, to play Split Enz songs with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a variety of singers. I had always loved the ENZ ever since seeing them at The Roundhouse in the mid-Seventies, and the had followed the careers of the Finn brothers after the band broke up (see F) and of course loved Crowded House (see C) so I bought the album. Wow. The familiarity of the Split Enz songs along with the grandiose classical flourishes are a great combination. A superb album with some great performances from the Finn boys and others. Researching this I have just found a second album which I will now scurry to buy.
Well, we have just lived through some remarkable years. Brexit, Trump, Corbyn and Johnson. No-one could have predicted it. So, what now?
Most importantly we are sliding very quickly, but not I believe inexorably, into a Right-wing Utopia of Intolerance and completely unfettered Free Market Capitalism with a very few winners and many many losers. Strangely too, political terms and names are meaningless. We have a ‘Conservative’ party hell-bent on tearing down the institutions that have governed our lives (and served us well) for generations (EU, NHS, Social Care and the entire Welfare State) while conserving nothing of the past; in fact they are prepared to smash our trading base in the wake of their ideaology. The Liberal Democrats are now neither liberal nor democrats (much as I deplored the referendum result, the only way to reverse it would have been a second referendum – not simply ignoring it). The SNP do not really want independence, or not for a while, so thay can continue to blame everything on England. And the Labour party, apart from an ever-narrowing Union base no longer really represents the working class, but rather enlightened middle class and young voters.
Which brings us to the real divide in Britain, and maybe in the whole world. We may have thought it was Brexit, or old against the young, or haves against have-nots. But the real divide is between Enlightment and Ignorance. And let me describe those two camps. Enlightenment has a disadvantage, as the very act of being enlightened means that one sees both sides of the story, and may even have some sympathy with those who are unenlightened. We (and of course I count myself as one) believe that we are open to new ideas, that we listen and learn, and that above all we have the interests of others at heart. We don’t just want what is best for us personally. We would be happy to pay higher taxes for better services, even if others will use them more than we might. But the real problem is Ignorance. And here there are two sorts. There is the ignorance of those who just have not heard; and with the multiplicity of channels on TV and the prevalence of Social media it is maybe unsurprising that many simply have not listened to, or thought about what is really happening. But far more worrying is those who are ignorant and proud of it. Michael Gove publicly declared “We don’t need experts”, and amazingly even today “The UK does not need a trade deal with Europe”. Is this simply willful barrel thumping, or is it a new Political Dogma; we know what we ant and we wont listen to any criticism. Anyone who disagrees must be silenced. And we know here that keads…
So, in my mind that is the battle ahead – to enlighten people, and it starts with the young obviously, and to expose ignorance whenever it raises its ugly head. The Labour leadership gives us a chance to try to bring some reasoned sense back into our Political discourse. If Keir Starmer wins we stand a chance, if Lisa Nandy does it, it will be far harder but not impossible; but if Rebecca Long-Baily wins we will simply continue alienating working people. She may have all the ‘right’ policies in a perfect world, but all if that is meaningless unless we win the battle against Ignorance and actually win back voters.
Elton – The Nineties and Beyond
Strange to think that thirty years have passed….and over fifty since Elton’s first album. Where does the time go, indeed. So, into the Nineties Elton sailed, rock royalty – and yet no longer really relevant. But he simply couldn’t stop making music. 1993 saw Duets, where he sang alongside (but with modern technology I doubt that really happened) many famous and a few modern artists. He had a hit with Kiki Dee (True Love) but there is no real cohesion to the album. Still, it isn’t his worst – by far. Best songs – the slightly earlier duet with George Michaels (Don’t Go Breaking My Heart), Tammy Wynette (A Woman’s needs) and of course the best track on the album – Leonard Cohen (Born To Lose) which is a private LC joke of course. Made In England came out in 1995. Not a bad album at all, but far from his best. A few good songs – ‘Believe’, ‘Made In England’ and ‘Belfast’ – but overall the record leaves me flat. Two years later The Big Picture crept out and really should have been left on the studio floor. Despite 2 strong singles ‘Something Aboiut The Way You Look Tonight’ and ‘Live Like Horses (with Luciano Pavarotti) the album lacks any identity, any soul and any real feeling. The end of the Millenium saw 3 soundtrack albums, only one of which I bought – Aida. Lyrics by Tim Rice and a humourous take on the classic Opera have created a different Elton album altogether. Only a few of the songs are sung by Elton, and a host of other semi-famous singers fill out the score. Not sure if I really like it, but then I am not a great fan of musicals anyway. 2001 saw an album inspired by Ryan Adams, ( see A) an American singer songwriter of great promise. Elton and Bernie really tried to sound new and relevant – and in part they succeeded.
Songs From the West Coast – arrived in 2001, and it was a great album. Not quite as good as the Seventies classics but a fine collection of good songs. The album did a lot to restore Elton’s criticical reputation and sold pretty well too. It is almost impossible for those artists from the Sixties and Seventies to sell in anything like the numbers back then, but Elton did well with this record and had 2 hit singles ‘I Want Love’ and ‘This Train Don’t Stop Here No More’ – but really not a bad song on it. My favourites ‘Look Ma, No Hands’ and ‘Original Sin’. He followed this up with Peachtree Road (2004), which although critically well-received sold quite poorly. I quite like it, but it doesn’t have quite the warmth of it’s predecessor. Still, not a bad record at all. Fave tracks ‘Porch Swing In Tupelo’ and ‘My Elusive Drug’. The albums were coming slower now, which may have been a good thing. The Captain and The Kid came out in 2008 and it was very good; an obvious reference to their Seventies Brown Dirt Cowboy album. A continuation, in that many of the songs are autobiographical – not that that matters. One sort-of political song ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’ and a couple of references to friends who died in the Aids epidemic. Like it’s two predecessors this has a stripped down sound with no orchestra or jazz section. Some very good songs too – ‘Tinderbox’ ‘Just Like Noah’s Ark’ and the title track. And that leads us to my last Elton record (well, not quite as I have just ordered and ma waiting to listen to his last 2 albums) The Union (2010) – a collaboration with Leon Russell (see R). Leon wrote a few of the songs and there was some collaboration on a couple of others, the majority were written by Elton and Bernie. Producer T. Bone Burnett brought a Southern sensibility to the sound of the record which is lovely. A really good record, but as much a Leon as an Elton. Best tracks, the title track and ‘800 Dollar Shoes’ – but really not a bad song on it.
And apart from the obligatory Greatest Hits – that is that. Mind you – what a Greatest Hits. In terms of poular music Elton ranks with the best.