The Style Council Play “Shout To The Top”

Here’s a clip of left-leaning young soul rebels and bona fide pop collective The Style Council. It’s “Shout To The Top”, a single which appeared on the UK album Our Favourite Shop, and on the US album Internationalists, both released in their respective markets in 1985. The single appeared in October of 1984 on the British charts where it reached a respectable top ten showing.

Style Council Our Favourite ShopThis was during a time when social and economic issues were particularly polarized in Britain, and in North America as well, which may explain the political undercurrents in this song about being at the end of one’s rope, with nothing left to do but rage against the machine, so to speak. The Style Council helped to pioneer this approach to writing politically informed material as established on their earlier album Café Bleu aka My Ever Changing Moods as it was known in North America. The result was the creation of a sort of pop music political manifesto. Our Favourite Shop puts the band into their sharpest focus.

This artistic fluidity of the band was extensive, mixing Northern soul, jazz, mod-rock, and even early hip-hop sounds. Thematically speaking, they’d aim pretty high too, often bordering on the polemical, and sometimes into downright pretension. This would go south for them later in the decade when they strayed a bit too far, and when popularity and sales began to wane. But, in the mid-80s, leader Paul Weller, who had gained some similar thematic traction when he fronted The Jam, demonstrated his full array of pop smarts in this new musical milieu, along with the political content to be found in his lyrics to go along with them.

That’s why this song just zings. This is a bright, bouncy song about not taking it anymore, a shining soul-pop gem about being tired of being oppressed. You might wonder how it’s possible to get a top ten showing on the charts while making such strident statements about society, even if it is wrapped in a stunning pop sheen. But, this was the ’80s, friends!

Does that mean that audiences were more receptive to political messages in their pop at the time? Or did it mean that they weren’t listening very carefully? Was there another reason? Read more

Steely Dan Play “The Royal Scam”

Listen to this track by jazz-rock pseuds and sly cultural commentators Steely Dan. It’s “The Royal Scam”, the title track of their 1976 LP The Royal Scam. The song would close the set of that record, and arguably also close a phase in the career of a by-then studio bound band. They’d stopped touring two years before this, and would go even deeper into that artistic head space by their next record, the highly celebrated and meticulously wrought Aja the following year.

The Royal Scam catches them at the tail-end of their more straight-ahead rock as informed by jazz incarnation, but with some of the sonic edges still apparent on the tracks. This was a sound that can be easily identified in early hits like “Do It Again” and “Reeling In The Years”. It was developed completely by the time of 1973’s Countdown To Ecstasy and on through to this record, filtered through bassist/guitarist Walter Becker’s and singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen’s love of jazz, and jazz arrangement.

All the while, their songs had been lyrically populated by a pantheon of colourful American characters, from spoiled celebrity’s kids, to pretentious debutantes, to self-obsessed rich guys dabbling in eastern religions, to affable drug dealers. Each character was a part of a landscape that helped to make a subtle comment on society, but without being too earnest or moralistic about it. Mostly, listeners were meant to engage with the irony and sardonic humour underneath the lyrics, of which there is plenty to be had.

But, this song is different. Read more