Down to Zero

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"Down to Zero"
Down to Zero - Joan Armatrading single.jpeg
Single by Joan Armatrading
from the album Joan Armatrading
B-side "Like Fire"
Released December 1976
Recorded 1975
Genre Pop
Length 3:51
Label A&M
Writer(s) Joan Armatrading
Producer(s) Glyn Johns
Joan Armatrading singles chronology
"Love and Affection"
"Down to Zero"
"Show Some Emotion"

"Down to Zero" is a 1976 song by British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading. It features pedal steel guitar by B. J. Cole and drums by Kenney Jones of the Faces.[1]


The song first appeared on Armatrading's 1976 album Joan Armatrading, which was produced and engineered by Glyn Johns and recorded at the independent Olympic Studios in Barnes, London. It was the first song to be recorded for the album.[2] "Down To Zero" was released as a single, also in 1976, by A&M ("Down to Zero/Like Fire" – AMS 7270), and despite following the success of the top ten single "Love and Affection" (which had been released in August 1976), it failed to chart.

In his review of the album on AllMusic, Dave Connolly cites "Down to Zero" as "[one of] the album's most memorable tracks".[3] Women's music writer Lucy O'Brien described the song as "a full-tilt rollercoaster ... a masterly analysis of rejection." [4] Critic Wilfrid Mellers, in his book Angels of the Night, praised the song's "jazz intensity", achieved he says, through its "triplet cross-rhythms". [5]

"Down To Zero" has since been re-released on numerous collections, among them: Live at the Bijou Bijou Club, Philadelphia Superstar Radio Network (1977, promo album); Track Record (1983), Joan Armatrading: Greatest Hits (1987), Joan Armatrading: 25th Anniversary Series (1987), Love And Affection (1996), Joan Armatrading: Master Series# (1999); Joan Armatrading: Millennium Edition (2000); The Best of Joan Armatrading: The Millennium Collection (2000); Joan Armatrading: Best (2001); Classic Joan Armatrading (2001); Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading Classics 1975-1983 (2003); Live: All the Way from America (2004); Joan Armatrading: Gold (2005).

"Down To Zero" was re-released in July 1990 as a live version on the b-side of the single "Promise Land" (AM 567) from the album Hearts and Flowers.[6]

The single's B-side, "Like Fire", also appears on the Joan Armatrading album.

"Down To Zero" was used as the theme song for the BBC series Nurse in 2015.[7]


During the 1970s, Armatrading used the song to open her live concerts, as noted in contemporary reviews.[8] She used "Down to Zero" to open her live seminal concert for German TV (Studio L in Cologne) on 15 February 1979, accompanied by a band especially put together for the tour. The band featured Red Young on keyboards, Rick Hirsch on guitar, Art Rodriguez on drums, Bill Bodine on bass and Lon Price on saxophone. The concert was recorded by WDR and features on the DVD Steppin' Out. Armatrading played the song again, this time as the second opener, with the same band, live at the Rockpalast in Grugahalle, Essen, Germany on 19 and 20 April 1980, in another concert recorded live and featuring on the Steppin' Out DVD. It was during the fourteen months between these two concerts that she became internationally famous, and "Down to Zero" helped her to achieve this. The band that played with her at these concerts went on to perform with her on subsequent tours.

On 5 October 1976 Armatrading performed the song on BBC's The Old Grey Whistle Test, introduced by Bob Harris.[9]

Armatrading has included the song in many of her shows, almost as often as her top 10 hit "Love and Affection". She played it on her live concert tour for her 2003 album Lovers Speak; recordings from that tour were released on the CD/DVD album Live: All the Way from America in 2004. Following this she rested the song, until including it once again in her 2012 Starlight tour.

On 27 April 2016, Armatrading was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and played "Down to Zero" at the ceremony. [10]


"Down to Zero" was recorded by soul and blues singer Bettye LaVette and issued on her 2005 album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise.[11]

The song was also recorded by Lili Añel and issued on her 2007 album Dream Again and later also released, by ESC Records, on her album Life or Death.[12]

The American singer Melissa Etheridge regularly covered the song live when she appeared in clubs in California in the 1980s – one of many Armatrading songs she included in her live repertoire.[13]

The Irish singer Freddie White performed "Down to Zero" in concert, and his rendition can be found on his 1979 live album Recorded Live on Tour 1978.[14]


  1. ^ Mayes, p. 59
  2. ^ Mayes, p. 58
  3. ^ Dave Connolly. "Joan Armatrading - Joan Armatrading | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-10-11. 
  4. ^ O'Brien, p.185
  5. ^ Mellers, p. 218
  6. ^ "Joan Armatrading Discography – UK". 45cat. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  7. ^ "Nurse, Episode 1 – Music Played". BBC. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Black Echoes, p.15
  9. ^ "Early Whistle test details and discrepancies |". Retrieved 2016-10-11. 
  10. ^ "BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, 2016". BBC Radio 2. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  11. ^ "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  12. ^ "Down to Zero – Lili Añel". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Luck, Joyce (1997). Melissa Etheridge : Our Little Secret. ECW Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-55022-298-2. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Freddie White – Recorded Live On Tour 1978". Discogs. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 


  • Joan Armatrading (1976) A&M Records: AMLH 64588 (sleeve notes)
  • Harvey, Peter. Black Echoes (magazine) "Joan's Gentle Triumph: Individual Armatrading", 22 October 1977
  • Mayes, Sean (1990). Joan Armatrading – A Biography (unauthorised). Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-81058-8. 
  • Mellers, Wilfrid (1986) Angels of the Night: Popular Female Singers of our Time, Blackwell ISBN 0-631-14696-2
  • O'Brien, Lucy (1995) She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Pop, Rock and Soul, Harmondsworth: Penguin ISBN 014023232X

External links[edit]