Nick Lowe

TrackAlbum
Drive-Thru ManThe Impossible Bird
Half A Boy And Half A ManNick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit
Lately I've Let Things SlideThe Convincer
Lonesome ReverieDig My Mood
Man Of A FoolThe Abominable Showman
Marie ProvostJesus Of Cool
So It GoesJesus Of Cool
Soulful WindThe Impossible Bird
Switchboard SusanLabour Of Lust
When I Write The BookSeconds Of Pleasure

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Contributor: Rob Millis

Whether you were there in the Stiff days or are a recent convert, there’s no denying it: sales – even awareness – of the last four or five albums have finally done Nick Lowe a justice long overdue. From check-shirted Brinsley Schwarz bassist, lanky song-peddler around town, “Basher”, the Attractions/Damned producer, through collaborations in Rockpile and Little Village, the “Cowboy Outfit” era and the silver-quiffed elder statesman of the Brentford years, it’s hard not to raise a smile at something he’s done.

I’ve covered the Brinsleys elsewhere so let’s skip to Jesus Of Cool and have So It Goes. Often admitted to being a cross between Reelin’ In The Years and The Boys Are Back In Town – who but old Basher would even think of those two songs as raw idea bedfellows? While we are at it, let’s have Marie Provost, a spirited retelling of Kenneth Anger’s version of Provost’s death (the actress being found dead in her hotel room and ultimately half-gobbled up by her starving dachshund). In truth, the dog only bit her legs to try and wake her up. But that would have been a boring lyric. We’ve only got ten songs to play with, so let us harden our hearts and move on from Jesus Of Cool. As we drive away, we must try hard not to look in the rear view mirror at Little Hitler, Heart Of The City and Shake & Pop.

On to Labour Of Lust: We’ll mark the presence of Cruel To Be Kind, sure, but I’ll take Switchboard Susan: a hard-edged arrangement of Micky Jupp’s classic. Rockpile (Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner & Terry Williams) are the band on this album. They played live as a group but contractual shenanigans forced them to release two Edmunds solo LPs and Labour Of Lust instead of putting out Rockpile albums. After Edmunds fulfilled his deal with SwanSong records, Rockpile managed Seconds Of Pleasure as a group effort; we’ll take When I Write The Book from that. Rockpile split in 1981.

Williams and Bremner were still on hand for 1982’s Nick The Knife, which also introduced (ex-Rumour/Ducks Deluxe) Martin Belmont on guitar and keyboards from Paul Carrack; both would hang around for a few LPs. Drummer Bobby Irwin remains in the band to this very day.

The Abominable Showman is not most peoples’ favourite Lowe album. I don’t disagree with this, but curiously enough I’d cite (For Every Woman Who Ever Made A Fool Of A Man There’s A Woman Made A) Man Of A Fool as one of my absolute favourites among his vast catalogue of great originals. Being as I am one who also plays the instrument, the fact that it has some fiercely impressive soul Hammond organ from Carrack probably tips the balance. But there.

Carrack’s organ (a distinctly Augie Meyers-like Vox in this case) was also well to the fore on Half A Boy And Half A Man, the criminally infectious lead single from the next release Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit (Cowboy Outfit was now the name of the band which still comprised Belmont, Carrack and Irwin). The Cowboy Outfit would record one more LP, Rose Of England, and as an aside, the band including Lowe on bass – and in the producer’s chair – contributed some fine ensemble playing to John Hiatt’s Riding With The King album in 1983.

Having brought up the matter of Hiatt, let’s mention Little Village. As many will know they (Lowe and Hiatt with mighty pals Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner) were the cast of Hiatt’s Bring The Family album (1987) reunited in co-operative guise having found all schedules permitted so. A sole self-titled album and tour was the result in 1992. The collaboration was short-lived due to personal differences (nothing serious; all are good friends individually to this day and Lowe/Cooder reunited to tour as recently as 2009) and the album had definite peaks and troughs. Certainly on Bring The Family the results had been better and arguably because that was a Hiatt project from start to finish – as with many an all-star line-up “parts greater than sum” was the general conclusion. I have not included any selections in the Topper 10 because I didn’t feel justified in dropping any others – but the video selected to go with this piece captures Lowe & Cooder on their 2009 tour performing Little Village’s Fool Who Knows. Good to see the lazy old so and so pick up a Fender bass again…

To return to Lowe solo: we’ve only got 10 tracks to play with; thus we will miss out a couple of albums (fore and aft) and finish with the mighty “Brentford Trilogy”, the three recent-ish albums that reflect Lowe’s late style that caught on. We’ll take the up-tempo opener Soulful Wind from The Impossible Bird (just when you think it’s a straight rocker there’s that middle eight with the gooey chords) and the slower Drive-Thru Man; fine guitar from none other than Commander Cody axeman Bill Kirchen on this album. From Dig My Mood, the lovely soul song Lonesome Reverie. We’ll finish with the bleak painting of Lately I’ve Let Things Slide from The Convincer. You can’t really pick a favourite album from the Trilogy, so don’t assume it is The Impossible Bird because I picked two tracks from it. Frankly I’d have liked twelve and had two selections each from this fine era. Sod it – ignore my ten selections and just buy the boxed set of these three!

Nick Lowe: a national treasure. Let any man who says otherwise in the Royal Borough of Kingston have his jacket off and sleeves rolled. He has a Christmas album due, you know. I will raise an eyebrow at this stage but will say that if Basher can’t make a seasonal platter to win friends then it is official: nobody can.

(I shall now make a cup of tea and wait for the phone to ring. It will be my friend Dai bleating that I didn’t include What’s Shakin’ On The Hill from Party Of One.)

Nick Lowe official site

Nick Lowe biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #132

14 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Nov 22, 2013

    Nick Lowe is indeed a national treasure and as soon as the mental list starts, it rolls past twenty with ease. Before Dai phones though, I’ll admit to an addiction to “All Men Are Liars” from Party of One. It’s also covered beautifully by Dar Williams on the tribute album “Labour of Love: The Music of Nick Lowe” which also has Guy Davies and Levon Helm doing Soulful Wind and sounding like it came off The Blues Volume 1. To link to Rob’s recent essay, Graham Parker does Rose of England.

    • Rob Millis
      Nov 22, 2013

      Peter, agree 100% on Dar Williams and so much so that I didn’t include the original as I think her version has become definitive. Would also shout for Joe Louis Walker’s arrangement of What’s So FBPL&U from the same source: very useful when you are trying to get a blues band you are in to play a Nick Lowe song!

  2. Peter Viney
    Nov 22, 2013

    I didn’t want to say that but Dar Williams is the one I usually play. Mind you the line “All men are liars and that’s the truth” works better when a man sings it. And who else could rhyme Rick Astley with “ghastly.” Dai would be right about What’s Shakin’ On The Hill … I’ve spent the day with Party of One, and it wouldn’t have come to my mind, but it is brilliant. Rocky Road too.

    • Rob Millis
      Nov 22, 2013

      I always think that Party of One is a “no man’s land” LP. You can hear that late “Brentford” style being rolled out on it, but it isn’t quite there yet, but neither is there a Half A Boy or Cruel To Be Kind to cater for the previous era fans. It is worth mentioning that he was without record contract after Party Of One…

  3. Stacy Harris
    Nov 22, 2013

    Pretty good choices here Rob, having just got back into the Bash I’ve been re-listening to all of his material from Brinsley to Rockpile to his latest festive offering. Must say I’m surprised not to see What’s So Funny… on your list, although it’s a song that’s made him a shed load of cash from ‘that’ cover version in The Bodyguard as the man himself admits it was the first original idea he had so I think it deserves a place, plus the lyrics are a thing of naive idealistic beauty… Also no What’s Shakin’ On The Hill?! That track gets me every time! I Trained Her To Love Me, 14 Days, Withered On The Vine, American Squirm, Heart are also a selection of my favourites, when you’ve got a back catalogue such as NL’s to indulge in choosing just ten tracks seems impossible! Can’t wait to see the man live in May 2014.

  4. Keith Shackleton
    Nov 22, 2013

    Just a quick plug for this. Pretty useful backing band. Cheshire Cat grins all round.

  5. Stacy Harris
    Nov 22, 2013

    Should just add re. My comments, OF COURSE you didn’t choose What’s So Funny…. As it’s a Brinsleys track……(it’s been a long week…)
    (See Rob Millis’ TopperPost on Brinsley Schwarz elsewhere on this site … Ed.)

    • Stacy Harris
      Nov 22, 2013

      Excellent, thanks!

      • Rob Millis
        Nov 23, 2013

        And indeed it has been a long week, as I was about to respond to your original comment telling you it was a Brinsleys song (not that I had it on there either). As for American Squirm, yes indeed – didn’t go for the singles as it was hard enough whittling down the Jesus of Cool selections to fit 10 tracks as it is! Funnily enough, it was a toss up between Drive-Thru Man and 14 Days… Thanks Stacy,
        Rob.

  6. Nairn Davidson
    Nov 22, 2013

    Coming to Nick Lowe late in the day, I am staggered by the variety of musical styles he has engaged with over the years, and his mastery of each and every one. I like to compare him to Ron Sexsmith, as both seem to be the songwriters’ songwriter.

  7. Peter Viney
    Dec 17, 2013

    Quality Street is Nick Lowe’s new Christmas album, named after the essential box of chocolates and toffees seen in most British houses at Christmas. Getting a Christmas song on one of those several annual compilations is a very good idea for a songwriter, and I guess “Christmas At The Airport” is Nick Lowe’s best chance here. It’s a fascinating album, with only two well-known ones: “Silent Night” and Roy Woods “I Wish It Could Be Christmas”. The Roger Miller song “Old Toy Trains” has just the right sentimentality for the season, and any original is so far away that he’s in with a chance there too. Boudleaux Bryant’s “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” is the best melody for me. I’ve listened through the album three times now. I can’t see any challenges to Rob’s Toppermost selection in there, but “Christmas At The Airport” is both good and funny though I feel the tune is just a tad too close to Chris Rea’s “Driving Home For Christmas.”

    • Rob Millis
      Dec 18, 2013

      Indeed it is a fine record; I think it edges At My Age and Old Magic myself, a return to good skiffle/rock and roll sensibility vs the slightly crooner feel of those two. Don’t get me wrong, after the Brentford trilogy it was never going to be an easy follow up, but after I didn’t like two albums in a row I started to worry. There aren’t many who’d win your confidence back via a Christmas album.

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