100 Essential CDs – Number 71 – Pet Shop Boys – Actually



Actually- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1987) 

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position -25

British National Treasures Pet Shop Boys found them ascending, after a couple of false starts, to the top of both the UK and US singles charts with their debut hit single “West End Girls”.  This was a 1985 re-recording of a track that had been out the previous year which had attracted attention in the clubs.  Their second release “Opportunites (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” also had to wait for a 1986 remix to make number 11 in the UK and 10 in the US.  A debut album aimed to install politeness to the record-buying generation, ensuring that they asked for “Pet Shop Boys Please” reached number 3 in the UK and 7 in the US.  It was a solid release, the best track for me being the third single “Suburbia”- a delightful piece of PSB nonsense which got to number 8 in the UK  (and went Top 3 in, amongst other territories,  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Switzerland).


My real love affair with PSB started with this, their second studio album. I’d bought both “Please” and “Disco” their first collection of remixes which was released in 1986 and reached 15 in the UK album charts but with this album they upped a gear into the Essential Releases category.  It would be their first top class release but by no means their last nor their very best.  I may be going Pet Shop Boys for quite a little while with these reviews so let’s see what makes this particular album so good.


The CD contains ten tracks, four of these were released as singles with two reaching UK number 1, one reached number 2 and one number 8.  In the US one single reached number 2 another number 9. There were also chart-topping singles for them in amongst other markets, Austria, Germany, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  The tracks are all written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, three in collaboration with other writers and they took production credits for three of the ten tracks alongside other producers, here still learning their craft.

The opening track “One More Chance” was written alongside Bobby Orlando, who had already had a part to play with their career.  The Boys hero worshipped this American producer who as Bobby O was a leading light in the Hi NRG dance music scene, which was by the mid 80’s a staple in gay clubs.  He recorded on a number of different dance labels, under a range of names, although quite often the tracks featured just Orlando himself.  He also produced for artists like drag superstar Divine and girl group The Flirts whose 1982 club hit “Passion” was a huge favourite of Chris and Neil’s.  A trip to interview Orlando when Neil was working with “Smash Hits” led to a request for the duo to record with him- the result being the original (non-hit) version of “West End Girls”.  Bobby O is back with the song-writing credits with “One More Chance” which had originally been the group’s second single three years before this album’s release and had appeared without success on a number of labels around the world.  For “Actually” it was re-recorded with additional lyrics by Chris and produced by Julian Mendelsohn.


Bobby Orlando

A mood-setting introduction of screeching brakes leads into a street-bound paranoid love song.  A tale of one who is “chained/framed” and is begging for a chance to continue what seems like an unhealthy, obsessive relationship, all of this over crashing club beats.  It’s a good opener.

The most talked about track on the album follows next.  By 1987 arguably the greatest British female singer of all time had been in the musical wilderness and not featured on a top 40 hit for 19 years.  However the Dusty Springfield, PSB collaboration came about it was a stroke of genius.  Neil has often spoken of the painstaking way Dusty liked to record- the ultimate perfectionist, often to the detriment of her career and certainly her peace of mind.  “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” reached number 2 in both the UK and US just before the release of the album.  The crowning moment is when Dusty, initially a little lost in the mix with Neil in the verse comes in with her  “Since you went away/I’ve been hanging around” section.  It makes me breathe out and think “Dusty’s back!”.  And she was back as they collaborated again on “Nothing Has Been Proved” a track appropriately from the 60’s set movie “Scandal” as well as tracks on her number 18 1990 album “Reputation”, a recording which saw Dusty’s first Top 20 studio album for 25 years.  It also paved the way for other collaborations including one of my other Essential CD’s “Results” by Liza Minelli.


“Shopping” is a bit of fun fluff examining the consumerism of the 80’s, “I heard it in the House Of Commons/Everything’s For Sale”.  It’s very much the “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” of this album.  I don’t know how seriously you can take songs with spellings (“D.I.V.O.R.C.E”& “D.I.S.C.O” being further evidence of this.)  Classic track “Rent” is up next and this is one that features on two of my Essential albums (Liza Minelli’s version on “Results” turns it into a Broadway ballad).  Here it’s faster and gentler than Liza’s and may very well be the first hit single to imply male prostitution or sugar daddy-ism,  but whatever it is Neil is quite happy with the arrangement; “We never ever argue/We never calculate the currency we spent/ I love you/ You pay my rent”.  Great lyrics.  The song reached number 8 as the third single from the album.


“Hit Music” is a dance track, with nothing deeper in the lyrics than to have a good time.  Music as escapism and works well enough as that.  I’ve always had a big soft spot for the ballad which follows next.  “It Couldn’t Happen Here” and is written by the Boys alongside movie score supremo Ennio Morricone.  It comes from another surprising venture for the boys, a now pretty much forgotten feature film of the same name released in 1988.  The film starred Chris and Neil alongside Joss Ackland, Barbara Windsor and Gareth Hunt and joined the vast pile of British film starring pop stars which are just plain odd.  The surrealness of the movie didn’t really work.  The resume of it on IMD goes “A young boy’s holiday at a seaside resort includes a crazy blind priest, nuns in suspenders and a whole bunch of fat ladies”.  Enough said.   The song on “Actually” is actually quite lovely, a big sweeping ballad which certainly extended PSB beyond the dance music boundaries.  Another track taken from the soundtrack following the release of the film, the Boys’ version of the Elvis Presley hit “Always On My Mind” eased its way to the top of the UK charts between singles number 2 and 3 from “Actually” and was the 1987 Christmas Number 1.


It’s to “Actually’s” big hit next, a number 1 single which preceded the release of the album.  “It’s A Sin” is amongst the best of PSB tracks of all time and was their first really great single.  Full of Catholic guilt, the single was helped by a memorable video directed by radical film-making genius Derek Jarman, the first of a number of collaborations with the boys.  The whole theme of the song resonated with the world’s record buying public as it topped the chart in at least 10 countries, ascending to the top in both Catholic and Protestant nations.  In the US it was their third top 10 hit reaching number 9.


Sandwiched between credible but not totally memorable dance track “I Want To Wake Up” produced by PSB with Shep Pettibone and the under-rated album closer slowie “King’s Cross” with its somewhat obscure, strangely poignant lyrics is “Heart” a track which, when released as single number 4 from the album some seven months after “Actually’s” arrival somewhat surprisingly topped the UK charts – becoming their fourth and to this date final chart-topping UK single.  It was accompanied by a video featuring Ian McKellan as a vampire.  Less showy than their previous number 1’s, it is a great Hi-NRG track, although in interviews the duo have tended to dismiss it on occasions.  The feelings I get from “King’s Cross” may still have something to do with the shocking fire at the tube station just a couple of months after the album was released which killed 31 people- Neil sings of “the dead and wounded on either side”, which can have nothing to do with the fire and yet, because this album was still pretty much on  constant rotation at the time of the tragedy it is still linked in my mind.

“Heart” Record sleeve and on set with Ian McEwan

With sales of over 4 million and appearances in books such as “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” “Actually” cemented the global reputation of Pet Shop Boys.  Its variety, the quality of the songwriting, the big hit singles and Dusty Springfield makes this an essential CD.

Actually  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.50 and used from £0.74. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $11.36 new and used from $4.17 and as a download for $9.99.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify. 

100 Essential CDs – Number 34 – Kylie Minogue- Light Years


Light Years- Kylie Minogue  (Parlophone 2000) 

UK Chart Position – 2


By the Millennium Kylie Minogue had been churning out UK hits for twelve years but things had gone just a little awry.  After her excellent 1991 album for PWL “Let’s Get To It” (another of my Essential CD’s) attained disappointing sales Kylie moved away from the security of Stock and Waterman and joined the more street-cred label Deconstruction where her first single release “Confide In Me” became her 7th single to reach number 2 in the UK charts.  The subsequent album was her second to give her a name check but this time she had matured to “Kylie Minogue” rather than the more teen-sounding “Kylie” of the first album.  The number 4 placing gave her biggest album success for 5 years and produced two more hit singles demonstrating a cooler Kylie.

Where it went a little wrong for me was with the follow-up where Kylie became so cool that she seemed to have distanced her original fans and became embroiled in indie-chic which just didn’t seem like the Kylie we had known and loved.  “Impossible Princess” was actually Kylie’s most personal work, as she had co-written all the songs and had a significant part to play in production and the whole image of the album.  This was the Kylie that she wanted to be at that time and there were collaborations with the Manic Street Preachers and Dave Ball from Soft Cell. Unfortunately (and somewhat surprisingly) the title of this album was deemed inappropriate in the UK following the death of Princess Diana and it was referred to as “Kylie Minogue” – her second album in a row titled thus.  It was a top 10 album although sales in her usually supportive UK were deemed disappointing.  In Australia it did reach number 4.  I never bothered to get it as it was a Kylie that I didn’t really buy into at the time.



Confusingly, both Deconstruction albums had the same title in the UK

Following this disappointment Kylie left Deconstruction and got herself a deal with Parlophone and made this clever “comeback” album which won back all the fans who were no longer sure as well as many more.  It became her first album to top the charts in her native Australia, gave her a UK number 2 (her previous chart-topping album had been 11 years before), scored her a 5th  UK number 1 single as well as three more Top 10 hits.  The Kylie that we knew and loved was back with a vengeance. She may have gone on afterwards to have bigger selling albums but for me this is the career highspot and still sounds excellent 17 years on.   Of the 14 tracks on show Kylie received co-composition credits on 9 of them – other names involved in the writing include Robbie Williams with hit-making partner Guy Chambers and 80’s mega-star Paula Abdul.  There is one cover version, a highly successful version of a Barry White song recorded for his girl group Love Unlimited.


Spinning Around in gold hot pants

Opening track “Spinning Around”certainly spun things around for Kylie when it entered the charts at number 1 in July 2000, her 27th Top 40 hit, prior to the release of the album.  It’s a great club track helped by a video in which Kylie sported what became an iconic pair of tiny gold hotpants.  The song itself was written by a pair of future American Idol judges Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul with the intention of being on a comeback album for Abdul whose eleven year career had tailed off somewhat.  With that album being temporarily shelved the song was given to Kylie, for whom it was perfect.


Paula Abdul who could have been Spinning Around at the top of the charts

“On A Night Like This” became the follow-up single released just before the album and became her 8th number 2 hit.  It has more of a Europop feel than the opener, enhanced by the odd touch of a Spanish guitar sound and the whole thing feels very Ibiza.  This fits in with the concept of the album with artwork by Vincent Peters being based upon a photoshoot in Ibiza. I actually think this is a stronger track than the chart-topping opener.


Kylie gets the first of her nine writing credits with “So Now Goodbye” which feels like a classic disco track and the first of three tracks produced by Johnny Douglas.  It’s a great singalong song with strong hooks.  It’s not the greatest of the Disco-tinged tracks on offer but if it had been on most of her previous albums it would have been the stand-out track.  On “Light Years” the quality has been seriously upped.  Further proof of this is “Disco Down” which perfectly recreates the time when Kylie could “boogie in my dreams/To Le Freak and Dancing Queen”.  It’s not subtle but it is great.  The vocodered male “burn this disco down” interludes makes it feel really quite funky with Douglas on production duties it is a real crowd-pleaser.  The whole thing builds beautifully.


Kylie and Robbie Williams

The sublime disco continues with “Loveboat” written by Kylie with Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers,  a track with as much summer in its pores as Wham’s “Club Tropicana”.  The “ba-ba-ba” vocals give it a Pearl & Dean coolness, there’s French lyrics and the whole thing is exquisitely Mediterranean (or what a couple of Brits and an Australian see as Mediterranean).  Kitsch levels are ramped to high with its nod to the ultra-camp 70’s TV series of the same name- but unlike this series this track certainly goes somewhere.  It’s also a perfect track for the kind of highly visual performance which would go on to dominate Kylie’s career.


All aboard the Loveboat baby!

Things get just a little rockier with “Koocachoo”, but in a finger-snapping cool rock world.  It takes us away from the Disco camp for a four minutes but we are certainly plunged back with the anthemic “Your Disco Needs You” – the greatest Kylie track not released as a UK single, although it charted in some territories.  The power of Disco is here seen as the cure to world’s ills and Kylie is the recruiting officer.  It’s as tongue in cheek as the best of Robbie Williams, who with Guy Chambers took on writing duties.  From its opening Pet Shop Boys influenced “Go West” vocals (something Robbie was still using with his 2016 release “Party Like A Russian” ) from the breathy reprise of the word “ass”, to the French section (translated into other languages for different markets), to the great build of female operatic voices and its explosive ending, this is a real statement and a “follow that!” track.  It is for me the undoubted highspot.


Following that is the much more gentle but classy Spanish influenced track “Please Stay” with it’s handclappy castanet feel and guitar sound.  As the fourth single off the album it reached number 10 and provides the perfect cool-down after the previous track. It is another of the first-class tracks. Things get even gentler for the only ballad on the album, the very pretty “Bittersweet Goodbye” written by Kylie with producer Steve Anderson.  Although some might think of “Light Years” as Kylie’s disco album, when you listen to the whole thing the range of styles of tracks is impressive.  The same writing team works on next track “Butterfly” although this is produced by American club DJ Mark Picchiotti and it is back to the more contemporary club feel of the opening tracks .


It takes a brave artist to cover a Barry White song with their lushness and complex arrangements but Kylie gives Love Unlimited’s  1973 hit “I’m Under The Influence Of Love” a great go.  There isn’t quite the build as there is in the original  but this is a very good Kylie cover even if it doesn’t eclipse the original where I love the soon to be  Mrs Barry White’s Glodean James’ vocal and the whole girl-group sound his production gives this.  I do love the swirling opening bars of Kylie’s version .

Kylie vs Love Unlimited – both under the influence!

The William/Chambers/Minogue next collaboration “I’m So High” is the least successful of their tracks and is the only track which smack a little of album-filler.  It leads into the duet with Robbie, “Kids”, which became chart runner up number 9 when it attained second position when released as the third single.  It feels more like Williams than Minogue, with its “Let Me Entertain You” rocky vibe, but it doesn’t feel out of place and saw the duo paired in a swimming pool for the closing moments of the video with its typically unsubtle Williams champagne cork popping for the video’s climax!


Closer track “Light Years” has the feel of Giorgio Moroder and sees Kylie as our space age purser for the trip of our lives.  It’s “I Feel Love” meets Crown Heights Affair’s “Galaxy Of Love” with a great heap of Kylie kitsch.  A strong closing  nod to all that has gone on before.  With this release Kylie had tweaked the image somewhat and the public was back with her.  Her next album “Fever” contained the international smash hit “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” which topped the charts in over 40 countries and gained sales of over 5 million.  That album saw her back at number 1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, Ireland and Germany amongst others and took her to number 3 in the US Billboard charts, returning her to the worldwide market stronger than she had ever been.  “Fever” is another first-class, but not essential album.  Kylie’s subsequent albums have been strong but have never attained the heights of the two early Millennium albums.

Kylie may have started out with a music career tacked onto her soap star celebrity status but through hard work and a shrewd awareness of what was going on around her, perhaps even more successfully than the Queen of Reinvention, Madonna, she has remained much loved for thirty years.  She has battled breast cancer and many broken relationship headlines (There are rumours which link her currently to Prince Andrew).  The public have always adored her.  We, of here consider her a national icon and she is not even British!  In 2010 she was proclaimed the most powerful celebrity in Britain in a survey of brand identification and only The Queen has had more Madame Tussauds waxworks made of her – showing the sheer power of her longevity and ability to reinvent.

“Light Years” , for me, remains her finest moment.

Just in case you doubt the power of disco here’s Kylie recruiting the whole of the Royal Albert Hall!

Light Years  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £2.53 and used from £0.01. It can be downloaded for £9.99. In the US it is currently $8.15 new and used from $0.56 and downloaded for $12.49.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify. 

100 Essential CDs – Number 49 – Kylie Minogue- Let’s Get To It





Let’s Get To It- Kylie Minogue  (PWL 1991) 

      UK Chart Position – 15


Kylie Minogue’s 4th studio album was the last for the PWL label which had transported her from Aussie soap actress to international singing star.  It was very much a parting of the ways.  Kylie would go on to leave the label to join Deconstruction for her next release.  The PWL label masterminds were already down to two thirds strength as  life at the” Hit Factory” which had spawned close to 100 UK Top 40 chart placings by this time was beginning to waver.  The UK chart of 13th October 1990 was the first for over two years that had no Stock, Aitken and Waterman produced songs in it.  A burnt out, stressed Matt Aitken left the team leaving Mike Stock and Pete Waterman to work with their number one artist.


The men from The Hit Factory – Stock, Aitken and Waterman

“Let’s Get To It” ended up as Kylie’s least successful studio album .  The number 15 placing is lower than anything apart from compilations and mix albums.  All this is rather bizarre, as it is one of her best and is certainly superior to the three she had put out with the SAW team in the previous three years.


One of the most watched TV weddings of all time

Kylie Minogue joined the Australian soap “Neighbours” as garage mechanic Charlene in 1986.  At this time the show, broadcast at teatime in the UK, was gaining huge audiences and the romance between her and character Scott, played by Jason Donovan, captured the British public’s attention in a very big way and ensured that both actors were well on their way to becoming household names over here.  A recording deal for both was inevitable.  Kylie signed to the Australian label, Mushroom records and her first recording, a cover of Little Eva’s “The Locomotion” became Australia’s biggest selling single of the 80’s and number 1 over there for seven weeks.  Sensing international success, the label sent her over to work with Stock, Aitken and Waterman.  The story goes that they forgot she was waiting to see them, had very little to offer her and quickly wrote a song “I Should Be So Lucky” which became a massive hit single in many countries and began the reign of the new pop princess.  The trio remixed the first Australian hit and released it as “The Loco-Motion” which gave her another worldwide smash.  The first two albums “Kylie” (1988) “Enjoy Yourself” (1989) were both huge number 1 albums in the UK, but were pretty light pop confections, centred around the hit singles, of which there were becoming many.  The third album “Rhythm Of Love” saw Kylie beefing up the image somewhat.  It contained probably her two best ever singles “Step Back In Time” and the phenonomenal “Better The Devil You Know” and it was probably around this time that  I joined the Kylie party.  As an album it is still a little patchy apart from these tracks.


The first three albums

Album number 4 seems to carry on with what “Rhythm of Love” had attempted in making Kylie a credible artist who could achieve commercial pop success and also extend the fan base from those who would put up her poster on their bedroom wall.  This album, in its range of more mature styles, together with Kylie’s consummate stage performances help pave the way towards the longevity which has really been extraordinary in the pop arena.  That people didn’t buy into it in this occasion has always been puzzling.  It might just have been by 1991 people had tired of the whole domination of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman sound in the UK charts and that the backlash was beginning to set in.  The trio had scored their last number one production the year before in 1990 with Kylie’s rather pedestrian cover of “Tears On My Pillow”.  It might have been a wise move for Kylie to move on to the more street-cred label Deconstruction, but this was actually a stronger album than the two released on that label.


The first of the ten tracks on display was lead single “The Word Is Out” which saw Stock and Waterman experimenting with New Jack Swing.  It was the  jury that was out with this one as well as the word, as with its number 16 UK Chart placing it became her first ever single to miss out on the UK Top 10.  It’s a chunky little opener and I have always liked it.  It almost has a group feel to it as it features an uncredited male vocalist taking a bit of the lead just before the end.  It’s a great opener, rather than classic Kylie.  I think it shows that the producers were not stuck in a groove, the criticism being levied towards them at this time was that their songs were beginning to sound the same.  This is a definite attempt to keep up with the sounds that were current in 1992- I just think that New Jack Swing was not always dated that well.  The single did make the Top 10 in Australia and Ireland.


Cover version time up next and Kylie’s version of the great song by Chairmen Of The Board “Give Me Just A Little More Time” became the big success off the album when it was released as the third single becoming her sixth track to reach number 2 in the UK.  This an affectionate cover version with a nod towards the original artists as Kylie includes lead singer General Johnson’s trademark “Brrrr”. Like other Kylie covers, the chart-topping “Tears On My Pillow”, and “Celebration” they do not challenge the originals in terms of quality.  This, however, is the most successful of the three by far. (I think “The Loco-Motion,” which let’s face it, is going to be a fluffy novelty track whoever sings it does actually challenge Little Eva’s as a fun track for a generation who did not know the original)


“Too Much Of A Good Thing” has a Madonna feel to it and a nod towards House Music.  It is the first on the CD where Kylie also takes writing credits alongside Mike Stock and Pete Waterman.  “Finer Feelings” was the fourth hit single taken from the album.  Four hit singles show that this album was certainly no slouch quality wise.  It shows a mature Kylie, some distance away from “The Locomotion” and “Hand On My Heart”.  Kylie references sex on here, for goodness sake!  The whole thing comes across as really quite sophisticated and was perhaps a precursor to the type of tracks which appeared on the first Deconstruction album.  Although the UK bought enough copies to take her to number 11, her native Australia were not so sure as it became her first single to miss out on the Top 50 over there.


There’s a definite nod towards the American market with the slightly Disney sounding ballad duet “If You Were With Me Now”.  To this point in the US Kylie’s SAW debut had reached number 28, but “The Loco-Motion” had passed expectations and reached number 3.  From then on things had been a bit of a struggle (the non UK single “It’s No Secret” crept into the US Top 40 at number 37) but there was enough kudos to persuade an artist who looked like he was on the way to become a big US Soul star, Keith Washington, to record with her.  Her first duet, with Jason Donovan “Especially For You” had charmed and topped charts but it was one heck of a cheesy track.  This, still a little schmaltzy felt like a much more mature track and took the pairing to number 4 in the UK Singles chart.  It became the first hit single to credit Kylie for her songwriting.  The duo, in what was then common in pop music, did not record their vocals together and only met for the filming of the video (where oddly, they also do not appear together – somewhat like the Patti Labelle/Michael McDonald track “On My Own”).  Here once again the song’s lyrics have been interpreted literally.  Washington, incidentally, had topped the US R&B charts with his debut single “Kissing You” and won a Soul Train Award but lasting success eluded him.  He puts in a good vocal on this track and is well matched by Kylie’s.  If it was an experiment to garner American sales, however, it did not work.  Kylie would have to wait another ten years for her next US hit.


Title track “Let’s Get To It”is a rare thing.  It was perhaps the first great Kylie track not put out as a single.  It’s a real earworm of a song and probably my favourite on the album.  It’s mid-tempo classic Kylie, builds well and stays in my head long after each listen.  Both “Right Here, Right Now” and “Live And Learn” are good quality album tracks and good examples of dance-floor Kylie.  “No World Without You” shows a different side of Ms. Minogue.  It is a nicely-performed, melancholy, sparsely accompanied ballad.


At the time eyebrows were raised by closing track “I Guess I Like It Like That” which boasted a harder dance sound than Kylie fans were used to.  It sounds like a track that might have had a big gospel disco diva such as Martha Wash or Jocelyn Brown on it.  At six minutes in length, it’s almost twice the length of most of the other tracks on the album.  It’s club music rather than commercial dance and this was somewhat of a departure.  It contains samples of 2-Unlimited, Salt N’Pepa and the Freestyle Orchestra and yet the whole thing blends well as a cohesive, contemporary track and shows that , in case there were still any doubters out there that Kylie was no pop puppet and that there was considerable diversity there.  And that is one of the reason why this ex-Australian soap star has had a music career now pushing thirty years.


Kylie with Pete Waterman

Despite the disappointing sales this is a Kylie album that has stood the test of time and was a glorious final hurrah for the team who made her famous.  It was a brave move to leave this nest, but the time was right and there would be even better for her to come.

Let’s Get To It  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £10.88 and used from £1.44. It can be downloaded for £7.99. In the US it is currently $24.95 new and used from $21.06 and downloaded for $9.49.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.


100 Essential CDs – Number 93 –Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – The Very Best Of


The Very Best Of Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (Sony 2014)

harold melvin.jpg

It was back in 1954 that Philadelphian Harold Melvin formed a doo-wop group.  They had a good reputation, were a popular live band and recorded on a number of small record labels.  Commercial success eluded them.  The best of the early tracks is a song called “Get Out (And Let Me Cry)” which became popular in the UK Northern Soul Scene.  (It reached number 35 in the UK Pop Charts in 1975 when re-released on the Route label).  Fifteen years into their existence a drummer joined their touring band.  His name was Teddy Pendergrass and when lead singer John Atkins left in the early 70’s Teddy took over the role of lead vocalist.


In 1971, 17 years after their formation, this struggling group got a break and were signed by the very up and coming Philadelphia International Records by the two men behind the label Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who saw the raspiness of the Pendergrass voice as an excellent foil to the lush orchestration which was to become the selling point of this new Philadelphia sound.

At long last success came, but they are still very much an under-rated group and should have been bigger commercially.  The hit single tally is 4 US Pop Top 2o hits and five UK Top 40 hits for the Philadelphia International label, all of which are included on this seventeen track album.


When fame came there was always going to be an issue and that was the group’s name.  By the early 70’s we were used to performers in groups being pushed to the front – Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles the list goes on.  But here the problem was Harold Melvin was not the lead singer, even though the casual listener would have assumed he was.  Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes featuring Theodore Pendergrass was tried but just didn’t exactly slip off the tongue.  It was going to cause tensions.  There were four albums before the group were faced with Pendergrass’ departure.  Even within these Melvin was experimenting with other voices on the tracks, including female singer Sharon Paige. The record label, seeing where the unique selling point of this group was kept Pendergrass on as a solo artist, where he became an R&B legend.  The group found a new lead singer in David Ebo and moved to ABC records and a return to relative obscurity.


These seventeen tracks are taken from the golden four year period and have stood the test of time.  They are a combination of classic soul ballads and uptempo numbers which due to the lushness of the Philly orchestration are early disco classics.  For a long time this group was not best served by compilations.  I favoured the ten track “Super Hits” (Epic Legacy 2000) but there are obvious omissions and a couple of the tracks in their full-length version are a little over-realised.   This compilation adds seven more tracks, generally in their single length or Part 1 versions and is therefore my choice as an Essential CD.


Some of the other hits compilations that have been available over the years

The album kicks off with a bang and one of those early disco classics which is here presented in its full-length six and a half-minute form.  “Bad Luck” became the group’s third US hit in 1975 when it reached number 15 but never became a UK hit.  The opening funky bass-line would have perhaps been more recognisable to us Brits as it was used by The Ritchie Family in their hit disco-medley “The Best Disco In Town”.  From this it explodes into a sing-a-long stormer from the group- not their best uptempo track but close to it.  The standard is maintained for the O-Jays-ish “Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back) which is archetypal uptempo Philly Soul and reached number 32 in the UK when issued as a single in 1974.  This track is inexplicably absent on the “Super Hits” compilation so it is great to hear it here.  It was one of the stand-out tracks on their second “Black And Blue” album.  It features one of the great in-intro grunts on record, sounding  like a bear being awoken from its slumbers.


“Wake Up Everybody” was very much a swan-song for the group, their last US Pop hit reaching number 12 and number 23 in the UK in 1976.  Philadelphia were quite hot on political message songs with songs such as “Love Train”, “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto”, and “Let Em In” doing well for the label.  In fact, the output of the label was very much either love songs, message songs or have a good time dance tunes.  “Wake Up Everybody” is the Blue Notes’ most significant message song, intended to stir us out of our mid 70’s lethargy and self-centeredness.  (Things haven’t really changed).  Headed off by a lovely piece of piano glissando this is a great tune.  Message songs can come across as naive but there’s something about Teddy’s call to get motivated to help out the community which I’ve always found appealing.


The big hit is next which really kick-started the Philadelphia International career for them.  “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is a true soul classic and one of Gamble & Huff’s best songs and productions.  It seems like Teddy, in a ten year relationship, is not going to change so it’s a bit of a like it or lump it situation.  In late 72/early 73 this reached #3 in the US and #9 in the UK.  The chart honours for this particular track, however, go to Mick Hucknell of Simply Red who took it to the very top of the US charts and number 2 in the UK in 1989.  I’m sure even he would admit that the original version is the best.

There’s still a couple of disco anthems to be enjoyed beginning with “The Love I Lost” (US#7, UK#21 in 1974).  This benefits from being shortened from the album version where the “I lost you, sorry I lost you” refrain goes on too long.  As a three and a half minute single it is perfection. This song also had a new lease of life in 1993 when West End featuring Sybil took it to number 3 in the UK.  And talking of a song with an extended lease of life…

“Don’t Leave Me This Way,” a Gamble and Huff song written with Cary Gilbert began life as an album track on the “Wake Up Everybody” album.  A slow moody start, with tom-tom intro it ripples into an impassioned disco track.  Over at Motown they decided to give it a Hal Davis “Love Hangover” treatment for Thelma Houston which just exploded causing the Blue Notes version to race up the charts in the UK alongside Thelma.  In the US it gave Thelma her only US number 1 single, the biggest hit of her career.  In the UK it became Harold Melvin’s biggest chart success peaking at number 5 where Thelma had to make do with a number 13 placing.  I love both versions of this song.  To complex matters there was a third even bigger excellent version nine years later when The Communards topped the UK charts in 1987.  I’d be hard pushed to pick my favourite of the three versions of this song.  By 1977 when the group were in the UK Top 5 there was no chance of them capitalising with new material as by this time they were Teddy Pendergrass-less and recording for ABC.  The impetus caused by this re-release did see their ABC debut “Reaching For The World” getting a limited amount of UK action, reaching 48, but that is beyond the scope of this album.

Don’t Leave Them This Way – The Blue Notes, Thelma Houston & Communards

The writing on the wall can be heard on the track “To Be True” which comes from their 1975 album of the same name as the vocalist here is none other than Harold Melvin himself.  It’s a nice enough track but I find myself willing Teddy to make an appearance.  It is certainly still Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes but it’s not Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes as we knew them and that shows why this group was unlikely to do that much after Pendergrass’ departure.  To a certain extent I feel this way about the two tracks which feature Sharon Paige, “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” is very much a Paige/Pendergrass duet and did in fact top the US R&B charts.  Sharon is given a bigger bite of the cherry with “You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good” and my reservations here apply.  It looks like I’m pushing Teddy into his solo career here, but I’m actually not.  What I really like is the juxtaposition between the group’s vocals and the lead.  You can tell their roots are in doowop and really like Gladys Knight and The Pips it is this interplay which make this group great.  This works so well on the bluesy “Yesterday I Had The Blues” and in the magnificent disco treat of “Tell The World How I Feel About Cha Baby”.  Here they are certainly not relegated to backing singers as they have the song’s hooks  but the group sound and the Teddy lead just work really so well.


Elsewhere on the CD, away from the hits, you get the excellent “Where Are All My Friends” a time-old tale of friends vanishing when you hit on bad times, “Be For Real” which is a musical lecture from Theodore to his lady who looks down on people and “I Miss You” one of the great soul songs about loss which is almost animalistic in its howling passion, which can make it a little difficult to listen to.

The song that really feels out of place is the one minute 45 section snatch of the show-tune “Cabaret” sung in harmony very much in the same style as Motown would occasionally employ with The Four Tops (with “Mame”) and The Temptations (with “That’s Life” and “Hello Young Lovers”).  Was this an attempt at broadening the appeal of the group?  Berry Gordy over at Motown would at one point deliberately record tracks like these for his acts in order to chase the lucrative older white album-buying market which would lead to lucrative supper-club bookings but it feels a little late in the day (1973) to be doing this.  Was it just a way to show that this group were every bit as good singers of more traditional fare as the Tops and the Temps?  I’m not sure but it is less than two minutes out of an hour-plus of super-soulful sounds.

Harold Melvin and Teddy Pendergrass

Harold Melvin continued to plug away with various incarnations of The Blue Notes and died in 1997.  Teddy recorded two of the best singles of all time in his long solo career, his debut release “The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me” which promised so much and even better than that is “Can’t We Try?” which contains one of the most heart-felt male R&B vocals ever.  I preferred him more as a loser of love than the Barry White-esque Love God he was sometimes made out to be in tracks such as “Turn Off The Lights” and “Close The Door”.  In his homeland he recorded a run of big selling albums and was an essential live performer.  In 1982 things changed overnight when a horrific car accident left him paraplegic.  There were years of health issues over the years with musical comebacks and much charity work.  He died in 2010 at the age of 59.

These are the glory days of these Philadelphia International’s superstars career.  Listening to this album shows what a great ballad group and also what a great group of uptempo material they were.

The Very Best Of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £3.99 and used from £2.72. It can be downloaded for £6.99. In the US this CD is harder to come by but other compilations are available.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

100 Essential CDs – Number 77 –Madonna – The Immaculate Collection


The Immaculate Collection – Madonna  (Sire/Warner Bros 1990) 

UK Chart Position – 1

US Chart Position – 2


As far as I was concerned, 1990 was a great year for Madonna.  She put out her best album “I’m Breathless” with music taken from and inspired by her hit movie “Dick Tracy” and at the end of the year she was back again with this 17 track album.  Not exactly a Greatest Hits package as it had two new songs this did have the effect of getting people to buy all over again tracks that they would probably have already owned.  But, as is often the case with Madonna, her timing was right.  1990 was still a time when people would have been replacing what they had on vinyl with CDs (we’ve turned full circle again on that).  A lot of Madonna’s early stuff would have been purchased on vinyl.  I certainly had a vinyl copy of her “Like A Virgin” album.  Up to this point, Madonna’s albums were not exactly essential- the best tracks were the hit singles taken from them, so here was a chance to get those hit singles without album filler on one Immaculate CD.  We certainly went with it as “The Immaculate Conception” is Madonna’s biggest selling album of all time, to date over 30 million copies.  It is the best-selling greatest hits package ever by a solo artist.  Its nine week stint at number 1 in the UK singles chart was  a record for a female artist for 21 years until Adele’s appropriately titled “21” came along.  It is the fourth biggest selling greatest hits package (behind the two Queen Greatest Hits volumes and Abba Gold) and to date has been in the charts for 338 weeks.  In July 2016 to celebrate the 60 years of the UK chart , the Official Albums Chart published a list of the biggest selling UK albums of all time.  This was at number 12.


In the US it sold ten million copies and stayed 141 weeks on the chart although it peaked at number 2.  It topped the album charts in many countries including Canada, Finland and Australia, where it was also one of the biggest albums of the year.

By 1990 Madonna had been scoring single hits for six years and had so many chart records that the compilers could pick and choose.  It certainly is not the definitive catalogue of hits as it even omits UK number 1 singles such as “True Blue” and “Who’s That Girl?”.  Its 17 tracks comprises 5 UK number 1’s and 11 UK Top 5 hits.  In the US the tally is 8 number 1’s and 6 Top 5’s.  (In case you are wondering the ones that missed the Top 5 but still made the album are Lucky Star (UK#14) and in the US Holiday (US#16) Borderline (US#10) and Rescue Me (US#9).  Statistically, it is an important album and it still sounds very good too.


For most of us Brits our first sight of Madonna was on “Top Of The Pops”on 26th January 1984 when her debut single had entered the charts at 29.  Traditionally a quiet time in the music business after the Christmas festivities “Holiday” had moved up 11 places to number 29 so was an obvious choice for the chart-linked show.  Her performance was very memorable.  She was sandwiched between two dancers, one being her brother Chris wearing fishnet vests with a dance routine which was curious, but mesmerising.  It was atypical Madonna in a way, because the size of the stage and the emphasis given to the dancers would have left some viewers unsure if Madonna was the name of the female in the middle or a three piece group.  Making her UK chart debut in exactly the same week as Madonna was another squeaky-voiced New York resident who was zooming up the listings with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”.  I would think that, at the time, if people were asked who would have the biggest career, Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, a sizeable number would choose the latter.  There was a greater buzz about her.  The week after that first Madonna British TV appearance Cyndi had climbed eight places to her chart peak at number 2 and Madonna 16 places to number 13 with her song that would eventually peak at number 6 on this chart run.  “Holiday” was a party song that would have lifted the spirits of the gloomy start to 1984 but would have fared better as a summertime track. Re-released in August the next year it climbed to number 2. In the US it reached number 16.  The “holiday/celebrate” refrain is certainly an earworm which will go through my head on probably every day off I have.

Two new stars of early 84- Madonna and Cyndi

Second hit “Lucky Star” is more of a club groove and became her lowest charting UK single for the next 10 years when it reached 14.  In the US it was saved as the third single where the ever-increasing buzz about this new face of 1984 took it to number 4.  It is her third UK single which for me is her first great track, and one that certainly still stands the best of time.  “Borderline” was written and composed by Reggie Lucas, remixed by her then boyfriend Jellybean.  On re-release like “Holiday” this would go to number 2 in the UK but the initial response was lukewarm.  In the US as a second single it would reach number 10.  Despite its tale of unfulfilled love it is a very warm track, and has echoes of Motown and Philadelphia International tracks of a decade earlier.  It has appeared in various all-time great track lists and just shows what Madonna is all about.

Things became more showy and more pop with her next couple of singles “Like A Virgin” (her first US number 1) and “Material Girl” which both went a great way in establishing the brand of Madonna and both were supported by all-time classic videos which ensured the visual imagery would always be strong in the rest of thirty-plus year career.  Both were also produced by legendary producer Nile Rodgers who by this time had abandoned his distinctive Chic-like sound and came up with something more pop influenced.


Ballads “Crazy For You” and “Live To Tell” rang the changes but did not make a great deal of impression on me (although the former sounds better now than it did then).  Sandwiched between these was a convincing return to the dance floors with “Into The Groove” taken from the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan” which bizarrely was released as a B-Side to “Angel” in the US but became in the UK her first number one single.  If Madonna had lingered in the decidedly pop side of dance music this felt more authentic at the time.  It was written and produced by Madonna with then boy-friend Stephen Bray.  A run of great tracks follow on  with the Illegitimacy-to–a-dance-beat of “Papa Don’t Preach” with its great use of strings, the cool latin summer of “La Isla Bonita” and  the gospelesque fervour of “Like A Prayer”, all of which were UK chart-toppers.  Her 1989 hits included the powerhouse of “Express Yourself” and the cutesie retro-pop of “Cherish”, which both reached number 2 in the US (UK#5 and 3 respectively).

This brings us to 1990 and the release of the Dick Tracy movie and the return to the top spot worldwide with “Vogue”.  The two new tracks which follow this are to a good extent, inspired by “Vogue” and mark another shift in the musical sounds of Madonna.  The rap in “Vogue” gave Madonna the confidence to explore this a little further, we have the spoken sensitive sultriness of “Justify My Love” produced by Lenny Kravitz and the combination of this new Madonna and the old dance diva with the Madonna and Shep Pettibone produced “Rescue Me”.  Both presented here as new tracks with the lyrics printed in the CD booklet.  “Justify…” would be released as the first single from this collection at the end of 1990 topping the US charts and missing out on the UK top spot because of Vanilla Ice.  In the UK “Rescue Me” would follow up another very successful re-release of “Crazy For You” (UK #2- 1991) and would reach #3.  In the US it reached number 9.

“Erotica” the album and “Sex” the book – thank goodness she dedicated “Immaculate Collection” to the Pope!

Madonna’s next album in 1992 “Erotica” would explore the same area as “Justify My Love” but would push the boundaries further into sex, bondage and a coffee-table book which would make this vision explicit, showing us perhaps more Madonna than we wanted to see.  Detractors held their hands up in horror, citing Madonna as a reason behind the fall of the human race but we all knew it was Madonna ensuring that we were still talking about her and taking notice of what she was doing.  Twenty years at the top for female pop recording artists was still pretty rare then.

From this release onwards I was with Madonna all the way up until 2012’s “MDNA”.  However, this would be the last release that I would consider essential although I had most time for 2008’s “Hard Candy”.  “The Immaculate Collection” features an important outline of the first 6 years.  For my YouTube pick I’ve gone for my first introduction to Madonna and her debut performance on “Top Of The Pops”.  I wonder, whilst she’s cocking her leg in that strange way whether she can see the next thirty odd years of  an amazing career stretched out in front of her?

The Immaculate Collection  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £4.12, and used from £0.01. It can be downloaded for £9.09. In the US it is currently $10.00 new and used from $0.01.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

100 Essential CDs – Number 79 –Kathy Kirby – The Very Best Of

The Very Best Of – Kathy Kirby (Spectrum 1997)



Now this is a real guilty pleasure.  Back when I was reviewing the retrospective by Cilla Black “Best Of The Emi Years”, there was a little bit of discussion about who was the best of the Britpop girls from the mid 60’s.  There was definitely a Premier League of Cilla, Dusty, Sandie and Lulu who stood apart from the myriad of names including Marianne Faithful, Twinkle, Julie Rogers, Anita Harris, Kiki Dee, Susan Maughan, Helen Shapiro, Shirley Bassey (bigger in the 50’s) and Petula Clark (likewise) but there was one other name that I would put in that league of big-hitters, an artist who has perhaps less stood the test of time but at one point in the mid 60’s was the highest paid woman on British television – the woman dubbed “The British Marilyn Monre”, the sublime Kathy Kirby.


Now, I’ll admit it, from a very young age I was always a bit obsessed with Kathy Kirby.  It might have been the old-school glamour kick I found so fascinating- there wasn’t too much glamour around in Britain at that time.  Her run of five Top 40 chart hits (all included on this CD) were before my time but at home we had one of her singles her Top 10 cover of an 1954 American hit by Teresa Brewer “Let Me Go Lover” (just writing the title causes nostalgia to prick up the hairs on the back of my neck).  I played this and its B-side (remember them?) “The Sweetest Sounds” (also on this CD) to death over a period of many years.  It’s a family story that as a toddler I would like to regale relatives with my own version of this song with incorrect lyrics- at the time I obviously did not know what a “lover” was, I sang the more baffling “Let Me Go Wooda”.  Older members of my family never want me to forget that.

Kathy’s was a star who burnt brightly only for a short time but throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s she would crop up now and again on television, on things like “The Golden Shot” and I would always seek them out, fascinated by this blonde, lipglossed vision with great diction and a fantastic voice.  She would also appear regularly in the Sunday papers, with some story which I didn’t ever know whether I should be reading or not.  There were tales of bankruptcy, inappropriate relationships, incidents involving the police and throughout it all Kirby seemed to be smiling on through, apologising and explaining in a very British way.  This was a lady who was one of the early examples of life through the media which we just take for granted nowadays.  She became the go- to-lady for stories about fame which had been lost- which although would have paid her money in many ways compounded her problems.


How many 60’s stars can you recognise?  Kirby with Cilla Black, Freddie & The Dreamers, Kenny Lynch amongst others

There’s another issue with “Let Me Go Lover” which gets those goosebumps forming.  Fast forward to about 12 years ago.  What started off as a drink in a Brighton pub to celebrate my sister’s birthday became a pub crawl and probably one of the most drunken evenings of my life.  Waking the next morning I found a crumpled raffle ticket by the side of the bed.  Not exactly having much recall of events  but vaguely remembering the places we frequented I did know the significance of that ticket – it meant for the first and only time in my life I had done Karaoke.  Not only did I have a massive hangover to deal with but no doubt public humiliation.  The story got pieced together during the day.  My sister and I had got up on stage and put quite a crowded pub through our rendition of “Let Me Go Lover”.  I asked people who had witnessed this event – but how did I read the screens as I knew I was having trouble focusing?  “You didn’t even use the screens,” I was told, “you knew every word.”  From nowhere came every word of a song that I had spent my childhood listening to but probably hadn’t heard for ten years before that night.  Proof that Kathy Kirby is somehow ingrained into my soul.


This twenty track CD came out in 1997.  CD’s of her hits on the Decca label were slow to appear but there are a couple to choose from now.  This is the collection I would go for although I also have a 30 track Best Of from Marginal released in 1996 and there are a couple of harder to find “Hits, Rarities and Lipgloss” compilations and a 2005 double CD called “The Complete Collection” (which collects together her Decca recordings but not those from other labels).  I’ve chosen this one because of its good range of hits, the inclusion of the aforementioned “Sweetest Sounds” and its avoidance of some of the cheesier moments of Kirby’s career (pub singalong tracks like “Show Me The Way To Go Home”).

Kathy Kirby was born Kathleen O’Rourke in Ilford, Essex in 1938.  She came to fame as a protégée of big band leader Bert Ambrose who had been around since the 40’s and saw Kirby as a way of bringing a more youthful audience to his performances.  As manager he dominated her career and the two became lovers, an open showbusiness secret because of the difference in ages.  Kirby was a natural for television and starred in “Stars And Garters” a variety series set as in a pub.  TV appearances became regular and in 1963 the hits started coming.


Kathy Kirby with Ambrose

 It was when Ambrose died in 1971 that Kathy’s career went into freefall, but by then the hits had long dried up although her legion of fans forever wanted and expected there to be more.  Kathy’s somewhat turbulent life can be read about in books such as “Secrets, Loves And Lipgloss” by James Harman (2005)    which I have recently re-read and the more recent, published after her death in 2011- “No Secret Anymore- The Real Kathy Kirby” by Mark Willerton (2013) which is on my reading wishlist.

It’s the music I want to focus on here.  What I like most about it is the big sound, the almost cavernous wall-of-sound feel which is evident from the first moment of  the CD’s opener and the biggest hit.  The Doris Day hit “Secret Love” took Kathy to number 4 at the end of 1963 and it’s Kathy’s excellent voice that bangs in right from the start after a dramatic drum roll.  Her really quite startling elongated “Now” is almost an ecstatic  howl of joy after pain. Then it kicks in with a more uptempo version of the song and a cha-cha-cha rhythm.  This was the track which really established Kirby as a star, although it was not her first hit nor her best track.   It was, however, given what we know about Kathy and her relationship with Ambrose (and also entertainer Bruce Forsyth) an appropriate song, as it was 36 years later as the best track on “Songs From The Last Century” by George Michael.


As far as I am concerned it’s the debut hit which really shines.  A vocal version of an instrumental by the Shadows which had already reached number one earlier that year.  “Dance On” gave Kathy her first chart placing in the summer of 1963 reaching #11. There’s a quirky blast of brass which gives the track real bounce and this ends up much stronger than the instrumental that inspired it.  The Australian public certainly thought so as Kathy’s version topped the charts there for three weeks.  There’s real Eastern promise in the number 17 1964 hit “You’re The One” which fairly gallops along and is the best example of how good Kathy was as a singer both in terms of range, pitch and diction.


This CD also includes the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest entry “I Belong”, which is certainly one of the stronger United Kingdom entries.  It was the first time the song had been chosen by the public as the choices were performed on Kathy’s BBC TV series. It was much hoped that Kathy would give the UK their first Eurovision win in a competition which by this time was  9 years old.  Kathy performed second (which is a position where no act has ever won from, I believe). It finished in a position which would become very familiar to the nation – 2nd place with the winner that year coming from Luxembourg with a song written by French icon Serge Gainsbourg.  “I Belong” reached number 36 in the charts and was another example of the curse of the UK Eurovision entry as it became her last charting single.  The UK would have to wait another couple of years to get its first Eurovision win with another Brit-Pop girl Sandie Shaw.

Of the other tracks there’s a good mix of standards beautifully performed such as “Body And Soul”, “Make Someone Happy” “I Wish You Love” and a fantastic version of “The Way Of Love” a song also associated with Cher.  This track incidentally gave Kathy her only hint of chart success in America, reaching #88 in the Billboard Charts in 1965.  There’s songs that perhaps shouldn’t work but do, especially Kathy’s version of “Havah Nagilah” and just the one oddity in “Old Man Mose”, a slightly tasteless song about a dead man.  Throughout there is the quality in production, that big sound and the Kirby voice, which fascinated and entranced people years after she faded from the music scene.  Not included here is a version of the Beatles’ “Here, There And Everywhere” which Paul McCartney reputedly said was his favourite version of the song.  (Paul was a great champion of Kathy and like Sandie Shaw supported her when times got hard).  There are some later recordings of hers which I have never heard which come from the mid 70’s, including a disco version of “My Prayer” and a changed-gender version of Charles Aznavour’s “She” which got radio airplay at the time but never reached the charts.  A lot of Kathy’s television appearances no longer exist- her BBC series were lost as film was often recorded over in those days.  There is a DVD of collected performances released at a time when another comeback was mooted but Kathy died not long afterwards.


Kathy with Ketty Lester – another much under-rated singer

She spent her last years in relative anonymity in South Kensington.  I always had this little fantasy that one day I would meet her and she would ask me to pen what is a fairly amazing life story, but that never happened.  It has since been said that Kathy was diagnosed with schizophrenia which would explain some of the real oddities in her life.  She has aristocratic connections within the next generation.  Her niece, Sarah, is now Lady Thatcher, the wife of ex-PM’s Margaret’s son Mark and another niece, Claudia, is Lady Rothermere.  These connections seem to add to the sheer  Britishness of the Kirby story.  I’m prepared to dish the dirt a little more with a  review of “Secrets, Loves And Lipgloss” but for now I’m just going to enjoy the music of one of Britain’s much loved singers of the 1960’s.

For a rare piece of existing footage of Kathy singing live and for those of you Eurovision fans out there- it’s back to 1965 when the show was on a considerably smaller budget!

The Very Best Of Kathy Kirby is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £3.99, and used from £0.19. and as a download for £3.49.  In the US it is currently $8.70 new and used from $0.34.


My 300th Blog Post!- What You Have Been Reading


With a roar of triumph not too unlike Gerard Butler’s in the 2007 movie I have reached my 300th post.  As I seem to spend a lot of my time telling you what I am reading I thought I’d turn the tables somewhat and take a look of what you have been reading since the start of the year when I did my last little retrospective for my 200th post.  Back then “Mary Portas Secret Shopper” was at the top of the pile but there has been quite a bit of change since then- although there is one in that February Top 5 which has remained very popular ever since, but more of that later.  Looking back the site has broadened a bit with more reviews of CDs and TV programmes  and the author interviews alongside the books so I thought this time I’d section things off and with the Paralympics still going strong have my own bronze, silver and gold medals in each of the categories.  Thank you all very much for continuing to read reviewsrevues.com, for the followers new and old and for all your comments which are always much appreciated.  Now before I get too emotional to carry on, here is what you have been reading, all nicely linked so you can follow up any you might have missed.

Author Interviews

Bronze- Vaughn Entwistle– .Posted in May 2016, Vaughn tracked me down on this site after I posted my review of his “The Angel Of Highgate” I was delighted that he was keen to take part in my Author Strikes Back thread.

Silver – Benita Jayne – Posted in July 2016,  Benita found me on a School Reunion Site and after a touch of reminiscing on school days mentioned she had written a book and would be up for an interview.  A lot of people have read Benita’s interview and it was great to welcome her to reviewsrevues.com

Gold- Chris Whitaker – Posted in April 2016, Chris was such a good sport I got to interview him twice- once for this site and once for my good friends over at Nudge  where his book was chosen as Book Noir featured book of the month.  The Nudge interview can be found here.  Chris was really prepared to get us to see the real him in these interviews!

Books   (And proof that the author interviews do drive readers to check out the book reviews – with only Vaughn just missing out on “doing the double”.

Bronze- Day Of Judgement – Salvatore Satta – Posted in May 2016.  This was not my favourite of the Apollo Classic series I read but it is the one that became the most popularly read review.  It seems a lot of you are interested in this tale of Sardinia in the early twentieth century.

Silver – The Sacred Crystal Pyramid – Benita Jayne – Posted in June 2016.  Just in case Benita needs a little prompting to complete her second novel in her Angel Messenger series here is proof that a lot of people wanted to read  about her novel intended for older children.  Benita has been getting quite a bit of attention in the press (double page spread in “Soul And Spirit” magazine)  and has had a busy summer of promotion.

Gold – Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker – Posted in March 2016.  It was great to see Chris’ deserved inclusion in the alternative Not The Booker Longlist published by The Guardian.  As well as this he also has the glory of having the most read book review on reviewsrevues.com!

CDs – Unlike the other sections the CD reviews tend to be slow burners with two of the most read actually being posted last year.

Bronze- Greatest Hits – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – Posted in February 2016. 82 year old Frankie had recently announced a Four Seasons UK tour in April 2017

Silver – You Change – Lindsey Webster– Posted in November 2015 as one of my Music Now reviews (which seem to have taken a back seat of late – sorry about that).  Great voice and since this review has topped the Billboard Jazz charts but there are greater commercial things to come I would imagine especially as this review gets a lot more interest here than a lot of very established artists.

Gold – Let’s Groove – The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire – Posted in October 2015.  The winner in this category by a clear mile and one that was sitting pretty at number 2 in my Top 5 most read reviews 100 posts ago.  I thought then that was because of the interest in this group following the sad death of Maurice White in February this year  but the interest in this group and this review has sustained throughout the year.  There’s a lot of people yearning for a real-life Boogie Wonderland!

TV Reviews

Bronze- Giles Coren: My Failed Novel – Posted in March 2016 A one-off documentary on Sky Arts which proved that this writing game is not always easy.  Giles was lamenting his sales of his novel “Winkler” but the interest here might suggest that it’s worth re-issuing!  Part of Sky’s Failure season this was a joy.  Giles has managed to overcome failure by hosting a week of ITV summer quiz show “500 Questions”!

Silver – Make! Craft Britain – Posted in June 2016. Another one-off documentary, this time on BBC4- a lovely relaxing programme which should be made into a series.  It has attracted a lot of interest here and for those of you wondering, yes I did finish making my Clanger and I was pleased with the result even if it looks like he has had open heart surgery.

Gold – Scott and Bailey – Posted in 2016.  Now cancelled first-class ITV cop show is already being missed judging by the number searching and finding the review of Series 5.  Not only is this the most read TV review it has managed to knock-out all competition as the most read review on reviewsrevues.com this year.


And where do these readers come from?  The Top 5 countries

  1. UK (no surprise there)
  2. US
  3. France
  4. Brazil
  5. Australia

It really is a world wide web, isn’t it.  Thanks for all your support!


100 Essential CDs – Number 57 –Chaka Khan – Epiphany: The Best Of Volume 1


Epiphany: The Best Of Volume 1 – Chaka Khan (Reprise 1996)


This is the third and final appearance of Chaka Khan on my Essential CD list and inevitably is a greatest hits compilation.  My previous Chaka choices had been geared towards the commercial singles buying audience and proving she was a relevant artist.  “I Feel For You” from 1989 mixed electro and hip-hop beats with the incredible Khan vocals and “Life Is A Dance: The Remix Project” was an explicit attempt (very successful in the UK) to introduce Chaka to a younger club-bound audience.  This 1999 release feels somewhat different.  It’s a much more sophisticated, adult-orientated affair which emphasises Chaka as a major recording artist who can transcend barriers of Soul, R&B, rock, pop, jazz and disco.  Released on the Warner Brothers subsidiary Reprise, this was deemed, as suggested by the title a rebirth for Chaka the artist, who, maybe partially because of her disillusionment with the Warner Brothers label, had not had an album release of new material for four years since the not terribly inspiring “The Woman I Am” release.  With the idea of rebirth in mind the label included five new tracks amongst this sixteen tracker to show the direction Chaka was going to be taking.  Although this album was tagged Volume 1 there has never been a Volume 2 and it would be another two years before Chaka returned with a new album and this would be on Prince’s NPG label.


Having noted the more mature feel of this release the big commercial hits are obviously present including the perennial club favourite “Ain’t Nobody”, the vivacious power statement of “I’m Every Woman” and a couple of tracks from “I Feel For You”- the title track, one of the great number 1 UK singles of the 80’s and the sublime “Through The Fire” and there’s also “I Know You, I Live You” familiar from the “Remix Project” – although here in its unremixed form.   So there’s a little overlap between the two previously recommended albums but there are eleven out of the 16 tracks that I have not so far discussed.


From the Rufus days we get the initial hit, the Stevie Wonder penned  “Tell Me Something Good” here in a live version from the  1983 “Stompin’ At The Savoy” album.  The Wonder influence here is strong in the structure and sound of the song with its vocoder effects underneath a snarling, sinuous funk groove and a great vocal from Chaka.  It illustrates how great a live performer Chaka can be (although this could be a little erratic at various points of her career).  When on form she is certainly amongst the best and it can all seem effortless.  I’m a huge fan of the Gregg Diamond penned track “Papillon (Hot Butterfly)” produced by Arif Marden from 1980’s “Naughty” featuring a pre-superstardom Luther Vandross on backing vocals together with Cissy Houston.  There’s a point here which shows the Khan voice as magnificent and takes away from the lightweight disco feel of the whole thing.  At one point her vocal soars and a saxophone takes over and the sound is very similar.  This is the essence of Chaka’s voice, unlike most pop stars it is a real instrument and is used as an instrument.  The comparisons to a saxophone have been made throughout her career and that is why there has always been so much said as to how great a jazz singer she can be and if she had been born in an earlier era when the legendary female jazz vocalists were recording that her voice would be up there with the Ellas, Sarahs, Dinahs and Billies. It is at moments like this on a track which is fairly fluffy that this shows up.


“Love Me Still” is a less familiar track which featured on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s  1995 film “Clockers” and is a collaboration between Chaka and Bruce Hornsby.  Unsurprisingly, given Hornsby’s involvement this is a piano-led ballad which is performed beautifully and has the same sound as his classy “The Way It Is” hit from 1986.  Released as a single but not a hit, this is just so classy and reminds me of “Angel” the standout track from her 2007 “Funk This” release but this is perhaps Chaka at her gentlest and most tender.


The jazz influence hits home on a couple of the track selections “The End Of A Love Affair” predates the type of material she will do on 2004’s “Classickhan” album.  The song from 1988’s “CK” album is dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald is most associated with Billie Holiday and after a fairly faithful rendition launches into a George Benson guitar section with George scatting along.  This mix of Benson and Khan is a good one, both Warner Brothers artists who both could have benefited from more collaborations, especially as both worked with Quincy Jones.  The jazz becomes more be-bop in “And The Melody Still Lingers On (A Night In Tunisia) from Chaka’s 1981 release “Whatcha Gonna Do For Me” in which producer Arif Mardin uses a sample of the alto sax of jazz legend Charlie Parker and enlists the help of another jazz legend on trumpet, Dizzy Gillespie who also wrote “A Night In Tunisia” which is the basis of this developed by Khan and Mardin into a new track.  From the same album comes the title track co-written by Scottish supergroup Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart alongside Ned Doheny.  It’s a good solid song from 1981 with disco influences but is unlikely to be too many people’s favourite Chaka track.  This is the track which leads into the new material.

First off is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” given a gentle reggae flavour with the odd playing around with vocals from producers David Gamson and Andre Betts.  This feels very much like a mid 90’s track and plays it a little safe. “Never Miss The Water” was a small UK hit and sees Chaka collaborating with singer, rapper and bass guitarist Me’Shell Ndegeocello, for whom big things were predicted around the time the CD was released and whose name seems to take me forever to type correctly.  It brings the Chaka sound firmly into the mid 90’s and with Me’Shell’s rapping flirts with the Neo-Soul movement.  Two years prior to this Chaka had scored her last to date UK Top 40 hit with collaboration with Jazz-rapper Guru on “Watch What You Say” (#28) and there has always been the desire to experiment with newer sounds throughout her career.  The sinuous funk of “Something Deep” produced by Keith Crouch also has these undertones of neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz especially in the sax solo and horn arrangements by Derrick Edmondson.  Long-time producer Arif Mardin takes the helm for “Your Love Is All I Know”, a Whitney-ish R&B ballad which shows off the Khan vocals beautifully, even if the song is a little Disney-ish, but if anyone could build up to the big power chorus it is certainly Chaka.  Album closer “Every Little Thing”, another slab of contemporary sounding R&B is the third of the new tracks produced by David Gamson and once again clearly illustrates the direction the Warner Brothers group would see Chaka going in.

The studio albums which come after this are all interesting if not essential. In 1998 Chaka worked with Prince and appeared on his NPG label with “Come 2 My House”- a solid album .  A superb version of “My Funny Valentine” had appeared on the soundtrack for the 1995 Whitney Houston vehicle “Waiting To Exhale” and it was clear that this could be a direction that could reap benefits.  It was 2004  when she took on the whole of the London Symphony Orchestra for “Classickhan” a set of standards including “The Best Is Yet To Come”, “Is That All There Is” and three tracks associated with Shirley Bassey, a direct challenge if ever there was one.  The power is certainly racked up in “Goldfinger”, “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Hey Big Spender”.  2007’s “Funk This” saw a return to more earthy roots, contains the lovely track “Angel” and scooped a couple of Grammys including Best R&B album. This brought her total of Grammys to date up to 10. It also reached number 15 in the US album charts – her highest placing in this chart since her 1978 debut got to number 12.  In 2015 she took part in and was the first celebrity eliminated in “Dancing With The Stars” (the US version of “Strictly Come Dancing”) and earlier in 2016 she announced she was entering rehab as she was addicted to the same painkillers that were part of the early demise of her friend Prince.

In a career which has lasted forty-two years since the first hit with Rufus there is little doubt that we will be hearing from Chaka Khan again until we do this hits+ new tracks compilation will certainly go some way to filling the gap.  I couldn’t choose from two videos so have gone for the all-time classic “Ain’t Nobody” and because I cannot resist a 70’s Soul Train clip here is Rufus featuring Chaka Khan with their first hit from 1974


Epiphany: The Best Of Volume 1 is Life Is A Dance: The Remix Project is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.99, used from £1.47 and as a download for £3.49.  In the US it is currently $9.86 new,  used from $0.01 and download for $9.49.

100 Essential CDs – Number 4 –Fame– Grace Jones

Fame- Grace Jones   (Island 1978)


What’s this then?  Two consecutive Grace Jones studio albums in the Top 5 Essential list.  I’m making no apologies for this.  After the superb “Portfolio” we were offered more of the same and I for one lapped it up.  Released a year after the debut, sales were lower and this has gone out of print more often than its predecessor but it still sounds as good as when it was released and is an undervalued cult classic from the disco era.

True, there wasn’t a great deal of moving on from “Portfolio” but disco was still hot in 1978 and a great deal of energy had been lavished on Grace to ensure that the quality was there so why change things too much?  Tom Moulton was back on board as producer – some of the same musicians and backing vocalists (The Sweethearts of Sigma) are back doing sterling work.  Perhaps some of these tracks were even recorded at the same time as those on the debut.  Information is a little vague on this.  The quality artwork by Richard Bernstein is back, which went a long way to mythologizing the image of Grace Jones, a tactic which would be employed throughout her career.  The back cover of the vinyl edition (although not the CD copy I own) contains perhaps one of the most stunning Jones illustrations ever, in a sailor’s cap, looking like Marlene Dietrich crossed with a panther. Pencils and paint on the front cover show that Jones is being viewed as a piece of artwork –and remember this is some years before Jean-Paul Goude famously begins to really play around with the visual image of the performer.  The cover would have been seen as ultra-fashionably chic, once again cementing the Jones philosophy of merging the modelling and the music, the performance and the person.


Musically, there is some movement.  The first side of Grace’s debut was her Broadway medley of three cover versions of recent show tunes, reformed into disco tracks.  Perhaps by 1978 this particular bubble had burst and Grace is given three original songs to combine in a medley which is perhaps one of the greatest segues of three tracks since Gloria Gaynors “Experience” album and her (Casanova Brown/Do It Yourself/How High The Moon) trilogy.  On “Portfolio” you had to wait for the beginning of side 2 to find the jewel in the crown, here Grace kicks off with the best track on the album and one of my all-time favourites.

By 1978 Disco had become far more European in flavour and Donna Summer’s megahit “I Feel Love” from the previous year had been a game-changer in that music had become more electronic.  Here, however,  Jones, always a radical, has eschewed the synthesizer for that big orchestral sound and some of the best session R&B musicians around, giving the lushness of the very best of the Philadelphia International sound – ironically from an artist who would find greater fame by stripping her music back to its bare minimum.  But here in 1978 the fuller sound was having one of its last hurrahs with  musical arrangements carried out by John Davis who had a number of club hits as the man in charge of his Monster Orchestra. He replaced another orchestra leader, Vince Montana from the Salsoul Orchestra who had performed the same duties on  “Portfolio”.

The side one medley was written by Jack Robinson with James Bolden for two of the tracks and Gil Slavin for the third track.  Robinson knew disco as he had written some of its biggest hits, including “I Love To Love” for Tina Charles, the sublime “If You Want It (Do It Yourself)” for Gloria Gaynor, “Strut Your Funky Stuff” for Frantique and would go on to write for that most bizarre of 80’s recording acts, Princess Stephanie of Monaco.

In many ways first track “Do Or Die” can be seen as a natural successor to the Gaynor track but Grace’s vocal imbues the whole thing with an edginess that makes you wonder just what is going on.  Vince Aletti in his much referred to (by me) “Disco Files” tried to sum the whole thing up in his Record World column of July 1978  by stating “Jones remains an erratic singer, subject to bizarre vocal fluctuations that turn nearly every song into a reckless, daring roller coaster ride- both unsettling and exhilarating.”  He felt that she had found a perfect match with Robinson’s lyrics which are “sometimes frankly unsophisticated but often approach the direct spare energy of the great romantic pop songs; a modern equivalent of the 60’s girl group mentality – more knowing, more ironic- but still soppy around the edges.  So the songs are frequently as brash, presumptious, exaggerated and ultimately, endearing as the singer.”  I think he has hit the nail firmly on the head on this and it is this heady combination which brings me joy every time I listen to this album.  I love a bit of irony with my music and the greatest disco music has this in spades- think Chic, “Young Hearts Run Free”, anything by Dr Buzzard’s Savannah Band and/or Kid Creole all coming with a healthy dose of bittersweet irony which adds to their greatness.


In the first line of “Do Or Die” I think Grace is telling us she is an “operator” (that odd vocal inflection coming immediately to the fore).  She “can sell an Eskimo snow” and there is probably no doubt about that.  There’s a lot going on in the rhythm and percussion department of this song.  It’s boastful and yet she may have met her match as the man she is after is telling her he’s not interested.  Jones isn’t taking no for an answer, even if he is chasing her with a gun (!).  She’ll get her man if it is the last thing she’ll do and boy, do we believe her.  That other great one-off Eartha Kitt covered this song on her album “I’m Still Here” but Jones’ version has the full-frontal attack which makes this great.  It was released as a single by Island in 1978 and attracted considerable attention in the clubs in the US, Canada and Spain it did not cross over to the pop charts.  For a disco record it’s surprisingly uncommercial.  There’s a subtle(ish) key change into “Pride”, a song which feels a little like “Sorry” from the first album as it is more understated.   In the complex world of Jones emotions Pride is being both proclaimed and rubbished “what good is pride alone at night?”  There’s a good little percussion breakdown mid-way with some funky bass guitar by Jimmy Williams doing battle with the percussion of Larry Washington and the Sweethearts of Sigma offering some very Salsoul Orchestra sounding support before Grace storms back into the song with her usual gusto.

“Fame” is another tale of lost love.  In fact, there’ s quite a bit of unrequited love in this album.  For the first album Grace was defiant, yet here there’s more vulnerability and maybe this change is another reason it gets the thumbs up from me.  This track doesn’t quite have the magic of the preceding two.  Grace is both claiming and blaming fame here.  Taken as a whole these three tracks add up to eighteen minutes of high quality disco.


The second side of the vinyl copy opens with a track which unashamedly follows up from the high point of “Portfolio”, but as “La Vie En Rose” was the best thing Grace ever recorded perhaps it’s no surprise that there would be an attempt to re-create this.  It’s Grace’s version of another French standard “Autumn Leaves”, known originally as “Les Feuilles Mortes” written by Jacques Prevert with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer.  The introduction has Grace whispering in French over a violin solo by the quaintly named Piggy Pigerino, then the “La Vie En Rose” feel kicks in.  It lacks the amazing build which that track had.  There is, however, a nifty bit of what sounds like steel guitar after the first verse.  By mid-way through any intention that this isn’t “La Vie” part 2 gets thrown out of the window and even the “La Vie En Rose” chant by Grace is substituted by “Les Feuilles Mortes”.  There’s the same combination of the two languages with Francophile Grace slipping easily between the two.  There’s no marks for originality here but you can’t blame them for trying and it still all works.  It was released as a single in France where “La Vie” had been a big hit, but it did not chart.


“All On A Summer’s Night” is this album’s “That’s The Trouble” thematically and Grace is back in casual mode after a one night stand.  Wah-Wah guitars hit a groove while Grace intones that it “may be love or it may be just the wine” and “maybe I should feel a twinge of shame/we’re almost lovers, I don’t know your name”. The percussion break is a little static, which sounds a little dated nowadays but Grace pulls this one off with great aplomb.  “Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York’s City” sees Grace looking for the real thing in a song which is so delightfully corny and cheesy.  She’s just the girl from Tennessee searching for love and lamenting that “There’s no future in single bars/nothing but the one night stars”.  Grace really sings in the introduction – probably more than for entire albums of her later career .  The song is repetitive and I think this might be a case of a song which only Grace could get away with.  That deadpan vocal delivery allows her to pull off kitsch with panache.  Everything is thrown at this song and Grace emerges shining.

Closing track “Below The Belt” unites Grace with Pierre Papadiamandis who penned the original songs on “Portfolio”.  It’s not as good as those tracks although it has that Philadelphia International sound and is certainly more subtle than some of the tracks on display here and does not reduce the sense of exhilaration this album gives me.  Vince Aletti aptly concludes in his contemporary review of the album- “Fame is a marvellous combination of chutzpah and charisma from which Grace emerges quite triumphant.”


Artists and their muse – Warhol, Jones and Keith Haring

But once again the anticipated commercial crossover didn’t happen.  In Both Italy and Sweden she found herself getting her second Top 30 album (Italy 15, Sweden 22) and it did make a very brief appearance in the US Top 100 albums, which “Portfolio” had missed out on.  But the club scene loved it enough for Island to try for three in a row the following year with “Muse”.  By 1979 Disco had gone completely above ground and with everyone from Ethel Merman to Johnny Mathis and The Rolling Stones making disco and an underground artist with cult appeal would find it harder to compete.  “Muse” is not an essential album by any means as it begins to feel like over-treading a formula.  It was an album that took Grace’s plan for world domination almost back to square one.  It is not without its merits, particularly the track “Don’t Mess With The Messer” and the Disco meets Gospel of “Saved”.  Once the 80’s came along many Disco Divas were finding their recording contracts being terminated.  However, Island Records could see that Grace had a shelf-life beyond Disco and by returning her back to her Jamaican roots gave her the fame that “Fame” only promised.


I have such a huge soft spot for the disco stylings of Grace Jones and anyone wanting to explore this period of her career should seek out the three CD set “The Disco Years” which packages the first three albums together for the first time.  The fact that this was not released until 2015 shows there is still a great demand for these early tracks.  Deservedly so.

The edited version of “Do Or Die” below comes from an Italian music show and words will fail you………………………….



“Fame” is available from Amazon.co.uk from £6.99 and it can be streamed from Spotify For more Grace the three disc set “The Disco Years” is currently available for £11.46 (it is also newly available on vinyl).  In the US it is available used from $16.21 but the three disc set can be bought in a number of audio formats.

100 Essential CDs – Number 1 – Portfolio – Grace Jones

Portfolio- Grace Jones   (Island 1977)



So here it is – the album which I will save above all others from the theoretical burning building (at least I hope it’s theoretical- I don’t want to actually have to make the choice).  This is the CD I play probably more than any other and have done really since its release back in 1977.  It was not a big seller yet has remained consistently available.  It is the ultimate cult album from one of the ultimate cult artists.  It did establish Grace as a hit artist in a number of markets gaining a Top 30 placing in Australia (27), Sweden (22), Italy (9) and The Netherlands (8).

Grace Jones was born in Jamaica and had a very strict upbringing.  Things got tougher for her when her parents migrated to America, aiming to settle there before bringing the family over so Grace and her siblings were brought up for a time by very devout church-going relatives.  Grace was always going to rebel.  She eventually joined her parents in Syracuse and the awkward tall teenage girl drifted into acting and then modelling.  It became clear to Grace that if she wanted to make it as a model she would have to get away from the USA as her brand of exoticism was too much for the conservative model agencies.  She moved to Paris where she became for a time one third of a modelling agency where the two other girls on the books were her friends Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange.  It was the image of Grace Jones that first caught my attention.  I remember a photo of her being published in “Record Mirror” and I bought this debut album on the strength of that photo without hearing a note.  Never has an impulse buy paid off so well.


Grace was in France really not knowing of the disco explosion that was happening in New York in the mid 70’s.  She had made some demos in Paris and a New York couple called Sy and Eileen Berlin, who had been in the clothing industry but were looking to move into music took note.  Grace’s early tracks were lined up for a label they had planned called Beam Junction.  The popularity of the early singles led to a record label with Island Records the home of many Jamaican recording artists and  run by the man who would become a great friend of Grace’s, Chris Blackwell.  Grace, in her 2015 autobiography “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs” had this to say;

“The fact that I made disco music was an accident, really.  When I made my first records, I didn’t think of them as being disco.  I made them in France and the word discotheque is a French word, but it did not have the meaning that it was beginning to have in New York.  I didn’t characterize them as anything.  They were simply songs with a little bit of soul and rhythm, echoes of singing in church, a sense of something showy whipped up by being in Paris with all the fashion, around all the people making it happen.”

Back in America genius record producer Tom Moulton was brought in to mix the tracks Jones had already recorded and eventually to put together the other songs which made up this seven track debut.  Grace may have not been aware of disco initially but she recorded the perfect disco record which clearly illustrates what disco was all about.  As well as the rhythm and melodies there was the hedonism, the camp sensibility, the excellent production values and for me most of all the chutzpah of Grace the artist with a voice that could hover towards the flat end of the scale performing with such gusto that she just had to become a household name.


Producer, re-mixer and disco legend Tom Moulton

The look of the album also suggested something different.  I have held onto my vinyl copy because the CD could not reproduce fully the look and feel of the album.  The Warholesque artwork was not by Andy, who would become Grace’s big Studio 54 disco pal but by Richard Berenstein who worked for Warhol’s “Interview” magazine who was one of the first of many who would manipulate the image of Grace Jones from photographs.  Grace’s face is in tones of purples and greens on the striking blue background of the front cover and on the back as a disembodied head in reds and purple with a glittery tongue.  Grace Jones had arrived.


The first side of the album also summed up Disco.  Grace was not the greatest singer yet the idea was to get her to tackle three demanding recent Broadway tunes which would segue into one another and would use some of the greatest Philadelphia session musicians.  Vincent Montana Jnr, the vibe player and brains behind the Salsoul Orchestra was brought in to do the arrangements and the celebrated backing vocalists, known as The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Evette Benton were on hand should Grace find herself deviating too far from the melody.  The result is around eighteen minutes of sheer joy, which I turn to whenever I need a boost- the ultimate guilty pleasure.

It wasn’t that original to disco-fy old songs.  Gloria Gaynor had exploded onto the pop charts and was heralded the Queen of Disco by raiding the Motown songbook and older songs such as “Tangerine” (Salsoul Orchestra), “What A Difference A Day Makes” (Esther Phillips) were becoming mainstays of this recent form of music.  The song chosen for Grace’s Broadway medley were quite recent showstoppers.  The whole thing kicks off with “Send In The Clowns” from “A Little Light Music” (first produced on Broadway in 1973) which had that year already just survived a vocal version by Elizabeth Taylor in the film version but whereas Taylor seems apologetic Grace is going for it.  Grace’s vocal is unique and gells excellently with the “sweet” background vocals.  Her unusual phrasing, long notes and just-on-key performance are all used for excellent effect.  There’s great work going on in the piano and rhythm section. The track moves with a flourish  into “What I Did For Love” from 1975’s “A Chorus Line”.  There is no doubt that Grace is camping this up with a vengeance.  The backing girls are given more to do here and their harmonies are sublime.  The rhythm, crashes, builds, breaks down and builds up in a template for the disco sound.  The third track is the weakest of the three, but then the song “Tomorrow” came from “Annie” which opened the same year as this album was released so would have been less familiar  and Strouse and Charnin’s song is never going to be of the same quality as the Sondheim and Hamlisch tunes that precede it.  Once again Grace gives it her all- although it does get a little repetitive before the end.  It does however, perfectly fit the concept and the production and musicianship is excellent.


Grace at Studio 54

If the producers had gone for more of the same for the second side then maybe we would have a very good solid disco concept, not startlingly original and probably not essential.  It is the second side that makes this album for me – bringing remixed versions of her tracks originally recorded in France with another French standard which is one of the highpoints of the whole Disco era.


The second side kicks off with Grace’s finest moment  of her long music career, her version of a 1945 song with lyrics originally written by France’s most famous chanteuse, Edith Piaf.  “La Vie En Rose” needs to be heard in its seven and a half minute glory. (The video below from a 1977 European pop show is the edited single version).  The lengthy introduction with woodblock and guitar builds things up beautifully into a kind of bossa-nova feel which would have ensured this went down a storm in Latin discos.  It’s coming on for two minutes before Grace makes her entrance, speaking in French before easing into the familiar melody.  This works because of its sense of exotic – the French lyrics, the latin rhythms and Grace soaring her way vocally.  This track is often a staple of live shows and Grace has said of the song, “That’s a very special song to me. Oh God, I cry every time I sing it. I had quite a few French lovers, so every time I sing it I think about them.”  I love Grace’s vocal on this.  At the time of its release music journalist Vince Aletti was writing a column in Record World which he put together in the five-star rated book “The Disco Files” .  This is what he had to say about this track;

“building to an emotional peak from a minimal, delicate, seductively languorous arrangement of piano, guitar and percussion.  Grace, singing in both French and English, uses the simplicity of the production as the perfect foil, strutting across it, purring, growling, shouting and whispering like an actress working her lines for all they’re worth.”

I couldn’t put it better myself.  This track gave Grace her first international hit single going Top 5 in France, Italy and the Netherlands.  In the UK Grace had to wait another nine years for it to be re-issued as a double A side with “Pull Up To The Bumper” where it did more than help that track get to number 12.  Grace has never had a Top 40 hit single in the US, so that decision to make a move to France to find fame might have been the right one after all.

Grace goes unusually passive on the next track, the apologetic “Sorry” which certainly has that Philadelphia feel.  It’s a tale of jealousy written by Jones alongside Pierre Papadiamandis.  Jones has been caught out after a rendezvous with an ex-lover . The rap “he loves me too and he’s not jealous of you” shows where Jones is coming from.  The song is basically trite but Grace pulls it all off with panache.  This was a double A sided single with “That’s The Trouble” written by the same song-writing team and this is a great, infectious track where everyone appears to be having a good time.  Taken at quite a fair old pace, Grace laments being followed by men who fall in love with her instantly.  “Every man I see taking every little thing so heavily”.  Grace isn’t into commitment but those around her seem to be.  This is establishing the Grace Jones image of a strong, attractive, desirable woman.  She performed this song many times live in nightclubs, including Studio 54, and those booking her really did not know what they were getting- occasionally bare-breasted, painted, or even with a leopard on a chain – this lady was certainly coming from a different place from previous disco divas.


Her gay appeal was established very early on with her first single release which becomes the closing track of the album.  In “I Need A Man” Grace is not going to be wasting her time cooking (it was hard to imagine Grace cooking!).  She ‘s out to get her man “then at night I won’t be lonely/knowing I’m the only one”.  The song is predatory, sexual and yet has a yearning which shows the contradictions of being Grace Jones.  It also has a fervour which could almost be described as gospel-esque, although it’s not religious salvation Grace is looking for. The track was an instant success in the Discos and took Grace to the top of the American dance charts.  In a track from her later “Slave To The Rhythm” album,  (“The Frog And The Princess” ) narrator Ian McShane relates the words of her lover and manager Jean- Paul Goude who spoke of the ambiguity  of his first viewing of Grace watching her sing “I Need A Man” in a New York nightclub “Les Mouches”  and looking like a man, to a room full of gay men.  He knew then that this radical, electric performer would be his muse.  When Grace ends the track with the spoken “perhaps that man is you!” you can’t help but smile nor have a slight shiver up the spine!


The complexity of the artist is evident from this first album.  Rebellious and radical yet prepared to perform a Broadway medley this is just what Grace Jones was all about.  Predictably unpredictable merging the worlds of fashion and music, a punk sensibility with disco.  I knew she was going to go far.

Portfolio is is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £7.33, used from £1.97 and as a download for £6.93.  In the US it is currently $8.99 new,  used from $1.79 and download for $5.99.  It is also available to stream on Spotify in the UK .