10cc

 10cc

 Eric Stewart – circa 1980

“It’s just a silly phase I’m going through” – ’I’m Not In Love’ (Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart)

“We put the tape loops around this Studer Stereo Machine [a Studer tape recorder or tape machine] and then out to mike stands with little rollers on the top that they would run through and we could tension them there in the machine properly.  Then I fed them across to the sixteen track [recording] machine.”  These are the words of Eric Stewart of British rock band 10cc.  The virtually incomprehensible process he is describing is part of how, in 1975, 10cc managed to record the song ‘I’m Not In Love’, a song Stewart co-writes and sings.  It is one of the most technically complex pop music recordings up to that date and is probably the quartet’s best known song.  The recording studio is a home away from home for 10cc.

Eric Michael Stewart is born 20 January 1945 in Droylsden, Greater Manchester, England.  “After playing with local Manchester bands, I eventually joined a group called Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders,” recalls Eric Stewart, “and that lasted for about four years.”  The group is formed in 1963.  With Wayne Fontana at the helm, they have a hit in 1965 called ‘The Game Of Love’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1).  Eric Stewart continues, “Then Wayne split away [in late 1965] and we carried on as The Mindbenders and had more success, bigger success, and that went on for, I suppose, another four years.”

On 10 March 1966 Eric Stewart marries a girl named Gloria (born in 1958).  The couple met at a Mindbenders concert at Halifax Town Hall in 1964.  Gloria is a part-time model.  Eric and Gloria go on to have two children: a daughter named Dieta and a son named Jody (born in 1980).

In 1966 The Mindbenders do well on the charts with ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’ (UK no. 2, US no. 1), with Eric Stewart on lead vocals.  The Mindbenders line-up is Eric Stewart (vocals, guitar), Graham Foote (guitar), Jimmy O’Neil (keyboards), Bob Lang (bass) and Ric Rothwell / Paul Cox (drums).  In March 1968 Bob Lang is replaced on bass by Graham Gouldman.  The Mindbenders dissolve on 20 November 1968.

Graham Keith Gouldman is born 10 May 1946 in Broughton, Salford, England.  “My family comes from Russia and Poland,” Graham explains.  “They fled because of their Jewish identity [and the anti-Semitism associated with the Nazis during World War Two].  I grew up in Broughton Park in the northern part of Manchester.”  He continues, “I’m an only child…My Dad [Hymie] worked in clothing wholesale during the day, but he was really a writer.  He wrote plays, stories and articles and he was a massive part in me becoming a songwriter…My mother was very encouraging.  She used to act in the plays my father wrote as an amateur playwright…My parents also made music.”

Graham Gouldman meets the other two future members of 10cc [aside from Eric Stewart] when they are all school boys.  “Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, who have the same [Jewish] background [as me], grew up in Prestwich.  There was a rather big Jewish community in the north [of England].”  Kevin Godley goes to the same secondary school as Gouldman, North Cestrian Grammar School in Altringham.  All three boys – Gouldman, Godley and Creme – play music together at the local Jewish Lads Brigade.  “Kevin [Godley] seemed Bohemian: a bit of a beatnik, yet very down to earth,” Gouldman recalls.  “Lol was upbeat and enthusiastic.”

In 1963 Graham Gouldman begins playing in local bands.  He passes through the ranks of The High Spots, The Crevattes, The Planets and The Whirlwinds.  The last-named act is the most professional of the four.  In June 1964 The Whirlwinds release a single, a cover of 1950s U.S. rock star Buddy Holly’s ‘Look At Me’.  The B side of the single is ‘Baby, Not Like You’, a song written by Gouldman’s old acquaintance, Lol Creme.  In late 1964 The Whirlwinds break up.  In February 1965 Graham Gouldman joins a new band, The Mockingbirds.  Kevin Godley is said to have played drums with them but it would seem Godley changed his allegiance because it is also reported that Gouldman’s Mockingbirds had a friendly rivalry with another Manchester band, The Sabres, which includes both Godley and Creme.  By March 1968 Graham Gouldman has moved to join Eric Stewart in The Mindbenders until that band comes to an end in November 1968.

Although Graham Gouldman is a musician in bands in the Manchester area during the 1960s, he has a parallel career as a songwriter.  “I was just a writer in the early 1960s,” he says.  “I wrote songs for The Hollies, The Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits.”  Gouldman admits, “My Dad used to help me with lyrics.”  Some of Graham Gouldman’s best known compositions recorded by other acts are: ‘For Your Love’ by The Yardbirds (February 1965); ‘Heart Full Of Love’ by The Yardbirds (June 1965); ‘Bus Stop’ by The Hollies (June 1966); and ‘No Milk Today’ by Herman’s Hermits (October 1966).  ‘Bus Stop’ is the one about which Gouldman feels most proud.

Graham Gouldman records a solo album for RCA, ‘The Graham Gouldman Thing’ (1968).  After The Mindbenders split in 1968, Graham Gouldman goes to the U.S.A.  He works as a professional songwriter at the Kasenetz-Katz organisation.  While there, Gouldman meets U.S. pop star Neil Sedaka, who is also a songwriter.

Laurence Neil ‘Lol’ Creme is born 19 September 1947 in Prestwich, Lancashire, England.  The same locale is the birthplace for Kevin Michael Godley, born 7 October 1945.  ‘Lol’ is a common abbreviation for ‘Laurence’ in the Manchester area.  “My Dad had a music instrument shop,” says Kevin Godley – which helps explain his interest in music.  He is soon tapping along to hits by 1950s U.S. rock star Elvis Presley.  While attending North Cestrian Grammar School, Kevin Godley forms his first band, Group 17.  The members are all boys Godley met through the Jewish Lads Brigade, the same social organisation through which he meets both Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman.  Godley and Creme attend art school together (the Royal College of Art in Birmingham) as well as playing in local bands like The Sabres.  The duo study art and design, graduating in 1968.

In 1969 Graham Gouldman marries a girl named Susan.  They have two children, Sarah and Louis.  Lol Creme and Kevin Godley also become married men in the 1970s.  Lol Creme’s wife, Angie, is the sister of Eric Stewart’s wife, Gloria.  Lol and Angie have a son named Lalo.  Kevin Godley weds a girl named Susan – which is the same name as Graham Gouldman’s wife, but a different person.

In early 1969 Kevin Godley and Lol Creme record a single under the name of Frabjoy & The Runcible Spoon.  This is ‘I’m Beside Myself’ and it is released on the short-lived Marmalade label owned by Georgio Gomelsky (ex-manager of The Yardbirds and owner of the Crawdaddy Club, the venue that helped bring 1960s British rock giants The Rolling Stones to fame).  The song is recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, Cheshire, a recording studio owned by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman.  Stewart and Gouldman both play on ‘I’m Beside Myself’.  Stewart set up Strawberry Studios after The Mindbenders split.  “If Strawberry hadn’t existed, I doubt whether 10cc would have come together,” observes Graham Gouldman.

In 1970 the quartet of Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme are still working together experimenting with the possibilities at Strawberry Studios.  Gouldman says, “We were travelling around somewhere and Lol had started chanting this thing, ‘I’m a Neanderthal man’.”  Graham Gouldman exempts himself at first, so the trio of Stewart, Godley and Creme (who share the songwriting credit) work up ‘Neanderthal Man’ in the studio.  A goofy chant over thumping drums, ‘Neanderthal Man’ (UK no. 2, US no. 22) is released in 1970 becoming a surprise hit.  The trio take the name Hotlegs on the record label when it is issued by Fontana.  On the strength of the single’s success, Hotlegs issues an album, “Thinks: School Stinks’ (1970), and tours the U.K. as a support act to the more famous Moody Blues.  Graham Gouldman returns from a visit to the U.S. during this tour and joins Hotlegs on stage.

Graham Gouldman’s contact with Neil Sedaka results in the U.S. pop star recording two albums at Strawberry Studios – ‘Solitaire’ (1972) and ‘The Tra La Days Are Over’ (1973) – on which Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley all work.

A demo recording is sent to entrepreneur Jonathan King and it wins a recording contract with King’s newly created label, U.K.  Jonathan King also comes up with a new name for his signing: 10cc.  The name comes to King in a dream.  Kevin Godley says the “popular explanation [for the name], whether it’s the source of the dream or not, is that 10cc is supposedly the average male ejaculation.”  Graham Gouldman clarifies this further: “[Jonathan King’s] story was that he had a dream.  He saw a sign outside the Hammersmith Odeon that said,’10cc: The best band in the world.’  And then the other thing came in [about the metric total of semen ejaculated by the average male], which was quicker to explain.  And that’s become the popular version.”  “We paid the price [for the change of name] years later when we were touring America,” notes Godley.  Putting on a hyperbolic announcer’s voice, Godley mockingly imitates, “Ladies and gentlemen…Eye-Ock!”  It seems 10cc is sometimes mistaken for IOCC.

10cc is founded in 1972 with the line-up of: Eric Stewart (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Lol Creme (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Graham Gouldman (vocals, bass) and Kevin Godley (drums, vocals).

10cc is described as an art rock band – but this is not really accurate.  Most British art rock bands of the 1970s have pretensions to using elements of classical music and poetic allusions in their songs.  10cc are not so grandiose.  Glam rock is popular at the time but, aside from Eric Stewart’s fondness for power chords on the guitar, this is not a big influence on 10cc either.  They certainly avoid the glitter and make-up that goes with glam.  It is a bit broad, but 10cc are probably more correctly seen simply as a rock band or a pop group.  “It’s not prog, it’s not art rock – it’s 10cc music,” suggest Graham Gouldman.  “We were pop, albeit an extreme version, that’s because we had four pretty odd minds,” offers Lol Creme.  Kevin Godley adds, “We had The Noise, not The Look.”

Eric Stewart betrays some envy of Pink Floyd – another early 1970s quartet of British recording studio experimentalists – because they had the mystique and clout to be concentrating on albums and virtually ignoring singles.  “We did a lot of hit singles but we had to struggle to get the albums up the charts, especially in America…We never got a no. 1 album.”  However it is an earlier British quartet than Pink Floyd whom Stewart sees as their inspiration: “We were very Beatles-influenced.”  Britain’s biggest pop group of the 1960s were, like 10cc, fond of experimenting with the sonic possibilities of the recording studio.  “We took the mantle of The Beatles,” claims Stewart.  “We experimented on every song – you’ll never hear two that sound alike.”

The songwriting in 10cc is usually divided into two teams: Eric Stewart works with Graham Gouldman while Lol Creme works with Kevin Godley.  “And there was a healthy competition between the two factions,” claims Godley.  It’s tempting to see Stewart and Gouldman as more commercial and Godley and Creme as more experimental.  However, Godley and Creme came up through the same era of local Manchester bands as Stewart and Gouldman, and Stewart was the key figure in the birth of Strawberry Studios.  Even between Stewart and Gouldman there are differences.  Gouldman’s assessment is that, “Eric was more into rock ‘n’ roll and I was more into people like Burt Bacharach [a composer of sophisticated adult pop].”  Collectively, 10cc are fond of satirical, smart aleck stances in their songs.  “For us, the words are always as important as the music.  We were after that perfect chemistry of lyric and melody,” Graham Gouldman claims.  “I don’t think we are conscientiously cynical, but we do like to write about things that nobody else has written about,” says Gouldman.  “It’s quite easy to write a ‘downer’ song,” says Eric Stewart of more glum and serious writers.  “We find it’s quite easy to write about a serious subject and put it over in a humorous way.”  Taking in Stewart’s view, Gouldman simplifies it: “It’s like a cartoon.”

10cc’s first single, ‘Donna’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 53), is released in 1972.  This is the song that, in demo form, impressed Jonathan King enough to give the group a recording contract.  This song, a ‘clever parody of U.S. hits of the late 1950s’, is written by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.  Lol contributes the eye-watering high falsetto lead vocal.  “Whoa Donna, you make me stand up / You make me sit down, Donna,” runs the intentionally dumb lyrics, reaching a sort of peak with “Donna, I stand on my head for you.”

10cc first appear on British television show ‘Top of the Pops’ in September 1972.  While glam rock acts in feather boas and glittery jumpsuits are all the rage, 10cc are just ‘four men in jeans and denim shirts.’  “It was our first performance on TV and we just turned up in our everyday clothes,” says Graham Gouldman, illustrating their lack of allegiance to any perceived rock music style.

July 1973 brings ‘Rubber Bullets’ (UK no. 1, US no. 73, AUS no. 3).  This is another 1950s pastiche, a loving recreation of the past.  In this case, it seems to be a rather warped reincarnation of Elvis Presley’s 1957 hit ‘Jailhouse Rock’.  Musically, there is little resemblance, but thematically they are close.  “I went to a party at the local county jail,” pipes Lol Creme.  The festivities lead the authorities to “Load up, load up, the rubber bullets” to fire at the inmates and non-lethally quell the disturbance.  As though in a musical, Graham Gouldman’s deep basso voice gleefully intones, “I love to hear those convicts squeal / It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real.”  Eric Stewart says, “The BBC banned it [the song] because they thought it was about [the troubles in] Northern Ireland…It was about…like the Attica State Prison riot [a violent outbreak at Attica Prison in New York on 9 September 1971].”  ‘Rubber Bullets’ is written by the trio of Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman.

The debut album, ‘10cc’ (1973) (UK no. 36), is released in July on U.K. Records.  Like almost all their albums, this disc lists 10cc as the producers for the recording sessions.  Both ‘Donna’ and ‘Rubber Bullets’ are on this album.  Also present is the band’s next single, ‘The Dean And I’ (UK no. 10, AUS no. 61).  This is more 1950s-influenced pop, but with a larger serve of originality.  “Hey kids, let me tell you how I met your Mom,” calls Lol Creme.  “We were dancing and romancing at the senior prom / It was no infatuation but a gradual graduation / From a boy to a man, let me tell you while I can.” He declares, “But in the eyes of the Dean his daughter / Wasn’t doin’ what she shoulda oughtta.”  ‘The Dean And I’ is written by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.  Perhaps the best offering from the team of Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman on this album may be the bullish ‘Ships Don’t Just Disappear In The Night (Do They?)’.  This debut album attracts ‘sudden and considerable critical acclaim.’

10cc play their first live gig at Douglas on the Isle of Man in August 1973.  This performance introduces Paul Burgess, a second drummer.  Although he does not officially join the band at this time, Paul Burgess augments the group on tour from 1973 to 1976.

‘Sheet Music’ (1974) (UK no. 9, US no. 81) is released in May.  The second album by 10cc continues the group’s progress.  They tour the United States twice in 1974 and on one of these trips find inspiration for this album’s first single.  Eric Stewart explains: “We were crossing [the financial centre] Wall Street in New York in a stretch limousine celebrating we’d got in the charts with ‘Rubber Bullets’…Lol [Creme] said, ‘Wall Street!  The Wall Street shuffle!’ and I said, ‘Do the Wall Street shuffle.’”  Although Lol Creme helps inspire the track, it is Graham Gouldman who shares the songwriting credit with Stewart for this song.  Over a fat guitar riff, Stewart works through financial witticisms like, “You need a yen to make a mark if you wanna make money” in ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ (UK no. 10, US no. 103).  ‘Silly Love’ (UK no. 24) is co-written by Stewart and Creme.  The guitars are overblown to the point of distortion as Stewart’s narrator observes others trying to write love songs and concludes, “Take a little time / Make up your own rhyme / Don’t rely on mine / ‘Cos it’s silly.”

Early in 1975 10cc change record companies, signing with Mercury Records.  It’s a good deal for Mercury because, in March, 10cc deliver their all-time best album.  With typical tongue-in-cheek vim, it is title ‘The Original Soundtrack’ (1975) (UK no. 3, US no. 15) – although, of course, it is not the soundtrack to any movie.  The first single is ‘Life Is A Minestrone’ (UK no. 7, US no. 104, AUS no. 48), a Kevin Godley and Lol Creme composition.  Eric Stewart says the song comes from a partially-heard radio announcement in the car.  Lol: “Did that guy say life is a minestrone?”  A romping example of 10cc being ever so clever, this song advises, “Life is a minestrone / Served up with parmesan cheese / Death is a cold lasagne suspended in deep freeze / Love is a fire of flaming brandy upon a crepe suzette / Let’s get this romance cooking, honey, but let us not forget…”  Godley and Creme are also the authors of ‘Une Nuit A Paris’ (One Night In Paris), a little rock opera (running time 8:41) that is a compendium of French clichés.  The four members of 10cc play various characters in the tale of a newcomer to France who winds up being arrested for murder.  It’s even broken into three movements: ‘One Night In Paris’, ‘The Same Night In Paris’ and ‘Later The Same Night In Paris’.  “I was a stripper on the Champs Elysee / He was a gendarme in the gendarmerie,” coos Lol Creme, stuck with the female role.  “He was a pimp in a black beret / But he was an artiste in his own way.”  As if this was not ambitious enough, there is also the group composition, ‘The Second Sitting For The Last Supper’, a thundering piece that dares flirt with Biblical inspiration.  This album shows the breadth in the songwriting talent and recording studio mastery inherent in 10cc.  And it’s second single is their best song, ‘I’m Not In Love’.

‘Recognised as a pop classic’, 10cc ‘peaks creatively’ with ‘I’m Not In Love’ (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 3).  The song is written by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman and sung by Stewart.  “The idea for [‘I’m Not In Love’] comes around from my wife [Gloria] saying to me, ‘Why don’t you say you love me more often?’” explains Stewart.  “’Well, if I keep saying it, it’s going to lose credibility.’…I thought, ‘I am in love.  How do I get this across in another way?’…Once I had this idea to say, ‘I’m Not In Love’, I could give all the reasons why I was still totally in love with this person.”  Kevin Godley suggests, “It’s a subtext song.  You know you can actually say, ‘I’m not in love’…but you can feel the lie in his eyes.”  With this clever inversion, Stewart says, “We’d recorded a very simple backing track…with me on [Fender Rhodes] electric piano, a little rhythm guitar and Kevin playing a bass drum on a Moog synthesiser.”  But this is only half the story because what makes ‘I’m Not In Love’ special is the treatment that follows.  “Kevin Godley came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t we just use voices for everything?’” says Eric Stewart.  Godley suggests it will “probably sound like a piece of s***, but we’ll give it a go anyway.”  “It was Lol who came up with the idea of making tape loops,” acknowledges Eric Stewart.  Graham Gouldman adds, “So we went into the studio, the three of us [Gouldman, Godley and Creme] and went, ‘Aaahh’.”  Godley says, “Then we multi-tracked this same note.  It’s like this heroic, angelic sound of heaven.”  Eric Stewart says, “I think eventually [through multi-tracking] there were two hundred and fifty-six voices on these tracks…Because it was a chromatic scale, there was this lovely hissy kind of breathy sound like when you walk in a concert hall and people are just talking very quietly.  Just wonderful hiss…aah!”  There are other nice little touches.  The “Big boys don’t cry” female voice on the song is Kathy Redfern, the secretary at Strawberry Studios.  The sort of fracturing in the backing sound towards the end is achieved by adding the sound of a music box.  In the finished product, releases as a single in May 1975, Eric Stewart intones, “I’m not in love / So don’t forget it / It’s just a silly phase I’m going through.”  ‘I’m Not In Love’ is extremely successful in commercial terms too.  “It’s financially very good for us,” says Eric Stewart, but Kevin Godley laughingly contradicts him: “It broke my f***in’ heart ‘cos I didn’t write it [and so didn’t get any of its songwriting royalties]!”

‘How Dare You?’ (1976) (UK no. 5, US no. 47), 10cc’s fourth album, is released in January.  Defying expectations, the first single, ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ (UK no. 5, US no. 83, AUS no. 61), is not a mellow ballad in the mode of ‘I’m Not In Love’; it’s a full-blooded rocker.  Despite being written by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman – the same team who wrote the previous year’s big hit – this track is built on Stewart’s tight riff, with some interesting woodblock percussion for counterpoint.  Stewart reveals that the song’s origin is a phrase Gouldman’s father, Hymie, said to them: “He used to say, ‘Boys, art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake, okay?’”  Minus the ‘boys’ and ‘okay’, this becomes the chorus for the song.  The lyrics go on to say, “Keep me in exile the rest of my days / Burn me in hell but as long as it pays.”  More mild-mannered is ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’ (UK no. 6, US no. 60, AUS no. 62) which Stewart and Gouldman co-write with Lol Creme.  “American Airlines used to have this beautiful poster of this gorgeous stewardess inviting you on the plane,” recalls Eric Stewart.  “Her name wasn’t Mandy actually, it was something like…’I’m Cindy, fly me’.”  In this bass-heavy song, the narrator believes he is saved by this angelic flight attendant after a crash landing, but, “Oh, when they pulled me from the wreckage and her body couldn’t be found / Was it in my mind it seemed, I had a crazy dream, but I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no!’”  Kevin Godley’s wife, Susan, can be heard very briefly as the voice saying “hello?” on the track ‘Don’t Hang Up’.

10cc appear at England’s Knebworth Festival on 21 August 1976, but it is The Rolling Stones who headline the show.

In October 1976 Kevin Godley and Lol Creme leave 10cc.  “I was sorry to see them go.  But, we certainly did fall out at the time,” says Eric Stewart.  “I thought they were crazy…just walking away from something so…big and successful.”  With the benefit of hindsight, Graham Gouldman’s reaction is a little more cautious: “It was easier to deal with problems at the time we were the four of us.”

In April 1977 Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman take on four new members to form a new, six-piece 10cc.  Although these new musicians are added before the release of 10cc’s fifth album, they do not play on it since it was recorded earlier.  The new line-up is: Eric Stewart (vocals, guitar), Graham Gouldman (vocals, bass), Rick Fenn (guitar) (born 23 May 1953), Tony O’Malley (keyboards) (born 15 July 1948), Paul Burgess (drums) (born 28 September 1950) and Stuart Tosh (drums, vocals) (born 26 September 1951).  Unlike the previous 10cc, this is a less democratic unit; ‘Stewart and Gouldman are now firmly in control of all creative aspects.’

‘Deceptive Bends’ (1977) (UK no. 3, US no. 31) in May is credited to 10cc but is virtually all the work of Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman.  The songwriters, producers, singers and multi-instrumentalists are assisted only by Paul Burgess, who plays drums on the album.  ‘Good Morning Judge’ (UK no. 5, US no. 69, AUS no. 7) is another riff-based rocker.  The song’s narrator is a repeat offender who finds himself back in court: “Alcatraz is like a home sweet home / So wanted that I’m never alone.”  The jaunty ‘Things We Do For Love’ (UK no. 6, US no. 5, AUS no. 5) catalogues the irrational behaviour that goes with being besotted with another person: “Like walking in the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go / When you’re feeling like a part of you is dying.”  ‘People In Love’ (US no. 40, AUS no. 74) is a more straight-forward ballad.  Stewart and Gouldman try hard to be inventive on songs like ‘Marriage Bureau Rendezvous’, ‘Honeymoon With B Troop’ and ‘You’ve Got A Cold’.  ‘Modern Man Blues’ dips towards hard rock while ‘Feel The Benefit’ goes for a more expansive, cosmic feel.

The new 10cc line-up debuts with a concert recording, the double album ‘Live And Let Live’ (1977) (UK no. 14, US no. 146), released in autumn.

In February 1978 Duncan McKay (keyboards) (born 2 July 1950) replaces Tony O’Malley in 10cc.

‘Bloody Tourists’ (1978) (UK no. 3, US no. 69) in September is the real test for the new 10cc line-up.  Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman are credited as co-producers.  They also co-write the single ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ (UK no. 1, US no. 44, AUS no. 2), a reggae song with Graham Gouldman on lead vocals.  Eric Stewart explains that the song starts out based on personal experience: ”I was in Barbados at the time and I’m watching this white guy walking down the street behind this group of black guys.”  The visitor narrating the song professes, “I don’t like cricket – I love it,” and in subsequent verses, what he loves changes to ‘reggae’, ‘Jamaica’ and ‘her’.  The ‘her’ in the song purrs to him, “I’ve got it, you want it, my harvest is the best and if you try it you’ll like it / Wallow in a dreadlock holiday.”  ‘Dreadlocks’ are the strands of plaited hair worn by some Jamaicans, particularly those who identify themselves with the Rastafarian religion.  There is a loose thematic thread of foreign places and cultures on ‘Bloody Tourists’.  This runs through tracks like ‘Reds In My Bed’, ‘Tokyo’ and ‘From Rochdale To Ocho Rios’ (AUS no. 65).  Although most of the album is written by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, Stuart Tosh co-writes ‘Reds In My Bed’ with Eric Stewart and Tosh provides the lead vocal on that song as well.

“I had a ridiculous car crash in January 1979,” says Eric Stewart.  “I had to stay away…for about six months and the momentum of this big machine…slowed and slowed..”  Graham Gouldman ruefully notes, “Eric wasn’t the same after the accident he had…”

Graham Gouldman and his wife Susan divorce in 1979.  Gouldman releases a solo single, ‘Sunburn’ (UK no. 52, AUS no. 26), in 1979, the title song from the movie of the same name.  He goes on to record ‘Animalympics – Soundtrack’ (1980), another movie-related project.  Eric Stewart also releases a movie soundtrack, ‘Girls’ (1980), for a French film.

10cc regroup, but the band’s fortunes decline.  ‘Look Hear’ (1980) (UK no. 35, US no. 180) is sometimes known as ‘Are You Normal’ because those words are plastered across the cover in giant type.  It is the first of two albums released on Warner Bros. in the U.S.  This disc includes ‘One Two Five’ (AUS no. 85), a belated attempt to do a disco-influenced song (with one hundred and twenty-five beats to the minute, hence the title).  Duncan McKay leaves 10cc in 1981 and is replaced by new keyboardist Vic Emerson who plays on the next 10cc album, ‘Ten Out Of 10’ (1981).  Eric Stewart cuts another solo album, ‘Frooty Rooties’ (1982) before the next 10cc album, ‘Windows In The Jungle’ (1983) (UK no. 70).  Jamie Lane briefly plays drums with the group in 1983 before 10cc disbands in the same year.

When Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left 10cc in 1976 it was ‘to develop their new instrumental toy, The Gizmo.’  “It was a commercial bomb [The Gizmo}.  It died,” advises Godley.  Godley and Creme, working as a duo, record a series of albums: ‘Consequences’ (1977) (UK no. 52); ‘L’ (1978) (UK no. 47); ‘Freeze Frame’ (1979); ‘Ismism’ (1981) (UK no. 29) – renamed ‘Snack Attack’ (after one of the songs on the album) in the U.S.; ‘Birds Of Prey’ (1983); ‘The History Mix Volume 1’ (1985) (US no. 37); and ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ (1988).  Some of their more successful singles are: 1979’s ‘An Englishman In New York’ (from ‘Freeze Frame’); 1981’s ‘Under Your Thumb’ (UK no. 3) and ‘Wedding Bells’ (UK no. 7) (both from ‘Ismism’); and 1985’s ‘Cry’ (UK no. 19, US no. 16) (from ‘The History Mix Volume 1’).  Godley and Creme have a parallel career directing music videos for acts such as Duran Duran, Visage, Elton John, Herbie Hancock and The Police.

Eric Stewart works with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney in the mid-1980s.

From 1983 to 1990 Graham Gouldman collaborates with Californian multi-instrumentalist Andrew Gold as a duo called Wax.  They release the albums ‘Magnetic Heaven’ (1986) (US no. 101), ‘American English’ (1987) (UK no. 59) and ‘A Hundred Thousand In Fresh Notes’ (1989).  Wax’s best known single is 1987’s ‘Bridge To Your Heart’ (UK no. 12).

In 1988 Graham Gouldman marries his second wife, Gill.  They have two children, Rosanna (born 1990) and Alex (born 1993).

The classic 10cc line-up – Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme – reassembles in 1991 for the album ‘Meanwhile’ (1992).  This includes ‘Don’t Break The Promises’, a track Stewart and Gouldman co-write with Paul McCartney.  The classic quartet does not last for long.  Godley and Creme exit again in 1993.  10cc take on new members Steve Piggott (keyboards) and Gary Wallis (drums) (born 10 June 1964) in 1993, as well as welcoming back Stuart Tosh (drums) and Rick Fenn (guitar).  ‘Mirror Mirror’ (1995) is almost like two solo albums joined together.  It includes appearances from Stewart and Gouldman’s other collaborators, Paul McCartney and Andrew Gold.  In promoting the album, Piggott and Wallis are replaced by Alan Park (keyboards) and Geoff Dunn (drums) in 1995.  10cc disbands once again in 1995.

Graham Gouldman puts together a new 10cc in 1999.  The line-up is: Graham Gouldman (vocals, bass), Mick Wilson (lead vocals, percussion), Rick Fenn (guitar), Mike Stevens (keyboards) and Paul Burgess (drums).

Graham Gouldman and his second wife, Gill, divorce in 2000.

The latest model of 10cc is only a touring outfit; they do not record.  Instead, Graham Gouldman issues a solo album, ‘And Another Thing…’ (2000).  Gouldman’s former confederate, Eric Stewart, releases a solo record too: ‘Don Not Bend’ (2003).

A sixth member is added to 10cc in 2006, Keith Hayman (keyboards, vocals), but he leaves the act in 2011.

Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman continue their respective solo recording careers.  Stewart releases ‘Viva La Difference’ (2009) while Gouldman issues the album ‘Love And Work’ (2012).

10cc was born out of a desire to experiment in the recording studio.  Specifically, they were born in Strawberry Studios.  Since the band owned the studio, it gives some indication of the level of their commitment to the craft of sound recording.  This practice gave rise to achievements like ‘I’m Not In Love’ and a string of interesting albums.  10cc were at their best when they were the quartet of Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.  This gave them a nice balance between Stewart and Gouldman’s commercial nous and Godley and Creme’s experimental instincts.  After the bifurcation of this foursome in 1976, each camp produced some interesting and worthwhile work, but they seemed to miss the counterbalancing force of their absent comrades.  By the time those four worked together again in 1992, whatever magic existed between them seemed to have dissipated.  The experiment had run its course.  “I’ve got great memories of 10cc,” said Kevin Godley in 2009.  “I think we did pretty good work.”  10cc was an ‘entertaining, satirical pop/rock band.’  They recorded ‘distinctive, memorable and innovative hit records.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Very Best Of 10cc’ – Songwriting credits from the disc (Mercury Records Ltd. (London), 1997)
  2. 10cc – ‘I’m Not In Love’ – Making of (audio) documentary – 20 November 2010 (?)
  3. You Tube as at 2 July 2014
  4. theaudioarchive.com as at 2 July 2014
  5. wikipedia.org as at 5 May 2014
  6. ‘Flashez’ (Australian television program, ABC Network) – Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman interview conducted by Ray Burgess (1977)
  7. ‘The Daily Mail’ (U.K. newspaper) ‘The Wife’s Grumble that led to Pop’s Greatest Love Song: It made her Husband Write “I’m Not In Love”, and Boy did it Work – They’ve been Married for 52 Years’ by Jane Fryer (26 March 2018) (reproduced on dailymail.co.uk)
  8. ‘No Bus Stop Yet for Graham Gouldman’ – Graham Gouldman interview conducted by John Bruinsma (May 2003) (reproduced on johnbruinsma.nl)
  9. ‘The Daily Mail’ (U.K. newspaper) -‘The Name Came to us in a Dream: 10cc the Best Band in the World’ – Graham Gouldman interview conducted by Mark Hudson (26 May 2007) (reproduced on dailymail.co.uk)
  10. ‘I Write The Songs’ (radio program, BBC Radio Wales) – Eric Stewart interview conducted by Alan Thompson (reproduced on (15) below)
  11. ‘10cc: Legends in their Lunchtime’ – Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley interview conducted by Paul Dunoyer (7 August 2009) (reproduced on pauldunoyer.com)
  12. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 229, 230
  13. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 210
  14. theartofnoiseonline.com as at 4 July 2014
  15. wikianswers.com as at 2 July 2014
  16. 10ccfanclub.com
  17. allmusic.com, ‘Frabjoy & The Runcilble Spoon’ by Dave Thompson as at 4 July 2014
  18. ‘The Very Best Of 10cc’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Mercury Records Ltd. (London), 1997) p. 3, 5, 8, 10
  19. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 77, 259
  20. ‘10cc – Heartbreakers’ (U.K. video documentary – Channel 4?) (2001?)
  21. allmusic.com, ‘10cc’ by Jason Ankeny as at 16 June 2014
  22. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘It’s a Tragedy we didn’t stay Together’ – 10cc interview by Paul Lester (23 November 2012) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  23. lyricsfreak.com as at 27 June 2014, 15 September 2014
  24. songfacts.com as at 2 July 2014

Song lyrics copyright EMI Music Publishing with the exceptions of ‘Une Nuit A Paris’ (copyright unavailable) and ‘Things We Do For Love’ (EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group)

Last revised 5 December 2018

The Temptations

 The Temptations

 David Ruffin – circa 1967

 “It was hard times / I needed something to ease my troubled mind” – ’Cloud Nine’ (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong)

The emergency room of a hospital is a busy place.  The emergency room of the Hospital at the University of Philadelphia, situated at 3400 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. is no exception to this rule.  The staff regularly deals with a parade of human misery.  This catalogue of woe includes drug overdoses.  So, in a way, the events that take place in the early hours of 1 June 1991 are a familiar story.  It’s one more drug overdose that has to be treated.  However, most such patients are not helped into the emergency room by the driver of their limousine.  David Ruffin, former lead singer of the African-American male vocal group The Temptations, is the newest patient at the Hospital of the University of Philadelphia.  Ruffin collapsed in a crack house.  His driver sped him to the hospital and brought him inside.  Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, Ruffin expires at 3.55 a.m.  He was 50 years old and had thirty thousand dollars in cash on his person.  David Ruffin’s death is later ruled to be due to an overdose of cocaine.

Although David Ruffin may be the best known member of The Temptations, he was not part of the group’s original line-up.  Perhaps the best place to start the story of The Temptations is with Otis Williams.

Otis Williams is born Otis Miles, Jr. on 30 October 1941 in Texarkana, Texas, U.S.A.  He will become known for his booming baritone voice, leading to him sometimes being called ‘Big Daddy’.  Otis is the child of an unmarried couple, Otis Miles and Hazel Louise Williams.  The couple separate shortly after the child is born.  Hazel Williams moves to Detroit, Michigan, leaving Otis to be raised in Texas by his grandmother.  “I had to listen to a lot of gospel singers,” he recalls.  When he is 10, Otis goes to live with his mother in Detroit.  Rock ‘n’ roll comes along in the mid-1950s and, as Otis puts it, “I was turned on to the secular music of the time – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters, Billy Ward and his Dominoes.  Then I used to go and see the great rock ‘n’ roll shows at the Fox Theater [in Detroit].  The reaction to what The Cadillacs were doing – they were a vocal group – they had command of five thousand plus people at the Fox Theater.  And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I was 14 or 15 years old at the time.  That was the start of it all.”

Otis Miles, Jr. adopts his mother’s surname for his stagename, becoming Otis Williams.  In 1958 he puts together his first vocal group, Otis Williams & The Siberians.  The line-up is: Otis Williams (vocals), Eldridge ‘Al’ Bryant (vocals), James ‘Pee-Wee’ Crawford (vocals), Vernon Plain (vocals) and Arthur Walton (vocals).  Only one of these boys is fated to join Otis Williams in The Temptations: Elbridge ‘Al’ Bryant (28 September 1939 – 26 October 1975).  Otis Williams & The Siberians record only one single, ‘Pecos Kid’, in 1958.

In 1959 Otis Williams & The Siberians transform into Otis Williams & The Distants.  In the process, only Otis Williams and Al Bryant are retained.  They are joined by Melvin Franklin (vocals), Richard Street (vocals) and Albert ‘Mooch’ Harrell.  Only Melvin Franklin will go forward with Otis Williams and Al Bryant into The Temptations – though Richard Street will join The Temptations in later years.

Melvin Franklin (12 October 1942 – 23 February 1995) is born David Melvin Franklin in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.A.  His mother is Rose English.  His biological father is a preacher.  The child is the result of non-consensual sex.  Rose English goes on to marry Willard Franklin and move to Detroit.  In similar fashion to Otis Williams, Melvin stays with his grandmother until he is 10.  Melvin then goes to Detroit to live with his mother and stepfather.  Taking an interest in singing groups, Melvin Franklin becomes a bass vocalist.

Otis Williams & The Distants release two singles, both on Northern Records.  The songs are ‘Come On’ in 1959 and ‘Open Your Heart’ in 1960.  Neither of them is very successful.  They are credited to The Distants – without Otis Williams taking top billing.

Otis Williams checks out the competition around Detroit.  One act that impresses him is a vocal trio called The Primes.  The three members are Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams (no relation to Otis Williams) and Kell Osborne.  Two of them – Eddie Kendricks and Paul Wiliams – will become part of the founding line-up of The Temptations.

Eddie Kendricks (17 December 1939 – 5 October 1992) is born Edward James Kendrick (without the ‘s’) in Union Springs, Alabama, U.S.A.  He is the son of Johnny and Lee Bell Kendrick.  Eddie has a sister, Patricia, and three brothers: Charles, Robert and Clarence.  Eddie Kendricks – as he will become known – is nicknamed ‘Cornbread’ because of his fondness for this item of ‘soul food’ popular in the African-American community in the southern United States.  (Cornbread is made from cornmeal rather than the wheat flour used in more traditional bread.)  Eddie possesses a high, falsetto voice.  In the late 1940s, he and his family move to Birmingham, Alabama, and there he meets Paul Williams when they both sing in a church choir.

Paul Williams (2 July 1939 – 17 August 1973) is born in Birmingham, Alabama.  He is the son of Rufus and Sophia Williams.  Rufus Williams is a gospel singer, so Paul follows in his father’s footsteps.  As well as singing in the church choir with Eddie Kendricks, the two boys attend the same elementary school.  Paul Williams not only sings; he has a gift for dancing.  It is Paul Williams who choreographs the dance steps for which The Temptations will become justly renowned.

Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams move to Cleveland, Ohio, in search of fame and fortune as singers.  In 1955, they join forces with local singers as a vocal group called The Cavaliers.  The other members are Kell Osborne (12 March 1939 – 29 January 2012) and Wiley Waller.  In 1957 Wiley Waller drops out of the act, leaving The Cavaliers a trio.  Informed of the thriving music scene in Detroit, The Cavaliers decamp to that locale in 1959.

In Detroit, The Cavaliers change their name to The Primes.  The name is suggested by Milton Jenkins.  It is also Jenkins who suggests The Primes sponsor some ambitious local girls as a female spin-off of their act, The Primettes.  These girls are Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown.  After McGlown (and her replacement, Barbara Martin) exit, the trio goes on to greater notoriety as The Supremes.  Initially, Paul Williams acts as manager for the girls, but he soon cedes this responsibility to Milton Jenkins, who acts as the manager of both The Primes and The Primettes.  The Primes are a well-regarded live act but never make it into the recording studio.  In 1960 Kell Osborne moves to California and The Primes disband.  Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams go back to Alabama.

Otis Williams & The Distants also disband in 1960 – though it might be more accurate to say they go through a restructuring.  Otis Williams, Al Bryant and Melvin Franklin agree to keep working together, but they part company with Richard Street and Albert ‘Mooch’ Harrell.  ‘After learning that Otis Williams…has two openings in his group’s line-up’, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams return to Detroit to fill the vacancies.  This quintet is dubbed The Elgins.

In 1960 Otis Williams begins dating Josephine Rogers.  In 1961 the couple wed.  They have a son, Otis, Jr. (born 1961).  (Otis, Jr. grows up to be a construction worker in Detroit.  He dies in a workplace accident in 1983.)

The most notable record label in Detroit in the early 1960s is Motown Records.  The name is a contraction of ‘motor town’, a reference to Detroit’s automobile manufacturing industry.  Motown Records is lorded over by Berry Gordy, a former automobile assembly-line worker turned songwriter and record producer.  Motown is a label owned by an African-American (Gordy) and whose recording artists are also African-American.  Up to this point, black singers were all too often exploited by white record company owners.  Motown is different.  Yet the label’s slogan is ‘The Sound of Young America’, not ‘The Sound of Black America’.  Berry Gordy is not interested in his business being confined to the African-American community; he wants to sell as many records as possible and doesn’t care about the colour of the skin of the purchasers, only the colour of their money.

The Elgins audition for Motown and win a recording contract.  Berry Gordy decides he doesn’t like the act’s name though and christens them The Temptations instead.  The founder members are: Eddie Kendricks (high, falsetto vocals), Paul Williams (vocals), Al Bryant (vocals), Otis Williams (baritone vocals) and Melvin Franklin (bass vocals).

The music of The Temptations – and Motown in general – is derived from gospel (i.e. church music), rhythm and blues (i.e. dance music closely identified with the African-American community) and pop (i.e. popular and catchy songs with widespread appeal).  What distinguishes The Temptations from other Motown acts?  Two things: Their southern gospel roots and a more flexible approach than their peers.

Motown makes its home in Detroit, Michigan – a northern State.  The African-American population largely live in Detroit’s housing projects.  Most of those people work in the city’s main industry, automobile manufacture.  The members of The Temptations grew up in southern States where African-Americans were still largely working in rural, agricultural, positions.  Although gospel is enjoyed in both the north and south, in the south it tends to be even more conservative and fundamentalist.  Otis Williams recalls he “had to listen to a lot of gospel singers.”  ‘Of all the Motown acts…The Temptations were the closest to church and gospel roots.’

The flexibility of The Temptations is demonstrated in both their vocals and their musical style.  While other Motown vocal acts had a fixed lead singer (i.e. Diana Ross of The Supremes, Smokey Robinson of The Miracles and Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops), The Temptations could change their lead singer.  Granted, at first Eddie Kendricks probably has the lion’s share of the spotlight, but other members of the group sometimes step up or share the lead.  This trait only accelerates as the group’s career continues.  Secondly, when the basic Motown formula begins to wear thin, The Temptations prove capable of stepping outside their earlier preordained sound.  “Luckily for The Temptations, we’ve been able to adapt to whatever the musical trends called for at the time,” notes Otis Williams.

The Temptations are not really songwriters.  They are largely at the mercy of the Motown machinery.  During the group’s glory days, there are primarily two men charged with guiding them: Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield.  They do not work together.  Broadly, Robinson is in charge up to the mid-1960s, and then Whitfield pilots them from the late 1960s.  Robinson and Whitfield each pull double duty as songwriters and record producers.  Smokey Robinson also performs with his own group, The Miracles.  Otis Williams tries to define The Temptations’ philosophy: “It always revolves around great songs, great music, great lyrics, great melodies that stay in the subconscious after it’s off the radio.  Those are the hallmarks of…great songs that will stand the test of time.”

As a vocal group, The Temptations depend on others to provide musical backing.  As with songwriting and production, Motown assigns musicians to their recording sessions.  The same pack of players work with all Motown’s vocal groups and solo singers.  In later years, this fraternity comes to be known as The Funk Brothers.  Some of their more notable members are: Joe Messina (guitar), Robert White (guitar), Earl Van Dyke (keyboards), James Jamerson, Sr. (bass), Benny Benjamin (drums) and James Giddons (percussion).

The Temptations get off to a slow start.  Their first seven singles meet with minimal success on pop charts.  Some of them do quite well on the rhythm and blues charts, but that is not enough for the populist agenda of Motown boss Berry Gordy.  In 1961 The Temptations release ‘Oh Mother Of Mine’ and ‘Check Yourself’; in 1962 there is ‘Dream Come True’, ‘Mind Over Matter (I’m Gonna Make You Mine)’ [this song is actually credited to The Pirates, an alias for The Temptations] and ‘Paradise’ (US no. 122); while 1963 brings ‘I Want A Love I Can See’ and ‘Farewell My Love’.  Eddie Kendricks shares vocals with Paul Williams on ‘Oh Mother Of Mine’; ‘Check Yourself’ spreads the vocals between Paul Williams, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin; Eddie Kendricks sings lead on the all the 1962 singles and Paul Williams takes the lead on the 1963 singles.

In 1963 Al Bryant ‘resigns or is fired after physically attacking Paul Williams.’

In 1964 the open slot in The Temptations is first offered to Jimmy Ruffin but winds up going to his younger brother, David Ruffin, instead.

Davis Eli ‘David’ Ruffin (18 January 1941 – 1 June 1991) is born in Whynot, Mississippi, U.S.A.  He is the son of Elias ‘Eli’ Ruffin and Ophelia Ruffin (nee Davis).  David has three siblings: Quincy, Rita and Jimmy (born 7 May 1939).  Their father, Eli Ruffin, is a Baptist minister who also works as a truck driver at a lumber mill.  Eli Ruffin is characterised as ‘strict and abusive.’  Ophelia Ruffin dies just months after David’s birth.  Eli Ruffin remarries in 1942.  David’s stepmother, Earline, is a schoolteacher.  David Ruffin begins singing and touring ‘at a very young age’, appearing with his father and siblings in a gospel group.  “I knew I always wanted to sing,” claims David.  At 13, David Ruffin leaves home to study for the ministry in Memphis, Tennessee.  David appears with his brother, Jimmy, at some talent shows in Arkansas.  In the meantime, David Ruffin does some construction work.  One of the buildings on which he labours is ‘Hitsville, U.S.A.’, the home of Motown Records in Detroit.  David Ruffin begins recording in 1958.  Under the name of Little David Bush, he releases ‘Believe Me’ on the Vega label.  As David Ruffin he puts out ‘I’m In Love’ in 1960 on the Anna label, a subsidiary of Motown.  This is followed by two singles on the Checkmate label: ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’ in 1961 and ‘Knock You Out’ in 1962.  None of these four singles has much impact.  In 1960 David Ruffin begins dating a girl named Sandra, who becomes his wife in 1961.  David and Sandra go on to have three daughters: Cheryl, Nedra and Kimberley (also known as Mone).  When David Ruffin joins The Temptations in 1964, it brings him into closer contact with Melvin Franklin who is actually a distant cousin of Ruffin.  A ‘whimsical, charismatic man’, David Ruffin is perhaps the most visually distinctive member of The Temptations.  He wears thick-framed spectacles and, at six feet, 3 inches, in height, is ‘tall [and] slender.’  (At six feet, and one-and-a-half inches, Eddie Kendricks is not much shorter.)  Otis Williams describes David Ruffin as “very funny, colourful, good-natured and hard-working.”

The addition of David Ruffin creates probably the most famous incarnation of The Temptations: David Ruffin (vocals), Eddie Kendricks (high, falsetto vocals), Paul Williams (vocals), Otis Williams (baritone vocals) and Melvin Franklin (bass vocals).

Things begin to fall into place for The Temptations with the release on 8 February 1964 of the single, The Way You Do The Things You Do’ (US no. 11).  This is the group’s first real hit and the beginning of a series of successful hit singles.  Although David Ruffin has been added to the line-up, it is Eddie Kendricks who handles the lead vocals on this track.  “You’ve got a smile so bright, you know you could’ve been a candle / I’m holding you so tight, you know you could’ve been a handle,” begins the lyrics, eventually observing, “Well, you could have been anything that you wanted to and I can tell / The way you do the things you do.”  This song is written by Smokey Robinson and his Miracles colleague, Bobby Rogers.  It’s difficult not to see Eddie Kendricks as a surrogate for Smokey here; both have similarly high voices.  Kendricks has a ‘wispy falsetto’ that is ‘high, sweet and soft.’  Despite being centre-stage on The Temptations’ breakthrough, Kendricks says, “I don’t really know what a superstar is…I don’t think I want to get that big.”

The debut album, ‘Meet The Temptations’ (1964) (US no. 45), is released in March.  It includes ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’.  Like most of The Temptations’ albums of the 1960s, multiple producers are credited for the disc (in this case including Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy).  In this era, neither Motown nor The Temptations are emphasising albums; the hit single is the main focus.  This means that the albums are usually a hodgepodge of a hit single or two and some other bits and pieces.  Note: The Temptations’ discs are actually on the Gordy label, a subsidiary of the Motown organisation.

Eddie Kendricks provides lead vocals on the following 1964 Temptations singles: May’s ‘I’ll Be In Trouble’ (US no. 33) backed with ‘The Girl’s Alright With Me’ (US no. 102), and September’s ‘Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)’ (US no. 26).  The last-named is crafted under the supervision of producer Norman Whitfield.

Otis Williams divorces his wife, Josephine, in 1964.  He dates Florence Ballard of The Supremes for a while, but his next major relationship is with another singer, Patti Labelle.  Otis Williams actually begins seeing Patti Labelle in 1963 and the relationship continues until 1965, including an engagement, before concluding.  Otis Williams’ flirtation with Florence Ballard is not the only liaison between The Temptations and The Supremes; Melvin Franklin reportedly chases after Mary Wilson for a while.

The Temptations release one more single in 1964, though it doesn’t chart until January 1965.  It is The Temptations’ finest moment.  The single is ‘My Girl’ (US no. 1, UK no. 43), a track written by Smokey Robinson and another one of his group The Miracles, Ronnie White.  The genius of this song is in its counter-intuitive approach.  While Eddie Kendricks’ vocal style is an easy fit with Robinson’s own – and Kendricks would have been the obvious choice for this song – it is instead handed to David Ruffin.  Where Kendricks’ voice is high and silky smooth, Ruffin has a ‘raspy voice’ that is ‘gritty and emotion laden.’  “I don’t know what I kind of voice I have.  I really don’t.  It’s just about the feeling I get for a song,” says Ruffin.  He also proves to be a dynamic frontman, employing ‘dramatic hand gestures’ and even ‘falling to his knees.’  ‘My Girl’ is positively beatific.  “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day,” beams Ruffin, “When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May / I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way? / My girl.”  “I would have to say that, first and foremost, ‘My Girl’ is my favourite and then everything else falls in line after that,” admits Otis Williams.

David Ruffin’s marriage to his wife, Sandra, breaks down in 1964 and he begins a ‘well publicised relationship’ with Tammi Terrell, another Motown recording artist, from 1965 to 1967.

‘The Temptations Sing Smokey’ (1965) (US no. 35) in March is, as the name suggests, an album of the quintet performing Smokey Robinson’s compositions – but they are not new songs.  In addition to ‘My Girl’ and (again) ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’, the disc consists of songs recorded previously by Robinson’s group The Miracles or other Motown acts to whom he had provided material.  Naturally, Smokey Robinson produces this album.  The success of ‘My Girl’ with David Ruffin as lead vocalist results in Ruffin singing lead on The Temptations’ three other 1965 singles: April’s ‘It’s Growing’ (US no. 18, UK no. 45), July’s ‘Since I Lost My Baby’ (US no. 17) and October’s ‘My Baby’ (US no. 13).  The group’s third album, ‘The Temptin’ Temptations’ (1965) (US no. 11), is issued in November.

In 1965 Paul Williams has an affair with Winnie Brown, the hairstylist for The Supremes.

1966 is a transitional year for The Temptations.  The March single, ‘Get Ready’ (US no. 24, UK no. 10), is the last of their hits penned by Smokey Robinson.  This track places Eddie Kendricks back in the role of lead vocalist.  However, just as the harsh tones of David Ruffin formed a counterpoint to the creamy music of ‘My Girl’, here Kendricks’ light voice overlays a hard-charging arrangement, making a virtue of the unexpected contrast.  “I’m bringing you a love that’s true / So get ready,” urges Kendricks in this hot – but precise – number.  Norman Whitfield takes the baton from Smokey Robinson at this point, becoming the driving force behind The Temptations’ output.  Under Whitfield, ‘their records become ever rougher and more muscular.’  This is first demonstrated with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ (US no. 13, UK no. 21) in May, a song Whitfield co-writes with Eddie Holland.  David Ruffin handles the lead vocals.  Otis Williams recalls the spectacles slipping off Ruffin’s face repeatedly during the recording session due to the amount of sweat Ruffin is putting out.  “Ain’t too proud to beg / Sweet darlin’, please don’t leave me,” petitions Ruffin over a hard-edged marching rhythm.  The album, ‘Gettin’ Ready’ (1966) (US no. 12, UK no. 40), comes out in June.  As previously mentioned, albums are not really The Temptations’ forte, but this is as good a candidate as any to be called their best album.  With both Robinson’s ‘Get Ready’ and Whitfield’s ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, it has high quality representations from both of the act’s main producer/songwriters.  As a bonus, there is also ‘Too Busy Thinking ‘Bout My Baby’, a song Whitfield co-writes with Barrett Strong and Janie Bradford.  It goes unheralded in 1966 but becomes a hit for another Motown singer, Marvin Gaye, in 1969.  David Ruffin holds forth as lead singer on The Temptations’ other two hits for 1966.  August’s ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ (US no. 3, UK no. 18) has him advising, “A pretty face you may not possess / But what I like about you is your tenderness.”  This horn-buttressed, strong and forceful number is co-written by Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland.  This duo is joined by Cornelius Grant to write ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ (US no. 8, UK no. 19), released in November.  In this twangy, rough-edged song, David Ruffin sings, “I fooled myself as long as I can / I feel the presence of another man.”

In 1966 Otis Williams begins dating Ann Cain, who becomes his second wife in 1967.

The Temptations start 1967 with the album ‘The Temptations Live’ (1967) (US no. 10, UK no. 20) in March.  This concert recording is followed by the David Ruffin led ‘All I Need’ (US no. 8), a single released in May.  The previous year’s ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ is included on ‘The Temptations With A Lot O’ Soul’ (1967) (US no. 7, UK no. 19) in July.  Perhaps the best 1967 single by The Temptations is ‘You’re My Everything’ (US no. 6, UK no. 26), released in August.  David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks share the lead vocals.  “I was blessed the day I found you / Gonna build my whole world around you / You’re everything good, girl / And you’re all that matters to me,” runs the lyric of this optimistic, strings-enhanced, composition from Norman Whitfield, Roger Penzabene and Cornelius Grant.  October’s ‘(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need’ (US no. 14) boasts a vocal shared amongst all The Temptations.  The year is closed out with the album ‘The Temptations In A Mellow Mood’ (1967) (US no. 13) in November, a Frank Wilson – Jeff Bowen co-production.

Sometime around here, Eddie Kendricks marries Patricia ‘Pat’ Stokes.  They have three children: a daughter named Aikia (born 1971) and two sons, Parris (born 1973) and Paul (born 1977).

In January 1968 The Temptations have a hit with ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (US no. 4, UK no. 45).  Accompanied by the mournful cries of seagulls, an anguished David Ruffin pleads, “Sunshine, blue skies / Please go away / My girl has found another / And gone away.”  Broken-hearted, he concludes, “I know it might sound strange / But I wish it would rain,” and hide his tears.  Norman Whitfield collaborates with Barrett Strong and Roger Penzabene on this sad, but classy, ballad.  David Ruffin is credited with ‘creating the four-headed microphone’ and this device can be seen during The Temptations’ performance of this song.  While Ruffin holds centre-stage, the other Temps cluster about a microphone that almost resembles a tree – a single stand (trunk) with branching microphones for each individual singer.  This song appears on the next album for the group and is adapted into its name: ‘The Temptations Wish It Would Rain’ (1968) (US no. 13) – released in April.  May’s ‘I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)’ (US no. 13, UK no. 47) is fated to be Ruffin’s last lead vocal for The Temptations.  Eddie Kendricks takes the lead for August’s ‘Please Return Your Love To Me’ (US no. 26).

Trouble is brewing for The Temptations.  David Ruffin is ‘one of the first Motown artists who demands regular accounting of the group’s financial status.’  Although this may be admirably prudent, it causes friction with label boss Berry Gordy as it suggests Gordy is untrustworthy.  Ruffin is also getting on the nerves of the other Temptations.  ‘He starts missing rehearsals and shows and is addicted to cocaine.’  Ruffin believes the name of the act should be changed to David Ruffin And The Temptations.  Though this may appear to reek of egotism, in context it is not that strange.  The Miracles became Smokey Robinson And The Miracles in March 1967 and The Supremes became Diana Ross And The Supremes in August 1967.  Otis Williams is of the opinion that fame gives Ruffin ego problems and drug addiction makes him erratic.  It all comes to a head when David Ruffin fails to show up for a 1968 Temptations concert in Cleveland, Ohio.  Consequently, Ruffin is fired.

David Ruffin’s place in The Temptations’ line-up is filled by Dennis Edwards.  Formerly with fellow Motown act The Contours, Dennis Edwards is born 3 February 1943 in Fairfield, Alabama, U.S.A. to Reverend and Mrs Dennis Edwards, Senior.

In a bizarre twist, David Ruffin does not go quietly.  He follows The Temptations around on tour and crashes their performances.  When a song on which he sang lead, such as ‘My Girl’ or ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, begins, Ruffin ‘walks on stage, grabs the microphone from [Dennis] Edwards and steals the show.’  Ruffin pleads for another chance with the group.  When he is cautiously given this opportunity, Ruffin continues to miss shows.  His dismissal is then confirmed.  Duelling lawsuits between Ruffin and The Temptations follow.

David Ruffin goes on to a solo career.  His most successful solo singles are his first, ‘My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)’ (US no. 9) in February 1969 and ‘I’ve Lost Everything I Ever Truly Loved’ (a hit on the rhythm and blues charts only) in July 1969.  The former was originally intended for The Temptations.  David Ruffin releases the following albums: ‘My Whole World Ended’ (1969) (US no. 31) in May; ‘Feelin’ Good’ (1969) (US no. 148) in November; ‘I Am My Brother’s Keeper’ (1970) (US no. 178), a disc co-credited to his brother, Jimmy Ruffin; ‘David Ruffin’ (1973) (US no. 160); ‘Me And Rock ‘N’ Roll Are Here To Stay’ (1974); ‘Who I Am’ (1975) (US no. 31) ; ‘Everything’s Coming Up Love’ (1976) (US no. 51); and ‘In My Stride’ (1977).  In 1977 he leaves Motown for Warner Bros., blaming Motown for not promoting his music properly.  For Warners, David Ruffin creates two more albums: ‘So Soon We Change’ (1979) and ‘Gentleman Ruffin’ (1980).  In 1975 David Ruffin marries his second wife, Joy Hamilton, but they divorce in 1976.  Ruffin has a relationship with Genna Sapia from 1977 to 1979 and she gives birth to his fourth child and only son, David, Jr.  (After David Ruffin’s death, Genna Sapia takes to calling herself Genna Sapia-Ruffin, but the couple never officially wed.)

The Temptations begin a new phase of their career with the single ‘Cloud Nine’ (US no. 6, UK no. 15), released in November 1968.  Influenced by Sly And The Family Stone, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, producer Norman Whitfield introduces The Temptations to ‘psychedelic soul.’  This style has ‘dramatic use of recording effects and rock-influenced arrangements’ as well as ‘didactic social commentary.’  ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘its title a thinly veiled drug allegory’, is co-written by producer Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  “Depressed and downhearted, I took to cloud nine,” states the lyric, observing that now, “You’re a million miles away from reality.”  It seems The Temptations are becoming ‘not only the globe’s biggest selling soul group, but its most musically exciting.’  Dennis Edwards makes his recording debut here with The Temptations but the vocal is shared amongst the whole group.  Ominously, amidst all the fanfare, Eddie Kendricks dislikes the new psychedelic soul sound.  A concert recording, ‘Live At The Copa’ (1968) (US no. 15) is released in December.  The album, ‘Cloud Nine’ (1969) (US no. 4, UK no. 32), in February consolidates the new psychedelic soul sound.

By this time – and possibly earlier – Shelly Berger is acting as the manager of The Temptations.  His association with the group continues for decades, up to at least 2010.

The Temptations record two albums of duets with their former sidekicks, the erstwhile Primettes, ‘Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations’ (1968) (US no. 2, UK no. 1) and ‘Together With Diana Ross And The Supremes’ (1969) (US no. 28, UK no. 28).  A volley of duet singles from the two vocal groups is issued: ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (US no. 2, UK no. 3), ‘I’ll Try Something New’ (US no. 25), ‘I Second That Emotion’ (UK no. 18), ‘The Weight’ (US no. 46) and ‘Why Must We Fall In Love’ (UK no. 31).  Eddie Kendricks, on behalf of The Temptations, provides the male lead vocal for most of these songs since his high voice is the best match for Diana Ross.

On their own, in 1969 The Temptations issue the singles ‘Runaway Child, Running Wild’ (US no. 6) in March, and ‘Don’t Let The Jones’ Get You Down’ (US no. 20) in May, but the best is August’s ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ (US no. 1, UK no. 13).  The group vocal alternates amongst the members as they chant such sentiments as, “I can turn the grey skies blue / I can make it rain whenever I want it to…But I can’t get next to you, babe.”  ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ is composed by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and features on the album ‘Puzzle People’ (1969) (US no. 5, UK no. 20), released in September.

‘Psychedelic Shack’ (US no. 7, UK no. 33), released in January 1970, is a far-out groovy song penned by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  “Right around the corner / Just across the tracks / People, I’m talking about the psychedelic shack,” runs the group vocal that stresses, “That’s where it’s at.”  The album, ‘Psychedelic Shack’ (1970) (US no. 9) arrives in February.  Whitfield and Strong also write ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’ (US no. 3, UK no. 7), the May single with another group vocal.  “The only person talking about love and mercy is the preacher / And it seems nobody is interested in learning but the teacher,” notes ‘Ball Of Confusion’, its punishing beats underscoring the mantra, “Segregation, demonstration, integration, determination, aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation.”  A concert album, ‘Live At London’s Talk Of The Town’ (1970) (US no. 21) is released in July.  Dennis Edwards takes the lead vocal for October’s ‘Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)’ (US no. 33).  ‘The Temptations’ Christmas Card’ (1970) (US no. 4), an October album of holiday tunes, closes out the year.

Eddie Kendricks (with an assist from Paul Williams) takes the lead vocal for ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ (US no. 1, UK no. 8), the February 1971 single.  Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, this is a lovely old school ballad, a break from psychedelic soul.  In his feathery, light voice, Kendricks gently pronounces, “To have a girl like her / Is truly a dream come true / Out of all the boys in the world / She belongs to you / But it was just my imagination / Running away with me.”  This song is featured on the April album, ‘Sky’s The Limit’ (1971) (US no. 16).  Tired of the psychedelic soul, Eddie Kendricks leaves The Temptations in 1971, bound for a solo career.  Paul Williams also departs in 1971, but his exit is due to poor health.  Paul Williams is having problems with sickle cell anaemia.

In his solo career, Eddie Kendricks records the albums ‘All By Myself’ (1971), ‘People…Hold On’ (1972), ‘Eddie Kendricks’ (1973), ‘Boogie Down’ (1974), ‘For You’ (1974), ‘The Hit Man’ (1975), ‘Goin’ Up In Smoke’ (1976) and ‘Slick’ (1977).  He then departs Motown, cutting two albums for Arista – ‘Vintage ‘78’ (1978) and ‘Something More’ (1979) – and one for Atlantic, ‘Love Keys’ (1981).  His most successful solo singles are 1971’s ‘Keep On Truckin’ (US no. 1, UK no. 18), 1974’s ‘Boogie Down’ (US no. 2, UK no. 39) and 1975’s ‘Shoeshine Boy’ (US no. 18).  Eddie Kendricks divorces his wife, Pat Stokes, in 1976.

Ricky Owens (24 April 1939 – 6 December 1996) has a brief stint with The Temptations in 1971.

Replacing Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams in The Temptations are Damon Harris (17 July 1950 – 18 February 2003) and Richard Street (5 October 1942 – 27 February 2013).  Both are tenors.  It may be remembered that Richard Street was a member of Otis Williams & The Distants back before The Temptations officially came into being.  Street shares the vocal spotlight on the July 1971 single ‘It’s Summer’ (US no. 51) with Dennis Edwards and Melvin Franklin.  The entire group shares the vocals for November’s cautionary tale, ‘Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)’ (US no. 18, UK no. 32).  Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the lyrics urge, “But remember how you got where you are / Oh ho ho, ‘cause the same folks that made you / Uh hum, you better believe they can break you.”

Motown relocates its head office from Detroit, Michigan, to Los Angles, California, in 1971 and there is a feeling that it is the end of an era.

‘Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)’ is included on the album ‘Solid Rock’ (1972) (US no. 24, UK no. 34) in January.  The same disc also boasts the heavily orchestrated and socially conscious ‘Take A Look Around’ (US no. 30, UK no. 13), sung by the group as a whole.  The song is written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  Dennis Edwards takes the lead for ‘Mother Nature’ (US no. 92), but a group vocal adorns the year’s best single for The Temptations, ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’ (US no. 1, UK no. 14) (another Whitfield – Strong composition).  Hushed, pulsing and ominous, this is deep, hard soul.  “’Momma, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth’ / Momma just hung her head and said, ‘Son / Papa was a rollin’ stone / Wherever he laid his hat was his home / And when he died, all he left us was alone’,” runs an excerpt from the dramatic lyrics.  The song is included on the July album, ‘All Directions’ (1972) (US no. 2, UK no. 19).

‘Masterpiece’ (1973) (US no. 7, UK no. 28) is released in February and its title track, ‘Masterpiece’ (US no. 7), is the next single for The Temptations.  It features a group vocal, as does their next single, ‘Plastic Man’ (US no. 40).  Other 1973 singles highlight individual performances.  Richard Street takes centre stage for ‘Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)’ (US no. 35).  The neo-Native American groove of ‘Law Of The Land’ (UK no. 41) shares the vocals between Street, Dennis Edwards and Damon Harris.  Written by Norman Whitfield alone, the anti-poverty ‘Law Of The Land’ is perhaps the best Temptations song for 1973.

On 17 August 1973 former member of The Temptations, Paul Williams, is found dead.  He is discovered in an alley, slumped over the wheel of his car, clad only in swimming trunks.  The gun in his hand is responsible for the bullet through his forehead.  His death is ruled a suicide.  Paul Williams not only sang with The Temptations, he was also their choreographer, though over the years, that task increasingly went to Cholly Atkins, Motown’s in-house choreographer.  Paul Williams’ health had been declining due to sickle cell anaemia, but he was also ‘long plagued by alcoholism and other personal demons.’  He was 34 when he took his own life.

‘1990’ (1973) (US no. 19), released in December, is the last Temptations album overseen by Norman Whitfield, as their lengthy association with the producer/songwriter comes to an end.

The Temptations issue ‘A Song For You’ (1975) (US no. 13) in January.  This is followed in November by ‘House Party’ (1975) (US no. 40), an album of songs that had been set aside previously.  Damon Harris leaves The Temptations in 1975.  His replacement is another tenor, Glenn Leonard (born 11 June 1947).  ‘Wings Of Love’ (1976) (US no. 29) and then ‘The Temptations Do The Temptations’ (1976) (US no. 53) are The Temptations’ last albums for Motown – at least for a while.

Dennis Edwards exits The Temptations in 1977 and Louis Price (born 29 March 1953) takes over his role.  The group records two disco-influenced albums for Atlantic Records – ‘Hear To Tempt You’ (1977) (US no. 113) and ‘Bare Back’ (1978) – before returning to Motown.

Former Temptation Dennis Edwards is ‘briefly married’ to Ruth Pointer in 1977.  Ruth Pointer comes from the vocal group The Pointer Sisters.  Dennis and Ruth have a daughter together, Issa Pointer.

Dennis Edwards returns to The Temptations in 1980, displacing Louis Price.  Once more on Motown, The Temptations release the albums ‘Power’ (1980) (US no. 45), ‘Give Love At Christmas’ (1980) (US no. 6), and ‘The Temptations’ (1981) (US no. 119).

By this time, the solo careers of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks are on the decline, as are The Temptations’ fortunes.  Ruffin and Kendricks are enticed to work with the five current Temptations (Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Glenn Leonard, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin) as a seven-piece act.  The resultant album is the appropriately titled ‘Reunion’ (1982) (US no. 37).  It includes ‘Standing On The Top’ (US no. 66, UK no. 93), a track written and produced by Rick James, a well-known identity in the funk rock field at the time.  The seven-piece Temptations undertake a tour as well, but it is not long before David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks leave again.

Eddie Kendricks goes back to using the surname from his birth, Kendrick (without the ‘s’) in the early 1980s.  He releases ‘I’ve Got Eyes On You’ (1983) on the Ms. Dixie label.

David Ruffin suffers from ‘substance abuse and depression’.  He spends eighteen months in prison for tax evasion.

Eddie Kendrick stays in touch with David Ruffin and both of them guest-star on ‘Live At The Apollo’ (1985) (US no. 21), an album by white ‘blue-eyed soul’ act Daryl Hall And John Oates.

A 1987 cocaine arrest puts David Ruffin back behind bars.

David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick work together again on ‘1988’ (1988) or ‘Ruffin & Kendrick’ (1988), and album of duets by the former Temptations frontmen.

Otis Williams marries his third wife, Arleata ‘Goldie’ Carter, in 1983.  They have a daughter named Elan.

The Temptations continue to record and tour, but the line-up is increasingly subject to change.  ‘Surface Thrills’ (1983) (US no. 159) in February is followed by Glenn Leonard’s departure.  Ron Tyson (born 8 February 1948) joins in time for ‘Back To Basics’ (1983) (US no. 152).  Dennis Edwards leaves (for the second time) in 1984 and Ali-Ollie Woodson (12 September 1951 – 30 May 2010) joins The Temptations.  ‘Truly For You’ (1984) (US no. 55) in October includes ‘Treat Her Like A Lady’ (US no. 48, UK no. 12), an upmarket dance song Woodson co-writes with Otis Williams, and for which Woodson is the lead vocalist.  ‘Touch Me’ (1985) (US no. 146) is followed by ‘To Be Continued’ (1986) (US no. 74), the last Temptations album issued under the Gordy imprint as the subsidiary is then absorbed into Motown Records’ main label.  Ali-Ollie Woodson leaves the group in 1987 and Dennis Edwards returns for a third tour of duty beginning with ‘Together Again’ (1987) (US no. 112) in September.

‘The Temptations’ (1988) is Otis Williams’ autobiography of the group, co-written with journalist Patricia Romanowski.  It is made into an NBC television mini-series in 1998.

Dennis Edwards leaves The Temptations (for the third and final time) in 1989 but, comically, his replacement is Ali-Ollie Woodson – the man Edwards replaced.  ‘Special’ (1989) and ‘Milestone’ (1991) are the next albums the group releases, the latter celebrating The Temptations’ thirtieth anniversary.

On 1 June 1991 David Ruffin dies due to ‘an adverse reaction to drugs.’  Despite the official cause of death being confirmed as a cocaine overdose, Ruffin’s family believe that ‘foul play is involved’ in his demise.  David Ruffin was 50 years old.

Eddie Kendrick dies of lung cancer on 5 October 1992.  He was 52 years old.

The Temptations carry on, but members come and go.  Richard Street exits in 1992, with Theo Peoples (born 24 January 1961) taking his place.

On 17 February 1995 Melvin Franklin suffers a brain seizure and slips into a coma.  He never wakes, passing away on 23 February 1995.  He was 52.  Since the late 1960s Melvin Franklin had battled rheumatoid arthritis.  He developed diabetes in the 1980s.  With his passing, Otis Williams becomes the only surviving member of the original Temptations line-up.

Melvin Franklin’s place in The Temptations is taken by Ray Davis (29 March 1940 – 5 July 2005) in 1995.  ‘For Lovers Only’ (1995) is Ray Davis’ only album with The Temptations.  He departs in 1996, to be replaced by Harry McGillberry (19 January 1950 – 3 April 2006).  Ali-Ollie Woodson quits The Temptations (for the second time) in 1997 and his position is filled by Terry Weeks (born 23 December 1963).  Otis Williams and his third wife, Arleata ‘Goldie’ Carter, divorce in 1997.

Theo Peoples departs The Temptations in 1988 and Barrington ‘Bo’ Henderson (born 10 June 1956) joins.  ‘Phoenix Rising’ (1998) (US no. 44) marks a new era and is followed by ‘Ear-Resistable’ (2000) (US no. 54) and ‘Awesome’ (2001) (US no. 140).  Harry McGillberry and Barrington ‘Bo’ Henderson both leave The Temptations in 2003.

George Curtis ‘G.C.’ Cameron (born 21 September 1945) becomes the twentieth member of The Temptations when he joins the group in 2003.  Also signing up in 2003 is Joe Herndon (born 5 January 1949).  ‘Legacy’ (2004) (US no. 163) is The Temptations’ final album for Motown.  They move to the New Door label for ‘Reflections’ (2006) (US no. 80) and ‘Back To Front’ (2007) (US no. 108).  G.C. Cameron leaves The Temptations in 2007, making way for Bruce Williamson (born 28 September 1970).  On the 10/30 International label, The Temptations release ‘Still Here’ (2010).

The death of David Ruffin in 1991 meant the loss of the most identifiable member of The Temptations.  Although he had not been part of the group since 1968 – aside from the 1982 ‘Reunion’ album and tour – his influence on their history was deep.  Eddie Kendricks, who died soon after in 1992, was the next best known member of the act and, like Ruffin, his days as a regular part of the act were decades in the past.  David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Al Bryant and Dennis Edwards are the men most identified with The Temptations.  The other singers with the group had less impact.  Of course, The Temptations recorded history was also shaped by the likes of Motown boss Berry Gordy and producer/songwriters Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield.  ‘My Girl’, ‘Just My Imagination’, ‘Ball of Confusion’, etc. live on long after the men who made them.  The Temptations were ‘the finest vocal group in 1960s soul.  They could outdress, outdance and outsing any competitors in sight.’  ‘One of Motown’s most elastic acts, they tackled both lush pop and politically charged funk with equal flair.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Temptations: Motown’s Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Chris Wells (Motown Record Company, L.P., 1992) p. 2, 3, 7
  2. Complex City Guide by Ross Scarano (1 June 2011) (complex.com)
  3. famously.dead.com – David Ruffin – no author credited, as at 25 June 2011
  4. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 25 June 2014
  5. wikipedia.org as at 5 May 2014
  6. ‘Behind the Scenes’ (U.S. radio program, WCRN – Worcester, Massachusetts) – Otis Williams interview at the Hanover Theater conducted by Lisa Condett (?) (7 February 2013?)
  7. allmusic.com, ‘The Temptations’ by Jason Ankeny as at 16 June 2014
  8. wikianswers.com as at 27 June 2014
  9. allmusic.com, ‘The Primes’ – no author credited – as at 27 June 2014
  10. bhamwiki.com/w/Paul.Williams as at 27 June 2014
  11. whosdatedwho.com as at 25 June 2014
  12. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Motown’ by Joe McEwen, Jim Miller (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 278, 282, 286, 290, 291, 292
  13. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.76
  14. brainyquote.com as at 25 June 2014
  15. democraticunderground.com – information on David Ruffin’s children by Catherine Vincent (5 November 2009)
  16. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 85, 217
  17. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 210
  18. ‘The Best Of Marvin Gaye’ – Sleeve notes by David Ritz (Motown Record Company, 1994) p. 6
  19. soulwalking.co.uk/Michael%Stokes.html – no author credited, as at 27 June 2014
  20. You Tube, video for ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ (1968)
  21. lyricsfreak.com as at 23 June 2014
  22. metrolyrics.com.au as at 23 June 2014

Song lyrics copyright EMI Songs Aust. P/L

Last revised 15 July 2014

Television

 Television

 Tom Verlaine – circa 1977

 “I’m runnin’ wild with the one-eyed ones / I see no evil” – ’See No Evil’ (Tom Verlaine)

It’s just one album.  ‘Marquee Moon’ (1977) by U.S. punk rock band Television is their claim to a part in rock music history.  They record other albums – but not many.  They have greater commercial success – but still on an extremely limited scale.  Few other bands are so remarkable yet have a reputation built on such a slim catalogue.  But sometimes, one album is all it takes.

The central figure in the story of Television is Tom Verlaine.

Tom Verlaine is born Thomas Miller on 13 December 1949 in Mount Morris, New Jersey, U.S.A.

“I grew up taking piano lessons and liking [the classical music composer] Wagner when I was in second grade,” Tom Verlaine recalls.  “I never set out to be a lead guitarist…When somebody turned me on to a [John] Coltrane record [Coltrane is a notable jazz saxophone player] around seventh grade, I took up saxophone.”  Albert Ayler, another jazz great, is also influential on the youth.  “I always hated jazz guitar,” says Tom Verlaine.  “I loved jazz saxophone but I hated jazz guitar.”  This is ironic since Verlaine will become famed for his guitar playing.  The change to that instrument comes in his mid-teens.  “I started messing around with songs, but I didn’t really like sitting at the piano singing, so I got a cheap guitar and realised it was very easy to play and a cool thing to write songs on.”

Tom Verlaine is raised in Wilmington, Delaware (some biographies even list that as his place of birth).  He attends the Sanford School in Delaware, a private school with classes from junior kindergarten through to grade twelve.  One of his classmates is Richard Myers who is later more colourfully known as Richard Hell.  Although Richard only attends the Sanford School for a year, he and Tom are a mischievous double act.  They run away together only to be arrested in Alabama for arson and vandalism a short time later.  Even on his own, Tom proves a handful.  He drops out of boarding school, leaves Wilmington, and hitch-hikes to Florida.  He is returned by the police.  As Tom Miller, he completes his education and, after a very brief time at Erskine College in South Carolina, he heads to New York City in 1968.

It is unclear when Tom Miller takes on the new identity of Tom Verlaine, but the most likely juncture is on his arrival in New York City in 1968.  His school days’ misadventures as Tom Miller are behind him and he is free to reinvent himself.  The surname Verlaine is borrowed from the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.  It’s all very romantic, but the harsh economic reality of life in the big city means that Tom Verlaine finds himself earning a subsistence income as a banana packer / dispatcher.

The Neon Boys is Tom Verlaine’s first band in New York.  This trio exists for some months in 1971 and consists of Tom Verlaine (vocals, guitar), Richard Hell (bass, vocals) and Billy Ficca (drums).

Richard Hell is born Richard Lester Myers on 2 October 1949 in Lexington, Kentucky.  He attends the Sanford School in Delaware with Tom Verlaine.  Richard Hell publishes Tom Verlaine’s poetry in a magazine run by Hell.

William Joseph ‘Billy’ Ficca is born 5 February 1950 in Delaware.

The Neon Boys fall apart when Billy Ficca leaves New York and heads off to Boston.

Tom Verlaine fitfully plays some solo gigs.  At one of those shows, in the summer of 1973, the audience includes Richard Lloyd and his friend William Terry Ork.

Richard Lloyd is born 25 October 1951 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He becomes interested in playing piano when he is 3 or 4, but what really inspires Lloyd is the advent of the British pop phenomenon of the 1960s, The Beatles.  Richard Lloyd goes on to attend the Stuyvesant High School in New York City, a facility that specialises in science courses.  He lives in Boston for two years, then resides in Los Angeles from 1971 to 1973 and is characterised as ‘a west coast drifter.’

Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine talk about putting a band together, with Terry Ork acting as their manager.  By this time, Billy Ficca has returned to New York City, so it is relatively simple for Tom Verlaine to recall his two confederates from The Neon Boys.  The new four-piece act is christened Television and is founded in December 1973.  The line-up is: Tom Verlaine (vocals, guitar), Richard Lloyd (guitar, vocals), Richard Hell (bass, vocals) and Billy Ficca (drums).  Presumably, the band’s name is inspired by the initials of their leader, Tom Verlaine: TV.  Richard Lloyd will later comment, “Can I just say that if you asked me, I’d say Television was a lousy f***in’ name for a rock group.”

Television rehearses at Terry Ork’s loft in New York.  The group makes their live debut at the Townhouse Theater in March 1974.  Tom Verlaine makes the acquaintance of Hilly Kristal who has ‘a run-down bar on the Bowery.’  This is C.B.G.B. (Country, Blue Grass and Blues).  Verlaine convinces Kristal to let Television play at the venue.  Their first show at C.B.G.B. is in March 1974.  Television goes on to have a Sunday night residency at C.B.G.B.  The group also plays at Max’s Kansas City, another New York venue.  These places become the breeding ground for New York’s embryonic punk rock scene.

Another important performer in New York at the time is Patti Smith.  A poet and writer turned rock singer, she and Tom Verlaine date in the 1970s.  Having named himself after a symbolist poet and with some of his poetry published by his friend Richard Hell, Verlaine has some literary aspirations of his own.  He writes a book of poetry in conjunction with Smith.  She, presumably, also sees something attractive in his six foot, four inch, frame, his ‘thin, Messianic beauty.’  “The first time I met Patti Smith was in a Laundromat,” says Verlaine.  “We knew some of the same people, including Richard Hell.”  Verlaine plays guitar on Patti Smith’s first single, ‘Hey Joe’, in 1974.  She describes his work this way: “Tom plays guitar like a thousand bluebirds screaming.”

In April 1975 Richard Hell is dropped from the line-up of Television.  He works with Johnny Thunders (ex-New York Dolls) in a band called The Heartbreakers from May 1975 to July 1976.  Following this, in 1976 he strikes out with his own band, Richard Hell And The Voidoids, who record two albums, ‘Blank Generation’ (1977) and ‘Destiny Street’ (1982).  Abandoning The Voidoids, Hell records ‘R.I.P.’ (1984).  He marries Patty Smyth of Scandal (no relation to Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine’s mid-1970s partner).  The marriage lasts for two years, 1985-1986, and produces a daughter, Ruby.  ‘Funhunt’ (1989) is a live recording.  Following this, Richard Hell records the ‘Dim Stars’ (1992) album and the identically titled ‘Dim Stars’ EP also in 1992.  Richard Hell rarely plays live in subsequent years, preferring spoken word performances, and leaves music behind.  In 2002 he marries his second wife, Sheelagh Bevan.

Replacing Richard Hell in Television from May 1975 is Fred Smith (born 10 April 1948).  Fred Smith is not to be confused with Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of late 1960s Detroit rock band MC5, who later becomes romantically involved with Patti Smith after she and Tom Verlaine part ways.  The Fred Smith who joins Television is a veteran of The Stilletos (October 1973-August 1974).  He follows that band’s leading lights, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, into the more famous Blondie, his stint with them running from August 1974 to May 1975.  Blondie, like Television, are part of the New York punk scene.  However, Smith justifies his changing groups this way: “Blondie was like a sinking ship and Television was my favourite band.”

Television prepare for their recording debut.

Television is normally categorised as a punk/new wave act.  They certainly come up in the same class of mid-1970s New York acts that includes Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads.  What they all have in common is a desire to strip away a lot of the artifice that rock has accumulated and return to a purer, more primal and basic, sound.  Tom Verlaine remains wary of the punk label: “We felt outside of that [punk rock movement]…Back then C.B.G.B.s was a s***ty club and the only place we could play.”

In trying to describe the sound of Television, the net is cast wider than for most punk/new wave bands.  Firstly, there are classical influences like Wagner and Stravinsky for Tom Verlaine.  Then Verlaine’s formative influences expanded to jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.  “I probably never did listen to a lot of rock,” admits Verlaine.  One artist he picks up on is 1960s folk rock titan Bob Dylan, but that may be as much to do with the lyrics as the music.  Other folk rock acts such as The Byrds and Fairport Convention are referenced in an effort to encompass Television’s electric guitar sound as well.  In the same spirit, late 1960s electric, acid-influenced post-folk acts including The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service are brought into the equation because of their guitar interplay.  More instructive is a comparison to a New York band from the late 1960s, The Velvet Underground, who shares the later punk/new wave ethos of reducing rock to a minimal, artistic, brutishness.

The most important element in the sound of Television is the guitar interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.  Though Television is hardly the first rock band to have two guitarists, the way Verlaine and Lloyd intersect is virtually unprecedented.  In extremely broad terms, Verlaine plays lead guitar to Lloyd’s rhythm guitar, but there is much more to their musical dialogue than such a description suggests.  Part of it has to do with the individual idiosyncrasies of the duo.  Richard Lloyd meticulously writes out the notes he will play while the more spontaneous Tom Verlaine has difficulty remembering exactly what notes he played when previously performing the same song.  This fusion of structure and chaos gives Television strength.  Without structure, their sound would collapse; without chaotic improvisation they may be dull.  “I like the rhythm thing about guitar, much more than lead guitar,” claims Verlaine, who’s always fond of a contradiction.  “The lead guitar just happened because it was the point in the song to play a solo and I would kind of rip something down, and it came out sounding different sometimes.”

Almost all of Television’s songs are written by Tom Verlaine.  As his literary interests suggest, his lyrics are quite poetic in their imagery.  What is less expected is that they are riddled with odd references that appear to be strange in-jokes, unintelligible to anyone other than the author.  In both cases, they are intriguing and food for thought.

In October 1975 Television releases their first single on their manager Terry Ork’s customised Ork label.  A seven minute Tom Verlaine composition, ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ (UK no. 30), is broken into Part 1 on the A side and Part 2 on the B side.  A casual Tom Verlaine ‘claims they probably wouldn’t sell many of them anyway…[and its purpose is] documenting themselves for art’s sake.’  Although it is hardly a chart-busting smash, ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ sells in excess of two thousand copies.  The song itself sounds positively unearthly.  The mix is thin and tremulous.  “Now Little Johnny Jewel / Oh, he’s so cool / He has no decision / He’s just trying to tell a vision,” sings Tom Verlaine, slipping in a pun on the band’s name of Television (tell a vision).  “That [single] actually got a lot of press – I think ‘cause it was so weird,” says Verlaine.

Major record labels now court Television.  In 1975 Brian Eno flies in from England to make a demo tape of Television for Island Records – but it is rejected.  Television make demos themselves for Arista but ‘ultimately turn them down because the label doesn’t offer enough money.’  In winter 1975-1976 an audition for Atlantic Records leaves the executives too freaked out by the band’s unusual sound to sign Television.  Finally, the group finds a home on Elektra Records in 1976.  Andy Johns is selected as producer.  He is the brother of Glyn Johns, another noted record producer.  After some initial confusion about the sound the band wants – “A dry sound, no reverb, no compression – nice, tight, smaller kit,” according to Richard Lloyd – they all get along quite well.

‘Marquee Moon’ (1977) (UK no. 28) is released in February on Elektra Records.  Production credit is shared between Andy Johns and Tom Verlaine.  The cover image is a photocopy of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo of the group with the colours distorted through over saturation.  All the songs are written by Tom Verlaine with the exception of ‘Guiding Light’, a slow, 1950s ache, which he co-writes with Richard Lloyd.  The nominal single is ‘Prove It’ (UK no. 25) which sounds like a cross between an insect call and a film noir soundtrack.  Narrating like a private eye, Verlaine refers to “The docks / The clocks / A whisper woke him up.”  The album opens with the tightly-woven guitar mesh of ‘See No Evil’, an anthem for the punk/new wave era: “Destructive urges…It seems so perfect…I see no evil.”  ‘Venus’ is one of the oldest songs in Television’s repertoire.  Richard Lloyd recalls seeing Tom Verlaine playing it at a solo gig back in 1973.  The guitars chime lyrically on ‘Venus’.  Bewilderingly, the song is set on a “tight toy night” – an inexplicable Verlaine-ism.  Additionally, Verlaine wrong-foots listeners by pronouncing the last word of Venus de Milo as ‘MEE-low’ rather than the more common ‘MY-low’.  In truth, both pronunciations are correct and acceptable.  The Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue sculpted by Alexandros of Antioch between 130 and 100 B.C.  It is believed to be a depiction of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite (or Venus, as the Romans renamed her).  The statue survives only in damaged form, with the arms broken off.  So when Tom Verlaine sings, “I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo,” he means he fell into the arms of the goddess of love – except she doesn’t have any arms so, presumably, he is left to fall down.  “The song ‘Venus de Milo’ [sic], the whole subject of it is love is a drug,” claims Tom Verlaine.  Perhaps the best track in Television’s career is ‘Friction’.  This song embodies a maddening impulse, an itch that can’t be scratched.  ‘Friction’ combines Television’s greatest strengths.  “Something comes tracking down / What is it, what’s the prediction? / I’ll betcha it’s friction,” confides Verlaine in the lyric.  But the words also encompass his usual profundity (“I don’t wanna grow up / There’s too much contradiction”) and perplexing prose (“If I ever catch that ventriloquist / I’ll squeeze his head right into my fist”).  Above all else, there are the guitars.  Richard Lloyd’s steady riff is classic stuff but when Verlaine’s solo skitters down the fretboard like an expert skier executing a flawless slalom, it reaches some sort of apotheosis.  ‘Marquee Moon’, the title track, is a more oblique piece.  Its teasing tones are like blinking musical lights.  The lyrics are more opaque than ever: “Life in the hive puckered up my night, the kiss of death, the embrace of life / There I stand ‘neath the Marquee Moon / Just waiting…”  The luxuriant length of the track (10:47) is largely justified by its guitar solos, first from Lloyd, then from Verlaine.  ‘Elevation’ has strangled vocals and throbbing guitars.  Rounding out the disc is ‘Torn Curtain’, a gloomy, paranoid piece stalked by Verlaine’s serrated guitar.  (Note: Later reissues of ‘Marquee Moon’ wisely include ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ as a bonus track, though it was not part of the album in its original configuration.)  ‘Marquee Moon’ is, of course, Television’s best album.  ‘They are one band in a million; the songs are some of the greatest ever,’ gushes one review.  The album receives only a muted response in the U.S.A. but does better in England.  “Everybody seemed to love the record over there right away,” notes Tom Verlaine.  Time and history converge to expand the legend of ‘Marquee Moon’, making it a cult classic.  Verlaine concludes, “Each one [of the songs] is like a little moment of discovery or releasing something or being in a certain time or place and having a certain understanding of something.”

Television begins a U.K. tour on 20 May 1977 as a support act to bassist Fred Smith’s former group, Blondie.

‘Adventure’ (1978) (UK no. 7) is the title of Television’s second album.  Released in April, it is co-produced by John Jansen and Television.  All the songs are written by Tom Verlaine with the exception of ‘Days’, which is co-written with fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd.  ‘Foxhole’ (UK no. 36) is harder and heavier than previous Television songs.  Chanting the title, Verlaine demands, “Foxhole, foxhole / Show me the war.”  The unexpectedly bouncy ‘Careful’ has its title contradicted by its own lyrics: “I don’t care.”  “When I see the glory / I ain’t gotta worry,” sings Verlaine in ‘Glory’, an angular track with dovetailing guitars.  ‘Adventure’ has better U.S. sales than ‘Marquee Moon’ but the reputation of ‘Marquee Moon’ has come to comprehensively eclipse it.  ‘Adventure’ is not the equal of ‘Marquee Moon’, but historically it may deserve reassessment since it is possibly underrated.

On 28 August 1978 Television disbands.  The break-up is said to be ‘due to tensions between the two guitarists’, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.

Tom Verlaine records a series of solo albums.  Former Television bassist Fred Smith plays on many of these discs.  Verlaine’s albums are: ‘Tom Verlaine’ (1979); ‘Dreamtime’ (1981); ‘Words From The Front’ (1982); ‘Cover’ (1984), which – despite its title – does not consist of cover versions; ‘Flashlight’ (1987); and ‘The Wonder’ (1990).

Richard Lloyd also issues some solo albums: ‘Alchemy’ (1979), ‘Field Of Fire’ (1986) and ‘Real Time’ (1987).

From 1978 to 1984 Billy Ficca plays drums in a band called The Waitresses.  Their first album, ‘Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?’ (1982) (US no. 41) includes their best known song, ‘I Know What Boys Like’ (US no. 62).  The group issues an EP in 1982, ‘I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts’ (US no. 128); a second album, ‘Bruiseology’ (1983) (US no. 155); and a final EP, ‘Make The Weather’, in 1983.

Television reforms late in 1991 with all four members of the classic line-up of the band.  They release a new album, ‘Television’ (1992), on Capitol Records.  The album is produced by Television and all the songs are written by Tom Verlaine.  ‘Mr Lee’ is released as a single.  The group disbands again early in 1993.

Tom Verlaine issues ‘Warm And Cool’ (1992) and Richard Lloyd puts out ‘The Cover Doesn’t Matter’ (2001).

Television gets back together in 2001 for a handful of shows in the U.K. and the Noise Pop Festival in Chicago.  After this, they never really disband again, but seem to only exist to revel in old glories.

Tom Verlaine releases two more solo albums, both in the same year, ‘Songs And Other Things’ (2006) and ‘Around’ (2006).

Richard Lloyd leaves Television in 2006.  “He just quit,” says Tom Verlaine simply, “so we thought we’d find another guitar player.”  Richard Lloyd resumes his solo career with ‘The Radiant Monkey’ (2007) and ‘The Jamie Neverts Story’ (2009).

Jimmy Rip replaces Richard Lloyd in Television from 2007 and the band continues to fitfully tour.

Television never made much commercial impact.  “I really don’t have that much interest in stardom,” shrugged Tom Verlaine.  The band’s reputation amongst the cognoscenti is huge.  Yes, much of that reputation centres on ‘Marquee Moon’.  It may only be one great album, but there are many bands who will never achieve so much.  Television was ‘one of the most creative bands to emerge from New York’s punk scene of the mid-1970s, creating an influential new guitar vocabulary.’  Their work was based on ‘the cryptic electricity and strangled existentialism of guitarist Tom Verlaine’s voice and songwriting.’

Sources:

  1. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 21 April 2014
  2. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 26, 220
  3. brainyquote.com as at 20 June 2014
  4. ‘The Australian’ (Australian newspaper) – ‘How Tom Verlaine is Creating New Waves’ – Tom Verlaine interview conducted by Iain Sheddon (27 July 2013) (reproduced on theaustralian.com)
  5. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 20 June 2014
  6. wikipedia.org as at 21 April 2014
  7. ‘Tom Verlaine/Television Quiz: Part Seven – For Experts’ on thewonder.co.uk as at 21 June 2014
  8. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) – ‘Playing in the Key of Low’ – Tom Verlaine interview conducted by Noel Mengel (3 October 2013) p. 45
  9. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 229
  10. ‘Marquee Moon’ – Sleeve notes by Alan Light (Elektra/Warner Strategic Marketing, 2003 reissue) p. 5, 6, 9, 14, 17, 19
  11. ‘Select’ (September 1992) via thewonder.co.uk as at 21 June 2014
  12. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Sound of New York City’ by John Rockwell (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 553, 554
  13. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.121
  14. allmusic.com, ‘Television’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 16 June 2014
  15. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 51
  16. ‘Marquee Moon’ – Album cover (Elektra/Warner Strategic Marketing, 2003 reissue) p. 5
  17. howjsay.com as at 21 June 2014
  18. ‘New Musical Express’ (U.K. music newspaper) – review of ‘Marquee Moon’ by Nick Kent (via (10) above p. 2)
  19. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 270, 287

Song lyrics copyright Verlaine Music (ASCAP)

Last revised 6 July 2014

Talking Heads

 Talking Heads

 David Byrne – circa 1979

“I can’t seem to face up to the facts / I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax” – ’Psycho Killer’ (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth)

David Byrne avoids eye contact.  He stares at the floor while speaking.  A lock of lank, dark hair falls across his pale forehead.  When he glances up, his eyes dart about, giving him the furtive look of a hunted wild animal.  It is the late 1970s and David Byrne is the frontman of American new wave band Talking Heads.  “I guess he’s organically shy,” ventures bassist Tina Weymouth.  Byrne says, “I couldn’t talk to people face to face, so I got on stage and started screaming and squealing and twitching.”

David Byrne is born 14 May 1952 in Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, U.K.  David has a sister named Celia who will go on to become an epidemiologist, specialising in breast cancer.  When David Byrne is 2 years old, he and his family move to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, because David’s father has a job opportunity there.  When David is 7, the family relocates to Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.  Although he lives in the U.S.A. from this point on, David Byrne never takes out U.S. citizenship.  David attends Lansdowne High School in Baltimore.  He learns to play guitar and, at high school, has a covers band called Revelation.

After completing high school, David Byrne attends the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970-1971.  “The whole direction I was going into in art…was working with questionnaires and polls and things like that that had to do with reactions between myself and larger numbers of people than [art] galleries.”  David Byrne begins putting on ‘somewhat left-of-centre solo performances’ of conceptually based art.  In one such show, ‘he shaves his beard and long hair onstage, accompanied by an accordion player and showgirl who displays Russian cue cards.’  That image is how two members of the audience, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, remember first seeing David Byrne.

Charlton Christopher Frantz is born 8 May 1951 in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, U.S.A.  Chris comes from a military family that moves around the U.S.A. in accordance with their father’s postings.  Chris has a brother named Roddy.  The family settles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when Chris Frantz is in his mid-teens.  Chris attends the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh until graduating in 1970.  Chris first experiments with music in the fourth grade when he tries to learn trumpet.  Discouraged at his lack of progress, the youngster switches to trombone only to find he is equally unsuited to that instrument.  Finally, Chris Frantz moves to drums.  In 1965 he forms a group called The Hustlers.  They change their name to The Beans (March 1969-July 1970).  Leaving behind high school bands, Chris Frantz attends the Rhode Island School of Design from 1970 to 1974.

Martina Michele Weymouth is born 22 November 1950 in Coronado, Southern California, U.S.A.  Her father, Ralph Weymouth, is American, while her mother, Laure, is French.  Like Chris Frantz, Tina comes from a military family and so lives in different parts of the world.  Ralph Weymouth is in the navy and eventually attains the rank of vice admiral.  Tina has seven siblings including her brothers Loric and Yann and sisters Lani and Laura.  Tina’s first brush with music comes when she is 12 and she plays in a touring handbell ensemble, a medieval-themed enterprise.  She begins playing folk music on guitar when she is 14, but gives up later in high school.  It is ‘more than a decade’ before Tina Weymouth plays music again.  An attractive blonde girl, Tina is a cheerleader in high school.  She goes on to attend the Rhode Island School of Design from 1970 to 1974.  “My first summer job was working for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the naval shipyard at Washington, D.C.,” says Tina.  “I worked as an educational illustrator.”

After Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth witness David Byrne’s oddball performance art show, Chris gets to know David.  Their association, at this point, is fated to be brief.  David Byrne drops out before completing his first year because he ‘doesn’t like the elitist attitudes.’  Leaving the Rhode Island School of Design in 1971, Byrne spends a year (1971-1972) at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore.  While in Baltimore, Byrne performs with Mark Kehoe as a duo called Bizadi (February 1971-March 1972).  David Byrne then abandons his school days completely.

David Byrne seeks out Chris Frantz who is still at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth meet while both are attending the Rhode Island School of Design.  “We met at a figure-painting class in September 1972,” recalls Chris.  “I was looking around the room at the other students and there was one really attractive girl in the corner…She had a boyfriend at the time…When they broke up, I was able to console her and woo her.”

In October 1973 David Byrne and Chris Frantz form a band called The Artistics.  They later change their name to The Autistics ‘in honour of a second guitarist who had once been diagnosed autistic.’  The Artistics/Autistics break up in June 1974.

David Byrne moves to New York City.  Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design and the couple move to New York City in September 1974.  David and Chris talk about forming a new group.  All three of them live in a loft at 195 Chrystie Street – though Chris and Tina’s area is discreetly partitioned off.  While the boys search for “other like-minded musicians to join the band”, all three obtain jobs.  Chris Frantz is a stock boy at Design Research, Tina Weymouth works at Henri Bendel’s, and David Byrne works as an usher at Murray Hill Cinema until packing that in and taking a job making photocopies for an advertising agency.  Eventually, it becomes clear to Frantz and Byrne that they are not going to find any suitable additional musicians.  In desperation, Chris asks Tina to play bass.  Despite her teenage flirtation with guitar, Tina is described as a ‘non-musician.’  “Initially I was just a fan [of the band],” she says.  Still, Tina Weymouth agrees and a band is born consisting of: David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums).

After considering such possibilities as The Vogue Dots, The Tunnel Tones and The World Of Love, the group take the name Talking Heads.  Everyone agrees that the name came from the U.S. magazine ‘T.V. Guide’.  Tina Weymouth claims, “A friend had found the name in the ‘T.V. Guide’ which explained the term used by T.V. studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as ‘all content, no action.’”  David Byrne has a different recollection: “A friend of ours, [Wayne Zieve] – he’s a painter – he saw it in ‘T.V. Guide’ magazine.  It was the name of some crazy science-fiction movie.  I think it was called ‘The Talking Heads.’  Probably a head in a box or something,” he adds with a laugh.  There doesn’t seem to be any ‘crazy science-fiction’ movie called ‘Talking Heads’.  The nearest candidate is ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ (1962) which is also known as ‘The Head That Wouldn’t Die.’

Talking Heads first gig is on 20 June 1975 at the New York venue C.B.G.B.’s where they open for New York punk rock band The Ramones.  Tina Weymouth points out that the early Talking Heads’ gigs had audiences that were largely made up of their friends and family.  Talking Heads play regularly at C.B.G.B.’s.  A record company representative named Marc Spector makes a recording in 1975 of two songs, ‘Sugar On My Tongue’ and ‘I Want To Live’, by the trio but, for now, nothing comes from their efforts.

Although Talking Heads are progressing, there is a feeling that something is missing.  Chris Frantz says, “What we needed was someone who could play keyboards and guitar to give us a fuller sound.”  That someone turns out to be Jerry Harrison.

Jeremiah Griffin Harrison is born 21 February 1949 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.  In the fourth grade he begins learning piano, clarinet and saxophone.  Harrison plays in a number of high school bands during his teens.  From 1967 to 1969 Jerry Harrison attends Harvard University.  While there, he is in a band called Albatross that disbands in mid-1969.  After leaving university, Harrison plays keyboards in Catfish Black (1969-1970).  Eccentric singer Jonathan Richman then employs Jerry Harrison as part of his backing band, The Modern Lovers, from March 1971 to March 1974.  In this outfit, Harrison plays both guitar and keyboards.  Although the commercial rewards for Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers are meagre, they are a critics’ favourite and highly regarded.  After Richman disbands/reinvents the group, the dismissed Harrison feels justifiably disillusioned with the whole rock music industry.  “I was starting graduate school after some very lean years,” explains Harrison.  He intends to study architecture.  Ernie Brooks, the bass player from The Modern Lovers, gives Chris Frantz Jerry’s phone number after the drummer enquires about whether Jerry would be available.  Harrison has ‘grave doubts’ about joining Talking Heads, but agrees ‘provided he can finish the semester’ at graduate school.  The news that Talking Heads has a record deal in the works with Seymour Stein of Sire Records seals the deal for Jerry Harrison.  Tina Weymouth describes him as “the band’s resident scientist and sex symbol.”

The recognisable Talking Heads quartet of David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards), Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums) is assembled in January 1976.

Talking Heads are usually described as a punk or new wave band.  The two genres blur together a bit.  Both have a goal to return rock music to a simpler and more basic form.  Punk is more aggressive compared to its successor, the more eccentric new wave.  David Byrne’s neurotic mannerisms place Talking Heads closer to the new wave end of the spectrum.  Typically, Byrne is not entirely comfortable with the label (“I think all groups like to feel like they have something special to offer that makes them slightly different to other groups”), but grudgingly accepts it (“Y’know, I’d feel people were more off the mark if they said we were country rock”).

As the focal point of Talking Heads, David Byrne’s persona is crucial.  He ‘twitches with intensity and rolls his eyes as he sings.’  Offsetting this is the rather conservative attire of the band as a whole.  They dress like students or suburbanites, not rock stars.  Weirdly, this only enhances the disturbing serial killer undertow of Byrne’s behaviour.

Talking Heads may be the least guitar-oriented band of the punk/new wave era.  “I wanted my guitar to sound thin, clean and clanky, not chunky, distorted and macho,” claims David Byrne.  He recalls, as a youth, hearing “British blues-rock bands with really good guitar players,” but says, “That’s not something I could do.”  So the emphasis in Talking Heads shifts to the rhythm section.  “I love to concentrate on playing the bass and keeping it rock solid,” says Tina Weymouth, noting that the rhythm and blues, soul, and funk music of James Brown is a major influence for her.  Tina Weymouth occupies an important role in rock music feminism as well.  Previously, women had been in all-girl vocal groups (The Shangri-Las, The Supremes), been pop stars at centre-stage (Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt) or even, in rare cases, part of an all-girl band (Fanny).  It is virtually without precedent for a woman to be a functional member of a band, an equal to her male colleagues, but not the frontperson.  “I play bass.  I don’t have to go out there and screech,” says Weymouth.  With the rhythm section to the fore, Talking Heads become more dance-oriented.  “The Heads were the only band on the scene that had a groove,” boasts Byrne.  Weymouth nails it on the head when she says, “When Talking Heads started, we called ourselves thinking man’s dance music.”

Most of the songwriting in Talking Heads is attributed to David Byrne.  At various points, songs are credited to the band as a whole because they are built up from collective improvisations, but Byrne seems to remain the primary architect.  “I’ve never had writer’s block,” he states.  “I use a stream-of-consciousness approach,” writing down unfiltered thoughts as they pass through his head, “then you craft it” by editing it into a more intelligible form.  Because this is David Byrne, his lyrics remain puzzling.  “In a certain way it’s the sound of the words…that has as much meaning as the actual, literal words,” he says.  Often it seems David Byrne must be expressing ideas in an ironic way; it’s hard to believe he could really mean some of the sentiments.  Yet nagging doubts remain that, unlikely as it seems, he may just be sincere.  “People use irony as a defence mechanism,” he says, without actually clarifying anything.

The Ramones, the quintessential punk rock band, play some shows in the U.K. in the middle of 1976.  British band The Stranglers are a support act on some of these dates, but Talking Heads (whose first show on 20 June 1975 was as a support act for The Ramones) also play on some of these U.K. shows.  The important thing about these gigs is it leads to the meeting of Talking Heads and Brian Eno.  “Well he came and saw us when we were in London the first time,” says David Byrne.  “It was before we had a record out…He liked us so we kind of got to be friends and hung out together and stuff.”  Eno was a member of British glam rock band Roxy Music from 1970 to 1972 before embarking on a solo career involving more abstract and avant-garde music.

In February 1977 Talking Heads release their first single.  A one-off track not included on their debut album, it is ‘Love → Building On Fire’ (pronounced ‘love goes to building on fire’).  Written by David Byrne, this is an off-beat effort with horn flourishes.  “I got two loves / They go tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet like little birds,” sings Byrne in a demented high voice.

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth marry on 18 June 1977.  The couple go on to have two sons: Robin (born 4 November 1982) and Egan (born 1986).

‘Talking Heads ‘77’ (1977) (US no. 97, UK no. 60), released in September, is the debut album for the New York quartet.  The group wanted John Cale, formerly of late 1960s-early 1970s New York band The Velvet Underground to produce the disc, but were overruled by their record label, Sire.  Instead, the album is produced by Tony Bongiovi, Lance Quinn and Talking Heads.  The standout cut from the album is ‘Psycho Killer’ (US no. 92), co-written by David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.  The song’s inspiration is Barbara Conway, an art school friend of Byrne’s who described everything she thought was cool as ‘psycho killer.’  Of course, Byrne turns the song into a more literal interpretation of a mentally-troubled character.  Barbara Conway is murdered by a female stalker in the 1980s.  The chorus to this throbbing, ominous Talking Heads song is, “Psycho Killer / Q’uest que c’est,” which is French for “what is this/it?”  There are a few more lines of French in the song.  Chris Frantz says that Byrne, “wanted the bridge written in French…and he knew that Tina was fluent as her mother was French, so Tina wrote the bridge.”  ‘Don’t Worry About The Government’ is an early example of Byrne’s irony (or not?): “Some civil servants are just like my loved ones / They work so hard and try to be strong,” he croons with cloying (artificial?) optimism.  ‘No Compassion’ has a shuddering tempo shift, going from an elongated form into a sprightly overdrive, and then slowing down again.  ‘Don’t Worry About The Government’ and ‘No Compassion’ are both written by David Byrne.  This album uses ‘existing music forms in eccentric combinations.’  “For a long time, I felt, ‘Well, f*** everybody,” says David Byrne.  “Well, now I want to be accepted.”

Talking Heads’ second album is ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food’ (1978) (US no. 29, UK no. 21, AUS no. 46).  It is the first of three albums on which they work with producer Brian Eno, whom they met in London in the middle of 1976.  The cover image of the band members is actually a mosaic made up of Polaroid photos of sections of them assembled into a whole.  ‘Warning Sign’, written by David Byrne and Chris Frantz, dates back to The Artistics’ repertoire.  Over the emergency siren of its relentless funk, Byrne intones, “Hear my voice / It’s saying something and it’s not very nice.”  The Byrne solo composition ‘The Big Country’ is a description of what the narrator ‘sees flying over Middle America.’  Yet, as Jerry Harrison’s slide guitar frames a listing of suburbia, small towns and open fields, Byrne’s big city attitude makes him slip in the exhortation, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me / I couldn’t live like that, no Sirree!”  The album’s most successful work is actually a non-original song, a cover version of Al Green’s 1974 neo-soul hit ‘Take Me To The River’ (US no. 26, AUS no. 26).  Its gospel tones are subverted by Tina Weymouth’s sinister bass and Jerry Harrison’s keyboards invoke not only a church organ but a watery burble.  The album is hailed as ‘a remarkable work.’

‘Fear Of Music’ (1979) (US no. 21, UK no. 33, AUS no. 35) is a title contributed by guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison.  It’s not the front cover, but the album sleeve includes heat-sensitive thermographic pictures of the band.  “I really wanted one of the ones that show your blood vessels, etc., etc.,” admits David Byrne, “but for that you have to drink or be injected with a radioactive isotope…uh…no thanx.”  Byrne and Harrison co-write both the mini-explosions of ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ and the calming and expansive ‘Heaven’.  In the latter, Byrne sings, “Heaven is a place where nothing / Nothing ever happens.”  Drummer Chris Frantz explains, “Sometimes rock stars get over-stimulated and the idea of a place where nothing ever happens sounds pretty appealing.”  ‘Fear Of Music’ contains Talking Heads’ all-time best song, the group composition ‘Life During Wartime’ (US no. 80).  This pressurised funk rock piece has the chorus, “This ain’t no party / This ain’t no disco / This ain’t no fooling around / This ain’t no Mudd Club or C.B.G.B. / I ain’t got time for that now.”  Besides nodding to the early venues where Talking Heads played, this highlights the contrast between the song’s compulsive groove and Byrne’s newsreader-like recitation of banal emergency: “I got some groceries, some peanut butter / To last a couple of days / But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got not headphones / Ain’t got no records to play.”  This song is the distillation of Talking Heads’ ethos of thinking music you can dance to (or dance music you can think about) and so stands as their definitive moment.  A ‘more opaque’ album, ‘Fear Of Music’ points to the future with ‘I Zimbra’ (pronounced ‘ee zimbra’).  This is hard Afro-funk but, although it may be thought the lyrics are in an African language, they are actually unidentifiable from any language.  The lyrics are adapted from ‘Gadji Beri Bimba’, a poem by the figurehead of the Dadaist art movement, the German-born Hugo Ball, who receives a co-songwriting credit with David Byrne and producer Brian Eno.

On 21 August 1980 Talking Heads debut an expanded nine-piece touring line-up.  The four core members are augmented by Adrian Belew (guitar), Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Busta Cherry Jones (bass), Steve Scales (percussion) and Dolette Mc Donald (backing vocals).  They play ‘an expansively orchestrated, African-derived polyrythmic funk-rock.’  Although these additional musicians don’t play on the impending album, the wider line-up gives an idea of what is in store.

‘Remain In Light’ (1980) (US no. 19, UK no. 21, AUS no. 25), released in October, is Talking Heads’ best album.  The album cover portrait, that looks like someone has scribbled in red texta over photos of the faces of the four band members, is actually designed by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz and was created on computer with the aid of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Talking Heads incorporation of funk rhythms reaches some kind of apex here as their exploratory journey leads them to the African music that has been rock music’s foundation all along.  “And you may find yourself in a beautiful house / With a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself / Well…How did I get here?” intones David Byrne on ‘Once In A Lifetime’ (US no. 103, UK no. 14, AUS no. 23).  Producer Brian Eno responds, singing along with the chorus, “Letting the days go by / Let the water hold me down.”  The refrain “same as it ever was” seems ironic since this is so new.  The track is co-written by the four members of Talking Heads and Brian Eno.  The same applies to the berserk hyperactive beats of ‘Crosseyed And Painless’.  “Lost my shape / Trying to act casual,” sings Byrne through gritted teeth, “Can’t stop / I might end up in the hospital.”  Again, Eno wafts in, his high voice suggesting, “There was a time / There was a formula.”  On this track, Byrne even chips in a proto-rap about facts that begins: “Facts are simple and facts are straight / Facts are lazy and facts are late.”  ‘The Great Curve’ celebrates womanhood…or the shape of the world…or both.  ‘Born Under Punches’ is another flailing funk tune.  ‘Listening Wind’ is a more subtle and sere vision of Africa.  ‘Remain In Light’ ‘destroys any possible preconceptions about the band’ and is a brave merger of urbane New York cool and wild African heat.

The expanded Talking Heads nine-piece band tours the U.K. from 1 December 1980.

The members of Talking Heads take a break, concentrating on solo albums and side projects.  ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ (1981) (US no. 44, UK no. 29) in February is a joint effort by David Byrne and Brian Eno, a venture into experimental sounds.  In 1981, Byrne has a ‘brief affair’ with singer/dancer/choreographer Toni Basil.  The Tom Tom Club is Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s new undertaking.  Tina provides vocals as well as bass and her sisters Lani and Laura act as backing vocalists.  ‘Tom Tom Club’ (1981) (US no. 23, UK no. 78) is released in June and they also score with the singles ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ (UK no. 7) in 1981 and ‘Genius Of Love’ (US no. 24, UK no. 65) in 1982.  Jerry Harrison releases a solo album called ‘The Red And The Black’ (1981).  David Byrne writes ‘The Catherine Wheel’, an hour-long ballet, for Twyla Tharp’s dance company.  It is first performed at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway in New York on 22 September 1981.  Byrne’s soundtrack album, ‘The Catherine Wheel’ (1981) (US no. 104), is issued in December.  David Byrne dates Twyla Tharp in 1981-1982.

‘The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads’ (1982) (US no. 31, UK no. 22) is a live album documenting the group’s evolution.

‘Speaking In Tongues’ (1983) (US no. 15, UK no. 21, AUS no. 15) in May sees Talking Heads reconvene.  Brian Eno is gone.  “The others and I sensed him wanting us to be his backing band,” says David Byrne.  This brings the group to say, “OK, enough” and put a stop to their work with the producer.  This is the first of three albums produced by the band themselves.  “When we were making ‘Speaking In Tongues’ and ‘Remain In Light’, we were jamming [building up a song in performance],” says Tina Weymouth, explaining why the songwriting credits here are assigned to all four members.  The highlight is the thundering funk of ‘Burning Down The House’ (US no. 9, AUS no. 94).  Sharing the funk around are ‘Slippery People’ and ‘Girlfriend Is Better’.  The latter is another instance of David Byrne’s lyrics that may be ironic or may be quite serious: “I got a girlfriend / With bows in her hair / And nothing is better than that / Is it?”  ‘Swamp’ is an unusual, thick, black-soiled, blues song with Byrne’s narrator (an assumed character?) confiding, “Now, lemme tell you a story / The devil has a plan / A bag a ‘bones in his pocket.”  ‘This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)’ (US no. 62, UK no. 51) is feather-light, African-influenced music, but its gimmick is the band members playing unfamiliar instruments.  Guitarist Byrne switches between guitar and keyboards, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison plays the bass line on a Prophet synthesiser, bassist Tina Weymouth plays guitar, but Chris Frantz sticks to the drums.  “No jam really got off the ground if anyone else tried to play them,” admits Weymouth.

In August, Tom Tom Club issues a second album, ‘Close To The Bone’ (1983) (US no. 73).

Talking Heads embark on another extensive tour.  Film cameras capture the show and Jonathan Demme directs a concert movie which comes with a live soundtrack album, ‘Stop Making Sense’ (1984) (US no. 41, UK no. 24, AUS no. 12) (the title is a line from the song ‘Girlfriend Is Better’).  In the film, Talking Heads play in their extended nine-piece incarnation.  David Byrne performs in an over-sized white suit.  He moves about in a peculiar way that might be considered dancing.  “I’d like to be known for more than being the guy in the big suit,” he later says.  “I’m proud of ‘Stop Making Sense’, but it’s a little bit of an albatross; I can’t compete with it, but I can’t ignore it either.”  It is one of the more creatively successful live albums in rock history.

David Byrne releases another soundtrack album, ‘Music For ‘The Knee Plays’’ (1985) (US no. 141), in May.

Talking Heads reassemble for ‘Little Creatures’ (1985) (US no. 20, UK no. 10, AUS no. 2) in June.  This is a ‘more accessible’ album, a ‘straight-forward pop album.’  The polyrythmic Afro-funk is largely set aside in favour of a more basic recording.  Accordingly, David Byrne is restored to his role as chief songwriter.  ‘The Lady Don’t Mind’ (UK no. 81, AUS no. 24) has an almost oriental feel to it.  Perhaps the most simple pop song here is ‘And She Was’ (US no. 54, UK no. 17, AUS no. 10).  David Byrne explains the song’s genesis: “I used to know a blissed-out hippie chick in Baltimore.  She once told me that she used to do acid…and lay down on the field by the Yoo-Hoo chocolate soda factory.  Flying out of her body…”  So the lyrics state, “The world was moving / She was floating above it / And she was.”  ‘Road To Nowhere’ (US no. 105, UK no. 6, AUS no. 16) grows out of a choir opening into a country hoedown that supplies what Byrne describes as a “joyful look at doom.  At our deaths and the apocalypse.”  ‘Stay Up Late’ is one of the more humorous songs in the Talking Heads catalogue.  “Mommy had a little baby,” sings Byrne by way of introduction.  “Cute, cute little baby / Little pee pee, little toes / Now he’s coming to me / Crawl across the kitchen floor.”  It’s kiddie stuff – but weird.  ‘Little Creatures’ is released on Warner Bros. in the U.K., Sire’s parent label, as is the next album.

‘True Stories’ (1986) (US no. 28, UK no. 7, AUS no. 2) continues the simpler sounds of ‘Little Creatures’, but is more calculatedly ironic – though, as always with David Byrne, it may just be sincere.  ‘Wild Wild Life’ (US no. 25, UK no. 43, AUS no. 13) is pop with a snap and crackle.  ‘Radio Head’ (UK no. 52, AUS no. 52) provides the name for the British alt-rock band founded in the 1990s.  ‘Love For Sale’ is unusually guitar-heavy with a hard rock riff.  “I was born in a house with the television always on / I grew up too fast and I forget my name,” sings Byrne’s narrator before cobbling together most of the lyrics from advertising jingles.  ‘Love For Sale’ is quite amusing.  ‘City Of Dreams’ is built on precise piano notes, as sturdy as Roman columns.  “We live in the city of dreams / We drive on the highway of fire / Should we awake and find it gone / Remember this our favourite town,” seems to celebrate small town life in a way that the earlier Talking Heads’ song ‘The Big Country’ mocked.  Are they both send-ups?  Are they both serious?  Who knows?

David Byrne directs a movie, ‘True Stories’ (1986), but it’s hard to tell if anyone gets the joke of his deadpan ‘celebration’ of Americana.  Byrne also issues a soundtrack, ‘Sounds From True Stories’ (1986).

David Byrne’s soundtrack album for ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) (US no. 152) wins an Academy Award.

While visiting Japan, David Byrne meets actress and designer Adelle Lutz.  The couple marry in 1987.  They have a daughter together, Malu Valentine (born 1990).

‘Naked’ (1988) (US no. 19, UK no. 3, AUS no. 8) is released in March on Warner Bros. in all territories.  The album is co-produced by Steve Lillywhite and Talking Heads.  Though not immediately apparent, this will be Talking Heads’ final album.  It ‘marks a return to their worldbeat explorations.’  The best of the tracks on this album is ‘Nothing But Flowers’ (UK no. 79).  The song seems to be sent back from some future time after civilisation has collapsed and the world we know is replaced by a new, verdant existence, a virtual new Eden.  “The highways and cars were sacrificed for agriculture,” sings David Byrne’s narrator amidst rococo Africana.  Yet, comically, rather than embrace this new world, he yells, “I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens and 7-11s” and “If this is paradise / I wish I had a lawn mower.”  On this album, the lyrics are credited to Byrne, but the music is attributed to the band collectively.  “Changing clothes / Now he’s got ventilated slacks / Bouncing off the walls / Mr Jones is back,” sings Byrne in a slice of mambo madness entitled ‘Mr Jones’.  ‘Blind’ (UK no. 59) is big and brawny, with huffing horns punctuating the song as David Byrne repeats the title over and over.

Jerry Harrison’s album ‘Casual Gods’ (1988) includes the dynamic single ‘Rev It Up’.  The Tom Tom Club issue a third album, ‘Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom’ (1988) (US no. 114) – though it’s not released in the U.S. until 1989.  David Byrne releases ‘Rei Momo’ (1989) (US no. 71, UK no. 52), an album whose title means ‘king of carnival.’  Jerry Harrison’s ‘Walk On Water’ (1990) is followed by another soundtrack album from David Byrne, ‘The Forest’ (1991).

The dissolution of Talking Heads is officially announced in 1991.  It appears the break-up is largely due to a falling out between David Byrne and the rest of the band.  “He’s a passive-aggressive type,” claims Tina Weymouth, “and it had a toxic effect on the whole band.”

After another Tom Tom Club album, ‘Dark Sneak Love Action’ (1992), Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz work with Jerry Harrison under the name The Heads.  The trio issues the album ‘No Talking, Just Head’ (1996).  A variety of guest vocalists appear on the disc including Debbie Harry (from Blondie), Andy Partridge (XTC) and Michael Hutchence (INXS).  However it is Johnette Napolitano (from Concrete Blonde) who not only sings on the album, but goes on tour with The Heads.  The Heads proves a short-lived project.  The Tom Tom Club returns to action for ‘The Good, The Bad And The Funky’ (2000).  The only time the four members of Talking Heads reunite is in 2002 when the band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Tom Tom Club issues another album, ‘Downtown Rockers’ (2012).

David Byrne continues his solo career, mixing further soundtrack work with albums of more conventional songs.  Byrne’s catalogue consists of: ‘Uh-Oh’ (1992) (US no. 125, UK no. 26); ‘David Byrne’ (1994) (US no. 139, UK no. 44); ‘Feelings’ (1997) (US no. 155, UK no. 91); ‘Your Action World – Soundtrack’ (1999); ‘In Spite Of Wishing And Waiting – Soundtrack’ (1999); ‘Look Into The Eyeball’ (2001) (US no. 120, UK no. 58); ‘E.E.E.I. (Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information) – Power Point Presentation Soundtrack’ (2002); ‘Lead Us Not Into Temptation’ (2003) is the soundtrack to the movie ‘Young Adam’; and ‘Grown Backwards’ (2004) (UK no. 88).

David Byrne and Adelle Lutz divorce in 2004.  Byrne then becomes involved with art curator Louise Neri before going on to a relationship with Cindy Sherman (2007-2011).

David Byrne’s recording career continues with ‘Everything That Will Happen Today’ (2008) (US no. 174, UK no. 153); ‘Big Love: Hymnal’ (2008) – the soundtrack to the second season of the television series ‘Big Love’; ‘Here Lies Love’ (2010) (US no. 96, UK no. 26) is a collaboration with dance music artist Fatboy Slim; ‘Love This Giant’ (2012) (US no. 23, UK no. 40); and ‘American Utopia’ (2018) (US no. 3, UK no. 16).

David Byrne’s awkward intellectualism was a big part of Talking Heads’ appeal.  Although his colleagues may not have liked it, to at least some fans, Byrne was Talking Heads.  In truth, the band relied on the interplay of the four members.  Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were crucial to the group’s adventurous works with African sounds and complex rhythms especially, but were a part of the group’s thinking man’s dance music from the first album onwards.  Neither Byrne without his three companions, nor The Heads without Byrne, was as satisfying as the classic quartet.  “I think you just want to feel that you’ve affected people,” said Jerry Harrison.  “We want to make our mark in music history,” said Tina Weymouth.  Both of those ambitions were fulfilled by Talking Heads.  In the course of their career, Talking Heads ‘recorded everything from art funk to polyrythmic worldbeat explorations and simple melodic guitar pop.’  Talking Heads ‘was always a band dominated by David Byrne…whose thin-voiced high squawking and psychotic looks people found simultaneously riveting and off-putting.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 12 June 2014
  2. ‘Popular Favorites 1976-1982: Sand In The Vaseline’ Booklet 2 – Sleeve notes by David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (Sire Record Company/EMI Records Ltd., 1992) p. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  3. Interview with David Byrne at Target Video Studios, Sproule Plaza, Berkeley, California – Filmed by Joe Rees (1978)
  4. ‘American Bandstand’ (U.S. television program) – Talking Heads interview conducted by Dick Clark (17 March 1979)
  5. brainyquote.com as at 14 June 2014
  6. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 14 June 2014
  7. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 21 April 2014
  8. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 120
  9. wikipedia.org as at 21 April 2014, 1 January 2019
  10. ‘The Independent’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘How We Met: Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth’ – interview conducted by Adam Jacques (17 March 2013) (reproduced on independent.co.uk)
  11. ‘Popular Favorites 1976-1982: Sand In The Vaseline’ Booklet 1 – Sleeve notes by David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (Sire Record Company/EMI Records Ltd., 1992) p. 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
  12. ‘Sounds’ (Australian television program – 7 Network) – David Byrne interview conducted by Donnie Sutherland (1984)
  13. biography.com – ‘David Byrne’ – no author credited, as at 14 June 2014
  14. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 26, 209
  15. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 258, 315, 319, 330, 346
  16. ‘Punk’ magazine (1976) via ‘The ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 63
  17. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 432
  18. mtv.com – by MTV (Music TeleVison) News Staff (13 November 1996)
  19. songfacts.com as at 12 June 2014
  20. allmusic.com, ‘Talking Heads’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 31 August 2001
  21. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Sound of New York City’ by John Rockwell (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 555

Song lyrics copyright Sire Records Company/Talking Heads Tours, Inc.

Last revised 6 January 2019

The Strokes

 The Strokes

 Julian Casablancas – circa 2001

 “Everybody at the party shouldn’t worry what they wear / Cause today they’ll talk about us, and tomorrow they won’t care” – ’15 Minutes’ (Julian Casablancas)

Rock bands are formed by working class kids.  They are a ticket out of a hard luck life, a passport to fame and fortune.  Well, that’s the popular mythology and image anyway.  American rock band The Strokes is different.  The members of the New York quintet come from relatively affluent backgrounds.  “You know, some of the people in The Strokes, yeah, their parents had success – but we didn’t live like yuppies,” contends Julian Casablancas, the band’s vocalist.  “People often put me in a V-neck tennis club sweater, driving a Bentley, but my life wasn’t like that.”  Casablancas deflects the issue by pointing out, “Compared to people in Africa, I think we’ve all had privileged upbringings.”

Julian Fernando Casablancas is born 23 August 1978 in New York City, New York, U.S.A.  “New York is in my soul,” he will later testify.  His parents are John Casablancas and Jeanette Casablancas (nee Christjansen).  John Casablancas is a ‘business mogul…[The] founder of Elite Model Management.’  Julian comes from Spanish ancestry on the paternal side of the family.  His grandfather, Fernando Casablancas, was a ‘well-known textile businessman.’  Julian’s mother, Jeannette Christjansen was a model.  She won the Miss Denmark 1965 beauty contest and supplies Julian with a Danish maternal background.  “My parents separated when I was 8,” says Julian.  “I grew up with my Mom alone.”

Julian Casablancas first gets drunk when he is 10.  When Julian is in his teens, his mother remarries.  Julian’s stepfather is Sam Adoquei, a painter born in Ghana, Africa.  “He taught me everything about art and philosophy,” says Julian with glowing admiration.  “I drank a lot since I was 14,” Julian admits.  Conflicts with the authorities at school follow.

When he is 14 Julian Casablancas is shipped off by his father, John Casablancas, to Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland, ‘an elite boarding school.’  Julian recalls, “Boarding school didn’t feel like my world.  I felt like an alien; people there had a lot of money.”  His relations with authority continue to be poor.  “I was punished all the time…It sucked.  [The kids] were nice, but, you know…they all wore Versace jeans.  It was the biggest culture shock of my life.”  A fellow student whom Julian Casablancas meets at Institut Le Rosey, Albert Hammond, Jr., will also later become a member of The Strokes.

Returning to the U.S.A., Julian Casablancas attends Lycee Francaise de New York.  Another fellow student, in the year below Julian, is Nikolai Fraiture.  Like Albert Hammond, Jr., Nikolai Fraiture is fated to later join The Strokes.  Julian Casablancas graduates from Lycee Francaise de New York in 1996.

Julian Casablancas goes on the Dwight School in Manhattan, New York City.  At this private school he meets Nick Valensi and Fabrizio Moretti.  The three boys form a band called Just Pipe.

Nicholas Valensi is born 16 January 1981 in New York City.  He comes from French and Jewish origins.  Nick’s father is a native of Tunisia in North Africa.  Nick Valensi begins playing guitar when he is 3.  Nick’s father dies when the boy is 10 years old.  Danielle Valensi, Nick’s mother, owns a restaurant on the upper East Side of New York.  Nick Valensi attends Hunter College with Nikolai Fraiture.  Nick graduates from New York City Lab School in 1998.  He goes on to Dwight School where he meets Julian Casablancas and Fabrizio Moretti.  Nick Valensi is both the youngest and the tallest of the future members of The Strokes.  (Nick Valensi is six feet, four inches; Julian Casablancas and Nikolai Fraiture are both six feet, two inches; Albert Hammond, Jr. is five feet, eleven inches; and Fabrizio Moretti is five feet, nine inches.)

Fabrizio Moretti is born 2 June 1980 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  His father is Italian and his mother Brazilian.  Fab has a brother and a sister.  The family moves to New York City when Fab is 3.  He starts playing drums when he is 5.  “I love music, but it is songs and bands and albums that excite me rather than a specific drummer’s style,” he says.  However, it is art, not music, which at first seems to be the lad’s ambition.  Since he wants to be an art teacher, Fabrizio Moretti studies sculpture in college.  He attends university at SUNY, New Paltz, before winding up at the Dwight School with Julian Casablancas and Nick Valensi.  Fab is the most genial of the group, a foil for Julian Casablancas’ more intense and sardonic nature.

Nikolai Fraiture, the former classmate of Nick Valensi (at Hunter College) and Julian Casablancas (at Lycee Francaise de New York), is the next to join the group.  Nikolai Fraiture is born 12 November 1978 in New York City.  His father is French and his mother is Russian.  Nikolai has an older brother, Pierre, and a younger sister, Elizabeth.  Nikolai Fraiture receives his first bass when he is 19 on his graduation from Lycee Francaise de New York in 1997, as a present from his grandfather.  Nikolai is the quietest and most thoughtful of the members of the band.

Completing the line-up is Albert Hammond, Jr., Julian Casablancas’ classmate from Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland.  Albert Louis Hammond, Jr. is born 9 April 1980 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.  He is the son of Albert Hammond (Senior) and his wife, Claudia Hammond (nee Fernandez).  Albert Hammond (Senior) is a singer and songwriter.  Albert Hammond (Senior) starts out as a songwriter.  With his co-writer Mike Hazelwood, he pens ‘Little Arrows’, a hit for Leapy Lee in 1968.  Albert Hammond (Senior) records a couple of hits himself: ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’ in 1972 and ‘Free Electric Band’ in 1973.  Both are co-written with Mike Hazelwood.  Hammond and Hazelwood also co-write The Hollies’ 1974 hit ‘The Air That I Breathe’.  Albert Hammond goes on to work with other songwriters.  With Carole Bayer Sager he shares a composition credit on ‘When I Need You’, recorded by Leo Sayer in 1977.  Albert Hammond and Hal David co-write ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’, a duet recorded by Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson in 1984.  ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, a 1987 song by Starship, is co-written by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren.  Claudia Fernandez, the mother of Albert Hammond, Jr. is an Argentine model and beauty pageant winner.  Young Albert is raised in Argentina.  “Some of my fondest memories as a boy are there,” he says.  At 13, Albert Hammond, Jr. is packed off to Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland where he meets Julian Casablancas.  Hammond then goes on to study at NYU Film School.  While in New York, he spots the sign for John Casablancas’ Elite Model Management and, noting the distinctive surname, Hammond wonders if it is related to his old school friend.  “What are the odds?” asks Albert Hammond, Jr.  “I move to New York and wind up living across the street from Elite, where Julian was working.  I had no friends, so I thought I should go over and speak to him.  Two weeks later, we were living together.”

From 1998, Just Pipe transforms into The Strokes in 1999, a name selected by Julian Casablancas.  The line-up of The Strokes is: Julian Casablancas (vocals), Nick Valensi (guitar), Albert Hammond, Jr. (guitar), Nikolai Fraiture (bass) and Fabrizio Moretti (drums).  Fab notes, “[Julian Casablancas] had this fantasy right from the start of who he wanted to be.”  Nick Valensi adds, “He seemed really cool.  But also shy and grouchy.”  Nikolai Fraiture claims, “A large part of our relationship [as a band] was based on…being at a bar and drinking.”

“We all dropped out of school, out of our jobs, pretty much sacrificed our social lives for a long time…We ate, slept, walked and talked music,” reports Nick Valensi.  The Strokes make their live debut in autumn 1999 at The Spiral.  They gig around New York at venues like Under the Acme, Baby Jupiter, and Luna.  “We were playing to nobody every two weeks in New York City,” says Valensi, estimating that the band played up to one hundred shows where there were less than one hundred people in the audience.  Gigs at the Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom in December 2000 prove fateful.  The person who books The Strokes for these shows, Ryan Gentles, becomes the band’s manager.

The Strokes record a three song EP, ‘The Modern Age’ (UK no. 68), released in the U.S. on Beggar’s Banquet and in the U.K. on Rough Trade, on 29 January 2001.  The tracks on the disc are ‘The Modern Age’, ‘Last Nite’ and ‘Barely Legal’.  All three will be rerecorded for The Strokes’ debut album with slightly different lyrics and arrangements.  Geoff Travis of Rough Trade gets the EP to British rock paper ‘New Musical Express’ who enthusiastically crusade on the band’s behalf.  As hype builds, The Strokes play some shows in the U.K.  “The entire tour was sold out before we even arrived in England,” says an astonished Nick Valensi.  A bidding war breaks out to secure The Strokes’ recording contract.  Although RCA wins out in the U.S.A., Rough Trade retains the U.K. contract.  “It’s easy for people to jump to the wrong conclusions when they’ve only heard one three-song EP,” says Fabrizio Moretti.  “Hopefully when the album comes out people will realise it isn’t just some New York thing and that it is a lot more universal than that.”

The Strokes’ music is variously classified as alternative rock, garage-rock revival, and post-punk revival.  What that basically means is that they play guitar-oriented rock.  At the time, that is uncommon.  At the start of the twenty-first century, dance music and rap are dominant.  The Strokes reintroduce a more gritty sound.  Nirvana’s grunge rock was popular in the early 1990s and Brit pop acts like Oasis and Blur were big in the mid-1990s and it is these sounds The Strokes develop.

The Strokes’ list of influences is wide.  There are first generation rock stars like Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley and Sam Cooke; late 1960s rebels including The Velvet Underground, The Doors and The Stooges; the iconoclastic John Lennon; late 1970s New York art punks The Ramones, Television, Blondie and Talking Heads; new wave act The Cars; and obscure alt rockers Guided By Voices.  “I think we are all fans of Bo Diddley’s rhythm and style,” offers Albert Hammond, Jr. and Diddley’s staccato riffs are an obvious building block in The Strokes’ sound.  The Velvet Underground’s wilfully reductive approach and Television’s meshing guitars are also clear antecedents as is the New York sensibility common to both of those acts.  The Strokes admire Ohio’s Guided By Voices for their ‘no frills aesthetic.’

At first, Julian Casablancas writes all The Strokes’ songs.  However the vocalist, as is his wont, offers contradictory views on the subject.  “I’m always writing something…All these ideas that are just me humming into a recording device,” he claims.  Yet Casablancas also states, “Songwriting is hard – it’s so easy to fall into the same traps.  It’s not like I wake up and songs flow out of me.”  In addition, he declares, “I enjoy songwriting.  It’s slow motion improvising.”  Perhaps this Casablancas quote sums it up: “When you first start writing a song, it’s fun, then when you start recording it, it’s fun, but by the time you’ve finished recording it, you’re sick of it.”  As The Strokes’ career progresses, the other members contribute more to the songwriting, but Casablancas remains involved in more compositions than any of the rest of the band.

Julian Casablancas’ vocals range from a drawled mumble to an angry growl.  He often chews the lyrics to the point where they become indecipherable.  Strokes’ songs sometimes have titles that appear to have no relation to the chorus or lyrical theme.  “I’m not a pop song lyric writer,” Casablancas admits.  “I can’t just focus on one simple meaning or even a double entendre.”  ‘When he writes songs, he tries to create a melody first, and only adds the lyrics later.  He feels that the band’s lyrics are totally secondary to the music.’  Guitarist Nick Valensi suggests, “[Julian’s] ear is so sharp…Creatively he’s a force to be reckoned with.”

The Strokes’ debut album, ‘Is This It’ (2001) (US no. 33, UK no. 2, AUS no. 5), is released on 27 August.  Gordon Raphael produces both this and The Strokes’ next album.  The cover image of ‘Is This It’ is a woman’s black-gloved hand resting on her naked hip.  The woman in the photograph remains unidentified, but it is known that she was the then-girlfriend of the photographer who took the shot, Colin Lane.  The cover is a bit too hot for some markets, so in some regions the alternate cover is ‘a psychedelic photograph of subatomic particle tracks in a bubble chamber.’  The question mark that should follow the album title, ‘Is This It’, is omitted because the band feels it does not look aesthetically right.  ‘Is This It’ is The Strokes’ best album.  It most accurately captures the excitement of the group’s rediscovery of the power of guitar-based rock; it is filled with interlocking rhythms and attractive dynamics in a simple framework.  All the songs are written by Julian Casablancas.  ‘Hard To Explain’ (UK no. 16) is pulsing and percussive.  “I missed the last bus / I’ll take the next train / I try but you see / It’s hard to explain,” sings Casablancas, the song coming to an abrupt stop.  ‘Last Nite’ (UK no. 14, AUS no. 47) is a chiming rocker.  “Last night she said, ‘Oh baby, I feel so down’,” Casablancas informs us before pointing out, “See, people they don’t understand / No, girlfriends they don’t understand.”  ‘Someday’ (UK no. 27) is a carefree shrug in which the singer admits, “In many ways I’ll miss the good old days / Someday, someday” and “My ex says I’m lacking in depth / I will do my best.”  The tracks (besides ‘Last Nite’) revisited from the quintet’s EP, ‘The Modern Age’ and ‘Barely Legal’, offer, respectively, a chugging rhythm and a shivering vibration.  The title track, ‘Is This It’, is a change of pace, a slow-footed throb.  ‘Soma’ takes its name from a Vedic ritual drink in Hindu scriptures that is reputed to confer immortality (“Soma / Is what they would take when hard times opened up their eyes”).  One track on the album, ‘New York City Cops’ (“They ain’t too smart,” advises Casablancas in the lyric) is replaced by ‘When It Started’ in some markets soon after the disc’s initial release, because it is felt ‘New York City Cops’ may be considered ‘inappropriate in the wake of the [September 11] terrorist attacks.’  “The objective of ‘This Is It’ was to be really cool and non-mainstream, and be really popular,” says Julian Casablancas.  Guitarist Nick Valensi suggests, “The reason people liked the first record [is] maybe because it was kind of new wave, kind of retro, and no one was doing that music then…We were filling some kind of void in music.”  ‘Is This It’ ‘sounds like a lost album by one of the classic bands of yesteryear.’

In 2001 Nick Valensi begins dating English actress and photographer Amanda de Cadenet.

In 2002 Fabrizio Moretti begins a relationship with Hollywood actress Drew Barrymore.  The two become engaged in 2004, but the five year relationship comes to an end in January 2007.

The Strokes’ second album is ‘Room On Fire’ (2003) (US no. 4, UK no. 2, AUS no. 6).  The cover is a reproduction of the painting ‘War/Game’ (1961) by Peter Phillips.  Again, all the songs on this disc are Julian Casablancas compositions.  This is described as a ‘more meticulous’ album.  Nick Valensi says, “I think this is our most listenable album from start to finish, possibly better than our first.”  There is some concern that ‘Room On Fire’ is too similar to ‘Is This It’, but why mess with a winning approach?  The album’s highlight is ’12:51’ (UK no. 7), a track notable for ‘Valensi’s synth-mimicking guitar lines’, its handclaps and the inexorable power of the song to draw in listeners.  “12:51 is the time my voice / Found the words I sought,” sings Julian Casablancas, requesting, “Kiss me now that I’m older.”  ‘Reptilia’ (UK no. 17, AUS no. 68) boasts one of The Strokes’ greatest riffs and, true to its name, is serpentine and slithery.  Lines from ‘Reptilia’ also supply the album’s title: “The room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair / ‘You sound so angry / Just calm down, you found me.’”  ‘The End Has No End’ (UK no. 27) is fuelled by a ticking tension: “He want it easy, he want it relaxed / Said I can do a lot of things, but I can’t do that.”  ‘Room On Fire’ is also home to one of the most underrated songs in The Strokes’ catalogue, the splayed rock of ‘What Ever Happened.’

Nikolai Fraiture marries Ilona ‘Illy’ Jankovich in 2004.  They have two children: a daughter named Elysia and a son named Phoenix.

Sometime around here Albert Hammond, Jr. dates Catherine Pearce for a while.  Together with her sister, Catherine Pearce makes up the ‘alt country’ duo, The Pearces.

On 5 February 2005 Julian Casablancas marries Juliet Joslin, who was an assistant to The Strokes’ manager.  Julian and Juliet go on to have a son together, Cal (born January 2010).

Julian Casablancas quits drinking soon after the completion of ‘Room On Fire’.  The singer also notes, “I think I used to do everything and then people had a problem with that within the band, so we’re doing more of a communal thing.”  Bassist Nikolai Fraiture sees a connection between the two developments: “We were all up for working on music and playing, but [Julian] would want to get back to New York, and get settled [before writing].  It was a little bit frustrating.  Around then he started withdrawing, maybe because he stopped drinking as well.”

‘First Impressions Of Earth’ (2006) (US no. 4, UK no. 1, AUS no. 4) is released in January.  The Strokes use this disc to address two major concerns about the band: the similarity in sound from their first to second albums, and vocalist Julian Casablancas’ dominance of the group.  Three of the disc’s fourteen tracks have music co-written by Casablancas and other members of the band: ‘Ask Me Anything’ (with guitarist Nick Valensi), ‘Killing Lies’ (with bassist Nikolai Fraiture) and ‘Evening Sun’ (with drummer Fabrizio Moretti).  Additionally, Gordon Raphael – the producer of the two previous discs – shares production duties here with David Kahne.  While these moves certainly result in a wider sonic palette, paradoxically, the most successful songs on the disc are those most faithful to the traditional Strokes sound.  There is the ‘marauding spy theme’ ‘Juicebox’ (US no. 98, UK no. 5, AUS no. 44).  “Oh but why won’t you come over here?” asks Casablancas in the lyrics, “We’ve got a city to love.”  Fraiture’s bludgeoning bass underpins the singer’s throaty growl on this track.  “I don’t feel better when I’m f***ing around,” begins Casablancas negotiating the spidery guitar needles of ‘Heart In A Cage’ (UK no. 25).  ‘You Only Live Once’ (AUS no. 52) is the best Strokes song of all time.  The guitar riffs interlock with something close to perfection and the sugary rush of the chorus finds Casablancas urging, “Sit me down.  Shut me up. / I’ll calm down / And I’ll get along with you.”  ’15 Minutes’ is also from this album.  ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ is described as ‘even poppier and more polished’ but there is disquiet amongst the group with this set.  Fabrizio Moretti claims it was “difficult to put on a smile every day” during recording.  According to Nikolai Fraiture, “The communication, the focus…was starting to recede.”  Even Julian Casablancas concedes, “Some songs missed the mark.”

In July 2006 Nick Valensi marries his girlfriend, Amanda de Cadenet.  The bride is the ex-wife of John Taylor of British pop band of the 1980s Duran Duran.  Amanda is eleven years older than Nick Valensi, while Nick is only ten years older than his new step-daughter, Atlanta de Cadenet Taylor.  As did Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi turns his back on his wilder days.  The guitarist says, “If I was 13, I would not want to hear this, but I’m tired of bars, I’m tired of their drunks and cokeheads.  I’m trying to live responsibly.”  On 31 October 2006 Nick and Amanda become the parents of twins, a daughter named Ella and a son named Silvan.

Albert Hammond, Jr. becomes the first of The Strokes to release a solo album, ‘Yours To Keep’ (2006) (US no. 117, UK no. 74), on 6 October.  It includes ‘Back To The 101’ (UK no. 76).

Fabrizio Moretti dates actress Kirsten Dunst in 2007.

Fabrizio Moretti begins a musical side project, a band called Little Joy.  One of his bandmates in Little Joy, Binki Shapiro, is Moretti’s girlfriend from 2007 to 2011.  This indie group releases the album ‘Little Joy’ (2008) late in the year.

Albert Hammond, Jr. dates supermodel Agyness Deyn from 2008 to 2009.

Albert Hammond, Jr.’s second solo album, ¿Como Te Llama? (2008) (US no. 145, UK no. 183) arrives in July.  The title is Spanish for ‘How does he/she/it call you?’

Nickel Eye is Nikolai Fraiture’s ‘folky’ solo project.  Nickel Eye’s ‘Time Of The Assassins’ (2009) is issued early in the year.

Julian Casablancas releases a solo album, ‘Phrazes For The Young’ (2009) (US no. 35, UK no. 19), in October.  “For a long time I didn’t want to do a solo thing, but there comes a point where everyone else is going outside The Strokes and the Strokes filtering process,” he says, trying to justify the move.  Sounding rather half-hearted, Casablancas mutters, “The thing is, I never had a burning desire to do a solo record my whole life.”

Nick Valensi is the only member of The Strokes who does not work outside the band.  “I’m not a huge supporter of side/solo stuff,” claims the guitarist.  “I’m of the opinion that you’re in a band and that’s what you do.”

The Strokes finally regroup for ‘Angles’ (2011) (US no. 4, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1).  Production duties are shared by Gus Oberg, Joe Chiccarelli and The Strokes.  The songwriting here is more democratically divided than ever.  Julian Casablancas writes only two songs alone; the rest are collaborations with various other members of The Strokes.  ‘Undercover Of Darkness’ (UK no. 47) is the album’s best track, its guitars squealing in harmony.  All of The Strokes (except Nikolai Fraiture) have a hand in writing this track.  Fabrizio Moretti and Nick Valensi co-write ‘Taken For A Fool’ with Casablancas.  The song is sharp as a pin with what sounds like a synth-coloured chorus.  Julian Casablancas ‘self-removes’ from the studio during recording so as to not unduly influence the final results for the album, but Valensi, for one, feels that is “awful.”  He proclaims, “I feel like we have a better album in us and it’s going to come out soon.”

Fabrizio Moretti dates actress/comedienne Kristen Wiig from 2012 to July 2013.

‘Comedown Machine’ (2013) (US no. 10, UK no. 10, AUS no. 7), The Strokes’ fifth album, is released in March.  Gus Oberg produces the disc.  Julian Casablancas stays in the recording studio during the sessions for this album.  This is ‘a more streamlined, subdued affair.’  The single, ‘All The Time’ co-written by Julian Casablancas and Nikolai Fraiture, certainly has a more restrained groove.  The album’s tracks are all co-composed by Casablancas and various other Strokes.

Albert Hammond, Jr. issues an EP, ‘AHJ’, in October 2013.

On 23 December 2013, Albert Hammond, Jr. marries Justyna Sroka, a Polish restaurateur.

Julian Casablancas And The Voidz issue the album ‘Tyranny’ (2014) (US no. 39).  Albert Hammond issues ‘Momentary Masters’ (2015).

Were The Strokes rich kids?  Yes, perhaps, depending on how much wealth in a family meets a definition of ‘rich’.  Also some of them (e.g. Julian Casablancas) seem to come from greater affluence than others (e.g. Nick Valensi).  Does being rich mean you can’t play rock ‘n’ roll?  No, of course it does not.  It may be a less common characteristic in the rock industry, but The Strokes displayed a level of understanding and inspiration that makes a mockery of any inverted snobbishness among rock bands.  Regardless of whether the members of The Strokes were financially rich, the most important thing is that they were musically rich.  The Strokes offered ‘a revivifying blast of guitar-combo racket’ with ‘grainy vocals over a bouncy, new wave-style backing.’

Sources:

  1. brainyquote.com as at 8 June 2014
  2. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 14 April 2014
  3. wikipedia.org as at 14 April 2014, 1 January 2015, 1 January 2016
  4. ‘New York’ magazine – ‘Group Therapy’ – Strokes interview conducted by Jay McInerney (2006?) (reproduced on nymag.com)
  5. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 8 June 2014
  6. pitchfork.com – ‘This Is It: Ten Years of The Strokes’ by Jonathan Garrett (7 March 2011)
  7. celebheights.com as at 5 January 2013
  8. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 217
  9. allmusic.com, ‘The Strokes’ by Heather Phares as at 9 June 2014
  10. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 306
  11. lyricsfreak.com as at 6 June 2014
  12. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 67
  13. ‘Room On Fire’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (RCA/BMG, 2003) p. 6-7
  14. ‘First Impressions Of Earth’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (RCA/Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 2006) p. 35, 36

Song lyrics copyright Warner-Chappell U.K.

Last revised 3 January 2016

The Stranglers

 The Stranglers

 Hugh Cornwell – circa 2003

 “I was always told at school everybody should get the same” – ‘Always The Sun’ (Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel, Hugh Cornwell, Dave Greenfield)

“Guildford University never represented Guildford.  We won’t play to elitist audiences!” Hugh Cornwell, vocalist and guitarist for The Stranglers, yells at the crowd.  He then leads the rest of this U.K. punk rock band offstage.  It is 20 October 1978.  The Stranglers are playing a gig at the University of Surrey in Guildford, Surrey.  It is filmed for the U.K. television program ‘Rock Goes to College’ (1978-1981), a series featuring up-and-coming bands playing at small venues.  The Stranglers play five songs (‘Ugly’, ‘I Feel Like A Wog’, ‘Bring On The Nubiles’, ‘Burning Up’ and ‘Hanging Around’) before ‘the concert is aborted when The Stranglers walk off stage, refusing to play to elitist audiences, after a dispute when an agreement to make tickets available outside of the college was not honoured.’  Bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel sets out the band’s philosophy this way: “Rock ‘n’ roll is about c**ks and jiving and the odd b****y nose…and about people like us talking seriously about the social order.”

Hugh Alan Cornwell is born 28 August 1949 in Tufnell Park, North London, England.  His father, Vic, is a draughtsman in the airline business during the Second World War.  Hugh attends a grammar school.  One of his classmates is Richard Thompson, later to become a guitarist in 1960s British folk rock band Fairport Convention.  Cornwell and Thompson form a schoolboy band called Emil & The Detectives.  They play some gigs at Hornsey School of Art where Richard Thompson’s sister is employed as a secretary.

Hugh Cornwell goes on to obtain a degree in biochemistry from Bristol University.  “Science teaches you to question things,” avers Cornwell, “and to go back to the fundamentals of life.”  Hugh Cornwell undertakes postgraduate research at Lund University in Sweden.  While he is working in a local laboratory, Cornwell makes the acquaintance of Hans Warmling (22 July 1943 – 12 October 1995).  Warmling is working as a nurse at the hospital.  With Cornwell on vocals and guitar and Warmling on guitar and keyboards, around 1972 they get together with some Swedish lads as a band called Johnny Sox.

In 1973 Hugh Cornwell ends his studies in Sweden and returns to England.  He finds employment as a teacher.  Johnny Sox is reincarnated in England in 1974.  Some of the line-up consists of Swedish émigrés (like Hans Warmling), others are British musicians.  Cornwell is described as a ‘blues muso’.  In mid-1974 Jet Black joins Johnny Sox as the drummer.

Jet Black is born Brian John Duffy on 26 August 1938 in Ilford, Essex, England.  He becomes a drummer in jazz groups, but music is only a sideline for him.  He is a successful businessman with a fleet of ice cream trucks.  “I was the one who actually woke up one day and said, ‘I want to form a band’,” claims Jet Black.  “But of course it wasn’t a band until there were people in it.  And, although I was looking for people with musical ideas that were interesting…all my searching for people came to nothing…The people [who eventually made up The Stranglers] were kind of met by accident.”

The next to join the group is Jean-Jacques Burnel, who is born 27 February 1952 in Notting Hill, London, England.  It may be noted that Burnel is younger than his bandmates.  His exotic name is due to his parents being born in France, though Jean-Jacques is born in Britain.  The family moves to Godalming, Surrey, when Jean-Jacques Burnel is 12.  He attends the Royal Grammar School at Guildford, and then goes on to read history at the University of Bradford and Huddersfield, Polytechnic.  Musically, Jean-Jacques Burnel plays classical guitar.

In 1974 The Guildford Stranglers are formed with a line-up of: Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Hans Warmling (guitar, keyboards), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals) and Jet Black (drums).  The band actually hails from the Southern England village of Chiddingford, which is near Guildford.  “I had an ice cream business and decided to sell it to start a band, but kept one of the vans,” Jet Black explains.  This van is used for transport to gigs until about 1977.  Black’s second wife, Helena, leaves him ‘following several arguments over The Stranglers rehearsing in their home in the early days of the band.’

In 1975 Hans Warmling is replaced by Dave Greenfield.  Warmling later dies in a boating accident on 12 October 1995.

David Paul Greenfield is born 29 March 1949 in Brighton, England.  He plays at military bases in Germany in a prog rock band called Rusty Butler.  “I was in Germany,” says Greenfield.  “We used to play a lot in Germany and [I] went back over to have a holiday with my girlfriend…And my aunt, who used to help me out, keep an eye on the music papers, saw an ad in ‘The Melody Maker’, ‘Organist wanted to join soc./pop group’, I believe the phrasing was.”  Unlike his predecessor, Hans Warmling, who played guitar and keyboards, Greenfield plays only keyboards.

In 1975 The Guildford Stranglers move to London and abbreviate their name to The Stranglers.  The membership reshuffle produces the definitive line-up of: Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Dave Greenfield (keyboards), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals) and Jet Black (drums).

At this point, punk rock did not yet exist in Britain.  The Stranglers try to fit in with the pub rock crowd, but that scene is dying.  When Patti Smith, a punk singer from New York in the U.S.A., tours the U.K. in 1975, The Stranglers are her support act.  When more New York punks, The Ramones, visit the U.K. in July 1976, The Stranglers open shows for them.  By this time, Britain is spawning its own punk bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash.  Paul Simonon of The Clash has a nervous tic that makes him spit on the ground.  It annoys Stranglers’ bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, so he thumps Simonon.  “We were thrown out by bouncers and it continued in the courtyard,” claims Burnel.  “On one side were The Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones and a load of their journalist friends.  On the other side was us, a few of our fans and me, nose to nose with Paul.  Dave [Greenfield] had [Sex Pistols’ vocalist] John Lydon [better known as Johnny Rotten] up against the ice cream van.”

On another occasion, Jean-Jacques Burnel muses, “I don’t know if we ever became a punk band.  Certainly some of the attitudes of punks crossed over into the way we actually felt and behaved.  I don’t think we were really considered to be a punk band.”  For some years, rock has been dominated by long-haired hippies.  Burnel points out, “There were very few places for people like us with short hair, straight jeans and leather jackets to hang out.  The only other people were the punks…and more and more people with short hair were coming to our shows in early 1976.”

‘During 1976 The Stranglers play more than two hundred gigs, mainly around London, and build up a reputation as a powerful live act.’  Hugh Cornwell states, “In the mid-1970s, when I was trying to do something new and establish a base, then I was angry because I was fighting for a recognition of something.”  Some idea of the group at this time can be gleaned from the later album, ‘The Early Years ’74, ’75, ’76 Rare Live And Unreleased’ (1992).

The Stranglers secure a recording contract with United Artists in the U.K. (the material to be released on A & M in the United States).

Although there is some discussion about whether The Stranglers are really a punk band, it is the category in which they are most often placed.  Punk is not simply a fashion movement about short hair and leather jackets.  It aims to strip rock back to its fundamental basics and dispense with pretensions.  The anger and brutish sound of The Stranglers is in keeping with punk.  What separates them from The Sex Pistols, The Clash and their ilk is that The Stranglers are ‘too old, they are too musical, and they are too technically proficient.’  The Stranglers are undeniably older than their punk rock peers.  In countering the cults of personality that sprang up in the 1960s-1970s around individual musicians, punk rockers take perverse pride in their lack of anything beyond the most basic musical abilities.  With members of The Stranglers coming from blues, prog rock, classical and jazz backgrounds, they fall foul of that prohibition against musical prowess.

The Stranglers influences are also a bit different than most punk acts.  The influences most often cited for The Stranglers are U.S. bands The Velvet Underground (1967-1970) and The Doors (1967-1971).  What the Velvet Underground and The Doors have in common, and what is picked up on by The Stranglers, are songs documenting sexual deviance, drugs, and the dark underbelly of existence.  Musically, Hugh Cornwell’s dry vocal delivery and sinewy guitar calls to mind Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground while Dave Greenfield’s surging, throaty, organ tones are reminiscent of Ray Manzarek of The Doors.

Additionally, The Stranglers appear to have little concept of political correctness.  Lyrics, themes and attitudes from the band cause various parties to take offence.  Yet, ‘much of their lyrical prowess is built around the darkest hued of black humours’ and ‘is actually hysterically funny – as they themselves intended it to be.’  Drummer Jet Black acknowledges, “People often said we were deliberately provocative.  Guilty!  Absolutely correct! Of course we were.  That was the name of the game.”

Almost all of The Stranglers’ songs jointly credit the four members as composers.  Without denying that, the suspicion is that Hugh Cornwell has the largest role in the songwriting, followed by Jean-Jacques Burnel.  “The priority for me has always been to create, to write, to express and do as many things as possible,” says Cornwell.  Speaking of the band’s output, he says, “It’s songs that I contributed to, either wrote or co-wrote.  I feel they’re just as much mine as Stranglers’ property.”

Jet Black observes, “I think by the time we’d actually got a record release and we were gigging furiously, almost every night of the week, our music was beginning to take on a very aggressive tone.”

The Stranglers’ first single, released on 29 January 1977 is ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’ (UK no. 44).  Rife with headlong cynicism, Hugh Cornwell belts out the band’s declaration, “I admit I even stole / The worst crime that I ever did was playing rock ‘n’ roll / But the money’s no good / Just get a grip on yourself.”  This track is also included on the subsequent full-length album.

The Stranglers’ debut album is released in April 1977.  ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ (1977) (UK no. 4) (the second word is pronounced nor-VEE-ja-cus) is produced by Martin Rushent, who produces the first three Stranglers albums.  Rattus Norvegicus is the Latin name used as the biological classification of the brown rat.  The double A sided single from the album is ‘Peaches’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 54) backed with ‘Go Buddy Go’.  ‘Peaches’ has a fat bass sound and addictive riff.  Hugh Cornwell’s narrator is “Walking on the beaches / Looking at the peaches.”  This is The Stranglers’ best individual song.  It sounds so distinctive, unique and beyond imitation.  The sheer musical undertow sweeps away any arguments with its leering lyric.  ‘Go Buddy Go’ is a ‘mindless boogie’ (and is not on the album).  ‘Hanging Around’ is marked by a dry surge as Cornwell points to a “Big girl in a red dress / She’s just trying to impress us.”  The album also includes ‘London Lady’ (lyrics Jean-Jacques Burnel, music Hugh Cornwell) about a journalist and Jean-Jacques Burnel’s ‘Ugly’.  ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ is The Stranglers’ best album because it’s just plain nasty.  Named after a rodent, packed with suspect sexist postures, and a sound that is both savage and thick, this is The Stranglers at their most basic and unfiltered.  It is as refreshing as the best punk rock of the era because it is so defiantly irreverent and full-bodied.

The Stranglers go incognito for a side project.  ‘Money Money’ b/w ‘Mean To Me’ is credited to Celia & The Mutations.  Celia Collin is the woman providing the deadpan vocals but The Mutations are actually The Stranglers.  A follow-up single later in 1977, ‘You Better Believe’ b/w ‘Round And Round’, has only Jean-Jacques Burnel doing The Mutations’ work.  ‘Neither [single] get anywhere’ commercially.

The Stranglers’ second album, ‘No More Heroes’ (1977) (UK no. 2), comes out in September, just five months after their debut album.  The title track, ‘No More Heroes’ (UK no. 8), is a brisk run through, bristling with punk attitude.  Hugh Cornwell lists those he admires: “Leon Trotsky…Dear old Lenny, the great Elmyra and Sancho Panza.”  Trotsky was a communist leader; ‘Dear old Lenny’ was U.S. comedian Lenny Bruce; Elmyra Hory was an art forger; and Sancho Panza was the sidekick to ‘Don Quixote’ (1605) in Miguel de Cervante’s tale.  Although Cornwell may look up to them, the overall attitude of the song is that the time for heroes has passed and they are no longer wanted or needed.  “All the Shakespearos / They watched their Rome burn,” he sneers.  ‘Something Better Change’ (UK no. 9) is released on a double A side single with ‘Straighten Out’.  ‘Something Better Change’ is wiry agit-pop.  Cornwell snarls in this song, “Don’t you like the cut of my clothes / Don’t you like the way I seem to enjoy it? / Stick my fingers right up your nose!”  ‘Straighten Out’, which is – unfortunately – not included on the album, possesses a dark, bustling energy.  It starts with Hugh Cornwell delivering a mock sermon: “And the first commandment reads that human flesh and blood is sacred…until there is no more food.”  He goes on to pronounce, “What a fate for little girls / British boys’ minds in whirl / Tell you things that’ll make your curls / Straighten out.”  Cornwell’s vocals hiccup on “girls..whirl…curls” like the ghost of 1950s rocker Buddy Holly.  ‘No More Heroes’ includes such provocative titles as ‘I Feel Like A Wog’ and ‘Bring On The Nubiles’.

‘5 Minutes’ (UK no. 11) is a stand-alone single issued in February 1978.  “5 minutes and you’re almost there,” sings Hugh Cornwell in this battering, angry track.  Over a pounding beat, he advises, “Some say that I should hate them all, but I say that wouldn’t help at all.”

On 16 March 1978 The Stranglers embark on their first concert tour of the United States.

The Stranglers’ third album, ‘Black And White’ (1978) (UK no. 2), arrives in May.  This set features ‘Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’ (UK no. 18), a track based on a staccato guitar riff, which showcases a protruding bass and an ozone-bound keyboard solo.  The lyric, though vague, seems to be about Viking travellers: “We came across the west sea / We didn’t have much idea of the kind of climate waiting.”  However it diffuses into more general imagery, asserting that “Nice ‘n’ sleazy / Does it every time.”  A rocked-up cover version of Dionne Warwicke’s 1964 hit ‘Walk On By’ (UK no. 21) is included on a free EP with the album – but is then released as a single in its own right in July 1978.  This may be the best of all The Stranglers’ cover versions because it is so unlikely.  A sophisticated adult pop song is worked over into something grimy and harsh.  ‘Black And White’ is the ‘last Stranglers album to even flirt with the socio-sexual shock troop imagery.’

On 16 September 1978 The Stranglers play a controversial show at Battersea Park.  “The Battersea Park incident was completely misrepresented,” claims Jean-Jacques Burnel, as he attempts to set the record straight.  “I was living with my girlfriend, Tracy, who shared her flat with a stripper called Linda.  When we became the focus of attention, right-on shops such as Rough Trade banned our records, saying they were sexist and misogynist.  Linda said, ‘Look, I’ve got some friends who’d love to strip for you – to show we’re in control of our bodies.’  So these girls stripped off in Battersea during ‘Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’ and, of course, everyone thought we were being exploitive.”  The Stranglers suffer the wrath of women’s groups, London’s local council and the police.  Jet Black chortles, “The police inspector wanted everybody arrested but he couldn’t find his coppers.  They were all in the front row watching the show.”

On 20 October 1978 The Stranglers play the ‘Rock Goes to College’ gig at the University of Surrey in Guildford.  This is the show where they deliver the anti-elitism rant and storm off after a few numbers.

‘Live (Xcert)’ (1979) (UK no. 7), from February, is a concert recording to commemorate some colourful Stranglers’ performances.

‘The Raven’ (1979) (UK no. 4), in September, sees The Stranglers ‘moving towards psychedelia and radio-friendly pop.’  A shift is probably inevitable since punk is fading and its successor, new wave, is rising.  Since The Stranglers’ punk credentials were always questionable, such a shift may affect them less than other, more hardcore, punk acts.  ‘The Raven’ is co-produced by The Stranglers and Alan Winstanley.  ‘Duchess’ (UK no. 14) is filled with small explosions of musical fireworks and lyrics such as these: “Duch of the terrace / Knows all her heritage / Says she’s Henry’s kid.”  The song, ‘Don’t Bring Harry’ (UK no. 41), hovers about a sinister piano line.  “Harry and me, we live in a dream / With a friend like him I don’t need enemies,” intones Hugh Cornwell.  ‘Harry’ is, allegedly, another word for heroin in the context of the song.  ‘Nuclear Device (The Wizard Of Aus)’ (UK no. 36) is about Joh Bjelke-Petersen, then Premier of the Australian State of Queensland and a noted ultra-conservative.

Two members of The Stranglers take time out for side projects in 1979.  ‘Nosferatu’ (1979) is a Hugh Cornwell album on which he collaborates with Robert Williams.  The word ‘nosferatu’ is another term for vampire.  Jean-Jacques Burnel’s solo album is ‘Euroman Cometh’ (1979) (UK no. 40).

Hugh Cornwell is said to have ‘had dalliances with such rock divas as Kate Bush and Hazel O’Connor.’

On 7 January 1980 Hugh Cornwell is sentenced to two months in jail for possession of heroin, cocaine and marijuana.  Cornwell recalls the circumstances of his arrest: “It was a routine police check at Hammersmith Broadway, and my driver happened to have some cocaine on him.  So they searched everything and that was that.”  The officers find a bag full of grass, speed, etc., drugs that fans had pressed on the rock musician.  “The people I ended up sharing a cell with [at Pentonville jail] were people who hadn’t paid their parking tickets or had defied court orders to stay away from estranged wives.”  Cornwell is released on 25 April 1980 after serving only six weeks.  The singer and guitarist philosophically regards his time in prison as “a learning experience.”

‘Who Wants to Rule The World’ (UK no. 39) is a non-album single released in 1980.  It is marked by its stop-and-start arrangement and the emphasis placed on Dave Greenfield’s organ playing.

On 21 June 1980 The Stranglers are arrested for allegedly starting a riot at Nice University in France.

While working on their next album, the four members of The Stranglers decide to take heroin for a year.  “Jet [Black] and Dave [Greenfield] were sensible and quit after a day,” acknowledges Jean-Jacques Burnel.  “Hugh [Cornwell] and I didn’t – we headed into a surreal, dark, necromantic abyss.”

‘The Gospel According To The Meninblack’ (1981) (UK no. 8) is released in February.  This set is the first of two albums The Stranglers issue through Liberty Records.  The recording sessions are produced by the band.  It may be thought that the album’s title refers to the musicians own habitually dark attire, but Jet Black reveals the true origin: “[It] was based on this phenomenon back then known only to a small coterie of U.F.O. [Unidentified Flying Object] obsessives – the people who saw U.F.O.s were visited by strange people wearing black to shut them up.”  The album includes such songs as ‘Thrown Away’ (UK no. 42) and ‘Just Like Nothing On Earth’ (UK no. 81).

By this time The Stranglers are in a sort of limbo.  ‘From 1979 to the beginning of 1981, the band seems to slip from the limelight somewhat.’  Punk is over, new wave is also dying out and The Stranglers appear fated to only be catering to a niche market that is rapidly shrinking.  However, any thoughts of writing them off prove premature.

‘La Folie’ (1981) (UK no. 11) arrives in November.  Production credit is shared between The Stranglers, Tony Visconti and Steve Churchyard.  ‘Golden Brown’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 10), the song that revives the band’s fortunes, is a ‘gentle, floating summery waltz that appeals to many who had never before bought Stranglers records.’  Dave Greenfield plays what sounds like a harpsichord and the song has an unexpected mannered air.  The subject matter of the song is debatable.  Here are some excerpts from the lyrics: “Golden brown / texture like sun…Never a frown / With golden brown…Golden brown / Finer temptress / Through the ages /She’s heading west.”  One theory is that ‘golden brown’ is a sun-tanned woman.  Another view is that the song is about the drug opium, whose burnt residue is a golden brown colour.  A third interpretation is that golden brown is the colour of properly prepared toasted bread.  Outlandish as that last theory may seem, Jean-Jacques Burnel offers that interpretation some support: “’Golden Brown’ is about human failings really.  To put it in a nutshell, burning the toast.”  ‘La Folie’ (UK no. 47), the title track, takes its name from the French words for ‘the folly’, or delusion or madness.  Through gauzy musical colours, the lyrics are mumbled in French by Jean-Jacques Burnel.

The compilation album ‘The Collection 1977-1982’ (1982) (UK no. 12) includes a new song, ‘Strange Little Girl’ (UK no. 7), that is released as a single in July 1982.  ‘Strange Little Girl’ welcomes a one-time return for Hans Warmling, from the early Guildford Stranglers line-up, as co-writer with the four current members.  “One day, see a strange little girl look at you,” intones Hugh Cornwell over a backing that sounds like a twisted music box.  “She didn’t know how to live in a town that was rough,” he subsequently observes, “It didn’t take long before she knew she’d had enough.”

The Stranglers’ 1980s sound, ‘more mature and less urgent’, continues to develop on ‘Feline’ (1983) (UK no. 4).  Their first album on the Epic label, this set is released in January and co-produced by The Stranglers and Steve Churchyard.  The album’s best known track is the slinky and arty ‘European Female’ (UK no. 9), powered by Jean-Jacques Burnel’s stuttering bass.  “I don’t always understand her / I love her any ways,” goes the lyric.

Later in the year, Jean-Jacques Burnel steps out for another side project, this time partnered with keyboardist Dave Greenfield.  The result is ‘Fire And Water (Ecoutez Vos Murs)’ (1983) (UK no. 94).

‘Aural Sculpture’ (1984) (UK no. 14) is the next Stranglers album.  It is co-produced by The Stranglers and Laurie Latham.  The highlight is the neon bright ‘Skin Deep’ (UK no. 15, AUS no. 11).  In this light and airy piece, Hugh Cornwell warns, “Many people tell you that they’re your friend…Make sure that you’re receiving the signals they send.”

‘Dreamtime’ (1986) (UK no. 16, US no. 172) is co-produced by The Stranglers and Mike Kemp.  ‘Always The Sun’ (UK no. 30, AUS no. 21) is smooth; it is perhaps the closest The Stranglers get to a mainstream pop song.  “Who has the fun? Is it always a man with a gun?  How many times have you been told if you work too hard you can sweat?” are amongst the questions posed by the lyrics.  ‘Big In America’ (UK no. 48) is a wry commentary on the vicissitudes of commercial returns for a rock group.

A cover version of the 1964 Kinks’ song ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ (UK no. 7) has its title adapted to name The Stranglers’ in concert recording ‘All Live And All Of The Night’ (1988) (UK no. 12).  The focus of The Stranglers is divided for the rest of the year.  Hugh Cornwell issues the solo album ‘Wolf’ (1988) (renamed ‘First Bus To Babylon’ for the U.S. market).  Jean-Jacques Burnel issues ‘Un Jour Parfait’ (1988).  He then teams with John Ellis and Stranglers’ keyboardist Dave Greenfield as The Purple Helmets for ‘The Purple Helmets Ride Again’ (1988).  The trio return the following year with the similarly titled ‘The Purple Helmets Rise Again’ (1989).

‘10’ (1990) (UK no. 15), released in March, is the appropriate title of The Stranglers’ tenth studio album.  It is produced by Roy Thomas Baker.  The single from the album is ’96 Tears’ (UK no. 17), a cover version of the 1966 hit by ? And The Mysterians (i.e. Rudy Martinez and friends).  It gives Dave Greenfield a chance to play some 1960s organ tones.

Tensions have been rising in The Stranglers.  They reach a climax in August 1990 when Hugh Cornwell leaves the group.  “It was unfortunate because I left at an awkward time,” admits Cornwell.  “We were just at the point of signing a renegotiated contract.  The others speak very bitterly about me still, and I think it’s very silly of them.  I think you have to move on and embrace change.”

Hugh Cornwell releases a series of solo albums: ‘CCW’ (1992), a collaboration with Roger Cook and Andy West; ‘Guilty’ (1997), retitled ‘Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit’ in the U.S.; ‘Mayday’ (1999), a live album; ‘Sons Of Shiva’ (1999) with poet Sex W. Johnson (A.K.A. John W. Sexton); ‘Solo’ (1999); ‘Hi Fi’ (2000); ‘Footprints In The Desert’ (2002); ‘In The Dock’ (2003), a live, acoustic set; ‘Beyond Elysian Fields’ (2004); ‘People, Places, Pieces’ (2006); ‘Hooverdam’ (2008); ‘New Songs For King Kong’ (2010); ‘You’re Covered’ (2011), an album of cover versions; and ‘Totem And Taboo’ (2013).

The Stranglers carry on in 1990 with two new members replacing Hugh Cornwell: Paul Roberts (lead vocals) (born 31 December 1959 in Chiswick, London) and John Ellis (guitar, backing vocals) (born 1 June 1952 in Kentish Town, London).  Paul Roberts was the leader of new wave act Sniff ‘N’ The Tears who had a hit in 1978 with ‘Driver’s Seat’.  John Ellis worked with Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield in the side project The Purple Helmets.

The revised version of The Stranglers records ‘Stranglers In The Night’ (1992) (UK no. 33) on Psycho Records; ‘About Time’ (1995) (UK no. 31) and ‘Written In Red’ (1997) (UK no. 52) both for the When! label; and ‘Coup De Grace’ (1998) (UK no. 171) on Eagle.

John Ellis leaves The Stranglers in 2000.  Taking over is Baz Warne (guitar, vocals) (born 25 March 1964 in Sunderland, England).

The next Stranglers album, ‘Norfolk Coast’ (2004) (UK no. 70), is released by EMI.

Jean-Jacques Burnel works with Kasamatsu Koji on ‘Gankotsou: The Count Of Monte Cristo Soundtrack’ (2005).

Paul Roberts leaves The Stranglers in 2006.  The group continues as a four-piece with Baz Warne assuming most lead vocals, though Jean-Jacques Burnel continues to sing some tracks.

‘Suite XVI’ (2006) (UK no. 89) on EMI is followed by ‘Giants’ (2012) (UK no. 48) on Absolute Ear Music.

Jet Black’s health suffers in later years.  Problems with arterial fibrillation require him to miss some shows and tours and to scale back his involvement.  Touring drummers Ian Barnard (2007-2012) and Jim Macaulay (from 2013) stand in for Black.

“I think it’s a bit mad that they’re still calling themselves The Stranglers ‘cos there’s only two of the originals in the band now,” says Hugh Cornwell.  “I might as well go and call myself The Stranglers, but I don’t particularly want to.”

The Stranglers days of rabble-rousing against elitism and the social order seemed largely a part of their 1970s output.  That was when the band was at its peak, creating controversy as much as music.  There is something to be said for the more considered, yet still intriguing, output of the 1980s as well.  The Stranglers were ‘one of the key rock bands of the punk era.’  They went ‘from bad-mannered yobs to purveyors of supreme pop delicacies…[Their] music may have been ugly and might have been crude – but never boring.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Stranglers Documentary – Part 1’ (U.K. television program – BBC Choice Network) – Narrator: George Melly, Producer/Director: Angus McIntyre (29 August 2009?)
  2. wikipedia.org as at 14 April 2014
  3. ‘New Musical Express’ (U.K. music newspaper) – quote reproduced on (8) below
  4. ‘The Independent’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Something Never Changed’ – Hugh Cornwell interview conducted by Donald McLellan (9 May 1998)
  5. allmusic.com, ‘The Stranglers’ by Dave Thompson as at 3 June 2014
  6. ‘Record Mirror’ (U.K. music newspaper) – Hugh Cornwell interview conducted by Nancy Culp (7 September 1985) (reproduced on hughcornwell.com/mirror.html)
  7. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘The Stranglers on 40 Years of Fights, Drugs, UFOs and “Doing All the Wrong Things”’ – interview with Jean-Jacques Burnel and Jet Black conducted by Dave Simpson (13 March 2014) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  8. punk77.co.uk/group/stranglers.html – no credits – as at 4 June 2014
  9. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 226
  10. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 206, 207, 220
  11. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 258, 266, 282, 308, 311, 313
  12. Vancouver, Canada, radio interview with Hugh Cornwell conducted by Stephen (surname unknown) and George Strobolopoulos (October 2013)
  13. ‘Peaches – The Very Best Of The Stranglers’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (EMI Records Ltd, 2002) p. 3, 7
  14. lyricsfreak.com as at 29 May 2014
  15. songfacts.com as at 29 May 2014
  16. azlyrics.com as at 29 May 2014
  17. strangled.co.uk as at 4 June 2014
  18. metrolyrics.com as at 29 May 2014
  19. ‘The Stranglers: Song by Song’ (2001) by Hugh Cornwell, Jim Drury via (2) above
  20. ‘The Stranglers Documentary – Part 2’ (U.K. television program – BBC Choice Network) – Narrator: George Melly, Producer/Director: Angus McIntyre (29 August 2009?)
  21. dictionary.reverso.net/French-English as at 7 June 2014
  22. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 122

Song lyrics copyright Complete Music Ltd. with the exceptions of ‘Always The Sun’ (EMI Songs Ltd); ‘Something Better Change’ (Albion Music Ltd); ‘Golden Brown’ and ‘Strange Little Girl’ (both EMI Music Publishing Ltd / Complete Music Ltd); ‘European Female’ and ‘Skin Deep’ (both Plugshaft Ltd / Complete Music Ltd / EMI Music Publishing Ltd.)

Last revised 22 June 2014

Rod Stewart

 Rod Stewart

 Rod Stewart – circa 1983

 “Never found a compromise / Collected lovers like butterflies” – ‘I Was Only Joking’ (Rod Stewart, Gary Grainger)

Rod Stewart is in trouble.  Again.  The U.K. rock star ‘is notorious for his jet-set lifestyle, particularly the series of actresses and models he dates.’  “I enjoyed the chase,” Stewart smirks.  Perhaps the most famous of his partners is movie star Britt Ekland.  On this day in 1977, it is an enraged Ekland who is the source of Stewart’s problems.  She has discovered he has been unfaithful to her and she is not inclined to give him another chance.  It is the end of their relationship.  “Even by rock star standards, I was pretty awful,” Rod will later concede.  The legend of Rod Stewart sometimes seems to have as much to do with skirt-chasing as singing.

Roderick David Stewart is born 10 January 1945 at 507 Archway Road, Highgate, London, England, United Kingdom.  He is the son of Robert Stewart and his wife Elsie Stewart (nee Gilbart).  Robert Stewart was born in Scotland.  He became a master builder in Leith, Edinburgh.  Rod says of his father, “He was the Scotsman of the family, the one who gave us tartan pride, along with the football.  He played [football] all his life and taught his sons to play.”  Although Elsie Gilbart came from an English family background, she settled in Scotland with her husband.  They had four children born in Scotland – Mary, Peggy, Don and Bob – before moving to England.  The Stewarts’ fifth child, Rod, comes along eight years after their last baby.  “Everybody sang in my family,” says Rod.  “My big brother still thinks he’s a better singer than me.”  Although Rod Stewart is born in England, ‘he later finds it convenient to gloss over his Sassenach origins’ (‘Sassenach’ is a Scots-Gaelic word for an Englishman).  Rod ‘prefers to be considered a Scotsman.’

Rod Stewart starts his education at Highgate Primary School before going on to William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School in Hornsey.  Rod grows up in the same neighbourhood as the brothers Ray and Dave Davies, later of British rock band The Kinks.  The Davies boys also attend William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School.

Surprisingly, despite coming from a family where singing is popular, Rod Stewart claims not to have liked music classes at school: “I hated it.  I had no musical inclinations whatsoever when I was young.”  Al Jolson is a favourite singer of his parents and Rod will later profess to Jolson being a formative influence for him as well.

When Rod Stewart is in his teens, his father – Robert Stewart – retires from the building trade.  Rod’s Dad buys a newsagency along the Archway Road in Holloway, selling the daily newspapers, magazines, stationery and such.

As mentioned earlier, it is Robert Stewart who introduces his sons to football (or soccer as it is known in some parts of the world).  True to his self-image as a Scotsman, Rod Stewart is a lifetime supporter of Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club.  “I am passionate about football,” says Rod.  “My support for Celtic F.C. has got me through some hard times in my life.”  Rod shows some ability as a player, becoming captain of his school’s football side.

In January 1959, when he turns 14, Rod Stewart receives a life-changing gift.  “What I do now is all my Dad’s fault, because he bought me a guitar as a boy, for no apparent reason…and people would ask me to play.”  This seems to combine with the emergent new rock ‘n’ roll music to spark the youngster’s interest.  “I had this little handheld transistor radio that I used to sleep next to,” Rod recalls.  The first rock ‘n’ roll music he can remember hearing is Little Richard’s 1957 hit ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’.  The first record Rod buys is Eddie Cochran’s 1959 hit ‘C’mon Everybody’.  The first rock concert witnessed by the impressionable youth features visiting American act Bill Haley And The Comets.  Yet it is another 1950s rock star that seems to be Rod Stewart’s idol.  “Elvis [Presley] was the King, no doubt about it.  People like myself, Mick Jagger [of British rock band The Rolling Stones] and all the others only followed in his footsteps.”  Elvis is also renowned as a ladies’ man, so perhaps his influence on Rod Stewart’s career is based on more than just his music?  In 1960, Rod Stewart forms The Kool Kats, a skiffle group, at his school.  Skiffle is a genre made popular at the time by U.K. recording artist Lonnie Donegan.  It’s a kind of home-made, rough-hewn, hybrid of acoustic folk music and thumping rock ‘n’ roll.

Rod Stewart leaves school when he is 15.  He works briefly as a silkscreen printer.

In summer 1960, Rod Stewart tries out for Brentford Football Club but he is never signed.  There is a popular myth that he was signed as an apprentice but this has been debunked as a story invented by an over-enthusiastic publicist after Rod becomes a recording artist.  “I’m a rock star because I couldn’t be a soccer star,” Rod Stewart admits.

Neither a soccer star nor yet a rock star, the 15 year old Rod Stewart has to settle (for now) with the less glamorous option of working for his family’s newsagency.  Another publicist-created myth is that Rod Stewart worked as a gravedigger.  For two Saturdays, he did casual work marking out plots at Highgate Cemetery and this seems to be the source of the grave-digging legend.  Stewart is also reputed to have worked as a fence-erector, but this one may be true.  Rod claims that, “You learn a lot about yourself doing physical work,” and this seems to be his only experience with manual labour.

One of the most popular movie stars of the early 1960s is Brigitte Bardot.  “She’s the only woman I’ve ever had a sexual fantasy about,” says Rod Stewart.  “She’s everything a woman should be.  She’s blonde and beautiful, she’s got the most incredible legs…and she’s French as well.”  Brigitte Bardot seems to be the template for the parade of leggy blondes that Stewart squires through his heyday.  “I was never a good-looking bloke, not by a long chalk,” he says modestly.  However he also points out, “You know, I had no trouble with the girls.”  Perhaps his charm carried him along?  Possibly with visions of Brigitte Bardot still in his head, Rod Stewart concludes, “I think I was always looking for that perfect woman, who obviously doesn’t exist.”

Rod Stewart begins hanging around with folk singer Wizz Jones in 1962.  Rod decides to become a folkie and live a beatnik lifestyle.  For the next eighteen months, Wizz Jones and Rod Stewart eke out a living busking on city streets.  They start out in London and then make their way to Paris, France, and eventually wind up in Spain.  Destitute, Stewart is deported by the Spanish authorities back to the U.K. in 1963.

The distinctive spiky hairstyle associated with Rod Stewart, a rooster-like flourish, has its origins in his trip to the continent.  “We saw guys when I was busking as a beatnik in the 1960s and they had their hair all back-combed and bouffant in Paris.  So I came home and started doing it…What I used to do was I put warm water and sugar in my hair and just wait for it to dry…It was before hair-dryers and hair lacquer…So that’s how I got it up.”  He quickly adds, “The hair that is…”  Once the style is adopted, it is for life.  “It’ll never sit down.  I’ve tried other hairstyles [but it doesn’t work].”

Rod Stewart becomes a father for the first time in 1963.  From 1963 to 1964 he is romantically involved with an art student named Susannah Boffey.  The couple have a daughter in 1963, but the child is given up for adoption.  As an adult, Sarah Streeter seeks out her biological parents.  Rod welcomes the reunion, but, “Sue, the mother of my first child, she doesn’t want anything to do with me or Sarah, my daughter.”

Sometime around this point, Rod Stewart is considered for the job of lead vocalist with an embryonic version of The Kinks.  Ray and Dave Davies had grown up in the same area as Stewart and went to the same secondary school as him.  Ray Davies was, at first, unwilling to take on the role of frontman.  According to one account, ‘after a couple of weeks [the Davies brothers and Stewart] found that they didn’t get along and parted ways.’  However, ‘despite rumours that he performed with them, Stewart has no recollection of doing so.’

In 1963 Rod Stewart falls in with the mod movement.  The mods (as in ‘modern’) dress in sharp suits and dig American rhythm and blues music.  Stewart takes a particular interest in U.S. singer Sam Cooke and, over the next few years, becomes enamoured of Otis Redding as well and soul music in general.

While waiting for musical opportunities to arise, Rod Stewart works in his brother’s picture framing shop.

In October 1963 Rod Stewart gets a gig with The Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist.  Any aspirations Rod may have had towards being their lead vocalist are rendered void when the band take on a better known singer, Jimmy Powell, becoming Jimmy Powell & The Dimensions.  Still, Rod remains in the group and, through them, gains access to the London rhythm and blues scene.

In January 1964 Rod Stewart meets Long John Baldry.  Purportedly, Baldry ‘discovered’ Stewart busking in a train station.  Baldry invites Stewart to join his group, The Hoochie Coochie Men.  It is Baldry who jestingly calls his new acquaintance ‘Rod the Mod’, a tag that will stick with Stewart through his subsequent career.

Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’, a seminal ska music single from May 1964, features harmonica playing that has sometimes been attributed to Rod Stewart.  This is incorrect.  Two members of his former band, Jimmy Powell & The Dimensions, have rival claims to playing harmonica on that record, but it is not their former harmonica player, Stewart.

Rod Stewart makes his vocal debut on record with ‘Up Above My Head’ in June 1964 – but this is only the B side to a Hoochie Coochie Men single that features Long John Baldry, the nominal leader, on the A side.

In October 1964 Rod Stewart releases his first solo single.  Issued by Decca Records, ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ is a version of a blues song written by Willie Dixon.  John Paul Jones, future member of Led Zeppelin, plays bass on the recording.  ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ doesn’t make the charts, but it’s a start.

From 1965 to 1967 Rod Stewart dates Jenny Rylance, a model.

The Hoochie Coochie Men disband in 1965.  This leaves Rod Stewart unemployed for two months.  He then fronts an outfit called The Soul Agents for a short time.  Long John Baldry has not forgotten him though and asks Rod to join his new act, the London-based rhythm and blues band Steampacket, in mid-1965.  Steampacket is actually more like a revue than a band.  It has three lead vocalists – Baldry, Stewart, and Julie Driscoll.  Each does a set of their chosen material before all three combine for the big finale.  Musically, the heart of the band is borrowed from an early incarnation of Brian Auger’s Trinity: Brian Auger (keyboards), Rick Brown (bass) and Mick Waller (drums).  Vic Briggs is added on guitar.  Given its nature, it is perhaps not surprising that Steampacket, a band ‘full of tempestuous personalities’, goes through some line-up changes.  One notable other musician who passes through the ranks is keyboardist Reg Dwight – later to become famous as Elton John.  Rod and Reg become friends, though they are also known as Phyllis and Sharon.  Stewart explains: “Our mutual friend, Long John Baldry had christened me ‘Phyllis’, he had christened Elton ‘Sharon’, and that’s what we called each other ‘Phyllis and Sharon’.”  Steampacket don’t release any recordings in the 1960s but, after they are history, a couple of albums worth of material later surface: ‘Early Days’ (1974) on 2001 Records and ‘The Steampacket: The First Supergroup’ (1992) on the Charly label.

While Steampacket is still a going concern, Rod Stewart tries another couple of solo singles, both for Columbia Records.  ‘The Day Will Come’ is released in November 1965 and ‘Shake’ comes out in April 1966.  The latter is a cover version of a 1965 single by Stewart’s ‘hero’, Sam Cooke.  Stewart’s take has his Steampacket colleague Brian Auger playing organ.  Neither of these Rod Stewart singles makes the charts.

Steampacket eventually comes to a halt in summer 1966.  The first to exit is Rod Stewart, who claims that Brian Auger sacked him after a clash of personalities.  Long John Baldry and Reg Dwight (Elton John) go on to Bluesology and Rod Stewart is said to have had a brief spell with Bluesology as well.  However, Stewart’s next significant move is to a new band called Shotgun Express.

Existing from May 1966 to February 1967, Shotgun Express is similar to Steampacket.  The line-up is: Rod Stewart (vocals), Beryl Marsden (vocals), John Morshead (guitar), Phil Sawyer (guitar), Peter Green (guitar), Peter Bardens (keyboards), Dave Ambrose (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums).  Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood are better known for Fleetwood Mac, which they go on to form in July 1967.

One of the most famed guitarists of the British rock scene in the mid-1960s is Jeff Beck.  After an acclaimed stint in The Yardbirds, Beck forms his own Jeff Beck Group in February 1967.  Rod Stewart is recruited for this project.  The Jeff Beck Group starts out as a four-piece consisting of: Rod Stewart (vocals), Jeff Beck (guitar), Ron Wood (bass) and Aynsley Dunbar (drums).  In November 1967 they expand to a five-piece with the addition of Nicky Hopkins (piano).  At the same time, Aynsley Dunbar is replaced by Mick Waller (who played drums in Steampacket and so had worked with Stewart previously).  In February 1969 Tony Newman takes over on drums from Waller.  During this time, Rod Stewart appears on two albums with The Jeff Beck Group: ‘Truth’ (1968) (US no. 15) and ‘Beck-Ola’ (1969) (US no. 15, UK no. 39).  Behind the scenes, Beck and Stewart are ‘frequently at each other’s throats.’  Some claim that the musical sparks struck between the vocalist and guitarist are an influence on the chemistry between Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin, a similarly blues-based heavy rock band of the same era.

While with The Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart tries another solo single.  ‘Little Miss Understood’ is issued in March 1968 by Immediate Records.  It is as unsuccessful as Stewart’s three previous singles.  During 1968 Rod Stewart sings on sessions for a studio band called Python Lee Jackson.  They never play live and seem to achieve nothing of note.  However, it later comes back to haunt Stewart when their single, ‘In A Broken Dream’ (UK no. 3, US no. 56), is pulled out of the vaults in 1972.

The Jeff Beck Group is scheduled to appear at the landmark hippie music festival Woodstock in the U.S.A. in August 1969.  However, Jeff Beck decides to kick out Ron Wood.  Rod Stewart sides with the luckless bass player.  Stewart and Wood exit in July 1969.

Rod Stewart’s time The Jeff Beck Group has boosted his public profile – at least in the U.S.A. where The Jeff Beck Group was more popular.  On 6 June 1969 Stewart signs a solo record deal with Mercury.

The Small Faces, a popular British rock band of the 1960s, have parted ways with their leader, vocalist and guitarist, Steve Marriott.  The remaining three members of the group are a bit lost.  Rod Stewart bumps into them in a pub in Hampstead, London.  A plan is hatched.  Rod Stewart and his mate from The Jeff Beck Group, Ron Wood, will replace Marriott.  Since The Small Faces already have a bass player, but don’t have a guitarist, Ron Wood will switch from bass (which he played in The Jeff Beck Group) to guitar.  In addition, the band will modify its name to The Faces.  The 1969 starting line-up of The Faces is: Rod Stewart (vocals), Ron Wood (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboards), Ronnie Lane (bass) and Kenny Jones (drums).

For the next few years, Rod Stewart maintains parallel recording careers for two different labels.  He records as a solo artist for Mercury, and The Faces (with Rod on vocals) record for Warner Bros.  In practice, Stewart virtually alternates between a solo album for him, a Faces album, another solo album, and so on.  However, that could make things overly complicated here, so let’s deal with The Faces recordings first.

The Faces quickly gain a reputation for their ‘boozing…inebriated way.’  They are described as ‘the hardest-drinking band in show business.’  ‘They even travel with a bar on stage!’  The Faces play a rough, raw-boned, version of grinding rock.  Rod Stewart regularly uses Tartan hats, scarves and the like to emphasise his Scots background.  His fans emulate his example and he refers to them as ‘the tartan horde.’  Stewart’s love of soccer leads him and The Faces to playfully kick footballs out into the crowd.  The singer regularly takes time out to attend major football matches.  The Faces release the following albums: ‘First Step’ (1970) (UK no. 45, US no. 119), ‘Long Player’ (1971) (UK no. 31, US no. 24), ‘A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse’ (1972) (UK no. 2, US no. 6) and ‘Ooh La La’ (1973) (UK no. 1, US no. 21).  Some of the more popular songs by the group include 1971’s ‘Stay With Me’ (UK no. 6, US no. 17), and from 1973 both ‘Cindy Incidentally’ (UK no. 2, US no. 48) and ‘Pool Hall Richard’ (UK no. 8).  In 1973 Faces’ bassist Ronnie Lane quits the group.  He is ‘fed up with Stewart’s dominance of the band.’  Tetsu Yamauchi takes over on bass and The Faces issue the live recording ‘Coast To Coast: Overture And Beginners’ (1974) (UK no. 3, US no. 63).  “I’ve always looked on myself as one of a band and never sought a solo career,” claims Rod Stewart somewhat unconvincingly.  It doesn’t help that The Faces ‘have degenerated into a drinking club rather than a working band.’  ‘You Can Make Me Dance Or Sing Or Anything’ (UK no. 12), released on 15 November 1974, is their last single.  The Faces play their last show together at Nassau Coliseum at Long Island, U.S.A., on 12 October 1975.  Rod Stewart announces he is leaving The Faces in December 1975.  Ron Wood goes on to join The Rolling Stones.

The music of Rod Stewart spans multiple genres.  “My musical taste has always been wide,” he says.  “I started out as a folkie before I moved on to blues and soul.”  To that mix can be added the more general (but still apt) descriptions of pop and rock.

Some of Rod Stewart’s songs are cover versions of numbers first performed by other artists.  The original songs include a number of songs written by Stewart alone but, more commonly, he co-writes with other authors.  The suspicion is that Stewart writes the words while his collaborators concentrate on the music.  At his best, Rod Stewart is a Rabelaisian raconteur, a teller of tall tales recounted with a knowing, laddish, wink.  “I deliberate over the lyrics,” he claims.  “It’s never been easy for me.”  Stewart admits, “I’m not a natural songwriter…I just write from the heart.”

What ties together the disparate musical threads and the emotional themes of Rod Stewart’s music is his distinctive voice.  Descriptions of his style of singing include ‘sandpapery’ and ‘rasping.’  These are certainly accurate, but don’t do justice to the full scope of his ability.  They sound like he is a gravel-voiced hard rocker.  That’s a role he can play with boldness, but it’s not his only sonic mode.  Those textured tones prove just as effective on a more homespun folk song, a hot-blooded rhythm and blues showcase, or a heart-wrenching ballad.  It is as though his voice catches all shades of the emotional spectrum.

Rod Stewart’s first album in his own right is ‘An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down’ (1970) (US no. 139, AUS no. 31), released in February.  The album is co-produced by Rod Stewart and Lou Reizner and appears on the Vertigo label in the U.K. and on Mercury in the U.S. (where it is retitled ‘The Rod Stewart Album’).  Most of Rod Stewart’s original compositions at the time go to The Faces, so in his solo work, at first there is only ‘the odd original, and (he) trawls through his vast musical appreciation for the rest.’  As may be anticipated, Rod Stewart does a lovely rendition of Ewan McColl’s folk tune ‘Dirty Old Town’.  Less obvious is the singer’s reinvention of The Rolling Stones’ 1968 rocker ‘Street Fighting Man’ as ‘something of a [country music] hoedown.’  Another highlight is ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ (US no. 42).

Rod Stewart’s second solo album, ‘Gasoline Alley’ (1970) (UK no. 62, US no. 27, AUS no. 24), follows only four months later in June.  This still contains cover versions, such as ‘It’s All Over Now’ (US no. 126) (a 1964 song separately recorded by The Valentinos and The Rolling Stones), but the original material is more potent.  The title track, ‘Gasoline Alley’, is co-written with Stewart’s buddy from The Faces, Ron Wood.  Other originals include ‘Jo’s Lament’ and ‘Lady Day’.

Rod Stewart’s love life is a bit complicated around this time.  He is linked to Vicki Hodge (1970-1971) and Jo Jo Laine (1970-1972), but perhaps more significant than either is Dee Harrington, a model (1971-1975).  It may be noted that the dates on which Stewart is involved with this trio overlap…but it seems Stewart’s affections are also inclined to overlap.

‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ (1971) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is the album that earns Rod Stewart ‘superstar status.’  This disc and the next two are produced by Rod Stewart and released on Mercury in both the U.S. and the U.K.  ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ contains Rod Stewart’s best song, ‘Maggie May’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1), co-written by Martin Quittenton.  “Wake up, Maggie, I think I got something to say to you,” announces Stewart’s youthful narrator.  “It’s late September and I really should be back at school / I know I keep you amused, but I feel I’m being used.”  It’s a matter of conjecture whether Maggie is just an older woman or, as some would have it, a hooker.  This folky story song is delicately shaded with a strummed mandolin, but Mick Waller’s thumping drums keep the song from becoming too genteel.  ‘Maggie May’ is Stewart at his most potent.  It’s an intriguing situation, a saucy wink, a tender farewell and a weary loss of innocence all wrapped together in one improbably successful package.  In September 1971 ‘Maggie May’ and the album ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ give Rod Stewart the no. 1 spots on both the singles and albums charts in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. at the same time.  The album includes the ‘hilarious goof’ of the title track, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ (co-written with Ron Wood), the ‘moving ballad’ of ‘Mandolin Wind’, and the rhythm and blues workout ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ (US no. 24).  “We had no preconceived ideas of what we were going to do,” claims Stewart.  “We would have a few drinks, strum away and play.”  For at least some rock music critics, Rod Stewart’s first three solo albums constitute his greatest works and represent a height he will never again reach.

‘Never A Dull Moment’ (1972) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 3) features ‘You Wear It Well’ (UK no. 1, US no. 13), a song of similar spirit to ‘Maggie May’ and again co-written by Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton.  “I had nothing to do on this hot afternoon but to settle down and write you a line,” Stewart sings ingratiatingly at the introduction to this song.  It’s a love letter to an old acquaintance, an epistle enlivened by gypsy violin accompaniment.  Stewart waxes nostalgic, “Remember those basement parties / Your brother’s karate / The all-day rock ‘n’ roll shows?”  The album shows Rod Stewart tackling a raft of notable cover versions as well: Etta James’ rhythm and blues song ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’; Sam Cooke’s 1962 piece ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ (US no. 59); and Jimi Hendrix’s tender ‘Angel’ (US no. 40) from 1971, showing a softer side to the famed guitarist.  There is also ‘What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me)’ (UK no. 4), the Glen Sutton song recorded by first generation rocker Jerry Lee Lewis in 1968.

The 1973 single ‘Oh No Not My Baby’ (UK no. 6, US no. 54) keeps Rod Stewart in the charts while Warner Bros. and Mercury argue over his record contract.  Mercury issues the compilation ‘Sing It Again, Rod’ (1973) (UK no. 1, US no. 31), which includes one new song, Stewart’s version of The Who’s 1969 hit ‘Pinball Wizard’, which Rod had been performing in the stage show mounted by Stewart’s former record producer, Lou Reizner, of the Who’s musical ‘Tommy’.

While the legal wrangles play themselves out, Rod Stewart turns to his other occupation: “I was shagging my way ‘round the world, like most blokes would if they had my opportunities.”  He had encountered actress Britt Ekland ‘on and off during the early 1970s.’  They meet again after a Faces show at the Los Angeles Forum in March 1974.  “I took her to an all-night laundry; we watched her bra go ‘round in the machine.”  Despite such original seduction technique, the Rod Stewart-Britt Ekland pairing does not officially start at this point.  Technically, Rod is still squiring Dee Harrington, though that may have slipped his mind.

Mercury wins the right to release one more Rod Stewart album before releasing him to Warner Bros.  Their prize is ‘Smiler’ (1974) (UK no. 1, US no. 13, AUS no. 8), released in October.  This set includes ‘Farewell’ (UK no. 7), an original composition which is ‘another of his beautiful lyrical ballads.’  Rod Stewart again raids the Sam Cooke songbook for cover versions of 1957’s ‘You Send Me’ and 1963’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’.  Stewart’s high profile in the pop charts encourages a couple of famous acquaintances to provide him with songs.  Paul McCartney, formerly with 1960s rock giants The Beatles, offers Rod ‘Mine For Me’ (US no. 91).  The singer’s old pal, ‘Sharon’ (i.e. Elton John) supplies ‘Let Me Be Your Car’.  “Elton and I were really good mates,” says Rod Stewart.  Tongue-in-cheek, he describes Elton John as “the second best rock singer ever.”

In March 1975 Rod Stewart officially begins his love affair with Swedish actress Britt Ekland.  Fellow actress Joan Collins reportedly introduces the couple in 1975.  By this time, Britt Ekland has become ‘a Bond girl’, appearing in the movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (1974), the latest adventure of sexy super-spy James Bond.  So, really, she goes from one over-sexed U.K. fella to another.  Rod and Britt live together for two years, during which time he is ‘inevitably…drawn into the show-biz celebrity circuits’ and she watches his eye stray to any passing female.

1975 is a transitional year for Rod Stewart.  He has a new woman (Britt Ekland) and a new record label (Warner Bros).  He also gains a new country of residence, moving from the U.K. to the U.S.A. to escape Britain’s punitive tax laws.

‘Atlantic Crossing’ (1975) (UK no. 1, US no. 9, AUS no. 1) in August is an album whose title is symbolic of Rod Stewart’s relocation from London to Los Angeles.  Although it is Rod Stewart’s first album for Warner Bros, it is the first of five discs that appear on the Riva label in the U.K. – a company owned by Billy Gaff, Stewart’s manager.  ‘Atlantic Crossing’ is also the first of four consecutive Rod Stewart albums produced by Tom Dowd.  A native New Yorker, Dowd made his reputation working with 1960s soul music greats like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.  Dowd takes Stewart to Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama where many great soul records were made.  Steve Cropper, the guitarist from definitive soul band Booker T. And The MGs, plays on the album.  The result is Rod Stewart’s best album, one that ‘accentuates his pop appeal.’  At the suggestion of his girlfriend Britt Ekland, Stewart divides ‘Atlantic Crossing’ into a slow side and a fast side.  The album’s best song is ‘Sailing’ (UK no. 1, US no. 58).  Written by Gavin Sutherland and originally recorded by his group, The Sutherland Brothers Band, in 1972, ‘Sailing’ is a moving and hearty performance from Rod Stewart.  It successfully captures the mystery of the sea and the immense power it exerts over men.  ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ (UK no. 4, US no. 83), a 1966 rhythm and blues song by The Isley Brothers, is reworked in good style by Stewart.  ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (UK no. 1, US no. 46) has a rueful, bruised quality, framed in spidery acoustic guitars.  This is a cover version of a 1971 song by Danny Whitten originally recorded with his band Crazy Horse, a group best known for their work with folk/rock star Neil Young.  The track’s doomed atmosphere is made more poignant due to Whitten’s death from a drug overdose in November 1972.  ‘Atlantic Crossing’ may not be Rod Stewart’s most original or personal album, but it may be his most emotional work, his voice capturing every nuance of the contents.

In December 1975 Rod Stewart officially leaves The Faces, causing that group to disband, and severing his last professional tie to the U.K. and his old life.

‘A Night On The Town’ (1976) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 1), released in June, is a ‘move to slicker pop territory.’  It is a big commercial success and launches a clutch of hit singles.  ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (UK no. 5, US no. 1) is the biggest smash, topping the U.S. singles chart for eight weeks from 13 November 1976 to 1 January 1977.  Written by Rod Stewart alone, ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is a lip-smacking, saucy seduction:  “Come on angel, my heart’s on fire / Don’t deny your man’s desire / You’d be a fool to stop this tide / Spread your wings and let me come inside.”  The song climaxes with Britt Ekland contributing some whispers in a foreign language.  Although they are, to most ears, indecipherable, they are ‘deemed too suggestive for airplay’ so some versions of ‘Tonight’s The Night’ are minus the moody mumbles.  ‘The Killing Of Georgie’ (UK no. 2, US no. 30) is another Rod Stewart-penned song.  “Georgie boy was gay I guess, nothing more and nothing less,” advises Stewart in a lyric that, for its time, is a surprisingly enlightened and sympathetic view of homosexuality.  This story-song ends tragically with Georgie falling victim to street violence, his death leaving a mark on the narrator.  ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ (US no. 21) is an acoustic strum, a claim that the pain of first love is virtually insurmountable.  The song is the work of singer-songwriter Cat Stevens and dates from 1967.  Stevens never released the song himself; it was given away to P.P. Arnold and he considered hers to be the definitive version.  Rod Stewart also knocks out a version of Hank Thompson’s 1952 country music hit ‘Wild Side Of Life’ on this album.

In November 1976 Rod Stewart contributes to ‘All This and World War Two’ (1976), a motion picture that matches footage from the Second World War in the 1940s with recording artists from the 1970s performing Beatles’ songs from the 1960s.  Rod Stewart’s scorching rendition of ‘Get Back’ (UK no. 11) becomes the most successful song from the soundtrack album.  Rod’s former record producer, Lou Reizner, is the mastermind of the whole project.

Rod Stewart’s relationship with Britt Ekland concludes in 1977 when she finds he has been unfaithful.  Rod doesn’t spend a lot of time feeling remorseful.  In 1977 he is romantically linked to Marcy Hanson and Liz Treadwell and then is involved with Bebe Buell (1977-1978).

‘Foot Loose And Fancy Free’ (1977) (UK no. 3, US no. 2, AUS no. 1) in November is Rod Stewart’s next album.  The title gives an idea of his attitude.  ‘You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)’ (UK no. 3, US no. 4) is a continental café sing-song offset by a violin.  The subject of the song is a matter of contention.  In tipping his lid to his football team (“You’re Celtic United / But baby I’ve decided / You’re the best team I’ve ever seen”), Stewart gives some the impression that the song is about someone who prefers soccer over any woman.  The more popular interpretation is that the track functions as a goodbye note to Britt Ekland.  What clouds the issue a bit is this line: “The big bosomed lady with the Dutch accent who tried to change my point of view.”  Britt Ekland is Swedish, not Dutch; she certainly doesn’t have a Dutch accent; and, for all her charms, being prodigiously buxom is not one of her characteristics.  Rod Stewart offers this explanation: “It wasn’t totally about Britt…It could have been anybody I met in that period…and there were a lot of them.”  When the lyrics speak of “Your fashion sense, Beardsley prints,” it is alluding to Aubrey Beardsley, the art nouveau identity.  ‘You’re In My Heart’ is written by Rod Stewart.  The album’s other two most significant tracks are co-written by Rod Stewart and Gary Grainger but, musically, they are poles apart.  ‘Hot Legs’ (UK no. 5, US no. 28) is a raunchy rock tune in which the singer cries in mock exhaustion, “Gonna need a shot of vitamin E / By the time you’re finished with me” and “You got legs right up to your neck / You’re making me a physical wreck.”  By contrast, ‘I Was Only Joking’ (UK no. 5, US no. 22) is a semi-acoustic ballad.  Rod Stewart looks back over his life and expresses no regrets…well, maybe some…He concludes, “Quietly now, while I turn a page / Act one is over without costume change / The principal would like to leave the stage / The crowd don’t understand.”

In 1978 Rod Stewart dates British actress Joanna Lumley.

‘Blondes Have More Fun’ (1978) (UK no. 3, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is an old adage that Rod Stewart tries to prove since his locks are looking rather more artificially yellow these days in comparison to his previously mousey-brown mane.  This November release is best known for ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1)  Co-written by Rod Stewart and drummer Carmine Appice, this track is most notable for appropriating a disco rhythm that sees Stewart trying to keep abreast of musical trends.  “If you want my body and you think I’m sexy / Come on sugar, let me know,” urges the singer.  Rod Stewart is subsequently sued by Jorge Ben over ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ because of its resemblance to Ben’s ‘Taj Mahal’.  Ben wins the case and asks Rod to donate all profits to the charity organisation UNICEF.  This album also includes the pouting ‘Ain’t Love A Bitch’ (UK no. 11, US no. 22), co-written by Rod Stewart and Gary Grainger.

On 9 January 1979 Rod Stewart is one of the acts who participate in the benefit show called ‘A Gift of Song – The Music for UNICEF Concert.’  The venue is the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  Others on the bill include Abba, The Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John.  The concert is taped and broadcast the next night on NBC-TV in the United States.  Rod Stewart performs ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’

On 6 April 1979 Rod Stewart marries Alana Hamilton, the ex-wife of actor George Hamilton.  Rod and Alana go on to have two children: Kimberley (born 21 August 1979) and Sean (born 1 September 1980).

‘Foolish Behaviour’ (1980) (UK no. 4, US no. 12, AUS no. 9) features the insistent ‘Passion’ (UK no. 17, US no. 5).  Most of the album’s compositions are credited to The Rod Stewart Group and they also share production credit with Harry The Hook and Jeremy Andrew Johns.  Stewart later says, “’Foolish Behaviour’ was a pile of s***, really.  Maybe a couple of others were too.”

‘Tonight I’m Yours’ (1981) (UK no. 8, US no. 11, AUS no. 11) is co-produced by Rod Stewart and his guitarist, Jim Cregan.  This album incorporates ‘elements of new wave and synth pop.’  The title track, ‘Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)’ (UK no. 8, US no. 20) is certainly a bouncy effort.  ‘Young Turks’ (UK no. 11, US no. 5) is a percolating dance pop tune.  The four songwriters on this track are Rod Stewart, Carmine Appice, Kevin Savigar and Duane Hitchings.  While the song revolves around a sugary chorus urging, “Young hearts be free tonight”, the story-song of Billy and Patti seems to be pure Stewart.  A pair of runaways make a life for themselves and Billy writes to her parents advising, “Patti gave birth to a ten-pound baby boy.”

Parting ways with manager Billy Gaff (and Gaff’s Riva  Records label), Rod Stewart’s first outing for Warner Bros. alone (in all territories) is the concert recording ‘Absolutely Live’ (1982) (UK no. 35, US no. 46).

Rod Stewart is the first to record the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager composition ‘That’s What Friends Are For’.  It appears on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Night Shift’ (1982).  Four years later, it becomes a big hit for the foursome of Dionne Warwicke, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.

‘Body Wishes’ (1983) (UK no. 5, US no. 30, AUS no. 14) reunites Rod Stewart with producer Tom Dowd.  ‘Baby Jane’ (UK no. 1, US no. 14) is smooth disco pop with a big saxophone.  “Baby Jane don’t leave me hanging on the line,” asks the vocalist, before going on to vow, “When I give my heart again, I know / It’s gonna last forever.”  ‘Baby Jane’ is co-written by Rod Stewart and bassist Jay Davis.  The duo share a songwriting credit on this album with drummer Tony Brock for ‘What Am I Gonna Do (I’m So In Love With You)’ (UK no. 3, US no. 35), a buoyant Euro-pop piece.

In 1983 Rod Stewart begins romancing model Kelly Emberg.  This spells the end for his marriage to Alana Hamilton and they divorce in 1984.  Rod Stewart’s relationship with Kelly Emberg runs from 1983 to 1990.  Though they never marry, they do have a daughter, Ruby (born 17 June 1987).  While involved with Kelly Emberg, Rod Stewart is also linked to Michelle Johnson (1984) and actress Kelly LeBrock (1985).

‘Camouflage’ (1984) (UK no. 8, US no. 18, AUS no. 34) is produced by Michael Omartian.  The album is keyboard-heavy with a glossy sheen.  Notable songs from this set are ‘Infatuation’ (UK no. 27, US no. 6) and ‘Some Guys Have All The Luck’ (UK no. 15, US no. 10).

‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (1986) (UK no. 5, US no. 28, AUS no. 16) is produced by Bob Ezrin.  The title track, ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (UK no. 2, US no. 83), is co-written by Rod Stewart and Kevin Savigar.  It has a decidedly Scottish, anthemic feel with Stewart pleading, “Seagull carry me / Over land and sea / To my own folk / That’s where I want to be.”  ‘Another Heartache’ (UK no. 54, US no. 52) and ‘Love Touch’ (UK no. 27, US no. 6) also hail from this album.

‘Out Of Order’ (1988) (UK no. 11, US no. 20, AUS no. 26) is co-produced by Rod Stewart, Andy Taylor and Bernard Edwards.  This album attempts to modernise Stewart’s approach with songs like ‘’Lost In You’ (UK no. 21, US no. 12), ‘Forever Young’ (UK no. 57, US no. 12) and ‘My Heart Can’t Tell You No’ (UK no. 49, US no. 4).

‘Storyteller’ (1989) (UK no. 31, US no. 54) is a four-disc box set trawling through Rod Stewart’s career.  A new track, ‘Downtown Train’ (UK no. 10, US no. 3), is a cover version of a Tom Waits song, a performer with a similarly gravelly voice.  “He’s one of my favourite all-time songwriters,” Stewart says of Waits.

Rod Stewart’s relationship with Kelly Emberg ends in 1990.  After brief liaisons with both Teri Copley and Helen Fairbrother in 1990, Rod Stewart marries his second wife, New Zealand actress and model Rachel Hunter, on 15 December 1990.  Rod and Rachel have two children together: Renee (born 1 June 1992) and Liam (born 5 September 1994).

‘Vagabond Heart’ (1991) (UK no. 2, US no. 10, AUS no. 1) uses a variety of producers and so yields a variety of styles.  It reaches from the new sound of ‘Rhythm Of The Heart’ (UK no. 3, US no. 5) to the classic ‘It Takes Two’ (UK no. 5), the 1967 Motown hit by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, that partners Rod Stewart with the smouldering Tina Turner.  ‘The Motown Song’ (UK no. 10, US no. 10), a new song about the great record label’s material, is also on this album.  ‘Unplugged And Seated’ (1993) (UK no. 2, US no. 2) is a live acoustic album that reunites Stewart with his old mate from The Faces, Ron Wood.  ‘Have I Told You Lately’ (UK no. 5, US no. 5) is the single from this set.  ‘A Spanner In The Works’ (1995) (UK no. 4, US no. 35, AUS no. 28) is another multi-producer recording that includes ‘Leave Virginia Alone’ (US no. 52), ‘You’re The Star’ (UK no. 2, US no. 44), ‘Lady Luck’ (UK no. 56) and ‘Purple Heather’ (UK no. 16).  Rod Stewart’s last album for the century is ‘When We Were Boys’ (1998) (UK no. 2, US no. 44), which he co-produces with Kevin Savigar.  Aside from the title track, ‘When We Were Boys’, it is largely a collection of cover versions, including a reworking of a song Stewart originally recorded with The Faces, ‘Ooh La La’ (UK no. 16, US no. 34).  Speaking of his late 1990s output, Rod Stewart snorts, “I might as well have not made records.”

Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter separate in 1999 but don’t officially divorce until 2006.  “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house,” quips Stewart.  He keeps busy in 1999 being linked to Kimberley Conrad, Tracey Tweed, Vicki-Lee McIntyre and Angelica Bridges.  However, it is another woman he meets in 1999, Penny Lancaster, who becomes the next major love of Rod Stewart’s life.  Despite a dalliance with Caprice Bourret in 2000, it is Penny Lancaster who wins his heart.

‘Human’ (2001) (UK no. 9, US no. 50 is an ‘attempt to cross-over to contemporary and urban audiences.’  It is Rod Stewart’s last album of its type for some time.

Rod Stewart abandons rock music all together with his next album.  ‘It Had To Be You: The Great American Songbook’ (2002) (UK no. 8, US no. 4, AUS no. 5) finds Rod relying on his abilities as an interpretive singer to tackle pre-rock standards for a more mature audience.  He records more volumes of such material: ‘As Time Goes By – The Great American Songbook Volume 2’ (2003) (UK no. 4, US no. 2, AUS no. 7) ‘Stardust: The Great American Songbook – Volume 3’ (2004) (UK no. 3, US no. 1, AUS no. 8) and ‘Thanks For The Memory: The Great American Songbook – Volume 4’ (2005) (UK no. 3, US no. 2, AUS no. 15).

On 9 March 2005 Rod Stewart proposes to Penny Lancaster atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.  She accepts.  Waiting only for Rod’s divorce from Rachel Hunter to be finalised in 2006, Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster marry on 16 June 2007 aboard the super-yacht ‘The Lady Ann Magee’ in Portafino Harbour, Italy.  A model and photographer, Penny Lancaster is six foot, one inch, tall, while Rod Stewart is five feet, ten inches, in height.  The couple have two sons: Alastair (born 27 November 2005) and Aiden (born 16 February 2011).  This means that Rod Stewart has eight children by five mothers.

Rod Stewart’s recording career continues with more interpretive works.  ‘Still The Same…Great Rock Classics Of Our Time’ (2006) (UK no. 4, US no. 1, AUS no. 16) is followed by ‘Soulbook’ (2009) (UK no. 9, US no. 4, AUS no. 11); another set of pre-rock standards, ‘Fly Me To The Moon: The Great American Songbook – Volume 5’ (2010) (UK no. 5, US no. 4, AUS no. 4); and the holiday season special, ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ (2012) (UK no. 2, US no. 3, AUS no. 3).

Writing ‘Rod: The Autobiography’ (2012) prompts Rod Stewart to again try songwriting.

‘Time’ (2013) (UK no. 1, US no. 7, AUS no. 6) is his first album for Capitol Records.  It includes songs inspired by his father (‘Can’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘It’s Over’) and the mother of his first child (‘Brighton Beach’).  ‘Another Country’ (2015) (UK no. 2, US no. 20, AUS no. 9) continues Rod Stewart’s return to original material and personal themes.

In the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list Rod Stewart is appointed Knight Bachelor.

‘Blood Red Roses’ (2018) (UK no. 1, US no. 62, AUS no. 15) is a new Rod Stewart album released by Decca Records/Republic Records.  The album is co-produced by Rod Stewart and Kevin Savigar.  This duo also co-writes most of the songs on ‘Blood Red Roses’.

‘You’re In My Heart: Rod Stewart With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’ (2019) (UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) matches ‘classic vocal tracks’ with new orchestral arrangements.  This album also includes a new version of ‘Maggie May’; a new recording of ‘It Takes Two’ as a duet between Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams (rather than Tina Turner); and a new song titled ‘Stop Loving Her Today’.  This is a majestic ballad in which the narrator tells himself to give up a woman who is already spoken for.  ‘Stop Loving Her Today’ is co-written by Simon Climie and Dennis Morgan.

Rod Stewart may have chased women as much as he chased hit records, but he avoided other pitfalls of fame.  Compared to many of his peers in the rock industry, Stewart was relatively unscathed.  “I did drugs but I was never mad on ‘em,” he suggested.  “My father, being a Scotsman, taught me to look after finances.”  An interest in the opposite sex is the subject of countless rock songs so, in that sense, Rod Stewart lived a very rock ‘n’ roll life.  His best work was probably in the 1970s.  Arguably ‘the finest singer of his generation’, Rod Stewart was also a ‘randy rock star, sensitive singer-songwriter, eloquent interpreter of other people’s material, folky traditionalist [and] reverent soul man.  It was remarkable that Stewart could embrace so many roles.’

Sources:

  1. wikipedia.org as at 31 March 2014, 2 January 2016, 4 January 2017, 2 January 2019, 5 January 2020
  2. allmusic.com, ‘Rod Stewart’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 28 May 2014
  3. brainyquote.com as at 27 May 2014
  4. whosdatedwho.com as at 31 March 2014
  5. ‘The Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Britt Ekland on Nudity, Alzheimer’s and Being “Abducted” by Peter Sellers’ – interview conducted by Chrissy Iley (22 September 2013) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
  6. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 31 March 2014
  7. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 27 May 2014
  8. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – Rod Stewart interview conducted by Kathy McCabe (23 May 2013) p. 35
  9. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 14, 60, 76, 77, 222, 223, 224
  10. urbandictionary.com as at 19 January 2006
  11. ‘The Graham Norton Show’ (U.K. television program – BBC 1 Network) (2012 – episode 4)
  12. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 49, 79, 83, 91, 132, 141, 205, 206
  13. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 88, 92, 159, 161, 234, 247, 262, 263, 266, 294
  14. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 180, 183
  15. ‘Rod: The Autobiography’ by Rod Stewart (Crown Archetype, 2012) (via Chris Michaud, retuers.com 10 October 2012)
  16. discogs.com as at 28 May 2014
  17. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Britain: The Second Wave’ by Ken Emerson (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 422, 423, 427
  18. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 106
  19. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 173
  20. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 55
  21. ‘The Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Rod Stewart Interview: “I Am Desperately Ashamed of the Way I Finished Relationships”’ by Neil McCormick (11 April 2013) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
  22. songfacts.com as at 28 May 2014
  23. lyricsfreak.com as at 21 May 2014
  24. ask.com as at 28 May 2014

Song lyrics copyright Intersong U.S.A., Inc. ASCAP with the exceptions of ‘Hot Legs’ and ‘I Was Only Joking (both Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Riva Music Ltd. ASCAP); ‘Maggie May’ (Unichappell Music Inc. / Rightsong Music, Inc. / H.G. Music ASCAP); ‘You Wear It Well’ (Chappell & Co., Inc. / Intersong U.S.A., Inc. O/B/O Rod Stewart / H.G. Music, Inc. ASCAP); ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ (WB Music Corp. O/B/O Nite Stalk Music / Intersong U.S.A., Inc. ASCAP); ‘Young Turks’ (Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Riva Music Ltd. / Hitchings Publ. ASCAP); ‘Baby Jane’ (Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Anteater Music ASCAP); and ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Black Lion Music ASCAP)

Last revised 25 January 2020

Steely Dan

 Steely Dan

 Donald Fagen – circa 1980

 “Yes I’m dying to be a star and make them laugh / Sound just like a record on the phonograph” – ‘Pretzel Logic’ (Walter Becker, Donald Fagen)

Rock stars are publicity hounds.  They go on tour, standing on stage before huge crowds.  Their faces adorn the covers of their albums.  They ham it up for the cameras in music videos.  Steely Dan is a different proposition.  Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the brains trust of Steely Dan, are publicity shy.  They don’t like touring much.  Their faces are not on the covers of any of their albums.  They don’t make music videos.  A rock band is a fraternal gang of wild boys.  Steely Dan struggles to even meet the description of a band.  They are more like a project, or a concept, which Becker and Fagen direct.  “We don’t mix well,” says Walter Becker.  Yet Steely Dan is a highly regarded rock act – and this is just part of their fascinating contradictory nature.

Donald Jay Fagen is born 10 January 1948 in Passaic, New Jersey, U.S.A.  His father, Joseph ‘Jerry’ Fagen, is an accountant and former entertainer.  His mother, Eleanor, used to sing professionally in hotels in the Catskills region of New York State.  Donald Fagen has a younger sister named Susan.  It is a Jewish family.  Joseph Fagen helps found the local synagogue.  Around 1958 the Fagen family moves from Passaic to suburban Fairlawn.  They are not there long before relocating to the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, New Jersey.  Donald Fagen says of the New Jersey housing projects, “I’d been framed and sentenced to a long stretch at hard labour in Squaresville.”

Donald Fagen finds some solace listening to late night radio programs.  He starts learning guitar when he is 7 but switches to piano at 11 years of age.  “I took some lessons as a kid, but trained myself by ear,” Fagen reports.  “My style is a little quirky.  I can’t play as fast as most jazz players.”  The reference to jazz is indicative of Donald Fagen’s changing tastes.  “When the radio stopped playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard, I knew something was wrong,” he says, mourning the fall from popularity of his 1950s rock ‘n’ roll heroes.  When he is 11 (i.e. 1959), Fagen is a ‘jazz snob.’  “I lost interest in rock ‘n’ roll and started developing an anti-social personality.”  Donald Fagen has his Bar Mitzvah in 1961 at Kendall Park’s congregation Beth Shalom, the synagogue his father helped start.  The teenager’s growing interest in jazz sees him travelling into New York to catch shows by jazz artists such as Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonius Monk, and Miles Davis.  In 1965 Donald Fagen graduates from South Brunswick High School.

From 1965 to 1969 Donald Fagen attends Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, a small hamlet in Dutchess County in upstate New York.  The young man is described as ‘shy and bookish.’  In 1968, while passing a café called The Red Balloon, “I hear this guy practicing [bass], and it sounded very professional and contemporary,” says Fagen.  He goes in, introduces himself to Walter Becker and asks, “Do you want to be in a band?”

Walter Carl Becker (20 February 1950-3 September 2017) is born in Queens, New York.  He is the ‘product of a broken home.’  Walter’s German father is in the business of importing heavy machinery.  Walter Becker is raised mostly by his father and grandmother, alternating his place of residence between two areas of New York State, Forest Hills in Queens and Scarsdale in Westchester County.

When he is 14 Walter Becker begins learning blues guitar.  “I’m a self-taught musician, aside from what I’ve picked up from other players,” says Becker.  “My primary influences were the best jazz players from the 1950s and 1960s and, later, some of the pop people from the same period along with the better of the well-known blues musicians.”

Walter Becker’s father dies when the lad is 16.

Walter Becker graduates from Stuyvesant High School, New York City, in 1967.  He goes on to Bard College, where he meets Donald Fagen, during his first year (though it’s Fagen’s third year at Bard).

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen bond over their ‘similar tastes in classical jazz.’  During their time at Bard College, the duo works with a number of short-lived bands.  These include The Bad Rock Group, Leather Canary and The Don Fagen Trio.  One of the musicians with whom they work is a drummer who goes on to become the famous comedian Chevy Chase.

Donald Fagen makes the acquaintance of some notable women during his student days.  Libby Titus is someone he knows but, at this stage, they do not even become friends.  She will re-enter his life in later years.  Rikki Ducornet is the young wife of a professor at Bard.  She ‘is pregnant and married at the time, but recalls Fagen giving her his phone number at a college party at Bard.’  However, arguably the most important of these women is Dorothy White.  She is Donald Fagen’s girlfriend and their relationship continues, it seems, until at least 1975.  Dorothy White is not a student at Bard, but she is visiting Fagen on a fateful day in May 1969 when police raid the campus in search of marijuana.  There is a strong suspicion that the school’s administration may have played a role in calling in the cops to ferret out pot-smokers.  Fagen, Dorothy White and Walter Becker are amongst those taken into custody.  “I’d never been arrested or put in jail before,” fumes Fagen.  The case is eventually dismissed but, says Fagen, “At the time both of us [i.e. he and Walter Becker] were very p***ed off at the school.”

After leaving college, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen try pitching their songs in New York, hoping to become professional songwriters.  They labour for a time in New York’s famous Brill Building, the locale for celebrated 1960s songwriters like Carole King.  They are eventually signed to a small company owned by the vocal group Jay And The Americans.  Becker and Fagen’s biggest achievement as songwriters-for-hire may be ‘I Mean To Shine’, a song performed by Barbra Streisand, the actress/singer, on her album ‘Barbra Joan Streisand’ (1971).  “We tried to be [pop songwriters] but we weren’t,” shrugs Walter Becker.  Potential clients find their ‘show-off rhythm changes and off-the-wall lyrics’ just too confounding.

The connection to Jay And The Americans at least provides Walter Becker and Donald Fagen with some work.  They spend a ‘couple of years in the group’s backing band.’  Jay And The Americans are ‘a pop group whose most successful years are behind them.’

Around 1971 an advertisement is placed in the New York publication ‘The Village Voice’.  It is an ad for a ‘bass guitarist and keyboard player with jazz chops…and no hang-ups.’  The ad is placed by a guitarist named Denny Dias who has a bar band on Long Island.  Becker and Fagen answer the notice.  Dias describes them this way: “It’s like one person with two brains…They joined my band.  We started playing their songs right away.”  Fagen admits, “We kinda took over his band.”

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen write the music for an ‘obscure’ film starring Zalman King, ‘You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It (Or You’ll Lose That Beat)’ (1971).  Denny Dias also plays on the soundtrack album.  The disc’s producer is Kenny Vance, a member of Jay And The Americans.

Kenny Vance introduces Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to Gary Katz, another record producer.  Katz is impressed by the work of the duo.  When Katz is appointed house producer at the Los Angeles, California, branch of ABC/Dunhill Records, he talks the label into hiring Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters.  Moving to Los Angeles, Becker and Fagen find history repeating.  Just as happened in New York, ‘their songs are too odd and out of context to fit most artists’ needs.’  The duo begins trying to set up a band for themselves.  ABC/Dunhill ‘agrees this is a better option than keeping the pair on as unproductive songwriters and they sign the group to a recording contract.’

“The original Steely Dan band was formed in 1971.  Donald [Fagen] and I wrote the songs,” explains Walter Becker.  “Originally we had a regular sort of rock ‘n’ roll band that we had put together very quickly in the early 1970s,” says Donald Fagen.  The founding line-up consists of Dave Palmer (vocals), Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards), Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter (guitar) (born 13 December 1948), Denny Dias (guitar), Walter Becker (bass) and Jim Hodder (drums).  Dias, of course, worked with Becker and Fagen in New York.  Vocalist Dave Palmer also comes from New York.  Baxter and Hodder are both from Boston.  Baxter, ‘a fine musician’, had already worked on recording sessions with singer-songwriter Carly Simon.  Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter recounts the origin of the group’s name: “Steely Dan is a huge steam-powered hydraulic dildo in the William Burroughs book, ‘The Naked Lunch’ (1959).  We figured it would be a nice name for a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Steely Dan is usually described as a ‘jazz-pop’ act.  Given Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s mutual love for jazz, it’s easy to see where that element comes from.  “We work in the popular song form that is most prevalent on AM radio,” says Fagen.  “We can manipulate that form and a lot of people think they are just run-of-the-mill pop songs unless they give it a closer listen.”  Being such a hybrid places Steely Dan in an odd position.  Jazz purists may sometimes dismiss them as ‘just’ a pop act; while pop music fans, like the potential clients of the duo when they were songwriters-for-hire, are sometimes put off by the odd rhythms and complexity of Steely Dan.  Additionally, there is another in-built contradiction in Steely Dan.  Jazz music has a strong tradition of improvisation, musicians using their skills to extrapolate from a simple tune to wide-ranging, freeform sounds.  Despite their love of jazz, Becker and Fagen are perfectionist control freaks in the recording studio, an approach that seems at odds with experimentation.  “Everything is flawed,” sighs Donald Fagen.  “The best you can hope for is the most precise playing that humans are capable of…plus getting a good feel.”  Although they profess to be able to manipulate the popular song form, Steely Dan expresses little interest in commercial demands.  On another occasion, Fagen sniffs, “Popularity has everything to do with business and nothing to do with music.”  Warming to his topic, Fagen says, “I’ll tell you what I like about our group.  What I like about us, outside of our technical accomplishments, is that our music scares me more than anybody else’s.”  So Steely Dan is divided between jazz and pop, improvisation and exactitude, commerciality and personal challenge.  Yet, somehow, from such a messy, contradictory, set of values, a coherent sound emerges.  That consistency is attributable to the combined vision of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

“It is really a collaboration.  It’s not one of us writing the music, the other lyrics,” says Donald Fagen.  “I can start songs and Walter [Becker] finish them.”  Becker claims that, “Since we started writing songs our concept has always been to write what is aesthetically challenging to ourselves and hopefully for other people.”  When it comes to lyrical influences, Becker says, “If you ask songwriters from my generation…who were the important lyricists, [1960s folk rock icon] Bob Dylan is always going to be mentioned.”  Becker and Fagen write what has been described as ‘cryptic lyrics.’  “We never try to be obscure,” says Fagen.  “Maybe people should take the lyrics more literally,” according to Becker, since “quite a clear story is being spun.  If people come up with their own interpretation that’s fine, but we’re not going to tell them what’s going on.”  More pointedly, Fagen adds, “It’s no fun for an artist to make an exegesis [i.e. critical interpretation] of their own work.”  So here some attempts will be made to explain the meaning of some Steely Dan songs and some popular theories will be repeated, but confirmations from the authors are scarce, so approach these explanations with caution.  A further complication is the duo’s ‘ironic humour.’  “A lot of what you’d call bitter or cynical, we’d call funny,” says Becker.  “We may have a slightly blacker sense of humour than your average person.”

Although Steely Dan starts out with two vocalists, Dave Palmer and Donald Fagen, it soon turns out to be Fagen who is the voice of the act.  “I’ve never been comfortable as a lead performer, and I never wanted to be a singer, particularly,” says Fagen with more sincerity than modesty.  Nonetheless, his ‘sardonic dry white whine’ becomes the act’s hallmark.

Steely Dan’s debut album, ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ (1972) (US no. 17, UK no. 38, AUS no. 46), is released in November.  Like all their albums for the next decade, it is produced by Gary Katz.  “We play rock ‘n’ roll, but we swing,” claims Walter Becker.  “When we started we were writing pop songs with jazz infusion,” says Donald Fagen.  The Latin rhythm and odd, tingling melody of ‘Do It Again’ (US no. 6, UK no. 39, AUS no. 60) shimmers like a desert mirage.  In this song, Fagen chews through these lyrics: “But the hangman isn’t hangin’, so they put you on the streets / You go back, Jack, do it again / Wheels turning round and round.”  From the repetition of recidivism, Steely Dan moves on to the repetition of nostalgia in ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ (US no. 11, AUS no. 62).  The exasperated narrator of this song tells their companion, “You’ve been telling me you’re a genius since you were 17 / And all the time I’ve known you, I still don’t know what you mean.”  The real selling point of ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ is the stinging guitar runs played by guest session musician Elliot Randall.  Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter gets to show off his guitar prowess on ‘Change Of The Guard’.  Dave Palmer provides lead vocals on tracks such as ‘Midnite Cruiser’ and ‘Dirty Work’.  Both are more straight-forward tunes, well-suited to Palmer’s more straight-forward vocals.  ‘Midnite Cruiser’ is addressed to “Thelonious, my old friend,” apparently a nod to jazz pianist Thelonius Monk, one of Becker and Fagen’s influences.  ‘Dirty Work’ is the tale of an affair with a well-to-do married socialite but it is given vibrant life by its goosed rhythm with a drum beat taking an extra half-step in a diverting pattern.  ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ is ‘an astonishingly accomplished debut’, wining over critics, and is one of Steely Dan’s most accessible works.

Between Steely Dan’s first and second albums, vocalist Dave Palmer is dropped from the line-up.  Donald Fagen assumes all lead vocal duties.  Dave Palmer surfaces in 1977 as vocalist for Wha Koo.

The watercolour cover painting (of androgynous nudes looking to the sky) that adorns Steely Dan’s second album, ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ (1973) (US no. 35) is the work of ‘Dorothy of Hollywood’ (a.k.a. Dorothy White, Donald Fagen’s girlfriend).  Compared to Steely Dan’s debut, this is a more guarded, less commercial work.  ‘My Old School’ (US no. 63) makes reference to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s days at Bard College.  “Oleanders growing outside her door / Soon they’re gonna be in bloom up in Annandale,” runs part of the lyric.  For those not botanically inclined, oleanders are small, flowering, evergreen shrubs.  Bard College is located in Annandale-on-Hudson.  “I was smokin’ with the boys upstairs,” is an allusion to the 1969 marijuana bust endured by Becker and Fagen as students and “I ain’t never going back to my old school” is how they feel about their alma mater after that debacle.  ‘Bodhisattva’ is a fast-paced, jazz-flecked excursion.  Although it seems to be about a girl, the word ‘bodhisattva’ comes from Buddhism and means an enlightened person moving closer to Buddha.  ‘Show Biz Kids’ (US no. 61) is a chanting, hypnotic piece.  “Show business kids making movies of themselves / You known they don’t give a f*** about anybody else,” sings Fagen in this excoriation of the transplanted New Yorker’s Los Angeles home.  Mind you, he’s not above noting, “They got the shapely bods / They got the Steely Dan t-shirts.”  In an ominous portent of the future, twenty-one musicians are used in the making of this album.

February brings ‘Pretzel Logic’ (1974) (US no. 8, UK no. 37, AUS no. 18).  This ‘tour de force’ includes ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ (US no. 4, UK no. 58, AUS no. 30), a graceful bossa nova.  Although Donald Fagen declines to either confirm or deny it, this song seems to be about Rikki Ducornet, the young pregnant wife of one of Fagen’s professors at Bard College.  Recalling how when, as a student, Fagen gave her his phone number, Rikki Ducornet has said that she believes she is the subject of the song.  Fagen’s vocals in the song fairly bleed desperation as he petitions Rikki, “You tell yourself you’re not my kind / But you don’t even know your mind / And you could have a change of heart.”  The keyboard riff for the track is borrowed from 1964’s ‘Song For My Father’ by jazz composer and pianist Horace Silver.  ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ is Steely Dan’s best song.  It brings together a commercially attractive pop melody, jazz chords and an unusually affecting personal slant to represent the strengths of the act.  Donald Fagen is a bit more blasé about the merits of the song: “Walter [Becker] and I aren’t so fond of ‘Rikki’…It’s not a bad song.  I think it’s ‘well–written’, but it’s so simple.  I just have listening fatigue.  It’s been played so much.”  The quirky, lumbering title track, ‘Pretzel Logic’ (US no. 57) finds Fagen insisting, “I have never met Napoleon / But I plan to find the time.”  Whether the long deceased French Emperor is looking forward to this remains open to speculation, but it does fit the song’s theme of “These things are gone forever / Over a long time ago.”  ‘Any Major Dude Will Tell You’ has Becker and Fagen in an unusually compassionate mood.  There is also an oddball instrumental cover version of ‘East St. Louis Toodle-oo’, a 1927 Duke Ellington composition, again demonstrating Steely Dan’s fealty to the greats of jazz.

Steely Dan gives up touring in the middle of 1974.  “Our last show was July 4, 1974 [at] Santa Monica Civic Auditorium,” advises Donald Fagen.  “We’re not really performers,” is Walter Becker’s justification for the decision.  Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, guesting with U.S. band The Doobie Brothers on a tour of England, gets the news that his services are no longer required by Steely Dan via a transatlantic phone call in July 1974.  Baxter joins The Doobie Brothers as a full-time member.  On 3 August 1974 drummer Jim Hodder resigns from Steely Dan.  Although guitarist Denny Dias will contribute to at least the next album, this is the end of Steely Dan as a group in the conventional sense.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen begin advising the media that Steely Dan is “more a concept than a rock band.”  Fagen explains, “After touring for a couple of years, we realised there were some stylistic problems with the other players.  That’s part of the reason we stopped touring and went into the studios and started using session musicians…We figured out what we wanted to do…We needed session musicians who had a wider palette.”  In the process, Becker and Fagen become just two of the many musicians on a Steely Dan album – though this really only exacerbates a trend that goes back to the first album and Elliot Randall’s guest appearance as guitarist on ‘Reelin’ In The Years’.  Speaking of guitarists, after playing bass on the first few Steely Dan albums, Walter Becker switches to guitar.

March’s ‘Katy Lied’ (1975) (US no. 13, UK no. 13, AUS no. 28) is the first album created in the new manner by Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and a host of session musicians.  The cover photograph is a close-up of an insect called a Katydid (tying in with the ‘Katy Lied’ title).  The photo is taken by Fagen’s girlfriend, Dorothy White, and is the last known moment for her in the Steely Dan story.  The album’s title is (almost) derived from lines in ‘Doctor Wu’: “Katy lies / You can see it in her eyes.”  This saxophone-heavy song is the musical equivalent of a dreamy sunset.  ‘Doctor Wu’ is Dr Jing Nuan Wu, ‘the doctor who eases Becker and Fagen from years of drug addiction.’  ‘Black Friday’ (US no. 57) is a hot and spicy number in which Fagen advises, “When Black Friday comes I’m gonna dig myself a hole / And lay down in it till I satisfy my soul.”  The furtive ‘Bad Sneakers’ (US no. 103) is notable for the very recognisable husky tones of the backing vocals of Michael McDonald.  From April 1975 McDonald joins Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter in The Doobie Brothers.

The ‘stylish’ ‘The Royal Scam’ (1976) (US no. 15, UK no. 11, AUS no. 30) is the fifth Steely Dan album.  The twisted reggae of ‘Haitian Divorce’ (UK no. 17) is the account of the estrangement between the characters of Babs and Clean Willie.  It appears that Babs has an extra-marital affair (“Semi-mojo, who’s this kinky so-and-so?”).  “You used to be able to go to [the Caribbean island of] Haiti and get a divorce real fast,” explains Walter Becker, illuminating the origins of the song.  The distinctive ‘talk box’ guitar on ‘Haitian Divorce’ is played by Dean Parks.  ‘Kid Charlemagne’ (US no. 82) is a funk-jazz hybrid that sounds like the theme music for a 1970s television cop show.  However, the subject of the song is reported to be Owsley Stanley, the L.S.D. chemist of San Francisco’s Bay Area in the 1960s.  This is why the references to his hippie van (“technicolour mobile home”) and drug-cooking paraphernalia (“test tubes and the scales”).  Most tellingly, Owsley was arrested following a raid on his lab in 1967 when the car in which he fled ran out of fuel (“Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car”).  ‘The Fez’ (US no. 54) is more of a groove than a song, with an appropriately Moroccan feel.  A fez is a brimless hat worn in that part of the world – but it’s also a slang term for a condom (“You’re never gonna do it without your fez on”).

‘Aja’ (1977) (US no. 3, UK no. 5, AUS no. 9) is Steely Dan’s finest album.  It represents the peak of their cool perfectionism and self-assured arrogance.  The seven tracks on the album are all immaculately presented and carefully thought out.  “Aja is the name of a woman,” explains Donald Fagen.  “I had a friend in high school.  He had an older brother who went to Korea and married a Korean girl and brought her back and her name was Aja [pronounced ‘Asia’ like the continent] and we thought that was a good name.”  The sprawling title track, ‘Aja’, “starts out in a very peaceful way,” says Fagen, but is really, “a combination of a number of different tunes sewn together.”  The tenor saxophone on the song ‘Aja’ is played by Wayne Shorter of the jazz-rock band Weather Report.  ‘Peg’ (US no. 11) appears to be an ode to a former acquaintance who is now the star of a movie with copious nude scenes: “Done up in blueprint blue / It sure looks good on you…It’s your favourite foreign movie.”  Walter Becker says ‘Peg’ has “a swing band rhythmic approach,” its salty horns punctuating its propulsive momentum.  ‘Josie’ (US no. 26) is built on a sinister guitar riff.  ‘Josie’ is described as “the best friend you never had” and “the pride of the neighbourhood”.  The lyrics also contain lewd intimations like “dance on the bones till the girls say when” and “throw down the jam”.  “I kinda like ‘Josie’…It sounds like a good rhythm and blues record,” offers Fagen.  “It’s the one [from this album] I like playing most,” agrees Becker.  “’Deacon Blues’ (US no. 19) is as close to autobiography as our tunes get…We were looking for some kind of escape,” says Fagen.  However, Becker muddies the water by adding, “The protagonist is not a musician…It’s just a form of loserdom.”  The chorus to this thoughtful, lowing, rambling composition runs, “They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose / They call Alabama the crimson tide / Call me Deacon Blues.”  And, yes, they really do call Alabama ‘the crimson tide’; it’s a reference to the dark red jerseys worn by the sporting teams (particularly the football side) from the University of Alabama.  The title of this song is also adopted by a Scottish pop band, Deacon Blue (1985-1994, 1999 onwards).  ‘Black Cow’ is a song of despair about a drunk woman so the suspicion is that a ‘black cow’ is the name of a cocktail (“Drink your big black cow / And get outta here”).  But Donald Fagen sets the record straight by telling us that a ‘black cow’ is “an ice cream soda – root beer and ice cream…very big in the soda fountains when we were kids.”  The hard-edged funk of ‘Home At Last’ has this central image: “Well the danger on the rocks has surely passed / Still I remain tied to the mast / Could it be that I have found my home at last?”  This is derived from Greek mythology.  Odysseus (or Ulysses as the Romans renamed him) has himself lashed to the mast of his ship in order to resist the hypnotic song of the sirens, supernatural women who lure sailors to their doom.  “The central metaphor was taken from Ulysses,” concedes Fagen, “but we didn’t take it that seriously.”  Rounding out the album is the fleet and freaky ‘I Got The News’.  Some of the other musicians on the album are Denny Dias (guitar), Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass) and Bernard Purdey (drums).  Walter Becker says of this album, “That was just a spectacular success and we all knew it.”

In April 1978 Steely Dan provides the title song for the movie ‘F.M.’ (1978).  The film is a comedy about a dispute between disc jockeys and management over a radio station’s playlist.  The soundtrack album includes previously released songs by the likes of The Eagles, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Queen, Linda Ronstadt and Bob Seger.  The creeping funk of Steely Dan’s new song, ‘F.M.’, describes a station that plays, “Nothin’ but blues and Elvis and somebody else’s favourite song.”  ‘Elvis’ is, of course, 1950s rock star Elvis Presley.

‘Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits’ (1978) (US no. 30, UK no. 41, AUS no. 11), released in November, is a double album that includes the new track ‘Here At The Western World’.  This careful and considered piece seems to be a welcoming greeting from a bordello.  Or perhaps it’s an analogy suggesting the capitalism and consumerism of modern civilisation makes us all pimps, john or whores?  When the lyric instructs, “Lay down your Jackson”, it means put down a twenty-dollar note since that item of U.S. currency carries the image of Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States.

ABC/Dunhill Records, the home of Steely Dan, is bought out by MCA ‘resulting in a contractual dispute with the label’ that partially accounts for the delay in Steely Dan issuing a follow-up to ‘Aja’.

In January 1980 Karen Stanley, described as Walter Becker’s ‘girlfriend of many years’, dies of a drug overdose.  She was 31.  Becker, while trying to deal with his grief, has a serious car accident.  He recovers, but develops a ‘substance dependency.’

‘Gaucho’ (1980) (US no. 9, UK no. 27, AUS no. 9) is released by MCA in November.  Like ‘Aja’, it contains just seven tracks.  There is an air of decadence to the proceedings; the largesse of Los Angeles and its surfeit of pretty young things offer scant comfort to the central characters of the songs.  In ‘Hey Nineteen’ (US no. 10, AUS no. 48), one such young filly is told, “That’s ‘Retha Franklin / She don’t remember the Queen of Soul / It’s hard times befallen the soul survivors / She thinks I’m crazy but I’m just growing old.”  Aretha Franklin is indeed the leading lady of soul music from the late 1960s.  Lyrics aside, ‘Hey Nineteen’ is a joy just for its fat bass and moody funk.  The title track, ‘Gaucho’, has its narrator experiencing a similar problem with a younger female companion.  A gaucho (pronounced GOW-cho) is the South American equivalent of a cowboy in the eighteenth to nineteenth century.  So when the narrator asks, “Who is the gaucho, amigo?” he is questioning his young lady friend (amigo) about the Latin American cowboy-type with whom she is keeping company.  “Bodacious cowboys such as your friend / Will never be welcome here / High in the Custerdome,” is the warning.  ‘Bodacious’ is a U.S. term meaning attractive or admirable.  As for ‘the Custerdome’, it’s a fictional skyscraper.  “It exists only in our collective imagination,” advise Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.  ‘Babylon Sisters’ is an off-kilter Caribbean pop hymn to the young ladies of L.A.  In the Rastafarian beliefs that underpin Jamaica’s reggae music, ‘Babylon’ means ‘the western world’, so ‘Babylon Sisters’ are western girls.  ‘Glamour Profession’ casts a jaundiced eye over the ‘glories’ of fame and fortune in Los Angeles.  ‘Time Out Of Mind’ (US no. 22) features guest guitar-work by Mark Knopfler of British band Dire Straits.  When the lyric says, “Tonight when I chase the dragon”, it is using a slang term for smoking heroin or opium, pursuing the ultimate high.  The humorous ‘My Rival’ and the glum semi-reggae of ‘Third World Man’ complete the set.

On 21 June 1981 Walter Becker and Donald Fagen part ways and announce that Steely Dan is defunct.

Walter Becker relocates to Hawaii to recover from his ‘substance dependency’ problems.  He acts as producer on three hit singles for British pop group China Crisis in 1985.  He is ‘married for a time’ to a woman named Elinor.  They have a son, Kawai (born 1985).  Becker also has an adopted daughter, Sa (or Sayan).  In 1987 Walter Becker and Donald Fagen both play on an album by singer Rosie Vela.  The disc is produced by Steely Dan’s long-time producer Gary Katz.  Walter Becker releases his first solo album, ’11 Tracks Of Whack’ (1994).  It is produced by Donald Fagen.  Walter and Elinor Becker divorce in 1997.

Donald Fagen’s first solo album is ‘The Nightfly’ (1982) (US no. 11, UK no. 44).  It spawns the singles ‘I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)’ (US no. 26) and ‘New Frontier’ (US no. 70).  In 1987 Donald Fagen becomes romantically involved with Libby Titus, a fellow student from his days at Bard College.  Fagen’s second solo album is ‘Kamakiriad’ (1993) (US no. 10, UK no. 3).  It is produced by his old Steely Dan partner, Walter Becker.  It includes a track called ‘Florida Room’ co-written with Libby Titus.  Donald Fagen and Libby Titus marry in 1993.

In 1994 Walter Becker, Donald Fagen and a group of musicians tour as Steely Dan.  The concert recording ‘Live In America’ (1995) (US no. 40, UK no. 62) comes from this tour.

Steely Dan reconvenes in 2000.  Noting their work as producers of each other’s recordings, Walter Becker points out, “The truth is we’d been working in the studio since the early 1990s…and of course we did a live album from the 1994 tour…We’re just picking up again on something that’s been going on.”  ‘Two Against Nature’ (2000) (US no. 6, UK no. 11, AUS no. 51) appears on Giant Records and is co-produced by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.  This album features ‘Janie Runaway’ and ‘Cousin Dupree’.  Fagen describes the latter as “a traditional kind of fun country tune.”

Shifting to Reprise Records, Steely Dan’s next disc is ‘Everything Must Go’ (2003) (US no. 9, UK no. 21, AUS no. 68).  It is again co-produced by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.  The album ‘receives mixed reviews’, but Fagen believes it is ‘underrated’.

After this, the duo returns to working as solo acts.  Donald Fagen releases ‘Morph The Cat’ (2006) (US no. 26, UK no. 35); Walter Becker issues ‘Circus Money’ (2008); and Fagen puts out ‘Sunken Condos’ (2012) (US no. 12, UK no. 35).

Walter Becker passes away on 3 September 2017 as a result of oesophageal cancer.  He was 67 years old.

Steely Dan was never a standard rock band.  Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were always wilfully enigmatic and elusive.  Perhaps part of their appeal is the mystery that surrounds them and seeps into their complex lyrics and erudite jazz pop music.  Their best work was in their 1972-1980 period.  The idea of a ‘group’ being a concept masterminded by two people was unusual in 1974 but became common with dance music acts of later times such as The Pet Shop Boys, K.L.F., and Basement Jaxx.  Steely Dan was always a puzzle, but it was a puzzle that was involving and intriguing.  Steely Dan produced ‘a sophisticated distinctive sound with accessible melodic hooks, complex harmonies and time signatures.’  They were one of rock’s ‘most musically adventurous and fascinating acts.’

Sources:

  1. ‘Newsweek’ magazine – Article by Janet Maslin, Dewey Gram (23 August 1976) (reproduced on steelydanreader.com)
  2. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 31 March 2014
  3. wikipedia.org as at 31 March 2014, 4 September 2017
  4. answers.com – ‘Steely Dan’ – as at 19 May 2014
  5. ‘Steely Dan – “Aja” – Classic Albums, Series 2’ (DVD) (Eagle Video / Isis Productions, 1999)
  6. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – Anthony Quinn’s review of Donald Fagen’s book ‘Eminent Hipsters’ (14 November 2013) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  7. brainyquote.com as at 19 May 2014
  8. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 220, 221
  9. ‘Entertainment Weekly’ – ‘Back to Annandale’ – Donald Fagen interview conducted by Rob Brunner (13 April 2006?)(reproduced on prince.org)
  10. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 19 May 2014
  11. ‘Remastered – The Best Of Steely Dan Then And Now’ –Sleeve notes by John Tobler (MCA Records, Inc., 1993) p. 5, 6, 7, 11
  12. ‘New Times’ magazine – ‘Fancy Dan’ by Arthur Lubow (18 February 1977) (reproduced on granatino.com)
  13. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 97
  14. allmusic.com, ‘Steely Dan’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 19 May 2001
  15. ‘Sounds’ magazine – Article by Sylvie Simmons (22 October 1977) (reproduced on steelydanreader.com)
  16. ‘World Beat’ (U.S. television program – CNN Network) – Steely Dan interview conducted by Brooke Alexander (2000)
  17. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 231, 327, 362
  18. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 60
  19. ‘Earth News’ (U.S. radio program) – Steely Dan interview (10 October 1977)
  20. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 66, 203
  21. lyricsfreak.com as at 14 May 2014
  22. songfacts.com as at 19 May 2014
  23. ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (2013) (via (22) above)
  24. U.S. radio interview with Steely Dan conducted by Robert Klein (15 December 1980)
  25. smellslikepop.com – ‘Five Unusually Disconcerting Things About Steely Dan’ by ‘Joel’ (5 September 2011)
  26. steelydandictionary.com as at 19 May 2014
  27. ‘Steely Dan – Reelin’ in the Years’ (2007) by Brian Sweet (via books.google.com.au as at 19 May 2014)
  28. google search as at 3 January 2018 [Walter Becker’s cause of death]

Song lyrics copyright (Becker/Fagen) MCA Music Ltd with the exceptions of ‘F.M.’, ‘Hey Nineteen’, ‘Gaucho’ and ‘Time Out Of Mind’ (all Warner Chappell Music Ltd.)

Last revised 7 January 2018

Bruce Springsteen

 Bruce Springsteen

 Bruce Springsteen – circa 1978

 “So when you look at me / You better look hard and look twice / Is that me, baby / Or just a brilliant disguise?” – ‘Brilliant Disguise’ (Bruce Springsteen)

‘Born In The U.S.A.’ by Bruce Springsteen is one of the U.S. rock star’s most famous songs – but it’s also one of his most misinterpreted.  It is ‘taken by millions of people for a jingoistic anthem.’  Included among those people is Ronald Reagan.  During his 1984 bid to become President of the United States, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ is briefly used as Reagan’s campaign song.  Reagan says, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts.  It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a young man so many young American’s admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen, and helping make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”  Springsteen is ‘a devout liberal’, whose personal politics are on the opposite side of the divide from Reagan’s conservatism.  He has the Presidential hopeful (and future President) stop using his song.  Springsteen later responds, “I think there’s a large group of people in this country whose dreams don’t mean that much to [Ronald Reagan], that just get indiscriminately swept aside.”

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen is born 23 September 1949 in Monmouth Memorial Hospital in Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S.A.  His father, Douglas Frederick ‘Dutch’ Springsteen, is a bus driver.  Bruce’s mother, Adele Ann Springsteen (nee Zirelli) is a legal secretary turned housewife.  Douglas Springsteen comes from Dutch and Irish ancestry.  The name ‘Springsteen’ means ‘jumping stone’ in Dutch.  Adele Springsteen is from an Italian background.  “My mother…was an enormous, towering figure to me in the best possible way.  I picked up a lot of things from her,” Bruce Springsteen claims.  “I also picked up a lot of the failings of when your father doesn’t have those things and that results in a house that turns into a minefield.”  Bruce has two sisters, Virginia and Pamela.  “I grew up in a very big extended family, with a lot of aunts,” Bruce points out.

Bruce Springsteen is raised in Freehold, New Jersey.  “I didn’t come out of a political household…I never had any real drug experience.  I lived in a small town.”

It’s a Roman Catholic family in which Bruce Springsteen is brought up.  He attends St Rose of Lima Catholic School but finds himself ‘at odds with the nuns.’  So, in the ninth grade, he is transferred to Freehold Regional High School.  “I was…a smart young guy who didn’t do very well in school,” is Bruce’s assessment.  His parents want him to become a lawyer.  However, as Bruce puts it in later years, “I was real good at music and real bad at everything else.”

When Bruce Springsteen is 7 years old he sees Elvis Presley on television’s ‘Ed Sullivan Show’.  It is this that inspires Springsteen to take up music.  His respect for the 1950s’ biggest rock star, Elvis Presley, is plain in his assertion, “There is only one King…Elvis evoked a world, a time and a place that was a very specific world…I think [country music great] Hank Williams did the same, [folk music icon] Woody Guthrie did the same, [folk rock legend] Bob Dylan did the same, [1960s British rock bands] The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.  These are people who created these very…complex…creative pictures.  And I was interested in doing that in my own fashion, writing about myself and my own life.”  Bruce Springsteen is 13 when his mother buys his first guitar.  His mother takes out a loan to buy him a better quality guitar when he is 16.  “When I was growing up, there were two things that were unpopular in my house.  One was me.  The other was my guitar,” he chuckles.

Bruce Springsteen gets his start as a performer at the local Elks club in Freehold on a Sunday afternoon.  He sings ‘Twist And Shout’, a song recorded by The Isley Brothers in 1962 and popularised by The Beatles in 1963.  Other acts play the venue.  Most of them are purely instrumental bands based on The Shadows (from the U.K.) and The Ventures (from the U.S.).  Bruce Springsteen becomes a guitarist in one of these local bands, The Castiles, in 1965.  “I never felt I had enough personal style to pursue just being a guitarist,” he says ruefully.  Fortunately, the era of instrumental groups is passing quickly and rock bands with vocals – in the manner of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – are more popular.  Springsteen becomes The Castiles lead singer.  “In the early years, I found a voice that was my voice and also partly my father’s voice,” he says somewhat cryptically.  The Castiles, featuring 16 year old Bruce Springsteen, enter the recording studio at Bricktown, New Jersey.  On 22 May 1966 they cut two tracks: ‘That’s What You Get’ and ‘Baby I’.  The projected single is never released.  The Castiles soon fall apart.

Bruce Springsteen and another local guitar player, Steve Van Zandt, begin playing gigs at a venue called The Student Prince in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  They start to build a following.

The rock music ambitions of Bruce Springsteen are put on hold for a while as he moves on from Freehold Regional High School to Ocean City Community College.  He only attends briefly before dropping out.  “I tried to go to college and I didn’t fit in.  I went to a real narrow-minded school,” Springsteen claims.  He considers becoming a baseball player before deciding to commit himself to music.  “Basically, I was pretty ostracised in my hometown.  Me and a few other guys were the town freaks.”

From 1969 to 1971 Bruce Springsteen goes through a number of different local bands.  The first is a group called Child.  In this outfit, he works with Steve Van Zandt (guitar), Danny Federici (organ) and Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez (drums).  When guitarist Robbin Thompson joins, the band is renamed Steel Mill.  Then there is Dr Zoom And The Sonic Boom.  “My original nickname was ‘The Doctor’ because I had a band called Dr Zoom And The Sonic Boom,” reminisces Springsteen.  “And that basically was everyone in the local music scene and we got together and it was a combination of original music and…performance art…Steven [Van Zandt] was originally Miami Steve because he went to Miami [in Florida] once [which was pretty unusual for a Jersey boy] and he came back and he had on a Hawaiian shirt…The names came from anywhere.  There was Big Tiny, there was Little Tiny…”  The singer’s best known nickname is Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen.  “’The Boss’ was a result of me paying everybody at the end of the week in some kind of fashion.  It was [a name that was] never meant for public dissemination and I would have preferred it remain private [but that didn’t happen]…I had a ten-piece band when I was 21 years old, The Bruce Springsteen Band.”

New Jersey has a reputation that is connected with its proximity to New York City.  Denizens of that metropolis come to New Jersey for a break because New Jersey has a sea shore.  Catering to these vacationers or short-term visitors, the New Jersey Shore becomes home to a boardwalk populated by funfairs, carnivals and other such leisure attractions.  This includes an appetite for rock bands.  “Anyone who’s grown up or lived on the Jersey Shore knows the place is unique,” says Bruce Springsteen.

By the early 1970s Bruce Springsteen is trying his hand as a solo act, an acoustic singer-songwriter.  He visits Greenwich Village in New York and then relocates to the west coast of the U.S.A.  After failing an audition with a record company, he returns to New Jersey.  In 1972 he meets Mike Appel who becomes Springsteen’s manager and record producer.  “I was living in Asbury [Park, New Jersey] above this little beauty salon,” says Springsteen.  The aspiring singer-songwriter makes a demo tape of his material.  “I brought it to Mike and he just talked his way into an audition with John Hammond,” the man who previously signed such artists as jazz singer Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan to Columbia Records.  “I was 22 and walked into his office,” recalls Springsteen.  “We had the audition.  I played a couple of songs and he said, ‘You gotta be on Columbia Records.’”  The contract is signed on 9 June 1972.

Bruce Springsteen’s music is most often described as heartland rock.  Although he starts recording as an acoustic troubadour, he soon transitions into a more electric form of rock.  Geographically, the heartland rock tag – associated with the central States of the U.S., the ‘heartland’ – appears ill-fitting since Springsteen is so closely identified with New Jersey on the east coast.  However, it is the subject matter of his work that places him in this category.  Springsteen writes about blue-collar workers, average Joes.  “I always think you’re writing about yourself,” he says.  “There’s gotta be some part of you in everything [you write].”  Accordingly, Springsteen’s recurring imagery includes fathers, cars, Catholicism and the enduring power of rock ‘n’ roll.

Although he records some cover versions, Bruce Springsteen writes the vast majority of his songs himself.  “I have to write and play,” he declares.  “If I became an electrician tomorrow, I’d still come home at night and write songs.”  ‘Springsteen’s core influences [are] the classic rock of the late 1950s and early 1960s…Elvis [Presley]…[fellow 1950s rock legend] Buddy Holly…[raucous party master of the early 1960s] Gary “U.S.” Bonds…[and the producer and pioneer of the “wall of sound”, the “tycoon of teen” of the1950s-1960s] Phil Spector.’  Bruce notes that, “All the music I loved as a child, people thought it was junk.”

Although he is signed as a solo act, Bruce Springsteen has spent too many years working with bands to feel entirely comfortable alone.  He forms the first backing band of his mature career in October 1972.  The line-up is: Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), Danny Federici (organ), David Sancious (keyboards), Clarence ‘The Big Man’ Clemmons (saxophone), Gary Tallent (bass) and Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez (drums).

‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’ (1973) (US no. 60, UK no. 41, AUS no. 71) is Bruce Springsteen’s debut album.  The album is co-produced by Springsteen’s manager, Mike Appel, and Jim Cretecos.  This set is filled with rambling, wordy, story-songs peopled by colourful characters.  Due to the John Hammond connection, a lot of early publicity casts Bruce Springsteen as ‘the new Bob Dylan.’  Time will show them to be quite different artists.  The ‘new Dylan’ line is applied to many up-and-comers by over-enthusiastic journalists, but Springsteen is one of the few who comes close to deserving that description.  “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat,” sings Springsteen on the introductory ‘Blinded By The Light’.  The song is not a hit for Springsteen but, like Dylan’s early output, it does become a hit later for another artist.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band does well on the charts with their version of ‘Blinded By The Light’ in March 1977.  On the free-wheeling, streetwise ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’, Springsteen gabbles, “The cripple on the corner cried out, ‘Nickels for your pity’ / Them downtown boys sure talk gritty / It’s so hard to be a saint in the city,” supplying an early religious image.  ‘Growin’ Up’ threatens to explode with fireworks of youthful bravado.  ‘Spirit In The Night’ is an almost story-book tale populated by Crazy Janey, Wild Billy, G-Man and Hazy Davey.

In 1973 Bruce Springsteen’s girlfriend is Diane Lozito.

Bruce Springsteen’s second album follows a mere eight months after his debut.  September brings ‘The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle’ (1973) (US no. 59, UK no. 33, AUS no. 60).  Again, this disc is co-produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos.  The biggest difference between the two discs is that Springsteen makes more use of his own backing band here, shifting from poetic singer-songwriter to bar-band shouter.  ‘4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’ chronicles ‘the tawdry carnival atmosphere of the Jersey Shore resorts.’  The singer describes his group at this point as “a little carny band…Danny [Federici] had a lot to do with the boardwalk, the accordion…The atmosphere from the lyric that came out of that environment.”  With a weary gust, Springsteen sings on this track, “This boardwalk life for me is through / You know you ought to quit this thing too.”  Springsteen’s girlfriend, Diane Lozito, is the inspiration for ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’.  Portraying himself as a cheeky Romeo, the singer assures, “The only lover I’m ever gonna need’s your soft, sweet little girl’s tongue” and “I ain’t here on business / I’m only here for fun.”  Springsteen executes the song with great exuberance.

In February 1974 Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter replaces Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez as the drummer in Bruce Springsteen’s band.

On 9 May 1974, a Bruce Springsteen show at Boston’s Harvard Square Theatre makes a very favourable impression on Jon Landau.  An editor and critic for ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, Landau describes Springsteen’s performance this way in Boston’s ‘Real Paper’: “I saw rock ‘n’ roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”  This replaces the ‘new Dylan’ tag as an oft-repeated piece of hype that both burdens Springsteen and attracts curious new listeners.

In August 1974 Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter leaves Bruce Springsteen’s backing group, taking keyboardist David Sancious with him.  Their replacements in the same month are Roy ‘The Professor’ Bittan (piano) and ‘Mighty’ Max Weinberg (drums).  In September 1974 this aggregation is officially named The E Street Band.  Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band gain a reputation for marathon-length live shows that often run around three hours or more.

From 1973 to 1977 Bruce Springsteen is romantically involved with Karen Darvin.

In July 1975 Bruce Springsteen’s long-time friend, guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt joins The E Street Band.

‘Born To Run’ (1975) (US no. 3, UK no. 17, AUS no. 7), released in August, is Bruce Springsteen’s third album.  It has a difficult gestation.  Springsteen feels under pressure to create something to justify the claims made about him as ‘the future of rock ‘n’ roll.’  “The album became a monster.  It just ate up everyone’s life,” sighs Springsteen.  Ironically, he turns to Jon Landau, the author of that ‘future of rock ‘n’ roll’ boast, to co-produce the album with Mike Appel and Springsteen himself.  Springsteen describes ‘Born To Run’ as “less eccentric” than his first two discs.  “I went in to use the [recording] studio as a tool…Basically what Phil Spector did.”  The title track, ‘Born To Run’ (US no. 23, UK no. 93, AUS no. 38), is Bruce Springsteen’s best individual song.  He says the song is, “My shot at the title.  A 24 year old kid aimin’ at ‘the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record ever.’”  If it falls short of that ambition, it’s not for want of trying.  His voice bleeding desperation, Springsteen’s narrator vows, “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness / I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”  This is ringing, shimmering rock, arcing overhead.  Here is Springsteen’s poetry bolted onto rock music that barrels toward the promise of redemption.  These are the attributes that make this his definitive song.  ‘Born To Run’ is also the oldest track on the album, featuring (now departed) David Sancious and Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter before Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg came on board.  Similarly, it was recorded before Jon Landau was called in.  (Note: Miami Steve Van Zandt is not on the album at all, having joined too late to play on the sessions.)  The album’s opening track, ‘Thunder Road’, borrows its title from a 1958 movie starring Robert Mitchum.  Its street opera throws Catholicism and rock into a blender as the singer’s object of affection, Mary, is told she can, “Make crosses from your lovers / Throw roses in the rain / Waste your summers praying in vain / For a saviour to rise from these streets.”  ‘Backstreets’ and ‘Jungleland’, the sprawling songs that close (respectively) side one and side two, are agonised dramas, poetic mosaics.  The bold and brassy ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ (US no. 83) has a shout-out to saxophonist Clarence Clemmons (“And The Big Man joined the band”) who appears on the cover with Springsteen and, in concert, is a ready foil.  The album is rounded out by the pulsating ‘Night’, the sullen, explosive lust of ‘She’s The One’ and the hushed and jazzy ‘Meeting Across The River’.

On 27 October 1975 Bruce Springsteen appears on the covers of both ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ magazines at the same time.  He is the first person, aside from political leaders, to achieve that double.

On 29 April 1976 Bruce Springsteen makes an unsuccessful attempt to enter ‘Graceland’, the mansion of his idol, Elvis Presley.  He is turned away by security guards.

On 27 July 1976 Bruce Springsteen sues his manager, Mike Appel, for ‘fraud and breach of trust.’  Appel countersues Springsteen.  The singer wants to work with Jon Landau instead.  The litigation drags on until 28 May 1977 when the claims are finally settled.  While the case was on foot, an injunction prevented Springsteen from entering the recording studio with Landau.

‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ (1978) (US no. 5, UK no. 16, AUS no. 9), co-produced by Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau, is released in June.  Despite the delay, this is Bruce Springsteen’s finest album.  “I figured out what I wanted to write about, the people that mattered to me, and who I wanted to be,” reports Springsteen.  So from the florid prose of the first two albums to the more measured attack of the third, ‘The Boss’ now progresses to accounts of “an everyday kind of heroism.”  ‘Prove It All Night’ (US no. 33, AUS no. 90) is a punchy vision of redemptive love.  “I’ve been working real hard trying to get my hands clean,” the working-class narrator tells his woman before advising her, “Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price.”  It’s plain spoken, but heartfelt and true.  The fiery ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ pairs Springsteen’s motifs of fathers and Christianity to bloody-handed effect: “In the Bible Cain slew Abel / and east of Eden, momma, he was cast / You’re born into this life paying / For the sins of somebody else’s past.”  Biblical imagery crops up again in the brooding ‘Badlands’ (US no. 42) and the more effusive ‘The Promised Land’, yet it is always held in balance with more secular concerns.  ‘Racing In The Street’ starts out as an almost incomprehensible rev-head catalogue of car parts, but this sad piano ballad becomes so much more as it meditates on love and the passage of time.  The trudging, soul-deadened ‘Factory’ paints a fearful picture of “the working life” but the album closes with the self-possessed sneering pride of ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’, a rejection of the “good life.”  This is ‘a stark, haunted album’ and all the stronger for its unflinching focus.

The recording sessions for ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ produces some material that Bruce Springsteen discards, not so much because it is substandard, but because it just doesn’t fit the mood of the album.  One of those songs is ‘Because The Night’ which punk poet and priestess Patti Smith rewrites and reworks into the biggest commercial success of her career in 1978.  Another reject is the twitchy sensuality of ‘Fire’.  Springsteen wrote it with Elvis Presley in mind, but it is African-American vocal trio The Pointer Sisters who have a hit with the song in January 1979.

From 1978 to 1979 Bruce Springsteen is romantically involved with Lynn Goldsmith, a U.S. photographer best known for her shots of rock stars.

Beginning on 19 September 1979, Bruce Springsteen is one of the performers associated with a five-night series of shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  These are benefit concerts for MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy).  The ‘No Nukes’ cause is espoused mainly by Californian singer-songwriters like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jackson Browne, so Springsteen adds some welcome street-level rock to the proceedings.  Mind you, he refuses to participate ‘until he is assured that none of the money raised will go to any political candidate.’  Springsteen’s second show in the series is marred by an ugly incident.  He spots Lynn Goldsmith in the audience and drags the unwilling photographer on stage.  “This is my ex-girlfriend,” he tells the crowd, before picking up the humiliated Goldsmith, carrying her to the back of the stage and dumping her on the road crew.

From 1979 to 1984 Bruce Springsteen is romantically linked to actress Joyce Hyser.

‘The River’ (1980) (US no. 1, UK no. 2, AUS no. 8), released in October, is co-produced by Bruce Springsteen, his manager Jon Landau, and E Street Band guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt.  ‘The River’ is an expansive double album with twenty-one tracks.  Broadly, it follows a path from the sparkling streams of side one to the oceanic majesty of side four, yet, along the way, there are balancing points.  A slow song (‘Independence Day’) closes side one, and a jaunty rocker (‘Ramrod’) opens the final side.  “I met [punk rock band] The Ramones in Asbury Park and [their vocalist] Joey [Ramone] asked me to write a song for ‘em,” explains Springsteen.  “I went home that night and wrote [‘Hungry Heart’ (US no. 5, UK no. 44, AUS no. 33].  I played it for Jon Landau and, earning his money, he advised me to keep it [for myself].”  It becomes “my first real top ten smash and I guess my real entrance into the pop mainstream.”  With its honking saxophone, ‘Hungry Heart’ recalls 1950s pop, but it also sticks to the album’s motif: “Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing / I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.”  The title track, ‘The River’ (UK no. 35), is a sharp-edged folk song.  The narrator gets his girlfriend, Mary (not the same girl from ‘Thunder Road’?) pregnant, and winds up in a construction job.  “Now all them things that seemed so important / Well mister, they vanished right into the air / Now I just act like I don’t remember / And Mary acts like she don’t care.”  In truth, he is haunted by thoughts of their youthful passion down at the river.  There’s a lot to choose from here, but some of the other highlights are the jingling folk rock of ‘The Ties That Bind’, the headlong charge of ‘Two Hearts’, the dreamy naiveté of ‘I Wanna Marry You’, the car-crazy rocker ‘Cadillac Ranch’, the heart-rending ‘Fade Away’ (US no. 20) and the skeletal hopelessness of ‘Stolen Car’.  “By the time we got to ‘The River’, I felt that adulthood was on the horizon, if not yet arrived,” claims Springsteen.

‘Nebraska’ (1982) (US no. 3, UK no. 3, AUS no. 8) begins life as demo tapes Bruce Springsteen records in his basement.  For quite some time, ‘the whole thing was in the back pocket of his jeans on a five-dollar cassette tape.’  He tries to work up the songs with The E Street Band but feels the ‘studio recordings are losing the raw edge he intends.’  Steve Van Zandt convinces Springsteen to release the tapes in their rawest form.  So the album is given to Columbia ‘as it is, straight from his back pocket.’  This gives ‘Nebraska’ a startling intimacy, an insight into the songwriter at his most unguarded.  It is almost completely acoustic, just Springsteen and a guitar, no frills.  Thematically, ‘Nebraska’ is filled with crime and criminals.  The best known track is ‘Atlantic City’.  It is named for a very poor city in New Jersey where gambling is legalised.  Casinos built in the early 1980s are supposed to revitalise the city.  “Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night / Now they blew up his house too,” sings Springsteen in ‘Atlantic City’.  This is a reference to mob violence in Philadelphia where mafia boss Philip Testa was killed in March 1981 by a bomb planted in his home.  The chilling title track, ‘Nebraska’, is based on a two month murder spree from December 1957 to January 1958 carried out by Charles Starkweather and his accomplice and girlfriend, 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate.  The couple kill eleven people.  This outlaw tale leads to the courtroom: “The judge and jury declared me unfit to live / Said into that great void my soul be hurled.”  The album’s rogue’s gallery stretches through ‘Johnny 99’ (“Prison for 98 and a year / We’ll call it even Johnny 99”), the ‘Highway Patrolman’ Joe Roberts whose brother, Frank, is a hoodlum (“Sometimes when it’s your brother / You look the other way”) and the ne’er-do-well who offers pointed advice to a ‘State Trooper’ (“Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife / The only thing that I got’s been bothering me my whole life”).

In the early 1980s Bruce Springsteen meets singer Patti Scialfa and sees her perform at The Stone Poney, a bar in New Jersey.  In June 1984 Patti Scialfa joins The E Street Band.  At the same time, Nils Lofgren replaces Miami Steve Van Zandt on guitar in The E Street Band.  Lofgren has already had a lengthy career in rock music, having started out in his late teens.  He is not one of Springsteen’s buddies from New Jersey.  His appointment is evidence of Bruce Springsteen’s stature now within the rock music industry.  Neither Scialfa nor Lofgren appear on Springsteen’s next album since it is released the same month they join The E Street Band.  They are both involved in the subsequent tours and promotion associated with the disc.  In the lead up to his next recording, Bruce Springsteen has been ‘pumping his body up with weights’, so when he is next seen, the five foot ten (1.78 metres) singer is built like a brick outhouse.

‘Born In The U.S.A.’ (1984) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is released in June.  Production duties are shared by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin and Steve Van Zandt (who plays guitar on this album).  Where ‘Nebraska’ was an introverted, acoustic recording, this album is ‘thematically more outward-looking and bigger sounding.’  The E Street Band are in full flight and, despite some thorny subject matter, the prevailing mood is bright and light.  ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ becomes Bruce Springsteen’s biggest commercial success.  ‘Dancing In The Dark’ (US no. 2, UK no. 4, AUS no. 5) is what Springsteen calls “my big smash!…I knew when we cut that song it was gonna capture people’s imagination.”  Roy Bittan’s synthesiser gives this compulsive song a more modern edge.  Springsteen’s restless narrator sings, “Radio’s on and I’m moving ‘round the place / I check my look in the mirror / I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.”  In the video for the song, put together by famed movie director Brian De Palma, Springsteen pulls a girl out of the audience to dance with him on stage.  That girl is actually starlet Courtney Cox who goes on to fame as one of the key cast members of the television comedy ‘Friends’ (1994-2004).  It may all have been a set-up, but female fans of ‘The Boss’ everywhere are green with envy.  The title track, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’, also has a Hollywood connection.  Writer/director Paul Schrader asked Bruce Springsteen to write a song for his proposed film, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ Springsteen complied, but then found he liked the song too much to give it away.  Instead, he gave Schrader another song which provides the revised title for the movie, ‘Light Of Day’ (1987).  The song ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ (US no. 9, UK no. 5, AUS no. 2) begins with Springsteen bellowing, “Born down in a dead man’s town / The first kick I took was when I hit the ground / You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much / Till you spend half your life just covering up.”  The hard luck tale continues through a tour of duty in Vietnam and subsequent unemployment.  So when Springsteen sings of being ‘Born In The U.S.A.’, it is in bitter irony.  The most affluent nation on earth just gives the narrator a lifetime of pain and misery.  It is this that Ronald Reagan so spectacularly gets wrong in using this song in his Presidential campaign.  “There is a real patriotism underneath the best of my music,” Bruce Springsteen acknowledges, “but it is a critical, questioning, and often angry patriotism.”  Referring specifically to the song ‘Born In The U.S.A.’, its author says it “had two things goin’.  There was the lyrical content [of bitterness] and then there was a sense that the music was sort of martial and powerful,” thanks again to Roy Bittan’s soaring synthesiser notes.  “There may be some misinterpretation of it out there, y’know,” says Springsteen, due to people hearing the music and chorus of ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ without really listening to the verses.  Other well-known songs from this set include the romantic desperation of ‘Cover Me’ (US no. 7, UK no. 16, AUS no. 17), the febrile sensuousness of ‘I’m On Fire’ (US no. 6, UK no. 5, AUS no. 12), a song for the fed-up called ‘I’m Goin’ Down’ (US no. 9, AUS no. 41), the rose-tinted nostalgia of ‘Glory Days’ (US no. 5, UK no. 17, AUS no. 29) and, its opposite, the hollowed-out heartache behind ‘My Hometown’ (US no. 6, UK no. 9, AUS no. 47).

When ‘Dancing In The Dark’ is released as a single, the B side is ‘Pink Cadillac’, a track recorded at the ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ sessions but not used on the album.  ‘Pink Cadillac’ becomes a hit for Natalie Cole in 1988.

The massive success of ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ puts Bruce Springsteen on a new level of celebrity.  “You just ride, you just take the ride,” he says in astonishment.  He begins to feel uneasy about it though.  “I look back on it now…There was an enormous amount of exposure and that’s something you might feel uncomfortable with…You get out on the tightrope and you walk across.”

In October 1984 Bruce Springsteen begins romancing actress Julianne Phillips.  The couple marry on 13 May 1985.

‘Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band / Live 1975-1985’ (1986) (US no. 1, UK no. 4, AUS no. 3), a November release, buys some time.  The pressure to follow ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ is heavy, so this massive five record (or three CD) set pacifies the record company and at least some of the fans.  It contains the expected famous songs, some more obscure selections, and a clutch of cover versions.  Springsteen’s hoarse shout of ‘War’ (US no. 8, UK no. 18, AUS no. 38), an Edwin Starr song from 1970, is the single.

‘Tunnel Of Love’ (1987) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 5) is the eventual new studio recording.  Released in October, this set is co-produced by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin and E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan.  The E Street Band – or at least various members of the group – appears on some cuts; other recordings are sparer.  This is a semi-acoustic album, not as hushed as ‘Nebraska’, but not so rocking as ‘Born In the U.S.A.’ either.  Because this is the first album of new material since his marriage, the expectation is for a loved-up suite of ballads from the newlywed singer.  There are plenty of songs about love all right, but most of them betray a strangely conflicted attitude.  Consider the following examples: ‘Spare Parts’ (UK no. 32, AUS no. 57) (“Spare parts and broken hearts / Keep the world turning around”); ‘Tunnel Of Love’ (US no. 9, UK no. 45, AUS no. 41) (“Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us / You, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of”); ‘Two Faces’ (“I met a little girl and we ran away / I swore I’d make her happy every day / And now I’ve made her cry / Two faces have I”); ‘One Step Up’ (US no. 13, AUS no. 67) (“Given each other some hard lessons lately / But we ain’t learnin’”); and ‘Brilliant Disguise’ (US no. 5, UK no. 20, AUS no. 17) (“Tonight our bed is cold / I’m lost in the darkness of our love / God have mercy on the man / Who doubts what he’s sure of”).  ‘Valentine’s Day’ is one of the few songs that sound positive.  Even the booming ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ (UK no. 13, AUS no. 35) is brooding and bruised in its boasting.

Bruce Springsteen releases the ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ EP in August 1988 in association with a tour for Amnesty International – Human Rights Now!  This excursion, from 2 September 1988 to 15 October 1988, finds Springsteen in his most overtly political form yet.

The mixed messages of ‘Tunnel Of Love’ take on new meaning when Bruce Springsteen and Julianne Phillips split up in 1989.  ‘The marriage helped boost her acting career, but his travelling took a toll on the marriage and the final blow came when she found out about his affair with Patti Scialfa [The E Street Band backing vocalist].’

Following the end of his marriage, Bruce Springsteen begins living with Patti Scialfa.  Together, they have a son, Evan (born 25 July 1990).  Bruce and Patti marry on 8 June 1991.  They go on to have two more children: a daughter named Jessica (born 30 December 1991) and a son named Sam (born 5 January 1994).

The E Street Band is dissolved – or at least put on hiatus.

‘Human Touch’ (1992) (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) and ‘Lucky Town’ (1992) (US no. 3, UK no. 2, AUS no. 6) are two separate albums released at the same time, March 1992.  These albums are largely recorded with session musicians.  The song ‘Human Touch’ (US no. 16, UK no. 11, AUS no. 17) has a tingling, charged atmosphere.  Here, Bruce gruffly points out, “So you been broken and you been hurt / Show me somebody who ain’t / Yeah, I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain / But, hell, a little touch up and a little paint…”  ‘Better Days’ (US no. 16, UK no. 34, AUS no. 75) from ‘Lucky Town’ is a portrait of rough-hewn happiness that also addresses one of the problems in the singer being the champion of the average Joe: “It’s a sad, funny ending to find yourself pretending / A rich man in a poor man’s shirt.”

In 1993 Bruce Springsteen contributes ‘The Streets Of Philadelphia’ (US no. 9, UK no. 2, AUS no. 4) to the movie ‘Philadelphia’ (1993).  The film is about a lawyer suffering discrimination because he has contracted A.I.D.S. through homosexual intercourse.  Springsteen’s pained vocals echo through a mechanical background of synthesisers as he sings, “I can feel myself fading away / So receive me brother with your faithless kiss.”  The track earns the Academy Award for best song from that year’s motion pictures.

The E Street Band reassembles to record a few new tracks for Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Greatest Hits’ (1995) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) in January.

‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ (1995) (US no. 11, UK no. 16, AUS no. 27) in November is an acoustic folk music album.  It is inspired by ‘Journey to Nowhere: the Saga of the New Underclass’ by Dale Maharidge.  The name of Tom Joad comes from John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1939) (made into a film in 1940) about a dispossessed man during ‘the Great Depression’, the 1930s economic hard-times.

‘Tracks’ (1998) (US no. 27, UK no. 50, AUS no. 97) is a four CD collection of previously unreleased songs Bruce Springsteen recorded over the span of his career.

Bruce Springsteen ‘admits to losing his way during the 1990s’.

Bruce Springsteen reunites with The E Street Band in more lasting fashion beginning in 2000.

‘The Rising’ (2002) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) ‘reflects on the tragedy’ of the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001.  The album features ‘My City Of Ruins’.

In 2004 Bruce Springsteen campaigns for Democratic Party Presidential candidate John Kerry – though Kerry loses the election.

‘Devils & Dust’ (2005) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 10) is a folk music album in the style of ‘Nebraska’ or ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’‘We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions’ (2006) (US no. 3, UK no. 3, AUS no. 21) features ‘new arrangements of folk songs associated with Pete Seeger’, a well-known figure in that genre.  ‘Magic’ (2007) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 2) returns to a rock orientation and includes ‘Radio Nowhere’ (US no. 102, UK no. 96) and ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’ (US no. 95).

Danny Federici of The E Street Band dies on 17 April 2008 as the result of a cancerous melanoma.  Charles Giordano (keyboards) takes over Federici’s role in the band.

In 2008 Bruce Springsteen returns to the political campaign trail, playing several benefit shows in support of Senator Barack Obama.  ‘Working On A Dream’ (2009) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) is released on 27 January, a week after Obama’s inauguration as President of the United States.

On 18 June 2011, Clarence Clemmons, the saxophone player from The E Street Band, passes away from complications following a stroke that laid ‘The Big Man’ low.  From 2012 saxophone duties in The E Street Band are divided between Ed Manion and Jake Clemmons, the nephew of the late Clarence Clemmons.

Both Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren have been contributing guitar to The E Street Band in the twenty-first century.  The tour supporting ‘Wrecking Ball’ (2012) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 2) brings a change.  On the last six months of that tour, Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine replaces Van Zandt.  He brings with him a more metallic edge.  The single from ‘Wrecking Ball’ is ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’ (US no. 106, UK no. 111).

‘High Hopes’ (2014) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) mixes cover versions, unreleased material and songs Bruce Springsteen gave away to others.  What distinguishes this grab-bag is Springsteen finding a new chemistry with guitarist Tom Morello, imbuing the whole thing with a sound that is heavier and a bit different for Springsteen.

The compilation album ‘Chapter And Verse’ (2016) (US no. 5, UK no. 2, AUS no. 2), issued on 23 September, is conceived as a companion piece to Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography ‘Born to Run’ (2016), published by Simon & Schuster four days later.  The career-spanning ‘Chapter And Verse’ runs through the expected highlights of Springsteen’s career but the real prize for completists is five previously unavailable songs from the dawn of the singer’s recordings.  There are two tracks by The Castiles, 1966’s ‘Baby I’ and a 1967 cover version of Bo Diddley’s 1962 song ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’.  Steel Mill is represented by 1970’s ‘He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)’.  ‘The Ballad Of Jesse James’ from 1972 is attributed to The Bruce Springsteen Band while ‘Henry Boy’, also from 1972, is just Bruce’s voice and guitar.

‘Springsteen On Broadway’ (2018) (US no. 11, UK no. 6, AUS no. 4) is a live recording issued by Columbia on 14 December.  The performances on this two CD set were recorded on 17-18 July 2018.

‘Western Stars’ (2019) (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is a new Bruce Springsteen album released on 14 June by Columbia.  The disc is produced by Ron Aniello.  ‘Western Stars’ is said to be inspired by ‘Southern California pop music’ of the 1970s.  ‘Hello Sunshine’ is a light country pop number with pattering drums.  Lyrically, the song’s narrator pleads for ‘sunshine’ (i.e. happiness) to stay.  Springsteen delivers the song with a deep and mature vocal.  By contrast, ‘There Goes My Miracle’ leans toward the upper end of Springsteen’s vocal range.  He has previously expressed his admiration for Roy Orbison and, though this is not quite as operatic as some of Orbison’s performances, ‘There Goes My Miracle’ is in that territory.  “There goes my miracle / Walking away,” notes Springsteen’s vocal.  He may be mourning a lost love or just grinding his teeth over persistent bad luck.  A grittier vocal texture is used for ‘Tucson Train’.  This is pop infused with brass and – especially – strings.  “Now my baby’s comin’ in on the Tucson train,” observes the protagonist, anticipating what seems to be a reunion with a former lover.  The title track, ‘Western Stars’, assumes a rather artificial air of being a cowboy song.  There is sighing slide guitar and a prominent piano part – but the characteristic string section of this album manifests about halfway through.  “Tonight the western stars are shining bright again,” sings Springsteen’s saddleman character.

‘Western Stars – Songs from the Film’ (2019) is a movie released on 25 October.  It is co-directed by Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimny.  The film shows Bruce Springsteen performing songs from ‘Western Stars’ to a live audience.  The film includes a cover version of the 1975 Glen Campbell song ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ that is not on the ‘Western Stars’ album.  It is, however, entirely fitting because Campbell’s spirit suffuses the whole ‘Western Stars’ project and the song’s account of a Hollywood version of a cowboy fits with the general mood.  ‘Western Stars – Songs from the Film’ is brought into existence at least partly because Springsteen eschews going on a concert tour to promote the ‘Western Stars’ album, preferring to marshal his energies for a proposed future tour with the reassembled E-Street Band.

Generally, Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics are plain-spoken and rarely subject to misinterpretation.  The Reagan campaign’s ill-considered use of ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ only caused trouble for themselves – particularly since Springsteen later publicly supported Democratic candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama.  Politics were never really The Boss’ forte though.  He remained the champion of the average, working-class man.  Springsteen seemed largely immune to fads and trends, content to chart his own course.  His best work was in the decade from ‘Born To Run’ (1975) to ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ (1984).  ‘The heartland rocker known as “The Boss” more than fulfilled the…publicity he was initially burdened with.’  Bruce Springsteen ‘reached his goal of being a rock star by remaining streetwise and questioning.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Bruce Springsteen’ by Anthony De Curtis (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 620, 621, 622
  2. neatorama.com – ‘The Most Misunderstood Political Campaign Song in History’ by Eddie Deezen (13 November 2012)
  3. ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine – Bruce Springsteen interview conducted by Kurt Loder (6 December 1984) (quoted in ‘Time’ magazine – ‘Fight Songs – Eleven Great Musician-Politician Campaign Feuds’ by Dan Fastenberg (17 August 2012) – newfeed.time.com)
  4. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 24 March 2014
  5. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 13 May 2014
  6. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 261
  7. wikipedia.org as at 24 March 2014, 4 January 2017, 3 January 2019, 4 January 2020
  8. brainyquote.com as at 13 May 2014
  9. ‘Bruce Springsteen: A Secret History’ (U.K. television program – BBC Network) – Directed by Steven Goldman, Produced by Mark Hagen (1998)
  10. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 116, 201, 228, 255, 258, 268, 302
  11. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 215, 217
  12. allmusic.com, ‘Bruce Springsteen’ by William Ruhlmann as at 15 May 2001
  13. The History News Network, ‘The Ethnic Fork of Bruce Springsteen’ by Jim Cullen (2005?)
  14. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 97
  15. lyricsfreak.com as at 10 May 2014
  16. ‘New York Daily News’ (New York, U.S.A newspaper) – Book excerpt: ‘Bruce Springsteen: From a “Tunnel of Love” with Julianne Phillips to “Dancing in the Dark” with Patti Scialfa’ by Peter Ames (21 October 2012) (reproduced on nydailynews.com)
  17. whosdatedwho.com as at 24 March 2014
  18. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 38
  19. ‘Bruce Springsteen – Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Bruce Springsteen (Columbia, Sony Music Entertainment, Inc., 1995) p. 3, 4
  20. ‘Born To Run’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Columbia, Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. 1975) p. 11
  21. ‘Bruce Springsteen on Tour: 1968-2003’ by Dave Marsh (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006) p. 120, 121
  22. ‘The River’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Columbia, Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. 1978) p. 23
  23. sputnikmusic.com – ‘Nebraska’ review by John Cruz (5 June 2006)
  24. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 201
  25. songfacts.com as at 15 May 2014
  26. ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Columbia, Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. 1984) p. 15
  27. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) ‘Still The Boss’, ‘Kathy McCabe’s Top 5 Boss Moments’ and ‘American Dream’ – all by Kathy McCabe (15 December 2012) p. 60
  28. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.175
  29. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) ‘The Boss Rages with Morello’ – review of ‘High Hopes’ by Cameron Adams (16 January 2014) p. 38
  30. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘The Boss Raids his Vaults’ – review of ‘Chapter And Verse’ by Cameron Adams (22 September 2016) p. 38
  31. google lyrics as at 11 January 2020

Song lyrics copyright Rondor Music (Australia) P/L / Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP) and Universal Music Publishing Group (‘There Goes My Miracle’, ‘Tucson Train’ and ‘Western Stars’)

Last revised 23 January 2020

Dusty Springfield

 Dusty Springfield

 Dusty Springfield – circa 1966

 “Being good isn’t always easy / No matter how hard I try” – ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ (John Hurley, Ronnie Wilkins)

Some teeth are knocked out.  British pop singer Dusty Springfield reels in shock.  It is sometime around 1983 and she has just been smacked in the face with a cold saucepan.  Pain and dismay struggle for supremacy in her mind.  The singer’s assailant is the person she loves.

Dusty Springfield (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999) is born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in London, England.  She is the second child of Gerard O’Brien and his wife, Catherine O’Brien (nee Ryle).  Gerard O’Brien works as a tax accountant and consultant.  Catherine, known as Kay, hails from County Kerry, Ireland.  Hence, Dusty says, “I’m a Celt.”  Dusty’s elder brother is Dionysius (born 2 July 1934).  It is a Roman Catholic family.  “I used to go to confession and tell all my impure thoughts,” Dusty later giggles.

Dusty Springfield is raised in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire until the early 1950s.  The family then moves to the West London borough of Ealing.  As Mary O’Brien, Dusty attends St Anne’s Convent School, an all-girl educational facility, in Northfields.  She graduates in 1960.  Although the youngster enjoys a ‘comfortable middle class upbringing’, there are some odd aspects to her home-life.  Her father, Gerard O’Brien, is a demanding perfectionist.  Kay O’Brien and her two children develop the strange habit of food throwing.  “I was a nowhere kid, not particularly good – not particularly bad,” says Dusty.

Mary O’Brien earns the nickname ‘Dusty’ for being a tomboy, for playing football with the boys.  “I’m still trying to nail whoever called me that,” she later claims.  “I sorta grew up with it and now I’m stuck with it.”

Dusty Springfield has ‘an oddly erotic, throaty voice.’  “I sounded like this when I was a kid,” she claims.  To some, she sounds like a white girl with a black voice.  When asked if this caused her any problems, Dusty’s response is, “Absolutely none.”

As Mary O’Brien, Dusty Springfield begins her professional singing career as a 19 year old in 1958.  That year she joins Iris ‘Riss’ Long and Lynne Abrams as The Lana Sisters.  The three girls are managed by the Joe Collins Agency and are signed to the Fontana record label.  In 1958 they release their first single, ‘Chimes Of Arkady’.  This is followed by three singles in 1959, ‘Buzzin’’, ‘Mr Dee-Jay’ and ‘Sittin’ On The Sidewalk’.  The Lana Sisters issue another trio of singles in 1960: ‘My Mother’s Eyes’, ‘Tintarella De Luna’ and ‘Down South’.  Having not made any significant impact, The Lana Sisters disband in 1960.

Meantime, Mary O’Brien’s brother, Dion O’Brien has been working with Tim Feild as a folk duo called The Kensington Squares.  When The Lana Sisters call it a day, Dion invites his sister to join his act.

The new trio, The Springfields, debuts in 1960.  It is at this point that Mary O’Brien adopts the stagename Dusty Springfield.  Dion O’Brien changes his name too, becoming Tom Springfield.  The line-up is Dusty Springfield (vocals), Tom Springfield (vocals, guitar) and Tim Feild (vocals, guitar).  The Springfields start out on the Butlin’s Holiday Camp circuit in the U.K.  It is not clear where the ‘Springfield’ name comes from.  A Springfield rifle was a popular weapon in the old day of the Wild West (as seen in the movie ‘Springfield Rifle’ (1952) starring Gary Cooper), so that may fit with the act’s country music – folk music hybrid.  Alternately, it may be as simple as ‘spring field’, an image that conjures up associations with a fresh, rural sound.  Whatever its origins, The Springfields winning blend of music scores them a recording contract with the Philips label.

In 1960 the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll has passed and folk music is, arguably, more popular.  The Springfields are considered ‘an antiseptic British equivalent of [U.S. folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary [1961-1971].’  Although there is some truth to this, as the dates show, The Springfields were in business before Peter, Paul & Mary.  It might be more accurate to say both acts owe a debt to the (all-male) Kingston Trio whose folk song ‘Tom Dooley’ is a big hit in 1959, proving the mass appeal of clean-cut folk harmony performers.  Dusty Springfield describes The Springfields as “a very cheerful pseudo folk pop group.”  As a British act, what is almost unique about The Springfields is that their strongly American-influenced sound makes them popular in the U.S. as well as their native land.  This is virtually unprecedented.  Cliff Richard, England’s biggest rock star of the 1950s, had very minimal impact in America.

All The Springfields’ recordings are produced by Johnny Franz of Philips Records.  Their first single is ‘Dear John’ in 1961.  This is followed by two more 1961 singles, ‘Breakaway’ (UK no. 31) and ‘Bambino’ (UK no. 16), the 1961 EP ‘The Springfields’ and the debut album ‘Kinda Folksy’ (1961).

In 1962 Tim Feild is replaced by Mike Hurst, but The Springfields’ career only accelerates.  They release four EPs: ‘Kinda Folksy No. 1’, ‘Kinda Folksy No. 2’, ‘Kinda Folksy No. 3’ and ‘Christmas With The Springfields’.  The first Springfields single of the year is the one-off ‘Goodnight Irene’.  ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’ (US no. 20), ‘Dear Hearts And Gentle People’ (US no. 95) and ‘Gotta Travel On’ (US no. 114) all come from the band’s second album, ‘Sliver Threads And Golden Needles’ (1962) (US no. 91).  The song ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’ has finger-pickin’ guitars over a stomped-out rhythm and boasts an almost yodelling vocal.  The song is written by Jack Rhodes and Dick Reynolds and was originally recorded by U.S. singer Wanda Jackson in 1956.  Linda Ronstadt records a notable cover version of the same song in 1973.  The Springfields draw sufficient attention in the U.S.A. to journey to Nashville, Tennessee, one of the primary centres for country music.  During a stopover in New York City on the way to Nashville in 1962 Dusty Springfield hears The Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’.  This is a rhythm and blues song by an African-American vocal group and it gives a pointer to Dusty’s subsequent solo career.  Tom Springfield is the author of The Springfields’ remaining 1962 single, ‘Island Of Dreams’ (UK no. 5, US no. 129).  Its strong country twang is offset by a sugary phalanx of violins and cellos.  ‘Island Of Dreams’ stays on the British singles chart for twenty-six weeks.

The Springfields’ 1963 output includes the EP ‘Hit Sounds’ and the album ‘Folk Songs From The Hills’ (1963).  ‘Say I Won’t Be There’ (UK no. 5), another Tom Springfield composition, has a strong American country music flavour.  The single hits the British charts in March and hangs about for fifteen weeks.  ‘Come On Home’ (UK no. 6) is The Springfields’ last single.  The coming of The Beatles, Britain’s biggest rock band of the 1960s, convinces Tom Springfield that his country folk trio is headed for obsolescence, so he considers it time to call it quits.  This move also allows Dusty Springfield to begin a solo career.  The Springfields bow out with a concert at the London Palladium on 11 October 1963.

Dusty Springfield becomes ‘a mod icon’.  The five foot, three inch (1.60 metres) singer is famed for her ‘”panda” eye make-up [thick mascara] and elaborate coiffure.’  Dusty claims, “Pop singers were never expected to be fashion models or wear the right kind of clothes.  They were just characters – and I certainly was with [my hair piled high into a] beehive [hairdo] and all that.”  Despite this assertion, there are also accounts of recording sessions being delayed because Dusty Springfield insisted on being in full make-up before entering the studio.  If she is not aiming at being a ‘fashion model’, she is still extremely conscientious about her image.

As a solo act, Dusty Springfield remains with Philips Records.  Johnny Franz remains the producer of most of her 1960s recording sessions.  Although she has the odd credit here and there, Dusty Springfield is not really a songwriter.  She records a few cover versions, but most of her catalogue is original songs provided by professional songwriters.  Since Johnny Franz is directly employed by Philips and Springfield is one of the label’s hottest properties, it may be thought that he would gather material for her.  Possibly he did offer suggestions, but when asked who chose her hits, Dusty Springfield quite forcefully insists, “I did.”  She expresses a preference for some of her favourite songwriters: “I always did love Carole King and Burt Bacharach.”  Only selected songs will have their authors detailed here since there are so many other hands involved.

Dusty Springfield notes that she is part of a wave of female singers.  “It was a time when Cilla [Black] happened and then me and then Sandie [Shaw] and all of us had a stronger style than the singers who preceded us.”  There are virtually no notable British female pop singers before this trio.  Cilla Black barely arrives before Dusty Springfield (as a solo act); Cilla Black’s first hit single, ‘Love Of The Loved’, debuts in September 1963.  Her better known hits, ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ and ‘You’re My World’, both come from 1964.  Sandie Shaw’s best known song, ‘Puppet On A String’, comes from 1967.

Dusty Springfield’s music can be divided into four main divisions: country music, pop music, rhythm and blues (or soul) and what Dusty calls “big, ballady things.”  The country music component is a holdover from her days with The Springfields.  Although as a solo act, country music plays a much diminished role in Dusty Springfield’s work, a trace of it still crops up occasionally.  Pop music is the basic default setting for the singer.  She seeks widespread success and acclaim, she seeks popularity, rather than courting a devoted but marginal audience.  Rhythm and blues – and later soul – is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Dusty Springfield’s catalogue.  This is the music inspired by her fondness for The Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’ in 1962.  Since rhythm and blues is almost exclusively the province of African-American acts, this plays into the observation noted earlier that Springfield sounds like a white girl with a black voice.  She becomes quite a champion of the style, even hosting a British television special, ‘The Sound of Motown’ in 1965, about perhaps the most famous black music record company.  The “big, ballady things” can be subdivided into two groups: dramatic Euro-pop and sophisticated supper club sounds.  Dusty Springfield develops a taste for the grand gestures cultivated by Britain’s allegedly more passionate Continental cousins.  These songs are like mini-operas, full of extreme heartbreak and overpowering love.  The other half of the “big, ballady things” are tunes that seem designed to alter Dusty’s profile from headstrong pop star to more adult all-round entertainer.  “I don’t particularly want to be a cabaret type of entertainer,” she claims.  Yet, if Springfield’s boast about choosing her own hits is true, she certainly selects some material that moves in that direction.  Added together, all these traits may seem a bit contradictory and conflicted, but that too is a valid reflection of the performer.

‘When Dusty announces plans to go solo, after the break-up of The Springfields back in the autumn of 1963, there are those who question the wisdom of such a decision made at a time when the pop charts are dominated by male pop groups and singers.’  Dusty Springfield points out, “I had three weeks off before my first solo hit, so I didn’t have to struggle.  Part of that was quite calculated and part of it was a huge amount of luck.”  ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ (UK no. 4, US no. 12, AUS no. 6) enters the British singles chart on 21 November 1963.  This is a winner from the start and is Dusty Springfield’s best song.  It has ‘a dramatic sound and soulful melody.’  “Oh can’t you see / That ever since we met / You’ve had a hold on me / It happens to be true / I only want to be with you,” sings Dusty in a huggable fit of giddy happiness.  This bustling track is written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde.  While the melody is pure pop, Springfield’s delivery has a brashly metallic quality, more akin to rhythm and blues singers.  This merger of the most appealing strains of Dusty Springfield’s music makes this song her signature piece.

Television helps Dusty Springfield’s career gain momentum.  ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ is the first song on the first episode of Britain’s long-running television music program ‘Top of the Pops’ in 1964.  She also appears in the fondly remembered ‘Ready Steady Go’ from the start.

The EP ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ (UK no. 8) comes out in March 1964.  In the same month, Dusty Springfield’s second single, ‘Stay Awhile’ (UK no. 13, US no. 38, AUS no. 27), is released.  This is another Mike Hawker-Ivor Raymonde composition.  “Stay awhile / Let me hold you,” Dusty urges, “Stay awhile / Till I’ve told you / Of the love that I feel tonight.”  This track is a bit less frantic than its predecessor.

In 1964 Dusty Springfield is the first to record ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You’, a song fated to be a hit for The Carpenters in 1970.  Dusty’s own version is held back and goes unreleased at this time.

April brings ‘A Girl Called Dusty’ (1964) (UK no. 6), the singer’s first full-length album.  This set includes ‘Wishin’ And Hopin’ (US no. 6, AUS no. 2), which becomes an American hit.  This is the first of the songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David recorded by Dusty Springfield.  U.S. songstress Dionne Warwicke is the best known interpreter of their sophisticated, grown-up brand of pop, but Springfield also favours their work.  The incantatory ‘Wishin’ And Hopin’’ finds a genteel Dusty warning that “Wishin’ and hopin’ / And thinkin’ and prayin’ / And plannin’ and schemin’ / Each night of his charms / It won’t get you into his arms,” and suggesting more direct action.

‘All Cried Out’ (US no. 41, AUS no. 56), penned by Buddy Kaye and Phil Springer, is Dusty Springfield’s next single in 1964.  It is both classy and melodramatic.  Its underlying drive is reminiscent of The Supremes, Motown’s top girl group.  Summer 1964 brings another Bacharach-David composition, ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ (UK no. 3, AUS no. 16).  In this poised slice of pop perfection, a disconsolate Dusty wails, “I just don’t know what to do with myself / I’m so used to doing everything with you / Planning everything for two / And now that we’re through…”  Although it’s a sad song, it’s still catchy and the drums boom like cannons.  This is followed by ‘Guess Who’ (US no. 109) backed with ‘Live It Up’ (US no. 128).

Dusty Springfield is deported from South Africa in 1964 after refusing to perform before racially segregated audiences.  From 1948 to 1994 South Africa’s policy of apartheid discriminates against the country’s black majority.  It’s easy to see how Springfield, a big booster of African-American recording artists, would find such arrangements distasteful.

The EP ‘Dusty’ (UK no. 3) is released in September 1964.  In November 1964 comes the single ‘Losing You’ (UK no. 9, US no. 91, AUS no. 83), a song co-written by Dusty’s brother, Tom Springfield, and Clive Westlake.  This track is full of grandiose gestures of heartache: “How many tears do you cry, if love should break your heart in two? / How many tears will I cry now that I know I’m losing you?”

From 28 to 30 January 1965 Dusty Springfield attends the Italian Song Festival.  The experience gives her a taste for the brand of pop music found in a non-English speaking European country.

‘Your Hurtin’ Kind Of Love’ (UK no. 37) is Dusty Springfield’s first single for 1965.  The EP ‘Dusty In New York’ (UK no. 13) is released in May 1965.  July 1965 brings two singles, ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’ and ‘Some Of Your Lovin’’.  ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’ (UK no. 8, US no. 108, AUS no. 56), co-written by Buddy Kaye and Bea Verdi, is the most country music thing Dusty has done since The Springfields broke up.  It’s brassy arrangement pushes a sassy Springfield to let rip in a rough and ready voice, “Baby, you know that I love you / But I can’t wait forever!”  The lazy, summery feel of ‘Some Of Your Lovin’’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 88) finds a more languid Dusty stirring herself to sing, “Now I don’t expect you to guarantee / Your faith and devotion to only me / I’m aware you got a lot of wild oats to sow / But baby when I need you, don’t you tell me no.”  ‘Some Of Your Lovin’’ is the work of American husband and wife songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  Apparently, Dusty Springfield regards this as her favourite single.  ‘Mademoiselle Dusty’ (UK no. 17) in July 1965 is the singer’s final EP.  The album ‘Sheer Magic’ (1965) (UK no. 6) (later retitled ‘Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty’) arrives in October.

The February 1966 single ‘Little By Little’ (UK no. 17) is written by Buddy Kaye, Bea Verdi and Eddie Gin.  In this big and brassy number, Dusty Springfield lets fly with these sentiments: “Little by little, bit by bit / I’m goin’ crazy and you’re causing it / Little by little, bit by bit / I should stop caring but my love won’t quit.”  This is followed in March 1966 by Dusty Springfield’s most commercially successful single, a disc that sells over two million copies, ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (UK no. 1, US no. 4, AUS no. 2).  This is a cover version of an Italian pop song.  In its original form of ‘Io Che No Vivo (Senza Te)’ by Pino Donaggio, it topped the Italian charts in March 1965.  Pino Donaggio co-wrote the original with Vita Pallavicini and it is re-worked into the English language ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Simon Napier-Bell and Vicki Wickham.  “You don’t have to say you love me, just be close at hand / You don’t have to stay forever, I will understand,” sings Springfield, wringing every ounce of emotion out of this oh-so-dramatic ballad.  It’s a gloriously over-the-top performance.

In 1966 Dusty Springfield has her own television musical variety show.  Six episodes of ‘Dusty’ air on BBC TV in 1966.  The singer becomes a fixture of broadcasting with similar productions for the next few years: ‘Dusty’ – six episodes in 1967 on the BBC; ‘It Must Be Dusty’ – seven episodes for ITV in 1968; and ‘Decidedly Dusty’ – returning to the BBC for eight episodes in 1969.

Dusty Springfield releases two more singles in 1966.  In summer there is ‘Goin’ Back’ (UK no. 10, AUS no. 24), a contemplative and nostalgic tune: “I think I’m goin’ back to the things I learned so well in my youth / I think I’m returning to those days when I was young enough to know the truth.”  The song is written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the authors of ‘Some Of Your Lovin’’.  Carole King is so moved by Springfield’s rendition she is reported to burst into ‘tears on first hearing.’  ‘All I See Is You’ (UK no. 9, US no. 20, AUS no. 21) arrives in October 1966.  “The days have come and gone since you were here / Nights are twice as long without you near / Pictures in my mind stand out so clear / No matter where I am or what I do, my darling, all I see is you,” is Dusty’s vocal proclamation.  Some mistakenly believe this, like ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, is a translated Italian ballad.  Due to its big, sweeping sound, this is perhaps understandable.  However, ‘All I See Is You’ is written by Clive Westlake and Ben Weisman.  The confusion may also be due to the song spawning an Italian language hit cover version.

In 1966 Dusty Springfield makes her U.S. nightclub debut in New York.

From 1966 to 1970 Dusty Springfield is in a romantic relationship with another woman, Norma Tanega, a songwriter and painter.  The two share a house together in England but their association is more intimate than just housemates.  Publicly, Dusty Springfield’s image is that of a happy heterosexual; at this stage, her true sexual inclinations remain secret.

Dusty Springfield is hospitalised several times due to cutting herself in episodes of self-harm.  She is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  It is not clear when these incidents take place or when the assessment of her mental health is made.  They could predate her show business career or may not arise until later years.  They are mentioned at this point because the most obvious cause of the problems is her denial of her true sexuality.  These tendencies have their origin much earlier in life.  The tomboy behaviour that earned her the nickname ‘Dusty’ and the all-girl convent school she attended can be seen in a different light now.  Yet, equally, Dusty Springfield was raised in a Catholic household where same sex relationships would be forbidden.  This gives rise to deeply conflicted emotions.  Dusty’s mental health problems may also be connected to her career.  Her father, Gerard O’Brien, was a perfectionist and his daughter is similarly inclined.  ‘Her constant striving for musical perfection has become part of pop music folklore.’  Conscientiousness is admirable, but perfectionism breeds self-doubt and nagging feelings of inadequacy.  Couple with Dusty’s sexually conflicted nature, it’s a dangerous combination.  The O’Brien household, with its aberrant food-throwing behaviour, hardly gave Mary/Dusty a good grounding in mental stability either.

Dusty Springfield spends most of 1967 in the United States.  ‘I’ll Try Anything’ (UK no. 13, US no. 40, AUS no. 38) is recorded in New York.  The song is written by Mark Barkan and Victor Melrose.  It is a pacey and desperate tribute to all-conquering love: “I’ll cheat and I’ll lie, I’ll try till I die / Till I make you my man.”  ‘The Look Of Love’ (US no. 22) b/w ‘Give Me Time’ (UK no. 24, US no. 76) is the next single for 1967.  ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘a bossa nova-inflected classic positively radiating dreamlike sensuousness’, is another Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition.  It first appears on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Casino Royale’ (1967), a comedy version of a James Bond spy story.  Dusty’s other single for 1967 is ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ (US no. 49, AUS no. 45).  The album released in October, ‘Where Am I Going?’ (1967) (UK no. 40), takes its title track from the musical ‘Sweet Charity’.  It is on this album that Springfield’s version of ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You’, recorded back in 1964, finally surfaces.

The July 1968 single, ‘I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten’ (UK no. 4, US no. 122, AUS no. 67) (“And when I open them, you’re still here,” adds Dusty Springfield’s vocal in awed amazement), is written by Clive Westlake.  This is grand opera masquerading as pop.  ‘I Will Come To You’ (AUS no. 64) also dates from 1968.  ‘Dusty…Definitely’ (1968) (UK no. 30) is released in October.

Up to this point, Philips Records has released Dusty Springfield’s albums in different formats for the U.S. market.  Songs from the British albums, EPs and singles are all poured into the following U.S. albums: June’s ‘Stay Awhile’ (1964) (US no. 62), October’s ‘Dusty’ (1964) (US no. 136), ‘Ooooooweeee!!!’ (1965), ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (1966) (US no. 77) and ‘The Look Of Love’ (1967) (US no. 135).

‘Dusty In Memphis’ (1969) (US no. 99), released in March, is issued through Atlantic Records in the U.S. in the same form as its British counterpart.  Despite its modest showing on the charts, this is Dusty Springfield’s best album.  Production duties are shared between Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd.  The recording has a difficult genesis.  Soul music has largely overtaken rhythm and blues by this time.  Soul borrows characteristics from gospel music and transposes them to a secular setting.  Soul is almost exclusively the domain of African-American singers, so for a white British woman to attempt a soul album is a bold move.  Jerry Wexler books a recording session at Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama and offers Dusty Springfield a list of eighty songs for the project.  She rejects them all.  A few months later, she reconsiders and approves fifteen of them.  Recording sessions that had been booked at Muscle Shoals are hastily reconvened at American Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, instead.  Although the basic tracks are laid down, the producers are unable to coax Dusty Springfield to actually sing.  A combination of her own recurrent self-doubt and a realisation of the daring of the project seems to cause her to freeze up.  The tapes are taken to New York for orchestration to be added and it is here that Springfield finally overcomes her fears and records the vocals.  So, calling the album ‘Dusty In Memphis’ is a bit of a distortion.  The album’s most famous track is ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ (UK no. 9, US no. 10, AUS no. 6), written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins.  It was originally offered to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, but she turned it down due to its confronting subject matter.  “Billy Ray was a preacher’s son / And when his daddy would visit he’d come along,” runs the lyric as Dusty’s narrator explains how she came to fall for the holy man’s offspring.  It’s a quintessential soul arrangement punctuated by twanging guitar and blaring horns.  The album’s ‘blazing soul and sexual honesty’ is also on show in ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ (US no. 64) and ‘Breakfast In Bed’ (US no. 91), two tracks paired up as a single.  Dusty Springfield’s on more familiar ground with ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’ (US no. 31, AUS no. 40), an English language reworking of a European song.  Frenchman Michel Legrand originally recorded ‘Les Moulins De Mon Coeur’ with French lyrics by Eddie Marnay.  Legrand’s melody is given English lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman.  It is first recorded in English by Noel Harrison for the soundtrack of the movie ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ (1968).  Dusty’s treatment of the song makes it seem like a cool, folky, hippie chick anthem.  Another song from this set is lifted as a single, ‘In The Land Of Make Believe’ (US no. 113).  ‘Dusty In Memphis’ is regarded as ‘one of the best albums ever recorded by a British female singer.’

‘Brand New Me’ (1970) (US no. 107) is released in January in the U.S.  Three months later, it is released in Britain under the title ‘From Dusty With Love’.  This album is produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who are busy setting up a new black pop music empire in Philadelphia.  ‘Brand New Me’ (US no. 24, AUS no. 80) is Dusty Springfield’s last notable hit for some time.

A 1970 interview sees Dusty Springfield being unexpectedly candid.  “I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy,” she admits.  She goes on to add, “I’m promiscuous.  Not often.  But when I am, I really am.  I’m not a nymphomaniac.”

On other days, Dusty Springfield muses, “It’s marvellous to be popular, but foolish to think it will last.”  She also claims, “I’m always a bit surprised to sell records anyway,” as the self-doubt bubbles to the surface.

In 1970 Dusty Springfield moves to the U.S.A. to take up residence.  “I had a run from 1963 through to 1970, then I went to the States and sort of floated around there and did bits and pieces for three years.”  On another occasion, she puts it this way: “The minute I saw my record sales in England start to dip, I saw the future and I didn’t like it.  I’d always had this romantic idea about America and indeed I went over and functioned very well for a while, but they really didn’t know what to do with me.  I’d always been a bit of a maverick.”

‘See All Her Faces’ (1972) is released in the U.K. only.  ‘Cameo’ (1973) (US no. 212) is released in the U.S. in February on ABC/Dunhill Records and a month later in the U.K. on Philips.  ‘Longing’ (1974) is recorded for ABC/Dunhill but goes unreleased (most of the tracks are eventually issued nearly three decades later under the name ‘Beautiful Soul’ (2001)).

In 1972 Dusty Springfield admits to being bisexual, though her 1970 interview had already made that pretty clear.  From 1972 to 1978 she is in a relationship with Faye Harris, a U.S. photojournalist.  Dusty Springfield is ‘never reported to be in a heterosexual relationship.’  In 1973 she says, “I mean, people say that I’m gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay.  I’m not anything.  I’m just…people are people…I basically want to be straight…I go from men to women…I don’t’ give a s***.  The catch phrase is: I can’t love a man.  Now, that’s my hang-up.  To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition.  They frighten me.”  This shows that, despite professing to be bisexual, Dusty Springfield is still deeply conflicted.  It seems that her male lovers – all of whom remain unknown – may satisfy some physical need but, emotionally, it is women who become the persons to whom the singer gives her heart.

The next few years of Dusty Springfield’s life are murky.  It is said she ‘lives in semi-retirement’, that ‘she lives somewhat reclusively in America.’  More darkly, there are ‘rumours of personal problems’ and ‘that the problems of her personal life intrude on her professional one.’  Most troublingly, she is ‘battling substance abuse problems’ and ‘a downward spiral of drugs and drink follow for most of the 1970s.’

Dusty Springfield resurfaces with ‘It Begins Again’ (1978) (UK no. 41) and ‘Living Without Your Love’ (1979).  These albums are released on Mercury in the U.K. and United Artists in the U.S. but ‘both attract little notice.’

In 1981 Dusty Springfield is in a relationship with Carole Pope, a singer and musician from a rock band called Rough Trade.

‘White Heat’ (1982) is recorded in London, but is only released in the U.S. on the Casablanca label.  This set includes the hushed and fragile ‘Time And Time Again.’

In 1982 Dusty Springfield begins a relationship with American actress Teda Bracci.  The couple meet at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1982.  They have a ‘tempestuous’ association.  They move in together in April 1983 and ‘marry’ seven months later.  Same sex marriages are not legally recognised at the time, but the couple want to have the ceremony anyway.  It is Teda Bracci who hits Dusty Springfield in the mouth with a cold saucepan, knocking teeth out, during ‘a heated argument.’  Springfield retaliates by ‘grabbing a skillet and thumping her partner around the face.’  Both women wind up in hospital.  Dusty Springfield’s injuries require plastic surgery to correct.  Dusty Springfield’s relationship with Teda Bracci ends in 1984.

In 1987 British synth pop duo The Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) ask Dusty Springfield to share the vocals on their song ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ (UK no. 2, US no. 2, AUS no. 22).  This initiates the biggest comeback of the latter part of Dusty Springfield’s career.  Dusty says the request from The Pet Shop Boys came “out of the blue”, but Neil Tennant is said to be ‘a long-time Dusty devotee.’  The electronic keyboard-heavy chill atmosphere of synth pop seems to be animated by Springfield’s warmly emotional vocals.

The Pet Shop Boys write ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ (UK no. 16) which Dusty Springfield sings over the closing credits of the movie ‘Scandal’ (1989).  The movie is about the Profumo affair.  In 1961, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War in the British government, had a sexual liaison with a call girl, 19 year old Christine Keeler.  The would-be model was also seeing a Russian naval attaché, so when the matter became public knowledge, there were concerns about a possible security risk.  An official enquiry ultimately declared there was no security breach.

The Pet Shop Boys also provide Dusty Springfield with another hit in December 1989, ‘In Private’ (UK no. 14).

‘Reputation’ (1990) (UK no. 18) is released only in the U.K. on the Parlophone label.  The Pet Shop Boys produce a handful of tracks for the album, but this does not include ‘Reputation’ (UK no. 38), the title track and nominal single, which is written by Brian Spence and produced by Andy Richards.  Nonetheless, it is a synth pop piece that sounds similar to The Pet Shop Boys.  By now, Dusty Springfield’s voice is noticeably deeper and more mature.

‘A Very Fine Love’ (1995) (UK no. 43), released only in the U.K., is recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. for Columbia Records.  It includes ‘Wherever Would I Be’ (UK no. 44), a duet with Daryl Hall (half of U.S. duo Daryl Hall And John Oates).  During the recordings sessions, Dusty Springfield is diagnosed with breast cancer.  After months of radiation therapy, the cancer is believed to be in remission.

In the summer of 1996 the cancer returns.  In 1999 Dusty Springfield is awarded an O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for her contributions to music.  Shortly after, Dusty Springfield dies from breast cancer on 2 March 1999 at Henley-On Thames, Oxfordshire, England.  She was 59.

Dusty Springfield leaves behind instructions that her money is to be used to care for her 13 year old cat, Nicholas.

Dusty Springfield’s best work was recorded in the 1960s.  This covers a range of styles from the pop of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ through the dramatic Euro-ballad ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ to the soul of ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’.  Without minimising the seriousness of the incident, when Dusty Springfield was belted with a saucepan by her lover Teda Bracci around 1983, it just reinforced something she knew all along….love hurts.  Part of the appeal of Dusty Springfield is that aching vulnerability in her voice.  In retrospect, it is known that beneath the 1960s iconic hairstyles and make-up she was a deeply troubled person…but maybe that’s also got something to do with why her fans loved her.  Dusty Springfield was ‘Britain’s greatest pop diva…the finest white soul singer of her era [and] a performer of remarkable emotional resonance.’  She was ‘synonymous with success, glamour and quality [and was] one of the most enduring female singing voices in the history of modern popular music.’

Sources:

  1. wikipedia.org as at 24 March 2014
  2. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 24 March 2014
  3. ‘Pebble Mill at One’ (U.K. television program, BBC1 Network) – Dusty Springfield interview conducted by Sarah Greene (1995)
  4. ‘The Evening Standard’ (U.K. newspaper) – Dusty Springfield interview conducted by Ray Connolly (1970) (reproduced on dangerounsminds.net)
  5. brainyquote.com as at 6 May 2014
  6. ‘The Don Lane Show’ (Australian television program, Nine Network) – Dusty Springfield interview conducted by Don Lane (1981)
  7. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 7 May 2014
  8. allmusic.com, ‘The Lana Sisters’ – no author credited, ‘Dusty Springfield’ by Jason Ankeny as at 2 May 2001
  9. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 16, 217
  10. ‘This Morning’ (U.K. television program, ITV Network) – Dusty Springfield interview (1995)
  11. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 44, 80, 86
  12. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 178
  13. readysteadygirls.eu – no author credited – as at 7 May 2014
  14. ‘Goin’ Back – The Very Best Of Dusty Springfield’ – Sleeve notes by Chris White (Phonogram Ltd (London), 1994) p. 2, 3, 4, 5
  15. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 60
  16. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – plus ‘The Making of “Dusty In Memphis” by Holly George-Warren – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 47, 50
  17. artists.letssingit.com as at 6 May 2014
  18. lyricsfreak.com as at 3 May 2014
  19. ‘That Will Never Happen Again – A History of British Girl Singers of the 1960s’ by Roger Hollier (via simonbell.com) as at 7 May 2014
  20. ‘The Daily Mail’ (U.K. newspaper) ‘The Day Dusty Vowed I Only Want to be With You’ no author credited (4 August 2006) (reproduced on dailymail.co.uk)
  21. ‘Los Angeles Free Press’ (Los Angeles, U.S.A. newspaper) – Dusty Springfield interview (via (1) and (2) above)
  22. mothernaturenetwork – mnn.com – ‘Pets that Inherited a Fortune’ by Laura Moss (16 September 2011)

Song lyrics copyright Carlin Music with the exceptions of ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ (EMI Music Ltd); ‘Losing You’ and ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ (both Springfield Music Ltd); ‘Stay Awhile’ (Intersong Music Ltd); ‘Little By Little’, ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’ and ‘I’ll Try Anything’ (all three Budd Music Ltd/Elecstar Ltd); ‘Goin’ Back’ and ‘Some Of Your Lovin’ (both Screen Gems / EMI Music Ltd); ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (SBK United Partnership); and ‘The Look Of Love’ (Control)

Last revised 28 May 2014