Carolyne Mas

Never Two Without ThreeCarolyne Mas
Quote Goodbye QuoteCarolyne Mas
Hold OnMas Hysteria
Sittin' in the DarkMas Hysteria
Under One BannerModern Dreams
When Love Is RightAction Pact
Dizzy From The I-IV-VAction Pact
Samson And Delilah's Beauty ShopAction Pact
Somebody Like MeBeyond Mercury
One Track MindBrand New World



Carolyne Mas playlist



Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

There was a time in the late 1970s when Carolyne Mas was feted to be the ‘female Bruce Springsteen’ (hold that thought). While, musically, I can see why this might be the case, she doesn’t use her music to depict blue collar America in the way the Boss does.

I acquired a copy of the eponymous first album and that was it, immediately grabbed by the guitar led power pop and rock that came hurtling out of the speakers. A new voice (and a clear, true voice) to add to my canon of female singers. There was something about the photo on the front of the sleeve too, cheeky and sultry at the same time, the top hat and the scarf. I learned later that the white ‘scarf’ was, in fact, the belt from a white dressing gown. On the back of the sleeve was a reproduction of an early school report that ends, ‘Carole sometimes needs to be reminded of class rules’.

Back to the voice: full of feminine emotion that belts out rockers and caresses you with ballads, and seduces you with everything in between.

Paraphrasing from her website: at age 15, someone wanted to back Carolyne Mas as ‘the next Janis Ian’ (hold that thought too). The story is, her then boyfriend objected to her singing in public (the alleged quote was “my lady doesn’t sing”) and the deal went nowhere. Carolyne’s aunt heard of this and gave her a copy of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”. This led Mas to become active in High School theatre and she became drawn to political music, performing at benefits and anti-war rallies. She also sang for the handicapped and infirm in hospitals.

Carolyne Mas may well be a new name to some of you and the biography on her website is as complete as it could be, but here is a synopsis.

Born in Bronxville New York in October 1955 and raised on Long Island, Mas is musically trained in classical piano, voice and guitar. Her father was a pianist/baritone with the New York City Opera Company (and a scientist who, incidentally, invented the battery charger). Her mother was a singer/guitarist, so almost inevitably, Carolyne Mas was going to follow a career in music. She had a place at the Juilliard School of Music in 1974 but declined it after performing at a music festival in Pennsylvania a few weeks before. The thrill of performance and sharing her music in that environment overtook the kudos of attending the premier music school.

Carolyn Mas has a following in Canada and on Continental Europe due to live work there but not particularly in her native USA where she is relatively unknown, nor in the UK. However, there is a raft of good music to be found in her recordings and here are ten that I like. On another day four would remain in the selection to be joined by six different songs but I had to settle on ten and these are the ones. I will leave it to you to seek the other recordings.

That first album, Carolyne Mas, was released by Mercury Records in 1979. Her latest release, Across The River, came out in October 2013 (two years ago at the time of writing). It would have been very easy to select five from each of Carolyne Mas and the fifth album, Action Pact (1989), because as I listened through the music I thought ‘got to have this’ with every track. These are the two albums I listen to the most. However, I restricted myself, with great difficulty and discipline, to a couple of tracks from one and three from the other.

Carolyne released ten albums recorded over thirty years, meaning styles jump rather than progress. Her official website lists more releases which include additional live albums and reissues. Interestingly, the official website omits the 2013 compilation of previously unreleased tracks, Across The River, from the discography but you can buy it from your record shop.

Moving on, which ten songs and why?

Never Two Without Three opens side two of the first album with a fine piece of power pop; piano, guitar and sax all to the fore, the comparison with Bruce Springsteen holds. It is a song about the beginning of a love affair.

Quote Goodbye Quote is a 12 bar in the best tradition, a short snappy song that should have had hit single written all over it. It’s about the sudden and unexpected end of a love affair – some synergy here.

Mas Hysteria was recorded live for a King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show broadcast by WLIR on Long Island in 1980. Rights to release the recording as an album were purchased by Phonogram in Germany for the purpose of promoting an upcoming 2-hour live television concert. The record cover was designed to look like a bootleg and, although it was originally meant strictly for promotional use, due to popular demand it was released and reprinted in Germany to become Carolyne Mas’ biggest selling album. It opens with a live version of Hold On, the title track of her second album which is followed by an extended version of Sittin’ In The Dark from the first album and which became a mainstay of love shows.

Modern Dreams in 1981 became the third and final studio release by Mercury Records. Some of the songs have a softer feel to them and I thought I’d complete the chapter with the last track on the album, Under One Banner – as close to a political song that Carolyne Mas recorded.

Her musical career then went through a hiatus as documented in the biography on her website. She eventually, and circuitously, ended up in Germany where she recorded the fine album Action Pact (1989) with its varied styles. She became something of a celebrity in Germany.

I ended up selecting three tracks from Action Pact: When Love Is Right is a bridge between the first three albums and what was to follow; Dizzy From The I-IV-V is a shuffle full of humourous musical references (there is a fine a capella version on the album Across The River); Samson And Delilah’s Beauty Shop, a rock ‘n’ roll pastiche, again with puns and humour throughout the lyric as the title might suggest.

The title of Beyond Mercury (2003) seems to be a dig at her former record company. It contains some unreleased tracks and reworkings of previously released material. Somebody Like Me sounds like it came from recordings between 1979 and 1981 but it is still a fine song and this was one track I was always going to have in the ten.

Brand New World in 2005 is a collection of new songs. One Track Mind is an out-and-out rocker to complete this toppermost and hopefully leave you wanting more.

From all the early promise – favourable comparisons and innate musical ability – Carolyne Mas should have been as big a star as some of her contemporaries but fate seemed to have dealt a hand that put obstacles in the way at every turn.


Carolyne Mas discography

Carolyne Mas biography (Wikipedia)

TopperPost #491

1 Comment

  1. Ilkka Jauramo
    Dec 11, 2015

    Thanks for the list. – It made me to go to the cellar (I should have picked up Christmas decoration anyway. No harm done.) I found a simple C-cassette with the wrong pronounced title “Caroline Maas” – with two “a” just like the Dutch river and an “e” instead an “y”. In the early eighties the Nordic public service radio served us with the blues, country, alternative, progressive rock – you name it. I must have taped it back then. Nowadays this way of seeing the rock culture is gone. (Yes, the music can be still found in the internet, they say.)

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