Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” by Phil Collins

I’ve been working on a project about the early 80’s, an era that’s near and dear to my heart, and the research rarely turns up a killer song that feels like it went under the radar. The artists at that time were pretty good about leading with the best stuff on singles and videos, and those songs have had a long shelf life. But I hadn’t heard this Phil Collins ballad in quite a long time, and after a few notes, the fondness I had for it quickly came back to me.

Collins gets an unfairly bad rap, if only because of just how ubiquitous he was in that decade, either releasing solo albums or Genesis albums, producing hit songs by the likes of Frida and Howard Jones, guest-starring on Miami Vice, putting out soundtrack songs, and on and on. The guy had a serious work ethic, and eventually he became a bit overexposed (“Sussudio”, which still sends me into spastic shivers when I hear those grating horns, was probably the tipping point for me), but his work from 1980-84 is consistently fine, as the guy, with and without Genesis, shifted seamlessly from arena rock to R&B to balladry with nary an ounce of strain.

This song was a bit of an underdog, considering it came on an album, 1982’s Hello, I Must Be Going, which produced the hit cover “You Can’t Hurry Love” and the intense “In The Air Tonight” redux “I Don’t Care Anymore.” By the time they got around to releasing this one, Collins was back with Genesis preparing their next LP.

Like a lot of his early solo work, “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” deals with the wounds of lost love. Unlike the simmering anger that surfaced on songs like “In The Air Tonight,” this one is more graceful and tender, a loving plea from a regretful guy who still thinks he’s the one for the girl he’d addressing, even as a new man moves in. With an understated string section and sensitive piano work underpinning, the pretty wistfulness of the melody shines through. Meanwhile Collins does his vocal thing where he starts off all dejected and then explodes with passion. Check it out and you’ll realize that “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” is that rare beast: an underexposed Phil Collins song from the 80’s, and an exceedingly worthy one at that.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

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CK Retro Review: Life’ll Kill Ya by Warren Zevon

The wry, knowing smile Warren Zevon displays on the cover of his 2000 album Life’ll Kill Ya is a good indication of what’s to come. Zevon writes and performs on the album like a guy with nothing left to prove, simply making the music that comes naturally to him. That’s not to say that his inherent prickliness abandoned him; the album title should let on that isn’t the case. But the album begins the unofficial trilogy that closed out his life and  found him at ease with his legacy, reflective, spouting practical wisdom, and winning us over all over again. Here is a song-by-song review:

THREE STARS

12. “Hostage-O”- Zevon borrows more than a bit from “Tracks Of My Tears” in the acoustic guitar riff that drives this odd combination of benign melody and harsh imagery. The narrator’s point, that he’ll take abuse over loneliness, is a bit unwieldy for the musical setting, but it’s an interesting attempt.

11. “Dirty Little Religion”- Zevon drains all the Hallmark out of his pitch to a would-be lover, coming on like a modern-day Elmer Gantry. The sentiment may be sour, but I like how it’s matched up with a Johnny Cash-style rumbling rhythm.

10. “Life’ll Kill Ya”- After he tugs at your heartstrings with one of those Zevonian quasi-classical opens, he goes on, with something approaching glee, to tell us that those strings will be clipped in due time. If you can accept death’s inevitability, there’s a kind of liberating effect that the song has, especially with that underlying piano keeping the melody afloat.

9. “Porcelain Monkey”- Leave it to Zevon (and co-writer Jorge Calderon) to look back at Elvis through the lens of his sad decline rather than focusing on the good stuff. The silliness of the title trinket suggests just how wasteful Zevon felt The King’s final years were.

8. “My Shit’s Fucked Up”- It’s not an easy listen, nor is it Zevon’s most eloquent display of lyrics, although it shouldn’t be considering the effect he desires. This is one of those songs that is almost too intense, considering what would eventually befall Zevon, to bear, but the stark honesty of his performance demands your attention.

7. “Ourselves To Know”- Sounds a little like something off John Wesley Harding, with its antiquated setting, religious overtones, and quizzical message. It’s lovely in an understated way, with some nice interplay between Zevon’s harmonica and Jim Ryan’s mandolin.

6. “Back In The High Life”- Zevon gets a chance to show off his interpretive skills here. In Steve Winwood’s original, his elastic voice created a joyous effect. When Warren sings it, he sounds so ravaged and defeated that the redemptive promise of the refrain seems like nothing but a pipe dream, lending the song an air of sadness that it doesn’t have on the page.

5. “Fistful Of Rain”- There’s a macabre joke at the heart of the refrain here, because what do you really end up when you “Grab a hold of that fistful of rain?” The pennywhistle and call-and-response backing vocals give this one a little musical ambition that makes it stand out a bit, while Zevon’s message that we should embrace the futility of life is ironically inspirational.

FOUR STARS

4. “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer”- Displaying the solidity of Zevon’s songwriting chops, this one delivers a hooky melody and the ability to milk a metaphor for all its worth that could hang with the best of Motown or Nashville. Nothing too fancy, and yet it cuts pretty deep thanks to the hurt inside false bravado of the vocal.

3. “I’ll Slow You Down”- There’s a little “It Ain’t Me, Babe” in this melodic charmer, as Zevon frames the song on the surface as a narrator’s admission of his unworthiness while making veiled criticisms of the priorities of the girl whom he’s cutting free. The British Invasion slope of the tune taxes Warren’s vocals, but the strain he shows only proves his point somehow that he’s better off staying behind.

2. “I Was In The House When The House Burned Down”- This energetic album-opener proves that you don’t need to plug in to rock out; just an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and some peppery drums get the job done quite well here. It also helps to have Zevon unapologetically and metaphorically commenting on the eventful life he’s spent being in the right place at the wrong time with intentions that probably fall somewhere between the two extremes. His survival instincts win the day.

FIVE STARS

1. “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”- Forget for a moment the heartbreaking irony contained within the song as it pertains to Zevon’s eventual fate. Concentrate instead on the melody, one of Zevon’s most enduring, which is really saying something. And concentrate on the benevolence and warmth of the message, which should fill the hardest heart and moisten the most jaded eyes. Sing it as a lullaby or chant it as a prayer; either way, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” holds powers and charms far beyond the seeming simplicity of the notes played and sung by its one-0f-a-kind creator.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bruce-Springsteen-Finest/dp/1442230657

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238