Some musical artists, despite their great talent, never seem to break through to fame. They produce superior music for years, but never become stars. This was certainly a case for Joan Armatrading, who was successful enough in her base in the UK, but never became the name she richly deserved to be in the US.
She was born in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Kitts and moved to Birmingham in the UK when she was seven. When she was 14, she started writing her own songs and lyrics, picking them out on the family’s piano. Eventually, she got a guitar and began to write more material, starting to appear in local clubs. Eventually, she joined up with lyricist Pam Nestor to release her first album, Whatever’s For Us in 1972.
The album didn’t make much of a splash. She soon split from Nestor and wrote all her own lyrics. Back to the Night was released as a solo and didn’t create many ripples, either, but her third was the charm. Joan Armatrading went gold, and her single “Love and Affection” made the UK charts.
Her songs were a eclectic mix of folk, blues, Caribbean styles, and rock. He voice had a good range, but she generally sung in the mezzo-soprano range, her lower voice making her singing more intimate. She wrote about love and relationships is ways you often didn’t see.
She followed up with Show Some Emotion, whose title tune is just one more wonderful moment. It started making inroads into the US market, but the next, a live album Steppin’ Out did not chart.*
Her next effort, Me Myself I, was her most successful effort, with the title song a minor UK hit. She continued to record, going gold and silve in the UK, but never making a mark on the US except in underground station.
But it’s not her albums that make her great. It’s her songs – some not even released as singles.
Love and Affection
I just love the opening lines.
Drop the Pilot
And the delightfully perverse rocker Call Me Names**
Armatrading’s career peaked in the 1980s and she stopped appearing on the charts. She had a revival in 2007 with the blues album Into the Blues, which hit #1 on the blues charts, and she continues to perform and record today.
She is certainly appreciated in the UK, where she’s been named an MBE, but only a relatively small number of people in the US know of her and appreciate what a fine talent she is.
*In the UK, all these albums made the top 20.
**Listening to it carefully for this entry, I realized that the first person sections of the song are from the point of view of the man.