Monday, February 19, 2018

Ali Campbell: Happiness

"I was born with so much love I burst each time the sun rises.
I reserved the hurt I feel to make happy surprises.
... Happiness is knowing you are loved."

Rarely does a song lift me with such joy in the way Ali Campbell's Happiness fills my heart. There is no way to completely understand how or why a song can touch someone's heart and soul. It just inexplicably happens for different reasons and it happens again and again but remains an entirely subjective experience.

Happiness is precisely one of those songs for this music fan. From the very opening words the song lifts my heart and just soars. It is indeed a very primal reaction for me and music is indeed a very primal connection and experience in general for most fans of music.

Ali Campbell is the voice of UB40, the most successful British reggae-based act to come out of a slough of ska and British bands from the British isles amidst a wave of New Romantic and New Wave acts that flourished in the day.

Formed in 1978 Campbell exited UB40 thirty years later in 2008 under some still unclear contention within the band that sadly continues today. Campbell is now recording using the UB40 name alongside Mickey Virtue and Astro. Meanwhile his brothers Robin and Duncan Campbell carry on using the UB40 name with other originating members of the band. In other words, as they say, it's a bit of a shit show. It's a mess and clearly a feud exists to the detriment of a large group of talented musicians who enjoyed a long run of great music. On the up side, these artists are still making music.

Familial Schisms aside Ali is indeed the true voice of the band singing most of the groups songs along with a percentage fronted by Astro. And hell be damned Ali and Astro are riding high again with a new release forthcoming A Real Labour Of Love (2018) as UB40 featuring Ali, Astro And Mickey.

UB40 is a funny animal too, given its adherence to the reggae genre. You either are a fan of this music and the band's stylings or you flat out dislike the sound. It's a breezy sound that's hard to hate but runs counter to the more widely accepted often harder edges of the rap genre.

Ali Campbell's first foray into a solo career arrived with Big Love (1995). It's a solid outing and the recording from which Happiness was lifted. It opens the recording and just keeps moving onward and upward from there. Interestingly, despite my enthusiasm for this selection to be covered here at The Pop Song, the track was not a single release, but one of those classic album cuts that proves fruitful upon every listen. There are thousands upon thousands of them. Album track fans you know where they are.

To this day Happiness ranks among this listeners all time favorite songs. There is no explanation for it. UB40 was always about love songs and Happiness is no exception to filling that cup.

Big Love. B+. This is big collection of strong Ali Campbell solo songs. Fans of UB40 will not be disappointed. That Look In Your Eye, You Can Cry On My Shoulder, Somethin' Stupid and others delight and shine on this collection of big love numbers.

Happiness. A. This is the outstanding opening track that is simple, spare in its musical accompaniment and arrangement with an impressively strong vocal from one timeless Ali Campbell. Come on get happy with me.

 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Godley & Creme: Cry

"You don't know how to ease my pain.
You don't know.
You don't know how to ease my pain.
...That's the sound of our love dying.
...You make me want to cry."

This writer is not particularly fond of weird, quirky, experimental pop music, but 10cc was an act I was always intrigued by thanks to their magnificently epic pop masterpiece I'm Not In Love. That's a song easily among my Top 10 favorites of all time, but that's a song for another day. It was that song that led me into the world of 10cc. It was a world that wasn't nearly as inviting as that song. I've always been more inclined to more accessible, masterful pop music they created than the overly eccentric pop productions. So their music is a mixed bag for me.

10cc is downright difficult to embrace musically despite a wild sense of humor, but that act comprised of Kevin Godley and Lol Crème recorded one of the very best pop songs ever made in I'm Not In Love, from The Original Soundtrack (1975), with vocals by Eric Stewart. Stewart returned with 10cc's The Things We Do For Love two years later for The Deceptive Bends (1977) recording.

Clearly it was Stewart that had a flair for the melodic as much as the ingenious Godley and Crème did for the quirky and offbeat oddity. Following Godley and Creme's departure from 10cc in 1976 the duo struck out on their own and began releasing their own productions disbanding Godley & Crème after eight unusual recordings.

The strange duo's only single success stateside came from their seventh recording, The History Mix Volume 1 (1985). That song was Cry. It was a remarkably impressive piece of pop music propelled by a successive deliberate beat. The reason for the act's success, finally, largely had to do with their teaming with members of The Art Of Noise (whom Lol Crème joined in 1998). J.J. Jeczalik and producer Trevor Horn (The Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star) stepped in. Horn worked production polish on anything he touched for a decade.

ABC. Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Yes. Seal. Pet Shop Boys. Simple Minds. You name the band from the 1980s and yes Trevor Horn may have been hired by them.

In the end, Cry would become a minor single for the band, but on my playlist it remains a popular favorite to this day. It is a stunningly emotional piece of pop music.

In fact, the changing faces video concept that accompanied the song was indeed ahead of its time as faces morphed or cross-faded from one to another. The video idea predated the late Michael Jackson's Black Or White (1991) video by six years.

Despite having an abundance of creativity and inspiration to spare the band made little effort to create something melodic for insertion into the mainstream. It simply wasn't in their make-up and that's truly unfortunate to a listener like me. The construction of Cry was evidence Godley & Crème could have come up with a full production of truly memorable songs like this one.

Nevertheless, the duo relayed their visual imagination into making music videos throughout the era. Godley & Crème created videos for The Police, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Sting, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Go West, George Harrison, Wang Chung and yes, Yes.

Lol Crème tellingly told Musician magazine in 1985, "We're not in the music business. We left it in 1976 and we haven't taken it seriously since." And that remark tells the story to a degree and says a lot about the duo's playful approach to sound and song.

The resulting Cry, as brilliant as it was, feels now more likely a success by chance and that's really enough to make you wanna' cry. Fortunately it was popular enough to catch this listener's notice. It remains one of the best of the 1980s.

The History Mix Volume 1: B. An offbeat collection of songs with the standout being the outstanding Cry. A medley on the collection also samples I'm Not In Love. A rarity to be sure.

Cry. Truly one of the rare, forgotten and great songs of the 1980s. The song cannot be found on iTunes, yet the video can be downloaded there. The single (edit) was available on a VH1 classic singles collection on CD once upon a time, which is where I snagged my copy. Collections by the act are also out there and do include the extended Cry. But, sadly (ahem), gems like this one are hard to come by today. We are left to resort to ripping them any way humanly possible off You Tube and the web when and where required alongside rare finds by Peter Wolf and Tears For Fears.

 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Highasakite: Everything Sank In You

"Everything sank in you.
Like the ocean swallows bodies, I can't tell if you're in there, somewhere.
I can't tell if you're there."

This writer had the absolute luck and good fortune to discover Highasakite completely by chance. I had attended Iceland's Of Monsters And Men concert at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut back on one cool fall evening with my daughter in 2015 even kicking off the night with a deliciously prepared steak.

Highasakite was the opening act. Like the Icelandic band, Norway's Highasakite was something of a revelation to me upon first listen. The music spoke to me. The voice of lead singer Ingrid Helene Havik was stunning, rich, milky, powerful and overall a tsunami to these ears. She was moving to me in the same way Nanna Brydnis Hilmarsdottir of Of Monsters And Men touched me as a vocalist.

I sometimes wonder if I had not attended that concert if I ever would have discovered that band. They are hardly mainstream and virtually unknown to American listeners despite reaching our shores.

Ultimately this listener is hard pressed to pick any one song by Highasakite to be discussed on The Pop Song. And this won't be the last by the band to be highlighted here, but Everything Sank In You is a luscious, gorgeous example of Havik's vocal skill and poetic musings. She is a deft purveyor of cerebral pop and puts to shame the female pop often associated with the mainstream. Ladies you know who you are. It's almost criminal she's not among the very best. Perhaps there is an intellectual appeal here that is missed by the average listener more than satisfied with the throwaway garbage making top tens each week. I know, tell you how I really feel right?

Everything Sank In You turned up as a bonus track on the band's second recording Silent Treatment (2014), but was originally recorded for their debut recording All That Floats Will Rain (2012). The formerly evasive latter production, thanks to the act's growing appeal worldwide, has since been remedied and reissued and includes a number of previously unavailable tracks that did not make the group's In And Out Of Weeks Ep.

The group's debut recording is spellbinding on so many levels. The band's music is multi-layered and interesting in complexity. You'll find so much about their first two recordings to really dig into and their third release Camp Echo (2016) is no slouch.

Havik first appeared in a one off recording, a self-titled production (2011), under the band moniker Your Headlights Are On. Havik slipped by and surprised us with an intriguing and beautiful solo effort called Babylove (2013) as well.

The songwriter/vocalist Havik has remained prolific with no signs of strain to quality. When it comes to creativity this is one artist and one band clearly high as a kite with nothing to stop them from reaching further into the sky and to the stars on sheer talent alone.

To this day I'm really pleased I saw that concert for both bands.


All That Floats Will Rain: A-. A strong debut collection of fantastic material that followed a wonderful recording by the band Your Headlights Are On and preceded a gem of a solo effort by Havik. This is a ten song collection to quickly get high on in any sophisticated pop collection.

Everything Sank In You. A. Track 9 is a lovely selection on a delicious effort that really showcases the talent of Havik. A delight of an example on what you will find on any of their efforts each rewarding depth with repeated listening.

 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Steve Winwood: My Love's Leavin'

"Can I cope with today?
My love is leavin' me.
Still I'm hoping she'll stay.
My love is leavin's me."

The long and storied career of one singer songwriter Steve Winwood is impressive indeed and really should need no introduction.

The Spencer Davis Group.
Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton).
Traffic.

He's provided session work with some of the very best acts in music. Christine McVie. Robert Palmer. Lou Reed. George Harrison. Billy Joel. Phil Collins. And even Talk Talk on one of my very favorite recordings, The Colour Of Spring (1986).

And the list of musical endeavors goes on. If you're not at least familiar with Winwood you really do need to expand your musical horizons.

Winwood really made a name for himself as a solo artist with the arrival of the wonderful effervescent pop number While You See A Chance from Arc Of A Diver in (1980), but it was his third solo album, Back In The High Life (1986), that really saw the singer riding just that way---high. Roll With It (1988) capitalized on that momentum with another slough of great pop songs including Holding On, Don't You Know What The Night Can Do? and the title track.

But the aforementioned Back In The High Life remains a classic recording in its entirety filled with just eight inspired songs like Higher Love, Freedom Overspill, The Finer Things and the title track.

Driving to work with my own personal freedom overspill of music the selection My Love's Leavin' lit up the speakers and filled the car's cabin.

It's an infectiously simple closer to the recording, an unforgettable album track that reminds us all that not every great song has to be or is a pop hit. And not every song has to be a masterpiece in writing as evidenced by the sheer simplicity of this little love song.

My Love's Leavin' me remains one of those songs that receives heavy rotation on my playlist and is one of my favorites from that recording saving the best for last. In fact hearing it reminds me just how in the zone Steve Winwood was in the 1980s. The song also serves to refresh us with the facts that their is indeed a lot of great music out there still to be rediscovered and revisited. Winwood is unquestionably one of those artists that deserves a look.

Back In The High Life (1986). B+. A collection of eight gems that sort of reintroduced Winwood's voice to the pop world and the man had something to say, which is certainly not always the case in any pop landscape. He was definitely back in the high life with this work.

My Love's Leavin'. A. A sheer delight of simplicity in music production whereby Winwood delivers a tender, even melancholy little love and loss track to close out his classic, short eight song effort.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Tears For Fears: Stay

"Stay. Don't stay. Go. Don't Go."

Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have had a hell of a journey, sometimes tumultuous and never making it easy on themselves. The duo that is the core of Tears For Fears may in fact always bring that creative tension to the table generating some of the most enjoyable pop songs of the past four decades even if today's youth aren't savvy enough to pay attention.

Following the epic semi-concept masterpiece that was The Seeds Of Love (1989) the duo essentially went their separate ways. Orzabal carried on the Tears name while Smith struggled to find his voice without the musical companionship of Orzabal's genius at his back.

After nearly fifteen years the duo rejoined in 2000 to write the cleverly titled Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (2004), but fortunately it didn't seem to end there.

Never exactly prolific as pop tunesmiths and craftsmen of pop songs of the highest order, the duo has worked almost at a snail's pace over the last two decades. This fan and a few others thinks the time is due for a new recording guys.

But rather than a full course menu the boys teased fans and the world with Rule The World: The Greatest Hits (2017) and delivered two new songs very under the radar. The songs worked nicely in conjunction with a stateside tour alongside talented American counterparts Daryl Hall And John Oates.

One selection is highlighted by Roland Orzabal in I Love You But I'm Lost, written with Dan Smith of Bastille, and the other is Stay with a tender lead vocal by Curt Smith.

Both are typically exquisite by the band, but not unlike the classic Everybody Wants To Rule The World (1985), also with a lead by Smith on one of the act's most popular songs ever, Stay once again sees Smith in magical form with Orzabal and the two back in the fold as one.

It was incredibly difficult to find a song that grabbed me from Smith's solo output over the years in the way Stay does so out of the gate so immediately. It is a simple ballad that works its way into the mind almost instantly. The song reminds us how good Orzabal and Smith are together. They are the perfect complement. Like Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr (Simple Minds), Smith and Orzabal deliver a chemistry as a unit that is sometimes missing on their own.

So with that, please Tears For Fears, stay. We need you.

Rule The World: The Greatest Hits (2017). A. Once upon a time the duo did rule the world and here is a collection worthy of the name with two new songs that are easily as good as anything on the collection. Quite simply brilliant.

Stay. A. An achingly beautiful piece of musical poetry spearheaded by Curt Smith on vocals that illustrates how wondrous it is to watch Orzabal and Smith seamlessly switch roles on leads whenever the song suits them. Not many bands can share that call to arms so effortlessly. Stay is quite simply a gorgeous, delicate piece of pop.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Don Henley: The Boys Of Summer

"Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.
A little voice inside my head said, 'don't look back you can never look back.'
I thought I knew what love was what did I know.
Those days are gone forever I should just let them go but...."

Variety in popular music, like anything else, is the spice of life. There are so many fantastic songs. It's hard to narrow down a favorite.

At this stage in my life this writer has enjoyed and immersed himself in a lot great music. I've also come to the conclusion I could reasonably narrow down a desert island top 10 without too much effort. There are some songs that just work for me that way. I've listened to them so many times I still never tire of hearing them. They are flawless to my ears and just never grow old.

Don Henley's The Boys Of Summer easily falls into the category of top ten favorites.

Oddly, maybe, the lead track from Building The Perfect Beast (1984) was issued in October of that year preceding the November release of the album.

Never a summer release Henley plays the song with a wistful nostalgia utilizing summer as a metaphor for his youth. The song works as a reflection on life and his past as much as it is a mirror to our own lives. The accompanying video, directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, was as powerful visually surveying the various phases in Henley's life. But there is indeed a universal, emotional resonance at the song's core that allows everyone to connect.

Henley was older when he recorded the song and The Eagles were all but finished at the time. He must look back and wish he was that old today.

The Boys Of Summer is a gem of pop construction with Henley's incredible musical touches right from the opening. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell is largely responsible for the success of the song's sound performing and producing on the track. The song peaked only at number five on Billboard but remains far more remarkable as a pop classic than many that have hit the number one spot before or since. However, Henley did justifiably receive a Grammy for the vocal on this track.

The song itself is perfect and not surprisingly many have deferred any go at performing an interpretation of it and though Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet did a nice cover of it, it still doesn't come close to the original.

The album itself had a number of memorable tracks like All She Wants To Do Is Dance and Not Enough Love In The World among my favorites, but I recall in my youth thinking that Building The Perfect Beast was never quite the perfect beast, but rather just missing the mark in its construction.

As solid a recording as it is nothing on it stands head and shoulders next to the eloquence and melodic beauty of The Boys Of Summer. Today still the song recalls nothing but lovely memories from my own youth and somehow that song encapsulates the very best of it in song. It is truly a timeless gem.

Building The Perfect Beast (1984). B+. Recommended. A solid recording darted with some real highlights. The recording remains with you even after all these years.

The Boys Of Summer. A+. The lead off track on the aforementioned recording. It is, for me, one of the best pop songs ever recorded. Essential to this boy's existence.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Emiliana Torrini: Today Has Been OK

"And I thought today had been OK.
Today has been OK."

Every now and again an artist comes along with something that moves me. They touch me to the core. They give us something that reminds us of the beauty of what it means to be human. Unlike the forgettable pop garbage on mainstream radio, music aficionados have to dig a little deeper for the quality pop music.

This writer was brought to Emiliana Torrini twice before truly connecting with her and I'm not exactly sure why, because there is a depth of emotion to her music that is long absent from most popular music.

Her contribution to the film Sucker Punch (2011) with a cover of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit was epic. Long before that I really didn't give her outing Love In The Time Of Science (1999) a proper evaluation. Production on that effort was led by none other than Tears For Fears' Roland Orzabal, a lifelong favorite in pop music.

Going back to that effort, assimilating her various rarities and listening to her new music, Torrini has quietly become one of my absolute favorite female artists. Far surpassing the more quirky Bjork, the fellow Icelander Torrini is my cup of tea along with Iceland's Of Monsters And Men (featuring Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir). The aforementioned vocalists are all incredibly talented, distinct and beautiful in their own rights thanks to a commanding vocal presence graced with a lilt that is truly identifiably Icelandic stunning.

There's something about the simple, folk beauty of a song like Today Has Been OK that just hits me every time it hits my playlist. This writer never tires of the composition. My daughter finds it all a bore but sadly lacks the maturity of taste. Today Has Been OK is truly the perfect sample from the soft, gentle, reflective collection that is Fisherman's Woman (2005), perhaps my favorite Torrini recording to date. Collectively it works as one beautiful piece in much the same way My Head Is An Animal (2012) by Of Monsters And Men moved me.

But Torrini was coming at the Fisherman's Woman collection from an incredible personal place and anyone who enjoys music without a lot of production noise and distraction with a woman writing reflectively from the heart should absolutely add this journey to their collection.

Fisherman's Woman (2005). A-. Highly Recommended. A gorgeous collection of independent folk stirrings replete with gorgeous melodies. A vastly different recording from the electronic stylings of her Love In The Time Of Science (1999). Its emotional resonance will move like the waves under a fisherman's boat.

Today Has Been OK. The sixth track on the twelve song production is likely my favorite because I can't tell how often I've literally thought to myself "well, today has been okay, not bad, not great, but I should be grateful." Still it's by no means the only beautiful number here.