22 Worker's Playtime by Billy Bragg 1988
"In a perfect world we would all sing in tune , but this is reality so give me some room"
By the recording of Workers Playtime Billy Bragg's life was in a bit or turmoil. Having thrown himself into red wedge , he had seen labour somehow manage to cock up an election they were expected to win
" mixing pop and politics he asks me what the use is , I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses"
He'd met his future wife who happened to be the current wife of his record label boss. He had strangely scored a number one with a cover of the Beatles "She's Leaving Home" as a double a side with Wet Wet Wet. His live vocal rendition on Top of the Pops saw the popular press go for him with both barrels.
Out of this came his most personal and least political lp. When it came out I played this lp to death (partly as someone I fancied at the time had given me a copy) but mostly because it is full of relationship politics rather than social politics.
The problem I'd always had with Billy Bragg is although I agree with pretty much everything he says , it all feels a bit preaching to the converted, and apart from Days Like These and Between the Wars , lacks a bit of subtlety.
Workers Playtime is a million Miles away from this. Recorded with a full band with songs full of wit , emotion and endlessly quotable lyrics.
Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards is the only overtly political song but again this is a more personal reflection on the election defeat even it does end with the rallying cry "the revolution is just a t shit away" . Still in his live set today , the lyrics of the song tend to change every year , but the original is the best. Here is the closest I can get to the lp version but even then he cant resist some special changes for American tv.
The other issues songs Rotting on Remand and the domestic violence in Valentine's Day is Over both have a lightness of touch that means the "message hits harder". Only on the anti war Tender Comrade does he revert a bit to type. The fact he bravely sings unaccompanied means it does stick out both lyrically and musically form the rest of the lp
The heart of the lp are the personal songs of the heart. The opening track She's got a New Spell features a great bit of Johnny Marr guitar and the prefect throwaway line for a pop song
She's Got a New Spell - Billy Bragg
"One minute she's gone to get the cat in
the next thing I know she's mumbling in latin"
Cara Tivey adds piano and backing vocals and takes some of the harshness from the Essex's brogue
The lyrical high comes with the short answer , with its opening line of
Between Marx and marzipan in the dictionary there was Mary and from then on each line is gold dust
This live version from a radio show is a bit ropey but these songs are meant to be sung with real voices and more of us sing off key than on
However he is at his most personal and vulnerable in the heart string tugging The Only One
The Only One by Billy Bragg
You can buy Workers Playtime here