AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #217 : THE STYLE COUNCIL

The Style Council previously featured in a 19-part series looking at the singles back in 2015/16, and as such I wondered whether adding an ICA, albeit a few years down the line, would amount to overkill. But it’s too late babies……..

SIDE ONE

1. Mick’s Blessings (from the album Café Bleu, 1984)

It’s quite remarkable that TSC released five singles before issuing the debut album. Just as remarkably, none of those singles, certainly in the form in which they had been originally released, made it on to the debut album. Most remarkable of all, however, is the audacity of Side One of said debut, Café Bleu, which offered up seven tracks, four of which were instrumentals while another had an ‘Honorary Councillor’ on lead vocals, meaning that Paul Weller, the central and essential figure for so many fans of the band, provided just two lead vocals, one of which was a completely different version of a previous hit single. It was a bold, brave and potentially career-ruining move, throwing down a challenge his listeners and fan base and offering evidence that his new band was about the collective and not the individual.

The opening track of the album open this ICA….and a vehicle for Mick Talbot to showcase his talents and provide conclusive evidence that his contributions were going to be an essential part of the sound of TSC…and nobody really cared what hard core and appalled fans of The Jam were thinking! This jaunty and short number, running to just 75 seconds in length, has jazz, blues and pop influences to the fore and offered a great foot-stomping, hand-clapping opener, not just to the album but to the live gigs that the band were embarking on.

2. The Whole Point II (from the single Walls Come Tumbling Down, 1985)

The Whole Point of No Return was the second track on the debut album. It was a piano ballad in which was clothed a revolutionary call to arms for the working classes to rise up against the privileged few who formed the aristocracy and not to be afraid to use violence if necessary. It was an idealistic number with its sentiments totally at odds with the tune.

Much more effective was the revisit of the tune the following year. The Whole Point II is a really disturbing song from the perspective of someone who is contemplating suicide by jumping into the seas and letting the waves wash over them. There’s more than a hint of sadness tinged with understanding in the vocal delivery and I have to be honest and say that, as I become increasingly aware of the number of young people, and particularly men, who take their own lives each year on account of mental illness, it’s a song that hits home time and time again. It might be good to talk…..but it’s even better to listen.

3. Long Hot Summer (12” version) (from the a Paris EP, 1983)

It’s a hard task to find something on the ICA to follow on from the previous track without it being too trite…..it’s about trying to avoid a situation akin to that which drove Morrissey to pen the lyric to Panic, which was seemingly to express his disgust that a lengthy doom-laden news bulletin on a pop station would be followed immediately by a piece of music that was so disposable and meaningless that the listener would instantly forget what they had been listening to during the news.

I think I’ve managed it with this, possibly the best-known and best-loved of the entire TSC canon. The one in which the previously angry young man showed he could not only pen the dreamiest and lushest of love-songs but he could sing them in a way that didn’t grate on your nerves. The shooby-doo-up section of this song was the soundtrack of my life in the scorching summer of 1983 as I prepared to move out of the family home and into my first student flat.

4. My Ever Changing Moods (12” single, 1984)

Catchy, jaunty and splendid to listen to, this captured the essence of what would become the recognisable male trio in the band with the drumming and percussion skills of the precocious 18-year Steve White very much in evidence (most of the early TSC songs had featured the very different drumming style of Zeke Manyika, a real talent in his own right but not quite having the finesse that Paul and Mick would require as the band evolved into a jazz/funk/pop combo of equal measures.

5. It Didn’t Matter (7” single, 1987)

As I’ve said repeatedly, ICAs aren’t about a band’s ‘best’ or most-loved songs, but about finding a damn near-perfect running order. It Didn’t Matter is a good pop song, not a great one and it has a production that can now be seen to be very much of its time. It was the band’s 13th single (and their last ever Top 10 hit); it was the curtain raiser for what would become their third album – The Cost of Loving – which is now widely regarded as the release where it all began to unravel and an extended period in the wilderness for Mr Weller. It’s one I hadn’t listened to in a while in advance of compiling the series looking back at all the singles, but found myself enjoying it far more than I had remembered.

6. The Paris Match (from the album Café Bleu, 1984)

Don’t shout at me for breaking my own rule of ICAs ideally being 5 tracks per side…..the opening two songs on this effort came to a little more than four minutes in length, leaving loads of time and space for a sixth track….and I can’t think of a better way to close Side One than calling on the talents of the Honorary Councillors Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. The original, which had appeared on a Paris, was more than decent….but this version took it a whole new level. Almost made me a jazz fan……

SIDE TWO

1. Shout To The Top (12” single, 1984)

TSC really were at the top of their game in the year that Orwell predicted would be all doom and gloom. Hit singles and an album that had led to critics re-assessing their view of the band, fully realising now that Weller’s new band was the real thing and a revival of The Jam was never going to happen.

The first post-LP single arrived in October 84 and almost 35 (!!!!!!) years on still sounds fresh, energetic and timeless. The use of strings was yet another new development for the group and the vocal interplay between Paul and DC Lee is quite superb.

2. Speak Like A Child (7” single, 1983)

I’ve previously posted that the release of the debut single by TSC was a mere 15 weeks after the final single by The Jam. The 19 year-old me hadn’t fallen for the charms of Beat Surrender as it wasn’t new-wave enough and it was always going to be associated with the break-up of the world’s most important band. I was a bit nervous about what was to come next.

The first few notes of Speak Like A Child removed any doubts. It still is a great sounding piece of music that gets me up on the dancefloor every time and having it on constant rotation back in the day helped me go back and make the connection with the dying days of The Jam and appreciate that their ending had been very fitting and, although it would take me a while to realise it, extremely timely as the legacy would never be tarnished.

3. Money Go Round (12” single, 1983)

As I wrote in the piece looking at this as a single, my introduction to the song came via a live performance (to a backing track) on a TV show and it kind of filled me with dread as it confirmed the circulating rumours that that the backing singer of Wham! was now part of Paul Weller’s new band – it felt like heresy. This was a time when I recorded all sorts of TV appearances onto VHS tape as additions to the record collection and it didn’t take me long to fall for this one in a big way. It’s a big song in every aspect – the best part of eight minutes long, Paul’s pulpit sermon is given added nuance thanks to D.C’s breathless backing efforts while Mick hits the keyboards as if he’s determined to land the next big solo on a song by The The; there are pounding drums, lashings of bass slaps and the best use of a trombone/trumpet combination outside of 2 Tone. It’s still, for me, one of the best moments in all of the Modfather’s lengthy career.

4. You’re The Best Thing (12” single 1984)

You can see where this side of the ICA is going can’t you? It’s hopefully a reminder of the quality of radio-friendly 45s the group were coming up with in 83/84. The Jam had enjoyed fantastic acclaim for their singles and TSC were now proving that, despite a sound that was a million miles away from new wave/post-punk/updated mod, they deserved similar levels of praise.

You’re The Best Thing was the sixth single but the first to be lifted from the debut album – indeed it was only released two months after Café Bleu had hit the shops and it had the desired effect of giving the album a second wind and keeping riding high in the charts. As I said in the piece for the singles series, this song is one that I will always associate with turning 21 years of age in the summer of 84 and one particular intense, and for a decent enough period, a happy relationship. The girl involved bought me Café Bleu for said birthday and there’s a handwritten note inside the accompanying booklet that will always remind me of her. We both thought, at the time, that we were the best things that had ever happened to one another…..but we didn’t last and it’s not well over 30 years since we were last in the same room. I’ve had an occasional notion to make a search on social media to see what’s happened to her since, but I’ve resisted as it’s best that bygones be exactly that.

5. The Boy Who Cried Wolf (from the album Our Favourite Shop, 1985)

This sort of keeps the singles run going as this track, from the second album, Our Favourite Shop, was issued as a 45 in some countries outside of the UK, and indeed charted in Australia and New Zealand.

The previous song on the ICA is the one that best reminds me of a relationship from decades ago – this is the one that reminds me of the ensuing break-up. It’s a wonderfully crafted number, an upbeat and uplifting tune masking a very sad and sentimental lyric, packed with regret and more than an element of self-loathing. It’s a break-up song that I’ve long regarded this as the yin to the yang of The Bitterest Pill, one of the most underrated singles released by The Jam, which looked at the ending of a relationship where the blame was attached entirely to the other person….

6. Walls Come Tumbling Down! (7″ single, 1985)

There was anger and optimism in this one in equal measures. The political call to arms about the class war being real and not mythologised. The hope that the young and disaffected would cotton onto the fact that they could really make a difference if they wakened up to the fact that politics was not an abstract or boring concept. Sadly, not enough of us did and things would remain bleak for a very long time.

Walls Come Tumbling Down is a floor-filling, pounding effort that, like many of the best TSC numbers, remains very listenable many decades later. It’s the perfect way to end this ICA….it’ll surely make you want to walk over to your turntable and flip the vinyl back to the other side and listen to the whole damn thing again.

JC

11 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #217 : THE STYLE COUNCIL

  1. Excellent compilation. I still believe the style council are vastly underrated.
    I like that you’ve included it didn’t matter as its received far too much criticism over the years. Shame there’s no room for anything off the wonderful confessions or the great lost single, sure is sure.

  2. Excellent compilation (I’d buy it [fast becoming my ICA response catchphrase]). Like Neil, I think the Style Council have always been underrated. Interesting, saw Weller live last week and he performed My Ever Changing Moods, Have You Ever Had It Blue and Shout To The Top which were all received very well, especially Shout… which sent the crowd nuts.

    As for the ICA, I’d have had the acoustic version of Headstart for Happiness, from “Introducing” in there somewhere, plus the “Café Bleu” version of My Ever Changing Moods rather than the single version. I also would want to make room for Man of Great Promise, from “Our Favourite Shop”. Oh, and Bloodsports. And Ghosts of Dachau. Better make mine a double album ICA then…

  3. Great ICA. I’m assuming ‘Party Chambers’ featured in the the singles series since it’s b-side but, for me, that particular song is the hidden gem in the great SC catalog.

  4. As long as Speak Like a Child, Shout to the Top and Walls Come Tumbling Down made the cut I was going to be appeased. A fine collection you have here. I’ll be listening to TSC for the next several days now for sure.

  5. Off the top of my head I can only come up with ‘Head Start for Happiness’ as a song I’d like to see put in an appearance, but I’ve no idea what I’d drop to make room for it. A really enjoyable ICA JC.

  6. TSC is one of those bands that I am just to personally wrapped up in to do the justice they deserve in an ICA. It’s why I haven’t tried before.
    JC, you come oh so close to a selection I would find no reason to debate. It Didn’t Matter is one of my favorite TSC songs, while You’re The Best Thing is one of my favorite songs of all time.
    I am always going to be that fan that finds no fault with The Cost Of Loving. There’s a certain democracy on the album that I cherish. It is a real band album. I find Waiting to be a beautiful companion song to Long Hot Summer. Paul and Dee’s duet on Anita Baker’s Angel always touches me.

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