In 1976, David Essex, cheeky teen-idol songster, released what I can only describe as a progressive pop/rock, concept album called ‘Out On The Street’ which has been a favourite of mine since I first listened to it in the mid-1970s. Was it a concept album? Well, it certainly has that feel.
Pop, Pop/Rock, Prog/Pop, Prog/Pop/Rock – the lines, as always, become blurred but the acid test is, if you like it, it’s good music and as a dyed-in-the-wool Prog-head I see no reason to get snooty about the fact that ‘Out On The Street’ has, shall we say, Pop roots. Good music is good music if you think it’s good music and I think it’s good music. And I’m well aware that this doesn’t make it ‘Good Music’ in any definitive sense, it just means that I like it.
I can’t confess to having been a big David Essex fan, I’d liked what I’d heard on the wireless but I hadn’t been tempted into buying a single, let alone an album, then in 1976 I had the opportunity to buy ‘Out On The Street’ at a knock-down price. My uncle (Bob’s your uncle? Well, he’s was mine too), knew a guy, who probably knew a guy… who worked in some capacity for CBS records. For a few years in the mid 70’s, every now and again a box of LPs would appear at my uncle’s place and I would often be invited to ‘have a shufti’ to see if there were any that I would like to buy. Prices were anything between 50 pence and £1.50 as I recall, depending upon the record and at a time when full-price albums were retailing for, what? £2.50 to £3.00? Something like that, anyway, Uncle Bob’s record box offerings were bargains not to be sneezed at.
I had a broad musical appreciation even then but at a bargain price I bought albums that I probably never would have under normal circumstances. One of those chance purchases, also in 1976, was an album called ‘Looking Back On The Future’ by a folk trio called ‘Dawnwind’ original copies of which now change hands, on Discogs at least, for sums in excess of £200.00. Anther was ‘Intergalactic Touring Band’ which I’ve already written about. So there it was, ‘Out On The Street’ cheap as chips, I picked up the gatefold sleeve and looked at the artwork, I think I was sold on it there and then and a modest amount of money changed hands and David came home with me to play on my Dansette.
Before I wrote this, I thought I’d best do at least some perfunctory research into the subject. YouTube, Spotify and Amazon weren’t niceties we had back in the 1970s so I’ve given myself a crash course in the David Essex back-catalogue. With the benefit of a few decades of hindsight, Essex was even then an accomplished singer and songwriter. Listening now to his other albums they almost defy categorisation; almost. They’re Pop, but they’re very good Pop.
I’d formed a sneaking regard for Essex’s version of ‘Oh What A Circus’ from Evita when that song was released as a single in 1978 but then I’ve always been a sucker for a Tim Rice song. But singles like ‘Rock On’ and ‘Lamplight’ had already shown flashes of subdued genius. On his 1975 album, ‘All the Fun of the Fair’ there’s a track ‘Here It Comes Again’ which could have been on ‘Out On The Street’, it has all the hallmarks of the music on that later album. As I listened to songs from his back catalogue, songs that weren’t any of his hit singles, I have to say that it just confirmed my opinion of Essex as a lyricist and a pretty good one at that.
When it came to researching the album I’m writing about here, ‘Out On The Street’, I’m almost shocked to say that there really isn’t an awful lot of information about this album out there, there’s some, but not a lot. When I say information, I mean reviews and critiques of the album which I would have plagiarised the heck out of, given half a chance.
Would I? Well, no or at least I’d have tried not to but I suppose there’s only so many ways you can write that after his several hit singles in the early seventies; 1973’s aforementioned ‘Rock On’ and ‘Lamplight’, 1974’s ‘Gonna Make You A Star’ and ‘Stardust’ and 1975’s ‘Hold Me Close’ and ‘If I Could’ which had cemented his position as a ‘teen-idol’, David Essex was seen as slightly typecast in that role.
But was he? As I said, a crash course in David Essex Albums before ‘Street’ and yes, there is a wide range of musical styles and approaches there.
I did find out that ‘Out On The Street’ is ranked 3rd best out of Essex’s studio albums on the website, BestEverAlbums.com. Ranked as one of the best albums of all time it’s placed at number 59,173 but then the number 1 is ‘OK Computer’ by Radiohead which on the face of it you might think that I would like, but I don’t, so who writes these charts? All positions as at the time of writing
Come on, I didn’t even know there was a BestEverAlbums website, well, now I do and even though I heartily disagree with its ranking of ‘Out On The Street’, I know that in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really matter because, I like it and that’s all that matters to me.
So to the album itself
The opening track ‘Out On The Street’ clocks in at just over 10 minutes long and opens with slow yet laconic piano chords which are joined by a sexy yet oh-so-knowing saxophone establishing the theme for the song. The music fades and Essex’s voice takes up the tune in a slightly higher key;
Out on the street the
people are moving
winning and losing
out on the street…
There’s parts of this song that put me in mind of Roger Waters’ writing for The Wall; Essex conveys the same feeling but without all the navel gazing and abject misery that Waters seems to get into his songs. Just my opinion mind, just how I see it…
Alone but together, you look at each other
Bowing your head, she says; ‘Was it something I said?
Do you want whisky or rum, would you like to have fun?’
But you turn and run…
and were not halfway through the song yet. Track 1 is almost a mini epic in itself and definitely not teen-idol fodder.
So, what is this album about? With no definitive references that I can find, I think it is indeed a concept album, the main character want’s to ‘make it’ out there, on the street and the first track sets the scene and does so in some style.
Anyway, that’s how I see it so I’ll carry on with my appreciation of the album.
Track 2 – Let The Fool Live.
Where are we in the narrative?
He’s almost made it, it’s been tricky but he’s had a lucky break and of course there’s a woman involved.
The painted fool, I’m your harlequin
The court jester with a silly grin
don’t take my heart, don’t break my heart…
‘He’s’ almost made it? A ‘woman’ involved? Well, yes, the songs are written from a male perspective, not emphatically, the story could be told from another gender’s point of view but as is the story is told from a male point of view.
And look at those words, he’s getting all Marillion on us several years before Derek William Dick’s jester hit the streets. The jester motif is followed through in the album art, there he is on the rear cover juggling his fool’s cap with a crown. Heady imagery.
I lie upon lie, I lie upon you
In the midnight city see the sun come through
don’t take my heart, don’t break my heart…
Let the fool live…
He’s got troubles, woman troubles but, judging by the next song, it’s a woman who has saved him and, yes, he’s fallen in love… Well, maybe.
Track 3 – Thank You very Much
This song takes a complete change of musical direction, this could almost be… Soul? Motown? Backing vocals on this track were provided by ‘The Real Thing’ who, in 1976 were riding high in the charts with their number one single, ‘You to Me Are Everything’ so maybe Soul isn’t too far off of the mark.
Back to the story, our herohas fallen in love with the woman who saved him. Or has he?
My life without your love was cold and bare
You know it makes me feel good, to know you’re there
Cos’ you came, you came, so gently
And with a love so real, so real
You set me free
Thank you very much for the love you give me…
There’s some nice saxophone playing on this track and a lovely false ending where the strings fade away into a brief moment of silence before the drums re-open proceedings and Essex launches into some vocal ad-libbing.
Track 4 – Just Wanna Dance
Back to a more up-beat tempo and a sense that our hero has ‘made it’ in some small capacity.
When I came to the city
Nobody knew my name
Yes I came to the city
Looking for fortune and fame
But it’s, oh well, oh well
Just wanna dance the night away
He’s made it and now he’s enjoying the new status with a sense of, well, this is my life, let’s get on with it. He’s made it and and yes, by heck, he’s going to go dancing!
Track 5 – Run With The Pack
The second of the album’s two mini-epics, this song clocks in at a few seconds over 8 minutes and comprises a number of different sections – very ‘Prog’.
In this song I get the sense that where and whatever he’s made it in/as, there is a price to be paid to maintain that lifestyle, in strict contrast to the preceding song where everything was ‘I wanna dance the night away’ this song is ‘Run with the pack if you really want to crack it’.
Run with the pack child
Why don’t you kill with the crowd
Walk out when you walk out
When you shout do it loud
And there’s an underlying ‘feeling’ here, something that’s always been just on the cusp of my thoughts when I listen to this album; maybe our hero is homosexual. I’m willing to be shot down in flames over this but that’s just how it strikes me.
Yes, yes, there’s been a woman, he’s thanked her very much and he’s been dancing but:
He was the neighbourhood queen from the Broadway scene
He said he’d danced in Chorus Line
and in his apartment, he has pictures of:
‘Judy Garland, Garbo, Dietrich and James Brown.’
Does that make one gay? Probably not.
Am I overthinking this? Probably.
Does it matter if he is gay? Not one jot.
Still, ‘Run With The Pack’ is a tremendous piece of Pop/Prog and Essex really delivers in the vocals stakes.
Track 6 – Coming Home
This song was the one that provided the hit single from the album. It reached number 24 in the UK charts. To me, it seems out of place in the album narrative, if indeed there is one but I’ve proceeded under the supposition that there is so to me, this is out of place. We’ve still two more songs after this and already he’s coming home…
Home, when I think about the times, I was wrong but was I right
There’s no question in my mind that I’m coming home tonight,
It’s quite a jolly tune, as befits a top 40 single and is the shortest song on the album but somehow, out of place. Maybe they just couldn’t decide where to put it.
Track 7 – Ooh Love
Another change of style, very laid-back, but again this almost seems like another out-of-story filler.
So let’s try to put in in context.
Oh blimey, look at me now trying to put songs into context…
Um, alright. Previous song, he’s coming home but maybe that’s a metaphorical home, maybe that’s ‘home’ to where he wants to be, to where he’s made his new home.
‘Ohh Love’ then is a confirmation that he’s where he wants to be even if that place still presents problems to be overcome.
Well you pick a dude’s pocket
But you know you gotta stop it
‘Cause you know there’s no way here
Fantasize a lot Tantalize
to your tinpot city gent beer
There’s that almost throwaway ‘Ginger’
…to your tinpot city gent beer – ginger
Ginger beer… Yes, I’m overthinking this.
In a hotel lobby
In de back of a black limousine
You say he look cute in a ivy league suit
Like a man on the TV screen…
Just who’s singing what to who (whom?) here? Yes, the who/whom dilemma, still gets me.
Ooh love a love, love, love, love
Stars in your eyes
And lies in your eyes…
OK, I’m picking this apart unnecessarily, it’s an interesting tune with curious lyrics.
A couple of years before I acquired ‘Out On The Street’ I’d been wrapped up in rapt attention to the lyrics of ‘The Gates of Delirium’; side 1 of the album ‘Relayer’ by Yes. I’d read those lyrics forwards and backwards, I knew them off by heart and 45 odd years later some of them still don’t make sense but oh boy, what a fabulous piece of music that is, what a fabulous album. In my opinion; an interesting album with curious lyrics.
Anyway, back to ‘Out On The Street’ and the last track, number 8 – City Lights.
Again, this sounds like another out of story song, not a filler as it has its own style and substance, maybe then it’s a recap of what has gone before and a final acceptance by our hero of where he now is, out on the street.
Church steeple crippled in the city
Neon bright, cold night in the city
Skyscrape, rape, burn, take in the city
but maybe being out on the street isn’t all that it’s cracked-up to be
Oh it’s a pity, it’s a city
Yes it’s the city that’s the pity
This song has with a very neat and catchy bass line, and again Essex’s vocals are masterful.
The song fades into a slow handclap and Essex sings:
Walk on city light
Walk on in the night
Hold me up for my money
Please don’t shoot me honey
Slowly the other instruments re-join and there again is that mesmerising bass line as Essex ad libs his way to the end of the track which once again begins to fade out, like our hero symbolically walking away into the night.
I say he ad libs, maybe he had it all written down but it says; ‘ad lib to fade’ on the album cover and that leads to another ‘thing’ in that often it was the case that where you had an album with lyrics, be they printed on a separate lyric insert or on the inner sleeve or inside the gatefold, what you thought you heard being sung sometimes didn’t match what was printed. This is a phenomenon that I’d noticed fairly early on in my record collecting days, being a chap who liked to read the lyrics. There would be small passages of songs missing, mostly repeats of a verse but sometimes whole lines were missing.
On ‘Out On The Street’ has all the lyrics printed on the inside of the gatefold cover, and has fallen foul of this particular condition.
But the album cover itself, did I mention that? I touched upon it earlier as being instrumental in my decision to buy the album. It’s no Roger Dean affair, it’s not by Hipgnosis but it’s full of detail and inside each set of song lyrics has its own little vignette illustration depicting a scene from the song’s story.
The design is by Tony Wright, let’s give him his due, a noted album artist who has worked with some of the greats; John Martyn, Kevin Ayres, Mott the Hoople, Traffic and the Ian Gillan Band to name but a few who you’ve probably never heard of – unless you are of a certain age.
So there it is, ‘Out On The Street’ by David Essex, a guilty pleasure.
Guilty? Actually, no m’lud, not guilty at all, I like this album and I don’t care who knows…
Side 2, track 1 – Run With The Pack