By rights we should have hated it!
It was all the NME's fault....and The Face....and Robert Elms! This New Pop infused with light Jazz should really have made us bellicose...but we loved this one particular song that emerged from it. I mean, we REALLY loved it! How come? Let's find out. Jump in the Streetlamp Time Machine and we'll go back to early 1984.
It was a time when the NME was still printed on that thick coarse paper and the ink made your hands black as you pored over every word. Back in those days, Griff and I lived by the NME, and to a lesser extent TV shows The Tube and The Old Grey Whistle Test. There was no Internet then and even MTV Europe was till a couple of years away, so for impassioned little music monkeys like us, the NME was IT!
In those days the NME still adopted a very intellectual pose, it was full of Post Punk and Postcard Records, Jean Cocteau and The Cocteau Twins, articles on French Cinema and Those French Girls, more Jean-Paul Sartre than John Paul George and Ringo.....and we loved it! It was a transitional time for us....we had done the bratty Punk thing in our early teens and now, in our mid teens we found our tastes becoming a little more sophisticated.
In late 1983, early 84, somebody(Robert Elms we suppose) decided that Jazz was (ahem) 'the new thing' and that Pop should be it's outlet. In that immediate pre-Yuppie early 80s, The Face was the Bible of choice for the fashionistas founded by ex-NME journalists and took it upon itself to promote this 'new' music. Suddenly Jazz-Pop was everywhere, from the sublime(Weekend, Fine Young Cannibals) to the ridiculous(Simply Red) with all the lukewarm water inbetween(Sade).
In late 83 as we prepared to leave school and totter out into the big world our music tastes changed considerably, but also we became more passionate about music....a passion that still burns through these Blogs today. And it was moments like seeing 'Soul Train' by Swans Way that lit the blue touchpaper...
God, it was seismic! Like so many other moments from that time, I can remember exactly where I was and how I felt as it played out on The Tube....scratchy cello strings, a mellifluous voice intoning 'It's midnight....Sooooooul Train....Hah!' and we were off into 3 and a half minutes of beautiful, vibrant Pop.
The music moves with a slinky, louche swagger all cellos and brass, but it's the vocals that are SO strong on this track. Robert Shaw is the singer of note here and it's the impassioned longing of those "I try...I try...I try....oohoooohooo" lines that win this listener over. Add to that the call and response style of the verses and the "I'm not strong enough" finale and you have near as damn it a perfect Pop song. Sadly, the public didn't agree and the song only scraped a paltry Number 20 position on the charts. This somehow suggests that there were 19 songs better than it in the charts that week! I would argue that there aren't 19 songs better than it in the history of music!!
In that transitional period of early 1984 as we began to leave the well trodden streets of our youth and move into the bars and clubs of our *cough* Golden Years, we clung to music like a safety jacket....it was everything, and every record, every song was digested, dissected and discussed in minute detail. Some songs became mere 'songs', but some, like 'Soul Train' became the very lifeblood.
We really should have hated it....but we loved it...and still do!
As an addendum we present Swans Way's follow up single 'Illuminations' which strangely I never heard at the time it was released. Now, hearing it here, I wish I taken this band a bit more seriously. Oh well.....