Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alf Is Upstairs At Eric's With Yazoo

Around the same time that Eurythmics burst onto the music scene, another male-female electronic pop duo similarly crashed into the charts. Keyboardist Vince Clarke had parted ways with Depeche Mode in late 1981 but the band’s record label Mute opted to retain the services of the electronic maestro. Clarke joined up with a young female vocalist by the name of Alison Moyet to form the duo Yazoo. It was a meeting of two distinct and disparate talents at a musical crossroads, Clarke’s precise, but potentially cold, electronic sound, suddenly infused with the warm, rich textures of Moyet’s voice.

Yazoo released their debut single ‘Only You’ in May 1982. The synth-drenched ballad introduced the world to the unique soulful vocals of Alison Moyet, and introduced Yazoo to the top 10. ‘Only You’ peaked at #2 in the U.K. and #7 in Australia shortly after. British acappella group The Flying Pickets took their version of the song all the way #1 on the U.K. charts for Christmas 1983.

‘Don’t Go’ was a much edgier electro-pop single and proved a strong follow up, climbing to #3 in the U.K. during mid ‘82, and #6 in Australia. As ‘Don’t Go’ was riding high on the charts Yazoo released their debut album ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’. The album showcased Clarke’s innovative take on synth-pop, and his metronomic rhythms were the perfect foil for Moyet’s diva-esque vocals, pushing the album to #2 in the U.K. and #10 in Australia (US#92). The album also yielded the first single to chart for Yazoo in the States, ‘Situation’ (US#73 - later remixed and released in Britain in 1990 - #14), though due to a clash of names with an already established record label, Yazoo were known in the U.S. as Yaz. A fourth single ‘The Other Side Of Love’ (UK#13/OZ#86) rounded out a stellar debut year for Yazoo on the charts in 1982. Shortly after ‘Only You’ was issued in the U.S. peaking at #67 in early ‘83.

In April 1983 Yazoo released a new single in advance of their forthcoming album. ‘Nobody’s Diary’ matched the sales of its predecessors, peaking at #3 in Britain and #17 in Australia, though missed the U.S. charts. When Yazoo’s sophomore album ‘You And Me Both’ hit the shelves in July ‘83, it hit the #1 spot on the U.K. charts almost immediately after, also reaching #21 in Australia (US#69). The chemistry on record between Clarke and Moyet reached a crescendo on the album, and there was every reason to think Yazoo would continue to rival Eurythmics as the premiere electronic pop duo of the 80s. What was even more remarkable was that both Clarke and Moyet were still only in their early 20s.

But unlike so many others, Yazoo decided to quit on a high, or more accurately imploded on a high. Vince Clarke collaborated with Feargal Sharkey (see earlier post) in the short lived outfit The Assembly, who scored a UK#4 hit in late ‘83. He then went on to form the electro-pop duo Erasure with singer Andy Bell in 1985. After a slow start Erasure went on to become one of the leading pioneers in the Euro-pop movement (inspiring Culture Beat, La Bouche and the like). They scored over a dozen British and European top 20 hits, the biggest of them being ‘Sometimes’ (UK#2-1986), ‘Blue Savannah’ (UK#3-1990), and ‘Abba-esque’ (UK#1-1992). Over the course of a decade Erasure also released several chart topping albums including 1988’s ‘The Innocents’ and 1991’s ‘Chorus’. Having been at the writing/production helm of a string of commercially popular, not to mention influential electro-pop outfits over a 25 year period, Vince Clarke has proven himself a rare and innovative talent on the music scene.

But as Clarke was searching out his next vocal collaborator to channel his musical ideas through, his former partner in Yazoo, Alison Moyet, was establishing herself as a pre-eminent pop diva in her own right. Born Genevieve Alison-Jane Moyet, better known to family and friends as ‘Alf’, Moyet had cut her teeth as a performer fronting London Southend R&B outfit’s The Vicars and The Screaming Abdabs during the late 70s/early 80s. She was Vince Clarke’s first choice to join him in Yazoo, and it was no surprise given their phenomenal success that Alison Moyet would make an impact as a soloist.

CBS-Columbia signed Moyet almost immediately after the dissolution of Yazoo. Her debut single ‘Love Resurrection’ proved the perfect vehicle to introduce the world to Alison Moyet, post Yazoo. The song peaked at #10 in the U.K. in mid ‘84, hitting #17 in Australia shortly after. Her second single ‘All Cried Out’ (UK#8/OZ#21) hit the charts to coincide with the release of Moyet’s debut solo album ‘Alf’. Featuring a strong pop/blues mix, the album rocketed to #1 in the U.K. soon after release, also peaking at #9 in Australia in late ‘84. ‘Invisible’ (UK#21/US#31/OZ#16) completed a trifecta of hit singles from her debut album, setting the bar impossibly high.

Moyet’s sultry, earthy voice oozed all the qualities of jazz/blues divas of a bygone era. Appropriate then that her next choice of song should be to cover the old Billie Holiday classic ‘That Ole Devil Called Love’ (UK#2/OZ#46), released as a stand alone single in March ‘85.

Moyet released her second album ‘Rain dancing’ (UK#2/OZ#15) in April 1987, following on from the success of two lead out singles, ‘Is This Love?’ (UK#3/OZ#12) in late 1986, and ‘Weak In The Presence Of Beauty’ (UK#6/OZ#30) in March ‘87. ‘Weak In The Presence Of Beauty’ had been a British hit previously for Floy Joy (see future post). The album featured a strong mix of contemporary pop originals and jazz/blues covers. ‘Ordinary Girl’ (UK#43) was Moyet’s first single to miss the top 25 on the British charts (including her Yazoo work), but it was followed up by another stand alone single, with her cover of an old Dick Haymes song ‘Love Letters’, which returned Moyet to #4 on the U.K. charts in late ‘87. The promo video for ‘Love Letters’ featured U.K. comedy duo French & Saunders.

Moyet then took time out in the late 80s to focus on motherhood, but returned to the recording studio for her third album in 1991. ‘Hoodoo’ (UK#11/OZ#94) featured a number of top 50 hits, ‘It Won’t Be Long’ (UK#50), ‘Wishing You Were Here’ (UK#40) and ‘This House’ (UK#42), but Alison Moyet’s days of automatic top 20 hits were behind her. But by now Moyet was a more mature and complete singer, less interested in laying down commercial fare and more devoted to pushing her own limits stylistically as a singer.

‘Whispering Your Name’ returned Moyet to the U.K. top 20 (#18) for one last time in early 1994. It featured on her fourth album ‘Essex’ (UK#24), which though well received by critics and her fan base alike, fell short of attracting a wider market interest. 1995 saw the release of a #1 retrospective album, which also yielded a minor hit in the previously unreleased ‘Solid Wood’ (UK#44). In 2008 Alison Moyet released her seventh studio album titled ‘The Turn’.

2008 also saw Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet join creative forces once again under the Yazoo banner, over 25 years since the duo first came into existence. They have just completed a two month tour across Britain and North America, and there is talk of them writing some new material. A new all-inclusive retrospective 4 disc box set titled ‘In Your Room’ has also just been released. It’s nice to know that such a unique musical chemistry has been re-sparked and maybe, just maybe, the world might be treated to another Yazoo album.

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