In-depth reviews of classic or neglected albums, mainly from the 1960s and 70s, plus a weekly newsletter featuring all the latest news, views and music. Artists covered include Beach Boys, Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dire Straits, Grateful Dead, Hollies, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Kinks, Nils Lofgren, Monkees, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Simon and Garfunkel, Small Faces, 10cc, The Who and Neil Young.
Friday, 4 July 2008
Review 91) Lulu "I'm A Tiger" (1988)
“A compilation on which Lulu proves she’s more than just a little girl living in a big man’s world, even if her heart still goes boom-bang-a-bang…”
The Boat That I Row/ Let’s Pretend/ I’m A Tiger/ Love Loves To Love Love/ Me The Peaceful Heart/ Boy/ Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me/ Bet Ya?/ To Sir With Love// Boom Bang-A-Bang/ Look Out/ Dreary Days And Nights/ Day Tripper/ Best Of Both Worlds/ Morning Dew/ Rattler/ Sad Memories/ March (UK tracklisting for original album. The expanded CD re-issue also includes the tracks To Love Somebody, You And I, Can’t Go Onand Are You Ready For Love?while also messing around with the running order)
ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES
For The Record:
Ones to watch out for:The Boat That I Row, Let’s Pretend, I’m A Tiger, Love Loves To Love, To Sir With Love, Dreary Days and Nights
Ones to skip: Without doubt Eurovision joint-winner Boom Bang A Bang is the worst blot on the record, possessing none of the wit, intelligence or strong ideas of the other songs here, with Lulu simply boom-bang-a-banging through the most basic song she ever had to sing.
The cover: Depends which version you have (there have been several variations on this album over the years) but they pretty much all share the shame basic theme – a photo of Lulu either singing or smiling or (on the CD version) doing both at the same time.
Key lyrics: “I don’t hang around with the local crowd, I don’t dig what’s in so I guess I’m out” “I look like a little girl, living in a big man’s world, but you’ll never tame this child, she likes running wild, you won’t cage me in, just stick around see the fun begin” “Some people live within the world and some people live without it, some people got to whisper their love and some they got to shout it, one thing they all got in common is they sure know a lot about it, everyone needs it, has it or holds it but as to me I doubt it!” “How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” “Got a good reason for taking the easy way out, got a good reason for taking the easy way out now,he was a day tripper, Sunday driver yeah-yeah-yeah, it took me so-o-o-o-o-o-o long to find out, but I found out” “Make your fickle mind up, I won’t stay while you enjoy best of both worlds”
Singles: What track wasn’t a single on this album?! Tiger is really more of a mid-60s Mickie Most-era mopping up exercise than an album proper, but all the better for it. Annoyingly, the hideous Boom-Bang-Bang-a-Bang is not only the best seller on this album, it’s still the best known of Lulu’s tracks included here (contractual reasons means there’s no sign of Lulu’s true biggest seller Shout on this LP, which is a shame but then it was three years old when this album came out and not really indicative of Lulu’s middle-period style. Americans will also know To Sir With Love really well as it made #1 over there – but in Britain it never even came out as an A-side).
Original UK Chart Position: This compilation DNC, despite the budget price and everything. Surprisingly, the Love Loves To Love Lulu album (1967) on which most of this compilation is based didn’t chart either (none of Lulu’s albums ever did until 1971 and then it was a compilation).
Availability: You might have to track this one down on vinyl or cassette, I’m afraid – the old CD version seems to be long gone. However, you can get hold of tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 16 as part of the 1967 album Love Loves To Love Lulu, with the additional tracks You and I (ordinary) and Bee Gees cover To Love Somebody (exquisite) both of which are also included on the short-lived expanded CD of I’m A Tiger but not the original album that most of us have. The other tracks here (ie 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 17 and 18) were only released as A and B sides and appear sometimes together, sometimes separately, on a myriad of Lulu compilations. STOP PRESS: To Sir With Love – The Mickie Most Recordings 2CD package came out while this site was being made and it’s a pretty fair selection of recordings from this era, nearly but not quite featuring all the tracks available here. Sadly the much ballyhooed rarities seem to be mainly made up of European-language versions of Boom-Bang-A-Bang, so nothing here to set the pulse racing.
Official out-takes: As a compilation, there aren’t any out-takes as such, but you can now get several different language versions of Boom Bang-A-Bang on the Lulu/Mickie Most collection To Sir With Love (2007). Tracks from the Most-produced record Lulu’s Album are conspicuous by their absence on this best-of too.
This album came between:These recordings, if not this album, came straight afterLulu (1966):a fairly decent cross between Motown pop and Merseybeat and the singer’s voice is never this raw and powerful again, although the songs are a bit the same throughout. Highlight: Lulu and band get funky on That’s Really Some Good; Follow up recordings as featured on Lulu’s Album (1968) are largely abysmal despite being produced by Mickie Most once more, although it does have its highlights such as the funky Gimme Some Loving and I Started A Joke, one of the better Bee Gees covers around, co-written by Lulu’s then-husband Maurice Gibb.
Line-up: Lulu with various (produced by Mickie Most)
Putting The Album In Context:
IN THE early stages of making this website, those around me were forever being pounced on when they looked in the slightest bit bored of what they were doing and cajoled into taking a gander at the early listings for the album archive website. Admittedly, most of those who saw the list in its early stages backed away from me slowly going ‘leave me alone, I don’t have a clue what a CSN is, why the dead should be grateful or why floyds have to be painted pink’. However, the few who were either too polite or even – dare I say it – vaguely interested in what their mad friend or relation was working on tended to single out this album and go ‘why on earth have you got that album on there and is it a misprint?’ Well, in short, no it isn’t and in true album archives style I’m going to prove to the world just what an under-rated, varied and ridiculously mature set this album is, especially given that Lulu was still a teenager when most of these recordings came out the first time round.
There’s no getting away from it, despite recording an album of duets with trendy singers and appearing on the tail-end of a best selling Take That single, Lulu’s reputation has fallen drastically since the late 60s (come to think of it, these two projects may have had something to do with that fall). However, if you’d shown a fan this list 40-odd years ago they’d have probably a) have said ‘what’s a website’ and treated you as an alien being from another galaxy and then b) sagely nodded, said something about Lulu having a voice that resembled paint stripper and asked when was her new rock single coming out because it was the sort of thing you used to look forward to in those days. Lulu was the darling of the early beat boom, scoring her first bold and sassy hit Shout at the tender age of 15 and was felt by more than one rock superstar of the day to be ‘one of us’, with the likes of Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend taking her under their wing in her early days and recognizing in her one of the greatest rock and roll female voices of the age. Sadly, Lulu caught ‘all round entertainer’ syndrome, that most painful of celebrity illnesses, which like a disease ended up rubbing off Lulu’s raw edges with a diet of bland pop records, a TV presenting job and even an exercise record or three. Lulu isn’t alone – Cilla Black wasted her promising talent in much the same way, although at least she has yet to release a ‘keep fit’ video - but Lulu possessed the most hard rocking female voice on the planet circa 1965 and her lapse into drudgeville in the years since is all the more depressing because back in the mid-60s she wasn’t just good, she was great.
Thanks to the arrival of new producer Mickie Most, Lulu had even found a second creative life once all of the early hysteria in her career had calmed down, making by far her most sophisticated records in the 1966-68 period discussed here. She might not mention it much today, even in her rather schizophrenic autobiography, but these few now largely forgotten years with Most were by far the happiest of Lulu’s career in professional terms, scoring her hit after hit and establishing her as a fine controlled vocalist rather than simply a charismatic screamer. Lulu was also happily married to Bee Gee Maurice Gibb at the time, an equally young and under-rated musician who sympathised with Lulu’s nostalgia for the family life she had to leave behind for stardom, even if he was sick of the sight of his own brothers. He too seemed to understand her artistic frustrations more than probably anybody had up until that time and its no real surprise that Lulu sounds far more confident in her range and vocal ability in this short but sweet period than she ever does again. Read Lulu’s autobiography I Don’t Wanna Fight and at first you are struck by Lulu’s charm, optimism and intelligence, something that made her the perfect pop star of the mid 60s, marketable without having to be changed in any slight way from her natural self. However, reading between the lines you see quite often how lonely Lulu was in her early career, a novice teenager far away from home in scary London, whisked away from poverty to stardom in the space of about five minutes and heavily frustrated that her Scottish family couldn’t join in her success more. Here, having finally built her own nest away from home with one of the brothers Gibb, Lulu sounds far more sure of herself and where she was going than before in her career and this quiet confidence shows in the recordings of this period, which show off a far greater vocal range and depth than her earlier Decca recordings.
Like many other teen sensations who break through early on in their career (Billie Piper and Britney Spears spring to mind), Lulu spent the early part of her career caught between the joy of finally breaking out of the humdrum life she thought she was stuck in forever – and her growing misery at the thought that she had simply swapped one prison for another self-built ‘pop’ one, a trap that left her stuck as what other people wanted her to be rather than being herself. What Mickie Most was able to do was select songs that, while being in no way autobiographical, at least allowed Lulu to tap into the emotional well she had been quietly growing, with her playing the parts of several stilllove-struck but decidedly ‘adult’ rather than ‘teenage’ characters. Even the schoolgirl of To Sir With Love seems to possess a maturity beyond her years, with Lulu enthusing the song with a melancholia of growing up that most wahey-school’s-out teenage singers can’t hope to express. The likes of Boat That I Row (‘I’m forging my own path’), I’m A Tiger (‘I’m not a little girl any more’) and Dreary Days and Nights (‘I can’t keep pretending I’m happy when I’m on my own’) seem to be spelling out the new-look Lulu’s message for her in a way that Billie Piper couldn’t (her own highly personal songs got quietly buried by her record company and only came out at the end of her dying career) and Britney Spears wouldn’t (so far, anyway, although give her time and she might surprise us). Apart from the glorious Shout, the over-rated David Bowie-produced The Man Who Sold The World and the slightly oddball come-back single Independence, all of Lulu’s best and most famous tracks are on this album and in truth this album is more of a mid-60s ‘A’ sides mopping up exercise than a collection of songs designed to be enjoyed as an album in its own right. No matter, these A and B sides taken from just 18 months of Lulu’s career (1966-68) still contain plenty of the sort of range and depth most singers would be proud of in a full 40-year career retrospective and for my money producer Mickie Most never again equals the taste he shows here with any of his former or later artists either.
Note: The CD edition contains four additional tracks not heard on the original album which aren’t dealt with here (suffice to say To Love Somebody – co-written by Lulu’s then husband and Bee Gee Maurice Gibb – is the highlight, while the other tracks are a bit ordinary. That CD re-issue also does something weird to the running order so apologies if you only know the CD issue and have to keep scrolling up and down to read the tracks in order. Quite why Music For Pleasure chose to do this I don’t know =- perhaps your best sticking your CD copy on random and I’ll try and keep up with you?!
Neil Diamond’s outsider anthem The Boat That I Row is a worthy start, catchy-but-deep with a singalong chorus to die for. One of the darkest and most original songs its well respected composer ever wrote, the song still sports such a catchy riff and expressive conga break-out in the mid-section that the song has found a new life being used on adverts, jingles and cable music station IDs. Starting off quietly, in contrast to Shout! and its sundry similar-sounding follow-ups, Lulu speak-sings the first part of the song, as if she is letting the listener in on a private conversation. With Neil Diamond’s narrator telling us that Lulu’s character no longer follows the crowd but goes where her heart takes her, it’s the perfect manifesto for Lulu mark #2, even with the decidedly poppy chorus that admits that she wants the love of her life to join her in the same ‘boat’ of forging your own identity. The song’s stately lick serves to make the track sound like some grand important statement and to emphasis the tightly controlled emotions running through most of the song, until finally gaining a release via the conga and organ outbreak during the solo. ‘I’m telling you this so that you know what I’m all about’ says Lulu on the final verse and what she’s about in 1967 is being mature and original thanks to this polished, carefully arranged, massively impressive song. Fittingly, its one of the better selling tracks on the album, reaching #6 in 1967.
Lulu is equally restrained in Let’s Pretend, a mature orchestral ballad that builds with every verse and is another one of those songs that reveals the singer’s emotions only in the louder parts of the song, restricting most of Lulu’s vocal to a quietly seductive, regretful tone. Like many of the songs on this album, there’s a sense of denial and a regret about the past in this song – sure that she can win her old flame over if she can only see him again, in her head Lulu’s narrator urges him to ‘pretend’ they never parted, even though both sides know deep down that the romance is over. Lulu’s desperate wail on the word ‘pretend’, spread out over several notes while the orchestral reaches a giant orgasmic climax of its own, is evidence of how far the little wee bairn’s voice had come in just three short years, now leaving the raw ‘shout’ until the dying embers of the song.
I’m A Tiger, long dismissed as a rather twee song thanks to the childish backing vocals and trumpeting brass, is if anything even better. The song’s narrator, like Lulu herself at times it must be said, cultivates a little girl lost image that wins her over much of her adoring her admirers, but is written off and under-estimated to her partners’ cost, hiding the real mature and quite capable self underneath. Indeed, like many of these songs, this is another good example of Lulu’s manifesto circa 1967: a sweet-looking little girl in a big rocker’s world, one who has been groomed to look cute until she opens her mouth and growls louder than the rest of them. The song has gained its reputation as one of Lulu’s lesser songs simply through the almost taking-the-mickey chords that run through the song which are, in truth, in danger of turning it into a nursery rhyme. Wait till the last verse however, when Lulu drops her little girl’s voice for some exploding menacing ba-ba-ba-bams which show us all what she can do before picking her twee voice right back up again and its clear that there is a greater mind at work on this song than on, say, Boom Bang-A-Bang. Interestingly, the choice of ‘tiger’ as a character-fit was also used by Abba’s Agnetha Faltskog (or by her writing colleagues Bjorn and Benny anyway) in the mid-70s and its tale of cute-cat-turned-snarling-predator seems equally apt there too. There’s also something quite infectious about the song’s riff, making Lulu’s ‘tiger-grr-girl’ variations quite ear-catching. The lines about not being ‘caged in’ by any lover also reiterate the sentiments of The Boat That I Row, for which this song was originally a B-side until picking up so much airplay it became an A-side in its own right, reaching a respectable #32 on word-of-mouth sales alone.
Love Loves To Love Love is freakbeat (ie frenetic) Lulu – not a style that would come to mind easily without hearing the song, but with some ridiculously complicated tongue-twisters rattled off at 100 miles an hour in-between a chanting Motown choir and a fierce dominating guitar riff its hard to know what else to call it. Over-polished by Lulu’s normal standards, this song strangely comes off sounding the most rocking and sparse track on the album thanks to the throaty yell that Lulu gives the vocal. The words might not mean much, if you can work out what they are in the first place, but this song’s dynamic switches of rhythm and ear-splitting power mean it deserved a better fate than ending up as a middling #9 chart entry in 1967.
Me, The Peaceful Heart is typical of its composer Tony Hazzard (who also penned the Hollies hit Listen To Me among others), but less typical of Lulu, rattling along amiably on some fast-tempo rhythms without giving the singer much of a chance to show off either her rocking vocals or her new-found emotional range. It’s still fine as pop songs of the era go, however, and the brass-adorned arrangement is a fine backing for this song about the narrator staying true, no matter how many times her loved one strays. A #15 hit from 1968, this is the point where Lulu’s sales begin slipping beyond control, a situation unchecked until David Bowie helps out in the mid-1970s.
Boy - not the Motown classic covered by Ringo on the Beatles’ Please Please Me album sadly, which was after all written for a girl group to sing - sounds like a hangover from the Decca days but more so, with its single shouted-word chorus, very 60s sounding organ lick and its almost dissonant use of multi-tracked Lulus. Not up to Shout!, but better than most of the material that had come Lulu’s way in the years since, its an average song made to sound much richer thanks to both another fine arrangement and Lulu’s gritty vocals, which make her sound like a female re-incarnation of John Lennon at his most Twist and Shout-ish. A #9 hit again from 1968.
Take Me In Your Arms and Love Me somehow manages to marry both the old and new sounds of Lulu, with the singer back to her bellowing best on a rather more sophisticated and complex song that grows on the listener after each hearing. Repeating the plea of Let’s Pretend by trying to attract her lover’s attention, Lulu’s narrator doesn’t seem sure whether to knock him over with words and finesse or bowl him over with her desperate emotions. In the end, it’s a draw, although the sheer schizophrenic emotions in this song would have probably had Lulu’s boyfriend running for the hills by the time she finished if this song was for real. This is the first non-single album track to come from the Love Loves To Love Lulu album by the way.
Bet Ya is a 1968 B-side and is so out of place on this album, it hurts. A return to the young teenage poppy days of 1965-66, it does its best to sound young and trendy and modern (hence the uncharacteristically ungrammatical title) – and fails. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard as for what it is this song is…OK and Lulu at least seem to enjoy returning to her younger self on this track (after all, Lulu was still a teenager when this song came out – its hard to forget that sometimes such is her amazing voice control already in this period, on the next track especially). Interestingly, there is no composer credit given for this song on my copy of this album – is this a simple mistake (it is a budget MFP compilation after all, when its almost obligatory to have a mistake in there somewhere) or is the writer just too embarrassed to put his name to it?
To Sir With Love rounds out the side on a classic Don Black song about growing up and leaving childhood behind and was a last-minute addition to a Sidney-Poiter/Lulu film in which the singer is admirably good considering she’d never done this acting malarkey before, even if her character’s sudden transformation from unfocussed trouble-maker to poignant nostalgist seems a tad too sudden. In the film the song’s role just before the end credits is quite specific – ‘terra teach and thanks for all the fish, all them lesson type things will come in handy some day you know, wahey school’s out for summer!’ Separated from the film though, its clear that Black and co-writer Mark London filled much more than their Hollywood brief, writing a timeless song about departures not just from classroom teachers but all of those who act as mentors in our lives and encourage us to grow. Giving us the back story of how her teacher took her ‘from telling tales and biting nails’, Lulu’s narrator finds new courage in the things that she has been taught, adding that while the future won’t be easy, at least she is prepared for it now and wondering how she could ever repay the service she will benefit from the whole of her life. Lulu’s soaring vocal, seemingly floating her way through the song’s complicated melody-line as if she is sleep-singing rather than giving the song her fully conscious thoughts, is a classic mix of heart-breaking emotion and restraint, timing her final build-up to the last crescendo perfectly (although like much of the album, Mickie Most probably had more than a hand in that). Just contrast this glorious version with the limp karaoke style re-tread sung as a duet with Samantha Mumba on Lulu’s album Together (2002) to hear what a talent the music world has lost now the singer seems to have given up trying even though her voice is still as strong as it ever was. Perhaps Lulu should have listened to her old teacher after all?
Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. In the space of a turning a record or a cassette over (or a few seconds if you are lucky enough to own a CD copy) Lulu seems to have lost all traces of talent. Sigh, yes its BoomBang A Bang, one of those songs that seems to be a compulsory addition to pretty much any Lulu compilation whether its suitable or not (usually not). At least this song does belong here chronologically as amazingly this 1969 competition entry is indeed part and parcel of the singer’s Mickie Most years – albeit not of either the producer’s or the singer’s choosing. Our worst and most annoying Eurovision entry since, erm, the equally gormless Congratulations from the year before, this song dates from the era when the powers that be had already decided that Lulu was going to represent the UK in the contest – what the public had to decide wasn’t the performer but the song. To be fair on the great British public of 1969, most of the entries that year were pretty awful from what I’ve heard, even with Lulu there to sing them and despite what you may think from this entry I actually quite enjoy Eurovision entries on the whole (even if the Netherlands’ and Malta’s consistently great material seems to be denied victory every single year despite being musically heads and shoulders above the rest). It’s probably an apocryphal story, but Lulu is allegedly meant to have told her manager after learning the songs ‘I don’t care which of them win – except for Boom Bang-A-Bang of course, but that won’t win because nobody in their right mind is going to vote for that!’
Oh dear. You can sympathise with Lulu’s reasons for taking part in Eurovision - she was at the time trying to win over the BBC and get her own music show after all - and to be fair she did win (one of four joint winners that year, the only time in the contest’s history that more than one song came first). But no, no, no, no, no, no: Lulu is at her best when she’s expressing deep emotions from her heart; every time she tries to become a sort of every-woman singer/TV presenter without any redeeming ‘character’ to play in a song it all goes wrong for her. In Lulu’s autobiography she agrees with a statement from Pete Townshend that she was ‘felt by us 60s rockers to be one of us’ and then talks about how great Boom Bang A Bang was for her career, almost in the same page. Great for her career in the 60s the song may have been – 40 years on it sounds like it sent her down totally the wrong path and even now Lulu has yet to recover from the harm it caused her in the long term national psyche.
Look Out isn’t as bad, but somehow its not quite right either. A short barnstorming rocker, it seems to be of one with the ‘return to rock but with better sound’ recordings released by Lulu’s friends and contemporaries (ie the Beatles’ Lady Madonna and the Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash). Lulu doesn’t seem to have much to say other than warning us or maybe herself of problems in a relationship, but trying to shout her problems away probably wasn’t the best medicine for her to take.
Dreary Days and Nights, however,is another classy song from the pen of Mark London. Lulu really brings out the best in the song’s sighing verses and really does sound as if she’s only just keeping things together throughout. The verses don’t follow a natural path as such, sounding as if the narrator is unsure of herself and questioning every single turn she makes, making for a suitably eerie and frustrated counterpart to the bright and breezy chorus on which Lulu’s narrator sounds as if she is dead sure of what she wants. Against all odds, she even successfully climbs an octave above her naturally high range for the final dying notes of the song, letting the recording end on a very self-questioning tone. A perfect match between singer and song, just see what Lulu can do when provided with some classy material.
We have already touched loosely on Lulu’s credentials with the rock or at least the heavy end of the ‘pop’ world. Paul McCartney in particular has always had strong links with Lulu, guesting on her one and only 1990s TV presenting pilot (a shambolic appearance at an aborted National Lottery spin-off programme called Red Alert in 1999), duetting on a bizarre re-make of an old Wings classic Let ‘Em In retitled Inside Thing (released on Lulu’s Together album of 2002) and even as recently as New Year’s Day 2008 the pair sang together on one of those interminable Jools Holland Hootenany things that seem to last a year in themselves. Lulu’s cover of the 1966 and nowadays strangely neglected Beatles classic (well, neglected for a Beatles A-side anyway) Day Tripper might well be where she first caught Macca’s attention, thanks to another masterstroke of arranging work by Mickie Most and friends. Keeping the song’s cheeky verve and it’s heavily fuzzed guitar riff, Lulu’s version still manages to make the song sound completely different to the original, thanks to slowing down the iconic riff to half-speed (making it sound even more menacing in the process) and doubling the time of the main part of the song, making the words fall out in a jumble of desperation and making this cover sound far more ‘emotional’ and raucous than the finely-tuned original. If in truth Lulu hadn’t yet mastered the art of rocking with finesse as Lennon and McCartney had and though she seems to have surprisingly little grasp of this song’s meaning (its actually a dismissive song about being fully committed when a partner - either in society or in love – makes it clear they are only enjoying a passing whim and, probably, another Beatles drugs reference laughing at ‘weekend hippies’ who held a 9-5 job in their working week), her vocal is still ear-catchingly charismatic, sensibly replacing the original’s icy coolness and with-held tension with some pure rock yelling. The only ‘mistake’ in this version, if you like, is the annoying five note horn riff, an annoyingly twee addition to what is otherwise a decent and surprisingly heavy version of a still under-rated song.
Best Of Both Worlds then finds Lulu doing the complete opposite: moaning moodily a la Scott Walker, probably not a coincidence seeing that Mr Engel’s recording from Scott Two is still the best known version of the song (Lulu might not have heard her TV-show rival’s version till afterwards however – both recordings were released just weeks apart in 1968). The two versions of this Don Black/Mark London song use pretty much the same arrangements and would be near enough identical were it not for the fact that the two vocalists have voices that are naturally about five octaves apart from each other! One of the best examples of how both singers approached their work, Lulu hasn’t yet got the age and experience behind her that Scott Walker had (not that he was all that much older) and can’t quite tackle this song’s devastating decision of the narrator telling her lover to choose between her and another, but she still performs the song well, with plenty of chances to show off her new-found ability to switch gears from great emotion to cold indifference. A highlight of both singers’ catalogues, this is more fine material being immaculately sung and full marks to Mickie Most for the sensitive and surprisingly adult arrangement – most producers would surely have ‘dumbed down’ this sort of material for a younger singer.
Morning Dew, a song perhaps better known to list-loving fans as a Grateful Dead cover, treads a similar line between subdued eerie bewilderment and sudden bursts of passion. This classic folk song was written by its composers Rose and Dobson after watching the 1959 cold war film On The Beach, a film that pretty much sets the tone for the decade to follow with its depictions of mankind blowing each other up and its messages of peace and the our-leaders-are-all-out-of-control paranoia (the film also inspired a complete Neil Young album of the same name in 1973– err, so we’re told by Neil in interviews anyway, the album could be about anything in truth!) However, as anti-war pro-peace warnings go this one is a very surreal take on the subject, having more in common with the Searchers’ cover of What Have They Done With The Rain? than All You Need Is Love or Give Peace A Chance. Most of the dozens of cover versions of this composition go for stark beauty as cold as the ravaged future world the film depicts, but for this version Mickie Most makes the song sound like a fist-beating anthem, emphasising the heavy beating of nervous human hearts awaiting their outcome in the future, albeit one that’s held together by a lick featuring a ghostly xylophone and some ominous whackings on a kettle drum. Lulu’s vocal is delicious throughout, sounding in alternate verses shocked, afraid and defiant about the unnecessary march of devolution mankind seems to be following, although like all versions of this song a puzzle still remains: why - with so much of mother nature to miss – is the narrator most hit by the loss of seeing a ‘morning dew’? Or is this is a metaphor for being in the ‘beginning of the end’ rather than the ‘end of the beginning’ of his evolution that the word ‘morning’ would imply?
After such fine material, hopes are high for Lulu ending the set on a handful of absolute gems but – like a lot of albums on this list, so it seems – the Mickie Most years close out on some very ordinary material. If this compilation was chronological it would be easy to guess that both artist and producer were simply getting bored – but in actual fact these next two songs fit snugly around the middle of these releases. Rattler is one of the album’s subdued ‘growers’, offering up more on each playing, but this sad tale of trying to get home on a horse and cart quickly in answer to some bad news never quite has the emotional impact it deserves and its clever clip-clop beat palls after a while without any stylistic variation. Lulu also sounds mentally as if she was busy thinking about what to have for lunch that day and not concentrating on the emotion in the song at all, for once totally missing the appetising carrot of the will-he-have-sent-me-a-life-changing-reply-yet that could have been dangling before her eyes and our ears. At least the orchestral arrangement is nice, even if they don’t get an awful lot to do, and the sighing strings and clipping horse-hoofs make this sound like a melancholic re-arrangement of the theme tune from rag-and-bone men favourite Steptoe And Son. Despite its promise, Rattler is forever doomed to, well, rattle along without anybody really taking notice of it, especially coming after a run of such classics.
Sad Memories is even more bizarre. A song of contrasts in the style of a Ray Davies or a Paul Simon track but lacking either man’s wit or originality, its simply a song about feeling sad dressed up to sound happy because the narrator wants us to think she is happy even though we can tell she is really sad. With one of those really annoying chorus phrases that has no proper resolution and is therefore guaranteed to rattle around your head for days afterwards, it might have made an OK filler track at another point in the album – coming here at the end its simply irritating. Lulu also sounds as if she’s completely out of her depth with this happy-go-lucky song and interestingly sounds far more at home on the seriously melancholy tracks on the album than the halfway houses like this one.
Closer March also has the unfortunate status of being the most sexist, dated song on possibly the whole of this list, even if it is meant to be a feminist song down-trodding males rather than the other way round. Hearing Lulu do her best to sound like a war general at the start of the song is worth a quick laugh, but her girly attempts to get her boyfriend to fall in line behind her because she’s got him wrapped around her little finger is just too embarrassing to work. The tune is also Boom Bang-A-Bang by a different name – what idiot thought we needed another version of that irritating song? – and its I’m-in-charge-because-I-say-so demands just sounds so blatantly wrong when compared to the let-me-live-how-I-want feminist messages of The Boat That I Row and I’m A Tiger.
Oh well never mind, at least most of this album was good, its just that like most of Lulu’s patchy material this record ends up being a frustrating waste of talent that comes so close to being perfect, with tracks of such sublime brilliance separating the mistakes that you can’t quite believe how badly Lulu/Most could get it wrong at times. I can’t be the only person to think that Lulu’s got soul – Mickie Most didn’t exactly go easy on her with some of this material and when the music really does ask her to give it a fine performance she came up trumps, scoring several chart hits and an awful lot of public goodwill along the way. I must concede that on the rockier points of this album my colleagues may have had a point about this album’s suitability for this list – but hearing those first few magical bars of I’m A Tiger, the breakout riff on The Boat That I Row or the passionate singing on To Sir With Love and how could I not include this album, no matter how ropey some of these other tracks are. My copy of I’m A Tiger is now a battered old friend that’s been played to death and returned to several times, even if the fast-forward button is never far away when I’m playing it. There’s more than a lot of depth and more than a bit of talent here and despite the mistakes this is a great reminder of those far-gone days when you really did feel pleased to hear that Lulu had a new album coming out because you hoped, just hoped, that all the talent and promise would be followed through right to the end. Even so, this album comes very close and I wouldn’t be without it for the world.
**Note: There is no definitive reference to the month this album came out that I can find, although some websites variously list it as March, August and October 1989. Rather than give a false date, I’ve simply left it blank but will update this missing information if I ever do find out more.