From Langley Park to Memphis
|From Langley Park to Memphis|
|Studio album by|
|Released||14 March 1988|
|Producer||Thomas Dolby, Jon Kelly, Paddy McAloon, Andy Richards|
|Prefab Sprout chronology|
|Singles from From Langley Park to Memphis|
From Langley Park to Memphis is the third studio album by English pop band Prefab Sprout. It was released by Kitchenware Records on 14 March 1988. It peaked at number 5 on the UK Albums Chart, the highest position for any studio album released by the band. Recorded in Newcastle, London and Los Angeles, it has a more polished and commercial sound than their earlier releases, and features several guest stars including Stevie Wonder and Pete Townshend. The album's simpler songs, big productions and straight-forward cover photo reflect frontman Paddy McAloon's wish for it to be a more universal work than their more cerebral earlier albums.
Five singles were released to promote the album: in order of release, "Cars and Girls", "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" (the band's only top 10 hit on the UK Singles Chart), "Hey Manhattan!", "Nightingales" and "The Golden Calf".
Background and recording
After the critical and commercial success of Prefab Sprout's Thomas Dolby-produced second album, 1985's Steve McQueen, Paddy McAloon felt under pressure to deliver a worthy follow-up. McAloon resolved to quickly record and release a new album using limited production values. Titled Protest Songs, the album was recorded over two weeks in Newcastle and intended for a limited release in late 1985. However, "When Love Breaks Down", a single from Steve McQueen, became a transatlantic hit in October 1985, and Protest Songs was put on hold by CBS so as not to confuse new fans and stunt sales of Steve McQueen.
Starting work on a new follow-up to Steve McQueen in 1987, the band considered rerecording songs from Protest Songs, but decided to leave the album untouched and start anew. In a February 1988 interview, Paddy McAloon provided an update on the album, indicating it was still due for release: "CBS know they're on to a good thing, they know they've got a record that's been made for next to nothing that a lot of people are going to be interested in, even if they are the real diehard fans". Protest Songs was finally released in June 1989, 15 months after From Langley Park to Memphis.
The album was recorded sporadically over a year in Newcastle, London and Los Angeles. Steve McQueen producer Thomas Dolby was unable to commit to producing the entire album due to his work on the soundtrack for George Lucas's Howard the Duck, ultimately a critical and commercial flop. Instead, Dolby produced the four tracks he liked the most out of 16 demos sent to him by McAloon. McAloon produced most of the remaining tracks in collaboration with Jon Kelly, while Andy Richards took Kelly's place for "Hey Manhattan!" and "The Golden Calf" was produced by McAloon alone. McAloon did not want the album's sound to be as uniform as Steve McQueen's, and initially planned to use 10 different producers. This was ultimately deemed that a logistical impossibility.  The album features guest appearances from Pete Townshend, Stevie Wonder and the Andraé Crouch singers – McAloon felt the latter two's contributions proved the band's music was not exclusively British.
Musical and lyrical style
In contrast to Prefab Sprout's previous work, most of the new album's songs were written on keyboard. Perhaps as a result, the album has described as more "sonically soft" than previous works by the band. McAloon's home recording and composing setup at the time included a Roland JX-3P, a Roland JX-10, a Yamaha DX7, an Ensoniq Mirage and a Casiotone. McAloon was most comfortable with the JX-3P for composing. A Fostex B16 was used for recording demos. McAloon deliberately aimed to write more accessible songs than those on the band's earlier records, stating "I've realised that a good simple song is better than a half-successful complicated one". McAloon sought to expand the band's sound to incorporate his favourite elements of popular music, including Gospel music and Broadway, and to reach an audience "seduced by the overall glamour and romanticism". According to Sam Sodomsky of Pitchfork, From Langley Park to Memphis includes an eclectic mix of styles including alternative rock ("The Golden Calf"), standards ("Nightingales") and Broadway-style singalong ("Hey Manhattan"). Several songs feature American themes, reflected in the album's title. McAloon explained in a 1988 interview that he often drew inspiration from America for his songs because "America remains an inexhaustible source of myths and the extreme".
Of the album's ten tracks, Thomas Dolby produced "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", "I Remember That", "Knock on Wood" and "The Venus Of The Soup Kitchen". "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" was written in 1985. The lyrics are written from the perspective of a washed-up singer who had a one-hit wonder in the 1950s with a novelty song featuring the chorus “Hot dog, jumping frog, alberquerque”. McAloon was aware of the song's commercial potential early on, and felt it would surprise fans used to the band’s earlier, more cerebral material. When released as the lead single from the album, it became Prefab Sprout’s biggest hit and gave them their only showing on the UK Singles Chart top 10, peaking at number 7. Musically, "I Remember That" is, according to Nils Johansson of Sweden's NSD, a gospel ballad. McAloon considered the song's nostalgic mood a lighter lyrical theme than that of a love song, with the title phrase being "close to romanticism without actually being sloppy". He tried to sing the song with a "lightness of feeling". "I Remember That" was later released as a single in 1993 to promote the greatest hits album A Life of Surprises: The Best of Prefab Sprout. In a 1997 interview, McAloon named "I Remember That" "the best song I've ever written". "Knock on Wood" has been described by Melody Maker's David Stubbs as a "song about breakdown, how the man who jilts will himself be jilted, couched in a beautifully adhesive reggae lilt." The album's closer is "The Venus of the Soup Kitchen". McAloon wanted the song's melody to be far-reaching and resonant, with the chorus expressing "the emotional participation of everyone listening to it". He described the song's meaning in a 1988 interview "Venus travels along the road from Langley Park to Memphis. I have imagined it full of troubled people, people who need a Venus who can cook soup for them". The song features the Andraé Crouch Singers, whose contribution was recorded in Stevie Wonder's studio in Los Angeles.
Jon Kelly produced "Cars and Girls", "Enchanted", "Nightingales" and "Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)". "Cars and Girls" was written in 1985, and played by the band during live appearances that year. Lyrically, the song is a comment on Bruce Springsteen's use of romantic metaphors in his songs. It is often seen as indicating a personal distaste for Springsteen, but McAloon elaborated on the lyrics in a 1992 interview; "The point of the parody is this: not that I think Bruce Springsteen is crap, it's that I think a lot of his audience get into him on a patriotic level that he doesn't intend. They misinterpret him, their enjoyment of him is inaccurate, all very imperialist American. I wanted to write a song about someone who was thick white trash, listening to Springsteen, and saying 'But our lives aren't like that'". "Cars and Girls" was released as the album's lead single but flopped, only reaching number 44. Nevertheless, it has become one of the band's best-known songs. Paddy McAloon has described "Enchanted" as being about "finding something to be excited about, year after year". Thomas Dolby suggested Prince should produce the track, but the album's sound engineer David Leonard failed to find Prince at Sunset Sound Recorders to approach him. McAloon sampled the opening bass run of Glen Campbell's recording of "Wichita Lineman" for the song's bassline.
McAloon wrote "Nightingales" with Barbra Streisand – whose The Broadway Album he was engrossed by – in mind. He described it as "the purest song we've done since When Love Breaks Down". McAloon originally envisioned the song featuring a horn solo, but ultimately composed a complex harmonica solo and wrote a letter to Stevie Wonder asking for him to play it. Wonder hadn't heard of Prefab Sprout but nevertheless obliged, adding his own melodic lines to the song. McAloon would later describe his contribution as "so breathtakingly good and precise, even though he said himself it was quite complicated". "Nightingales" was released as the album's fourth single, charting at number 78 in the UK. McAloon has described "Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)" as "a modern love story". The song is about a married couple who work together, with the wife being the husband's boss. "Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)" was among the ten tracks listed in NME's "Alternative Best of Prefab Sprout" in 1992.
Andy Richards produced "Hey Manhattan!", a song McAloon wrote on piano. McAloon originally wanted an American, Isaac Hayes, to sing it. The proposed collaboration was quashed when Hayes' manager wanted more than was offered. The song is about an enthusiastic teenager who arrives in a big city, and McAloon has described the song as not about Manhattan or the United States specifically, but "dreams and ambitions much more than that". Pete Townshend provided acoustic guitar for the song during the mixing stage at his studio. McAloon was nervous about the song's production during recording, having not worked with Andy Richards before, but ultimately approved of his work. Nevertheless, he'd describe "Hey Manhattan!" as "the one song I'm dissatisfied with the way we realised it. It's pretty but it's a failure.". The song was released as the album's third single, reaching number 72 on the UK Singles Chart.
"The Golden Calf" was self-produced by Paddy McAloon. It is one of the earliest-written songs Prefab Sprout have released, having been composed in 1977 when the band was a guitar-based trio who made music McAloon would describe as "Heavy Metal meeting Disco". McAloon described recording the song for the album as "like doing a cover version because I don’t remember what it was about". McAloon sings in a less breathy tone than usual on the track, which he felt Thomas Dolby would not have allowed and was more in line with his vocals from Swoon. "The Golden Calf" has been described by Andreas Hub of Fachblatt as "a real rocker" and has garnered comparisons to the work of Pete Townshend, Marc Bolan and Del Amitri. The song was offered to American album-oriented rock radio stations by Epic in advance promotion of the album. "The Golden Calf" was released as the album's fifth and final single, and promoted by the band with a performance on the children's television programme Get Fresh. It charted at number 82 in the UK.
From Langley Park to Memphis was released by Kitchenware Records on 14 March 1988. The album's title comes from a line from "The Venus of the Soup Kitchen" - "Maybe it hurts your brothers too, from Langley Park to Memphis" - a lyric about universal emotions. Langley Park is a village in County Durham near where the band originated. Memphis was chosen as it was where Elvis Presley began his career. The title has been construed as a reference to Presley's album From Memphis to Vegas / From Vegas to Memphis. The album cover, designed by Nick Knight, is a straight-forward image of the four band members, intended to reflect how the album is clearer and more direct than its predecessors. The album was the Prefab Sprout's first to chart in the top 20, entering the UK Albums Chart at number 5 and remaining in the chart for 23 weeks. It remains the band's highest-charting studio album. A remastered edition of the album was issued by Sony Music on 27 September 2019.
The album's commercial success brought with it an uncomfortable level of recognition for Paddy McAloon, who would later recollect "I was asked for autographs, girls wanted to put their hands in my hair, touch me... ...the glamorous aspect of our music has always been for me a way of showing how we as individuals are the opposite of this glittering world.". Despite demand from fans and CBS, Prefab Sprout did not tour the album as McAloon did not want to sacrifice what he described as "the best time of my life for writing", stating "I know that if I go on the road I'll just end up writing in the same way as everyone else.". In interviews surrounding the album's release, McAloon alluded to two new projects he was working on – a Christmas album called Total Snow and a musical about the fictional masked vigilante Zorro called Zorro the Fox. As of 2021, neither of these projects have materialised.
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
From Langley Park to Memphis received mixed reviews. Rolling Stone's Peter Wilkinson described the album as "overreaching", elaborating "McAloon tries leavening disjointed talk with instrumental gimmickry. Songs built around McAloon's guitar are lost in a swirl of strings and the noodlings of no less than five engineers and four producers". Dave Rimmer of Q considered it "probably their best album yet" but found "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" "a mite irritating". He felt that "the only true duff part is the overblown imagery of 'Golden Calf'". NME's Len Brown was not enamoured with the album's production style, calling it "sickly" and "cluttered". He considered the album "a largely bland affair", but praised "Cars and Girls" and "Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)". Creem's Kurt B. Riley was critical of the album, feeling that the songwriting was "done a great disservice by ill-fitting arrangements". Melody Maker's David Stubbs felt it was "less strong" than Steve McQueen but "more ambitious". Vogue's Barney Hoskyns commented "at least seven of its 10 songs are more accessible, more ravishingly beautiful than anything McAloon has written". Both Record Mirror and Hot Press ranked the album number 5 in their "Albums of the Year" list. Additionally, the album was included in "Albums of the Year" lists in Q, The Village Voice, Musikexpress, Spex and Rockdelux. Dave DiMartino of Billboard ranked the album his fifth favourite of the year, commenting "Paddy McAloon has seen the future of rock and roll - and has returned bearing the names of Jimmy Webb, Cole Porter and absolutely no songs about cars 'n' girls". In 1991, Melody Maker's Paul Lester described From Langley Park to Memphis as "a hyper-modern dazzling white pop LP that ranks alongside Dare, The Lexicon Of Love and Colour By Numbers".
Among retrospective reviews, Jason Ankeny of AllMusic gave the "ambitious" album 4 stars out of 5, calling it "Prefab Sprout's spiritual journey into the heart of American culture", though he felt it paled in comparison to Steve McQueen. Writing in Italy's Ciao Magazine in 1990, Paolo Battigelli described it as a "not entirely convincing record" but added "Cars and Girls" confirmed McAloon as a composer with a rare talent, albeit one hiding himself behind allegories and tortuous references." Writing for Pitchfork upon the album's reissue in 2019, Sam Sodomsky considered the album as "catchy and complex" as its best known songs "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Cars and Girls" and described the music as "colourful and hopeful and alive - everything seems to sparkle, right down to the glossy band photo on the album cover".
All tracks are written by Paddy McAloon.
|1.||"The King of Rock 'n' Roll"||4:22|
|2.||"Cars and Girls"||4:25|
|3.||"I Remember That"||4:14|
|7.||"Knock on Wood"||4:16|
|8.||"The Golden Calf"||5:06|
|9.||"Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)"||4:02|
|10.||"The Venus of the Soup Kitchen"||4:29|
Credits adapted from liner notes.
- Thomas Dolby – keyboards (1, 3, 7, 10)
- Gary Moberley – keyboards (2, 4, 5)
- Paul "Wix" Wickens – keyboards (2, 4, 5, 9)
- Andy Richards – keyboards (6)
- Luís Jardim – percussion (2, 4, 5, 6)
- Lenny Castro – percussion (10)
- Stevie Wonder – harmonica (5)
- Pete Townshend – acoustic guitar (6)
- The Andraé Crouch Singers – vocals (3, 10)
- Gavin Wright – strings lead (5, 6, 9)
- Robin Smith – string arrangement, conduct (5, 9)
- John Altman – string arrangement, conduct (6)
- Thomas Dolby – production (1, 3, 7, 10)
- Jon Kelly – production (2, 4, 5, 9)
- Paddy McAloon – production (2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9)
- Andy Richards – production (6)
- David Leonard – mixing (1, 3, 7, 10)
- Richard Moakes – mixing (2, 4, 9)
- Mike Shipley – mixing (5)
- Tony Philips – mixing (6)
- Michael H. Brauer – mixing (8)
- Tim Young – mastering
- Stephen Male – design
- Nick Knight – photography
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||58|
|Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)||49|
|Italian Albums (FIMI)||9|
|New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)||34|
|Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)||18|
|UK Albums (OCC)||5|
|European Albums (Music & Media)||98|
|Italian Albums (FIMI)||52|
|UK Albums (OCC)||87|
Certifications and sales
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
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