This is an ICA with a difference…and it will likely also come as a surprise to the individual who inspired it.
A few weeks ago, Brian from Linear Track Lives put up a series of great postings featuring Everything But The Girl as he had reached them in his alphabetical runthrough of singers and bands from his extensive vinyl collection. It wasn’t the first time he’d featured the band or indeed Tracey Thorn or Ben Watt as solo artists, and it’s quite clear from the passionate and intelligent way he writes about them that he’s a real fan.
So I thought I would go into Brian’s archives, without him knowing, and, with just a small touch of judicious editing, use some of his best stuff from over the years to create an ICA. I think it works…..
It’s an old story. Girl meets boy at university. That’s about as far as you can take the “old story” label. While in Hull, during the first calendar year away from home, Tracey Thorn puts out albums with Marine Girls, Everything But the Girl and as a solo artist. There is a Peel Session and a single of the week in NME with Marine Girls. Don’t forget the cover of Melody Maker and interview after interview with all of the music mags. Then there is checking the same publications to see how all of your various entities are being reviewed and moving on the indie chart, even having two slots in the top 10 at the same time! Meanwhile, your partner in Everything But the Girl and in life, Ben Watt, is releasing an album with Robert Wyatt and having his own run with the music magazines. Oh, and there is that whole trying to earn a degree thing.
Sounds a lot like your first year of college, right?
Elvis Costello and Martin Fry reviewed this first single by Everything But the Girl for Radio 1’s “Roundtable” program. They, of course, loved it. Thorn remembers in her book ‘Bedsit Disco Queen’ that the two “threatened to steal the show’s copy afterwards.”
The shadowy cover of the single said it all, really. Guitar and voice that would work perfectly in a smoky downstairs jazz bar. The A-side is Cole Porter‘s classic. Even U2 couldn’t ruin this song (although they gave it a good run!).
The stripped-down sophisti-pop found on Everything But the Girl’s first single was already in the shops by the time Watt’s solo album joined it on the shelves, but the same laid-back jazz-guitar that made “Night and Day” a hit also filled the slightly less appreciated ‘North Marine Drive.’ This song has been quite a fine companion on many a sleepless night.
Thorn’s ‘A Distant Shore’ (1982) was reportedly recorded for a mere £138. It’s a quick listen… eight songs clocking in at 23 minutes. For me, it’s a mood piece best listened to in its entirety. In fact, I don’t ever remember spinning it for just one song. Thorn plays guitar and sings. That’s it. There is no other instrument or artist. You’ll find no studio wizardry. In a word, it’s beautiful. I love the album cover, too. It was drawn by Jane Fox of Marine Girls. I have spent quite a few hours admiring the art while listening to the record. Thorn wouldn’t record another album as a solo artist until 2007.
Two singles from 1984 by Everything But the Girl and the first one is my absolute favorite from the band. Both of these singles appeared on what is my favorite album by them, the U.S. release simply known as ‘Everything But the Girl.’ Unless you were a lucky and deep digger in the import bin, debut album ‘Eden’ was nowhere to be found in these parts. What we got instead were six of the 12 songs from the UK release, plus two additional UK singles and four B-sides.
For much of my teenage years, I didn’t even know ‘Eden’ existed. By the time I did pick up a copy of the import, ‘Everything But the Girl’ was so much a part of me that I thought ‘Eden’ seemed inferior in every way. When does that ever happen? In my experience, the UK version of an album is almost always better, but the addition of five of the six songs from these UK singles below really beefed up the U.S. release. I even liked the album cover of the U.S. version better. That’s probably sacrilege to some fans since artist Jane Fox created the cover for ‘Eden.’
From the 1985 album ‘Love Not Money,’ this is the second of two singles from that album. Incidentally, the first was “When All’s Well,” a perfect piece of horn-driven pop that raced up the chart to… No. 77. Ridiculous.
Neither single made any noise on the big countdown, but I do think “When All’s Well” and “Angel” were fine choices for radio. They weren’t, however, the best songs on the album, and the LP managed to sell more than 100,000 copies without a hit on it.
There were three songs on the B-side of the 12″ of “Angel,” and none of them came from ‘Love Not Money.’ Much appreciated. There was an alternative version of “Easy as Sin,” a song that first appeared on the 1984 U.S. self-titled release. This take was much longer than the original, and Ben took the vocals this time around.
Although I didn’t keep up with the duo during the ’90s, I think I have just about all there is to have by them in the ’80s. I fell in love with Thorn’s voice when she sang “The Paris Match” for The Style Council in ’84. For much of the rest of the decade, I searched high and low for everything I could get my hands on that featured those pipes.
A four-track 12″ from 1986. “Come on Home,” as well as much of the music on ‘Baby, the Stars Shine Bright,’ was Everything But the Girl going for it. In Thorn’s memoir, she explains the music that was influencing EBTG at the time:
“Our watchwords at the time were Spector, The Shngri-La’s and the album Dusty in Memphis. Peter Walsh from The Apartments moved into our flat for a while, and introduced us to Charlie Rich records.”
Ben Watt worked tirelessly on string arrangements, and a full orchestra and choir was brought into Abbey Road with Mike Hedges producing. Thorn called it “a grand gesture of a record.” When Geoff Travis (their A&R man at the time) visited the studio and heard a finished mix of one of the songs for the first time, he said, “Well, it’s very good, but is there possibly a little too much going on in there?” Just what you want to hear after all of that labor, I’m sure.
The extended version of “Come on Home” is a minute longer than the album version and has a lovely prelude. “Draining the Bar,” written by Thorn, had to have been influenced by those Rich records. Hearing pedal steel was quite a shock in ’86, but I love the song, especially lyrically.
Posted on Linear Track Lives at the halfway point of 2010. It was the perfect excuse to make a list, and you know how I like assembling these things. Here are the caveats: I won’t include a band more than one time (so that She & Him don’t take up 10 spots), and preview songs are acceptable even if the album won’t be out until later this year. It’s always fun to compare this list with the one done at the end of the year. Last year’s lists turned out to be quite different. For now, Tracey Thorn is at #19.
In 1988, Everything But the Girl released ‘Idlewild,’ the band’s fourth long player. To coincide with the album, the duo released the cover “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” Oddly, the single didn’t appear on the album, at least initially, but this was how I was introduced to ‘Idlewild,’ as the 12″ contained two songs from the album. The single performed its duties admirably. Based on the strength of “Oxford Street” and “Shadow on a Harvest Moon,” I bought ‘Idlewild’ immediately.
The Danny Whitten-penned tune was made somewhat famous in the mid-’70s (and again with a rerecorded version in 1989) by Rod Stewart. As a youngster, Tracey Thorn and her family were fans of Stewart’s, and I’m sure it was a warm and nostalgic moment for her when EBTG recorded it. Thanks to that last sentence, now you will get a result when searching for Rod Stewart’s name on my blog. I digress. The song was a smash and EBTG’s first UK top 10 single, peaking at No. 3.
I discovered just today that many editions of ‘Idlewild’ released after this single included “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” even going so far as to make it the album opener. As a 25-year listener of ‘Idlewild’ and an owner of this cherished single, I cry “foul!” The lovely piano of “Love Is Here Where I Live” will always be the way ‘Idlewild’ should open. Period.
This is a version of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” from my crackly 12″. I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the use of this song without Thorn’s engaging vocals? Just give it a listen. Ben Watt co-wrote a beautiful string arrangement for the instrumental mix, and it’s a very different experience than the single. Simply beautiful.
Finally, here’s a little bonus. Enjoy Tracey Thorn’s beautiful voice on a cover from Everything But the Girl. I have this one on the compilation ’82-92 Essence and Rare.’