Wednesday, 9 January 2019

David Essex

A most underrated singer-songwriter here. Do not underestimate his work....

Rock On (1973)

This was teen pop sensation David Essex's first album, and it is anything but a throwaway pop offering. It is a quirky, oddball of an album and really quite credible, all things considered. Essex also wrote seven of the album's eleven songs himself, something that is often overlooked.
Lamplight was Essex's second hit single, and was a catchy, singalong number with an upbeat bluesy vocal and some Beatles-esque drums. Turn Me Loose was a fifties rock 'n' roll doo-wop influenced slow rocker. On And On is a dignified slow rock ballad, with sweeping strings, haunting saxophone and a solid bass. Streetfight utilises the shuffling, rumbling, staccato rhythm and beat that Essex would use a lot in his compositions, such as on the following album's America and Good Ol' Rock 'N' Roll. It really is quite an adventurous song, as indeed is the next track, Rock On, which was his first hit single. It was a strange uncategorizable number, part slowed down rock'n'roll rhythm, part bluesy soul with hints of glam stylings in there somewhere. At the time it was seen as a unique, quite innovatory single. This was no ten-a-penny teen market single, that was for sure.

Ocean Girl is a cod-reggae number that doesn't quite work and Essex's Caribbean accent is pretty toe-curling. Bring In The Sun is a plaintive, stagey ballad that, after a quiet start goes all orchestrated in a big, cinematic way. It all calms down, however, and the song ends as it began, plaintively. It sounds like something from a musical. Maybe not surprisingly as Essex had previously starred in Godspell.

Essex's big production cover of Paul Simon's For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her is interesting, but it never really done it for me. I find it too overwhelming. 
We All Insane is a synth and percussion-backed rocker, featuring, would you believe, a drum solo. It is an enjoyably upbeat number. Essex's voice is strong and commanding on this one. He had a great rock voice at times. Tell Him No is a sad, yearning ballad that features some excellent fuzzy guitar. September 15th is a short piano and vocal end to the album, like a mournful closer to a stage show. Essex, always a great nostalgic, is already looking back at old times, even on his first album. The first side of the original album is the better of the two sides, but it was certainly an impressive debut and the next one would be even better.

David Essex (1974)

This was David Essex's second album and while he was certainly in full teenage idol mode at this point, it is certainly an album with hidden depths and a surprising amount of credibility. For a few years, Essex put out some pretty good material, all self-penned too. He was more than just a glam/pop artist in many ways, but was never really viewed thus, which was a shame. The commercial cover does the album no favours.

Gonna Make You A Star was a huge number one hit and extremely catchy and singalong it was too, with a classic keyboard riff. Lyrically, it was a wry, somewhat cynical observation by Essex on the nature of the stardom that he already had. It is marvellously nostalgic for me of the period, however, too, of watching him on Top Of The Pops perform this. The song merges seamlessly into the mysterious Window which has distinct echoes his big hit, Rock On from the previous year. The percussion is clear as a bell and there is some captivating saxophone too. 

I Know is a bit sort of Leo Sayer meets Paul McCartney in its music hall stageiness. There's Something About You Baby is a plaintive ballad that begins with a bit of hiss in the background that eventually gets drowned by orchestration and a big rock ballad backing. Good Ol' Rock 'n' Roll is a wonderfully atmospheric look back at the late fifties with a rumbling bass line and killer vocal from Essex. "Good Ol' Rock 'N' Roll saved this East End soul" sings Essex, before crediting several R'N'R artists as the song fades out. 

Then comes one of my all-time favourite singles from the seventies in the broody, image-packed America. It has great backing vocals from the a capella group The Persuasions, some excellent guitar and Essex's vocal is top notch. I loved it the summer of 1974 and I love it still today. Great stuff.

Dance Little Girl employs the same bassy, shuffling rhythm that is on WindowGood Ol' Rock 'n' Roll and America. It is quite infectious. 
It is also present on Ooh Darling although it is a faster, more playful number. Miss Sweetness is a rousing, Vaudeville slice of fun with Essex showing his considerable vocal versatility as the song builds up to an entertaining crescendo. Stardust is from the movie of the same name that starred Essex as a tragic rock 'n' roll star. It featured a sonorous heartbeat rhythm, a slow, mournful build up and a great guitar solo from Chris Spedding. It fades out with "in a stardust ring, hey, rock'n'roll king is down...." as the sweeping orchestration sounds more and more foreboding. Despite its decidedly uncommercial feel, it was a hit single, proof that David Essex could do no wrong at this point.

All The Fun Of The Fair (1975)

Marketed in 1975 as the dreaded “concept album” revolving around life in a fairground (to suit David Essex’s somewhat contrived “gypsy” image) it is, as in many such albums, not really anything of the sort beyond the first track. It is, however, a very good rock album with hints of a soulful edge. It is a highly credible album, but is never treated as such due to Essex’s “teen chart idol” persona. Nevertheless it makes me want to tie a red neckerchief on and get on the barges and canals before an evening of candyfloss, dodgems and chasing birds at the fair with Essex. 
It is musically very impressive, and lyrically too in places. All The Fun Of The Fair is five minutes plus of fairground imagery and characterisation. An atmospheric, powerful composition. The huge hit single, the infuriatingly catchy Hold Me Close sort of speaks for itself, as indeed do the other hits - the stunningly beautiful and evocative If I Could and the soully Rolling Stone, which introduced The Real Thing on backing vocals.

There are other underrated gems on here too, though - the bluesy Circles and the riffy, Who-influenced Won't Get Burned Again
Then there is the appealing, singalong cod-reggae of Coconut Ice and the melodious Watch Out (Carolina)Here It Comes Again is as close to adding to the concept thing as any of the other songs gets in its sort of operatic form and overblown delivery. It sounds a bit like it was written for a stage musical. Then the album closes with a reprise of the title track, as if to prove it was a concept album after all. As with the two albums David Essex out out before this, it is a much better piece of work than he was ever given credit for. He wrote all the songs too. Shame they slipped under the critical radar.

Out On The Street (1976)

David Essex, try as he might, never shook off the "teen idol" thing, despite three previous, very credible albums, before this one. The music business had a pretty snobbish attitude to Essex, and simply refused to take him seriously. The worst thing then, in 1976, that could have happened to Essex was the advent of punk, rendering him even more irrelevant. This was a real shame, because this is a really good album. It took up where the previous year's All The Fun Of The Fair left off, with often lengthy, musically adventurous tracks packed full of cinematic images.
If David Bowie had recorded Out On The Street it would have been hailed as a work of genius. I say that because it is very Bowie-esque, both in its theatricality, lyrics, and Sweet Thing saxophone intro. There is a lot of The Who in here too. The track is ten minutes long and sweeps from various moods and pace changes. It really is a bit of an underrated classic and certainly nothing like anything one would expect from David Essex. The saxophone on it is superb, as too is Essex's vocal. Let The Fool Live had a Supertramp-style keyboard intro and a dramatic Roger Daltrey-influenced vocal. David Essex had experience of stage musicals, and much of his material sounds as if it would suit a stage show.

Thank You Very Much is an alluring, soulful ballad with sweeping strings and a delicious, laid-back vocal augmented by more sumptuous saxophone. It is a slow Philly Soul-sounding number and has a timeless quality about it. Some more great saxophone introduces the piano-driven soul/rock of Just Wanna Dance which has a sort of Doobie Brothers meets mid-seventies Traffic sound about it.

The cinematic thing is back with the big production drama of Run With The Pack. More changes of pace and frantic backing at times, inspired by five minutes plus singles like John MilesMusic from the same period. It even goes Springsteen-esque with the line about "going east on the underground". Again, it has a street opera quality in its presentation and delivery. 
The album's one hit single was up next in the catchy, more typical lovable David Essex fare of Coming Home. By 1976, it sounded a bit incongruous, but it still did well enough, even though it had 1974 written all over it. Ooh Love is a syncopated shuffler that re-visits the mysterious sound of Essex's first hit, the beguiling Rock OnThe album concludes with the mighty City Lights, which is another lengthy rollercoaster ride of a track. It was released as a single, reaching number 24, the same position as the far more commercial Coming Home. It has a superb vocal, intoxicating beat and atmosphere. Great stuff. Make no mistake this was a good album. Get hold of it if you can. It is pretty scarce these days.

Gold And Ivory (1977)

Gold & Ivory was David Essex’s last credible, “proper” album, really. Punk was igniting  all around him and the critical acclaim his albums deserved was never going to be achieved. He tried to diversify a bit on this album, however, exploring different musical sounds. Fair play to him. It didn’t work though. It is probably his rockiest album and has been almost completely overlooked, even in comparison to Essex's previous albums. It is actually worth more than that and listening to it all these years later is a pleasant surprise.

New Horizon is an orchestrated, disco-influenced number with that typical 1977 disco beat and chicka-chicka guitar sound, plus those trademark disco horns. Good Morning (Darling) is a character—driven romantic heartbreaker of a song that sounds as if it had come from a stage musical, something many of Essex’s songs did. It is quite an enchanting number. Yesterday In L.A. is a muscular, rocky track with a bit of a funky backing and a strong vocal. It has a weird bit in the middle, with some funny voices and a jazzy break. For some reason it reminds me of Madness's The Liberty Of Norton Folgate from many years later. Lend Me Your Comb is another solid, appealing rocker with a Springsteen-esque saxophone solo.

Whole Lotta Monkey, like Ooh Love on his previous album, was a song that revisited the rhythmic strains of his debut 1973 hit, Rock On. While material like this sounded great in 1973-75, with punk and new wave all over the place, it just got overlooked, which was a bit of a shame as it isn't bad stuff. 
Back Street Crawler is a powerful, slow burner of a rock song, with a blues rock vocal and some excellent, atmospheric saxophone once again. It has some epic qualities, with echoes of both Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie in it. That Circle Keeps On Changing has a sort of Rolling Stones-ish rock funkiness to it. It is also backed by some US cop show-style brass breaks. 

The album's one chart hit came in the mid-seventies throwback, nostalgic sound of the catchy Cool Out TonightYou is a tender slow-pace ballad, with a plaintive vocal against a sparse but melodic guitar backing. In the middle it breaks out with some sumptuous saxophone. Some blues harmonica and riffy guitar introduces Virginia (And The Circus Sideshow) and Essex revisits one of his favourite topics -working on the fairgrounds and circuses. It really is a quirkily enjoyable track. Britannia again has that mysterious Rock On feel to it and a bit of a rock-reggae groove and lyrics questioning the murky past of the British EmpireGold And Ivory is an evocative ballad, packed once more with nostalgia. It has, for me, huge hints of Ian Hunter in it, particularly in Essex's vocal at the end. Stay With Me Baby is a competent cover of the Lorraine Ellison soul hit. There are a lot of hidden treasures on this album. It is well worth checking out if you can get hold of it, which is difficult these days.

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