Whatever happened to? : Jimmy Somerville.

Do you ever wonder why some vocalists or bands just suddenly stop? Some carry on for years, either churning out the same old stuff to legions of devoted fans, or changing their style to reach out to new followers.

In the early 1980s, I heard a record that caught my attention. The song had a good beat, and a highly unusual falsetto vocal. I caught the title, ‘Smalltown Boy’, and the group was called ‘Bronski Beat’. I popped into my local record shop and bought a copy of the single. They couldn’t tell me much else about the artists, but I was happy enough to take it home and play it. The record was soon high in the charts. The vocalist was widely interviewed, and appeared on many TV pop shows too. He was a tiny Scottish man with a hairstyle reminiscent of the cartoon character Tintin, and seemed to make much of being gay.

By 1985, Jimmy Somerville was very well-known, and he had formed a new group, The Communards. They released covers of Harold Melvin’s ‘Don’t leave me this way’, and Jackson Five/Gloria Gaynor’s ‘Never can say goodbye’, as well as some excellent tracks on their eponymous debut album, and the follow-up, ‘Red’. For the next couple of years, they were always high in the charts, but then split in 1988, with Somerville embarking on a solo career.

His first effort, ‘Read my lips’ was very successful, and gave us his superb cover of Sylvester’s ‘You make me feel mighty real’, as well as the charming cover of Francoise Hardy’s ‘Comment te dire adieu’. By 1990, he was reduced to releasing a ‘Greatest Hits’ album, and soon slipped from the scene completely. Five years later he returned, enjoying moderate success with his new record, ‘Dare to love’. But his moment had passed, and his disco sound was no longer flavour of the month.

He continues to perform and record, but has not achieved any chart success since 1995, despite releasing his disco album, ‘Homage’ in 2015. I look back on his brief time of fame with great fondness, and wish that he had let go of his disco mania, and adapted to changing trends. Here are some examples of his distinctive style. It’s a very much love it or hate it sound.
Smalltown Boy

Don’t leave me this way

Never can say goodbye

You make me feel mighty real

Comment te dire adieu

Significant Songs (102)

Play That Funky Music

In 1976, it was a hot summer. Weather records were broken in the UK. Tarmac melted, refrigerators stopped working, and in London, we thought we would melt. At the same time, there was a perfect record around, to increase the funk of the funkiest year in decades.

Wild Cherry was a group of white men from America, but they sounded authentically black, in every way possible. From the instrumentation to the vocals, you would swear that you were hearing the latest afro-haired sensation from Philadelphia. In fact, they were from Ohio, and West Virginia, with their roots in the backwoods country music of that region. They later re-formed, with new members from Pittsburgh and Detroit, and discovered a new sound, during the early days of disco.

This single release from the eponymous album was a huge hit, all over the world, especially in the group’s homeland of America. Like many before them though, they failed to follow up on this early success, and never managed to repeat the sales with subsequent album releases. They broke up in 1980, but left us with this unique sound, a white band playing the funkiest black music you could imagine.

Significant Songs (96)

Native New Yorker

I have never been to New York. In fact, I have never been to America. Despite a lifelong love of many American films and recording artists, I haven’t got around to visiting that vast country. In 1977, disco music had a firm hold on the music charts in many parts of the world. The film, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ gave us many examples of this rather sanitised and safe disco music, which was being lapped up by audiences everywhere. A few years earlier, artists like Gloria Gaynor had started the trend, with huge hits like ‘Never Can Say Goodbye.’

I was twenty-five at the time, and happy to add the occasional disco record to my collection, though I carefully avoided some of the kitsch examples, such as the awful Boney M, and some other rather dubious European efforts. Then I heard a record on the radio, and liked it so much, I had to get it the same day. I had never heard of the group before, but knew that I was going to like them. Odyssey delivered a disco sound with a rich soul vocal, and this song seemed to sum up much of what I imagined life in New York might be like.

They went on to produce a string of hits, including the well-known, ‘If You’re Looking For A Way Out.’
Unusually, they became more popular in the UK, than in their home country of the USA. This led to them becoming based over here, and the current incarnation of the band continues to perform to this day. Whenever I think of the city of New York, I always remember this song.
‘No-one opens the door, for a native New Yorker…’ Great line.