Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Outfield: Play Deep (1985)

"Josie's on a vacation far away
Come around and talk it over
So many things that I wanna say
You know I like my girls a little bit older
I just wanna use your love tonight
I don't wanna lose your love tonight"
-The Outfield, Play Deep, Your Love-

For a time in the summer of 1986, Play Deep (1985), by The Outfield, was in heavy rotation in our family CD player. How ironic that such an American sounding power rock album with such strong connotations to one of America's greatest pastimes, baseball, would be pop genius of a London-based trio. In fact, truth be told, Spinks had a thing for American baseball and originally selected The Baseball Furies from Walter Hill's wonderful The Warriors (1979) before settling on The Outfield.

Team Outfield was the work of Tony Lewis (vocals/bass), Alan Jackman (drums) and John Spinks (guitar/songwriter). Sadly, Spinks passed away in early July 2014.

Jackman, Spinks, Lewis.

The sound of the band clearly owed a debt of inspiration to Foreigner, Journey and a number of other great American rock bands.

With Play Deep, The Outfield secured a place on radio for a time thanks to a number of Billboard Hot 100 releases peaking with the classic Your Love and that insanely catchy line that Josie was a on a vacation far away as well as the equally euphoric All The Love In The World.

The entirety of the recording was chock full of power rock gems from I Don't Need Her and Everytime You Cry to Say It Isn't So (not to be confused with the equally amazing Hall And Oates classic) and Talk To Me. There really wasn't a weak number in the bunch. Play Deep nearly reaches the heights of pop perfection that marked unforgettable rock classics such as the legendary and classy Hi Infidelity (1980) by REO Speedwagon.

But thanks to Spinks, Lewis and Jackman there was something special enough about the band from England that assured some staying power. Bangin' (1987) followed with a strong follow-up single in Since You've Been Gone. The title track of Voices Of Babylon (1989) sealed the deal that this trio had an ear for a good tune and a catchy hook.

For those looking to play the field a bit, Big Innings: The Best Of The Outfield (1996) is an absolute homerun in running the pop bases, but you won't strikeout with Play Deep, a quintessential great rock recording from 1985.

This nod to the very best of the 1980s is in tribute to Spinks who lost a battle with liver cancer this summer. I was genuinely saddened to hear of his passing because thanks to Spinks and company many great memories were created with their music as the soundtrack to one of my summers. For me, Play Deep remains the epitome of one of the greats from the 1980s and their music, while not Shakespeare, still inspires good feeling. I still listen to The Outfield along with the American greats today. They were bloody good at making pop plays. Batter up anyone.

The Outfield Discography:

Play Deep (1985) */ Bangin (1987)/ Voices Of Babylon (1989)/ Diamond Days (1990)/ Rockeye (1992)/ Big Innings: The Best Of The Outfield (1996) */ It Ain't Over (1998)/ Extra Innings (1999)/ Any Time Now (2006)/ Replay (2011). *essential

Here is a message on the official The Outfield website announcing the passing of John Spinks by his family:

"It is with great sadness to inform you that John passed away at 09.55 on Wednesday 9th July 2014. He was 60 years old. As many of you know, he had been suffering from liver cancer for many years and bravely fought the disease until the very end. We are relieved that his passing was peaceful and painless. John was a loving husband, inspirational father, doting grandfather and gifted songwriter. His musical career started from a very young age and he wanted more than anything for people to listen and enjoy his music. He passed away knowing he achieved his ambition. If it were possible, we know John would have liked to have thanked each and every fan of The Outfield personally. He admired and respected the emails from thousands of loyal followers who commented on his music and enquired about his health. This alone, gave him motivation to battle through the sometimes dark days.

We would like to thank you for 'Your Love' and the continued support you have given John throughout his career. He loved making music and playing his guitar. He found pleasure knowing that his music made people happy and bought them fond memories. He worked hard with many days in pain to finish the Replay album. There were times when he could barely pick up his guitar, but he refused to give up knowing he would disappoint fans. The hardest day for John was when he put his guitar in its case announcing his hands could no longer play.

During the last months of his life, John, Tony and Alan wrote new material. What the future holds for this is unclear at the time of writing.

There is so much more we could say, but for now, we would like to grieve the loss of John."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When In Rome (1988)

"I'm sorry but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. But if you wait around a while I'll make you fall for me. I promise. I promise you. ...I will."
-When In Rome, When In Rome, The Promise (and sounding awfully applicable to the newly launched Dog In Space)-

If only some act's were more than a footnote in pop history? If only some acts were more than what amounts essentially to one-hit wonders? If Only was the song of choice that inspired this post from the car sound system today.

Every so often a full recording by a newcomer came along in the 1980s that seemed to genuinely capture and achieve pop nirvana. Cutting Crew's Broadcast (1986) had that impact for me. It was a debut of pure magic. Each song was truly epic. The debut of Living In A Box (1987) with the power house voice of Richard Darbyshire had a near similar effect.

So, likewise, the eponymous debut, When In Rome, by When In Rome, yielded a collection of tremendously catchy and memorable pop songs spearheaded by the rhythmically persistent The Promise. Like Broadcast (see here), When In Rome was just such a collection of pure, pristine, and meticulously produced pop magnificence that even a critical darling like U2 would have difficulty unseating it from my more perceptive and appreciative ears.

In fact, for a time, I was so hungry for When In Rome material I managed to collect a handful of the rare b-sides including 1,000 Reasons and Whatever The Weather. Those endangered tracks sprinkled the collector's market and have since become increasingly hard to find. I still have them.

If only most artists had debuts as strong as When In Rome. If only most artists could sustain that magic through a career. If only some acts didn't completely fall apart after just such a promising debut. But that's precisely what happened to When In Rome, a band with a clear ear for the pop hook.

The England-based trio of vocalist Clive Farrington, Andrew Mann and keyboardist Michael Floreale just couldn't deliver beyond a single record. Submitting to internal problems the threesome dismantled despite the classic work produced by Ben Rogan with Richard James Burgess, who also surprisingly worked with Living In A Box.

Not unlike the trajectory of Frankie Goes To Hollywood following the exquisitely produced mayhem of Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984) with and by Trevor Horn, When In Rome simply imploded. And sadly, we'll never know what might have been. Often times the critical follow-up can work as a proverbial nail in the coffin, while for others it is a springboard that further enables the fruits of one's musical labors. Some wither and die (Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Liverpool) as a result while others endure (Howard Jones' Dream Into Action). There are any number of contributing factors, but such is the fickle reality of the music business and the equally fickle affections of music lovers. The profound influence of the music producer is a conversation for another post.

When In Rome was never received well by critics, but smart fans of 80s music know better. For many, it remains a pop classic and easily registers as one of the finest single recording highlights by a band of the 1980s.

Apart from The Promise, other songs including If Only, Heaven Knows, Sight Of Your Tears, Something Going On, Wide, Wide Sea and the rest hold up marking an infinitely memorable project. Some debuts could only hope to be this strong.

It had been some time since listening to When In Rome in its entirety. Hearing If Only reminded me of this well-crafted pop record. Just beautiful.

How ironic that a band to release a near top ten in The Promise, and demonstrate so much promise for one glimmering pop moment would all but disappear into the footnoted ether of music history with its sole release.

What When In Rome lacks in songwriting brains more than compensates with well-conceived pop hooks.  The production is an underappreciated and forgotten diamond in the rough of the 1980s. Something was indeed going on there.

When In Rome: The Promise/ Heaven Knows/ Something Going On/ I Can't Stop/ If Only/ Sight Of Your Tears/ Wide, Wide Sea/ Child's Play/ Total Devotion/ Everything