Saturday, 5 January 2019

Leo Sayer

Started as an innovative clown and became an easy-listening stalwart....

Silverbird (1973)

Leo Sayer sprung from nowhere in late 1973 with this album and the accompanying hit single The Show Must Go On (which saw Sayer on Top Of The Pops in full Pierrot clown get-up). He was the lyricist and singer for composer David Courtney's melodies and the album was produced by Adam Faith. The songwriting duo also provided material for The Who's Roger Daltrey's solo Daltrey album. Sayer was seemingly trying to get in on the Elton John singer-songwriter thing while at the same time having a bit of David Bowie-Steve Harley quirkiness with his initial costumed image. The innovativeness didn't last too long, though, and Sayer ended up in the mainstream within a few years, scoring a huge number one with the standard ballad When I Need You. However, this offering was a decidedly unusual debut. 
Silverbird is a brief musical interlude before the album's tour de force, the unique The Show Must Go On, complete on the album with extra circus intro that didn't appear on the single. The song sounds like something a one man band may have played, with its thumping bass drum sound during the verses. Sayer launches into some madcap "scat" vocals at one point too. A most quirky track. Sayer's first, non-hit single closes the album, Why Is Everybody Going Home, another atmospheric but stately and quiet number that made a strange choice for a single. It is a nice track though and this certainly is a most interesting album, but I have to admit it is very much of its time.

Just A Boy (1974)

After the quirky debut album, SilverbirdLeo Sayer and musical collaborator David Courtney out out another album in the same sort of vein. The songs are oddly appealing, difficult to categorise, still bearing that early Elton John influence, but striving for a touch of unique personality. The clown's outfit Sayer donned for the first album was now gone (almost, he still toured in it in 1974, see bottom picture), but he still put himself forward as a showman, a kind of sometimes sad, reflective but always energetic Vaudevillian. This is shown in the album's rear cover which shows Sayer laughing at his previous image, while the front cover is Cat Stevens-esque in its mournful-looking drawing of Sayer looking sad and lonely. 
One Man Band was a catchy hit single and, along with Giving It All Away were songs recorded by Roger Daltrey on his Daltrey album. Indeed, Giving it All Away was a hit single for Daltrey. The reverse of One Man Band which was a hit single for Sayer and an album track for Daltrey. In My Life is an impressive, powerful and typically mid-seventies rock ballad. It has a big bass piano and drum sound and a strong, confident vocal from Sayer. There is always and underlying sadness to Sayer's material at this point in his career and When I Come Home This Morning is a beautiful, heartbreaking ballad, full of emotion and expressive vocals. As I said earlier, there was also the inveterate showman in Sayer too, and this is exemplified in the album's other hit single, the incredibly catchy and individual fun of Long Tall Glasses. This was another highly credible album from Leo Sayer and deserves more attention than to dismiss it as the work of the When I Need You chart artist. It is far better than that and is recommended.

Another Year (1975)

This was the third, and last, of Leo Sayer's "credible" singer-songwriter albums, before he went to L.A. and started recording mainstream ballad-commercial disco material. While the latter was certainly more successful for Sayer, and made him a household name, it was these first three albums that contained some really good songs and are far more worthy of several listens. This album concentrated on the sad, often lonely lives of some of the British urban population. This was also the last of Sayer's "sad" albums, full of mournful songs about the lost, isolated and heartbroken. In some places he seems to get nostalgic, anticipating how things may end for his career. His upcoming move into the chart pop mainstream seemingly came at just the right time. 
Bedsitterland is a solemn, plaintive, piano-driven number upon which to open the album. As with many of Sayer's songs from the period, it is very Elton John-esque. When it ups the pace in the middle, (the percussion and bass backing is crystal clear), and it just sounds so Elton-ish then. There is a jazzy feel to it in places, with echoes of Billy Joel too. I remember hearing this song at time, and, as a teenager, I didn't know what a "bedsitter" was. Listening to it now, it is certainly up there with the best of Elton John or Billy Joel at the time. Moonlighting was the album's big hit single, and deservedly so. It is a captivating "story song" about a couple eloping to marry in Gretna Green. Sayer sang "we're only ten miles to GretnaTH and three hundred behind", for some reason, though. Streets Of Your Town evokes Ralph McTell's Streets of London in a haunting song about the lost and the lonely existing on the streets. The Kid's Grown Up has Sayer looking back at his own development into a big time pop star who travels in a limousine. It has hints of The Who in places, or certainly Roger Daltrey in the vocal. Only Dreaming is a bit folk-rock-ish in its gentle acoustic and bass intro before Sayer's growling vocal ramps it up considerably. It ends with some sweeping big string orchestration. Another Year sees in 1975 and then 1976 with a sombre, piano ballad. This was certainly Sayer's last album in this vein. It used to be my favourite of his albums back in 1975-76, but listening to them all again, I actually prefer the first two.

Endless Flight (1976)

This was Leo Sayer's fourth album, and the one where he definitely abandoned the original singer-songwriter image that prevailed on his first three albums and he went mainstream, recording in the USA, collaborating with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill on some songs, Vini (Ringo Starr's songwriting partner) Poncia on others and singing Carole Bayer Sager and Andrew Gold numbers too. The album was also exploiting the easy listening-disco market as opposed recording plaintive-bedsitter appeal songs. The cover still portrayed Sayer as a slightly crazy, quirky, clown-like figure, something he could never really shake off. Maybe he didn't want to. 
The punchy disco-ish feel is felt from the outset with a sort of Stax meets upbeat Van Morrison number in Hold On To Your Love, with its infectious brass backing and confident Sayer vocal. This is as rocking as he had been this far. One of the albums two big hits was the catchy disco hit You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, which utilised the falsetto vocal a year before The Bee Gees did a similar thing to great effect. A cover of Diana Ross & The SupremesReflections follows, delivered in a muscular, horn-driven way. It is enjoyable enough, though not a patch on the original. Although a lot of the raw appeal of Sayer's early albums was lost on this album, it was definitely his most polished in both its instrumentation and sound quality. It is a pleasant Sunday afternoon's listen in its unthreatening way. It never got better than this for Leo Sayer, though. This was his commercial and artistic high point.

Check out Roger Daltrey's debut solo album which has those afore-mentioned Sayer songs on it :-

No comments:

Post a Comment