Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lene's Lucky Number's One

Born Lili-Marlene Premilovich in Detroit City, the home of Motown Records, Lene Lovich’s music career could not have been further removed from the style that defines the ‘Motown Sound’. After her parents separated, thirteen year old Lovich moved with her mother to England, and it was there that her musical and stylistic world would be shaped, particularly following her meeting with future co-writer, band guitarist and life partner Les Chappell.

Lovich attended the Central School of Art in
London, developing her love of the visual arts, design and honing her craft as a musician/dancer and theatrical performer. By the latter half of the 70s Lene Lovich had turned her hand to lyric writing and singing. Via a series of connections, and a demo recording of the old Tommy James song ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, she scored a recording contract with the fledgling Stiff Records label, who released it as a single. In 1978 Lovich was a frontline act on the Be Stiff tour, which also featured Jona Lewie (see earlier post) - the tour was similar in concept to those undertaken by those Motown artists from Lovich’s birthplace Detroit. Lovich’s goth like appearance (with her trademark plaits) and frenetic stage energy gained her rave revues.

Early in 1979 Lovich released the single ‘Lucky Number’, a quirky little pop number that ideally showcased the singers’ unique offbeat vocal style (it was the original B-side to Lene’s version of ‘I Think We‘re Alone Now’). Backed by a cool promo clip which featured Lene Lovich looking very Morticia Adams like (the bald dude in the shades is Les Chappell), the song rocketed up the U.K. singles charts eventually peaking at #3. Shortly after Australia also discovered Lene’s ‘Lucky Number’, which though clearly #1 in the lyrics, was revised to #2 on the Australian charts mid year. The eagerly anticipated album ‘Stateless’ was released shortly after and proved a solid performer in both the U.K. (#35) and Australia (#13). But in the highly saturated disco market of the U.S. at that time, ‘Lucky Number’ didn’t get a look in.

‘Say When’ was the follow single in the U.K. and performed well enough, reaching #19, but Lovich wouldn’t revisit the top 20 again (at least on the singles charts). Lovich toured relentlessly across Europe and the U.S. and also made a promotional tour to Australia where she proved a cult favourite. She always reminded me a bit of an avant-garde version of Kate Bush (wasn’t Kate Bush avante-garde enough?), and when you listen to contemporaries like Hazel O’Connor and Laurie Anderson, there are clear similarities in their halting, haunting vocal styles. As for current day singers, the sublime Gwen Stefani pays homage to Lovich in nearly every vocal nuance she expresses.

‘Bird Song’ was the next single to reach the Australian charts (#77) late in 1979, having peaked at #39 in the U.K. A second album ‘Flex’ was released
shortly after and sold well in the U.K. especially (#19) but didn’t build on Lovich’s profile in Australia (#81). Another minor hit ‘What Will I Do Without You’ crept up to #58 in Britain but it would be another 18 months before Lovich would trouble the charts again in Australia.

An EP was released during 1981 featuring the title track ‘New Toy’ (written by one Thomas Dolby - see earlier post), which became a solid top 30 hit in Australia (#29) mid year, but just missed the UK top 50 (#53). Despite the solid performance of the album ‘Flex’ there was a prolonged delay before Lovich’s third album ‘No Man’s Land’ saw the light of day in 1982, which yielded the final charting single for Lovich ‘It‘s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)’ (UK#68). The album was based on the musical ‘Mata Hari’ which Lene Lovich co-wrote and starred in on London’s West End. The lack of support from Stiff Records over that album led to an eight year legal battle as Lovich sought to break ties with the label. 1990 saw the release of a new album ‘March’ (distributed by the U.S. Pathfinder label) which Lovich recorded in her own studio. The album was a much refined sound for Lovich, and despite a solid U.S. tour to promote it, missed the charts completely. Lovich and Chappell then took the spent of the 90s away from the music scene to raise their children, though Lovich made a number of cameo appearances on other artists projects.

After a 15 year absence Lovich returned to live performances in 2005 with Chappell still on guitar by her side. Several sold out shows followed, along with the release of Lovich’s fifth album ‘Shadows And Dust’.

Just a personal note: before the advent of the home-internet revolution and the re-release of many artists back catalogues in recent years, it was a real challenge back in the early 90s to track down much of the music from bygone eras. I was a big fan of ‘Lucky Number’ from when I first saw the clip in 1979 and by the early 90s it was high on my list of ‘songs to get’. On one of many trips (circa 1992) to the old Time Warp music store in Sydney I finally came across a CD compilation which featured ‘Lucky Number’ on its tracklist. Despite recognising (at that time) only one other track - Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric?’, I had no hesitation in forking out the $35 asking price. More money than sense you say? In hindsight perhaps so given the track and source album ‘Stateless’ are readily available these days, but in thinking back to the joy I felt when I heard ‘Lucky Number’ on crystal clear CD for the first time, it was worth every cent.

1 comment:

cdmaniac said...

I Lovich Lene.

Great post!