Hats (album)

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Studio album by The Blue Nile
Released 16 October 1989
Recorded 1984–1989 at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland, East Lothian, Scotland
Genre Sophisti-pop, adult alternative, dream pop
Length 38:26
Label Linn Records (UK)
A&M Records (US)
Producer The Blue Nile
The Blue Nile chronology
A Walk Across the Rooftops
Peace at Last
Singles from Hats
  1. "The Downtown Lights"
    Released: 18 September 1989
  2. "Headlights on the Parade"
    Released: 10 September 1990
  3. "Saturday Night"
    Released: 14 January 1991
Music sample
Music sample

Hats is the second album from Glaswegian adult alternative/pop group The Blue Nile, released on 16 October 1989 on Linn Records in the UK and on A&M Records in the US.

The album is considered by many music critics as the band's most enduring work, and one of the best pop albums released in the 1980s. After a prolonged delay in which an entire album's worth of work was scrapped, The Blue Nile released Hats to rave reviews, including a rare five-star rating from Q magazine. In 2000, the same magazine placed it at number 92 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2006, Q Magazine placed the album at #38 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s".[1]

Hats is also The Blue Nile's most successful album, reaching #12 on the UK album charts, and spawning three singles: "The Downtown Lights", "Headlights on the Parade", and "Saturday Night".

Rickie Lee Jones, a fan of the band, personally selected The Blue Nile as her opening act for her US tour in 1990. She would later record a duet with them, a cover of their own "Easter Parade" from A Walk Across the Rooftops, which was featured as a B-side to the single "Headlights on the Parade". "The Downtown Lights" was covered by two artists in 1995: by Annie Lennox (with whom The Blue Nile worked on her debut album Diva) on her second solo recording, Medusa; and by Rod Stewart on his album A Spanner in the Works.


Having finished promotion work for their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops, the group's record company Linn were keen to have a follow-up record, and in early 1985 sent the band to a house in the golfing resort town of Gullane near the Castlesound Studios where the previous album had been made. However, the new record hit problems almost immediately. The band did not yet have enough material to make another album, and with the group forced to share a house and having to spend all their time in close proximity with each other, arguments developed among the homesick band members. Exhausted and stressed, their problems were compounded when Virgin Records (to whom Linn had licensed the Blue Nile's records) began legal proceedings against Linn Records, demanding new material. "We were up against the wall," singer Paul Buchanan told Uncut magazine. "Living away from home, no money, miserable, getting sued. We were absolutely zonked, the record company weren't pleased and everyone around was starting to think, this record is never going to get made. It was exhausting."[2]

After almost three years in the studio which produced virtually nothing, having begun and scrapped several songs, the group was forced to vacate Castlesound to make way for It's Immaterial, another Virgin band, to record their second album Song. Like The Blue Nile, It's Immaterial also ran into difficulties making their record, overrunning their allotted time and eventually spending a year at Castlesound. During this time, The Blue Nile had no option but to return home to Glasgow: back in familiar surroundings and freed from time constraints, Buchanan overcame his writer's block, while Robert Bell and PJ Moore began putting musical ideas down on a portastudio. As a consequence, when the band was finally able to return to Castlesound in 1988, the ideas for the album were already in place and according to Buchanan, "we knew exactly what we were doing. We actually recorded the rest of Hats super quick... Honestly, half of Hats was, like, a week."[2]

In a 2012 interview with ClashMusic.com Buchanan reflected on the time lost trying to make the album:

"We pretty much put the record [A Walk Across the Rooftops] out, promoted it and then the next thing we knew we were back in the studio. That whole gestation period had gone missing. We didn't really have the songs. We laboured away in the studio trying to generate the material there, which just didn't work. We recorded but we just didn't believe in what we'd recorded... I think people perceived it as it was all to do with us sort of being in the studio for five years, but of course you couldn't be in the studio for five years, you'd lose your mind. There was a two year period where we would have gone back in but we couldn't get back in! So when we got back we actually finished Hats quickly. The period when we got bumped out the studio we had nothing else to do, so we packed up and went home. Which is what we should have done in the first place, because when we went back home we reverted to our old routines—practise, play and sit about each other's little flats and talk things through. We should have done that to begin with, really."[3]


The album was released in October 1989 simultaneously in both the UK and the US: since The Blue Nile was essentially unknown in the United States in 1989, the cover artwork for the US release of Hats was slightly modified for marketing reasons, with the band's name in larger letters. As a promotional tool, A&M Records—who distributed Hats in North America—took out a full-page advertisement in Billboard magazine offering a free copy of the CD to anyone who called a toll-free number which was provided.[4]

Three singles were released from the album: the first, "The Downtown Lights", was released in September 1989 and peaked at #67 in the UK singles charts, followed by "Headlights on the Parade" in September 1990 which reached #72, and "Saturday Night" in January 1991, which reached #50.[5]

In the United States, Hats peaked at #108 on the Billboard 200.[6] "The Downtown Lights" reached #10 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart in early 1990, becoming the group's only single chart entry in that country.[6]

In November 2012 Virgin Records released two-CD "Collector's Edition" versions of Hats and its predecessor A Walk Across the Rooftops in the UK and Europe, each containing a remastered version of the original album plus a second CD of bonus tracks. The remastering process was overseen by original engineer Calum Malcolm, along with contributions by Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, who chose the songs for the bonus CD. The "Collector's Edition" was released in the US in January 2013.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[7]
Melody Maker very favourable[8]
Mojo 5/5 stars (2012 reissue)[9]
NME 9/10[10]
PopMatters 9/10 (2012 reissue)[4]
Q (1989) 5/5 stars[1]
Q (2013) 4/5 stars (2012 reissue)[11]
Record Mirror 4/5 stars[12]
Sounds 4/5 stars[13]

On the album's initial release in 1989 the reviews were extremely favourable. Melody Maker stated that "only the laziest ear would confuse this crystalline perfection with the hygiene and polish of plastic pop... All seven songs here are chips off the same sublime block. Each begins as a stately procession, through sheer surfaces that have more in common with the pristine otherworldliness of systems music than rock, before building steadily, plateau after plateau to an almost unbearable pitch of elation, midway between hope and desperation... This is BIG music, that leaves you feeling very small, very still and very close to tears."[8] Q felt that "if anything, the songs on Hats are stripped down even more than before. Tempos are, for the most part, hypnotically slow. Sparse drums, the barest skeletons of structure sketched in on tinkling pianos, occasional pastel washes of synthetic strings, and Paul Buchanan's haunted voice carrying fragile strands of melody that melt away into the backdrop before you've quite grasped them... If Hats has a flaw, it's only that it's too perfect, too considered."[1] Sounds stated that "on first, second and third listens Hats seems to be absolutely superb. Sounding not a zillion kilometres from the first album back in '84, both in terms of technology and moods aspired to."[13] NME said, "It is tempting to go on about how this record evokes rainy city nights, solo journeys home and the pull of love, but given half the songs are called things like that, it'd be a bit obvious. The thing with the Blue Nile is that most of what you can say about them is obvious. They make incredibly simple-sounding, emotional records about the stuff that fascinates them. And they're very good at it."[10] Record Mirror simply said, "Wow – sublime! Perfectionist CD pop five years in the making. Music to sink into sofas to."[12]

AllMusic said, "Five long years in the making, the Blue Nile's stellar Hats was well worth the wait; sweeping and majestic, it's a triumph of personal vision over the cold, remote calculations of technology. While created almost solely without benefit of live instruments, it is nevertheless an immensely warm and human album."[7] Reviewing the 2012 remastered version PopMatters claimed that "Hats sounded richer, fuller, more layered and produced than its predecessor... anyone who wants a record which provides a pretty unrelenting opportunity to really wallow in gorgeous, sublime, melancholy should dive into this one."[4] Reviewing the remastered versions of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats together, Mojo stated that they "remain superior, elegant examples of masterful craftmanship. Both albums present emotive, electro-acoustic mood pieces with elements of soul and classical minimalism... exquisite music for the small hours in which little is said but much is revealed".[9]


Hats featured strongly on the end of year critics' lists, making number 8 on Melody Maker's albums of the year list,[14] and number 18 on NME '​s list.[15] "The Downtown Lights" was also placed at number 15 on Melody Maker '​s singles of the year list.[16]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Paul Buchanan.

LP & cassette[edit]

Side one[edit]

  1. "Over the Hillside" – 5:03
  2. "The Downtown Lights" – 6:26
  3. "Let's Go Out Tonight" – 5:12

Side two[edit]

  1. "Headlights on the Parade" – 6:11
  2. "From a Late Night Train" – 3:59
  3. "Seven A.M." – 5:09
  4. "Saturday Night" – 6:26

2012 Remastered Collector's Edition CD bonus disc[edit]

  1. "Seven A.M." (Live in the Studio) – 4:48
  2. "Christmas" (previously unreleased) – 5:05
  3. "Let's Go Out Tonight" (Vocal 2) – 5:17
  4. "Saturday Night" (Vocal 2, Early Mix) – 6:06
  5. "Headlights on the Parade" (Live in Tennessee) – 6:20
  6. "The Wires Are Down" (B-side of 12" & CD single of "The Downtown Lights") – 5:41


The Blue Nile
  • Robert Bell – bass, synthesizers
  • Paul Buchanan – vocals, guitar, synthesizers
  • Paul Joseph Moore – keyboards, synthesizers
Additional personnel on "Headlights on the Parade" (Live in Tennessee)
  • Steve Gaboury – keyboards
  • Larry Saltzman – guitar
  • Nigel Thomas – drums
Production credits

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom & Europe 16 October 1989 Linn Records LP LKH2
cassette LKHC2
United States A&M Records LP SP-5284
cassette CS-5284
CD CD 5284
United Kingdom 19 November 2012 Virgin Records Remastered 2-CD
Collector's Edition
Europe 5099901730029
United Kingdom 20 January 2013 Virgin Records 180 gram vinyl LKHR 2
United States 22 January 2013 EMI Records Remastered 2-CD
Collector's Edition


  1. ^ a b c Black, Johnny (October 1989). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". Q (37) (London, England: EMAP). p. 91. 
  2. ^ a b Thomson, Graeme (January 2013). "River of No Return". Uncut (London, England: IPC Media). pp. 56–60. 
  3. ^ Murray, Robin (20 November 2012). "Tinseltown In The Rain: The Blue Nile". ClashMusic.com. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Edwards, D.M. (1 February 2013). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". PopMatters. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Roberts, David (ed.) (2006). Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London, England: Guinness World Records Ltd. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-9049-9410-7. 
  6. ^ a b "The Blue Nile: Charts and Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Ankeny, Jason. The Blue Nile – Hats > Review at AllMusic. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  8. ^ a b Reynolds, Simon (7 October 1989). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media). p. 38. 
  9. ^ a b McNair, James (January 2013). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". Mojo (230) (London, England: Bauer Media Group). p. 104. 
  10. ^ a b Quantick, David (7 October 1989). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". NME (London, England: IPC Media). p. 40. 
  11. ^ Harrison, Ian (January 2013). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". Q (318) (London, England: Bauer Media Group). p. 117. 
  12. ^ a b Dee, Johnny (28 October 1989). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". Record Mirror (London, England: United Newspapers). p. 16. 
  13. ^ a b Cavanagh, David (14 October 1989). "Review: The Blue Nile – Hats". Sounds (London, England: United Newspapers). p. 20. 
  14. ^ "Albums of the Year". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media). 23 December 1989. pp. 60–61. 
  15. ^ "Albums of the Year". NME (London, England: IPC Media). 23 December 1989. pp. 52–53. 
  16. ^ "Singles of the Year". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media). 23 December 1989. p. 59. 

External links[edit]