Single of the week

Wordy Rappinghood (Tom Tom Club)

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The first number one in the UK that contained rapping in came in 1983 in the shape of New Edition’s Candy Girl, but commercial rap was being tested as early as 1981. Remember Blondie’s Rapture? The Human League gave it a go in Love Action and two members of the Talking Heads gave it a different dimension as the Tom Tom Club.

The Talking heads were formed in New York in 1975 and got their break supporting the Ramones at the CBGB’s club. Arguably one of their greatest singles, Psycho Killer, never made the UK chart but their first success came in 1981 with Once In A Lifetime reaching number 14 but the next three hits failed to make any great impact. Their only other visit to the top ten came in 1985 with Road to Nowhere.

With the ever changing music scene of the early 80s, a diversion was needed and so the husband and wife duo Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth – the Talking Heads’ drummer and bassist respectively – temporarily broke away and formed the Tom Tom Club in March 1981. Not only that, they did it in style by relocating to Nassau, the  capital of the Bahamas where they bought a house right next to Island record label owner Chris Blackwell. He owned Compass Points Studios and he invited the pair to record some tracks. He said that if he liked their sound he would record a whole album. Frantz and Weymouth brought in Steven Stanley, a 21 year-old keyboard player who was the sound engineer on Ian Dury’s Lord Upminster album and they found a fantastic bass player called Monte Browne who had been a member of T-Connection.  Chris Frantz explained what happened after Blackwell approved, “So we then went back into the studio and did the rest of the album including this track called Genius Of Love which was eventually released as a single in America in 1981, but only after Island Records had shipped and sold like 100,000 12″ singles. Seymour Stein and the people at Warner Brothers sort of said ‘Oh, maybe Chris and Tina are on to something. We should release this album over here.’ So they did and to date it’s still one of the biggest selling records we’ve ever had, either with Talking Heads or Tom Tom Club.”

Their original intention was to record and released only one track, but they found they all inspired each other sufficiently to carry on. The band’s line up grew too and now included Weymouth’s two sisters, Laura, a freelance video technician, and Lani who was a New York student studying psychotherapy. They trio called themselves the Sweetbreaths. Wordy Rappinghood obviously impressed the reviewers in Smash Hits who exclaimed that it was ‘Aimed at the more intelligent end of the market’. At the time, Weymouth said in an interview, “When we did Wordy Rappinghood, we didn’t really know what we were doing. I think a lot of people thought Chris and I were going to do something really self-indulgent, and David (Byrne) and Jerry (Harrison) (Talking Heads members) were going to do something more legitimate.”

Wordy Rappinghood open with the tapping of a keyboard with an intellectual keyboard beat follows, setting a creative tone. The first verse, Tina noted has a vocabulary that exists for newspapers. “It’s tighter and precise. Words exist to create hundreds of pages of a book. They are spoken. There are also negative connotations. Guilty and steal are reserved for crooks. I will be with you are said to convey comfort. Surrender and truce can stop war. Stop, go, can’t express permission. Words build relationships, form bonds, and employment. I advise people to dine on the finest conversations and stimulate their minds. Swears are junk foods and leave people feeling unsatisfied. The pre-chorus is a bunch of nonsense words jumbled together.”

Blackwell had the idea to team them up with legendary reggae producer Lee Perry, but the day before, Perry and Blackwell had a falling out and Perry failed to show up. Instead they worked with a young Jamaican engineer called Steven Stanley, who later went on to have a successful career as a songwriter and is best remembered for the beat behind Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit Fantasy, mainly because it sampled Genius Of Love.

After Wordy Rappinghood, they added Steve Scales on percussion, Alex Weir guitar and Tyron Downie on keyboards. In 1986 they replaced Scales with Gary Pozner and Downie with Mark Roule. Their next album came in 1988 with Dark Sneak Love Action and despite a guest vocal appearance by Kirsty MacColl on the title track, the album failed to generate sales. In 2000 two further singles, Happiness Can’t Buy Money and The Good, The Bad and the Funky, were released and equally did nothing and so the band finally split.

In 2003, Wordy Rappinghood made a comeback in Europe in what was known as the Electroclash scene. Weymouth explained, “Those new electronic kids really dig it and they’ve used that little opening keyboard riff over and over again in remixes and stuff. It’s even been used in France for a cookie commercial…a children-oriented commercial for a French cookie called Le Petit Ecolier.” In 2011 the track was used again, this time on UK TV, to advertise Evian water.

The Tom Tom Club were the first white band to appear on the legendary programme, Soul Train. Chris Frantz explained what it was like, “It felt like a wonderful crossover. Here we are on this really cool TV show called Soul Train and that must mean we’ve got soul! That’s what we wanted – to have soul.”

Wordy Rappinghood discusses the importance of communication. “People are talking even if they don’t realise it. It’s a natural thing to do and something that’s taken for granted. Without language, people would struggle to relate to each other. Words define people and express their personalities,” Weymouth explained. In a world of texting, tweeting and Facebook, it’s doubtful that a song like this could be written now that a younger generation can understand.

Wide Open Space (Mansun)


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When Mansun landed on the musical map in 1996 their lead singer and main songwriter Paul Draper exclaimed “Exhibitionism is back” by sporting a new shiny houndstooth suit alongside blue eye liner and nail varnish on his right hand and then proclaimed, “I should have worn my nail varnish on my chord-playing hand really that way it’ll get more noticed.”

The band were formed as a trio in Chester in 1995 and originally called Grey Lantern after one of Draper’s songs. Whilst in a recording studio and technician claimed “That name is the worse fucking name ever”. Draper had a Verve EP in his collection and it contained the track A Man Called Sun which then got concertinaed down to Mansun. The other two members were Stove King on bass and Dominic Chad on guitar and they eventually added Andy Rathbone on drums.

Between March 1960 and December 1967, the chart compilers tracked an EP chart with the Shadows leading the way with 38 charting extended plays. Had this EP chart still been going, Mansun would have had a chance to be high up on it as their first 11 hit singles were all EP’s entitled numbers One to Eleven. Their debut in April 1996 had the lead track Egg-Shaped Fred – a small town ligger and their first top 20 hit was Stripped Vicar about a transvestite.

Wide Open Space was the lead track from their fourth EP and was the track that enhanced their career as it was their most successful single in the USA where it reached number 25 on the modern rock chart. The song took a while to write; in the sleeves notes of Legacy: Best Of, Draper explained how he recorded the entire song without the vocals six months before he wrote the lyrics. He remembered, “”I struggled for six months to find the lyrics, but I eventually got them from absorbing someone talking on TV which gave me the title, then I painted the imagery around that.” The song reached number 15 in the UK chart and was promoted by two different videos. The first was directed by Paul Cunningham and featured the band playing in a small dilapidated room while Martino Lazzeri (who played Joe Williams in Grange Hill) walks around a city alienated and paranoid amongst a vampire-like atmosphere. The American’s probably wouldn’t have got that so a second and simpler video was made and that was directed by Nigel Dick.

The track is included on the million-selling album  Attack Of The Grey Lantern, but that wasn’t the original title as Paul recalled, “No, it was originally called Attack Of The Green Lantern, but then we talked about it amongst ourselves we realised that none of us are into green, so we changed it to grey.” The American version of the album was quite disastrous with many unnecessary changes. The album has all the tracks segued together but Stripped Vicar was replaced by the early single Take It Easy Chicken which didn’t seem to fit with the grandiose feeling of the album and other tracks were chopped into a different order which made it lose its feel, as journalist Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it, ‘it ludicrously robs a fine concept album of its concept.’

Eighteen months later Mansun unleashed their second album, Six, which reached a respectable peak of number six, but within four weeks it had disappeared from the chart completely. Their third long-player, Little Kix, did even worse, reaching number 12 in the UK and barely registering in the US when it appeared in the summer of 2000. One track from it, Electric Man, had heavy rotation in all the men’s toilets of UK Cineworld cinemas, but may weren;t in there long enough for it to register and turn it into sales. Work began on a fourth album in 2002 but Mansun split up in May the following year. The results of the new material appeared on the double CD Kleptomania in 2004.

The reason for their split was unknown at the time but it transpired that Paul Draper was undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the time, having been diagnosed with cancer in 2002. Paul had made a full recovery, but did have to have half a finger removed during surgery which resulted in a slightly different sound because he had trouble with some of the chords.

In 2009, at the last ever gig at London’s Astoria, Paul appeared with the My Vitriol performing a version of Wide Open Space. In 2010 Draper started promising fans new solo material which hasn’t, as yet, materialised. Now it doesn’t look likely because during 2011 he contacted numerous internet forums and blogs requesting that all dialogue relating to his solo material be removed.

Sartorial Eloquence (Elton John)

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Elton, after years as a jobbing musician, finally made his name on the UK music scene in 1971 with his hit Your Song. Many musicians will wonder how long their career would last and no doubt Elton did the same, but 41 years on, he is still doing it with immense success.

Throughout the 1970s he racked up 25 hit singles including; Rocket Man, Crocodile Rock, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,  his first number one Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee on board and Part Time Love. His albums included Tumbleweed Connection, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and Blue Moves. As the 1980s arrived, Elton was keen to let everyone know how successful he’d been by the title of his next album, 21 At 33 – his 21st album at the tender age of 33!

Although his albums were regularly making high chart positions, his singles were in a lull. Was there a reason for this? not really is probably the answer, the music scene was changing a little, disco was in full force, new wave was new on the scene and new romantic was on its way. Things were also turning a little electric and Elton had changed producers from Gus Dudgeon to Clive Franks. He and his long time lyricist Bernie Taupin were on a ‘break’ after Elton declined to use any of Bernie’s lyrics on the 1978 album A Single Man. The 1979 album Victim of Love was a disaster with most songs co-written by former Chicory Tip and Donna Summer collaborator Pete Bellotte. The only track not written by him was a bland cover of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode which failed when released as a single. Although 21 At 33 saw Elton and Bernie reunited, it was only on three of the nine tracks, Chasing The Crown, Two Rooms At The End Of The World and White Lady White powder. Elton began working with song writer Gary Osborne who had written Take Me Back, Dear God and the first single released Little Jeannie (misspelt on the label as Little Jeanie).  Give Me The Love was co-written by recent hit maker Judie Tzuke and the other two tracks, Never Gonna Fall In Love Again and Sartorial Eloquence were written by Tom Robinson.

Two Rooms At The End Of The World was about how Elton and Bernie got together, then parted and reunited again. Chasing The Crown lyrically resembled The Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil in as much as they are both puzzles where the listener has to identify the culprit who causes misery and conflict. White Lady White Powder features three members of the Eagles, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy B. Schmit on backing vocals.

Sartorial Eloquence opens with Elton at the piano sounding despondent. The song expresses a homosexual longing, the object of affection for a stylishly dressed, emotionally unrevealing man, who prefers to leave an intense affair for other pleasures down the road. Could this be because of the sexuality of both its writers? According to the book, His Song, by Elizabeth J. Rosenthal, the music evokes the disappointment of a man left behind which grows in volume and despondency with the introduction of supporting musicians an backing singers finally reaching the chorus ‘Don’t wanna play this game no more’, which, interestingly became the main title of the song in the USA and Sartorial Eloquence only preceding the title in parenthesis, probably catering for the less liberated minds of the American record-buying public. Around the same time Robinson wrote a song about a boy in boarding school who had a crush on another pupil which he called Elton’s Song but it was held back and released the following year on the album The Fox.

When the single was released, it was Elton’s third (after Rocket Man and Saturday night’s Alright for Fighting) to contain two tracks on the B side. Cartier was a 53-second track about Elton’s favourite jewellery. He once explained on an American TV interview, “I feel that in these depressing times, I would write something to cheer myself up.” The other tracks was White Man Danger which hasn’t yet appeared on any album nor issued on CD.

During the 1985 World snooker championship (the one with Dennis Taylor beating Steve Davis in the final), the song was used to great effect as the backing to a montage of impeccably dressed snooker player being knocked out in the earlier rounds.

The image attached is my personally signed copy of the 21 At 33 album when I met Elton in 1980.

Iris (Goo Goo Dolls)

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One thing many songwriters suffer from is writer’s block. It’s when you’re not inspired and nothing comes. One of the best known cures is to write everyday and approach your song writing from different angles, probably easier said than done. Quite often after a long period of not managing to put pen to paper, all of a sudden it flows and that happened to songwriter John Rzeznik who is the lead singer and guitarist with the New York based trio the Goo Goo Dolls.

They formed in Buffalo in 1986 with Robby Takac on bass and drummer George Tututska. Takac was the original lead singer because John was too shy but he eventually overcame this. They picked their name from a True Detective ad for a toy called a Goo Goo Doll. John remembered, “We were young and we were a garage band not trying to get a deal. We had a gig that night and needed a name. It’s the best we came up with, and for some reason it stuck. If I had had five more minutes, I definitely would have picked a better name.”

In 1987 they signed to Mercenary records and released their debut self-titled album, the following year they changed to Celluloid records and released their second album, Jed. It was with their third album, Hold Me Up in 1990 that they made their mark in America. Their next album, called Name, was their fifth and was called A Boy Named Goo, but soon after recording it Rzeznik and Takac decided to replace Tutuska with a new drummer Mike Malinin. After a legal dispute with their record label, they re-signed to Warner Brothers and released their sixth album, Dizzy Up The Girl. This brought more success which led to a cameo appearance on Beverly Hills 90210.

It was in 1998 that Rzeznik suffered from writer’s block and was on the verge of quitting the band when he was approached to write a song for the film City Of Angels. He accepted the offer and the result was Iris. The song came fairly easily and John explained how, “I think the biggest difference is when writing the songs for a film, you sort of have your subject matter in front of you and the concepts right in front of you. The emotional aspects of whatever part of the film you are writing for are laid out in front of you. It gives me a bit of a format to work under, you know to work with. When you are writing songs strictly for yourself, sometimes you’re pulling stuff out of your hat. You’re sort of making up stories or reflecting on conversations you had with someone. I think it’s easier to write songs for film because you have that road map in front of you and put the pieces together.”

Iris is about a person with an invisible identity who no one understands. Then, he finds true love. He wants his true love to know that he exists and that she is the only person in the world who can understand and love him – hence the last line, ‘I just want you to know who I am.’ The name Iris was inspired by a Country singer named Iris DeMent, whose name Rzeznik came across while reading a magazine.

The song topped the U.S Billboard airplay chart for a record 18 weeks but in the UK, despite masses of radio airplay, it stalled at number 50. The follow up, Slide, only went seven places higher but it gave their UK record label, Hollywood, incentive to re-issue Iris, but without the budget for vast promotion it disappeared from the chart after only two weeks although it did peak higher at number 26.

In October 2011 the song got a new lease of life when two X Factor contestants, Frankie Cocozza and Joe Cox, both performed it on the show. Unlike most of the X factor winners and contestants whose career has a limited shelf life, this song had the appeal and remained on the chart for over 30 weeks and reached a new high of number three some thirteen years after its initial release.

The track has also proved popular as a first dance at weddings including Avril Lavigne who chose it to start her evening when she married Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley in 2006. The same year Ronan Keating decided to have a go at it and somehow took it to number 15 in the UK chart, but thankfully after four weeks it was gone.

I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) (Meat Loaf)

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On 22 November 1963, 16-year-old Texan, Marvin Lee Aday witnessed the assassinated President Kennedy’s limousine’s arrival at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital. That teenager was to adopt his nickname of Meat Loaf (partly coined by his father because of his size, even at the age of two. His classmates added the ‘Loaf’ in his later school years) and became one of rock’s most successful artists.

In 1975 he played the roles of both Eddie and Dr Scott in a Broadway production of The Rocky Horror Show. Shortly after, he recreated the role of rocker Eddie in the film version. Meat also acted in many movies, including Roadie, Wayne’s World, Spiceworld and more recently, Fight Club.

After meeting and befriending virtuoso pianist, New York-born Jim Steinman, at an audition for a part in Jim’s off-Broadway play, More Than You Deserve, they created one of the biggest albums ever, the 30 million-selling Bat Out Of Hell, which has spent almost 500 weeks on the UK chart to date. Jim wrote and arranged the epic record with the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Todd Rundgren in the role of producer.

At almost 22 stone, Meat was an unlikely sex symbol, but Bat Out Of Hell turned him into a big star. The album took some time to set the chart alight, but received a much-needed boost when BBC2’s Old Grey Whistle Test showed a clip of Bat Out Of Hell in early 1978. It eventually produced three singles, You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad and the title track. These songs have become classics – more than the rather unimpressive chart positions of the first two suggest. Exhaustive world tours took their toll on Meat’s voice and he took many months to fully recover.

The Eighties wasn’t a particularly good decade for Meat. Being at a physical and mental low, and plagued with 22 separate lawsuits from his former manager and music publisher, Meat was advised to declare himself bankrupt. Although CBS Records claimed Bat Out Of Hell to be ‘the most profitable record in history of the industry – more so than Thriller’, astonishingly Meat only started receiving royalties in 1997.

Meat and Jim had fallen out in 1983, largely due to the album Bad For Good, a record meant as Meat’s follow-up, but because of the problems he was experiencing with his voice, Jim had decided to sing it himself and release it as his own.

Jim had been busy, writing and producing for artists such as Bonnie Tyler (Total Eclipse Of The Heart), Air Supply (Making Love Out Of Nothing At All), Celine Dion and a chart topper for Boyzone, (No Matter What) in 1998.

They were reunited in 1990 when Meat invited Jim over to his house for a meal. Jim brought a new song, I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) over for him to hear.  Meat Loaf loved it but recommended they make some changes to the arrangement. Letting bygones be bygones, they agreed to record a sequel album, Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell. Featuring a similar bombastic and over-blown production to its predecessor, it went on to sell over five million copies worldwide. The first single released I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) (doesn’t he just love those parentheses), which was edited down from the original 12-minute album version, went to number one in 25 countries and won him a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal. Meat Loaf has always enjoyed becoming the character in his songs. “I saw myself as a 14-year-old boy, looking at this girl trying to figure out how to get the nerve to go over and ask her out,” he revealed to Billboard’s Fred Bronson. As for the song’s seemingly ambiguous lyric, Meat explains: “It’s so simple. The answer is right before every chorus. ‘I’d do anything for love but I won’t do that. I’ll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life.'”

Meat Loaf began a new world tour in 2003, but had to cancel some dates after he collapsed in front of 11,000 fans at Wembley Arena. It was discovered he was suffering from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a rare heart condition.

Jim Steinman and Meat collaborated again, this time on Bat Out Of Hell 3, which was released in 2006, the lead track, It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, peaked at number six, three places lower than the Celine Dion version from 10 years earlier, but higher than the original by Pandora’s Box from 1989.

In 2009 Meat released Hang Cool Teddy Bear which, although reached number four, only spent six weeks on the chart. Sadly he really only appeals now to the die-hards as proved by his latest album, Hell in a Handbasket which peaked at number five this year but was gone after just four weeks.

While You See A Chance (Steve Winwood)

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Not too many musicians make a living over so many years and cover so many genres. In the last 46 years, Steve Winwood has done blues, jazz, folk, prog-rock, rock and pop.

Two groups with back to back number ones in 1966 were led by young singers with very mature voices. Scott Walker led the Walker Brothers and Steve Winwood led the Spencer Davis Group. Winwood was just 15 when the band formed in 1963 and they got their break after Island record label owner Chris Blackwell, saw them supporting  Carl Wayne & The Vikings in Birmingham and then signed them, but licensed them to the Phillips label.

After the group broke up, Steve formed Traffic who had two successful years, but when that fell apart, he left to form the Supergroup Blind Faith. In 1970 he attempted a solo career with his first album being Mad Shadows, but after he enlisted the help of former Traffic members Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi, the album was re-titled John Barleycorn Must Die and was released as Traffic thus forcing them to reform.

When that didn’t work out, Winwood effectively retired to Gloucestershire where he built his own studio and spent the following two years writing songs but also helping fellow musicians Sandy Denny and the Sutherland Brothers on various sessions.

He released his first solo album proper in 1977, but due to the onslaught of punk it got overlooked and the reviews dismissed it as Passé, despite this it still reached number 12 in the UK.  The following year he began work on his next album which he wanted to be a real solo project and so he played all the instruments, arranged it, produced and engineered it. It took two years and the result was Arc of A Diver. The only contributions were from songwriters George Fleming and Will Jennings and former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band leader Vivian Stanshall who co-wrote the title track.

Prior to recording the album, Jennings and Winwood became good friends and spent a lot of time socially. It helped with the writing as Jennings explained, “If you’re writing a play, you’re writing for a particular persona, a particular character, and you try to feel as deeply inside them as you can – where are they coming from and what they’ve been through. It’s the same with Steve, While You See A Chance because he was coming out of a whole period with Spencer Davis and Traffic, and then where else do you go? I was up there at his place in rural England, and I was in his life so to speak, and trying to see through his eyes as well as mine. And that’s what all those things were about, all the songs we wrote.”

The song has often been regarded as an inspirational song, but one of the lines says, ‘While you see a chance take it, find romance, fake it’, which seems negative, Jennings explained, “Well the next line explains it: ‘Because it’s all on you.’ There’s an old English expression called ‘Fake it till you make it.’ If you don’t have romance in your life, meaning in the broader sense, really, something to make life interesting, just imagine it until it’s there.” Jennings’ logic can also be spotted in Whitney Houston’s 1987 hit Didn’t We Also Have It All which he co-wrote with Michael Masser.

During the recording process, Winwood accidentally erased part of the drum track in the intro. He spent many, many hours trying to replicate it and piece what he had left back together, but in the end decided to leave it without the drum track for the first 29 seconds. Personally I think it makes it more atmospheric and show cases Steve’s brilliant keyboard abilities. Steve’s comment about it was, “The mother of invention in music is necessity, not Frank Zappa!” The song reached number 45 in the UK but the album reached number 13. Steve’s contract with Island records had lapsed but because of the success of Arc of A Diver, he was now in a position to renegotiate his contract.

On Steve Winwood’s 1988 album Roll With It, there is a track called Hearts On Fire which describes a boy who is out with his friends when he sees a girl at the bar who he fancies. He chats her up and she comes back with the line ‘baby while you see a chance, you better take it’. Rumour has it that this was a true story about how he met his second wife Eugenia.

Steve released further albums, Refugees of the Heart (1990), Junction Seven (1997), About Time (2003) and Nine Lives (2008). He is still writing, recording and performing live. When I met him in 2009 he looked in great shape and was a lovely man to chat to and came across as a genuine passionate musician and not a ‘rock star’.

He is currently touring the USA until June but will make one appearance in the UK this year which will be at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in May. It would have been quite handy for him as he only lives up the road from it, but this year he will be popping back from the States.