Friday, December 19, 2008

Cutting Crew Score One For The Mockingbird

The very same notepad that Van Eede had used to scribble down the phrase “cutting crew”, came in handy some time later, though in a slightly different set of circumstances. Rather than reading an article in the paper, Van Eede had just finished making love to his then girlfriend. He later recalled, that in the throws of passion he exclaimed the phrase “I just died in your arms”. At the earliest convenience in the sequence of events, Van Eede leaned over to the bedside table, picked up his trusty notepad and pen, and made a note of the statement, because…well, it might come in handy for a song someday. It’s as well Van Eede was so attentive to his songwriter’s intuition, as he indeed did pen a song around that very phrase, in fact he even used it for the title of the song.

The lead out single for the proposed album was indeed ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’, penned of course by Nick Van Eede. The opening keyboard sequence hooked listeners from the get go, and overall it was slickly produced, laid back, but powerful formula, that worked a treat. The song debuted on the British charts in August ‘86, and peaked at #4 on the charts before year’s end, in addition to invading the top 10 across several European territories. During the same period ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’ came to life on the Australian charts, debuting in October ‘86. I recall seeing the video clip for the first time on ‘Countdown‘, or maybe ‘Sounds’. Black and white promo clips, with intermittent use of slow motion, were all the fashion in the mid 80s. What stood out most was the rather dexterous riding of a motor scooter around the stage area where Cutting Crew were playing - not especially arty, but effective nonetheless. Certainly effective enough to help send the song to #8 in Australia, in early ‘87 - but the U.S. was the real target market.

Siren, and their parent company Virgin, left no stone unturned in trying to crack the U.S. with ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’. Truth is, they probably didn’t have to exert too much marketing and distribution muscle, because the song sold itself. In March ‘87 Cutting Crew cracked the U.S. Hot 100 for the first time with ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’. By May the song had toppled ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’, by Aretha Franklin and George Michael, from the top of the American charts. Cutting Crew held sway over the competition for two weeks, before U2 came along with their first U.S. chart topper ‘With or Without You’. The song featured on Cutting Crew’s debut album ‘Broadcast’, which had been released in Britain back in late ‘86. The album was co-produced by Cutting Crew themselves, with Terry Brown, and John Jansen. The core quartet handled all the instrumentations, including keyboard and synth duties. ‘Broadcast’ notched up solid sales across the world (UK#41/OZ#77/US#16), and spawned two solid follow up hits. ‘One For The Mockingbird’ is my favourite all time Cutting Crew cut, but its chart performance sadly didn’t reflect its pop-rock brilliance (US#38/UK#52/OZ#96). The third single, ‘I’ve Been In Love Before’, became Cutting Crew’s second U.S. top 10 hit (#9) in September ‘87. The song had originally been released in the U.K. in late ‘86, and peaked at #31, but on the back of the success of the song Stateside, a remixed version of ‘I’ve Been In Love Before’ was released in the U.K. in late ‘87, second time around scaling the charts to #24. On the downside of things, a number of critics (including Rolling Stone magazine) savaged ‘Broadcast’ as being trite, formulaic pop-rock. Well, what it may have lacked in groundbreaking stylistic acrobatics, Cutting Crew more than made up for in catchy hooks, heartfelt vocals, and first class musicianship.

On the back of the enormous success of ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’, and the follow up singles, Cutting Crew found themselves playing support to 80s pop heavyweights the Bangles (see future post), Huey Lewis & The News, and the revitalised Starship. Their brand of synthesizer toned pop-rock lent itself perfectly to the FM radio format in the U.S., and Cutting Crew’s song’s often found a place alongside the likes of REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Starship, Boston and Mr. Mister (see earlier post). Cutting Crew also found themselves nominated for a Grammy Award for ‘Best New Artist’, the same year as Breakfast Club and Swing Out Sister (see previous posts), but they all lost out to Jody Watley.

It took some time to surface, but in 1989 Cutting Crew finally unveiled their sophomore album ‘The Scattering’ (US#150), which featured a great title track, and a more tempered sound overall. It was a relatively low key affair, all things considered, though given the time elapsed since their biggest hit now exceeded two years, any residual momentum from their earlier triumphs, had long since dissipated. The lead out single, ‘(Between A) Rock And A Hard Place’, found itself struggling to establish any kind of solid foundation on the charts (US#77/UK#66). The Cutting Crew brought studio guru Hugh Padgham on board to mix the track, but his unique brand of magic couldn’t work any wonders on the song’s reception, which was lukewarm. There was still a home for Cutting Crew on the Adult Contemporary charts in the U.S., but that probably wasn’t where the band envisaged they would end up so soon. ‘Everything But My Pride’ garnered solid airplay, and reached #4 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts, but the next single ‘The Last Thing’ (US#17-Adult Contemporary), proved mildly prophetic in early 1990.

Cutting Crew’s crusade was in general disarray, and in the fall out from the failure of ‘The Scatterings’, the band line-up itself did some scattering. Both Martin Beedle and Colin Farley left Cutting Crew in 1992, which left Van Eede and MacMichael to carry on recording the band’s third album ‘Compus Mentus’. Record label support had fast faded as well, which left the album ‘Compus Mentus’ with only limited, and very short term release. Van Eede and MacMichael decided to call it quits for Cutting Crew in 1993. MacMichael paired up with rock legend Robert Plant, on Plant’s 1993 album ‘Fate Of Nations’, and later toured with Plant for two years. Van Eede returned to performing solo for a number of years (and at one stage auditioned as the replacement for Phil Collins in Genesis), Martin Beedle worked as a session drummer, whilst former bassist Colin Farley returned to low key local pub gigs in England. Sadly, guitarist Kevin MacMichael passed away from lung cancer in 2002.

In 2006 singer Nick Van Eede decided to revive the Cutting Crew brand, albeit with an all new crew in support. The new line-up was Van Eede (vocals/guitar), Gareth Moulton (guitar/vocals), Sam Flynn (keyboards), Dominic Farley (bass/vocals), and Tom Arnold (drums/percussion/vocals). The new Cutting Crew hit the road in earnest, and by 2007 had written sufficient material to record a new album, titled ‘Grinning Souls’. They have subsequently kept themselves busy touring mainly around the U.K. and Europe.

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