The Rea-issues #1 – Dancing With Strangers (1987)

Released on 14th September 1987, the album made #2 in the UK – his first to reach the Top 10.

Warner Music’s Rhino imprint has just re-issued five of Chris Rea’s most successful albums as lavish 2CD sets, with the original albums joined by a full bonus disc of B-sides, Live recordings and outtakes from the same period; Shamrock Diaries (1985), On The Beach (1986), Dancing With Strangers (1987), The Road To Hell (1989) and Auberge (1991).

Over the next few weeks, amazinglyfewdiscothequesprovidejukeboxes will cover each of these in detail, and look back at this part of his career.

Chris Rea’s final album for the Magnet label, before signing to WEA, might just be my favourite Chris Rea record. Like many of my favourite albums, it’s a transitional piece, capturing the artist either on the cusp of a real commercial breakthrough or at the moment when they begin to reach their potential.

He has made prettier-sounding albums (On The Beach) and far more successful ones too (The Road To Hell), but on Dancing With Strangers you can hear him not only formulating the style which characterised those later releases, but finally beginning to leave behind the sometimes awkward attempts to satisfy his record label. The days of creative compromise, meagre studio budgets, uncomfortable photo shoots, blonde bubble-perms, and questionable fashion choices were about to end.

Well okay, they were almost about to end…


One of the (many) revelations in the brief but illuminating sleeve notes included with all of these reissues, is the fact that the sound of Dancing With Strangers is virtually created by just two people. And, on several tracks, Chris Rea is playing most of the instruments, including the drums. As he would later acknowledge with typically wry humour, the man who wrote “I can’t dance to a cold machine…” would have those precise pieces of technological gadgetry on his next studio set.

160450bDancing With Strangers benefits from a “live” sound, albeit one cleverly constructed and overdubbed to create the impression of a living, breathing, band perfomance. There’s an easy swing to the big hit single Let’s Dance (his first Top 20 entry in Britain), as well as the similar That Girl Of Mine, the aformentioned I Can’t Dance To That and Que Sera‘s more exotic, frenetic rhythms.

Let’s Dance was the Top 40 success that had eluded Rea since 1978’s breakthrough Fool (If You Think It’s Over), an affecting smooth AOR classic that unfortunately led to misplaced comparisons with the likes of Billy Joel, and demands from the record company to repeat the trick during subsequent years.

The album’s second single, and the one which directly preceded the album itself in August 1987, was Loving You Again, a classic slice of Rea romanticism underpinned by a driving beat and parping horns. It recalled several of his recent efforts, such as Josephine (from Shamrock Diaries) and It’s All Gone (from On The Beach) and surprisingly emulated the (lack of) chart action enjoyed by both. Fortunately, Loving You Again‘s failure to become a hit did not harm Dancing With Strangers‘ prospects.


It wasn’t the first Chris Rea album I’d bought, that was On The Beach in June 1986, but it was the first I’d bought on CD. By September 1987 I’d grown exhausted by the lousy quality of cassettes, and my body was barely holding together, so CD was really the only option if I was to be able to continue enjoying the music I loved.

The extra expense meant my choices had to be a little more discerning (at twice the cost, I could afford only half as many!); the original Dancing With Strangers CD had 3 extra tracks, making 14 songs and just under 60 minutes of listening. On The Beach, and then the handful of album cuts I’d heard previewed on the radio prior to release day, had given me confidence in Chris Rea delivering an album worth the £11.99.

He didn’t let me down.



While each Rea album in the mid-1980s tended to have a loose theme, or be inspired by particular events in his life, we still hadn’t reached the stage where whole sides of an album were conceived as a unified concept, an imagined film inside his head which never made it onto celluloid. Dancing With Strangers is, by and large, simply a collection of excellent songs, superbly played and produced with just the right combination of rough edges and radio-friendly sheen.

There wouldn’t actually be another Top 40 single from the album, with the gritty Joys Of Christmas failing to find favour, and then a heavily remixed Que Sera going the way of so many Chris Rea singles before it by only just squeaking into the UK Top 75.

To the public, Chris Rea was still the blonde chap with the strangely gruff voice, making the kind of music people bought on Compact Discs. The album campaign was accompanied by some beautiful watercolour paintings, and a few tracks aside, the overall mood was free of the heavy-handedness and intensity of later works.

There were hints at what was to come, of course; the unforgiving monologue that opens Joys Of Christmas (“….Northern style!”….), then the first reference to a “Road To Hell” on I Can’t Dance To That, and on that same song a glimpse of the dark humour and lyrical meter that later manifested itself on Auberge. Gonna Buy A Hat‘s swipe at the “blah blah” spewed by politicians is another indicator that his patience with the world is wearing thin, but shot through with a sarcasm and lightness of touch which didn’t always come through on subsequent albums.


Possibly the two most enduring tracks on Dancing With Strangers are Windy Town and Curse Of The Traveller; both reflect on the lot of the touring musician, either directly (as on the former) or opaquely (the latter). Windy Town is an extremely evocative reminiscence of nights spent dodging the treacherous weather conditions and equally dangerous locals of his North-East stomping grounds, with lyrics about holding the face of his girl as she shivers in the rain that resonate even if (in my case) it’s a scenario I’ve never personally experienced.

The track builds into a fantastic, Fleetwood Mac-esque coda of chiming chords and stunning fretwork, and really ought to have been a single. Even when Rod Stewart covered it in the 90s, and did a pretty decent version himself, it remained hidden away on the album in question (Spanner In The Works).

The 2-disc 2019 Deluxe Remaster

Reissues of albums, be they just basic remasters or more ambitious multi-disc deluxe editions, have become something of a minefield. Incorrect mixes, over-compressed sound, errors with the artwork or tracklistings, and where the bonus material is concerned, quite often a mystifying approach to what has and what hasn’t been deemed worthy of inclusion.

Rhino’s treatment of Dancing With Strangers is better than we’ve come to expect lately; the remastering is noticeable but sympathetic to the original. It’s clear but still has plenty of depth and range. The disc of extra material from the period sounds equally pleasing, with all the B-sides from  its quartet of singles featured, alongside the original extended mix of Let’s Dance and the 7″ remix of Que Sera. Because the first disc has been restored to the 11 tracks which constituted the main album, the trio of extra songs on the 1987 CD are to be found on the second disc here. Which takes a bit of getting used to!

The actual sequencing of CD2 does bother my OCD, with everything mixed up so that it kicks off with the Que Sera single remix, before various B-sides, a live deconstruction of Loving You Again, and even an unreleased track have you scurrying to check the sleevenotes for a way to reprogram them in a more chronological, orderly fashion.


These are very minor observations, though, as is the slight difference in the album artwork for this reissue; “Chris Rea” is now in black rather than the striking red, and all the text is much smaller than on 1987’s CD cover.

Which is better? I’d say the original.

Which is more definitive? Ditto.

Even the iconic portrait itself isn’t quite the same as the original (the perspective has altered marginally), although the upshot of all this is the old version is now still worth keeping!

My initial plan was to work through these five deluxe remasters in order of their vintage, beginning with Shamrock Diaries. Once I had them all in my posession, however, I couldn’t resist going for the album which holds the strongest memories for me, and that was Dancing With Strangers.

After all this time, it’s sure got a hold of me still.




  1. Superb review, balanced and helpful.
    Thank you for sharing these insights.

    I totally agree with your appraisal that it’s a set of great songs.

    It is also my favourite Rea album due to it being the first I actually owned. I was captivated by both the sound and the artwork.

    Thanks again.


  2. Great review. I’m working through your blog chronologically but I did read this review via another link some many months ago. Your review is excellent. As I drive around the cold climates of Victoria and Tasmania, just the same as when I was a teen in 1986-7 the lyrics and feel of this album infuse my experiences. Lost love: Girl I’ve always loved you and I’ll love you again.. Everytime…
    An absolute classic.


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