Friday, August 24, 2012

The Heart and Synthesized Soul of Yazoo: Still Beating After 30 Years

Yesterday while I was pondering the meaning of life, I totally overlooked the 30th anniversary of the release of a truly groundbreaking album, which, during one of the most momentous periods of my life (my first year in college), was, in part, the meaning of life. August 23, 1982 was not just any day. It was the one on which the UK duo Yazoo found synth-pop's pulse and made it throb more soulfully than ever with its groundbreaking Upstairs at Eric's opus.

Do you remember what you were doing that day? I don't. But I do recall all the major details of what was going on some five years later, the first time I actually heard Yazoo's music. As I did with so many so-called alternative bands of the early '80s (including the Cure, my all-time third favorite, and, come to think of it, the Smiths and R.E.M., my first and second), I didn't get into Yazoo until a few years late, since I spent 1980 to 1982 transitioning from my pure-country phase into my mainstream-pop phase.

I'll never forget my first time. It was late 1987, during my freshman year at the University of Florida, by which time, I was settling comfortably into my alternative-music phase. One night, I was hanging out with some friends at the Treehouse Apartments complex, when something stunningly beautiful broke through the chatter.

It was like the voice of an angel lingering in hell. As I listened closely to the quiet desperation, that smoldering loneliness, I could have sworn I could hear the singer's heart breaking.

"Who is this?" I asked.

"Yaz," one of my friends said, referring to the group the way it was known, for legal reasons, in the U.S.


"Yaz. You know, Alison Moyet? This is her old band."

The song: "Softly Over," the second track from You and Me Both, Yazoo's 1983 second and best album.

Ah, Alison Moyet! I knew her not so well -- mostly from her 1984 hit "Invisible." I adored that song, and I loved her then-hot-off-the-press 1987 version of "The Coventry Carol" on the first A Very Special Christmas album, but I had no idea her musical genius went so far back. She was barely 22 when You and Me Both came out. Can you imagine Taylor Swift, now 22, even approaching that level of depth and womanliness? "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is no "Nobody's Diary"!

By the time I'd bought Upstairs at Eric's and You and Me Both on vinyl a few days later at Hyde and Zeke Records, I was hooked: Alison Moyet was officially one of my favorite singers. That Christmas when I went to Atlanta to visit my mom, a longtime country music fan who regards George Jones and Charley Pride the way I do Moyet, I remember playing "Nobody's Diary" (the opening track and Top 3 UK single from You and Me Both) for her, trying to get her to hear the beauty in Yazoo.

The group didn't really get its due with Mom, and as I've pointed out several times on this blog, Moyet never really got her due in the U.S. She did, however, enjoy considerable success in her native UK, where "Nobody's Diary" and two Upstairs at Eric's singles, "Only You" and "Don't Go," were all Top 3 hits. 

My love affair with Moyet's voice and music continues to this day. Surprisingly, though, while Moyet and Vince Clark reunited and toured in 2008 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Yazoo's break up (how fun), I've never once (until now) considered the possibility of new Yazoo music. I'm not so sure I'd want it.

Let Vince Clarke mess with his one-album legacy with Depeche Mode. (He recently reunited with DM's Martin Gore for the first time since 1981's Speak and Spell for a series of EPs and the full-length album Ssss.) Allow Moyet to ride on solo, which she hasn't done nearly enough since 2007's The Turn, though she's insisted that new music is forthcoming. I wouldn't want them to get together and disrupt the perfect history that the twosome made in two years (1981 to 1983) and two albums. They remain three of the most glorious twos in the history of music.

My 5 Favorite Yazoo Songs

"Softly Over"

"Nobody's Diary"

"Goodbye Seventies"

"State Farm"

"Ode to Boy"

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