Joan Armatrading: Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading Classics (1975-1983)

Matt Rogers

Joan Armatrading

Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading Classics (1975-1983)

Label: 1975-1983
US Release Date: 2003-04-01
UK Release Date: 2003-04-07

Some of my favorite lines in popular music are penned by Joan Armatrading, who is nothing if not a brilliant lyricist.

"It would help me more, help me more, if you helped yourself."

"I am not in love, but I am open to persuasion."

"I wanna be by myself, I came into this world alone."

"If you've got no love to give, baby, don't give it here."

"Light up if you're feeling happy, but if it's bad, then let those tears roll down."

Simple, to the point, meaningful. Yet, she possesses so much more than a penchant for nifty songcraft and metaphorical muscle that permeate her vast ouevre. A helluva musician, equally proficient on many instruments, dynamic vocalist and (after seeing her last summer in Brooklyn for the first time) a magnetic performer. C'mon, she even played piano on a few Thin Lizzy albums! So why isn't she a household name in the good ol' USA? Uhh, 'cause we be mad ignant, perhaps?

A little background. She was born on the West Indian island of St. Kitts before moving to Birmingham, England in 1958 at age eight. Her mother gave Joan her first guitar, swapping two baby strollers ("prams" as they're known over there) at the local pawnshop. Growing up in the '60s, she was influenced by the many swirls of popular music concurrent at the time, from rock, reggae and folk, to jazz and soul. She got her break when she met lyricist and fellow West Indian Pam Nestor while they were touring together in that musical of musicals, Hair. Their collaboration became Armatrading's 1972 debut, Whatever's for Us, produced by Elton John's engineer, Gus Dudgeon. A&M then snatched her up and would be her label for 20 years.

Armatrading became a unique force on the English music scene, her dark skin, big Afro, hearty voice, and poignant lyrics impossible to deny. She would become nominated for a few Grammys, go gold and platinum and have a top ten hit with "Love and Affection". Furthermore, she would pave the way via her singing and musicianship for the likes of many popular women singer-songwriters today, from Tori Amos and Ani DeFranco to Norah Jones and Indie.Arie (yes, Tracy Chapman, too). But her dynamic range of styles is probably the reason why she isn't bigger than she is. Joan Armatrading defies categorization, something the music business has always had problems with, less so in the '70s, but particularly now. In this sense she is most akin to Me'Shell NdegeOcello, another brilliant lyricist and strong musician who shares both Armatrading's obsession with love and heartache and her willingness to conflate multiple genres within any song.

Though she's churned out no fewer than 22 albums, this two-CD compilation, Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading Classics: (1975-1983) contains only Armatrading's work from these eight years, arguably her most fruitful period. The title is apt, for classics they are, re-mastered and never sounding better. And, like her most known song, these songs tend to deal with the whim and weight of both love and affection. Armatrading is able to tackle these themes with sophistication, avoiding the pitfalls of corniness and cliché that claim so many other artists.

Disc one begins with the classic, tough to define (don't bother, just listen and enjoy) "Cool Blue Stole My Heart" from her 1975 album Back to the Night, which combines elements of jazz, rock, and folk, changing tempo and stylistic flavor seamlessly throughout. If you are new to her music, it is a perfect beginning, as are the next two songs from this album, "How Cruel" and "He Wants Her". Hereafter, all the songs on this disc are produced by Glyn Johns, who would work with Armatrading until the end of the decade. As evidenced here, he would bring further complicated arrangements and unexpected instrumentation, be it a mandolin run here, an organ vamp there, a clave keeping time or a marimba dancing in the background. What most amazes me, is that this diverse tapestry rarely feels disjointed and, in fact, often crescendos just right in an unexpected way. Disc one ends with a few superb live tracks previously available only in England from 1979, on which you can really hear Armatrading's powerful guitar playing.

The songs contained on disc two mark a new direction for Armatrading. Having changed producers, she takes a more rock- and reggae-based approach to her craft. And it is this approach throughout the '80s that garners her largest American following. She collaborates with many popular '80s artists, from the Kronos Quartet to Sly & Robbie; from the E Street Band to Thomas Dolby. Steve Lillywhite produces most of the tracks found here and, though I prefer her less slick '70s work, are always interesting, regardless of often heavy electric guitar riffs and the occasional wailing solo. From the wrenching lyrics of her balladesque "No Love" to the hilarious "What Do Boys Dream", Armatrading's songwriting is consistently topnotch. Which is what sticks out most on this two-and-a-half-hour, forty-three song collection. The woman is consistent. Consistently good.

And just so you know, Joan Armatrading also graces the cover of one of the best album pics of all time: Track Record, an early collection of her work from 1983. I won't give it away as to what she's doing on the cover, so after you buy this latest excellent release, go to your local thrift store and rescue a copy of Track Recordfrom that dusty crate. Don't worry, if you find yourself living in America, it'll be there.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.