September 22 – Brits Found Numan Quite Pleasure-able

Beggar’s Banquet Records were probably begging Gary Numan to record more stuff! His album the Pleasure Principle hit #1 in the UK this day in 1979. It was only the second chart-topper ever for that indie label which took its name from a Rolling Stones album. And the first #1 for it was Replicas, by Tubeway Army- a band Gary fronted. More impressively, that album (with its hit, “Are Friends Electric”) preceded The Pleasure Principle by only five months !

The Pleasure Principle took off with the popularity of “Cars” there and in Canada. In Britain, the follow-up single, “Complex” was also a top 10 hit. The album eschewed all regular guitars and was heavy on synthesizer making it one of the first real “new wave” albums. It won Numan his only gold record outside of his homeland, the UK (that was in Canada) and was surprisingly well-received by some critics who don’t always appreciate new wave. Robert Christgau for instance approved, and later on Q magazine rated it 4-stars, while allmusic gave it 4.5 and said “there’s not a weak moment” on it and “if you had to own just one Gary Numan album, (this) would be it.” Unfortunately for him and Beggar’s Banquet, that seemed to be something many took to heart. While his 1980 follow-up Telekon also was a #1 hit at home, such success has been elusive for him since.

Numan’s kept working with a devoted following to his generally more goth or industrial sounding latter work, but has never made it onto North American charts since nor topped the British ones even though he’s still recording and has 22 studio albums to his name.

September 8 – Human League Got ‘Jam’med Into Making A Hit

Electronic new wave was on the wane in the second half of the ’80s (despite stronger than ever response to New Order and the Pet Shop Boys), so what’s a group to do that built their fortune on that sound? Well, in the case of the Human League, it was take a look at the charts and see what was happening across the ocean and think about how to adapt. The result was their fifth album, Crash, which came out this day in 1986.

In the States, a new brand of highly-produced R&B-crossed-with-pop was taking off, noticeably with Janet Jackson who was quickly beginning to be seen as the Queen of Pop, just as her brother was the “King of Pop.” Meanwhile, despite already having ten top 20 hits in their native Britain, the band was finding itself already being labeled as something of a One Hit Wonder. Jackson had just put out her Control album, which was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. So with a little nudging (and undoubtedly backed with a lot of money) from Virgin Records, the Human League went off to Minnesota to record with that duo. Phil Oakey had always been the leader of the band, the primary writer, only male voice and captain of the ship. He quickly found that if you were in Jam & Lewis’ territory, they wanted to have…well, “control.” They tossed out some of his songs (Oakey ended up with credits on six of ten songs), came up with some of their own, then quickly grew tired of what they saw as some laziness and more lack of talent with a couple of the keyboardists, Philip Wright and Ian Burden. They were essentially told to step aside, while the producers brought in extra session players. Both would soon quit the group. Adding to tensions, at least according to Jimmy Jam, was that Oakey and singer Joanne Catherall were a couple and Catherall was getting jealous of the other female in the group, Susan Sulley. Eventually tensions grew so high, the group packed up and flew back home, leaving the producers with the tapes and the task of completing it. “We like to be in control in the studio,” Oakey admitted, “it just got to the point of who had the power and in that instant, they were the men behind the mixing console so they had the ultimate control.” He added it was “interesting to pick yourself out of the industrial north of England and dump yourself in Minneapolis. Great experience, but it just wasn’t our record!”

Even the less-than-memorable cover ended up borne out of frustration. They’d hired a well-known French fashion photographer for it. “I daren’t tell you how much money was spent,” Oakey says, but they found him to be acting inappropriately. When Sulley refused his request to do a handstand while wearing a miniskirt for him, he stormed off, leaving them to find a last-minute replacement picture to use.

For all that, it was a decent, if different album. Oakey says “it’s a disco album with lots of cymbals,” but the R&B stylings of the Minnesota duo are also clear. As allmusic would note, they “maintained their dance appeal while eschewing the overtly synthesized sounds of previous albums.” Canada’s Windsor Star called it “an infectious collection of love songs…listenable right the way through.” Smash Hits gave it 7.5 out of 10, Rolling Stone 3.5-stars. The one thing most agreed on was that the lead-off single, “Human”, one of the Jam and Lewis tracks, was a good one. Billboard picked it as hit-to-be, calling it “lush, plush, even soulful.”

Indeed, that song -even if it is in the words of Spin “schmaltzy” and “an unbearably weak defense of infidelity” was a worldwide hit, becoming their second #1 song in both the U.S. and Canada (becoming their third single to go gold in the latter) and hitting the top 10 in most other English-speaking markets including the UK and even Germany as well. However, subsequent singles , the almost Janet Jackson-like  “I Need Your Loving” and “Are You Ever Coming Back?” failed to find much of an audience and even another Jam & Lewis track that won critical praise – “Love is All that Matters” – failed to click commercially. Overall the album did go to #7 in Britain and earn them their fifth gold album there; elsewhere it fared not quite so well – #32 in Australia, #25 in Canada and #35 in the U.S., for example.

The Human League would wait four years before recording another album…and when they did, stayed in the north of England to do so.

August 3 – That’s A Strange Fear For A Musician

One of the few people in rock odder, or more experimental than David Byrne is Brian Eno. So it’s really little surprise that the two of them teamed up and became friends. We got more indication of that this day in 1979, when Talking Heads released their third album, Fear of Music. It was the second one that Eno co-produced with them.

The band had come to widespread notice the year before with Songs About Buildings And Food, and carried on with along with more of the same quirkiness that sounded very little like anything on mainstream radio. Or on college radio, for that matter; despite being labeled as “punk” by many, they had little in common with their New York contemporaries The Ramones or much of the British punk/post-punk sound groups either.

Although they didn’t switch gears much from the previous album, singer David Byrne wanted to construct a more dystopian feel to the music and Eno encouraged them to build on a disco base using more World Music influences, most clearly heard on the neo-African “I Zimbra.” He also wanted to give the music the feel of New York’s East Village where he lived and they hung out, so many of the songs had a decidedly urban feel, such as the song “Cities,” for instance. Even the album cover, designed by keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison bore that out. He picked a design that looked like the metal sheeting used on manholes and metal sheets found in construction site walkways. The album’s two most distinctive songs, to many were the near-hit single “Life During Wartime” – the only one of the 11 on the album Byrne shared writing credits with the rest of the band on – and “Drugs.” That was a song they had played for some time under the name “Electricity”, but Byrne changed the name for the recording, a nod to its inspiration. While he didn’t care much for drugs (“a little intense for me”), he was fascinated with how people acted on LSD (which was rampant in the discos they hung out with then) and said “I like those ’60s songs where they try and describe the experience… they’re stupid!”

Putting the album together was a surprisingly quick affair, with it being done in about two weeks during the springtime. Much of it was actually recorded in Chris Frantz’ and Tina Weymouth’s loft, with many a cable running out of their building to a mobile recording studio in a van outside. Eno and Byrne finalized mixes at a couple of Big Apple studios.

Then, as now, most figured it was pretty much a direct companion piece to the previous LP. If you liked that one, you’d like this one…but if Songs About... was too weird or inaccessible for you, this one wouldn’t be winning you over. Their hometown Village Voice picked it as the fourth-best album of the year and gave it a good review although adding “a little sweetening might help” (something echoed later by allmusic which pointed out the singer was “still odd, but no longer so funny”). Later on, Spin would give it 9 out of 10, calling it their “most musically varied offering,” and allmusic would do approximately the same, grading it 4.5 stars – a great rating although the lowest of their first four. They noted it sounded very much like its predecessor but “the use of minor keys give the music a more ominous sound.”

The assessments were right, it would seem. Although it did well for such a left-of-center release, despite them touring the States immediately upon its release and Europe in early fall of ’79, it merely mimicked the sales of the previous record. The song “Life During Wartime” barely charted (peaking at #80 at home, and missing most other country’s charts altogether) and “I Zimbra” made a dent on dance charts but was otherwise ignored as a single. Overall, the album got to #21 in the U.S., #27 in Canada, #33 in the UK and #11 in New Zealand. Six years after its release, the album was certified gold in the States. If nothing else, it put out some memorable tracks and set the stage for something of a commercial breakthrough the following year with Remain in Light.

July 20 – Faith That New Order Single Was Going To Be A Hit Was True

One of the great and iconic hits of the decade came out this day in 1987. Maybe the band had faith that it would… New Order had tried to make it sell when they made “True Faith.”

The single was issued as a standalone, with an also popular new song on the b-side, “1963.” They were new tracks cut to keep fans happy between albums and to be added on to their first greatest hits compilation, Substance 1987. That album, released later in the summer, ended up making it to #3 in the UK and by going platinum there, as well as the U.S. and Canada, their biggest-seller of the decade.

True Faith” is a pretty typical New Order single, albeit my most opinions, a bit better than many. It’s dance-y and has rather oblique lyrics. Also, like some of their biggies (think “Blue Monday”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”) the title never appears in the lyrics! Exactly what the song is about is unclear, but they deny that it’s about heroin, which apparently was the rumor. Bernard Sumner says none of their lyrics were about heroin, but sometimes in concert he does play around with the lyrics and make references to people “taking drugs with me” not to mention Michael Jackson “played with my willie” when he was a young boy.

What the song was about for the band though was maintaining a high profile in the music scene, and making money. Sumner says “it was a time when I set out to write a hit single. I think we got rather a large tax bill” which required some record sales to pay off!

Sell it did. Helped along by use in the movie Bright Lights, Big City, it got to #4 in the UK and was their first U.S. top 40 hit. To make it convenient for any fan, they issued it as a 7” and a 12” single, a cassette single and a CD. And later on they remixed it – several times – and it made the Brit top 10 once again in 1994.

July 14 – As Opposed To Songs About Fast Cars And Girls…

Well, there were lots of songs about love on radio 40-odd years ago, so New York’s prototypical oddball band delivered something different – More Songs About Buildings And Food. That was the title of Talking Heads1978 sophomore album, which turned out to be the one that broke them into the mainstream consciousness. While critics loved their debut album the year before (and retrospectively, the single “Psycho Killer” is deemed one of the quintessential new wave/post punk records of all-time) it had little impact on the record-buying public. This one changed that, hitting the top 30 in both the U.S. and the UK, earning them gold records in both. That was helped along considerably by the single, “Take Me To The River”, an Al Green cover which was the only one of the 11 songs on the LP not written by the band (primarily singer David Byrne.) Despite the title, the album featured few songs about buildings, or food… but was full of songs which didn’t sound much like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac or anything else dominating radio at the time, nor like their bar-contemporaries the Ramones. Songs like “the Big Country” and “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls.”

Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz (who by the time this record came out were married) met in college in Rhode Island and formed a band, moving to New York and becoming regulars at CBGB, alongside The Ramones by mid-’75. (Their playing that bar doubtless led to them being labeled a “punk” band for years, which hardly seems to fit when listening to them.) They added in guitarist Jerry Harrison in time to release their first record; the big difference between it and More Songs… seemed to be bringing in one Brian Eno to produce the record. Eno was a few years away from becoming the superstar producer he became working with U2, and a few years departed from Roxy Music and many critics credit his work in making the Heads sound more palatable As allmusic note, in their 5-star review of the record, “Eno brought a musical unity that tied the album together” by putting an “emphasis on the bass and drums team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.” Eno wasn’t the only connection between the record and Roxy Music by the way. Rhett Davies was the studio engineer on the album and he’d worked on solo Bryan Ferry records before and would soon produce that band’s commercial smash Avalon. Even more curious, Ferry himself recorded a cover version of “Take Me To the River” in 1978 as well.

Critics loved More Songs About Buildings and Food even more than the public. It garnered favorable reviews at the time and has in time gone up in appraisal. Rolling Stone would later grade it 5-stars, loving the “rocking beat” which they thought “exciting but seldom sexy” while commenting on the quirky nature of David Byrne, “his head lurching to a rhythm his body doesn’t recognize” and noting his resemblance to Anthony Perkins in Psycho, “remarkable even if he hadn’t drawn attention to it by entitling a song ‘Psycho Killer’. Spin scored it a 9 out of 10 and NME ranked it as the fourth best album of ’78.

The band attained even more critical and commercial success in the early-80s before personality rifts between Byrne and the others brought them to a halt later that decade. They were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, with that institute calling attention to their pioneering blend of world music into neo-British new wave… a “blend of funk, minimalism and polyrhythmic world beats” which highlighted “the strangeness of modern times.”

June 19 – Time Has Treated Culture Club Hit Well

It wasn’t the Culture Club‘s biggest hit, but it might have been their best. “Time (Clock of the Heart)” peaked at #2 on Billboard on this day in 1983. Although “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” had been a #1 hit in the U.S. and Canada and sold more copies (as did “Karma Chameleon” later), allmusic probably hit the right note when they suggest “of all (their) early hits, “Time” has probably aged the best.”

It certainly helped them establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with rather than another One Hit Wonder of which there were so many in the early-’80s; it helped push their Kissing to Be Clever album to platinum success in the States and triple that in Canada. With “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” following, it made that the first debut album since The Beatles in North America to notch three-straight top 10 hits. In Britain, it had been released as a standalone single and wasn’t included on the album. Listeners there had to wait until 1987 to find it on any album, a best of compilation. As for the meaning, Boy George says it’s about evaluating relationships. “Time is precious. It’s too valuable to waste on something that isn’t working.” The music was put together by guitarist Ron Hay and bassist Mike Craig while jamming; Boy liked it and started coming up with lyrics and then Craig decided it should have a “staggered beat” and added that in on a synthesizer. The song, like many others of the era has a fine sax solo, but it was so commonplace back then that it was more or less anonymous! Different sources have identified the sax player as either Nick Payne or Steve Grainger; neither seemed to have a career as durable as the Club.

June 12 – Forgotten Gems : Simple Minds

The calendar might tell us “summer” is still over a week away, but it’s of a minority opinion! Bird-watchers and other naturalists as well as meteorologists all consider June 1 as the “first day of summer”…and with temperatures over 100 from interior California to the Colorado Rockies to the Louisiana border, it sure feels like it too. So this month’s Forgotten Gem is one of many great “summer” songs…this one coming from somewhere where summer isn’t always something all that special – Scotland! But Simple Minds1982 hit “Someone, Somewhere In Summertime” was pretty special.

Simple Minds by then had been around for five years and put out four albums that evolved and matured somewhat from vaguely punkish to very electronic new wave. The transition continued with New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84, their fifth and by far the most finished-sounding album to that point. Unlike some of their UK contemporaries, they were able to meld both a lot of Mike MacNeill’s keyboards to Charlie Burchill’s jangly guitars and real drums to a strong set of melodies. It had been recorded in England early in ’82, and singer Jim Kerr remembered that fondly. “Everything we tried worked,” he said, “ there were no arguments. We were in love with what we were doing…you don’t get many periods in your life when it all goes your way.” That said, there probably were a few arguments, at least early on. That because the producer, Peter Walsh, who’d been a highly-regarded studio engineer but was just starting to build his producing portfolio, didn’t like the drumming of Mike Ogletree, and he convinced the band to fire him. He brought in session player Mel Gaynor to finish off the album, another example of what Kerr was talking about and things going their way. Gaynor hit it off with the band and he remained with them through their time of greatest success in the ’80s.

The album got great reviews; Australian critic Alexandra Heller Nicholas, for instance opined that by “combining a warm romanticism with their blend of new wave pop, the album illustrated just how capable and diverse Simple Minds were.” U2 would note it was an album that influenced their Unforgettable Fire. And most reviews found “Someone, Somewhere in Summertime” to be one of, if not the absolute, highlight. With its “atmospheric” feel and imagery of a summer romance in an exciting city on a steamy day as night falls in, Rolling Stone called it “lush and erotic.”

The album broke new ground for Simple Minds, hitting #3 at home, #2 in New Zealand (going platinum in both lands), being their first to chart at all in the U.S. and getting them a gold record in Canada… thanks in no small part to their success in Toronto where CFNY radio picked it as the year’s top record. However, the single itself wasn’t a smash, peaking at #36 in the UK, after the first two singles off the album made the top 20. Much of that could be attributed to it being the third single, a song about torrid summer love and holidays that was released just before Christmas and neither Virgin (their British label) nor A&M (the North American one) bothering to make a video for it. Nonetheless, it remains one of the band’s most popular tunes among its fans

Here’s hoping your summer will be hot for all the right reasons, and maybe even one of those magical Jim Kerr times when everything goes your way.

June 12 – Jones Entered The Brit Scene In A Big Way

An auspicious start to a career some 38 years ago. Howard Jones released his debut album, Human’s Lib, this day in 1984. With it he did some things that not even The Beatles, Duran Duran or U2 had been able to… which was a mixed blessing, because it’s pretty hard to top that later on in one’s career!

The Brit’s album roared onto the charts at #1 in his homeland, a stunning accomplishment for a newcomer. Not even the Beatles had done that, but that in itself perhaps posed a problem. Anyone who figured that Jones was thus set to have a “bigger than the Beatles” career was bound to be disappointed.

Jones was obviously not unknown when Human’s Lib came out, at least in the UK. The first single, “New Song” had been released in advance and done well and he’d made a name for himself opening shows on tours for Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark and China Crisis at home and Peter Gabriel on the continent.

The album was very much a solo project for Howard. He played all the instruments (mainly, but not exclusively, synthesizers) himself except for saxophones on “Pearl in the Shell”, for which he brought in Davey Payne of Ian Drury’s Blockheads and studio tech Stephen Tayler. All but one song were produced by star producer Rupert Hine. Jones said of Hine, upon his passing away in 2020,  “Rupert was an extraordinary man, one of my dearest longtime friends, my music mentor.”

The album was full of catchy synthesizer tunes and upbeat lyrics, things which would largely set the stage for his career which is still going, albeit with less notice. Reviews were mixed for it, despite the huge initial public response. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys reviewed it for Smash Hits and gave it 6.5 out of 10, saying Jones displayed a “neat talent for writing melodic pop songs with clever hooks and real, 1970s singer-songwriter lyrics.” Rolling Stone though weren’t as enthusiastic about it (or most Brit new wave of the era) and gave it only 2-stars. In retrospect, allmusic gave it a fine 4.5-stars, his best. They called it “state of the art synth-pop circa 1984” which disguised the fact that he was a “reconstituted free spirit” who would’ve fit in well in the ’60s. While they liked “Pearl in the Shell”, which “harkens back to Motown”, the real gem was “What is Love?”... a big soaring ballad which points the way” towards his future career.

While it was a #1 hit in the UK, where it went double-platinum and spent a remarkable 57 weeks on the charts, other lands weren’t quite as wild for HoJo. It did go gold in Canada, where it made the top 20, but in the U.S. he’d have to wait a bit longer to have mainstream success. “What is Love?” hit #2 in the UK (the best of his career) and “Pearl in the Shell” and “New Song” also made the top 10 there, giving him a trio of top 10 singles …something neither U2 nor Duran Duran accomplished with their first records. While his career dipped in Britain after that, he went on to better success for the rest of the decade in North America. Years later he summed it up thusly: “I’m proud of Human’s Lib, but I didn’t expect it to do so well.”

May 21 – Hot Space Got Cold Shoulder From Fans

Being a successful musician seems to mean being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Being super-successful seems to involve that and being something of a magician or mystic at the same time, managing to steer the sound successfully. The problem is, once you have a following, if you keep sounding the same, people will typically get bored with you (AC/DC fans excepted) …but if you change sound, you risk alienating many of your fans who’ll long for your “traditional” sound. Few can navigate frequent change well and keep their fans. Even Queen struggled with it, as we found out four decades back – Hot Space came out this day in 1982.

It was their tenth studio album, coming about a year and change after their experimental soundtrack to Flash Gordon, and two years after their smash The Game which had elevated them to unmitigated superstar status worldwide with hits like “Another One Bites The Dust”. They were getting a bit restless perhaps, and well aware that the prevailing hit sounds were quite different than they were five or six years earlier when they were making their mark with songs like “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.” Bassist John Deacon and their star singer Freddie Mercury in particular seemed to want to shift gears with the band.

Drummer Roger Taylor says Deacon particularly was tired of their anthemic rock sound. “John’s always been R&B orientated,” he’d say a year or two after the album release, “I think we went too far and did too much.” Neither he nor guitarist Brian May liked Freddie’s personal manager, Paul Prenter one bit. Prenter apparently disliked rock and May says “he wanted our music to sound like you’d just walked into a gay bar, and I didn’t.” He further aggravated them by keeping Mercury away from reporters and rudely alienating quite a few American radio people in the process, never helpful when you want them to play your new record. For another change, they recorded it – slowly due to heavy partying – in Germany and Switzerland, no doubt taking in the latest Euro-pop sounds along the way.

The result was an interesting, but oddly varied album using far more synthesizers than they had before and fewer Brian May guitar bits. For the first time they brought in drum machines. The one real standout on the album was a song everyone already knew – “Under Pressure”, the duet with David Bowie which had been pre-released months earlier.

There were some other highlights, though opinions varied as to what they were. Brian May got to show off his guitar a little with his bluntly anti-gun “Put out the Fire”; the band did a tribute to John Lennon (with them recording the record at the time Lennon was killed) called “Life is Real,” and “Calling All Girls” was a likeable little pop song that would have sounded at home as one of the lesser tracks on The Game. Still, diehard fans found little to really cheer on and the new wave, younger crowd they were seemingly working to musically seduce weren’t interested.

Reviews weren’t terrible…unless you put it in context of them being for one of the most successful and loved acts of the decade preceding it. Smash Hits rated it 5 out of 10; The Guardian gave it just 2-stars noting “by the time (it) came out, disco had mutated into weird, skeletal dubby electronic sounds…which didn’t really suit Queen.” Rolling Stone was a bit more generous, rating it 3-stars. They opined “Queen offers a bit more than bluster” with their “funky songs”, singling out “Back Chat” as “a hot rock funk tune with guitar tracks as slick as any icy dancefloor,” but warning that “Body Language” is “a piece of funk that isn’t fun.” Later, allmusic rated it just 2.5-stars, the lowest of anything they did while Mercury was alive. They called it an “unabashed pop/dance album…devoting the entire first side to robotic, new wave dance pop driven by drum machines” before “finally getting synth-drum new wave right” with “Calling All Girls.” They summed it up by suggesting “Under Pressure” would be the only track on it fans would remember. Interestingly, to the record’s credit (well, debate among yourselves if it is that) it did have a big fan in Michael Jackson who loved it and said it was a big influence on Thriller.

While “Under Pressure” was one of their biggest hits, the other singles released didn’t exactly re-write the Queen song book or necessitate a lot of added cabinet space for awards. “Body Language,” with its oft-banned video peaked at #25 at home for them, doing a bit better here, hitting #11 in the U.S. and #3 in Canada. “Calling All Girls” hit #33 in Canada, but flopped in the States, the only other market it was put out in as a single; back in the UK “La Pelagras De Amor (The words of Love)” was released instead, and hit #17 and #10 in Ireland. “Put out the Fire” did well on North American rock radio, but wasn’t put out as an official single. When all was said and done, the album did top the Austrian charts and got to #4 in the UK, #5 in Germany and #6 in Canada. It stalled at #22 in the U.S., but still got them a gold record. Worldwide sales topped three million, decent but far down from their big hits of the late-’70s and 1980. The Game, for instance sold more than double that. The band’s manager, not to be confused with Mercury’s own, called it “a disaster.”

Sadly for American fans, the album’s limited appeal might have kept them from going to see Queen when they toured for it. As it turned out, it would be the last time Mercury would play shows on this continent, with their next one (and the last before he began to get ill from AIDS) being limited to Europe.

May 16 – Forgotten Gems : Jane Siberry

Well, the Texas heatwave is supposed to spread right the way to the Atlantic this week baking places from Lubbock to Long Island, nature’s impromptu way of saying “summer’s here!”. And with high schools getting out around this time, we can bet that a lot of people will be heading to whatever beach they can find, which brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem : “Mimi On the Beach.” The odd song was the masses introduction to the equally unusual Jane Siberry back in 1984.

With changeable hair styles and colors that seemed to originate from a base of Annie-style red, an eclectic style of dress that was the antithesis of the likes of Madonna and an obvious sense of humor, at the time some made an obvious comparison to another newcomer and called her “the Canadian Cyndi Lauper.” Soon though, it would become obvious that if comparisons were to be made, experimental femmes like Kate Bush or Laurie Anderson were more appropriate, although really Siberry was her own unique artist. As the Smith Center billed her, Jane is nothing if not “quirky, mysterious, spiritually inquisitive and fashionably avante garde.”

She grew up in the Toronto area, learning to play piano, then guitar by ear as a child. When she got to university, she says “I started out in music, but switched to science when I realized how much more interesting it was to study.” She got a degree in micro-biology, but sang her own brand of quirky folk music in cafes around the area on the side.

A 1981 indie release got her noticed, barely, in Canada and had her sign to the smallish but nationally-distributed Duke St. Records and the prestigious Wyndham Hill in the States. Her first release with them was No Borders Here, from which Mimi surfed in. Generally upbeat pop-new wave tunes, with Jane playing guitar and keyboards and a host of Toronto session musicians backing her (including her then boyfriend John Switzer who co-produced it with her on bass) , the tunes were catchy but what really made them stand out was her lyrics (as well as her multi-octave voice delivering them). Instead of “I love you so much” or “You went away, I’m sad” sorts of thoughts, she mused about things like self-important Yuppies (“Extra Executives”), or the lot of an actress-cum-waitress (“and I’d probably be famous now if I wasn’t such a good waitress!”) . She says “creativity is just inspiration, and I’m inspired everywhere I walk.”

Presumably she took a stroll down along her city’s lakeshore for this one, seeing the tanned jocks and bikini gals showing off for each other. “(It was) the first song where I had more to say than I could actually put in a song,” she told an interviewer recently, “so I put in two monologues, like bursts of color.”

The song runs over seven and a half minutes, so it’s doubtful she could have put in too much more; the label shortened it to about half that for the single and video. The latter became one of Much Music’s first homegrown Canadian hit videos as soon as it took to the cable listings, the single only hit #68 in her homeland but did get massive airplay on some alt rock or college stations. It also made her known enough for her next album, The Speckless Sky to be instantly popular and generate a legitimate hit single for her in “One More Colour.

Although that perhaps opened the door for her to international stardom, Siberry’s always marched to the beat of her own drums (one of the few instruments she hasn’t tackled on her records) and despite a reasonably popular duet with k.d. lang (“Calling All Angels”) in the ’90s, has seemingly steadfastly eschewed star status, so much so that in 2006 she changed her name to Issa, sold off most of her belongings and traveled.Of late, she’s back to Jane and puts out indie records periodically.