Listen to this track by dual-frontman outfit and pop-music-with-a-head-for-wordplay purveyors General Public. It’s “Tenderness”, their biggest hit as taken from the debut record in 1984, All The Rage. The song would make them more of a chart draw in North American showings than in their native UK, with top forty play and heavy video rotation too.
General Public was something of a Two Tone and British second wave ska survivor band, featuring members of The Beat and The Specials. This new band also included members of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and even, briefly, Mick Jones of the Clash before the record was released. The two primaries would be Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling who had been the lead vocalists for the aforementioned Beat, a band that had made a lot of headway in North America through college radio before fragmenting by 1983.
This song was the second single from their debut album, with the self-referential “General Public” being the first. And it made a cultural impact in a hurry, being a part of soundtrack albums (Weird Science), and on MTV that got the song heard by new audiences.
And speaking of audiences, what did the success of this song mean where the cultural landscape in North America was concerned? (more…)
Listen to this track by London pop musical era cross-polinator duo Groove Armada. It’s “At The River”, a single from 1997 that was re-released two years later as a part of their Vertigo album.
The album was released during a period when chillout and downtempo beats were becoming equally celebrated in clubs and on the radio as pop songs in Britain. As such, both contexts and audiences are served here, with pop hooks and beats intertwining to make one of the most appealing confections of a genre that marked the times before the 20th century became the early 21st.
The central hook here comes from tin pan alley pop singer Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod”, a single from 1957 that came in turn out of a poem as written by one Claire Rothrock who’d fallen in love with the titular destination. The song was a hit, salty air and quaint little villages and all, and Patti Page would be celebrated by the region of Cape Cod for many years after for being a cultural ambassador because of her hit with this earlier pop single.
But, what’s it doing being referenced on a late-20th century dance record made in rainy London? (more…)
Listen to this track by future Fleetwood Mac stalwarts and Californian folk duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, AKA Buckingham Nicks. It’s “Frozen Love”, the closing track to their 1973 pre-Mac record called, appropriately Buckingham Nicks. It would be their sole (to date!) album together as a duo.
The record was created when the two young musicians were championed by producer and engineer Keith Olson, in turn helped by sessioner Waddy Wachtel who would be a frequent collaborator with Stevie Nicks in her solo career years later. Before they were signed as a duo, Buckingham and Nicks had both been a part of a rock band, Fritz, that had served as an opening act for some of the biggest acts of the late-60s, including Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jefferson Airplane. Before that, the two had known each other in high school, and had informally collaborated since they were teens.
When Fritz broke up, the two splintered into a duo, and eventually were signed to Polydor, whereupon they’d recorded this debut album that established both musicians as unique and supremely gifted singer-songwriters. But, the record didn’t sell, thanks to the inattention of Polydor at the time.
Showbiz strikes again!
But, this track in particular would help to lead the two out of the pop music briar patch. (more…)
Listen to this track by groove-oriented post-post-punk indie-rock outfit from Glasgow, Franz Ferdinand. It’s “Jacqueline” the opening track to their 2004 Mercury Prize-winning debut record cleverly entitled Franz Ferdinand.
The band took their sound from various sources, particularly from the late-70s and early 80s new wave and disco, with a simple goal in mind; to make records girls can dance to. It’s a good goal when you’re looking to make pop music, sell records, and to bring things back home where pop music that speaks to an audience is concerned.
At the time, the band was a part of a retro movement that drew from this same era, perhaps with similar goals. But, what separated Franz Ferdinand from the crowd was this; they had the songs.
Beyond that, they had something else, too. (more…)
Listen to this track by self-motivated pop song interpreter and songwriter Kirsty MacColl. It’s “A New England”, her 1984 single of Billy Bragg’s original song that would get her to the top ten in Britain.
By the time this single was recorded, MacColl was a latter-day signee to Stiff records. While there, she’d record a few singles. But, it would be this one that would make the most impact during her tenure there, with a tale of a young person suddenly confronting the end of a relationship, corresponding with the end of innocence, too. It also talks about love and its complexities, and its power to create as much disappointment as it does to create joy.
Besides filling out the song in an arrangement full of jangly guitars and spacious production, it’s MacColl’s ability to carry the material off which separated it from it’s original context, and created a new one in its place. And the song’s author would help with that process. (more…)
Listen to this track by British Invasion enthusiasts and power pop founding fathers from Cleveland Ohio, The Raspberries. It’s “Go All The Way”, their top five hit single also featured on their 1972 debut record Raspberries.
The Raspberries were a pretty singular group, even if you can tell they’re wearing their influences on their sleeve. By 1972, those very bands who had furthered the cause of guitar-based pop music you hear in this song had gone on to other projects. Art rock, rock operas, confessional singer-songwriter albums were common artistic avenues by the early ’70s while the four bobbing heads and catchy choruses model of the ’60s was left behind. Rock music as a form had expanded beyond that. Some would say it had grown up.
So, how did the Raspberries get their top five hit, given that the musical traditions they’re drawing from had been largely left in the past? (more…)
Listen to this track by acid jazz six-string slinger Ronny Jordan. It’s “So What”, a single as taken from his 1992 record The Antidote. The album was a part of a movement to link post-bop jazz with early ’90s hip hop and R&B of which Ronny Jordan was a major player, based in Britain but making impact in North America too.
This piece is well established in jazz history, originally the centerpiece and lead track to 1959′s Kind of Blue album by Miles Davis, a game-changing release that led jazz into a new era in the 1960s. Jordan wasn’t the first guitarist to cover the song. Grant Green and George Benson would both release versions of the song, two guitarists that Jordan would count among his musical forebears. But, Jordan’s innovation was in bringing it into a new milieu outside of jazz that included hip hop beats and a distinctive R&B feel.
Jazz has always been treated as a sacred trust, by critics and by musicians too. The attempts to marry other music to how jazz is defined has had a mixed history, celebrated by many, and condemned by others. The conflict around it has mostly been about preserving a tradition. But, the attempts to push it in new directions had to do with bringing it new life, in turn by making it culturally available to new audiences.
How is that played out here? (more…)