David Sanborn: Hideaway

It’s no coincidence that alto saxist/composer David Sanborn’s purple patch (1980-1982) came about just when genres (yacht rock, soul, funk, jazz, R’n’B) were breaking down to create one of the most egalitarian musical eras.

Hideaway, his fifth studio album, was the breakthrough, and I love it. Released in February 1980, it made #2 on the Jazz chart, hung around in the Urban Contemporary charts for over a year and was nominated for a Best R&B Instrumental Performance Grammy.

For some, Sanborn’s solo material will always be ‘smooth jazz’, but I’d point to four aspects of his music that elevate it above similar material, particularly on Hideaway – his tone and his note choices, both born of the ‘50s and ‘60s St. Louis jazz and R’n’B scenes; his writing; and also the playing of top-notch guests. On Hideaway, the stars are drummer Steve Gadd (Gadd fans, this is the album for you), bassist Neil Jason and keyboard player Don Grolnick.

The title track remains a classic. Sanborn lays down rich Fender Rhodes soul chords while Gadd constructs a perfectly judged post-disco drum part heavily involving cross-stick and floor tom, laying just behind the beat, with an unexpected, explosive fill just before the fade. Jason is given free rein and comes up with an outrageous bass performance.

Hideaway also benefits from Steely/Doobies man Michael McDonald co-writing two tracks. Sanborn doesn’t have anything much catchier than ‘Anything You Want’ and ‘Again An Again’ in his repertoire. ‘Carly’s Song’ and ‘Lisa’ are memorable ballads with beguiling harmony, while Gadd provides another brilliant commentary on ‘If You Would Be Mine’.

Rick Marotta appears to expertly marshal ‘Creeper’ through its slow half-time groove – guitarist and frequent Sanborn collaborator Hiram Bullock was so taken with it he later wrote a sequel called ‘Son Of Creeper’.

Hideaway’s packaging helps too – its minimalist cover is a winner, as is the photo featuring Dave reclining in his apartment with a Magritte over his left shoulder and paramour draped over his right. Warner Bros. were just realising he wasn’t the worst looking guy in the world.

The only downside: in a classic bit of Warners penny-pinching, they add the very dull (and certifiably smooth-jazz) ‘The Seduction’ from the ‘American Gigolo’ soundtrack to the streaming and CD versions but in the process edit down ‘Anything You Want’ and the title track to ‘single’ length. Best try to find Hideaway on vinyl.

The Essential Nik Kershaw

Universal’s Nik Kershaw CD re-release program seems to have stalled after Human Racing and The Riddle emerged around ten years ago, a pretty scant return considering he spent more weeks on the UK singles chart during 1984 and 1985 than any other solo artist.

And though all four of his MCA albums are now on streaming platforms, there’s still no sign of decent physical versions of Radio Musicola or The Works (and absolutely nothing on vinyl yet), so we’ll have to make do with Essential Nik Kershaw, a new budget 3-CD compilation which, confusingly, has the same title as a similar one-CD comp that came out in 2000.

Back when his four 1980s albums were basically unavailable, Kershaw fans had to make do with fairly crappy CD compilations, so it’s a relief to report that this one’s pretty good. It’s two discs of original album tracks/singles plus one of remixes.

The good stuff first: the remastering is absolutely first-rate. The tracks have punch and not too much bass, usually the first sign of an overzealous tinkerer. The design is attractive, and the digipack very light but very solid. There are a few decent B-sides I’d never heard: ‘When I Grow Up’ circa The Works could easily have been a single, and certainly should have appeared on the album. Instrumental ‘One Of Our Fruit Machines Is Missing’ gives the Chick Corea Elektric Band a run for their money in terms of insanely technical jazz/fusion.

Now for the not-so-good stuff: the track order is random, certainly not chronological, and there are songs missing that most fans would say are among his greatest: ‘Easy’, ‘City Of Angels’, ‘Walkabout’, ‘Lady On The Phone’, ‘LABATYD’, ‘Violet To Blue’. The disc of remixes is a slog to get through, but it’s worth hearing ‘One Step Ahead’, ‘Radio Musicola’ and ‘Don Quixote’. There are also zero musician/producer credits and no liner notes, but they’re not particularly missed.

But Essential Nik Kershaw a very good entry-level compilation and a treat to acknowledge again just how high the quality threshold was with this guy. I’ve also developed a real penchant for some material from the first album which I’d earlier dismissed, especially ‘Bogart’.

In recent interviews, both his engineer/mixer Julian Mendelsohn and keyboard player Andy Richards rate Kershaw as top of the list in terms of musical talent, pretty special when you consider the two have worked with Trevor Horn, Yes, George Michael, Level 42, Prefab Sprout and Paul McCartney.

(Mendelsohn also revealed that, much to producer Peter Collins’ annoyance, he spent a whole WEEK mixing ‘Know How’, so highly did he rate the track. His work definitely paid off…)

 

Sweat Band: Jamaica

There must be a huge cache of unreleased material in the George Clinton vaults – we’re probably talking Prince/James Brown/Frank Zappa amounts here.

And will it be Warners, BMG or Universal who get control of his recorded legacy (unless the deal has already been done…)?

As it is, you could probably spend a lifetime listening to his existing work. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, new things keep trickling through, like Sweat Band’s self-titled 1980 debut album.

The P-Funk side project, mainly written and performed by Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker and recorded at United Sound Studios in Detroit, was the first release on Clinton’s short-lived Uncle Jam label, distributed by CBS.

In truth the album is very patchy (not helped by the cover which probably should have made my worst of the 1980s list) and shows the decline also encountered by Parliament/Funkadelic and Bootsy (whose Ultra Wave was released in the same week) around the same period, when funk was getting watered down by disco and commercial R’n’B.

But the track ‘Jamaica’ is brilliant. It’s gone straight into my 1980s Funk playlist with a bullet. It features legendary London music writer Lloyd Bradley (credited as Lloyd Bridges) talking rubbish all over it plus a seriously arse-over-teacup groove, catchy chants, underwater bass and fantastic horns.

And is that an uncredited Harvey Mason on drums? It sure sounds like him. Bring on the Clinton vaults if there’s a lot more like this lying around.

Spotify Guilt/How The LP Saved Our Lives

Reading David Hepworth’s ace book ‘A Fabulous Creation: How The LP Saved Our Lives’ brought back memories of a lifetime’s album-buying.

As he says, if you were a music fan and under 30 in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, you probably spent every penny of your disposable income on albums. And there were serious decisions to be made. If you were in the HMV Megastore and found a couple of US rarities but only had enough cash for one, it was a very big call. Mike Stern’s Time In Place or Lyle Mays’ Street Dreams? Better choose right, it might be a few months before you could afford another cassette.

If you were awaiting a new album, after spotting the release date in Q or the Melody Maker, it wasn’t abnormal to visit your nearest record shop twice in a few days to check if it had arrived. In my teens, I remember enduring a 30-minute bus ride (each way) to my local Our Price specifically to buy It Bites’ Eat Me In St Louis and Larry Carlton’s Last Nite.

There were definitely a lot of moody ‘High Fidelity’-style shop keepers (always men), but some were more friendly/forthcoming. In a classic discounted store in Soho, I think Sister Ray’s, I remember handing over my Prefab Sprout Protest Songs and Van Halen Women And Children First CDs and the assistant grinning and saying, ‘I thought I was the only person in the world who liked both of these albums!’

So I gave the record business a huge amount of my money in the latter half of the 1980s and 1990s. And, as we keep reading, ‘old’ music is hugely outselling ‘new’ music in 2022. Which brings us to my troubled relationship with Spotify. I’m hardly buying any new physical music at the moment. Convenient as it is, Spotify Premium is a lazy option.

I scour the music mags (these days mainly JazzTimes and Classic Pop) and always take the time to listen to every album that piques my interest. But unless it’s an absolute corker, I fillet the two or three good tracks onto a playlist, just as in the 1990s when I used to make cassette tapes of brilliant songs from less-than-brilliant albums. I’ve rounded a lot of them up on this playlist.

I’ve also recently bought a very long audio cable which connects my laptop to the big speakers in my living room, so I can listen properly to this stuff, albeit with all the attendant audio quality issues, but it still gives the illusion that I’m listening to an album ‘as the artist intended’. Balls. The artist is making close to no money from Spotify, unless the streaming numbers are in their multimillions.

So my troubled relationship with Spotify continues, especially as the cost of living rises and rises. Yes we take music where we find it and pay for ‘convenience’ but a far more conscious decision is needed to save ‘new’ stuff. And of course it would help if artists made sure every album track was a winner. Great artwork wouldn’t hurt too.

The Cult Movie Club: The Thing (1982) 40 Years Old Today

Of course it wasn’t as much of a flop as often thought (budget circa $15 million, US box office circa $20 million) but director John Carpenter was under no illusions as to how the studio (Universal) perceived his ‘Thing’ in the immediate aftermath of its 25 June 1982 release, not helped by the appearance of ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’ two weeks before.

Come to think of it, has there ever been a less suitable ‘summer movie’ than ‘The Thing’? Carpenter agreed – he reportedly virtually begged Universal to delay the release date to Halloween 1982, avoiding comparisons with ‘E.T.’, and change the title to ‘Who Goes There’. They refused.

Then there was the changing nature of horror-film audiences to contend with. After a market-research screening, one teenager apparently approached Carpenter pleading complete ignorance regarding the ending. When the director responded that it was up to their imagination, the co-ed mumbled, ‘Oh, God, I hate that…’

With hindsight, maybe we can also point a finger at the marketing. The standard Hollywood thinking – as per Art Linon’s book ‘What Just Happened’ – was that the marketing people would always blame a film’s poor box office on anything but the marketing, and generally keep their jobs in the event of a bomb. That would definitely not be the case now…

Above is the original poster – hardly a classic of its era, with very little if nothing to do with the film. The below VHS rental cover is surely what they should have gone with, complete with classic tagline and surreal main image.

Still, the movie is as fresh and troubling today as it was 40 years ago, and anyone who hasn’t seen it should check it out ASAP, on as big a screen as possible. Happy birthday, Der Thing!

Who Writes The Songs That Make Those Old Blokes Cry: 1980s Tearjerkers

It’s all radio presenter Nick Abbot’s fault. On a recent podcast, he mentioned finding himself with a tear in the eye when listening to David Gilmour’s second guitar solo on Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ in his car.

But it’s a subject almost totally ignored in print outside of scientific works: music’s effect on the body and mind. If you love it, surely it’s supposed to create a molecular change.

The last few years may also have precipitated a more emotional relationship to music than usual, despite the current industry obsession with data and algorithms.

So, hide the onions and pass the sick bag: here are a few tracks from the 1980s that may have occasionally been known to put a lump in this correspondent’s throat, driven by nostalgia, musical excellence, loss of innocence and who knows what else.

19. Tina Turner: ‘Private Dancer’
She wants a husband and some kids but somehow the music tells you that the protagonist is never going to get out from under…

18. Johnny Gill: ‘Half Crazy’

17. Keith Jarrett: ‘Spirits 2’

16. The Kids From Fame: ‘Starmaker’

15. Peter Gabriel: ‘Lead A Normal Life’
Hard to think of a piece of music that better expresses loneliness, but there’s compassion too.

14. Christopher Cross: ‘Sailing’

13. Blondie: ‘Atomic’

12. The Pretenders: ‘Hymn To Her’

11. Art Pepper: ‘Our Song’
Gratuitous sax and violins. Recorded 18 months before his death, inspired by meeting his widow Laurie, Pepper seeks redemption for a largely selfish, itinerant life – does he find it? He tries bloody hard.

10. Jaco Pastorius: ‘John & Mary’

9. Pino Donaggio: ‘Blow Out (closing titles)’
The melody maestro’s beautiful theme from Brian De Plasma’s 1981 film starring John Travolta and the director’s then-wife Nancy Allen. A critic once said that her character’s death in the movie is the first one De Palma seems to care about – Donaggio’s music is the reason.

8. Madonna: ‘Oh Father’

7. David Bowie: ‘Absolute Beginners’
It’s the hope, not the despair. Maybe THIS time it’s all going to work out, ‘just like in the films’…

6. David Sanborn: ‘Imogene’

5. Dexter Gordon/Herbie Hancock: ‘Still Time’ 
The double meaning of Herbie’s title says it all – Dexter’s beautiful soprano playing is fragile yet also somehow ageless.

4. Prefab Sprout: ‘Moving The River’

3. Janet Jackson: ‘Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make)’
Just for the sheer beauty of Jam and Lewis’s composition. Janet’s words augment that.

2. Scritti Politti: ‘Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy)’

1. The Police: ‘Driven To Tears’ (only joking – that’s enough tearjerkers… Ed.)

If you’ve got the stomach for it, chime in with your tearjerkers below.

xPropaganda: The Heart Is Strange

Though not a big hit on its original release, Propaganda’s 1985 album A Secret Wish only seems to grow in stature as the years pass.

It was arguably the last meaningful release on the ZTT label, spawning two UK top 40 singles. More importantly it was a sonic treat, full of grandeur and drama, one of the great pop albums of the 1980s.

The Dusseldorf-formed band made a couple of botched attempts to reunite – the 1234 album in 1990, a Martin Gore/Tim Simenon-assisted try in 1998, then a partial gathering at Trevor Horn’s charity gig at Wembley Arena in 2004.

But now they’re back as xPropaganda (who knows the legal machinations behind that moniker). Founding members Michael Mertens and Ralf Dorper are not around this time but vocalists/songwriters Claudia Brucken and Susanne Freytag are, alongside Secret Wish producer/guitarist Steve Lipson.

Excitingly their album The Heart Is Strange is also on the newly reignited ZTT (Horn is credited as ‘Advisor’), via Universal Music Catalogue.

My expectations were high but then were slightly dashed with the choice of ‘Don’t You Mess With Me’ as lead-off single/trailer. It’s easily the least interesting track on the album.

Lush, cinematic opener ‘The Night’ definitely evokes memory of A Secret Wish’s epic track one ‘Dream Within A Dream’, even if Terry Edwards’ muted trumpet is incongruously ‘jazzy’ as opposed to the resplendent playing (by whom? Guy Barker? Steve Sidwell?) on the 1985 track. And there are too many vocal melodies to choose from, none particularly intriguing.

Elsewhere there are better tunes and the odd appealing lyrical zinger. And if synths are your bag, these sounds – mostly courtesy of Pete Murray – are fantastic, sometimes lush and ominous, sometimes intricate and ingenious. It’s great headphone music.

But there’s not enough memorable Lipson lead guitar on The Heart Is Strange and the drum programming is a bit flat. Paging Steve Jansen. Best track? The enigmatic closer ‘Ribbons Of Steel’, a nearly ten-minute spoken-word rumination on the end of a relationship with hints of the Pet Shop Boys and Prefab’s I Trawl The Megahertz.

The Heart Is Strange is a solid B+. Good in places but must try harder. Too many mid-tempo songs. Certainly not in the league of the freaky A Secret Wish (a lack of Mertens may have a lot to do with that?) and without that album’s pristine mastering, depth of sound, harmonic intrigue and wacky guest appearances, but some decent new material to play live. Maybe next time they’ll let their hair down a bit – and hopefully get Mertens involved again.

Brucken and Freytag speak about The Heart Is Strange in this podcast.

And Stephen Lipson deconstructs A Secret Wish and xPropaganda here.