AFDPJ’s recurring series goes back to the start of 1988 for an album that, for anyone in the UK, seemed to come from nowhere….
BOURGEOIS TAGG: “Yo Yo” (1987)
- Best Of All Possible Worlds
- Cry Like A Baby
- Pencil & Paper
- Out Of My Mind
- 15 Minutes In The Sun
- Waiting For The Worm To Turn
- I Don’t Mind At All
- What’s Wrong With This Picture
A quirky-named 80s act whose killer hit single found its way into the UK Top 40 after originally breaking through in America, but proved to be wholly unrepresentative of the accompanying album?
(Are you thinking Sly Fox? They of Let’s Go All The Way?)
A quirky-named 80s act whose killer hit single wore its Beatles influences loud and proud?
(You’re still thinking of Sly Fox and Let’s Go All The Way, aren’t you?)
Well, I present Exhibit B; Bourgeois Tagg. Single: I Don’t Mind At All…a lush, orchestrated ballad heavily redolent of Martha My Dear and All Across The Universe from The Fab Four’s post-Pepper, post-Mystery Tour phase of 1968. Album: Yo Yo, a veritable cornucopia of styles from New Wave to 70s AOR, via XTC-esque pastoral pop, McCartney in his funkier solo moods, and some spooky psychedelia.
And there is nothing else on the album which sounds like I Don’t Mind At All.
The comparisons with Sly Fox can end right there, because Yo Yo revealed itself to be an extremely fine, as well as extremely varied, record. It may not have generated any further hits (if we can call a UK #35 and a US #38 a genuine hit….I certainly do), but more than 30 years later its charms have arguably aged better than a lot of contemporary releases from late 1987 and early 1988.
Some other misconceptions, which have only recently been rectified in my own mind; although named after (Brent) Bourgeois and (Larry) Tagg, the band were not a duo. There were at least four, if not five, members around the time of Yo Yo‘s release. The harlequin-patterned figures at either side of the album cover artwork were also part of Bourgeois Tagg. Who knew? (Not me, obviously). And while it was my first encounter with the band, Yo Yo wasn’t their debut LP. A self-titled effort appeared in 1986 (some copies including an hilarious hype sticker instructing punters to pronounce the band name “BOOR-ZWHA TAG”, which then simultaneously poked fun at its own absurdity with the lead single listed as “MEW-CHEW-EL SIR-ENDER” immediately below).
Followers of the Billboard Hot 100 will have noted the slow, steady progress of I Don’t Mind At All as it nudged its way into the US Top 40 at the start of December 1987. While not an earth-shattering chart performance, it got its chance in Britain at the very beginning of 1988 (technically it was released on the week commencing December 28th 1987, but chart rules are chart rules, m’kay). I’m not sure I heard it that soon; I have vivid memories of its inaugural play on Radio 1’s Singled Out programme – which was an essential part of my listening, and had been for some time – and guest Barry Gibb made the Martha/Universe observation straight away.
Timing can be key, and for me – and perhaps the British public too – this new “Boor-Zwha Tag” record came along at the perfect moment. George Harrison was enjoying a surprise renaissance with his superb Cloud Nine album, which included the affectionate pastiche of When We Was Fab, 1987 had seen the chart breakthrough for former Split Enz frontman Neil Finn’s new combo Crowded House, with their acclaimed future-classic Don’t Dream It’s Over, and The Beatles themselves were thoroughly back in vogue (yes, there was a time in the 1980s when it was actually pretty quiet on the Apple Corps. front) thanks to their entire album catalogue arriving on Compact Disc for the first time.
Yo Yo didn’t get a full UK release until March 1988 (I purchased it at the same time as Joni Mitchell’s Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm, which is probably one reason I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have done), and failed to chart here. Island Records tried to follow-up with a couple of singles, Cry Like A Baby and the confusingly-retitled Waiting For The World To Turn, but nothing doing.
It can’t have helped that each of these tracks sounded like a different band; the smooth pop-soul of Cry Like A Baby almost felt out of date even by 1987 (though perhaps not in America, where the likes of Wax and The Outfield were still successful), while Todd Rundgren’s influence displayed itself most obviously on Waiting For The Worm/World To Turn, a delightful slice of intelligent pop that would not have been out of place on XTC’s Oranges & Lemons set a year later.
Adding to this dizzying diversity was the fact that both Brent and Larry took lead vocal duties over the course of the album, thus making it harder to pin down a defining sound for BT. Yo-Yo often feels like a Various Artists collection; echoes of Mr. Mister on the intruiging What’s Wrong With This Picture, then the Macca-funk of Stress, and if you thought we’d had the last mention of Sly Fox….whoops, sorry, but Pencil & Paper does sound like them.
Closing track Coma might just be my favourite of all; an atmospheric, epic meditation that unexpectedly lifts off into orbit, drowning in a sea of Beatles harmonies and trippy production.
The time for talking’s over now. All my life I wanted to sleep….
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