Lead singer of The Zombies (who despite a couple of hits broke up in 1968) decided to go solo. He released the album One Year in 1971. I saw him that year at The Roundhouse with Joy, and was blown away. His voice always was beautiful and on this album it had room to dominate. The album’s songs chronicle a year in Colin’s life, and while highly personal, and featuring a sad breakup ‘Caroline Goodbye’, some very sad songs ‘Misty Roses’ (with a sparse classical backing) and eventual recovery ‘Say You Don’t Mind’ – the songs are hauntingly beautiful. Backed in part by Chris White and Rod Argent (ex Zombies, who wrote three of the tracks) there is a completeness to the album, every song seems to flow from one to the next, and Colin’s voice, yearning and sad and yet very intimate, has never sounded better. The album never flags and has a presence and delicacy combined with subtle power and such warmth; I played this to death when I first got it, and return to it again and again. This was a time when record companies gave artist’s the freedom to create. Colin has recorded many albums and collaborations ever since – solo, as part of the Alan Parson’s Project, and lately re-uniting with Rod and The Zombies; a unique voice and talent. I have almost everything he has ever recorded, and eagerly buy the next instalment – though nothing quite matches this first album.
An American singer, songwriter and pianist; she was apparently a child prodigy on the piano. This, her debut album was released in 1992 to pretty rave reviews which I read about. I have always had a penchant for female singer-songwriters; I am always looking for that distinctive style or voice. The album is quite autobiographical, detailing a sexual assault and discovering her own sexuality, as well as alienation and rejection. Not that it is miserable, but a bit ‘in your face’. It went to 14 in the UK charts. Her voice is quite startling at times, swooping up and down – a bit like Kate Bush. I played the album a lot at the time, but now find it a bit tiresome and repetitive. I prefer a couple of her later offerings. She is still recording and releasing albums. Maybe, this is one artist in this series that few people have heard of. Worth listening though to ‘Me And A Gun’, ‘China’ and ‘Silent All These Years’.
Another from 1983 (I always thought ’72 was The year but maybe ’83 was pretty good too) and what was this appearing like a quiet explosion on the music scene? The title was strange and the cover, imitating a Penguin paperback with a single industrial light was perplexing. But even more surprising – the original vinyl played at 45rpm and lasted just 7 songs and under 16 minutes of voice and abrasive electric guitar. But what a debut – biting words and biting chords and a ‘post punk’ feel. The cassette even had just one side recorded with the other left blank for you to put what you liked on it. I think it also had a sticker telling customers to only pay £1.99 for it. Bragg was, and remains staunchly left-wing, and his songs speak in an authentic voice of unemployment and the bitterness of poverty ‘To Have And Have Not’– but also of hope ‘A New England’ and love ‘The Milkman Of Human Kindness’. Every song is superb and Billy’s playing is strangely beautiful in it’s simplicity and his voice, sung in plain English, is great. He is still plying his trade and has a loyal following – but although his voice and songs have softened over the years, nothing can quite match the shock and amazement of his first debut album.
In the early Eighties there was a tiny new wave of intelligent new bands singing often beautiful and soulful pop songs; Prefab Sprout, Deacon Blue and my favourite Aztec Camera. Led by singer and guitarist Roddy Frame and drummer David Mulholland they released High land, Hard Rain in 1983 – the title I think refers to their native Scotland. The album was only a minor hit, but established them as a new force – part pop and part indie (though that label was hardly known back then). The album opens on the high note of ‘Oblivious’ and contains such gems as ‘Pillar to post’ and ‘Walk Out To Winter’, and my favourite, the melancholy ‘The Bugle Sounds Again’. They released six albums over 12 years before Roddy went solo, where his records were more infrequent and sold less well. They seemed to be unaffected by fame or the demands of the ‘Pop’ business and always retained their gentle blend of well-crafted songs and an immaculate sound. I still play them.
Well, not really his debut, as he had released a pretty poor album for Deram, self-titled – as, incidentally, this was originally. Though nowadays ‘Space Oddity’ is recognised as his real debut. A strange record in some ways. Of course it includes the brilliant number one it is named after, but most of the other tracks are quite different from his following albums (which never really followed any pattern anyway). The songs are really quite hippy, fey and downright strange in some ways – but, they have a way of worming themselves into your brain. I have always like the album – though I worked my way backwards after Ziggy Stardust. Best songs are ‘Janine’, ‘Unwashed and Slightly Dazed’ and ‘Memories Of A Free Festival’. A strange little record, but brilliant in its own quiet way – as, of course, everything he ever recorded became.
In 1981 a little known Avante-Garde performance artist released an album ‘Big Science’, which featured highlights from her 10hour stage show of spoken word and occasional music. Laurie played electric keyboards, violin and vocoder. Most of the music is sparse with plenty of room for her vocals, often spoken, sometimes sung. It is startling in its simplicity and originality. The success of the album was mostly the result of her 8minute single ‘O Superman’ which was championed by John Peel and reached #2 after a lot of radio play. Her songs are simple but catchy and totally unique. Best are ‘O Superman’, ‘From The Air’, ‘Walking and Falling’ and ‘Let X = X’. A completely individual album from a complete individual. Can’t imagine it happening today.
Multi instrumentalist Tom Scholz had been writing and playing in small bands since the late 60s, with little success. He made a demo tape, called Boston which was reviewed by Epic records who signed the band (which barely existed) in 1975 and insisted on them being recorded professionally. Scholz and a friend John Boylan tricked Epic by re-recording the tracks with a minimum of session players a
nd Scholz playing all keyboards and guitars. The eponymous album, released in ’76 sold by the bucket-load and singles released were big hits, especially on the new format FM radio. It sold over 17 million copies in America (and it still sells well)– and no wonder; it is brilliant. Lead track ‘More Than A Feeling’ is maybe the best, but there isn’t a poor song on it. On it’s own it almost created a sub-genre of soft-rock 70’s anthemic music. The tragedy is that Boston only released one other album, which was not so successful, and then Tom sort of retired, instead spending his time and money on developing electronic equipment. He has this century released 4 more albums under the name Boston, but none have caught the public’s approval like the brilliant debut.
I had a habit, which became an obsession, of buying CD singles – mostly at a couple of shops in Soho where they were often sold as promotions at about £1 a disc. I liked the format because you got 3 or 4 songs, often not on any album. One such was ‘Highway 5’ in 1991 by a band called The Blessing. I loved it, especially the deep and soulful vocals by William Topley; it reminded me of those classic black soul records of the 60’s, though the music was quite ‘rocky’. I searched out the album, which was full of great songs. It had a certain feel to it, as if the band had been playing together for years, but the songs were brilliantly melodic and very new sounding too. On top of this was that voice, so rich and evocative – you could swear it was some old black bluesman – but Mr. Topley was white. Best tracks are ‘Highway 5’, ‘Hurricane Room’ and the magnificent ‘Delta Rain’. The album sold quite well but slowly – over 125,000 – which was excellent for a debut. The follow-up sunk without a trace and the band broke up soon after. A pity, as I thought they were brilliant. Oh well.
The aptly titled debut album by the diminutive Icelandic singer Bjork Guomundsdottir (thank goodness she is known simply as Bjork) arrived in 1993. Technically she had released an album, as a child singer, in 1977 – but it is not generally recognised as her debut release. She had been in a pop group ‘The Sugarcubes’ but this Debut was a big departure from that. In fact, it was a departure from almost anything anyone had ever heard before – as all her albums have been. The shy half-smiling portrait on the cover belied her musical maturity. Well, this record was different, indeed there is nobody quite like Bjork. Love her or hate her, she has a style of singing and instrumentation that is both her own and instantly recognisable. Best tracks on this debut are ‘Human Behaviour’, ‘Venus as a Boy’ and ‘Big Time Sensuality’. At times it feels as if she is singing to an entirely different melody than the music – but somehow it works. Another great debut album.
An ironic title, as they were from the North, Hull in fact. Also the cover was controversial, to say the least (a woman fellating a gun). But the music was sublime….in fact, one of the very best English bands ever. Lead singer and main songwriter was Paul Heaton, formerly of The Housemartins. Later they were joined by a regular female vocalist, but on this album just Paul was singing mostly. But what a debut; from opener ‘Song For Whoever’, to abstract closer ‘I Love You (But You’re Boring)’ the songs are ironic and humorous, and even sometimes quite dangerous. The melodies are brilliant and they are both pure pop, and edgy at the same time. Though they went on to fame and fortune, this debut still holds its own. Best songs are the opener, ‘I’ll Sail This Ship Alone’, ‘You Keep it All In’ and the very sinister – but jolly ‘Woman In The Wall’ whose lyrics are almost nonsensical, absolutely shocking and yet very singalongable. A great album and superb debut – one of the very best.