Archive for the ‘Joan Armatrading’ Category

Joan Armatrading

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Side 1:

Listen: Side 1 (see label above for song titles) / Joan Armatrading

Side 2:

Listen: Side 2 (see label above for song titles) / Joan Armatrading

Unlike the mp3 giveaways as we know them now, back in the days of vinyl, considerable expense went into the decision of free product for the public. The costs of manufacturing and shipping alone were daunting, then there was the co-op advertising at retail and the process behind the curtain: ‘convincing’ radio.

Occasionally, a label, or label president, would feel so strongly and probably frustrated that a potentially important act was being overlooked. And so a campaign aimed directly at the consumer would be approved. This meant overstepping the stubborn media outlets, usually radio, and getting the music into the hands of the people.

One such example being A&M’s FREE JOAN ARMATRADING initiative. The slogan was twofold. “Free” meant just that. These 6 track EP’s were literally stacked on the counters of record stores around the country. The giveaway vinyl was housed in a two sided quotes sleeve that every artist and competitor of Joan Armatrading should have been envious of, as it was all true. The free EP’s were complimented with print ads, both nationally and locally, as well sale pricing and positioning of her catalog at retail. The plan was to concentrate heavily along her two month US tour routing, and so several of the local Rochester accounts, where I went to school at the time, were targeted given the city was a stop.

Personally, I would have chosen a few other songs to include, like ‘All The Way From America’, ‘Willow’ and ‘Down To Zero’, all from the albums highlighted and possibly more immediate than ‘People’, ‘Back To The Night’ and ‘Tall In The Saddle’. Still A+++ for effort.

The second meaning of the “free” of course meant to pardon her from the closed door, almost stonewalling stance that US radio took toward her, a black lesbian playing guitar music to their straight white audience. Radio never did cave.

Franz Ferdinand

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Listen: Walk Away / Franz Ferdinand

Just this past week, BBC Radio 4 had a second series whereby Joan Armatrading spoke to various guitarists about their style and technique. In fact, they’re all still archived for another few days. Being vastly accomplished herself, it of course led to nice conversation with a wide variety of others like Baaba Maal and Richard Thompson.

The first of those in this week’s rundown was the fellow from Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos. Funny thing, one of their most inviting song’s for Joan, ‘Take Me Out’, was probably my most despised track of that period and the specific moment she liked best highlighted the exact reason I never had interest in the band. That being when they kind of change tempo mid song and all play in unison, each extending their left leg, or maybe right, and kicking out the beat together. Makes my skin crawl.

So it was a great surprise to me that the followup album, their second, included a song, ‘Walk Away’, that I just took to in a big way. Very reminiscent of The Kinks’ SLEEPWALKER or MISFITS period, the vocals were quite similar to Ray Davies, minus the obvious mimic that other bands purposely do. Made me a bit of a fan, and have now suddenly wondered what ever happened to them.

Joan Armatrading

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Listen: Down To Zero (Mono) / Joan Armatrading

Me, I never tire of Joan Armatrading, and never will. She’s gone through a lot of musical twists and turns, by her own choice, during the last decade. Some of it, quite frankly, is tough for me to tolerate. But like all true greats, meaning seminally true greats, every album contains, minimum, a couple of jems.

During the span of her career, beginning in the early 70′s, I never missed any of her upstate appearances, where she played on a regular basis. After relocating to New York in ’84, I went to every, and I mean every one of her shows. Three nights at The Beacon Theater, I was there for them all. In fact, I’d gladly drive out to Long Island or New Jersey to catch neighboring appearances. There are no plans to end that pattern by the way.

‘Down To Zero’ still slays every female singer/songwriter in sight.

When doing A&R for Columbia in the 90′s, Jewel had her meteoric rise into mainstream ubiquity. Every label, especially Columbia, was looking for their own version of Jewel. So an endless parade of young nursing student types would schlep through the department, many times with an acoustic guitar in tow, or their parents, or worse yet, both. As soon as the sight of this entered my office, I got straight to the point.

“Are you as good as Joan Armatrading?”

To their credit, every last aspiring hopeful knew her, and would always answer, “Well…”

With utmost politeness, I’d ask them not to unpack or even bother playing me their demo, because I couldn’t tell good from slightly better than good, given that greatness had just been established as outside the realm of possibility. Basically, there was no point. Out of courtesy, I’d shuffle them down the hall to others more qualified in the genre.

A few even got signed. None succeeded.

Peter Tosh

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Listen: Johnny B. Goode / Peter Tosh
Johnny B. Goode / Peter Tosh

Those first few years of MTV, when it was a free for all, the network really aired a bunch of unable-to-get-radio-play songs/acts. The Ramones’ ‘Rock N Roll High School’ and Joan Armatrading’s ‘(I Love It When You) Call Me Names’ come to mind.

EMI had made a clearly inexpensive clip for Peter Tosh’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’, looking typically washed out just like everything from Jamaica was then. Even THE HARDER THEY COME and ROCKERS films were of poor grainy quality with minimal color saturation. MTV apparently didn’t care, because this was played a lot.

Despite the rather obvious cover choice which kind of kept a tradition of reggae-ing up US pop, soul and rock hits, it was Peter Tosh.

You didn’t want to miss a Peter Tosh show in those days, with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare thundering along behind him on stage. He was always the real deal. Had Steel Pulse or Inner Circle chosen this one, we’d have all dismissed it on arrival, but not when is was the bush doctor.

Corinne loved this track, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard it as a result. Morning, noon and night. She’d definitely go with the extended 12″ version. Me, I’m loyal to the 7.

Joan Armatrading

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Listen: Wrapped Around Her / Joan Armatrading JoanArmatradingWrappedAroundHer.mp3

Six years. That’s how long it was before Joan Armatrading played ‘Wrapped Around Her’ live in New York (August 5, 1999) post the single’s release. It was as unexpected as finding a stack of them in Tower Records’ on Piccadilly Circus one night.

For several years, there was a pattern in place. Take the 9am morning flight out of JFK to Heathrow, get in about 9pm, straight to the hotel, dump the bags and right over to Piccadilly Circus where Tower was open until midnight. Downstairs to the singles department, a true time warp into days gone by. Two solid walls of 7″ records, the entire Top 50 plus every last possible new release you could hope for…and more once you hit the bins.

The labels were by then using 7″ vinyl as loss leaders. Basically, they’d give retail a stack for free, thereby the shop would price them cheaply and the resulting detections would help the song into the charts – all in an effort to sell the cd version or more importantly the full length album. Very handy for a singles addict.

Really, it was like dying and going to heaven working for Island then, being the label was UK based. Meant I needed to make the trip often, sometimes very often. Top it off with an expense account that covered ‘competitive product’ purchases meant I’d burn through those racks like a tsunami, grabbing everything in sight.

On this particular trip, I had no idea ‘Wrapped Around Her’ was even scheduled. Can still vividly remember the very moment my eyes spotted it. Even Corinne stepped aside. You don’t get between me and a new Joan Armatrading record, not ever. There was no way I was not stocking up at 99p apiece. I bought twenty, and they felt so nice all together, a chunk of Joan Armatrading singles. Still have most of them too.

Back to the pattern: by midnight, we’d hit the checkout, then Corinne and I would walk over to my cousin Dinah’s on Clipstone Street, where I basically invited myself to live in ’73. Dinah never minded. She loved the company and we still reminisce constantly about those days. Now, like that night, she’d put on the kettle, force a few cups of sugary PG Tips plus endless slices of soda bread spread with too much Irish butter our way and proceed to have many a good laugh well into the early hours. Dinah’s tea, butter, bread and hospitality have never been topped.

I fired up her gramophone that evening and played ‘Wrapped Around Her’ repeatedly until they were both begging for mercy. Not only is it one of my all time favorite singles by anyone ever, but fuck, do I relive that night every last time it plays.


Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I'm Not Romantic / Phranc

Listen: I'm Not Romantic / Phranc 02 I_m Not Romantic.mp3

I Enjoy Being A Girl / Phranc

Listen: I Enjoy Being A Girl / Phranc 02 I Enjoy Being A Girl.mp3

Fact: Phranc is a special artist. Artist as in art, you know, paint and stuff; as well as music. Go see any of her exhibitions, she’s tremendous. Buy her pieces or just give her money. She deserves it. Musically, we crossed paths when Chris Blackwell signed her to Island. I was her A&R person, and we hit it off big time. Let me tell you, in addition to all creative assets, she’s kind, fair, honest, generous, a friend for life. I love her.

Didn’t take long to realize she was in fact a real live protest singer (“Take Off Your Swastika’, Bloodbath’ – see video below). Who was doing that then (’91) or even now? And a pop writer all at once.

Never could appreciate most female singer/songwriters. Basically, if they weren’t as powerful lyrically and vocally as Joan Armatrading, I just couldn’t be bothered. All the Jewels of the world should have been exterminated. White girls moaning that their boyfriends had left them. Really, they should’ve just finished nursing school and proceeded with their true calling.

But Phranc is none of that. She is brave, and touching, and controversial. Oh yeah, and fucking funny as hell. Example – her self introduction live: “I’m Phranc, with a P H and a hard C”. Get any of her albums, they’re terrific.

Marc Marot, who ran Island UK, really liked the Phranc stuff when I played it for him on a London visit. He not only agreed to release the album (POSITIVELY PHRANC), but also to issue a single. He did it up right, full colour picture sleeve, B side from the previous album, promotional tour. It’s a great double sider, and not an easy one to find. A perfect single.

Watch: Bloodbath / Phranc


Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Listen: This Charming Life / Joan Armatrading JoanCharming.mp3

Tell you what – I have never missed any of Joan Armatrading’s New York shows – ever. Last week was no exception. In a blink, she’s been writing, recording and touring now for 40 years…..40 years!

That’s a lot.

And the new single ‘This Charming Life’ self-celebrates her luck, whereby she can earn a solid living playing music to fans around the world. She appreciates it and has peace with her career. Her words, not mine.

Often coined as difficult, I say she has every right to be, if in fact that’s true. One single after the other, over four decades, not getting a fair shake at radio or mainstream exposure because of her inability to fit in, more like not being afraid to be herself. I’d be difficult too.

I stood in line to get my jukebox tab signed, happy to be a fan. It was truly fun.

When it was my turn to go to the alter, Joan barely looked up as I explained my request. “I only sign my name” was her cold response. Even better. Chose for yourself how you want to be remembered.

Her quick signature was suddenly accompanied by a smile and then, “I know you”. She remembered me! I was a kid again.

The conversation proceeded, and we had a most rewarding exchange. My feet didn’t touch the ground for hours, so enthralled, I forgot to ask her to please fill in the rest of the jukebox tab. Never mind. I’m content.

Joan Armatrading is a higher form of life. We are all lucky that she walks on the face of this earth. Believe it.


Monday, January 11th, 2010

XTCSensesPS, XTC, Steve Lillywhite, Virgin

Listen: Senses Working Overtime (Single Version) / XTC [audio:]

You have to hand it to Steve Lillywhite. He can produce a record alright. God, he was on a roll during this early 80′s stretch. XTC, Peter Gabriel, The Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, Joan Armatrading, U2. If you couldn’t make great records with that bunch, you’d be pretty useless – but seminal ones as they turned out to be – well not necessarily that easy.

Having a great engineer is the magic formula – one who can eventually learn the craft and rise to the occasion. Such the case with Hugh Padgham, Steve’s original engineer who produced this – and The Police among others.

Early on, XTC opened a US tour for The Police, the only time I got to see them. And I’m honestly not sure how many times thereafter they returned. Their saga is long. And this is a well known hit, but never one I tire of.

Joni Mitchell

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

JoniYellowUKA, Joni Mitchell, Reprise, Asylum

Listen: Big Yellow Taxi / Joni Mitchell JoniBigYellowTaxi.mp3

When it came to folk, I stuck to the UK stuff. Even then, it was never high on my list. I did have a mad patch for Fairport Convention, especially around the time of FULL HOUSE and ANGEL DELIGHT. Plus there were moments when Lindisfarne or The Incredible String Band topped the list. As for the North American stuff, not so much. Songs here or there.

Warner Brothers started doing these double album samplers for $2 (including postage) around 1968, showcasing the spectrum of their varied roster. They had most of the good progressive acts, and one of the four sides was always skewed toward folk, including the likes of Pearls Before Swine, Tom Northcott, The Pentangle or Joni Mitchell. Often the songs were album tracks, but on this one occasion, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ ended up a single. Despite my ambivalence toward female singer/songwriter voices in general (Joan Armatrading and Phranc excluded), I developed an unlikely attraction for Joni Mitchell’s. Her forays into other musical styles worked fine, better even, in my book.

JoniRaisedUKA, Joni Mitchell, Asylum, Reprise

Listen: Raised On Robbery / Joni Mitchell JoniRaisedOnRobbery.mp3

COURT AND SPARK was one of those albums that everyone loved. Like Carole King’s TAPESTRY, it was hard to find a non-believer. As a career step, she took that big one forward, proving her future would be long and respected. The album may be flawless.

‘Raised On Robbery’ got a lot of album rock play, but not much Top 40. Perfect. It proved her depth at a time when full length sales meant way more than the single. It was almost jazzy, who knew then it’s dixieland leanings would play out down the road as she took on Charles Mingus?

JoniHelpMeUKA, Joni Mitchell, Reprise, Asylum

Listen: Help Me / Joni Mitchell JoniMitchellHelpMe.mp3

COURT AND SPARK gained such traction, and sold so well, there was no choice but for Top 40 to play the next single. ‘Help Me’ always sounded good over the air. I don’t believe I switched it off once. Deservedly, it climbed to #7 and became a staple for years.

JoniFree, Joni Mitchell, Reprise, Asylum

Listen: Free Man In Paris / Joni Mitchell JoniParis.mp3

One night in the late 60′s both Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins played shows in Syracuse – at different venues. What were the promoters thinking? ‘Both Sides Now’, written by Joni and then a hit for Judy, lured me to attend the latter’s. I would say “mistake’, but to be fair, Judy Collins was great that night, mentioning her good friend was across town and thanking her for the hit.

Janis Ian

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

janisianfriends, Janis Ian, MGM, Verve Forcast, Verve, Joan Armatrading

Listen: Friends Again / Janis Ian JanisIanFriends.mp3

I also find it hard to believe I love this record, given my dislike for the female singer/songwriter, should have never quit nursing school types. When I did A&R at Columbia in the early 90′s, with acts like Jewel and Sheryl Crow gaining huge success stories, there were an endless stream of wannabe-light versions coming by to play their demo – or worse yet – perform for you in the office, while manager and occasional friend/sister/brother tapped their toes and smiled along with the music. I got smart fast and soon, before they’d even start, I’d say “Are you as good as Joan Armatrading?”. Of course they would consistently wither out a “no” – so I’d politely say let’s not bother. Made it easier for everyone.

Still, I do play ‘Friends Again’ often. It wasn’t a hit, never even graced the Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart. Expecting more political songwriting risk post her ‘Society’s Child’ smash, I suppose this just seemed like fluff. But it’s a happy song about friends, and everyone wants them, so what’s the problem? At least my local Top 40 played it a few times (see chart below). That’s how I heard it. And at 1:42, it never wears out it’s welcome.

wndr9_13_68, WNDR, Janis Ian

Cat Stevens

Friday, August 28th, 2009

catmatthew, Cat Stevens, Deram, Mike Hurst, Alan Tew, Joan Armatrading

Listen: Matthew & Son / Cat StevensCatStevensMatthewSon.mp3

How sharp am I? I just realized Cat Stevens was actually a singer/songwriter. Not my cup of tea usually, big exception being Joan Armatrading. During his time with Deram, he was most likely forced to use in-house producers/arrangers by parent company Decca. Mike Hurst was one. I loved his productions, and Decca A&R seemed to be most comfortable with dramatic arrangements, enter Alan Tew. ‘Matthew & Son’ was a big favorite – still is. I recall when ten or so years back, driving through Shepherd’s Bush in a cab on our way to Heathrow heading back home, Corinne saying ‘Look, Matthew & Son’. It was a small store front, a shoe maker, clearly from the font and signage, there for decades. It had to be the subject for this song.

catdoguka, Cat Stevens, Deram, Mike Hurst, Alan Tew, Joan Armatrading

Listen: I Love My Dog / Cat Stevens CatStevensDog.mp3

His previous, and initial debut single ‘I Love My Dog” hits home too. I love dogs, cats, any animal. It’s why I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years – refuse to have any part in an animal living a horrible life and then being slaughtered.

catportobello, Cat Stevens, Deram, Mike Hurst, Alan Tew, Joan Armatrading

Listen: Portobello Road / Cat Stevens CatStevensPortobelloRoad.mp3

As for it’s B side, ‘Portobello Road’, come on, it’s a London tradition. Those weekend market stalls are well known now, but on my last trip (June ’09), I got there before the sun came up, when the real crazies are picking, and found the first three Walker Brothers albums in spotless condition – £1 each.


Friday, May 15th, 2009

When The Tanks Roll Over Poland Again / Automatics

When The Tanks Roll Over Poland Again / Automatics

Listen: When The Tanks Roll Over Poland Again / Automatics Automatics.mp3

Who is the best living rock producer? Steve Lillywhite.

There are many, and I’m probably writing this without really thinking it through. Whatever. Steve has made so many great records for decades. The list is staggering: XTC, The Psychedelic Furs, Joan Armatrading, Eddie & The Hot Rods, Ultravox, fuck it – loads.

U2 – even if the band isn’t, to my tastes, great – the recordings are wonderful. For all the sonic wonder he has added to U2 alone, he still had to start somewhere.

Enter The Automatics. Certainly not his first, but definitely an early production. He’s come a long way. Or did he arrive fully formed?

This certainly captured the sound of London ’78. Those shouty vocals, bratty guitar grinds and the beautiful clunk of a noisy rhythm section all rolled up into a loveable mess. Either its great or it isn’t, and this is. If you add to that recipe an anthemic song, well, you end up with ‘When The Tanks Roll Over Poland’ by The Automatics, for one.


Monday, February 2nd, 2009

My Little Red Book / Love

Listen: My Little Red Book / Love

7 And 7 Is / Love

Listen: 7 And 7 Is / Love

Love Jukebox tab

Above: Jukebox Tab filled out by Arthur Lee

Stephanie Knows Who / Love

Listen: Stephanie Knows Who / Love

She Comes In Colors / Love

Listen: She Comes In Colors / Love

Orange Skies / Love

Listen: Orange Skies / Love

Que Vida / Love

Listen: Que Vida / Love

Alone Again Or / Love

Alone Again Or / Love

Alone Again Or / Love

Listen: Alone Again Or / Love

Softly To Me / Love

Listen: Softly To Me / Love

Your Mind And We Belong Together / Love

Your Mind And We Belong Together / Love

Listen: Your Mind And We Belong Together / Love

LoveEverlastingUS, Love, Arthur Lee, Blue Thumb, Bob Krasnow

The Everlasting First / Love

Listen: The Everlasting First / Love

What do Love have in common with The High Numbers, JJ Cale, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Mose Allison and Rockpile? Well, in this case, Tom Petty. He played them all, and more, on his Sirius/XM radio show, which I heard for the first time on the red eye from Seattle to New York Saturday night.

I don’t own a satellite capable device having been so disinterested in American radio for decades, and very bitter that it’s dummied down music as being a big part of culture in the US. Therefore figured it was more of the same. A few friends have, to be fair, tried convincing me otherwise. The very first time I heard it, on one of the now partnered networks, was in Kimberly Boley’s office at Sony. I asked her what she was listening to and she said satellite radio and that she loved it. I said sure but do they play The Cramps, just to throw a real wrench into the moment. She dialed up their station that most likely would, and The Cramps were playing that very second. Swear to God. I guess I should’ve taken it as a sign.

The flight was meant to be a time to finally get some rest. I’d been on Matt & Kim’s tour for several days and it had been non stop, stay awake. But this flight I’d earmarked as a sleeper. That was not meant to be. Spent the whole time flipping round these channels, then started jotting down some of the things I’d heard and kinda liked (The Soft Pack, Titus Andronicus), and some records I needed to look up once in the house to be sure I had (Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown, Titus Turner, Bobby Womack). It was a noticeable change hearing so much variety: Lemon Jelly, Roxy Music (two stations playing two different songs simultaneously), Mott The Hoople, Eurythmics, LCD Soundsystem, Joan Armatrading, Nick Drake, The Nice. It was endless. You see, there is room for everyone. What a democratic concept.

There’s one thing that hasn’t changed though: the tired, lazy, hokey US DJ presenter. Does a building need to fall on these people? Unlike the BBC, and Radio 1 in particular, that presentation is lightning fast sonically and annoucer-wise. So with the luxury of access to BBC stations (Radio 1, 2, 6, Radio London) via internet streaming and my new discovery of satellite, I think things are pretty tolerable out there. I’d get subscribed up if I ever drove anywhere.

Back to Tom Petty’s program. He played Love’s ’7 And 7 Is’ on this particular episode. Interestingly named, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Love. Many times, I crave hearing the music and thoroughly enjoy it. Other times, it sounds so lame, and twee, and overrated.

Some strong opposing opinions out there about Arthur Lee too. Met him the one time, and he was cool about doing the jukebox tab, but I was with Gary Umbo, a Love hardcore who I’m pretty sure Arthur knew and was friendly with. Undeniably some great singles though, and if you’re like me, it’s hard to forget the first time hearing ‘My Little Red Book’. It was a pretty big hit everywhere rightfully. Then ’7 and 7 Is’ came out, and that was the loudest cut record I’d ever heard. You can’t turn it down. Just try.

When I worked at Elektra in ’85, our mailroom guy Mark Cohen came down to my office telling me there was a closet that was about to be part of the renovation underway to create more office space. It was full of old chairs, cabinets, typewriters AND some boxes of old 45′s. Was I interested, they’ll be tossed otherwise.

It was a treasure trove. About 200 singles in all, and a virtual history of Elektra’s early 7′s. So many amazing things, I never separated the lot, kept them as they were. Loads of Tom Rush, The Voices Of East Harlem, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Beefeaters, Tim Buckley, plus a mixture of US and UK presses.

Every Love single was there, promos and stock, and some UK copies as well. Many are pictured here. Note the withdrawn copy of ‘Stephanie Knows Who’ / ‘Orange Skies’ (EK 45608). The catalog number was re-assigned as EK 45608 (REV). I’m guessing to indicate ‘revised’, replacing the A side with ‘She Comes In Colors’. I knew of the switch but wasn’t aware original copies had been pressed until that day.

Also, for some reason unknown as it wasn’t an Elektra master, the pile included a UK pressing of ‘The Everlasting First’. It was originally released in the US on Blue Thumb, Bob Krasnow’s label. Although he was our chairman and boss at Elektra, he had no idea why the record was included there either. “Maybe I gave Holtzman a copy then, and yeah that is Jimi playing the lead”. Thankfully he didn’t reclaim it.

Not long after, the front desk somehow decided to forward through an irate Arthur Lee to my line. I pick up and he launched into a rage about unpaid royalties and how Elektra, and even I myself, were stealing from him, so much so that he had to move in with his aunt in Nashville or some such place. I was very unequipped to handle this one, so politely sent him through to Gary Casson in business affairs, where I’m sure the rampage ended abruptly.


Friday, December 12th, 2008

Heaven / Joan Armatrading

Heaven / Joan Armatrading

Listen: Heaven / Joan Armatrading 08 Heaven.mp3

Joan Armatrading: she just scared off all the competition. Proof: still going strong after 30 plus years. And not only musically, she recently ran the NY marathon, 26 miles. Tracy Chapman, who has made some of my favorite singles, coincidentally had a similar sounding voice and songwriting approach, but Joan is Joan. ‘Heaven’ is a favorite, which she finally played live, some 24 years after it’s release, on the US summer ’07 dates. We all lost it. Bless her.