Frank Sinatra: She Shot Me Down 40 Years On (Stephen Sondheim RIP)

It’s probably not much of a surprise that Frank didn’t exactly thrive in the 1980s, but it’s funny thinking of She Shot Me Down, released 40 years ago this month, touching down in a landscape of AOR, yacht rock and new wave.

It was his penultimate solo studio album (the last was 1984’s Quincy Jones-produced LA Is My Lady) and the last he made for his own Reprise label (still extant and still a subsidiary of Warners).

It has its fans (esteemed jazz writer Gary Giddins called it ‘his last great album’) but is generally considered only a partial success. I’d agree with that. Sinatra’s majestic voice falters, and is subject to an uncharacteristically poor recording/mixing job: he’s generally mixed much too high with a ‘room’ reverb that quickly grates.

The grim album cover design doesn’t help either. But She Shot Me Down does feature four absolute classics that easily compare with his greatest work of the 1950s, regretful portraits of lost love that suit his world-weary voice perfectly.

‘Going Going Gone’, penned by the recently departed Stephen Sondheim from the musical ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, features a sumptuous melody and witty lyric, easily transcending its wafer-thin ‘rock’ arrangement.

‘Thanks For The Memory’, originally written in 1938 and famously Bob Hope’s signature tune, features some nice updated lyrics by Leo Robin that perfectly suit the occasion (‘Thanks for the memory/Of letters I destroyed/Books that we enjoyed/Tonight the way things look I need a book by Sigmund Freud’ etc.).

‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ is a superb co-write by producer Don Costa. But Gordon Jenkins’ ‘I Loved Her’ may be the album’s standout. He was of course a frequent Sinatra arranger of note and occasional composer (‘Good-Bye’), but this is his best song, a tragic tale of a mismatched couple that we can all relate to.

The faltering piano solo (played by Sinatra?) perfectly conjures up the feeling of bar-room regret, and Sinatra’s pronunciations of ‘pie’, ‘movies’, ‘Dodgers’, ‘noon’ and ‘saloon’ linger long in the memory.

Frank, Gordon and Stephen: good-bye and thank you.

Danny Wilson: Bebop Moptop

danny wilsonVirgin Records, released 17th July 1989

Bought: Our Price Richmond 1989

8/10

Summer 1989. Change was in the air. A new decade beckoned. De La Soul, acid house, Madchester, Kylie/Jason/Bros and New Kids On The Block were in. School was out…forever.

Sixth-form college beckoned – but not quite yet. There was tennis to be played, Thunderbird wine to be drunk and music to be bought/played.

I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Prince’s Batman and Sly Stone’s Fresh. And Bebop Moptop, Danny’s underrated second album.

Apparently they turned down a few big-name US producers to helm the album themselves, and some might say they could have done with a slightly tighter quality control check. But for my money this more than justifies the potential of the debut.

 

‘Imaginary Girl’, ‘Loneliness’ and ‘The Ballad of Shirley MacLaine’ are dramatic torch songs taking Sinatra as their starting point, while ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’, ‘If Everything You Said Was True’ and ‘Goodbye Shanty Town’ are superb updates of the Steely style, the latter even throwing in some great ‘New Frontier’ sequenced synths.

‘If You Really Love Me Let Me Go’ beautifully captures the subtlety and craft in their method; check out the passing piano chords that enjoin the various sections, livening up what could easily be a humdrum progression in another band’s hands.

The heavy lead guitar and synth bass of ‘Charlie Biz’ suggest the lads had been listening to Prince’s Lovesexy.  ‘Second Summer Of Love’ is a super-catchy, throwaway folk pastiche, and the only hit from the album, reaching UK number 23. Slightly less successful are ‘I Can’t Wait’ and the shambolic ‘NYC Shanty’, but no matter; they can’t stop this from being a first-class album with songs that are built to last.

danny wilson

Although Bebop Moptop reached number 24 in the UK album charts and sold more than the debut album, the lads went their separate ways after the promotion work was done and a few live dates undertaken.

I saw them at the London Town And Country Club in autumn 1989 where a lavish, no-expense-spared backing band superbly recreated almost every nuance of the two albums.

Gary Clark resurfaced four years later with a fine solo album Ten Short Songs About Love, which could almost be viewed as Danny album number three as it featured sizeable contributions from both Kit Clark and bassist Ged Grimes (currently the bassist for Simple Minds).

But Bebop Moptop rounded off my 1980s in a very classy way. Goodbye, Danny – for now…

 

Hue And Cry: Remote

hue and cryJust for a few years at the end of the ‘80s, Hue and Cry bothered the charts with a classy fusion of pop, jazz and Latin.

Singer/co-composer Pat Kane said at the time that they wanted to create a musical mix of Scritti and Sinatra; they almost pulled it off with the excellent Remote, released in December 1988.

They also pulled off the Steely Dan-ish trick of singing about subjects which might seem unsuitable in a pop context (domestic violence on ‘Looking For Linda’, corporate sexism on ‘Dollar William’, Latin-American poverty on ‘Three Foot Blasts Of Fire’, the dawning of the Web on ‘The Only Thing More Powerful Than The Boss’).

hue and cry

And yet something about Hue and Cry seriously wound people up. When they emerged on the scene in 1987, they rode a wave of goodwill thanks to their clean-cut looks, anti-Thatcher politics and dynamic ‘Labour of Love’ single.

But by the time of Remote, the tide was turning. Hue and Cry’s relatively soft, ‘aspirational’ sound was anathema in the bombastic late-’80s. It was too jazz for the yuppies and too pop for the jazz revivalists.

Maybe the fact that they’re brothers never helped too – The Proclaimers were the more acceptable face of Celtic brotherhood, more meat-and-potatoes, more reliably blue-collar.

In 1995, Q Magazine wrote a cruel but witty hatchet piece about them entitled Britain’s Most Hated Band, offering them ‘a crisp tenner’ to split up (it didn’t do the trick…).

Whatever. I love this album. Recording Remote in New York gave the Kanes access to some amazing guest musicians – Ron Carter and Michael Brecker play beautifully on the very pretty ‘Where We Wish To Remain’, and Pat’s excellent vocals demonstrate a big Mel Torme influence.

The prime NYC rhythm section of Wayne Braithwate and Dennis Chambers supplies a 24-carat groove on ‘Three Foot Blasts’. ‘Sweet Invisibility’ puts a fantastically exciting Latin horn arrangement right upfront in the mix, beating David Byrne at his own game.

‘Guy On The Wall’ is a witty portrait of a perpetual party wallflower set against a ‘Word Up’ groove and brilliant Salsa horn arrangement.

Bassist Will Lee delivers beautifully measured performances on ‘Ordinary Angel’, ‘Dollar William’ and ‘Looking For Linda’, offering a subtle commentary on the songs back in the days when a musical performance was supposed to have some narrative development and couldn’t just be ‘cut and pasted’ together.

It’s quite funny to hear legendary jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis play a stratospheric solo on the otherwise very soppy ‘Violently’.

Pat Kane sings well throughout the album, with great phrasing, inventive ad-libs and excellent melodies.

But YouTube live footage from the Remote era hasn’t aged well and demonstrates why they were such a Marmite band, all cheap suits and wacky horn sections. I saw them at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 and struggle to remember anything about the gig.

Even they seemed to sense which way the wind was blowing; they disappeared for far too long after Remote, issuing the stripped-down Bitter Suite live EP and disappointingly brittle Stars Crash Down in 1991. The momentum and recording budget had gone.

But Hue And Cry did well to ride the pop bandwagon for a few years and sneak some sparky jazz, Sinatra and Latin licks into the charts.

And because in the main they lent towards jazz and Latin rather than funk and soul, they avoided the all-too-audible mistakes of contemporaries like The Blow Monkeys, Style Council, Climie Fisher and Johnny Hates Jazz.