Alternative history of a great talent
Paul Young hit it big as a solo act in the ‘80s after years of performing with the Q-Tips. Compared to the New Romantic stuff popular around this time, Young seemed to have the most chance of longevity, occupying an unusual spotlight as soul singer/pop star/teen idol. Unfortunately for Young, the ‘80s was such a distinct period that it must be difficult to climb out of the public perception of those times. The ‘80s were truly dreadful for many reasons, but Paul Young was not to blame.
Try and sing along to some of the songs on Remixes and Rarities and you will quickly appreciate that Young has a wide range, and can really reach the top notes. When I have a go, I sound like a goat being strangled; Young however just sounds cool. Soul is an American thang, but Young, despite being an Englishman, passes it off effortlessly. For this reason it really is a shame that he risks being put in the ‘80s nostalgia box (though how on earth anyone can be nostalgic for yuppies, shoulder pads and greed is anyone’s guess).
Remixes and Rarities has a lot of hits, in remixed and extended versions. 12” vinyl with extra long or deconstructed/super-constructed versions seemed like a good idea at the time, at least when you were in the record shop (and in accordance with the ‘80s philosophy of - if you want more, you should have more). But often when you got these slabs of vinyl back home they could frequently become annoying after the sixth, slightly different but jazzed-up version of the same thing (at least for mainstream pop, as opposed to dance). Interestingly, according to producer Laurie Latham in the sleeve notes, a lot of Young’s album cuts were chopped down from the twelve inch version. Apparently Young knew the mixes so well that when he was caught short with a playback twelve inch version of “Come Back and Stay” to perform on Italian television, he went into a suite and edited the tape down to a single.
So what are these versions like? On the whole inventive, quirky and interesting, but I’d say you have to be a fan to start off with to be able to sit through a double-album of music which contains the kind of banging and scratching of an ‘80s remix. The non-hits are probably most interesting; the albums No Parlez and The Secret of Association were monsters, but Young lost commercial clout with Between Two Fires. He admits that “Some People” came out of a time of confusion, when he didn’t know what he really wanted. As a result it reveals more about Young himself, and the Milan mix of “Wonderland” and the extended mix of “Why Does A Man Have To Be Strong” from the same album suggest Young did in fact know exactly what he was doing. Similarly the dub version of “Heaven Can Wait” from Other Voices is impressive. As Young says, it didn’t do well in the charts “but when you listen to it now, it is a really good pop song”. “Softly Whispering I Love You” is also here in an extended mix, and shows Young’s great taste when it comes to covers.
Young’s live shows frequently contained fitting and clever performances of other artist’s songs, and Remixes and Rarities is a reminder that Young was an exciting live act. His gigs mixed pop, Motown showmanship, and an English sense of humour. There were usually a lot of screaming girls present, evidenced by the live cuts here. There is no full live record in existence, so these will have to do for the moment; “Behind Your Smile” and “Oh Women” are transformed from the studio versions, and are nothing if not energetic. “It’s Better To Have and Don’t Need” was an exercise in Young demonstrating his knowledge of music and his own record collection.
Of course it would be unfair to say that Young has been inactive since Other Voices; he released The Crossing in 1993, Reflections in 1994, a self-titled album in 1997, and Rock Swings in 2006. He formed Los Pacominos in 1995 and got through to the semi-finals of Celebrity Master Chef in 2006. Young wrote many of his own hits (“Everything Must Change”), so in an ideal world he would now re-invent himself and have success on an indie label. It’s easy to say this when you’ve never been a pop star and sing like a goat, but it should be recognised that Young is a great talent who deserves a second time around.