Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Closest Thing To Heaven Is To Rock And Roll

It’s very likely that I purchased more singles in 1988 than in any other year before or since. I’m pretty sure my musical tastes were beginning to broaden a bit beyond the top 40 charts, which was one factor, but it’s strange that although I don’t recall that specific era as being anything special in terms of the quality of new music, some of my favourite songs of all time originated from that time. ‘Somewhere In My Heart’ by Aztec Camera was one of them.

Aztec Camera formed in the Scottish town of East Kilbride during 1980, the heart of the group being a 16 year old school boy by the name of Roddy Frame, who quickly assumed the mantle of being somewhat of a local guitar hero. In fact Aztec Camera essentially was Roddy Frame, though in the group‘s formative stages bass player Campbell Owens, keyboardist Bernie Clarke and drummer Dave Mulholland were official members. Punk was on the wane a bit and new wave hadn’t quite hit its straps, so 1980 represented a window in the popular music market for up and coming artists. There was a lightweight folk pop surface to a lot of Aztec Camera’s songs, which belied a substantive underbelly that rumbled beneath.

The Glasgow independent label Postcard initially signed Aztec Camera, releasing their debut single ‘Just Like Gold’ and its follow up ‘Mattress Of Wire’ in 1981. Neither charted but the group came to the attention of the hip London indie label Rough Trade, before eventually being snapped up by Sire Records. Both Campbell and Mulholland left the group prior to the release of Aztec Camera’s debut album ‘High Land, Hard Rain’, leaving Roddy Frame to handle pretty much everything in the studio with the assistance of various session players. The album sold well over the northern summer of ‘83 (UK#22) and yielded the hit ‘Oblivious’ (UK#18 - on its second attempt).

Dire Straits maestro Mark Knopfler sat at the production controls for Aztec Camera’s second album ‘Knife’ in 1984. Plenty more catchy hooks and clever lyrics satisfied Aztec Camera fans who pushed the album to #14 in the U.K., though ‘All I Need Is Everything’ (UK#34) was its only hit single. Bassist Craig Gannon and guitarist Malcolm Ross were featured players on the album and stayed on with Roddy Frame for Aztec Camera’s world tour that followed.

Fans would have to wait almost three years before the release of album number three from Aztec Camera. ‘Love’ failed to ingratiate itself to critics, some unimpressed with Roddy Frame’s infusion of ‘Philadelphia soul’ into the mix. Regardless it became Aztec Camera’s highest charting album in the U.K. (#10) and only charting album in Australia (#53) during 1988 - though it took almost a year from its release date to achieve that. The first single ‘How Men Are’ achieved a respectable #25 in Britain, but its follow up ‘Somewhere In My Heart’ would prove to be the pinnacle of Aztec Camera’s commercial achievements, soaring to #3 in the U.K. and #34 in Australia. In my humble opinion it was one of the purest pop songs of that era. A third single ‘Working In A Goldmine’ climbed to #31 on the British charts, making 1988 boon year on the charts for Roddy Frame.

Frame took his time putting together Aztec Camera’s next album ‘Stray’ (UK#22) which was released in mid 1990 and yielded the hit ‘Good Morning Britain’ (UK#19) which was credited to Aztec Camera Mick Jones (ex-Clash), and would be their last foray into the top 20. The album was somewhat of an eclectic mix but did reengage somewhat with the acoustic based sound of Aztec Camera’s earlier work, a return welcomed by critics and core fans alike. ‘Spanish Horses’ (UK#52) was released as a single in 1992 and was included on the band’s next album ‘Dreamland’ (UK#21) which was released almost a year later. 1993’s ‘Dream Sweet Dreams’ (UK#67) was the swan song chart hit for Aztec Camera. One final album followed with 1995’s ‘Frestonia’, before Roddy Frame opted to retire the Aztec Camera moniker and record under his own name.

1998 saw Roddy Frame finally chart under his own name with the minor UK hit ‘Reason For Livin’ (#45), lifted from the album ‘The North Star’ (UK#55). Sticking to a solid pop rock formula, Frame then released the album ‘Sister Shadow’ in 1999.

No comments: