I first came across Joan Armatrading in 1992 from her song City Girl on a compilation owned by my Aunt (who I was living with at the time). I can’t remember the comp but was utterly struck by the song and it took me at least a decade to track it down again on her 1972 debut, Whatever’s For Us.
There’s nothing from her debut on this 1991 compilation and the songs here feature less of her solo acoustic guitar accompaniment and more from the full band sound of her late 70s and 80s releases.
Love and Affection, one of her biggest hits and most well-known songs, and the opener here as a Hugh Padgham remixed version, is a masterclass in songwriting. Her vocal soars and dives, with gospel-style singers and a mellifluous baritone providing an vocal interplay rather than merely backing. There’s a lovely jazzy saxophone solo, and the whole thing has an ‘easy’ swing beat to it. But oh, her lyrics, they’re something else. Once more with feeling, indeed.
Drop The Pilot has her in firmly in the New Wave camp. If this song had been performed by Nick Lowe or Elvis Costello it would have been a bigger hit; instead, possibly because Armatrading is female and black, it’s been all but forgotten outside her fans.
This track, and some of her other early 80s songs, such as I Love It When You Call Me Names from the same album, The Key, reminded me a little of the style and sound Peter Gabriel albums 2 and 3. Perhaps not surprising to discover that Stewart Copeland is playing drums here and Adrian Belew hits us with his trademark guitar solo on the outro.
Rosie is full on ska; reggae rock a la The Police or The Clash. I’m Lucky could almost be a Laurie Anderson track with its sparse keyboard and tight electric drums. Interestingly it has Gabriel stalwarts Lillywhite producing, Jerry Marotta on drums, and Tony Levin on bass as well as Thomas Dolby on synths.
Me Myself I is all hard rock guitars with sparse drums, basically punk with a feminist shout for independence. Show Some Emotion is similar in style to Love and Affection, in terms of its jazzy arrangements but this time with funky bass and brass, and The Weakness In Me is another astonishing set of lyrics – raw and tender and real.
Though the production sound has dated a little (or at least that 80s gloss is not my thing) this comp demonstrates that Armatrading is so much more than ‘another female singer songwriter’; there’s a lot of creative experimentation and variety on here, and she’s an excellent musician, as demonstrated on her 2007’s Into The Blues album.
As it happened, just before this album came up on the randometer I noticed that #joanarmatrading was trending on Twitter. Oh God, I hope he hasn’t died, I wondered. But it was due to the excellent BBC documentary that had come out recently. Watch it, and you’ll see why she should be honoured as a national treasure.
Best Bits: Show Some Emotion OR City Girl, which is not on this comp – but should be!
Genre: Game-changing Singer Songwriter with EDGE!
Like This, Try This: BBC documentary on Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I