Sunday, August 28, 2011

Record of the Month - Classic

Another installment of a disk I have enjoyed over the years. I'm trying to keep the Record of the Month posts to be fairly new releases. Classics are going to be ones that are at least 10 years old.

For 2011, I thought I'd focus on debut disks - just to make it more challenging for me. I don't think you'll care one way or the other.

There are those who only know Rachel Sweet from her title song from John Waters' 1988 movie, Hairspray Not the crappy John Ravolta version.   A few might know her from her one radio/video "hit" "Everlasting Love" -  a duet with, ugh, Rex Smith.

But years earlier, she had her UK and U.S. debut with Fool Around, back in 1978.  She was all of 16 years old, but with a voice of a well seasoned adult singer.

Sweet was signed by Stiff records, which back then was home to artists like Elvis Costello, Lene Lovich, Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe,  Ian Dury & the Blockheads. 

With the U.S. version, a few songs were cut from the UK version, one was added to the U.S. version, and the art work was different.  Overall, it was pretty much the same.  The disk didn't catch on with the U.S. radio.   Still, it's a great disk.

It was new and retro at the same time.  It combines the elements of some more classic songs like "B-A-B-Y" (co-written by Chef, or Isaac Hayes), "Stay Awhile", "I Go to Pieces" (Del Shannon) yet most likely were new to the audience she was reaching.  Being 16, I'm sure they were new to her.

Then there was the new.  Riding on the post-punk and then new wave aspects of the disk.  Lene Lovich singing background, the still mostly unknown Costello contributing a track - and then a bunch of new songs by producer Liam Sternberg.  You don't know him by this disk, that's for sure, but you would know him as the songwriter of "Walk Like an Egyptian".  So, he eventually made his millions - at our expense. Most of the songs on the disk were written by Sternberg.

To be fair, he fares better with this than he would in 10 years with the Bangles hit.  I mean, some are not great ("Cuckoo Clock"), but some I really really liked.

Sternberg and Sweet were both from Akron.  At the same time, Devo and Chrissie Hynde, also from Akron were showing up on the scene.  Akron - who knew?

Anyway, Sweet had the voice and maturity to pull of songs of love and loss.   The record, oddly enough, as a twangy feel to it.  Clearly it is not country, but has some elements which show off Sweet's vocal abilities.  "Wildwood Saloon", "Sad Song" and Costello's "Stranger in the House".

I like all the songs I mentioned throughout the post (save "Cuckoo Clock").   I was never much a fan of the UK songs that were cut from the domestic version ("Girl with the Synthesizer", "I'll Watch the News"), but I'm a big fan of "Pin a Medal on Mary" and "Who Does Lisa Like".   On the latter, Sweet shows you how she can hold a note.

It's a good album, not stellar.  I thought her second disk, Protect the Innocent, was better and a lot more original.  But she never reached her potential before quitting music.

Technically, you can't get this version of the disk anywhere.  There is a combined CD version of Fool Around: the Best of Rachel Sweet that exists.  It has both U.S. and UK songs and a handful of other songs from her other three albums, plus "Hairspray".

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