Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Everything Must Change For Paul Young

During the second half of ‘84, Paul Young began to regain use of his strained vocal cords, and entered the studio to begin work on his sophomore album, once more with producer Laurie Latham at the controls. In terms of the remaining support personnel, there had been some changes over the preceding year. Key players, Ian Kewley, Mike Pinder and Pino Palladino were still on board, but guitarist Steve Bolton was replaced by Johnny Turnbull, and keyboardist Matt Irving also joined. The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts decided they could become even wealthier by pursuing their own career, and were replaced by a trio of well respected session vocalists, George Chandler, Jimmy Chambers, and Tony Jackson.

Though nearly a year had passed since his last incursion into the charts as a solo artist, Paul Young’s career exploded back into life with the explosively superlative ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’, a rousing take on the Earl Randle penned R&B song, originally a US#111 hit for Ann Peebles in 1973. Young no doubt attacked the song’s vocals, but even accounting for that, their was a rawness that hinted at some of his recent voice/throat problems. ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ tore through the opposition to peak at #9 on the British charts, late in ‘84, and shortly after constructed a firm place at #25 in Australia (on first release it missed the U.S. charts). As ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ was sitting pretty on the charts, Paul Young was invited to participate in the now legendary Band Aid recording project, organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ rocketed to #1 in time for the festive season, and in so doing signed off on its place in popular music folklore. It was indicative of Young’s place on the music scene that he was performing alongside the likes of Sting, Simon Le Bon, and Bono.

With his comeback single a top ten hit, and his name attached to one of the biggest chart toppers in history, Paul Young had bounced back in style. Despite his prolonged absence from vocal duties during 1984, Young once more scored a gong at the Brit Awards, when he took out ‘Best Male Vocalist’ in February of ‘85. Around that time the second single from his forthcoming album matched the chart performance of its predecessor on the U.K. charts. ‘Everything Must Change’ was a lyrically poignant, sweetly soulful song, that revealed Paul Young the song writer as a class act. Though ‘Everything Must Change’, in this instance history repeated itself as Young scored his second consecutive UK#9 (OZ#27). The track also highlighted the sublime vocal harmonies of Young’s new backing singers (Chandler, Chambers, and Jackson). ‘Everything Must Change’ was (and is) my favourite Paul Young song, for its richness, substance, and impeccable delivery. However, Young’s next single was to prove even more popular with the general populace, particularly Stateside.

The duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates had already worn the tag of accomplished proponents of 80s era ‘blue-eyed’ soul, and had notched up over a dozen U.S. top ten singles in the process (including no fewer than six #1 hits). Their 1980 album, ‘Voices’, proved to be one of the biggest selling of their career (US#17/OZ#19), and yielded the major hits ‘Kiss On My List’ (US#1/UK#8/OZ#13), ‘You Make My Dreams’ (US#5/OZ#40), and, ironically enough, a cover of their own, with the Righteous Brothers’ hit ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (US#12/UK#33). Paul Young wasn’t in the habit of covering previous big hits, but rather took delight in searching out hidden treasures, and serving up his own interpretation. The Hall and Oates’ ‘Voices’ album also contained a gospel/soul style song titled ‘Every Time You Go Away’. Young heard the hit potential within the song, and his intuition was spot on. The lushly produced ‘Every Time You Go Away’ greeted the British charts during March of ‘85, going on to peak at #4 (OZ#20), and once more benefited from the brilliant bass work of Pino Palladino, and even an electric sitar in the mix. Whilst the previous two singles had initially failed to attract attention in the U.S., ‘Every Time You Go Away’ slid seductively into the American charts during May, and by July had risen to top spot, replacing Duran Duran’s ‘A View To A Kill’ in the process. ‘Every Time You Go Away’ hit #1 in the States just two weeks after Paul Young made a triumphant appearance at London’s Live Aid concert, sharing the stage with Alison Moyet (see previous post). By summer’s end, Paul Young had taken the, not insignificant, step of hitting the tour road again, presumably with a case of throat lozenges on board the tour bus. Young hit the stage in New York during August, and to the thrill of the crowd, belted out ‘Every Time You Go Away’ alongside the Daryl Hall. It was the ultimate seal of approval from the song’s composer.

As ‘Every Time You Go Away’ was on its chart ascent, Young’s sophomore album finally hit stores in April of ‘85. ‘The Secret Of Association’ proved less than covert, as it bolted to #1 on the British charts on its debut (OZ#6). Aside from the first three hit singles, the album reasserted Paul Young’s willingness to interpret a wide range of song material. Everything from Tom Waits’ ‘Soldier’s Things’, to Billy Bragg’s ‘Man In The Iron Mask’ underwent the Paul Young brand of soulful vocal treatment, whilst another Kewley/Young original, ‘Tomb Of Memories’, became the album’s fourth hit single (UK#16/OZ#44). On the back of his first U.S. #1, the singles ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ (US#13), and ‘Everything Must Change’ (US#56), were both re-released Stateside to a considerably more favourable reception, and the album ‘The Secret Of Association’ peaked at #19.

With his voice having survived his latest world tour, Paul Young returned to the recording studio during the latter half of 1986. The first single to emerge from the sessions was ‘Wonderland’, a song originally recorded by Betsy Cook. Young’s version was dripping with languid atmosphere, and glided serenely to #24 on the British charts (OZ#51). The single’s B-side was the title track from Paul Young’s third studio album, ‘Between Two Fires’ (UK#4/OZ#40/US#77). This time around producer Hugh Padgham, joined Young himself, and long time collaborator Ian Kewley (known affectionately as Rev), whilst Young and Kewley co-wrote eight of the ten tracks. The album was recorded principally in Milan, Italy, and during the period Young was in the country he struck up a friendship with Italian blues singer Bucchero (but more on that in a paragraph or two). The album ‘Between Two Fires’ represented a slight departure from Young’s earlier soul-infused material. The soul was still there, but contained within a slicker, edgier package, as evidenced in the follow up single, ‘Some People’ (UK#56/OZ#79/US#65), not to be confused with Cliff Richard hit. Single #3 ‘Why Does A Man Have To Be So Strong’ fared even less favourably (UK#63), and by early 1987 questions were being asked of Paul Young’s future direction (possibly by the man himself).

Young’s answer to himself must have been to take an extended sabbatical from being a pop star, to focus on family life, and on resting his vulnerable vocal cords. Public performances were few and far between over the ensuing eighteen months, with Young’s seclusion broken by an appearance at Wembley for the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert in June of ‘88, at which he performed a cover of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. But ever mindful of the shifting music-scape, Paul Young returned in 1990 with a fresh approach to his recording craft. That fresh approach still dipped into the rich waters of popular music history for inspiration. Young’s ‘comeback’ single was a cover of the 1968 David and Jonathan hit, ‘Softly Whispering I Love You’. I’ll put my hand up and say that I was never a fan of the song, in its original form, or in Young’s, albeit heartfelt, version (UK#21). The track was the lead out single to Paul Young’s fourth studio album, ‘Other Voices’, released in June of 1990 (with not a Hall and Oates cover between the covers). Young had assembled an impressive array of talent, both on the production and performance side. Bob Clearmountain handled mixing duties, whilst no fewer than four producers helmed the project, including Nile Rodgers and Peter Wolf. The guest player roster boasted Stevie Wonder (on harmonica), Chaka Khan, and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Musically, ‘Other Voices’ included an eclectic array of source material, as evidenced by the guitar driven rocker ‘A Little Bit Of Love’ (a cover of the 1972 Free hit), juxtaposed in the track listing against Young’s second U.S. top ten hit, ‘Oh Girl’. In 1972, the Chi-Lites had taken ‘Oh Girl’ to #1 on the U.S. charts, and eighteen years later Paul Young’s version performed almost as well. The silky smooth track, produced by Pete Wingfield, exemplified Young as the consummate soul/R&B vocalist, and returned some lustre to his fading career sheen (US#8/UK#25). Sales for the ‘Other Voices’ album were excellent in Britain (#4), but despite the success of the single ‘Oh Girl’, Stateside returns were disappointing (#142). The Warne Livesey produced song ‘Heaven Can Wait’ was bouncy enough but failed to scale any heavenly heights on the charts (UK#71), whilst ‘Calling You’ (UK#57) was an inauspicious start to 1991 for Paul Young - but better was to come.

The friendship that Paul Young had established with Zucchero back in 1986, reaped a harvest in studio during 1991, when they recorded a duet titled ‘Senza Una Donna (Without A Woman)’. The song was actually credited to Zucchero featuring Paul Young, and the two artist’s talents melded seamlessly to yield a consummately seductive slice of sultry R&B. Produced by Corrado Rustici, ‘Senza Una Donna (Without A Woman)’ returned Paul Young to the British top ten for the first time since 1985, peaking at #4 following its March debut (OZ#48), and going top ten across Europe. In August ‘91, Young released the single ‘Both Sides Now’ (US#74), recorded with Irish group Clannad, apparently during a snow storm in Dublin (though hopefully indoors). The track was recorded for inclusion on the soundtrack for the Blake Edwards’ comedy ‘Switch’, but also featured on the track listing for Paul Young’s first official ‘best of’ album, titled ‘From Time To Time - The Singles Collection’ - the album debuted at #1 on the British charts (OZ#6) confirming Young still had commercial appeal. It featured the usual suspects from Young’s earlier works, in addition to four new tracks, the aforementioned single releases, along with the vibrant R&B number ‘I’m Only Foolin’ Myself’, and a newly recorded version of the Crowded House classic ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (produced by Dan Hartman). Young had originally performed the song at the Mandela Tribute concert back in ‘88, but his re-recorded version climbed to #20 on the British charts late in ‘91.

Over late ‘91, and into ‘92, Paul Young kept lozenge manufacturers in the black with another world tour, and along the way he made an appearance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, at which he performed ‘Radio Ga Ga’ with the surviving members of Queen. Shortly after, Young’s name returned to the US. Charts (for the final time to date) with a first class cover of ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ (US#22), originally a hit for Jimmy Ruffin back in 1966 (and brilliantly covered by Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone in 1981). The track was lifted from the soundtrack to the film ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, but Young was already busy compiling a different list of ingredients for his next album.

Once more Paul Young assembled an impressive roster of players for his next project (including Mark Isham, Jeff Porcaro, Billy Preston, Benmont Tench - of The Heartbreakers, and none other than Kathleen Turner), and this time producer Don Was was…is…were…,no it is was, on board to helm the in studio proceedings. Young was open in his desire to continue bridging the gap between the classic music of yesteryear and the cutting edge music of the present. It was an ambitious project, but one that Young embraced with relish. With the lead out single, ‘Now I Know What Made Otis Blue’, Young spanned music styles seamlessly, and scored a British #14. The smooth soul/rock aroma permeated throughout the song’s source album, ‘The Crossing’ (UK#27), released in October of ‘93. Brimming with finely crafted horn and string arrangements, the album’s positive energy was encapsulated in the follow up singles, ‘Hope In A Hopeless World’ (UK#42), and ‘It Will Be You’ (UK#34).

The release of ‘The Crossing’ had fulfilled Young’s contractual obligations with CBS (Sony), with artist and label choosing to part company. As mentioned, a brief reunion took place between Young and his former Q-Tips bandmates in 1993, but aside from releasing a low key album of soul/blues covers titled ‘Reflections’ (UK#64) late in 1994, the singer entered another extended period of seclusion from the music scene. In part family commitments were the lure, but his voice was also badly in need of an prolonged break. During this period, Young took the first tentative steps toward establishing an informal Tex-Mex style band called Los Pacaminos. A guest spot on a 1995 Vangelis album, and some infrequent festival appearances across Europe, represented the extent of Paul Young’s public work, but behind the scenes he was once more thinking ahead to a new album. He worked with singer/ songwriter Drew Barfield to pen the songs that would comprise a good portion of his 1997 self titled album (UK#39). Released on the East/West label, the album’s style was informed strongly by a Nashville country hue, and the lead out single, ‘I Wish You Love’, represented Paul Young’s final foray (to date) into the pop single charts (UK#33).

Over the next couple of years Young worked further with Los Pacaminos, and during 1999 he undertook a tour of smaller venues across the U.K. The shows were in an ‘unplugged’ style, with Young accompanied only by backing musician Matt Irving. The Tex-Mex outfit Los Pacaminos then released their eponymous debut album in 2002. Around the same period, Paul Young added his name to the list of 80s greats doing the rounds on the hugely popular revival tour circuit. During 2005, he performed on the same bill as fellow 80s legends Tony Hadley (of Spandau Ballet), ABC, and Go West (see previous posts). In October of 2006, Paul Young released his first solo studio set in almost a decade. ‘Rock Swings: On The Wild Side Of Swing’ comprised cover versions of classic hits, performed in a classic swing music style. The likes of ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘The Jean Genie’, and ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, all got the Paul Young treatment - that’s an album I’ll have to track down. Initially, ‘Rock Swings’ only received a release in Germany, but has filtered through to other markets since. Over the last few years Paul Young has continued to perform from time to time on the revival tour scene, and his earlier back catalogue has been remastered and released in an extended CD format, including a 25th anniversary edition of ‘No Parlez’. At time of writing there are no definite plans for a studio album of new material any time soon.

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