Wednesday, 30 October 2019


I was never a particular fan of Japan, a (supposedly*) New Romantic group fronted by blonde, floppy wedge-haired David Sylvian (named after the "crashing out with Sylvian" lyric from David Bowie's Drive In Saturday), but I have this one collection of their work. Sylvian's music was very influenced by Eastern culture and sounds, as well as the afore-mentioned Bowie, The New York Dolls and Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry. It was very atmospheric and haunting but also attracted accusations of pretention. Musically, though, the group always had an inventive, well-delivered sound and Sylvian had a certain amount of mysterious charisma. They were not commercial enough to storm the charts as other New Romantics did, but their output was thoughtful and adventurous. *To be fair to the group, who disassociated themselves totally with the New Romantic movement, they had been putting out albums since 1978 (five in total) and split up in late 1982, when many New Romantic groups were only just starting.

Japan: The Collection

Quiet Life/Visions Of China/Ghosts/I Second That Emotion/Life In Tokyo/European Son/All Tomorrow's Parties/Adolescent Sex/Don't Rain On My Parade/In Vogue/The Unconventional/Communist China/Suburban Berlin/Halloween   
The songs

Quiet Life is a sonorous, thumping sort of New Romantic meets David Bowie number. It has echoes of Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging in its "Boys" refrain and the beat/guitar chops/keyboard swirls are straight out of the Duran Duran/Ultravox songbook. Both of those groups must surely have listened to this in 1979 when it was released. Its influence on both of them is clear to hear. 

The stuttering, staccato beat of Visions Of China is very addictive in that early eighties sort of way and the shrill saxophone is very much influenced by Andy Mackay's early Roxy Music work. Sylvian's mannered vocal is very Bryan Ferry too. The drum sound is very tribal in that Adam And The Ants way.


The vocal on Ghosts is so Ferry it could almost be him. The song was one of the group's most successful, but it is totally uncommercial, with a sombre, mournful "Heroes" type sound and some strange sound effects. 

A surprise hit for the group was a cover of Smokey Robinson's I Second That Emotion. The version is full of metallic-sounding saxophone and contemporary keyboard noises. It doesn't match the original but as a period piece from the early eighties, it works fine. 

Another popular track of theirs was the pounding eighties strains of Life In Tokyo, which makes it on to several New Romantic playlists. It has some excellent synthesiser breaks and a solid bass line. Sylvian again sounds like Bryan Ferry, let's take that for granted now, shall we?

The lively European Son fits the musical zeitgeist perfectly - grand synthesisers and robbery, vibrating bass runs. Sylvian's vocal is more punky in a whiny sort of way on this one. A wonderful song for Japan to cover was The Velvet Underground & Nico's beguiling All Tomorrow's Parties. They do it justice - full of early Roxy Music saxophones and Bowie-esque instrumentation and a mysterious vocal. Once more, the bass line is delicious. 

Adolescent Sex is a typical piece of early eighties New Romantic disco fare. It has an infectious riff and that punky vocal again.

A strange cover is Don't Rain On My Parade from the Barbra Streisand's 1964 musical, Funny Girl. It is given a full-on punky attack, both musically and vocally, taking all possible camp intonations from it. 

In Vogue returns to the deep, captivating moods of some of the earlier material. It is a most sexual, entrancing track. It has a great keyboard backing on it and is one of the album's best cuts. 

The Unconventional has an impressive funky guitar riff, a muscular beat and Sylvian delivering a Parliament-Funkadelic-style vocal. The group could funk out if they wanted to and proceed danceable stuff like this.

Communist China has a great riff to it too and another punky vocal in a sort of New York Dolls style. Suburban Berlin also has a bit of a punk noir ambience to it, with some great guitar interjections throughout. The bass solo half way through is simply sumptuous. Halloween has an archetypal early eighties feel to it. Whether the group considered themselves New Romantic or not, tracks like this certainly sound like it. In many ways, the genre was started by Japan, many others were basically imitators.

Check out big influence Bryan Ferry's work here :-

Monday, 28 October 2019

Janis Ian

Stars (1974)

Stars/The Man You Are In Me/Sweet Sympathy/Page Nine/Thankyous/Dance With Me/Without You/Jesse/You've Got Me On A String/Applause    

This was the predecessor to Janis Ian’s breakthrough seventh album Between The Lines and, while a fine album, was not quite the complete perfection of that album. It is a little instrumentally starker and plainer in places, more fitting in to the plaintive singer-songwriter pigeonhole, certainly the opening song is, although a lot of the rest of the album features a fair few livelier, upbeat styles. Lyrically, it is full of Ian’s trademark intelligent but self-conscious analysis, delivered very much from her female perspective.
The songs

Stars is a gentle acoustic number full of thoughtful lyrics that lasts a full seven minutes plus. Ian fully accepted she had been hugely influenced by Don McLean’s Vincent in the song’s construction. It is very much the album's stand out track. The rest of the songs are comparatively much shorter. They are also fuller in their instrumentation as I mentioned earlier.

The Man You Are In Me sees the full band backing come in, with a rhythmic drum sound and a totally delicious, rubbery bass line. It is one of the album’s rockier numbers with a solid, punchy instrumentation. I really like this one. 

Sweet Sympathy is actually just as lively, with a feel of Elton John’s more upbeat early seventies material to it in its brassy punch. Once again, it has an infectious, appealing melody. The chorus could have come off Tumbleweed Connection or Honky Cat.

Page Nine also has a strong country rock vibe which was very typical of the early/mid seventies. It is a song that slowly grows on you. The piano part is very Carole King.

Thankyous is a melodic and sensitive number with another powerful backing. Dance With Me is another Elton John-influenced song that concerns the singer’s brother’s body coming back from Vietnam. Whether this was Ian’s true experience I am not sure, or whether she was writing in character. Either way, it is an unsurprisingly sad song.

Without You is a short, plaintive but melodic and appealing number. The same description could be given to Jesse. The song was a hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. 

You’ve Got Me On A String is a bit cacophonous in places and doesn’t quite do it for me, while Applause sees Ian going all Broadway and Vaudeville in a sort of Leo Sayer style, something she occasionally liked a bit of. It is a fun, lively track to end on.

Overall, however, I find the album is far less cohesive than Between The Lines and some of the tracks don’t quite get there, for me, as if they were half-formed demos. Never mind, it all would come together the following year.

Between The Lines (1975)

When The Party's Over/At Seventeen/From Me To You/Bright Lights And Promises/In The Winter/Watercolors/Between The Lines/The Come On/Light A Light/Tea And Sympathy/Lover's Lullabye  

This really is a truly delightful album, despite its often heartbreaking, lovelorn, self-analytical subject matter. Janis Ian was one of the many female singer-songwriters that appeared in the mid-seventies and her brutally honest, earnest lyrics earned her a big following in the student rooms and bedsits of the time. It is a very female album but I love it, so I must be in touch with my feminine side. There you go, I can play The Sex Pistols and I can play this.

The album is often thought to be Ian’s debut album, (for a long time by me) in fact it was her seventh.
The songs

When The Party’s Over is a most fetching, acoustic and sumptuous bass-backed song that breaks out into a gently rhythmic, airy chorus with hints of Bread and America. Janis’s voice is pleasing in a sixties/seventies folky sort of way.

At Seventeen is a classic, of course, beloved of reflective, sensitive, misty-eyed confused teenage girls. It is lyrically superb and full of plaintive, lonely atmosphere. Its understated, gentle backing suits the song perfectly. Once again, the subtle, melodic bass line is gorgeous, as is the soft, samba-esque trumpet solo. A young Mary Chapin Carpenter no doubt loved this song.

From Me To You has a bluesy folkiness to it, with echoes of Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention or Jacqui McShee of Pentangle. Janis starts to rock a bit in places, her voices getting slightly more abrasive, (comparatively). It is another beautifully haunting number. Nice drums on it too. 

Bright Lights And Promises is a late-night piece of jazzy blues, beautifully sung and perfectly played. Janis could sing the blues as well as angsty acoustic ballads. 

In The Winter has Ian revisiting her At Seventeen loneliness again, even more so this time, the protagonist has grown up and is living alone, even more miserable. Proper bedsit music.

The stark, quiet and thoughtful Watercolors is very much a song that you imagine will have influenced Mary Chapin Carpenter. You can hear it in both the lyrics and the song’s construction. Even the vocals sound very similar to each other. Between The Lines ploughs a similar furrow, with a nice bassy backing to the main parts of the song. The chorus gets a bit Cabaret in its stompiness. It also gets all Jewish Klezmer at the end as the pace frantically increases.

The Come On is a brave song with a Janis desperate for physical fun virtually offering herself to a man, no strings. A ground-breaking song for the mid-seventies. Janis comes on all Millie Jackson at a few points in the song, although her vulnerability is still plain to hear. “All my friends have their lovers, they’ve got their men on a string, there must be something terribly wrong with me…” sings Janis, feeling very sorry for herself.

Light A Light is a fetching, beautiful song with an infectious but quiet rhythm. Tea And Sympathy is a very mature song for one still so young. It is a moving, very sad song lamenting a lost love. 

Lover’s Lullabye is an emotive, bleak piano, bass and vocal number to leave the listener in no happier a state than at the beginning of the album. It breaks out into a big chorus half way through, surprisingly, before settling back into the quiet reflectiveness that dominates the album.

It is a very pleasing, beautifully sung and played album that has to go down as a classic of its type. Highly recommended.

Aftertones (1976)

Aftertones/I Would Like To Dance/Love Is Blind/Roses/Belle Of The Blues/Goodbye To Morning/Boy, I Really Tied One On/This Must Be Wrong/Don't Cry, Old Man/Hymn 

After 1974's slightly patchy, not quite there Stars and 1975's superb Between The LinesJanis Ian followed up with an album that was somewhere in the middle between the two. As with all the albums, it is immaculately played, with an infectious bass and an often rhythmic, understated backing. Ian's lyrics are brutally honest, self-searching, sometimes a bit saucy and acutely observational, particularly with regard to the minutiae of relationships. Imagine a relationship with Janis - yes there would have been some fun, but boy, all that analysis!                                                                                                    

The songs

Aftertones is a gentle, acoustic number, with Janis singing in a plaintive, breathy style rather similar to some of the folk singers of the time. As I mentioned earlier, the bass line is sumptuous, as are the strings. After a bit of a reflective beginning to the album, it soon kicks into a lively ambience with the fun, jazzy strains of I Would Like To Dance. It features some intoxicating rhythms and a fetching flute solo. It is one of Janis’s most lively numbers. She is not all about angst, she can pound the stage boards when she feels like it, becoming a real song and dance girl.

Love Is Blind is a slow, mournful but dignified ballad with a big backing. Roses is a delightful, subtle number sung winsomely over a truly seductive bass. 

Belle Of The Blues has Janis showing that she could sing the blues too, over a delicious slow piano-driven blues backing. It is one of the best tracks on the album, similar to Bonnie Raitt’s material from the same period. Nice fuzzy guitar at the end too.

Goodbye To Morning once again has a vocal like Sandy Denny or Jacqui McShee in some ways in a quiet but also rousing, committed song. Boy, I Really Tied One On is an honest but cynical and slightly amusing song about an unfortunate one-night stand encounter. Janis did this sort of song really well. It finishes with a snatch of funky guitar.

This Must Be Wrong is another smoky, bluesy  number with some excellent piano and a strong vocal. It is a far puncher song than many would expect from Janis Ian. “You were the high priest, I was the sacrifice…” she sings, forcefully. 

Don’t Cry, Old Man is a strange, sombre song sung by Ian using that shhh-sounding s-sound that is also used by Mary Chapin Carpenter - “thirshhty”, for example. It is an orchestrated, simultaneously understated yet dramatic song.

Hymn is a gospelly, evocative ending to the album that finishes as quietly as it has begun. In between, though, it was quite fun and also bluesy, reflecting the many sides to Janis Ian’s character as shown in her songs. Janis Ian albums were rather like Bread albums from the same period, not all quiet ballads, but a fair mix of different paced material. There is always something good to be found in any Janis Ian album. They are quite underrated little gems.

Before Janis Ian, there was Carole King, a big influence :-

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Clifford T. Ward

July 1973 - David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Wings, Slade, T.Rex, Gary Glitter, Suzi Quatro, Wizzard and……Clifford T. Ward. Who would have though that a gentle, melodic song in Gaye, sung by a shy, publicity-shunning ex-schoolteacher from Worcestershire would be sitting alongside those titans of glam rock in the charts? Well, that was the case and my memories are of his song being as ubiquitous on the Radio One playlist as those of the platform-booted stompers. It brings back huge memories of that hot summer, fishing in the Grand Union Canal, aged fourteen, and Gaye coming on my tinny transistor.

Clifford T. Ward unfortunately left this world back in 2001. His music lives on.

Home Thoughts From Abroad (1973)

Gaye/Wherewithal/The Dubious Circus Company/Nightingale/Where Would That Leave Me/The Traveller/Home Thoughts From Abroad/Where It’s Going To End/Time The Magician/Give Me One More Chance/Cold Wind Blowing/The Open University/Crisis   

This was Ward’s second album, and it is a fetching, pleasurable mix of influences from Bread, Al Stewart, Paul Simon, CSNY, Paul McCartney amongst others and not a little originality in Ward’s clever compositions too. The music is subtly orchestrated too, with strings, woodwind and occasional horns enhancing many of the tracks.
The songs

Gaye is lovely, as I have already said, with a haunting, ethereal melody and an innocent, almost naive-sounding delivery from Ward. 

Wherewithal is a song that has stuck in my mind since 1973. It is a truly beautiful song and possibly the only single to use the French word nonpareil (without compare) in its lyrics. For both these songs, I just close my eyes and I’m young again. Just beautiful. There is a lovely instrumentation on the album throughout, a nice subtle bass and quality strings.


Now, The Dubious Circus Company is familiar to anyone who was a member of the Friars rock club in AylesburyBuckinghamshire in the mid-late seventies, as it was played often over the p.a., usually at the end of a gig, at least until the punk era rendered it somewhat incongruous. It is a lively, music hall-style fun number that is nothing like anything else on the album. Again, it takes me right back - singalong now - “would you like to see, would you like to see....”.

Nightingale is a gentle acoustic, bucolic song like Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. Where Would That Leave Me? is a very Al Stewart type song with a relaxing backing and another tender vocal. There really are some fine sings on this album. The Traveller is a bit of a mini-epic folky ballad taking in all sorts of religious issues. It is full of clever, thoughtful lyrics and is quite moving at times. The children’s choir bit may be a bit cheesy but it strangely adds to the song’s pathos.

Home Thoughts From Abroad is a Paul Simon-ish song with Ward referencing the poet Robert Browning. Once again, it is a deeply evocative song. Similarly entrancing are the beguiling Where’s It Going To End and the gorgeous, sensitive, melodious Time The Magician. 

Give Me One More Chance has a delicious bass line and a couple of really appealing saxophone soloes.

Cold Wind Blowing is a vaguely Beatles-esque slow number that reminds me of Paul McCartney in both its vocal and structure. 

Open University is an amusing ballad about a girl studying in her own time for an OU degree, much to Ward’s horror in the song. Crisis is a short but lively end to what was a delightful album.

Mantle Pieces (1973)

Scullery/Not Waving - Drowning!/Are You Really Interested?/A Sad Cliché/To An Air Hostess/All Modern Conveniences/Wayward/Screen Test/For Debbie And Her Friends/Tea Cosy   

I have mentioned on my review of Clifford T. Ward’s second album some of my memories of him from 1973. Another one I have is of seeing this, his late 1973 third album, as I flicked through album sleeves in record shops. I have got to know it in subsequent years and, like Home Thoughts From Abroad, it is a most appealing, understated, but lyrically clever offering. Ward’s style is one of subtly orchestrated and gentle melodies backing his observational lyrics. He was a man that cared about things, and this shines through the whole album. It is sensitive and studious. Ward was an ex-schoolteacher with unfeasibly long blond hair who shied away from publicity, but he produced a couple of really attractive albums of vaguely folky singer/songwriter stuff. It is such a pity he is no longer with us.

Although this album was released in December 1973 it very much has a vibe of 1970-1972, for me - that slightly hippy, airy, folky earnestness that didn’t really fit in late 1973/early 1974. It was already something of an incongruity. Listening to it now, however, its cultural relevance in 1973 is thankfully no longer a relevance.  
The songs

Scullery may be frowned upon these days as Ward eulogises the beauty of his lady as she cooks and washes in her rubber gloves. So what. It is a genuinely beautiful song. It was a minor hit for Ward and deservedly so. 

Not Waving - Drowning! has a rock-ish intro before it settles into a typical CTW laid-back, tender melody. It has a winning, catchy chorus with some lovely string orchestration. It is a really good song.


Are You Really Interested? is a quirkily rhythmic jangly guitar-driven number. These were really good songs, I am surprised that Ward never really made it. They still sound good today - a good song is a good song. 

A Sad Cliché is a moving tale about a young female offender. It ends with a delightful piece of saxophone. To An Air Hostess is a mildly amusing song about that iconic seventies figure - the air hostess. Its melody is endearingly folky. “I wanted to give her a copy of my record...” sings Ward, unassumingly, then a big backing chorus comes in singing the same line, which is really enjoyable. There is something entrancingly disarming about these songs.

All Modern Conveniences is a very Al Stewart-influenced number about an ageing woman, it reminds me of my late mother. It is another clever, observational song. “She likes her television - Crossroads, Coronation Street and Robin Day’s bow-tie...”. Very seventies. My mother was in her late forties at the time, but was very much like the woman in the song. Ward describes a house as costing “ten thousand pounds” in the song. How times have changed.

Wayward is as rocking as Clifford ever gets, but it is still a tuneful, light number, enhanced by some rock guitar.  It is very Bread-influenced, and a bit Dylanesque in places too (New Morning era).   

Screen Test is a politely cynical look at the “fame game”. The lines from Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice ("the quality of mercy is not strained..") that is narrated at the end is very touching. 

For Debbie And Her Friends is just lovely, written by Ward for his wheelchair-bound daughter. The opening bits of children talking is so nostalgic. 

Tea Cosy is an attractive final track, with a nice subtle bass line and another light but meaningful vibe.

This was a really, really nice album. Clifford T - God bless you. Your gorgeous, thoughtful music lives on.

Related posts :-
Paul Simon
Al Stewart

Buddy Guy

Damn Right I've Got The Blues (1991)

Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues/Where Is The Next One Coming From/Five Long Years/Mustang Sally/There Is Something On Your Mind/Early In The Morning/Too Broke To Spend The Night/Black Night/Let Me Love You Baby/Rememberin’ Stevie 

Doin’ What I Like Best/Trouble Don’t Last

Released in 1991, legendary Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy, who had worked with many other blues rock artists, such as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (The Chicago Blues Jams) and The Rolling Stones (Champagne And Reefer), was joined by Jeff BeckEric Clapton and Mark Knopfler as guests for this impressive  “comeback” album.

The songs

Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues opens the album in copper-bottomed solid blues fashion. What a title too. 

Where Is The Next One Coming From is even more pounding, with a huge drum sound that comes thumping right out of your speakers. Mark Knopfler is on guitar here but it is not an obvious appearance. The backing vocals are very much in the call and response style. Old hand Katie Kissoon is one of the backing vocalists.

Five Long Years showcases Guy as the great guitarist he is as his searing interjections slice in over the drums and the slowly tinkling bar-room piano. Pete Wingfield is on piano and soloes wonderfully near the end, before a killer solo from Guy. The organ is excellent on here too. 

I guess Mustang Sally is a bit of a “usual suspect” of a song to cover, but Guy and Jeff Beck do it pretty good justice. Guy’s voice is certainly strong enough. Blues always revisits the classic sound anyway, it is the nature of the beast. You know what you are going to get, and, personally, I don’t expect anything else. 

That same deep rumbling sound is all over There Is Something On Your Mind - great guitar, vocals piano and horns. There is a sumptuous saxophone solo too. Basically, if you like blues rock, you will like this. The sound quality is great too, by the way.

Beck and Eric Clapton feature on Early In The Morning. It is an upbeat, horn and backing vocals-powered workout. 

Too Broke To Spend The Night is classic guitar-driven blues rock.  Guy’s guitar solo on here is knife through butter stuff. 

Black Night is given that traditional, smoky, hissy late night jazz production but it crackles with sombre atmosphere. Once again, the guitar work is peerless. The lively punch returns on the rocking Let Me Love You Baby

Rememberin’ Stevie is a slow, dignified instrumental paying tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

** The bonus tracks are the pulsating Doin’ What I Like Best and the gospelly mournful blues of Trouble Don’t Last.

Yes, this album, as some have pointed out, does not offer anything different, but what it offers is the blues and nothing but the blues. That will do for me.

As Mick Jagger enthusiastically said after Buddy had joined them on stage on The Rolling Stones' live album Shine A Light - "Buddy motherfuckin' Guy!"

Check out Buddy's mates here :-

Saturday, 19 October 2019

The Black Crowes

The Black Crowes were a Georgia-formed US rock band that lasted from 1984 to 2015. Their influences were The Rolling Stones, Free and Bad Company as well as the classic Southern rock sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band. Chuck Rod Stewart and The Faces in there too.

The Black Crowes Greatest Hits

Jealous Again/Twice As Hard/Hard To Handle/She Talks To Angels/Remedy/Sting Me/Thorn In My Pride/Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye/A Conspiracy/Wiser Time/Good Friday/Blackberry/Kickin' My Heart Around/Go Faster/Only A Fool/By Your Side 
The songs

Jealous Again is a stonker of an opener, with a sort of T.Rex/Get It On meets The Rolling Stones riff and a vocal straight from Paul Rodgers by the gravel-throated Chris Robinson

That Stones and Free vibe is there again on the muscular slow thump of Twice As Hard. It is like Keith Richards is right there on guitar on occasions. Great stuff. 

The group’s cover of Otis Redding’s Hard To Handle is powerful and does it justice. It features some great drumming and a potent, rumbling bass line.

She Talks To Angels starts slowly, very like a Free number before bursting out into a tough, drum-driven rock ballad. The Free influence is still there, throughout the song. 

Remedy is a chugging staccato rocker with some appealing rhythmic drumming in the middle. Sting Me reminds me of some of Rod Stewart’s material from the Vagabond Heart album. It is an upbeat, spirited rocker, particularly in its call-and-response backing vocals.

For once the pulse calms down a bit on the gentle, melodic and most attractive Thorn In My Pride. It features some great piano/drum interplay near the end. The vocal is again so Rodgers-esque that it could almost be him. Exactly the same applies to Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye, possibly even more so. 

A Conspiracy continues in the same vein - mid-paced but phenomenally powerful, chunky rock. Wiser Time contains some top notch guitar, jazzy electric piano and more seriously good vocals. A lot of these tracks are pretty similar in many ways, but it doesn’t really matter, because when they come on, they all sound good.

Good Friday is a slow, acoustically-driven number, enhanced by some superb electric guitar. Blackberry sees the sold riffing return on a high octane, rousing rocker. 

Kickin’ My Heart Around is even livelier, rocking fast from beginning to end. Go Faster lives up to its title with another Rod Stewart meets Nazareth frantic slab of rock, enlivened by some killer blues harmonica. 

Only A Fool slows down the pack a little on a sublime, organ-powered number. A vibrant brass section adds to its punch. That Faces-style organ merges again with the Ronnie Wood-style guitar on the very Faces-influenced By Your Side.

This really is an excellent, "blow away the cobwebs" compilation of proper hard rocking. It is all good stuff from beginning to end.

Related posts :-
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Rolling Stones
Allman Brothers

Friday, 18 October 2019

Simply Red

For some reason, Mick Hucknall and his band, Simply Red, have never got the critical acclaim they should have done being seen as chart-oriented, "wine bar" merchants. This does their immaculately played, quality soul a real disservice. If I am seen as "uncool" for liking them, then so be it.

Picture Book (1985)

Come To My Aid/Sad Old Red/Look At You Now/Heaven/Jericho/Money's Too Tight To Mention/Holding Back The Years/Open Up The Red Box/No Direction/Picture Box   

This was white soul band Simply Red’s 1985 debut album, and it is a far deeper, more credible album than one may imagine. It is packed full of top quality musicianship, catchy funk hooks and an underlying observational cynicism about the contemporary social and political scene. You have to say that it was a really convincing first offering. The group were up there with the Style Council in delivering that mid-eighties jazz/funk/rock/soul fusion sound that was so popular in the era’s “wine bars”.
The songs

Come To My Aid is an invigorating slab of funk/pop to open with, featuring some throbbing bass , funky guitars, punchy brass and a strong vocal from Mick Hucknall

Sad Old Red is a sumptuous, jazzy, bass-driven number that has a real laid-back, last hours of the evening feel. It is a most impressive song.

The thumping, vibrant Look At You Now sees the pace gear up again on a surprisingly lively song. It slightly reminds me of The B-52s in the middle vocal bit. 

A fine, evocative and moving cover of Talking Heads’ Heaven brings things back down, though. It features some lovely bass, excellent saxophone and Stax-style horns. 

Jericho is a superb piece of easy going funky pop. Solidly bassy, this is good stuff, absolutely no doubt about that. Hucknall’s vocal is outstanding on here, as indeed is the whole backing.

Two huge hit singles are next, the light funk of Money’s Too Tight To Mention, which was a sort of partner to The Style Council’s Money Go Round, and the now iconic Holding Back The Years, which brought Hucknall’s stylish white soul voice to everyone’s attention. The former track provided a hard hitting response to the prevailing idea that everyone was stinking rich at the time. I know I wasn’t.

Open Up The Red Box is a chugging funker with hints of Talking Heads’ material from the same period. No Direction is also vibrantly funky, with a typically eighties funky synthesiser riff. 

The final track is the album’s most sombre, Picture Book is slow and mournful with deep, dark keyboards reminiscent of Ultravox. Hucknall again shows that there was a considerable versatility to his voice. It has a big, dubby bass line passage half way through that I love.

This was a debut album that deserved more critical acclaim than it got. Yes, it sold well, but it will never be found on any lists of great debuts or classic albums, which is a shame because it is very good.

Men And Women (1987)

The Right Thing/Infidelity/Suffer/I Won’t Feel Bad/Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye/Let Me Have It All/Love Fire/Move On Out/Shine/Maybe Someday  
This was Simply Red’s follow up to their successful debut album, Picture Book, and, although it was a good album, it did not quite contain the real stand out quality of its predecessor. That said, it is still a pretty good example of mid/late eighties soulful pop and considerably superior to much of the synthesiser-drenched vacuous pop being released during the same period. It is an album that grows on you, though, and, because it only contains one hit is enjoyable to listen to due to the comparative unfamiliarity of the material.

The production is very much of its time, however, being slightly too trebly and not quite bassy enough for my taste.   
The songs

The Right Thing is an upbeat slice of funk/pop which was a big hit. Infidelity is a catchy and funky number with a high-pitched vocal from Mick Hucknall and some very eighties-style backing vocals, plus a killer saxophone solo. Very “wine bar” in its lush, laid-back, polished sound. 

Suffer is a bit like a Michael Jackson slow number in some ways. Again, Hucknall’s vocal is impressive, but it is not a song that hits you between the ears, so to speak. Nice bass and saxophone at the end though.

I Won’t Feel Bad has a typical eighties groove in its dance-style “chicka-chicka” guitar riff. The song is a lively, funky one, with punchy brass and another enthusiastic vocal. The old easy listening classic Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye is dealt with nicely by Hucknall. Yes, it could have been cheesy, but it is not.

Let Me Have It All is a deep, chunky piece of Style Council-ish white funk. Love Fire has a reggae tinge to it, and a bit of a feel of Keith Richards’ reggae influenced Rolling Stones numbers in there somewhere. 

Move On Out is sumptuous, slick eighties pop funk. Even though Simply Red were only on their second album, you get the impression that songs like Shine were now ones that they could trot out in their sleep. It was quality funky white soul by numbers.

The album ends on a more sombre, deeper note with the late night tones of Maybe Someday. It features a superb trumpet solo. As I said earlier, this was not a remarkable album in any way, but it is certainly not an unlistenable one. It has an understated appeal.

A New Flame (1989)

It's Only Love/A New Flame/You've Got It/To Be With You/More/Turn It Up/Love Lays Its Tune/She'll Have To Go/If You Don't Know Me By Now/Enough

Simply Red's third album found them further establishing their middle-of-the-road popularity. 

The songs

Its obvious highlight is a cover version, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' impassioned soul ballad, If You Don't Know Me By Now, which was seemingly made for Mick Hucknall. The album's other big hit was the smooth, late night jazzy soul of It's Only Love. Despite having been remastered in 2008, some, but not all, of the album suffers like many others from the mid-late eighties from a slightly sterilised, cool sound, with keyboards to the fore at the expense of the bass, leaving a slightly treble-heavy feel to it. It is nowhere near as trebly as lots of other albums of the time, however, and the bass is still quite audible. To be fair, it is only really the first track that it is clearly apparent, things improve after that. The third hit, and another that is familiar to many over the years is the appealing A New Flame. Thankfully, this one is a tad more bassy than It's Only Love.

The album was the group's first number one and, as I said, saw the group cementing their mass appeal, to the possible detriment of their credibility, which was a bit of a shame as they were still producing quality blue-eyed soul, witness a track like You've Got It, written by Hucknall with the legendary Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier. Most of the album finds Hucknall trying to evoke classic soul/funk on his compositions, such as on the brassy, punchy funk/soul of To Be with You, that turns the bass up higher than the keyboards, rightfully. 

More has a nice, soulful depth to it as well, enhanced by a sublime bass line. Perfect late night fare. I love it.

It is on the cover version of the real thing, though, that he steals the show. Turn It Up is full of that typically mid/late eighties white funk sound so loved by Level 42Heaven 17 and, at times The Style Council. All those chicka-chicka frantically-strummed guitars. 

Love Lays Its Tune, if sung by Chaka Khan, for example, would have been received as a copper-bottomed piece of soul. The fact it is Simply Red should not stop it from being similarly acclaimed. It is a high quality track. 

Enough is overflowing with funky appeal, too, the same applies to the cool pop/funk of She'll Have To Go. As was often the case with Hucknall, he managed to insert his cutting, heartfelt political comment into an otherwise jaunty tune. The "she" in this song is the Prime Minster at the time, Margaret Thatcher. There is something a bit Style Council-ish about the lyrics of this one.

Overall, this is a perfectly listenable album, and, despite its obvious eighties musical sensibilities, it is nowhere near as awash with synthesisers as many albums of the era. A listen to this will always be enjoyable. I really quite like it, far more so than I ever did at the time. I have to say it really is quite good.

Incidentally, the expanded version includes some great bonus material in an live instrumental cover of Stevie Wonder's I Wish, and further impressive instrumentals in XSugar Daddy and Funk On Out.

Stars (1991)

Something Got Me Started/Stars/Thrill Me/Your Mirror/She's Got It Bad/For Your Babies/Model/How Could I Fall/Freedom/Wonderland

Mick Hucknall's stated aim for this top-selling album was to sound even more soulful and less "clean" than on previous offerings, which was a bit odd, because the previous three albums had certainly been very soulful and this one was met with many accusations of being over-polished and soul-less. These criticisms were, in my opinion, unfair. Yes, it was an album popular with those who probably didn't have James Brown, Jimi Hendrix or Tom Waits in their collections but so what. It is still a credible release, for me. 

The songs

Tracks like the white funk of Something Got Me Started or the smooth, infectious groove of Stars are simply excellent soul/pop music, end of story. Most of the "buy this for your gran" sneering came from predictable sources - the NME and Melody Maker - but over time, in retrospect, the album has been praised for being what it is - an admittedly polished but addictive slice of finely-crafted funky pop soul. There is a place for it, as far as I'm concerned, and I am a fan of many of those more "credible" artists as well.

Thrill Me is appealingly shuffling in its jazziness, enhanced by some killer saxophone. This track, along with the rest of the album, is pleasingly more deeper and bassy in its sound as we moved into the nineties and many of the sonic curses of the eighties were dispensed with, thank the Lord. This was a sonically much improved album. 

Model, for example, has a lovely deep bass line and some seriously funky guitar. Your Mirror was a hit, like the previous three tracks and is an intoxicating one, one of my favourites.

The Stevie Wonder-ish She's Got It Bad is a convincing slice of funk, if it had been sung by a black funk artist it would have been received as such. 

For Your Babies is another one I love. It is just a beautiful song, beautifully played and sung. Check out that saxophone on How Could I Fall, impressive stuff. Similarly, the funky James Brown-esque drums on the chunky, muscular strains of Freedom. The left-leaning Hucknall was also politically sound, as far as I was concerned, and he often managed to insert a bleak message into his attractive songs, as indeed he does on the cynical but melodic Wonderland, which was a condemnation of the Conservative government of the time.

Simply Red's problem was that they could never climb the credibility wall, away from the sanitised poppiness they were supposed to represent. I always felt they had more to them than that, however, and albums like this prove it. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, writing on the AllMusic site, said that this was Simply Red's finest album. He was right, too.

Life (1995)

You Make Me Believe/So Many People/Lives And Loves/Fairground/Never Never Love/So Beautiful/Hillside Avenue/Remembering The First Time/Out On The Range/We’re In This Together   

Four years after the multi-million selling Stars came this album from Simply Red, their fifth. It had many signs of contemporary “r ’n’ b” programmed, thumpingly bass heavy soul stylings. It is consummately delivered by Mick Hucknall and his very competent band, but its contemporary beats and rhythms have, for me, taken just a little of the genuine soul of the previous albums away. Just a little, as the music on offer is still of a high quality, but there was always something a little  “clean” and “polished” and lacking in edge about much of mid-nineties music. That said, though, it is still an album full of some really good material.
The songs

You Make Me Believe is so very 1995, full of the afore-mentioned big, powerful, programmed backing (as opposed to “real” drums). It has the now expected, effortless, laid-back Mick Hucknall vocal. 

So Many People is in the same vein - immaculately sung and performed. Perfect late night easy listening white soul. There is some nice, gentle, chicka-chicka guitar lurking beneath the slow beat, and brass too. 

Lives And Loves uses that very typical, deliberately scratchy mid-nineties backing and also features some nice late-night saxophone backing Hucknall’s slightly deeper, soulful vocal. That sax has a few echoes of that used on Paul Weller's 1993 debut solo album.

The big hit from the album was the rhythmic, shuffling catchy groover, Fairground. It was one of those songs  where the title didn’t feature in the chorus that everyone sang along with - “I love the thought of coming home to you..”. It is a very addictive song, very poppy but with an upbeat, clubby beat and equally “house” piano near the end, latching on to contemporary trends. Another beat very much of its time is the “chill-out” backing of the slow burning Never Never Love. It is all very pleasantly relaxing, I have to say.

That programmed bass and percussion backs the extremely laid-back So Beautiful. Hucknall gets cynical with the line “she was so beautiful but oh so boring”. It is a very appealing track, though. Hucknall dabbles with poppy, nineties-style reggae on the equally attractive Hillside Avenue. There are some intoxicating rhythms on this one, it sounds pretty authentic (to the pop reggae of 1995, anyway). 

Remembering The First Time has a lovely, deep, melodic bass line and is another very likeable number. The same can be said for the wah-wah backed, powerful funky soul of Out On The Range. In many ways this album gets better and better as it progresses.

It ends with the anthemic We’re In This Together, which sits alone from the rest of the album. It is a track that reminds me vaguely of Peter Gabriel’s Biko. Legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela plays flugelhorn on the track.

This album marked the last of the truly huge selling ones from the band, everything from this point on were successively lower-key releases, punctuated with cover versions and the additional appearance of several “greatest hits” collections.

Blue (1998)

Mellow My Mind/Blue/Say You Love Me/To Be Free/The Air That I Breathe/Someday In My Life/The Air That I Breathe/Night Nurse/Broken Man/Come Get Me Angel/Ghetto Girl/Love Has Said Goodbye Again/High Fives     
This album was the first one that saw Simply Red slightly on the wane after eleven years of continued success. It contained five cover versions, of which one is repeated twice but they are impressive and the band’s original tracks are good ones too. It is a better album than it is often given credit for.

The songs

Neil Young’s Mellow My Mind is given a late-night contemporary makeover, complete with somewhat irritating “scratching” noises. Take those away, though, and you have an atmospheric, convincing cover. Hucknall’s voice is excellent on this. 

Blue sees the tempo increase on a typical Simply Red poppy funker. Hucknall and his excellent band can serve up tracks like this effortlessly, with faultless vocals and instrumentation. I really like it, finding it impossible not to enjoy. “Blue like Monday morning” is a great answer to “easy like Sunday morning..”. Say You Love Me is again classic laid-back Simply Red fare.


To Be Free is an upbeat, synthy piece of pop funk that is irresistibly toe-tapping. The first cover of The HolliesThe Air That I Breathe is given a contemporary sheen in its drum sound and gospelly choral backing vocals and occasional rap vocals. Before the next version, we get the vocal and piano ballad of Someday In My Life, which has a thirties/forties feel to it. The second version of The Air That I Breathe is an interesting interpretation that blatantly steals the lead riff from John Mellencamp’s Jack And Diane.

Night Nurse is a pretty a acceptable cover of Gregory Isaacs’ lovers rock classic that sees Hucknall replacing the “patient by the name of Gregory” to “Micky”. 

Broken Man is a dance-influenced thumper of a song, with a suitably big bass sound. Come Get Me Angel is sort of bassy re-write of the single Angel from two years earlier. 

Ghetto Girl is a cover of a reggae song from Dennis Brown. Hucknall copes with it admirably and a relaxing mood continues with Love Has Said Goodbye Again. This underrated, pleasant album ends with a sublime number in High Fives.

** An outstanding bonus track is a dub-drenched version of Ghetto Girl.

Blue-Eyed Soul (2019)

Thinking Of You/Sweet Child/Complete Love/Take A Good Look/Ring That Bell/Bad Bootz/Don’t Do Down/Riding On A Train/Chula/Tonight    

Look, you know what you’re going to get from Simply Red, even all these years later - immaculately played white soul/funk topped off with singer Mick Hucknall’s genuinely credible soul voice. This album gives you just that - ten tracks of largely upbeat soul and/or funk full of instantly singable hooks but nothing particularly remarkable. It is just a pleasant thirty minutes or so. It is also nice for an album to be the traditional thirty minutes plus in length, as opposed to a bloated seventy minutes. Yes, you get less music, but, strangely, the shorter time allows the album to be enjoyed more. I’m sure you understand what I mean. An hour of it would have been too much but half an hour suits me fine.

The first four tracks are more what you expect from Simply Red in their eighties soulful style but thereafter the album turns impressively funky. It is far more of a gritty funk offering than a softer soul one, in my opinion. Anyone looking for an album of poppy, chart fare will not find too much of it here. For me, this is credible stuff.     
The songs

Thinking Of You kicks things off in fine mid eighties style with a real throwback to the group’s first few albums. Hucknall’s voice is strong throughout and the track pounds along with some great bass, guitar and punchy brass. It has strong echoes of Jamiroquai for me. Great saxophone in it too. 

Sweet Child also sounds very mid eighties, this time in a slower, more laid-back way, as Hucknall revisits his Holding Back The Years vocal style. It has a bit of a Stevie Wonder feel to it in places. As I said, there’s nothing particularly challenging in this perfect Radio Two fare, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It is what it is.

Complete Love is a slow-paced, beautifully soulful number ideal for late night radio, with a great vocal and a string-enhanced but bassy Stax-ish backing. It is like some of the great Philadelphia label ballads of the seventies. 

Take A Good Look has a sublime, deep and bassy Al Green-style backing and it goes without saying that the vocal is on the money. Great stuff. I can’t help but really like this.

Time to get a bit funky and we duly do so with Ring That Bell which cooks and boils with rumbling funk. “There’s some bad men messing with our future, let’s give them hell...” may be a lyric that attracts scorn from some but it serves its purpose perfectly for me. I love the funky vibe on this. A funky clavinet introduces the even more cookin’ but ludicrously-titled Bad Bootz. Sure, the lyrics are nonsense but then so was The Funky Chicken - instrumentally, this track is red hot. These last two numbers have shown that the group could funk out with the best of them. The sound is superb on the whole album, by the way, but is noticeably good on these funky offerings.

James Brown-influenced guitar groove powers the irresistible Don’t Do Down as Hucknall rails against those who put him down. Once again, the track is superbly funky and full of bassy oomph. I’m really impressed. 

Riding On A Train has some rumbling Blaxploitation-influenced bass lines and it pulsates with rhythmic funk as indeed does Chula, with its very Blaxploitation horns.

The album finishes with a bit of Teddy Pendergrass-style late night soul smooch in Tonight, which is probably the only serving of cheese on it. It still has its appeal, though.

There will probably be a fair few who criticise this album, as seems to be the way for any long-estabished artist when they release new material these days. I'm not bothered about that. I like it.

Simply Red Greatest Hits

Holding Back The Years/Money’s To Tight To Mention/The Right Thing/It’s Only Love/A New Flame/You’ve Got It/If You Don’t Know Me By Now/Stars/Something Got Me Started/Thrill Me/Your Mirror/For Your Babies/So Beautiful/Angel/Fairground  

Simply Red, despite their huge commercial success for many years, have always found critical kudos hard to come by. I’m not quite sure why that is, because their immaculately played, semi-funky brand of white soul has always sounded pretty credible to me. Maybe it is the fact that they were a white band attempting to “do” soul (although that never did David Bowie any harm), or that charismatic singer Mick Hucknall had a confidence in his own ability that some found irritating that has seen some people disparaging them. The fact that their music has often been bought by those who don’t buy too much other music can’t have helped either. This, their Greatest Hits album has become standard low volume dinner party fare.

All that said, although I don’t find myself picking this album out to play too often, whenever I hear a track from it I enjoy it. Numbers like the sumptuous soul of Holding Back The Years, the upbeat, shuffling groove of Stars, as well as the funk/soul of The Right Thing are top notch. As I said, the instrumentation and indeed the sound quality are superb. Check out that tenor saxophone solo on Holding Back The Years. The light funk of Money’s Too Tight To Mention is irresistible in a Style Council sort of way. It is dated, though, with its reference to “Reaganomics”. It is an admirably cynical reaction to the falsity of the “loadsamoney” late eighties, though. It’s Only Love is a classic slice of seductive late eighties, late night soul. You've Got It sounds very like Wet Wet Wet, with Mick's almost indistinguishable from that of Marti Pellow. There is a lovely saxophone solo on this one.
A New Flame is a perfect piece of soulful pop and I have always liked the suitably swirling sound of Fairground. The group's cover of Harold Melvin & The Blue NotesIf You Don't Know Me By Now is up there with the original. Something Got Me Started is perfectly infectious poppy funk. The same applies to Thrill Me or the addictive Your Mirror. Look, I could pick any track from this album for praise, they are all good. Nothing earth-shattering, just quality soul/funk/pop, full of great hooks and excellent vocals.

Mick Hucknall’s heart and ideology was always in the right place, for me, anyway, and his genuine love for soul music has always shone through. Fair play to him.