29
Jun 09

PAUL YOUNG – “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”

FT + Popular52 comments • 5,225 views

#524, 23rd July 1983, video

In the mid-90s I worked in the Music And Video Exchange chain in Notting Hill Gate. Paul Young’s No Parlez holds a special place in my affections from those years – not because we ever knowingly played it, but because it was the undisputed number one landfill vinyl “penny each for these, mate” champ. Browsing the 20p albums down in that malodorous Pembridge Road basement, it seemed like every fourth flick would bring you face to face with Paul’s teased-up hair, quizzical expression and sweaty leather suit.

The collective rush to jettison a record tells you something about that record: not that it’s bad, necessarily, but that it’s served its purpose. Whatever need Paul Young fulfilled in 1983-4 was, ten years later, a need no longer: the Young-shaped hole in his audience’s lives had closed up. Why and how? The easy analysis is to say that Young’s music had only ever been furniture, a “lifestyle accessory” in the sneer of the day.

And “Wherever I Lay My Hat” doesn’t do much to duck this charge: Pino Palladino’s notorious fretless bass playing – accompanied by the gentlest brushing of percussive pops – creates so much space in the track that it doesn’t feel so much arranged as designed. The bass here isn’t music: it’s lighting, meant to put Young’s throaty burr in as attractive a setting as possible.

What’s remarkable, though, is how effective it is, even now we know all the tricks and see all the joins. Palladino’s playing may not sound classy these days, but it does sound really odd: a viscous ambient sludge which leaves Young’s self-justifying growl naked, more vulnerable and raw than it deserves to be. The flushes of keyboard colour play a similar illusionary role – sketching the outline of a stronger tune than this recording of “Hat” actually contains. And this ends up a track rescued from contempt, a lot stronger than I’d ever imagined it was.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Rory on 30 Jun 2009 #

    I remember Ian “Molly” Meldrum, the compere of Australia’s TOTP-equivalent Countdown, being unusually enthusiastic about this, but I’m not sure if that was relative to his usual level of enthusiasm for new releases (which always hovered around 9.8 out of 10) or to my own surprise that anyone could be enthusiastic about such a limp record. The bass was just too lugubrious, and I never really saw the appeal of Young’s vocal. All hat and no cattle, as them Texans say.

    Worse, no matter how bouffant his hair, Young seemed like just some bloke, and being everyman didn’t work in his favour; pop stars should surely be larger than life. How did we get from Adam Ant to this so quickly? The same couldn’t have been said of many acts of the preceding few years, not even Sting, but Young headed a veritable parade of Blokes of Pop (*cough*RickAstley). Okay, maybe Phil Collins got there first, but at least he’d been in a Proper Band.

    This was and is pretty much the definition of average for me. 5.

  2. 27
    wichitalineman on 30 Jun 2009 #

    Spare a thought for Sad Cafe singer Paul Young, whose post-Cafe solo career was scuppered once this hit.

  3. 28
    Martin Skidmore on 30 Jun 2009 #

    I wouldn’t want to give this a lot of praise, but I always quite admired the fact that it changes the mood greatly from the original – Marvin is bragging about this and sounding as if he is enjoying himself, helped by very jaunty horns, even by Motown standards. Paul puts in loads more melancholy and underplays the bragging aspects. Good for him, but the end result is still a dull record.

  4. 29
    LondonLee on 30 Jun 2009 #

    I always thought Marvin’s version (I can call him “Marvin” can’t I?) sounded like Motown doing a ska record.

  5. 30
    Erithian on 30 Jun 2009 #

    I’ll post another vote in favour of the bass, and of the record generally – one of the best of the year, and a fine voice giving the song a distinguished treatment. I remember thinking Streetband sounded a bit like Ian Dury, and it was a pleasant surprise when Young stepped out from making cars or whatever he was doing to use a warm white-soul voice to highly profitable effect. There’s room for everyblokes and larger-than-life stars at the same time, and Paul was good to have around (a special shout for “Love of the Common People” which worked beautifully in the reworking he gave it).

    As for Pino, in the words of Cozy Powell, “the bass man he don’t cop for no glamour”, so it’s good for them to step forward now and again. Summer ’83 was not far behind ’76 weather-wise, and that bass line was one of the signature sounds of the summer – lazing on the grass listening to that and the riff on “Long Hot Summer”… and, er, “Wings of a Dove”. My, some great records out as the sun shone. Mind you, sorry all you soulboys but I thought “IOU” was shallow, repetitive shite.

    Rory, wasn’t “Molly” Meldrum the bloke who had a severe case of starstruck tongue-tie when he was supposed to be interviewing Prince Charles one time in the early 70s? It gets shown on blooper shows now and again. Poor bloke – a bit rough for that to be the only thing you’re known for half the world away, but still…

  6. 31
    Rory on 30 Jun 2009 #

    That’s the one, Erithian. He had a lot more tongue-tied moments than that one, but the ABC’s equivalent of wiping all the early Doctor Whos was wiping old Countdowns, so a lot of them were reduced to memory. But YouTube still has a few gems – here’s one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRdMatLhCsI

    I’ll give you “Love of the Common People”, which I much preferred to this.

  7. 32
    David Belbin on 30 Jun 2009 #

    Ah but ‘Love of the common people’ has an unsurpassable original whereas, I’m with Lee on this, the PY version is superior in every sense to MG’s, although it goes off at the end. Great arrangement and Young makes the lyric into a confession of the shallowness of the lifestyle it portrays. An interesting version, nice bass (from a guy who, 20 years later, would join The Who) and the shining moment in a journeyman career.

  8. 33
    wichitalineman on 30 Jun 2009 #

    It’s the reverse of I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down which, in the hands of Ann Peebles, was subtly menacing, with maybe the greatest minimalist-soul Hi production. PY makes it into an orchestral-stab fest with nasty domestic beating overtones. Not a song for Everybloke.

    Does anyone out there prefer “Marvin”‘s version of ‘Hat?

  9. 34
    Mark M on 30 Jun 2009 #

    Re 33: Yes, I prefer the Marvin version, and I’m not a big fan of his at all (I can’t stand What’s Going On).

    I do think it’s worth lingering on soul’s imposing place in British popular culture as the mid-80s rolled in.

  10. 35
    LondonLee on 30 Jun 2009 #

    I remembered PY’s version of ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ last night, I think I quite liked it but that’s definitely a case where the original is the killer.

    I hated ‘IOU’ too. Awful, annoying record, not a patch on ‘Southern Freeze’

  11. 36
    LondonLee on 30 Jun 2009 #

    Re #34. I’m trying to remember when the Levi 501s ads started. It must have been after soul had been granted street cred by The Face and NME otherwise the ad guys wouldn’t have bought into it.

    I remember a mate of mine buying an Al Green compilation back then – because it seemed the thing to do now he’d bought his own house and was having dinner parties – complaining to me that all the songs sounded the same.

  12. 37
    Billy Smart on 30 Jun 2009 #

    #31 Aha! But what ‘original’ of ‘Love Of The Common People’ are you thinking of? Nicky Thomas may have had the hit, but The Everley Brothers had an amazing version as early as 1967.

    Both are about fifty times better than Paul Young’s interpretation.

  13. 38
    will on 30 Jun 2009 #

    Wherever I Lay My Hat sort of washed over me, but the two follow ups, Come Back And Stay and the aforementioned Love Of The Common People, were much better. If only for the two women who were Young’s backing singers at the time and their hilarious counter vocals (‘Did-you-write-the-book-of-love?’) I wonder what happened to them.

  14. 39
    lonepilgrim on 30 Jun 2009 #

    ♯38 Weren’t the singers known as the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts or am I confusing them with someone else?

  15. 40
    Snif on 1 Jul 2009 #

    “♯38 Weren’t the singers known as the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts or am I confusing them with someone else?”

    They were, and i agree that they were the best things about the song.

  16. 41
    Kit on 1 Jul 2009 #

    “But YouTube still has a few gems – here’s one:”

    Ah bless, that rip’s down to my playing the clip when they toured last year. (Dude also stalked me to the Ghostface show last week, it seems.) Molly’s uncharacteristically *coherent* there though!

  17. 42
    pink champale on 1 Jul 2009 #

    #25, #28 blimey, so i was exactly right in imagining upthread what the marvin gaye original might sound like – well done me!

  18. 43
    ace inhibitor on 2 Jul 2009 #

    Landfill status still holds. Walking past a charity shop in Dundee, this lunchtime, sure enough – ‘No Parlez’ was on display in the window. I don’t mind this at all, but the video is pretty terrible. stop fiddling with your nasty pink tie, paul!

  19. 44
    Tom on 3 Jul 2009 #

    (BTW the current lack of updates isn’t because I expect anyone else to have anything to say about Paul Young!)

  20. 45
    Billy Smart on 3 Jul 2009 #

    Everybody wants you, Tom!

  21. 46
    Erithian on 3 Jul 2009 #

    John Lennon said in 1965 that he often thought about what he’d do if there were 48 hours in a day, only to find that the extra 24 hours filled up pretty quickly as well. Having kids, especially new ones, is a bit like that – so take your time Tom and enjoy it!

  22. 47
    wichita lineman on 3 Jul 2009 #

    K-Tel watch: end of an era. The last pre-Now! comp was Headline Hits, in a truly a sleeve that applied make-up to everyone, even KC. And Jimmy The Hoover. A pretty upbeat selection, which includes some (very) old timers – Rocky Sharpe? The Chi Lites?? Kenny Lynch??? – as well as the Lotus Eaters’ definition of indie/major crossover.

    Side 1
    Give It Up – KC & The Sunshine Band
    First Picture Of You – The Lotus Eaters
    Wherever I Lay My Hat – Paul Young
    Come Dancing – The Kinks
    Boogie Nights – Lafleur
    Fool For You – Julie Roberts
    Walking In The Rain – Modern Romance
    Nobody’s Diary – Yazoo
    Tantalise (Wo Wo Ee Yeh Yeh) – Jimmy The Hoover
    Watching – Thompson Twins

    Side 2
    IOU – Freeez
    Everything Counts – Depeche Mode
    (She’s Sexy And 17 – Stray Cats
    Changing For You – Chi Lites
    Half The Day’s Gone And We Haven’t Earned A Penny – Kenny Lynch
    Stop Please Stop – Rocky Sharpe & The Replays
    The Walk – The Cure
    Down Among The Dead Men – Flash & The Pan
    Freak – Bruce Foxton
    Wait Until Tonight (My Love) – Galaxy featuring Phil Fearon

  23. 48
    peter goodlaws on 11 Jul 2009 #

    The Toast geezer’s version of this couldn’t have been more different from Marvin’s, which despite the sombre lyric is surprisingly jolly and sounds a bit like a wind-up to me – especially the girly chorus. For me, Paul Young had to be the dullest artist of the period and this is a colourless performance, which quite frankly I had forgotten all about.

  24. 49
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    I am glad you mentioned the terrifying fretless bass line on this. I think someday someone should release a compilation called “The Magic of Fretless Bass”. Or “All Your Fretless Bass Are Belong To Us”.

    I remember when this came out, people talked about how it was soul music. I had no idea what this meant, and thought it was something to do with either Young being a god-botherer (not obvious from the lyrics) or else this “soul” business just indicated that he meant it, maaaan.

    For years I believed that Paul Young was Gary Glitter’s son.

  25. 50
    MichaelH on 26 Jun 2013 #

    I tend to think Paul Young’s appeal was based on as much as his evident likeability as his records. Comparing him to the other suburban hitmakers – Spandau, Duran, Wham – he seemed utterly content with being a suburban bloke, not forcing himself into a context for which he was unsuited (and his biggest hits – familiar songs, but not ones that had been hammered into the ground, seemed to complement that persona). Even his shiny suits looked like they’d been bought from the market rather than knocked up by a designer. You could imagine him eating a KitKat, which you couldn’t with Le Bon, even if Le Bon looked like he ate plenty of KitKats.

    At the time, I wasn’t bothered one way or the other by his music, but if I stumble over them now I’m always pleasantly surprised, especially by this and Come Back and Stay. Lots of talk about Pino Palladino’s bass, but without it this record loses one of its big distinctive sounds. And, to this day, any music lover in their 40s or above thinks of Pino in the same moment as Paul, so clearly it was effective.

    The less said about PY’s versions of Love Will Tear Us Apart and A Soldier’s Things, the better. Though fair play to him for not being conservative in his song choices.

  26. 51
    punctum on 16 Mar 2014 #

    TPL stands up for No Parlez as misunderstood art rock masterpiece. I know quite a few people have been waiting for this one: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/paul-young-no-parlez.html

  27. 52
    hectorthebat on 19 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 27
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 23

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