Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Music Box: The Questions

One of the most remarkable things about being musically lost in the '80s is my seemingly never-ending ability to still discover new music, despite the death of vinyl and compact discs. My most recent "find" is the Questions, a Scottish pop band that were together from 1977-1984, with whom I had an unconsummated love affair back in the day. You see, along with the big-voiced teen Tracie Young, the Questions were the greatest discovery of Paul Weller's fledgling Respond Records label he started in the early '80s. Weller had an unbridled Motown fixation and as he closed the Jam chapter of his life, he decided the next step to being the British Berry Gordy was to sign and groom artists. While the Questions (Paul Barry - bass and vocals; John Robinson - rhythm guitar and vocals; and Frank Mooney - drums) came out of the same scene that produced Aztec Camera, the Bluebells and Orange Juice, they separated themselves from the crowd (in later recordings, at least) with their blue-eyed soul sound, which was right up Weller's ally. As a result, I would frequently hear about them in Weller articles in NME and Melody Maker (and on the liner notes of "Snap!") as the band supported the Jam at the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre in October 1980, and when they signed to Weller's label the following year. By 1982 the Questions' records were nowhere to be found in my nook of America, but they were fast becoming my new "favorite" band -- and I'd never heard a single song of theirs.

In 1983, Respond finally had the ball rolling and released "Love the Reason," an 11-song sampler of the label's best artists that also included A Craze, The Main T.K.O., N.D. Moffatt and Big Sound Authority (whose "History of the World" was arguably the album's best track).

The U.K. album also included the Questions' singles "Work 'n' Play" and the soulful "Building on a Strong Foundation," plus "Give It Up Girl" and "Mama Never Told Me," the band's cover of an old Sister Sledge song with Tracie. (It also included Tracie's two hits, including the Barry/Robinson-penned "House That Jack Built.")

Paul also showed off his proteges on shows like "Top of the Pops," as seen above, in a group effort of the Isley Brothers' classic "Harvest for the World."

Many tours, TV appearances and singles followed, including "Tear Soup" and "Price You Pay." Then in 1984, Barry and Robinson wrote three additional songs -- "I Can't Hold on Till Summer," "Moving Together" and "What Did I Hear You Say" -- for Tracie's wonderful debut LP, "Far From the Hurting Kind."

That same year, "Belief," the band's debut album came out, with "Tuesday Sunshine" and "A Month of Sundays" released as singles.

Some time around then I finally got my hands on a used import 45 of the highly infectious "Tuesday Sunshine" at Roads to Moscow in Tempe, Ariz., which I then played repeatedly until record players no longer "existed." But by 1990 my turntable was history and the Questions slowly faded from my memory.

Jump ahead to 2004, when one night I was messing around on eBay and I stumbled upon a CD copy of "Love the Reason," which had been reissued by the now-defunct Japanese label Trattoria back in '96. I was ecstatic and immediately loaded my AuctionSniper with a hefty bid -- and won. Hearing "Work 'n' Play" and (especially) "Building on a Strong Foundation" instantly convinced me that the Questions had indeed been my favorite new band of '84 (ex post facto) -- and the Tracie duet and other track ("Give It Up Girl") only sweetened the deal.

Then last month eBay delivered once again as I finally got (what turned out to be) the band's only long-player, "Belief," on CD, done right by Trattoria again with eight previously unreleased bonus tracks. I don't know what really happened after "Belief" came out (I've only read that they played their final gig on Nov. 30, 1984, at 100 Club Oxford St., in London), but I can only guess that the band dissolved when Respond closed up shop around the same time. It's a shame because it's a truly delightful album, one I can honestly say was well worth the 24-year wait.

  • Questions MySpace page (not sure if it's official)

    Because the band's music is not for sale anywhere, I'd like to offer to share my MP3 collection of Questions music. In addition to the Japanese "Belief" CD, my spotty set includes "Answer," the b-side of "I Can't Get Over You" from 1979; "Work 'n' Play," "Building on a Strong Foundation," "Mama Never Told Me" and "Give It Up Girl" from "Love the Reason" -- plus "Harvest for the World" (with The Style Council and Tracie) and all the songs from the Respond "12-inch Single Collection" -- "Saved by the Bell" (extended), "Someone's Got to Lose" (extended), "The Vital Spark" (extended), "Tear Soup" (extended), "Price You Pay," "Acapella Foundation," Tuesday Sunshine" (sass mix), "Work 'n' Play" (extended), The Groove Line," "Belief (Don't Give Up)" (extended), and their version of "The House That Jack Built." E-mail me with THE QUESTIONS in the subject HERE if you're interested. I'd especially love to hear from other fans who have songs of theirs I don't have, but will share with any fans.

    More of the "iPod type"? You can DOWNLOAD two of the band's best-known songs here: "Tuesday Sunshine" and "Building on a Strong Foundation."

    "Belief" CD reissue (1996) 1. Belief 2. All The Time In The World 3. The Bottom Line 4. Month Of Sundays 5. Someone's Got To Lose 6. Body And Soul 7. Tuesday Sunshine 8. December 9. The Learning Tree 10. Drop That Burden 11. Everything I See 12. It's In Me - Demo 13. Boys Back Home - Demo 14. What Did I Hear You Say - Demo 15. Tuesday Sunshine - Demo 16. Drop The Burden - Demo 17. Month Of Sundays - Rough 18. Tear Soup - Live 19. Body And Soul - Live

  • Read all Music Box posts HERE.

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    jamesasaljr said...

    I have the Respond 12" Collection set from Trattoria. Some GREAT extended Questions tracks on there... Happy to share. email me: james {at}

    Unknown said...

    Great article.The harvest for the world video youve got is actually from a show called " 3 of a kind " which was a comedy sketch show with lenny henry and tracy ullman in the early 80's.Paul Barry co-wrote Believe by Cher and Hero by Enrique Iglesias.He writes songs full time now but unfortunatly doesnt perform anymore.I was at that last gig at the 100 club ( at the time no-one knew that would be their last ) ive got some great pictures of it if youre interested. All the best to you...Ray

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