Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Desert island Discs 2 Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout

2 Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout 1985

I'm not sure really what to write about an lp that most of you know probably just as well as I do.  Strangely I probably would have had more to say about the nearly choice of Jordan which without the one lp rule would have been sat only a place or two behind it .

 Swoon had been a bit of an oddity with quirky stop start rhythms , songs with that touched on Graham Greene and Bobby Fischer , a bit indie in sound and mentality , up front rough and raw male vocals, strangely ethereal , just in tune female vocals. It had all the markings of a cult lp but much as I love it (still my third favourite Sprouts lp) it didn't really give any indication that they would return with something quite so smooth and polished.

A lot of credit must go to Thomas Dolby. The story goes that he visited an ill Paddy Mcaloon to talk about songs for the lp  They sat in his bedroom whilst Paddy played endless songs from the infamous box under the bed  on a battered cassette player and croaked them out with an old acoustic guitar. Dolby then took them away and chose the ones he liked best. The reality has elements to this but not quite as romanticised Howard Hughes in nature.

Everything about this lp is so familiar , I know it inside out , even when to do that strange little sniff at the start of Bonny (turn it up and have a listen). The fact that it has stayed so high is because it manages the feat of somehow being comfortably familiar but still able to get me to sit in awe at its surprises

Again Dolby manages to give the lp that sheen but also keep hold of the quirkiness which is at the heart of why it has been so enduring. Non of this would have worked if the songs had been merely okay , but the anniversary edition with the stripped down acoustic versions show how strong a set they are

There is a kind of 10cc I'm not in love lushness on one hand but still a bit of an edge to Paddy's vocals (on some more recent songs the personality has been almost polished away). Live versions give a clue to what a Dolby less lp may have sounded like

Fall be free as old confetti

The acoustic versions of the lp that Paddy recorded for a recent re release show the quality of the songs and are a great listen but I miss the small oddities in the production and rough edges around his vocals

There is a great interview with Thomas Dolby on making the lp here

As an lp it is another slow burn (only getting one place higher in the lp charts at 21 than debut lp Swoon) with none of the singles initially making the chart. I remember at the end of the year Mark Goodyear doing a top 40 run down of singles voted to for by the listeners of radio one, the one criteria being that the single they voted for hadn't made the top 40 . Three of the top Five were the 3 flop singles from side 1 on the lp. However, the lp started appearing in end of year best of lists and since then has been a feature in best lps charts ever since.

wishing she could call him heartache but its not a boys name   

I don't think any lp I own has a stronger opening side and this bit of throwaway pop is the worst thing on it , but still better than virtually anything else around

There is a time for tears

For something a bit different here is an cover of Bonny by the Editors which I think kind of works , not sure where the images come from but they are a tad distracting

all  my insights from retrospect

For side 2 the quirky factor is turned up with songs changing direction and wondering down interesting back lanes and closer in structure if not sound to those on Swoon. Songs that can be traced back to Gershwin Sondheim, , Bacharach etc but with a personality all of their own. They all had the kind of lyrical playfulness that had me agonising over meaning and interpretation.

Every song on the lp has at least one line that is just so achingly clever. Love songs don't have to be simply I love You and songs don't have to be simply love songs

You surely are a truly gifted kid
But you're only good as
The last great thing you did

The live clips are a bit ropey and showed they had moved on giant strides by the time they toured with Jordan 

For cheating on the deal, pulling off the sting
Tuning up the harps, dishing out the wings

This is turning into a bit of meaning less ramble which doesn't really do the lp justice at all so best leave it at I really couldn't imagine a world without it


  1. Lots of excellent stuff here David. I was looking for something to offend like the 'clunky chunky' from my 'Hats' but the best I could do was 'quirky stop start' (true) and the 'clunky chunky' Editor's mauling of the 'throwaway pop' (untrue) of 'Johnny Johnny'. Add to that a dubious 10cc comparison and your A+ is demoted to an A-. But then you save the day with a perfect description of the music as 'achingly quirky' and you're back to an A+.
    I love 'Swoon' for all of its imperfections. 'Cruel' on of my top 5 PS songs.
    Apparently Paddy spent more time on the lovely acoustic re-imaginings than Dolby did on the original. They are lovely. The original is genius in aspic...

    1. Yes the 10cc doesn't really stack up.
      in order for me its
      1 sm
      2 j the comeback
      3 swoon
      4 protest songs
      5 Langley
      6 and h
      7 gunman
      8 lets change the world

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    3. Ok, I'll have a go here:
      1. SM
      2. SWOON
      3. Jordan
      4. Let's Change The World
      5. From Langely Park
      6. Andromeda
      7. Protest Songs
      8. Gunman

    4. For me it's:
      1. SM
      2. Swoon
      3. Jordan
      4. Andromeda
      5. From Langley
      6. Protest
      7. Let's Change the World (mmm)
      8. Gunman (shoot the sax player)

    5. so gunmen gets the big thumbs down!!

      am I the only one with a soft spot for protest songs - I think it had the record it quick warts and all quality ,closer to swoon in mood.

    6. I really don't have that much negative to say about Gunman... Cornfield Ablaze is wonderful, The Streets Of Laredo is pure Paddy magic and The Gunman has that epic quality to it. Maybe it didn't break any new ground. Maybe there wasn't really any new ground to break. It did feel like it was missing a band element - which is kinda funny when you think that Let' Change the World actually did lack a band but has the same magic for me that their best work as the original unit had.

  2. Love this album, and Swoon. One of them will appear in my shadow list. I still remember hearing Don't Sing for the first time and loving it - a lot of Scritti Politti in it. Cruel was the song that clinched it for me. Genius.
    My kids love The King of Rock and Roll which is a constant request when I'm on the laptop (i.e. too much of the time)
    I've a soft spot for Thomas Dolby as well - I Scare Myself was a great single and The Golden Age of Wireless and The Flat Earth not bad albums.

    1. Cruel is fantastic, i also love the first 2 singles lions and devil. Make the most of king . It was my sons most requested as well , now he likes jls!

  3. You are spot on stating that Side 1 is the strongest collection of pop songs ever programmed together.
    Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny) is actually one of my favorites. It's much more personal sounding than the other tracks on the first side. It sounds like it was written with that acoustic guitar sitting on a bed with pencil and paper to the composers right on a pillow.
    But it's the one two punch of Appetite and When Love Breaks Down that constantly amazes me. Appetite is one of my favorite songs of my lifetime. It was almost otherworldly the first time I heard it. It's lyrics spoke to the yearnings of young man in his early 20's, out of school and ready to take on the world. As a recently turned 50 year old, it reminds me that I have done a pretty good job it so far.
    I really feel that Dolby saw the genius of Paddy McAloon working on Steve McQueen and made it his mission to amplify the heart and soul of his songs, not to produce them. The result is magical.
    My two favorites lines from songs on Steve McQueen:
    1. My love and I, we are boxing clever - When Love Breaks Down
    2. Please be careful is never careful, till it hears the gun - Appetite

    1. I echoe Echoe if only to type it...
      I'm with you on 'Appetite'. That and 'Desire As' are the high points on a pretty spectacular album. I wouldn't touch a hair on its head.
      I like your line about Dolby amplifying the songs' heart and soul rather than producing... it seems that it was a labour of love and what strange alchemy. You can hear all of Dolby's bright ideas on his own stuff around that period but it took Paddy's songwriting and wonderful voice to articulate the longing...
      Dolby - maverick musical magician
      MacAloon - genuine genius
      Will he ever record again?
      I miss him every day...

    2. The whole lp is full of such great lines and those are 2 of the best

  4. A true classic and a marvelous write up.You made the point that a lot of what makes the album so great is Thomas Dolbys input and I couldn't agree more. It really was a huge leap forward from 'Swoon' to this. Contains my favourite single of all time, 'When Love Breaks Down' and that isn't even the best track on the album! That would have to go to 'Moving The River' ( Have you got a new girlfriend? How's the wife taken it?') As you say the album is filled with great one liners.
    And after saying all that...
    #2 Prefab Sprout - Jordan, The Comeback'
    From the very first listen I knew Paddy had topped his personnel best. More ambitious, witty and playful, there's some magical moments on Jordan. Using Jenny Agutter for the 'I want to have you's' on 'Wild Horses' The horns on 'Carnival 2000', the Elvis impersination and the beautiful 'Mercy'.
    19 songs and not one of them less than brilliant. Paddy really is a genius.

  5. Thinking about it Phil i cant really separate these 2

  6. Thought I'd better stand aside as everyone gets PS out of their system, before I clutter things up...

    Nice piece again DA. Much deserved enthusiasm and interesting comments by all. What can you say... Steve McQueen & Jordan unanimous Top 10's. I can't add much, except I always wished Steve McQueen included a lyric sheet! And I beg to differ on Johnny, Johnny!!! (Blueberry Pies my only 'skip') Won't attempt a top 5 here, but Appetite & When Love Breaks Down (both versions) will be songs cherished forever. Oddly enough I have a strange affection for Horsin' Around! The chirpy staccato horn/guitar riffs veil the rueful "I deserve to be kicked so badly. You deserve more than I sold you for." "You shouldn't let that lovely creature down. Lord, just blind me, don't let her innocent eyes remind me. Selling it all up the swanee..." Then the grand finale after "Huh...!"

    Everyone seems to blow off Andromeda Heights, so I guess I'll attempt to make the case for re-examination. For years I ranked it far below SM & Jordan - kinda MOR, not so quirky, but recent listenings have revealed that it's an underated gem. I've heard a lot of folk write it off as rubbish. Paddy create rubbish? Maybe I'm getting older, tastes mellow, snobbishness dissipates. I don't know what happened but suddenly AH sounds near perfect! There's a continuity of style that is attractive, the melodies classic and memorable and the relative transparency of Paddy's sweet lyrics have become rather moving to this old fart. Give it another chance. I think PM knew exactly what he was doing...

    1. I really love Andromeda Heights. In fact when it came out, it caught me completely off guard and I think I listened to it for 3 months straight. I am pretty sure I can sing along with every single song on the album. Electric Guitars is up there with Paddy's best certainly.

    2. Whoo hoo! I'm not alone. If you like Andromeda Heights, you can't be nearly as menacing as you appear in that profile pic?

    3. New one for me Tim , will give a proper listen this pm. I do like AH it is just that for the first time with a Ps lp I didn't think every track was a killer. Great start and a great finish but it does sag a bit in the middle - Swans / Anne Marie all a bit too sugary and one paced. There were much better songs as extra tracks to the Prisoners and Electric Guitar singles. Having said all that still streets ahead of most other stuff

    4. I have to pick you up on your dismissal of 'Swans' David.
      It might start out as an ugly duckling but reveals itself as a beauty...


    How do I begin to explain this obscure choice? How about a taste of lyrics (abridged) to start...

    "We were thrown into a snowbank into the screaming night
    I heard the splintering of bones, I heard the cries of pain and fright.
    We had laughed and shared a kiss, and mingled there our lives
    Doing ninety miles an hour when our big train hit the ice.

    I caught sight of a body in a coat that looked like yours
    And I called out your name darling, but I guess you never heard me.
    Instinctively I reached out and pulled you near to me
    Sometimes God's grace won't let you look upon what you can't bear to see..."
    (I Can't Remember)
    "Guess I should get up and cut the grass
    Autumn is upon us summer breathing her last
    Prices going higher and the factories are shutting down
    My kids are getting hungry and friends are leaving town

    I guess I should get up and go get the mail
    Long since overdue bills creditors screaming for theirs
    Sure takes a toll on a love carved in stone
    I'm wondering how she'd do living alone?

    And you know I've cleaned my guns a lot this fall
    But you know how it is when you get so
    Sick of it all..."
    (Sick Of It All)

    Obviously, this ain't Brit-pop... A song about a 19th century train-wreck & a guy so world-weary that he's contemplating a final solution has got to be Americana/country/folk/roots/punk? Yes, it's in that territory, but I can't pigeon-hole. But when a grim, brutally honest lyric is wed to a catchy melody, it's right up my alley. Maybe not everyone's...

    With that disclaimer, and the alt/americana tag you may wish to dodge the rest of my blather...

    VOL come with a lot of nostalgic baggage for me... Back in 1993, the days before Internet "sampler clips" - I was constantly searching for obscure gems, old style. Purchased via mail-order, Killing Floor was one of those "blind purchase" albums that I bought without ever hearing a note, based on a one paragraph review in a communique letter from Mark Heard's tiny Fingerprint Record company. It was one of those eternalized memories of slapping the CD on...... and being blown away! I'd never heard anything like it. I was first struck by the energy, passion and sonic variety of the music; lyrically intelligent, playful, moving. Heart-wrenching Southern-gothic narratives, verbose manic power-folk, heart-on-sleeve mid-tempo tracks. 16 powerful songs - I never skip any. Poetic, haunting, beautiful... a masterpiece.

    Bio: On this album, basically a two man project, out of Athens, Georgia consisting of main-man Bill Mallonee and multi-instrumentalist Billy Holmes. Peter Buck (REM) and the late Mark Heard produced. John Keene (REM, Grant McLennen) engineers & plays pedal steel. Malonee is a genuine Southern gentleman, but has had the most miserable luck with record companies. Apparently Bob Harris was a big fan across the pond. Critics darling, but alas no airplay or sales. VOL & Bill evolved through several incarnations, making several other good records, all holding a few gems, but Killing Floor kills! Mallonee's still grinding out home-grown music (for the love of it!), currently playing barbeques and church basements... and teaching school.

    As I warned, this album may not be everyone's cuppa... But for many years Killing Floor was a beloved secret treasure of my buddy Eric & I, our favorite album ever until recently. I've tried to foist it on anyone with an open mind. Even Trev probably has a copy that I sent, stashed up in that mysterious attic of his...

    The samples are low-quality & garbled but...

    Sick Of It All: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0x4-fGMlfA
    I Can't Remember: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq280MN4EC4
    Motel Room: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=817Z32GPcOQ
    Undertow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-K6IstxYM4
    Skin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuJ8w3SJNVE
    Aftermath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GTXNA-kQ6U

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  9. Not in the attic TT; keeping my coffee table level...
    Sorry, bad joke. I had it in my car on rotation when you first sent it.
    It reminded me of Scott Merrit's album for some reason.
    I need to reevaluate. I'm Coffee table bound...


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