The Rea-issues #4 – On The Beach (1986)

The album’s #11 debut on the UK charts was the highest of his career to date.

Towards the end of 2019, Warner Music’s Rhino imprint 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 continue to cover each of these in detail, and look back at this part of his career.


Despite the Top 15 success of Shamrock Diaries, and its minor hit single Stainsby Girls, 1986 saw Chris Rea still battling his label over the way he and his music were being presented to the world. On The Beach, released in early May of that year, oozes a blissful, almost carefree vibe, yet Rea was dealing with “nonsense” from Magnet Records “that went on for weeks” over the cover design and the marketing angles they were determined to persist with.

Say Cheese!“……Probably best not to mention Marketing departments or ridiculous photo shoots, I think….

None of which I was remotely aware of as I bought the album at the beginning of June, with some of the Birthday money I’d been kindly given (the other cassettes I got at the same time were Queen’s A Kind Of Magic and – funnily enough – the latest by Chris De Burgh…Into The Light…but before The Lady In Red had become a monstrous smash).

The very fact that I was getting a Chris Rea album felt strange, as I hadn’t exactly fallen over myself with interest in the first single It’s All Gone, or taken much notice of On The Beach arriving on the charts (a then career-high of #11, proof that Shamrock Diaries had made a lasting impact on the public).

This was an early example of Paul Gambaccini’s new Album Chart Show on Capital Radio having a defining effect on my musical discoveries and subsequent purchase decisions. It was the same reason that I wanted the De Burgh album (he’d played the moody opening cut Last Night). The featured track from On The Beach that fateful night was Lucky Day; not the most obvious catalyst for triggering my fandom!

Of all these Chris Rea titles given the 2CD Deluxe treatment, On The Beach would be the one that I’d consider “my” album. My first purchase, my first proper encounter with a whole album of his music. And, even 34 years later, probably the one I enjoy the most (except in Winter obviously).

Listening to the original 10-track version was a new experience too, as the cassette I first owned had the three bonus songs, as did the CD I upgraded to in the 1990s. Only now can I see that the album is split into halves in a very similar style to The Road To Hell or Auberge; the opening side-long suite of sun-kissed, blissed-out reverie, followed by a bunch of potential singles, in a range of styles, on the second half. Of course this being Chris Rea, eternally misunderstood by his label, the potential singles were never actual hits if released as such, and weren’t usually the standouts on the record either.

All three of the album’s singles ended up beached on the outer limits of the Top 75.

It’s All Gone fell into this category, a pleasantly burbling mid-tempo soft-rocker with fat keyboard refrains hiding a typically bleak lyric. Stylistically, it has more in common with the previous album than showcasing the gorgeous, multi-layered textures and widescreen ambitions of the new one. So, in addition to failing as single in itself (no shame or surprise in that) it was also guilty of failing to really sell the album’s qualities to the uninitiated.

There was, however, no hit single forthcoming from On The Beach. Its profile these days might suggest otherwise, especially as this period gave us a trio of Chris Rea signature songs, yet none of them featured on the original LP (at least in their most familiar form). The title track eventually became a hit, and one of his two best-known moments, but it took the 1988 re-recording to get it into the Top 40.

That version was closely based on the “Special Remix” that appeared in June 1986 as a single, which somehow contrived to climb no higher than #57 during a three-month run! The famous guitar motif in these two later versions was absent from the original that launches the album on a wave of…um, wave sounds; it’s played just the once, gently, on a keyboard, towards the end – as if reluctant to break the hazy spell created by some lengthy instrumental breaks and laid-back vocals.

Don’t worry….in a couple of years, this song will be famous!


Another staple of his catalogue, appearing repeatedly and issued regularly in a multitude of variations, is Driving Home For Christmas. It debuted on the B-side of On The Beach‘s third and final flop single, Hello Friend, in November 1986. Radio 1 gave it some airplay, owing to the festive connotations, but the single never got further than #79. Again, it wasn’t until New Light Through Old Windows that Driving Home… started to earn its reputation as a popular song for the holidays.

And that leaves us with the other very well known song that makes its low-key introduction during the era of On The Beach, the future #12 hit Let’s Dance. A keen recycler of material long before it was fashionable, it was nevertheless a surprising move to put an early arrangement of the song on a 5-track EP format of It’s All Gone (the third in his “Mini Album” series).

Then again, another cut from that EP, Crack That Mould, is rated by Chris as one of his favourites and yet the track didn’t make the cut for the album (appearing only as one of the three bonus tracks on the cassette and CD). So either he doubted his own instincts, or the shadowy hand of record label interference strikes another blow. Sometimes it’s a miracle any of his albums in the 80s ever satisfied their demands for a smiling, compliant MOR artist!

Chris Rea in 1986 – on the road to…..Hull?

Another possibility is he just had too much quality material to fit on a 10-track album. From beginning to end, On The Beach has no discernible weak link, nothing crying out “hello, my name is filler and I’m here to spoil the party”. Even the forays into Americanised soft rock are joyous and convincing; Two Roads (my pick for the album’s big single, had I been A&R-ing for Magnet) evokes both Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross with its circular piano/rhythm guitar figures in the verse offset by a euphoric and very melodic chorus. In fact, this is by far the smoothest, most tuneful Chris Rea album. The pianos, synths and brass are more pronounced than the guitars.

Best of all, is the third track on Side One; Giverny. Okay, so it’s perhaps a little too closely related to Fleetwood Mac’s Sara, but that’s one of my Top 3 Mac tracks so I’m not going to complain. Giverny certainly captures the same lightness of touch in the arrangement and sense of yearning melancholy. It was a single in some European territories, and really deserved a chance in the UK.

Closing track Auf Immer Und Ewig is another favourite, recalling the work Eric Clapton did on his lauded Edge Of Darkness soundtrack with the late Michael Kamen.


The 2-disc 2019 Deluxe Remaster

For the purposes of this 2019 Deluxe edition, the main album has been restored to the original LP running order, which means the three bonus tracks can be found on the second CD in the new set along with all the B-sides from the singles and the Mini Album tracks.

This might take some getting used to, for anyone accustomed to Freeway, Crack That Mould and Bless Them All being part of the On The Beach album experience, but as mentioned earlier the upshot is a renewed appreciation for the flawless quality of the LP as intended, but also how it foreshadows the “Side 1: song suite / Side 2: assorted potential singles” format he’d use so effectively on later albums, which isn’t so obvious with the bonus tracks added in.

Rare non-album B-sides, Look Out For Me and If Anybody Asks You, both appear on the second disc, as do the 7″ mixes of It’s All Gone, On The Beach and Hello Friend; after years of endless Chris Rea compilations with all manner of permutations and mixed-up chronologies, it’s a blessing (and relief!) to have all this material gathered up in one place. Those early B-side incarnations of Let’s Dance and Driving Home For Christmas are both included too.

On The Beach has always been right up there in my all-time top 2 or 3 Chris Rea albums, and this unfussy, diligently-compiled Deluxe version has made it even more essential.








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