Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Music Box: Tracie Young

At first blush it would be easy to dismiss the British pop singer Tracie Young as just another "'80s one-hit wonder." In fact, it is true that Tracie! -- as she was simply known -- had just one Top 10 hit in her native England -- the infectious "House That Jack Built," which hit No. 9 back in March of '83. But the truth of the matter is her brief career belied a talent that was so true that on any given night -- even two decades later -- you can still find fans chatting and blogging about Tracie's heyday, with always a lingering hope that she'll still one day make a grand comeback.

Born in 1965 in Derby, England, Tracie got her start when she responded to an advertisement a certain Paul Weller had placed in the pop magazine Smash Hits. Paul was looking for new artists to sign to his burgeoning Respond Records label, so when Tracie sent in her demo cassette the wheels were quickly in motion. Although she was just child, the schoolgirl from Essex had the voice of a soul diva trapped in the body of a white girl -- something far more unusual back then in the days before Christina Aguilera, Joss Stone and Natasha Bedingfield burst onto the scene. Weller was duly impressed.

By then, already besotted by all things Motown, Paul was putting his Mod days behind him and needed a strong female voice to back him up on The Jam's soul-based farewell single, "Beat Surrender." The pairing was a huge success and the song debuted at No. 1 back in '82, and served as Tracie Young's introduction the world. In early '83, she gave another stellar performance on Weller's new band's debut single, "Speak Like a Child," a No. 4 hit by the Style Council. (How many one-hit wonders can claim achievements like this?)

By spring '83, her aforementioned debut single -- "The House That Jack Built" (penned by Paul Barry and John Robinson of the Questions) had become a huge hit, and the fresh-faced girl with the big voice was all over the place. Tracie'd become a regular "overnight sensation." As work got under way on her long-play debut with Weller at the helm, a stop-gap single, "Give It Some Emotion" (a personal favorite of mine), was released, charting at a more modest No. 24.

It was a disappointment, but it kept her on the radio and, more importantly, on Top of the Pops. Unfortunately, it also keep her in the pop magazines where she began to alienate some fans by developing a bit of an attitude -- perhaps not that surprising from a small-town girl suddenly enjoying instant fame (can you say Terence Trent D'Arby?) -- dissing the likes of Simon LeBon, Boy George and Nena. Back in the studio, the LP "Far From the Hurting Kind" was taking shape, and with a slew of songs penned by Weller himself, Barry/Robinson, plus a beautiful new ballad Elvis Costello contributed to the project -- "(I Love You) When You Sleep)" -- the album seemed like a sure-fire hit. But as Young later explained, tensions were brewing behind the scenes: Weller insisted on leaving her two previous chart hits off the album ("The House That Jack Built" and "Give It Some Emotion" had already been on "Love the Reason" in 1983, which featured a selection of songs from Respond's roster of artists), and then she and Weller butted heads over what should be the first single. (She remains convinced that the title track would have been a definite hit while Paul wanted "Nothing Happens Here but You. In the end "Souls on Fire" was the compromise and it bombed.) The end result wound up being something Tracie was not entirely happy with, and it stalled at No. 64 on the U.K. charts. Devoted fans, however, were delighted. With a wonderful variety of pop, soul, dance and ballads, (The Tracie-chosen cover of "Thank You," an old Martha Reeves song, was a highlight.) I quickly counted it -- along with "Cafe Bleu" and "Talk Show" -- as one of my favorites of '84. Tracie managed to bounce back with a lovely backing vocal on the Style Council's single "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" off of 1985's "Our Favorite Shop," and she continued to record with the intention of releasing a sophomore album. (By now I believe Respond was going under and Polydor was distributing her music, which only complicated matters.) But when subsequent singles produced diminishing returns -- the spectacular "I Can't Leave You Alone" peaked at No. 60 and "Invitation," "(When You) Call Me" and "We Should Be Together" failed to even chart -- the album was scrapped entirely and, sadly, a "devastated" Tracie called it a career.

In 1996, "Far From the Hurting Kind" got the royal Japanese treatment when it was finally issued on compact disc, complete with its original artwork plus seven -- 7!!! -- bonus tracks, including two charming songs from the scrapped second album. (The CD was Japanese only and quickly out of print, so the rest of the world got rooked and eventually had to pay upward of a 100 bucks for a copy on eBay.) Around the same time Tracie re-emerged into the public eye (or ear?) after years of married life (two kids) and running pubs in the Midlands, when she became a DJ/radio personality at Essex FM. She later moved to Dream 107.7 FM, and is currently at Southend Radio 105.1 FM. (Not to be confused with the other DJ Tracy Young.) Despite the ongoing adulation from fans that continues to this post day, Tracie remains adamant that a comeback is not in the cards. (In fact, interviews make it clear that she is no fan of her old work.) But despite this dismissiveness, she stunned her fans (and maybe even more so herself) in February 2008 when she performed a beautifully rearranged version of her most tender song -- the Paul Weller composition "Nothing Happens Here but You" -- on the Infernal Racket Show earlier this year. (Click title for video!)

As regular readers know, I've spent the past few years attempting to right some of the wrongs of the music industry, making sure albums that were never re-issued digitally see the light of day now (Slow Children, the Vels, the Waitresses, Haircut 100 and dozens more). So it's with that sentiment that I offer you DOWNLOAD access to two zip folders of MP3s of everything I have from the lovely lass from Essex, much of which was converted from the original vinyl by my friend DJ Joe Ross. (If you're interested, e-mail me HERE. Please put TRACIE YOUNG in the subject.) None of this is available for sale anywhere, but if someone who owns the rights to the music objects to my sharing, please let me know. But if it's you, Tracie, then I say this: your fans still love your brief but prolific career. I still get countless inquiries from fellow fans who see I've written about you, so why not just take pride in knowing you've brought joy to so many? We love you when you sleep. We love you when you're awake. But most of all we love you when you sing.

UPDATE 06/29/09: Since writing this post, I have been completely inundated with e-mails from fellow Tracie fans. It's been a real treat hearing from all of you. As many of you may know, Tracie came out of "retirement" and performed a live set on June 6. 2009, at Shepherds Bush Empire (opening for Billy Franks) -- and would you believe that she contacted none other than YOURS TRULY to get MP3s of her old songs in order to prepare for the gig? (What a doll -- we've become great online pen pals in recent months.) The most exciting news of all, however, is that Tracie recently re-acquired ownership of her back catalogue and has begun releasing her material (some of it previously unreleased). Anyone looking to purchase Tracie's music can now go straight to her MySpace page HERE and she will be properly compensated for her works. I've already picked up her first EP, "It Happened One Night ... and other songs" and I must tell you the acoustic radio session take of "Give It Some Emotion" may just be the definitive version of this wonderful song. Welcome back, Tracie. And keep those songs from the scrapped second LP coming!!!

UPDATE 04/06/10: Join the official Tracie Facebook Fan Page HERE.

UPDATE 04/22/10: Read about my dinner with Tracie in New York City HERE.

UPDATE: 08/16/10: Cherry Pop has reissued "Far From the Hurting Kind" -- complete with a dozen bonus tracks plus liner notes by Tracie herself. Check it out HERE.

"FAR FROM THE HURTING KIND" (Japanese edition) / Includes: "(I Love You) When You Sleep"; "Souls on Fire"; "Nothing Happens Here but You"; "I Can't Hold on Till Summer"; "Dr. Love"; "Thank You"; "Moving Together"; "Spring, Summer, Autumn"; "What Did I Hear You Say"; "Far From the Hurting Kind"; "I Can't Hold on Till Summer" (without strings); "Thank You" (instrumental); "Fingers Crossed" (heartbeat demo); "Fingers Crossed"; "I Think You're Lucky"; "Far From the Hurting Kind" (early track 1); "Far From the Hurting Kind" (early track 2)

"BEYOND THE HURTING KIND" / Includes: "The House That Jack Built"; "Give It Some Emotion"; "I Can't Leave You Alone"; "Invitation"; "We Should Be Together"; "(When You) Call Me" (extended); "The Boy Hairdresser"; "You Must Be Kidding"; "Same Feelings Without the Emotions"; "The Country Code"; "Find It in Your Nature"; "Italian Girl"; "Mama Never Told Me" (with The Questions); "Give It Some Emotion" (extended); "Souls on Fire" (long version); "Moving Together" (club mix); "I Can't Leave You Alone" (Pick 'n' Mix); "Invitation" (RSVP mix); "We Should Be Together" (the Jezamix); "Harvest for the World" (with The Style Council and The Questions); "19" (The Wickham Mix); "Souls on Fire" (single edit); "Tracie Talks"; "Tracie Raps"; "Nothing Happens Here but You" (2008 version)

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  • 1 comment:

    ted norton said...

    They should have gone with "What Did I Hear You Say" I think....

    Hearing the vinyl rip with my own EQ, the bass guitar work is really sounding awesome on all of it. Not too keen on the drumming. Title track has good drumming. Sadly the only one in my opinion....