Monday, March 23, 2009

Shakin' Stevens Becomes Shaky But Remains Steady

Shakin’ Stevens’ feel good brand of 50s style rockabilly had cut a swath through contemporary style competitors on the British/European scene - the post punk, power pop, synth-driven new wave, ska/two-tone, new romantic brigades - throughout both ‘81 and ‘82, defying detractors, keen to write him off as a pantomime style, novelty, flash in the pan. Though he may have been quiet on the chart action front during the first half of 1983, Shakin’ Stevens wasn’t a spent force on the British music scene by any stretch of the imagination.

In July ‘83, Stevens showed it was late, but not too late, to return to the charts, with his new single ‘It’s Late’ (UK#11). The Bob Heatlie penned ‘Cry Just A Little Bit’, gave Stevens every reason to cry with joy, when it peaked at #3 on the British charts late in ‘83 (OZ#31). The track also delivered Shakin’ Stevens his only hit Stateside, when it reached #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the first half of ‘84. Both 1983 hits featured on Stevens’ next album, ‘The Bop Won’t Stop’ (UK#21/OZ#73), produced by Christopher Neil, and released in late ‘83. The bop didn’t stop with Stevens’ next single, ‘A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around And Fall In Love)’, originally recorded by Priscilla Bowman, which hit the British charts during January of ‘84. This time around, Stevens traded vocals with Bonnie Tyler (see future post), and ‘A Rockin’ Good Way’ (UK#5/OZ#21) provided Tyler with her fourth British top ten hit, whilst for the ‘Shakester’ it was top ten hit #10. And if anyone was still questioning ‘Shaky’s hit making prowess, ‘A Love Worth Waiting For’ (UK#2/OZ#44), offered a definitive confirmation in the positive.

Often times a ‘greatest hits’ album will feature a handful of bona fide hits, mixed with several also rans and never were’s. When Epic released ‘Shakin’ Stevens Greatest Hits’ in late ‘84, the public would have had no complaints with the album’s tagline. The album boasted a swag of top ten smashes, and several new tracks, all of which would in turn emerge as new hits. Over the course of late ‘84/early ‘85, Shakin’ Stevens returned to the British top 20 three more times with the singles ‘A Letter To You’ (UK#10 - originally recorded by Dennis Linde), ‘Teardrops’ (UK#5/OZ#71), which featured Hank B. Marvin on guitar, and ‘Breaking Up My Heart’ (UK#14), whilst his ‘Greatest Hits’ package peaked at #8 in Britain (OZ#83).

By the mid 80s Shakin’ Stevens had nothing left to prove, and had already outsold most of the artists who had originally inspired his move into music. The harder edged ‘rockabilly rebel’ edge had softened somewhat, but he retained an unwavering affection for the style of music behind the image. In late 1985, Stevens reunited with his first producer from the early Sunsets days, Dave Edmunds, on the album ‘Lipstick Powder And Paint’ (UK#37). The reunion with Edmunds breathed a new sense of vitality into Stevens’ career, and would realise one of his biggest hits. The title track single, originally recorded by Joe Turner in 1957, peaked at #11 on the British charts during November ‘85, but the follow up single would return Shakin’ Stevens to the summit of the singles charts, for the first time in almost four years. ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ received a timely release during the first week of December ‘85, and reached the summit of the British charts over the Christmas/New Year period. It was written by Bob Heatlie, who, not coincidentally had penned ‘Japanese Boy’ by Aneka, the song which replaced Shakin’ Stevens’ ‘Green Door’ at #1 on the British charts in August of ’81. Heatlie had penned ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ for Aneka, though with different lyrics, but his reworking of the song as a festive number worked a treat. Not surprisingly, ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ was reissued a year later (UK#58). The third single from ‘Lipstick Powder And Paint’, ‘Turning Away’ (UK#15), signalled Stevens’ last foray into the singles charts for almost nine months.

Stevens reunited with producer Christopher Neil for the late ‘86 single ‘Because I Love You’ (UK#14), but it was apparent that the previously relentless hit making machine of Shakin’ Stevens had wound down operations a tad. That’s not to say he had ground to a halt, as the hit singles continued into 1987, with ‘A Little Boogie Woogie (In The Back Of My Mind)’ (UK#12), and ‘Come See About Me’ (UK#24). Over time an increasing proportion of Stevens’ hits had been original versions, but for his final incursion into the British top five, he returned to an old chestnut with ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For’ (UK#5) in late ‘87, originally a UK#1 for Emile Ford & the Checkmates in 1959. The track featured on Stevens’ ‘Let’s Boogie’ album (UK#59), released late in ‘87.

Over the course of the late 80s, Shakin’ Stevens’ profile on the charts waned somewhat, but he still scored several top thirty hits in Britain, with ‘Feel The Need In Me’ (#26), ‘True Love’ (#23), and ‘Love Attack’ (#28), and the well received album ‘A Whole Lotta Shaky’ (UK#42/OZ#80). By the close of the decade, Stevens had racked up an extraordinary 31 hit singles on the British charts. During 1990, he broke into the British top twenty twice, with the singles ‘I Might’ (#18), and another festive offering ‘The Best Christmas Of Them All’ (#19), whilst the album ‘There’s Two Kinds Of Music: Rock ‘N’ Roll’ (UK#65), indicated Stevens remained steadfastly committed in his passion for all things rock and roll. The following year, he released the made for Christmas album ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, and featured on the British charts for the second consecutive festive season, with ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ (#34). 1992’s ‘The Epic Years’ (UK#57) contained all of Stevens’ major Epic label triumphs, and included the new single ‘Radio’ (UK#37), credited to Shaky Ft. Roger Taylor (of the Queen variety).

By 1993 Shaky, or Shakin’ Stevens, or Michael Barratt (take your pick), had recognised that his major hit making days had passed, and took the option to retire from the music business. The retirement lasted six years, but by 1999 Shakin’ Stevens had a rock ‘n’ roll itch too bad to ignore, and returned to the live nostalgia circuit. In 2000, the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters acknowledged Stevens’ exceptional contribution to popular music, with the prestigious Gold Badge Award. The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles (a valuable resource for this blog) presented Stevens with the Number One Gold Award in 2002, in acknowledgement of his four British chart toppers. Over the next couple of years, headline performances across Europe and Britain, reaffirmed Shakin’ Stevens as one of the most respected and admired singers in popular music, and he was named officially as the 16th highest selling U.K. based artist in the history of the British singles charts.

In 2005, a new compilation, the less than imaginatively titled ‘The Collection’, returned Shakin’ Stevens to the British album charts (#4), and sparked a new wave of interest in his career works. The same year he appeared as a contestant on the U.K. version of ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, the television show that took ageing pop/rock stars and pitted them against one another in a contest format. Stevens chose to perform the P!nk hit ‘Trouble’ as his contemporary number. His standout performance not only earned him a win on ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, but he recorded a cover of ‘Trouble’ for single release, which made the British top twenty over the summer of ‘05. In 2007, Shakin’ Stevens released his first album of new material in fifteen years, with the warmly received ‘Now Listen’, and ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ made a welcome return to the British top forty in both the 2007 (#22), and 2008 (#36), festive seasons. 2008 saw Shakin’ Stevens celebrate his 60th birthday in style, with a series of high energy, sell out concerts across the U.K. and Europe, including a knock out performance at the famed Glastonbury Festival. After taking time to catch his breath during the 90s, a rejuvenated Shakin’ Stevens looks set to continue wowing audiences and fans alike for many years to come.

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