All-Time Albums: #30


SUZANNE VEGA Solitude Standing

1 Tom’s Diner (UK single, #58)
Luka (UK single, #23)
3 Ironbound/Fancy Poultry
In The Eye 
5 Night Vision
Solitude Standing (UK single, #79)
7 Calypso
9 Gypsy (UK single, #77)
10 Wooden Horse (Casper Hauser’s Song)
11 Tom’s Diner (Reprise)


Pale and interesting young female singer/songwriters from New York (though she was born in California, Wiki tells me) were not particularly in fashion when Vega’s debut album arrived in 1985. Word of mouth spread slowly but steadily, thanks to TV appearances (usually performing her then-signature tune Marlene On The Wall) and by the start of 1986, singles like Small Blue Thing were beginning to nudge the Top 40. Marlene On The Wall would eventually make #21, and a song in the film Pretty In Pink further aided her profile, so much so that by the time of Solitude Standing’s release in April 1987, she was a big enough draw to debut at #2.

Luka became an unlikely and unexpected US Top 3 smash that summer, but represented an exception to her chart fortunes there. In Britain, she could be relied upon to land somewhere between #20 and #80 on the singles listings. Albums (and tours) were her strongest suit, Solitude Standing immediately becoming the CD to own during the first half of 1987.

A common theme with many of my so-called ’80s favourites is that I wasn’t all that taken with them at first (Swing Out Sister, Johnny Hates Jazz, Public Enemy, Everything But The Girl). Somehow I’d fallen into the trap of assuming Suzanne Vega was a worthy but somewhat humourless figure, strumming out her very thoughtful but dull songs on her big acoustic guitar to people who found it all really deep and fascinating. It didn’t help that the radio and TV stations kept focusing on the same couple of songs. A chance encounter with her live show, via a late night broadcast on BBC1 (the same slot that had turned me on to INXS a year earlier) changed all that.

A stream of quality songs and an articulate, surprisingly witty persona made me a fan overnight. I went and bought the self-titled debut the next day (only about 18 months late), not knowing that she had another, brand-new record just around the corner. Some of the songs from Solitude Standing were featured in that TV programme, fully-formed arrangements utilising a complete band set-up rather than just solo versions, and so they felt quite familiar when the album got its first spin. The whole record has that feel of material honed and developed while on tour, and a wonderfully spacious production that tries a few clever things without ever being cluttered.

The track sequencing is perfect, alternating between the key full-band efforts and the more acoustic numbers reminiscent of her first album. Luka, In The Eyes, Wooden Horse and the title song are the record’s backbone, while Language and Ironbound/Fancy Poultry both evolve into positively sublime codas. Q Magazine famously slammed it as depressing and heavy-handed; they were obviously listening to a different album!

We’ve got this far and not even mentioned Tom’s Diner; the unaccompanied song which would later become huge in the hands of dance remixers DNA. Here it opens proceedings, and also closes it in an instrumental version; surely the only time a track has appeared with voice-only and then voice-less on the same LP.

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