Single of the week

Shame (Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King)

This week’s artist became a star by really being in the right place at the right time. Her parents both worked for a record company and when their daughter joined them one day she went to the bathroom and began singing where she was overheard by a producer who told her she was going to be a star.

It’s a fairytale story, but a true one. Evelyn King came from a family who were in the music/entertainment business, her uncle was an actor who had appeared in the first Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess and then went on to work with Lena Horne, her mother was a manager for a soul act called Quality Red and her father was a resident backing singer at The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, so it’s not too much of a surprise that Evelyn was going to follow suit.

Evelyn was born in the Bronx in July 1960 but the family moved and she was raised in Philadelphia. Her parents both worked at Philadelphia International records and when Evelyn was old enough she got a job at the label as a cleaner. It was when an in-house producer, Theodore T. Life, a former member of the band Instant Funk, heard this voice coming from the ladies room that he discovered someone special. “I was cleaning the bathroom and singing Sam Cooke’s song A Change Is Gonna Come and this producer said he loved my voice and was gonna make me a star”, recalled King.

As a child her nickname was Bubbles due to the fact that as a baby she used to create spit and blow bubbles with it, which, when it came to preparing for her debut single and album, was changed to Champagne. Her debut album was called Smooth Talk and the lead single was Shame, a song written by Reuben Cross & John H. Fitch Jr. with lyrics seemingly about a man who is just using his woman for sex but she doesn’t want to believe it – ‘My mother says you’re playing a game and what you do to me is a Shame. Ooh, gonna love you just the same, mama just don’t understand’. “I was only 15 and I’s singing ‘Momma just don’t understand how I love my man’, my father wanted to shot somebody,” laughed King in an interview with Jason Lewis at L.A Sentinel. “My parents were listening to the words, but I wasn’t paying no attention. There’s a lot of that song that I never paid attention to lyrically because I just loved singing – and I would sing it.”

“I remember being at the Philly studios and Theo said he was going to introduce me to two guys who were Reuben Cross & John H. Fitch Jr. I was nervous and as skinny as a piece of straw and I just stood there and he said ‘I want you to sing this song we’re written to see how you can do it’. So I just started singing Shame and they loved it.”

The version that appears on Smooth Talk is quite different from the single that made the chart. It was only when two New York club DJs, Al Garrison and David Todd, gave the song a re-mix, beefed up the beat and extended it to a 12″ single version running to just over six and a half minutes that it gained airplay and became a hit single. In America it reached the top 10 on the singles chart, the dance chart and the R&B chart as well as peaking number seven in Belgium. In the UK, despite heavy club play – and I was one of them – it only just scraped into the UK singles chart at number 39 but spent an incredible 23 weeks on the chart. The nearest anyone has come to that was in 2016 when Joel Adams’ hit Please Don’t Go spent 20 weeks on the chart but climbed no higher than number 50. Can you hum it?!

She later signed to RCA and released several songs including I’m in Love which was the first to crack the UK top 30 but her biggest hit came the following year when club favourite Love Come Down reached number seven. By now she was no longer credited with ‘Champagne’, why? “As far as I’m concerned I’ve always been Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, it’s never been taken out…not by me anyway. I think the record company dropped it just to see what happened but I told them that nobody would know Evelyn King, but that’s what happened.

She continued to release albums, Face to Face (1983), So Romantic (1984), A Long Time Coming (A Change Is Gonna Come) (1985), Flirt (1988), The Girl Next Door (1989) and I’ll Keep a Light On (1995) and took a break when she married music director Freddie Fox. In 2002, Shame was featured in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and two years later became one of the first records to be inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame.

She made a comeback in 2008 with the album Open Book and its lead track, The Dance, went to number 12 on the US dance chart. Her final album to date was 2011’s Outside the Skyline of which the single Everybody, a duet with Miguel Migs was released.

She said in a recent interview, “I haven’t stopped working since 1977, but, there are a lot of us that either gave up or said forget it. I refuse to say stop, give up or forget it. I haven’t left the scene,” she explained, “I love my fans, and I’m respecting them to say I don’t give up.”

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Somewhere In My Heart (Aztec Camera)

You would imagine songwriters like Paul McCartney, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello et al would never have to worry what other songwriters thought of their material or whether it would affect their career, but it seems that in 1983 Elvis Costello got a little anxious about a new up and coming writer called Roddy Frame and claimed, at the time, that it kept him on his toes. How does someone react to that? Let’s find out.

Frame was born in East Kilbride in 1964, started learning guitar at the age of four and cited David Bowie as one of his biggest influences. After leaving his first band, Neutral Blue, in the early eighties, he formed Aztec Camera bringing in a myriad musicians for various albums and tours. The most consistent member was bass guitarist Campbell Owens who was with him for the first five years. They signed to Postcard records, a small local independent label co-owned by Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins. This led to them being discovered and championed by both John Peel on Radio One and the NME.

Aztec Camera’s debut hit was Oblivious which stalled at number 47 followed three months later by Walk out to Winter, both songs gained a reasonable amount of airplay on Radio One particularly by Peter Powell and Kid Jensen but neither did well on the chart. Oblivious was re-issued towards the end of 1983 and did much better by reaching number 18. This is when Elvis Costello made his confession which Frame took in his stride and before-long was invited to join Costello as support on his Punch the Clock tour in America.

After nearly four years away from the chart and the limelight, the reason for which was he confessed he’d become a Coronation Street fan, “I was meant to be churning out these new songs and I was getting completely wound up in the Barlows and the Tilsleys, then I went down the pub and read a bit and got really lazy, then I had to start putting a record together,” he returned with the album Love and the first single released was the beautiful How Men Are. Roddy’s songwriting had taken a big step up and was being compared to many other legendary songwriters. To come out with the line, ‘Why does it take the tears of a woman to see how men are’ is very powerful. The song reached number 25 but the follow-up, Somewhere in my Heart, will always be his swansong.

“All I can remember was that when I was recording Somewhere in My Heart, we were in Boston,” Roddy recalled, “I was walking around with a Walkman playing Bruce Springsteen all the time. But it was all of his poppy stuff. I got into Springsteen back to front; I started with Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love and worked backward. I still like that period better than the Born to Run stuff, but I guess I was just trying to come up with something like Hungry Heart or something. Just something really strong and catchy. I was trying to write a pop song. When it came to putting Love together I tried everything to keep it off the album. I went to America and wanted to make a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis kinda record. I was listening to Sugar Free by Juicy, Anita Baker and Tender Love by the Force MDs. Green from Scritti Politti had just been to America and I wanted to marry that New York R&B electro thing with my kind of lyrics and style and that British thing.”

So, as Frame said to Tom Doyle in a Mojo interview, Somewhere In My Heart nearly didn’t make it to the album because it was deemed a bad stylistic fit. “I didn’t really get it until I was being driven down Ladbroke Grove one day and the sun was shining and someone was in a convertible and I heard it blaring out on their radio. It’s one of those songs.” On the recent Radio 1 Vintage pop-up station, Simon Mayo confessed it was one of his favourite singles and chose it as the first song he played on his first-ever Radio 1 breakfast show.

Roddy embarked on a solo career in 1998 and has released four studio albums to date; The North Star (1998), Surf (2002), Western Skies (2006) and Seven Dials (2014) the latter one reaching number 50 on the UK albums chart. On the back of that success he continued writing songs and played some live dates around the UK, but he’s been very quiet since Christmas 2015.

Somewhere in my Heart is still his most played hit and continues to bring him a handsome income, “It was my biggest hit but it was the runt of the litter,” he said, “that’s been the song that’s survived. My little baby, the orphan that no one wanted!”

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Matthew and Son (Cat Stevens)

This week’s artist grew up in the heart of London, played piano in his father’s restaurant, swept onto the pop scene, caught tuberculosis…and nearly died, then retired and all by the time he was 19. He recovered, returned to the pop scene and became one of the most successful singer/songwriters of the 1970s before giving it all up for religion. This week I look into Cat Stevens’ second and biggest UK hit, Matthew and Son.

Cat was born Steven Georgiou to a Greek Cypriot father and a Swedish mother and has an older sister and a younger brother who all lived in a flat above the Moulin Rouge restaurant which his parents ran. His parents divorced in the mid-fifties yet they remained under the same roof and ran that same restaurant. Cat explained what got him going, “I think I was 15 when the big impact of life like The Beatles happened and, of course, it was then every young guy’s dream just to get a guitar and join a band. I lived in London and was lucky enough to be on the edge of Tin Pan Alley which was about 100 yards away from where I lived and there was all these guitar shops and it became my very first ambition to get a guitar. My father finally agreed and succumbed to give me eight pounds to buy my first Italian guitar. I had a lot of ideas and I found it easier to write my own material rather than sing other people’s and also I might get it wrong. Also, I had a lot of ideas I think because of the background and the musical textures I was surrounded by being in an area where there was a lot of Spanish and South African music as well rock, R&B and bluebeat, everything was here. When Dylan came along he made it all possible because of the poetry. Not everything had to be about love songs.”

In 1966, Mike Hurst of the Springfields was impressed when he hear Cat sing and helped him record some demo tracks and in-turn get a record deal with the newly-formed Deram label which was being launched by Decca. His debut hit, I Love My Dog which Cat said, “It was actually true, that song! I found a little dog, one of those sausage dogs, tied to a lamp post outside Foyles. No one was claiming it, so I took the dog home. The song was about him.” then came Matthew and Son.

Only a small part of that song is based on a truth – the title. It was whilst he was riding on a London bus that he saw a sign in a solicitor’s window and by the time his journey was complete he had the whole song in his head about the entire depressing life of a downtrodden office worker whose work was never finished. The story portrays his life from the time he leaves home and becomes part of the hustle and bustle of the manic London rush hour always thinking about what he had to do that day. Matthew and Son, which also became the title of his debut album released in April 1967, reached number two in the UK singles chart, only held off by The Monkees’ I’m A Believer. The track also featured the session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins on piano. Nicky had played with the like of the Kinks, Harry Nilsson, Donovan and the Rolling Stones.

Cat loved living in London, he said, “It was all very exciting, every day there was something new, a different challenge. I felt I thoroughly deserved it. I lapped it up.” He started living like a rock star, drinking and smoking a little too much. He was part of a package tour which included The Walker Brothers, Engelbert Humperdinck and, yes, Jimi Hendrix. “Wow!” he said, “Who put that package together?” He said in an interview with Mojo, “Actually I got on well with both Engelbert and Jimi. Jimi was a very warm and friendly man, a soft-spoken fellow and a gentle man. It was only when he got on stage that all hell broke loose. It was like he was on one of those rapids – he just couldn’t stop himself. After the shows I’d mostly hang around with Jimi and we’d go to clubs and discos, Engelbert wouldn’t go to the same clubs as us!”

Cat charted a number of hits in the seventies including Lady D’Arbanville, about his girlfriend Patti, Moon Shadow, Morning Has Broken, Can’t Keep It In and (Remember The Days Of The) Old School Yard where he was backed by Elkie Brooks. His only hit not written by him was a cover of Sam Cooke’s Another Saturday Night in 1974. As a writer a number of artists have successfully covered his songs; The Tremeloes did Here Comes My Baby (1967), Paul & Barry Ryan did Keep It Out of Sight (1967), P.P Arnold, Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow all had hits with The First Cut Is The Deepest, Jimmy Cliff and Maxi Priest did well with Wild World and Boyzone Took Father and Son to number two in 1995 and then Ronan teamed up with Cat (by now called Yusef) to record another version of the song and yet again went to number two.

It all changed in December 1977 when Cat decided to give it all up and convert to the Islamic faith, a decision he made following a holiday in Marrakesh in Morocco and a year later he changed his name to Yusef Islam. It had its drawbacks over the years like in 2000 when The Israeli government decided to deport him because of allegations that he was giving money to the Palestinian organisation Hamas, a claim he denied and again in September 2004 whilst on a flight to Washington he was told that he was denied entry to the USA because his name was flagged up as being on a ‘no fly’ list and the plane was diverted to Maine. He was held overnight and sent back the UK the next morning. Five years later he wrote a song about the incident called Boots and Sand and featured guest appearances by both Paul McCartney and Dolly Parton.

He slowly resumed his music career in the mid-nineties and in 2003 made his first public appearance in over 25 years when he appeared, with Peter Gabriel, the man who’d played flute on the aforementioned Lady D’Arbanville, at Nelson Mandela’s 46664 concert where he sang Wild world.

He began to perform more and more both on stage and in the studio and his latest album, The Laughing Apple, was released just seven weeks ago.

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Runaway (Del Shannon)

Question: Who was the first artist to take a Lennon & McCartney-penned song into the American singles chart some eight months before the Beatles charted their own version of and which song was it? Give up? Well it was Del Shannon who covered From Me to You in a very faithful version, but it’s not that song I’m focusing on this week, but Del’s only transatlantic number one, Runaway.

Del was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan in December 1934 and grew up listening to country and western music which prompted him to learn both the guitar and ukulele. He served in the army in Germany in 1954 where he joined a band called the Cool Flames. When he returned to the US he took a job as a carpet salesman by day and played guitar in a band called The Moonlight Ramblers at the Hi-Lo club by night.

The Hi-Lo club was in Battle Creek, Michigan and is affectionately known as the Cereal City USA as Kellogg’s has its headquarters there. In 1959 the workers would unwind at the Hi-Lo club and listen to 25-year-old Charles Westover, as he still was, as part of the resident band. “There was a guy in the club who wanted to be a wrestler called Mark Shannon,” he told spencer Leigh, “and I thought Shannon was a great name and borrowed it. Mark Shannon wasn’t right though as it sounded like a detective. I was selling carpets by day and the guy who owned the store had a Cadillac DeVille, which was beautiful and so I became Del Shannon.”

There was a keyboard player called Max Crook who auditioned for Del’s band and showcased his new gadget called a Musitron, a prototype synthesiser which could copy violins and other instruments. As soon as he heard it, Del said, “Man, you’re hired.” The music publisher, Ollie McLaughlin, was impressed with the group and asked Del and Max for original songs. Max wrote the instrumental, Mr. Lonely, the B-side of Johnny & The Hurricanes’ 1961 hit, Ja-Da.

His first and biggest hit was Runaway and Del recalled how it came about, “We were on stage and Max hit an A minor and a G and I said, ‘Max, play that again, it’s a great change.'” The drummer, Dick Parker, followed them and after 15 minutes, the manager of the club shouted, “Knock it off, play something else.” The next day, in-between serving customers in the carpet store, Del Shannon wrote some lyrics. “That night I went back to the club and I told Max to play an instrumental on his Musitron for the middle part, and when he played that solo, we had Runaway.”

Then it came to the recording and in January 1961 Del and Max, along with their respective wives, Shirley and Joann, went to New York and the two men recorded with session musicians. The record company, Big Top, had sped up Runaway causing Del to remark, ‘That doesn’t sound like me.’ To which the record executive replied, ‘But nobody knows what you sound like, Del.’ While they were recording, Shirley and Joann joined the audience of a TV show and Joann ended up as a winning contestant on Beat The Clock. Almost nine months to the day, Shirley gave birth to their daughter, whom they named Jody, after the B-side of Runaway and itself named after a girl who went to the Hi-Lo.

He once said he wrote the words to Runaway about himself because he was forever running away from relationships as the song told the story of a guy whose girl leaves him, and he is left wondering why it went wrong. He was also a modest man and never claimed he was doing anything original with his vocal, saying that it borrowed from The Ink Spots’ We Three, Jimmy Jones’ Handy Man, Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover and Dion & The Belmonts’ I Wonder Why.

Runaway was a great recording debut and led to Shannon charting 13 more hits in the UK 11 of which were written or co-written by Del. The nearest he came to topping the chart again was with the 1962 hit The Swiss Maid which made number two and was written by the future chart-topping singer Roger Miller. Max’s Musitron can be heard at its note-bending best on Don’t Gild the Lily, Lily which was on the B-side of the follow-up to Runaway, Hats off to Larry.

By the beginning of the 1970s, Del’s career had petered out and he turned to alcohol. In 1974 he recorded the song And the Music Plays On which was produced by Dave Edmunds. Four years later he gave up the booze and signed a deal with RSO records and began working on an album called Drop Down and Get Me which was produced by Tom Petty and recorded with the Heartbreakers, Tom’s backing band. Just prior to album’s release RSO went bust and was handed over to Network records. The album featured mainly original songs but there was a cover of the Everly Brothers’ Maybe Tomorrow and The Rolling Stones’ Out of Time.

In 1986 Del was asked to re-record Runaway with new lyrics and served as the theme for the NBC-TV television program Crime Story. There were rumours in 1989 that he was going to replaced Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys after Orbison died because Del had worked with Jeff Lynne in 1975, but that never happened. That same year Tom Petty, in his hit Runnin’ Down a Dream, makes reference to Del when he sings, ‘It was a beautiful day, me and Del were singing, a little runaway.’

Anyone who has toured with Del Shannon knows he was full of obsessions – one day he was attacking sugar and the next day scooping down ice-cream – and he went from one fad to another. His songs reflect his paranoia because he suffered with depression. On 8th February 1990, Shannon took his own life with 22-caliber rifle.

After his death the Traveling Wilburys paid tribute when they recorded a version of Runaway. The following year Jeff Lynne helped to complete Del’s final album, Rock On and Del was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

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What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) (Information Society)

This week’s choice will be unfamiliar to many readers as the song was never a UK hit, received very little airplay and the artist is not known in this country, but a late 80s release which may well have fared better had it been released about six years earlier.

The Information Society were a synth-pop quartet comprising guitarist Paul Robb, bassist James Cassidy, vocalist Kurt Harland Larson and keyboard player Amanda Kramer who formed in 1982 in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a sound that would have fitted in perfectly with the likes of Yazoo, Depeche Mode and OMD to name just three, but they were fairly ahead of their time when it came to using samples. Sampling, as we know it i.e. using existing recorded material made by other people began properly in the mid-eighties beginning with The Art of Noise’s track Close (To the Edit) which used interpolations of Yes’ Leave It, a track from the 90125 album. The Art of Noise must have been Yes fans as the song’s title was inspired by the title of Yes’ 1972 album Close To the Edge.

It’s also surprising that it wasn’t a hit because it carries a message that many people could relate to; What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) tells the story of a man trying to get his wife/girlfriend to open up and say what’s on her mind. He could see something was wrong but she wouldn’t say. “When we wrote the lyric, we considered it just a collection of emotional impressions,” Paul Robb explained in an interview with Song Facts, “When you look back at it now, it’s a clear narrative about the difficulty that people have communicating with each other. At the time, we weren’t writing it with that in mind, but it’s so clear when you just read through the lyrics, it’s a very simple and clear-cut story. We didn’t really realise what we were writing about. You fall into these grooves – I think it’s just the way the human brain works, even when you try to avoid it, you fall into the next groove over. But it’s still the same narrative structure, because that’s the way the brain works: we like to tell stories.”

Looking at the title, the parenthesis didn’t seem to link to the body of the song, Pure Energy is what Dr Spock (played by Leonard Nimmoy) uttered in Star Trek. It was in the 26th episode called Errand of Mercy in the first series where Dr Spock and Captain Kirk visit the Planet Organia where its inhabitants are so ahead of their time that there is no need for a physical body and Spock utters the words, “Fascinating. Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all.” On the 12″ extended version the track opens with the lines, ‘It’s worked so far, but we’re not out yet,’ which is another Star Trek line this time spoken by Dr McCoy in the eighth episode of the second series called I Mudd.

They planned to release the parent album ahead of the single but they ran into problems because none of the dialogue from Star Trek had been cleared with Paramount Pictures. Their record company made several attempts to contact Paramount but were getting no response so eventually, after six months, the label’s A&R man managed to contact Adam Nimmoy, Leonard’s son, who relayed the message to his father who personally cleared the samples.

The single was released and made number three on the Billboard singles chart where is spend six months. In the UK it fell short of the published top 75 by peaking at number 81. The eponymously titled album made number 25 in America.

Amanda Kramer left the band in 1988 when the song was beginning to happen. She later went on to work with Karl Wallinger and his band World Party and toured as a backing singer for Siouxsie Sioux and Lloyd Cole and then in 2003 joined, and is still with, The Psychedelic Furs.

The band parted company in 1993 when their label, Tommy Boy, dropped them but Harland wanted to continue, so he bought the rights to the name from the other band members and released an album in 1997 called Don’t Be Afraid. In 2006 both James Cassidy and Paul Robb decided on a reunion but Harland declined to be a full-time member, but did contribute vocals to a track called Seeds of Pain. They drafted in Christopher Anton as their new lead singer and they added a female touch by bringing in Sonja Myers. In 2014 Harland returned fully and were back to the original male line up but now included VJ Falcotronik. The same year they released an album called Hello World and two years later came Orders of Magnitude an album of cover versions which featured, among others, Heaven 17’s (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, Exile’s Kiss You All Over and the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me.

What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy) was featured in the 2000 film American Psycho which starred Christian Bale and again, more recently in an episode of the American Medical drama Grey’s Anatomy in 2014.

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