In honor of International Womens’ Day today, we look at a Forgotten Gem from one of the many, many wonderful female musicians that shaped our world. Ironically, it’s one the singer apparently wishes would stay forgotten… or “Invisible”, which happens be the name of the fine Alison Moyet single which happened to push into the Canadian top 30 on this week in 1985.
Moyet has one of the great bluesy contralto voices in the field and it was one people were familiar with before “Invisible”, and Alf, her first album from which it came. Even though she was barely 23 at the time, she’d already become a popular voice in her Britain. That from being the voice of the short-lived but very popular band Yazoo (known as “Yaz” in some locations), a new wave duo she’d formed with Vince Clarke, who’d just left Depeche Mode. Even though they lasted less than three years and put out a mere two albums, they’d been immensely popular in the UK , with four Indie chart #1 songs, and had broken through to some degree in North America. When Clarke decided to dissolve the band (quickly forming Erasure), Moyet decided to go solo and found herself a hot commodity. Several labels offered her contracts, and she finally signed on with Columbia for a reported one million pounds (something close to $5 million these days). They set her up with producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, a duo who’d met while working on the Muppet Show (!) and had just produced hits for Spandau Ballet and Bananarama. They were also talented musicians, which was handy because while Moyet could play piano to some extent (and had even worked as a professional piano tuner after dropping out of school as a teenager), she wasn’t abundantly skilled. Swain and Jolley handled the keyboards and guitars, brought in a studio drummer and that let Moyet “get on with what I do best, which is writing lyrics and singing.” She did both of those well, and they came up with the songs for Alf in two weeks “around the piano” at Moyet’s house.
Or at least they came up eight out of the nine songs on it, including “Love Resurrection”, the first single. “Invisible”, however, was from Lamont Dozier, a third of Motown’s great Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team responsible for ’60s greats like “Baby Love” and “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.”
The album drew mostly good reviews, with most suggesting her voice and delivery was great but the production was a little overdone. Rolling Stone compared her to Sade, another female singer whose star was on the rise at the time, saying Moyet “clearly possesses the better voice. It’s as emotionally immediate as Dusty Springfield’s and as big as the great outdoors.” And they, like many other critics, picked “Invisible” as the standout song. Cashbox noted likewise she had “a more powerful delivery than Sade” and “Invisible”, “the current torch single should make a prime candidate for crossover success,” the crossover they’re referring to apparently being from the UK to U.S. … which it did. Later, allmusic, while panning the album’s production did call this song “among the great R&B pop singles of the ’80s.”
That it was. Although in her homeland, it was only a middling hit, reaching #21 – she’d manage to six top 10 singles there in the ’80s – it was her international breakthrough, reaching the top 20 in Canada and #4 in New Zealand (where her next single, “That Ole Devil Called Love” would be a #1 hit) and #31 Stateside, her only thing close to a hit single there. It helped push Alf to 4X platinum status in the UK, with it ending among the 20 best-sellers in both 1984 and ’85. By the summer of ’85, she was playing Live Aid with Paul Young. In Canada, the album hit the top 20, like the song, and in the U.S., it got to #45. Though she’s retained some popularity in her homeland and Oceania ever since, none of her eight subsequent albums have matched Alf‘s success.
So, the song that rather made her famous and got her gold records from North America – she must love it, right? Well, wrong actually! Soon after it came out she “fell out of love” with it and by 2017 she told a New Zealand newspaper she’d retired the song from her live sets permanently. “People get upset because they think you’re dissing their choices,” she admits about fans who want to hear it. “But I’m not a nostalgia act,” although she admits she still likes playing the even older Yazoo hits. The real problem with “Invisible” to her is the lyrics, which portray a weak woman who can’t leave a worthless guy who treats her like she’s, well, “invisible.” “There were things about me at 21 (her approximate age when she began to plan Alf) that I could no longer relate to, and its slightly odd singing the lyrics of a 21 year-old as you age.”
One thing she can still relate to though is her use of electronics in her music, unlike many of her Brit female soul contemporaries. “There’s something about my voice that’s quite wooden. It’s quite fibrous. When you put it together with a lot of wood instruments, you lose a lot…you get all the shapes” with electronics.
A great bluesy single from a woman who’s succeeded in the music business for 40 years and has grown emotionally to where she’s strong enough to ignore arguably her best-loved song. If that’s not appropriate for Women’s day, I don’t know what would be!