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.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.