Wednesday, August 12, 2015

He's Got New Wave Right In The Palmer Of His Hand

Quick: which thirtysomething late '70s blue-eyed soul/bar band singer totally tried to latch onto New Wave? Let me give you a ... clue.

Many mainstream pop musicians tried to go New Wave in the '80s, but I think Robert Palmer actually did. Clues isn't just an imitation New Wave album; I think it actually is one. Not only did he cover a song by Gary Numan, he actually co-wrote a song with Gary Numan. Not only did he try to pilfer Talking Heads' drum sound, he pilfered Talking Heads' actual drummer.

Hold on a second. So apparently Palmer was hanging out at his preferred recording studio in the Bahamas around the same time Talking Heads were recording Remain In Light, and I guess at some point Palmer played "percussion" on that album - although with Talking Heads and Brian Eno, that could have involved anything. Eno album credits have included instruments such as "snake guitar" and "uncertain piano." Palmer could have played, who knows, "dragonfly bongos." But when it came time to record his own album, I guess he used Chris Franz on "Looking For Clues."

"Looking For Clues" sounds like either a sped up version of LTD's "Back In Love Again" or an off-key version of Paul McCartney's "Coming Up," but I might like it more than either (best part: the moment right after the chorus where half the percussion completely drops out for a couple of seconds and it sounds like the entire song is getting stuck in the tape machine). I first heard it on Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s, Vol. 3. I remember downloading the collection and thinking, "Robert Palmer on a New Wave compilation? Should he really be on there?" Oh, he should be on there all right. In fact, when the song first came on, I wasn't looking at my mp3 player and I started to wonder, as I so often do, who the artist was. When I looked and saw "Robert Palmer" I was like ... wuuuuut.

Here's another question for you: is this the "real" music video, or just a clip from some random European show that was slapped together an hour before airtime with the cast of a local children's theatre troupe? [Edit: the real video eventually showed up on YouTube.]

"Johnny And Mary" stalled at #44 in the UK and didn't do squat in the US, but it was a top ten hit in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and every other country successfully invaded by the Nazis, so there you go. It is also the winner of Little Earl's "Best Video Featuring Mimes" award.

The album also includes a not-terrible-at-all cover of  the Beatles' "Not A Second Time," sort of an obscurity in the sense that Cadmium is an obscure element on the Periodic Table: in other words, for those whose business it is to be knowledgeable in such matters, it's not really that obscure. But how's this for balls: Palmer covered a Beatles song ... and wrote a new verse of his own! At least he didn't insist on altering the writing credit. Is it just me, or is there something funny about the sound of "Lennon/McCartney/Palmer"?

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