Your guess is as good as mine as to why pop/soul singer Paul Young never became a household name in the U.S. True, he topped the charts one time here, with his 1985 cover of Daryll Hall’s “Every Time You Go Away,” and he broke into the top 20 with the follow-up to that song, “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down,” and, in 1990, with a cover of the Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl.” But his light shone much brighter in Europe, where he scored numerous hits, including six U.K. Top 10 numbers in 1983 and 1984 alone, and topped the charts with three albums, among them his first hits collection, which went nowhere stateside.
A two-CD anthology that came out last spring, Wherever I Lay My Hat: The Best of Paul Young, collected most of his best studio work. And now there’s another reminder of just how good he could be: Live at Rockpalast, an 80-minute concert recorded in Essen, Germany, in March 1985, when the then 29-year-old Young was at the peak of his popularity.
Featuring his eight-member backup group, the Royal Family (which included three soul singers, two keyboardists, a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer), the set offers approximately seven-minute versions of two of his most irresistible singles: the aforementioned “Every Time You Go Away” and Marvin Gaye’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home).” Also here are such other career highlights as his reading of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the Joy Division number; “Love of the Common People”; and “Come Back and Stay,” plus an a cappella version of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” Young is fired up throughout, singing his heart out.
You can watch as well as listen, because the CD comes packaged with a DVD of the show. (The video also includes a forgettable seven-minute interview with Young as well as a bonus that’s not mentioned in the printed credits: one song each from five other Rockpalast performers. At least two of these, Joe Jackson and Chris Farlowe, are worth seeing.) Young’s exuberance comes across even better on the DVD than it does on the CD.
Granted, some of the electronic instrumentation in this set sounds dated; and the video includes other reminders that you’re experiencing an artifact of the 1980s. (Don’t expect DTS-HD Audio or a widescreen image.) But most of the performances hold up well, and Young’s vocals remain exhilarating.
Various artists, Blinded by the Light. This is the soundtrack from a new coming-of-age film about a British-Pakistani teenager who draws inspiration from Bruce Springsteen’s music. Naturally, the Boss’s songs figure prominently, but the disc also contains 1980s songs by a-ha and Pet Shop Boys and some other material. Like many soundtracks, this seems best suited to those who want a souvenir of the film; others may find the included snippets of dialogue distracting and the multi-artist program less than cohesive. If you’re a Springsteen fan, moreover, you probably already own most of the tracks of his that are featured, but the set does incorporate a few rarities that may prove irresistible. Among them: live readings of “The Promised Land” (acoustic), “The River,” and “Thunder Road” as well as the previously unreleased “I’ll Stand by You,” which Springsteen wrote for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone but that didn’t make it into the movie. This last song, an affecting, strings-laden ballad, is about two decades old but would have fit right in on Bruce’s excellent new Western Stars.
Dale Boyle, Rewind. This 20-track acoustic anthology offers a good introduction to Canadian folk singer/songwriter Dale Boyle—and a compelling argument for why you should make that introduction. A strong vocalist who’s redolent of Steve Earle, he writes tightly constructed, evocative lyrics. The program here features 13 mostly remastered tracks that first appeared between 2004 and 2017 as well as seven previously unreleased recordings made between 2005 and 2019. Among the many highlights: duets with Toronto singer Annabelle Chvostek on Boyle’s own “Railroad Vine” and “You Might Come Around” and covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and Eddy Raven’s “I Should’ve Called.”
Big Star, In Space. The original Big Star, which formed in 1971, endured for only four years and three studio albums, but that was enough to give the quartet a lasting reputation as power-pop innovators. Original member Andy Hummel quit the band shortly before its demise and Chris Bell, another founding member, died in a car crash in 1978. That wasn’t the end of the story, however, because in the early 90s the other original members, Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, joined with the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to form a new version of the group. They toured for over a decade and, in 2005, issued In Space, which is being rereleased now with six bonus tracks. It’s an uneven affair, but Chilton’s quirky charm helps to enliven the proceedings. Big Star fans aren’t likely to consider this on a par with the early LPs, but they will probably find it interesting.
Modern Love Child, MLC. This debut album grabbed me within the first 10 seconds and never let go. Singer/songwriter Jonny Shane (Modern Love Child is his well-chosen pseudonym) cites the Pixies and Built to Spill as influences but I thought first of Cold War Kids and, especially, Andrew McMahon and his Jack’s Mannequin. MLC’s pop potency and romantic intensity also remind me of Don Henley’s perfect single, “The Boys of Summer.” Songs like “West,” “Just for Kids,” “In a City,” and “Golden Brown” offer beautifully produced pop rock, with consistently clever lyrics, insistent beats, hooks to die for, and arresting vocals. There’s not a weak moment on this album, which ought to yield multiple hits and a ticket to stardom for Shane.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the recently published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.