Wow, if you read this blog you know I like Rachel Sweet.
She wasn’t high on my radar in the early 80s but then again I wasn’t listen to much contemporary music.
But, I have since discovered her.
I like discovering new music.
Sweet was yet another American rock n roller who went to England where they groomed her for that market thinking that her American-ness would give her an edge. It had worked before: P.J. Proby, The Walker Brothers, Suzi Quatro, and The Sparks. And she, clearly, if major success had come her way, would have been the successor to Suzi, and would have been the new wave pop princess.
She gets lumped, mainly because of her associations with the Stiff label (Costello, Nick Lowe) into the New Wave genre, but she is more.
Then people say, somewhat despairingly, that she wasn’t New Wave and really pre-dates that sound with old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll which was made popular again, because of its oldness, and rawness, by the new wave.
But that perhaps, in itself, is the New Wave … the newness was in the difference not just in the clothes and instruments … ie: the new wave just wasn’t bad haircuts and synths.
There was room in the New Wave for everything and everything old had become new again. Rachel fit in well with the other icons of the UK New Wave who also predated it like Graham Parker, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds.
Her music is 60s pop ‘n’ rock, country, and rockabilly filtered through power pop and the New Wave prism.
This album, her second, is an intriguing album. It is almost the prefect in form (for me)… a batch or originals (whether written by her or for her) augmented by covers that indicate the artists tastes. Here the covers are top heavy but Sweet can sing anything and make it sound, if not hers, at least distinctive.
The country, roots and retro rock influences from her debut have been largely sidelined (though not dropped) in favour of more power pop and a fuller ‘new wavish” sound. The band backing her, reputedly, were Scottish new wave band Fingerprintz (who would eventually mutate into The Silencers).
This is punchy rock ‘n’ roll power pop, similar in spirt and tone to the power pop coming out of the US (The Romantics, Cheap Trick, Dirty Looks etc) though with more than the usual power pop influences (like Dwight Twilley she reaches back to the 50s and forward to punk). Rachel is a ballsy singer but she also shows humour, or, the humour in her material, and the fun in rock “n’ roll.
The covers are mainly new wave the only exceptions being The Velvet Underground (though Lou Reed was a big influence on the New Wave), Del Shannon, and Elvis (a largely unacknowledged influence on the New Wave).
Clearly her label were grooming her for the big time and despite the quality of the product sales were poor.
A pity. Sweet is probably the best artist to come out of the Stiff label, and if not she is certainly the most interesting …
… to me.
Anyone who covers Elvis, Del Shannon, the Velvet Underground and the Damned on one album has got my vote.
Produced by Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley who were both audio engineers in the 70s and had just started their producing careers (and they went on to produce a lot of English New Wave)
Tracks (best in italics)
- Tonight – (Sweet, Graham Edwards) – a great power popper. Catchy, memorable and up there with the best of power pop of the time.
- Jealous – (Jo Allen) – first record by Robert Palmer for his album “secrets” (1979). Not too bad like Palmer done by Cheap Trick.
- I've Got a Reason – (Moon Martin) – from American Moon Martin’s solo debut new wave album “Escape From Domination” (1979). A good version which is both indie and power pop.
- New Age – (Lou Reed) – from The Velvet Underground’s “Loaded” (1970). Updated and given the big voice treatment. And, it works even if it is like Meatloaf doing Lou Reed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Age_(The_Velvet_Underground_song)
- Baby, Let's Play House – (Arthur Gunter) – The legendary Elvis Presley single from 1955.Thumping and zippy, this is frantic stuff, and great fun. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Let%27s_Play_House
- New Rose – (Brian James) – the magnificent single from the magnificent Damned off their debut album “Damned Damned Damned” (1977). This isn't punk but it is still thoroughly convincing in its uncompromising attitude. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Rose
- I Go to Pieces – (Del Shannon) – Written by Del Shannon this was a hit for Peter & Gordon in 1965 (#9 US Pop, it failed to chart in the UK). Del's version, eventually recorded after Peter & Gordon is even better. This song only appears on the Australian version of this album. The song was added to the US release of her first UK album in 1979, "Fool Around". It was also released as a single but only charted in Australia (#39, 1979), which explains it's inclusion on this album in 1980. It is a wonderful song and this is a wonderful version. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Go_to_Pieces
- Fool's Gold – (Graham Parker) – from Graham Parker And The Rumour “Heat Treatment” (1976) album. Horn heavy and very Graham Parker (ie: sub Bruce Springsteen circa 1975) so it is quite good.
- Take Good Care of Me – (Sweet, Steve Everitt) – a bouncy power popper with all the usual power pop themes …love and its difficulties.
- Spellbound – (Jimme O'Neill) – O’Neill is the lead singer / writer in Fingerprintz. So so with some funky post punk elements creeping in but with a nice guitar break.
- Lovers' Lane – (Sweet) – Rachel channels Bruce Sprinsgteen here, something she would do more of on here next album " … And Then He Kissed Me) (1981). It's a good tune with the right amount of drama.
- Foul Play – (Gary Sulsh, Stuart Leathwood) – Sulsh and Leathwood were in English rock bands The March Hare and Harlan County in the 1960s, and put out an album as Gary & Stu in the early 1970s. I don't think they ever recorded this song. A foot still in the 70s though updated for the new wave. Quite good, and perhaps even memorable.
- Tonight Ricky – (Sweet) – the flip side to the Everly Brothers "Wake Up Little Susie" perhaps. Here the female narrator contemplates going "all the way" and she is the one deciding where and when. Done is a smoky jazzy style this is a hoot. On the basis of this song it seems Rachel could have cut an album of Peggy Lee type songs if she had wanted to.
A overlooked gem … I'm keeping it.
I've Got a Reason
Baby, Let's Play House
- apparently the album cover was voted worst album cover of the year in England. Yes, its not very good an not an indication of the contents.
- The song "I Go to Pieces" only appears on the Australian version of his album. See song above for details.