In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to see many bands and artists in concert. Some of these concerts have been brilliant, others woeful. The band that this article is about, fall into the first category. When I saw them live, they were amazing, putting on a performance full of energy and passion. They played all of their well known tracks, and some new stuff. By the time the concert was over, the audience were enthralled, won over by the outstanding performance they had been fortunate enough to witness. The band this article is about is Prefab Sprout, and the album is From Langley Park To Memphis, released in March 1988. 

Prefab Sprout were formed in 1978 in Newcastle, England. Paddy McAloon is the lead singer and songwriter, and is widely recognized as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. During the band’s lifetime, there have been several personnel changes. The band released their first album Swoon on Kitchenware Records in 1984. It reached number twenty-two in the UK album charts. Swoon was a good debut album, and it was obvious that Prefab Sprout were a band with a good future ahead of them. Even in the early days, Paddy McAloon’s songwriting was of the highest standard, streets ahead of other songwriters around then.

Thomas Dolby produced their second album Steve McQueen. The album was critically acclaimed and featured the track When Love Breaks Down, which gave the band their first top thirty single, reaching number twenty-five. Although well received by critics, the album only reached number twenty-one in the UK album charts.

When From Langley Park To Memphis was released, the album sold much better, reaching number five in the UK album charts. The album also provided the band with their first top ten single, The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll, which reached number seven. Both Stevie Wonder and Pete Townsend made guest appearances on this album.

The next album Prefab Sprout released was Protest Songs, which was originally recorded in 1985. Protest Songs, although a good album, with some great tracks on it, failed to sell as well as From Langley Park To Memphis. It only reached number eighteen in the UK album charts.

1990 saw Prefab Sprout release Jordan: The Comeback. Like their second album Steve McQueen, Thomas Dolby was in charge of production. Jordan: The Comeback was a brilliant album, very different from earlier albums. The sound is much different, it’s bigger dramatic and maybe more accessible than previous albums. This album provided the band with another top ten album, reaching number seven.

Their next album was their most successful. What’s ironic about this, is that it was a compilation album, released in 1992, The Best of-A Life of Surprises. It reached number three in the UK album charts.

Prefab Sprout’s next studio album Andromeda Heights, wasn’t released until 1997. It is a vastly underrated album, one people overlook when looking back at Prefab Sprout’s career. Like their previous two albums, it reached the top ten, peaking at number seven. Sadly, that was the last successful album the band released. Wendy Smith left the band after a brief tour to promote Andromeda Heights. Whether that has any baring on the group’s lack of commercial success, is open to debate.

Since the release of Andromeda Heights, Prefab Sprout have only released three further albums. 1999 saw the release of 38 Carat Collection, another “best of” collection, which their record label CBS released as the group were leaving the label. It made little impact on the album charts, reaching only number ninety-five.

Two further studio albums were released by Prefab Sprout. The Gunman and Other Stories in 2001. This was a a concept album based around the theme of the wild west. By now, the only members of the band were Paddy McAloon and his brother Martin. The album received mixed reviews, and only reached number sixty in the album charts.

The last album released by Prefab Sprout was Let’s Change The World With Music in 2009. It was a welcome return to form for the band, and featured some wonderful music. Critics gave the album favorable reviews, but sadly, the album only reached number thirty-nine in the album charts. 

Sadly, in the last few years, Paddy McAloon has suffered from poor health. This has affected his vision and hearing. He doesn’t give many interviews, and is a private person. Thankfully, during his musical career so far, he has written and sung some wonderful songs, songs that many people treasure to this day. My hope is that his health will improve, and very soon, he’ll be back doing what he does best, writing and singing brilliant pop music.

Now that you know about Prefab Sprout’s career, I will tell what makes From Langley Park To Memphis, such a great album. The album opens with Prefab Sprout’s biggest single The King of Rock ‘N” Roll. Straight away the album grabs your attention, grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and screaming listen! From the opening vocal harmonies and the synth playing, to Paddy McAloon’s vocal you hear is four and a half minutes of pop perfection. It’s Intelligent pop music that’s catchy, infectious and laden with hooks. You can’t fail to be seduced by its charms. A brilliant start to the album.

After such a great start to the album, pop perfection continues with Cars and Girls. Like The King of Rock ‘N” Roll, it’s another slice of perfect pop from Paddy McAloon. The track starts with backing vocals sweetly harmonizing, drums crash, and then the track turns into yet another minor pop classic. Paddy McAloon is a master at writing this type of track. It’s hook overload, the band give one their best performances on this track. The sound is big, full and very smooth. Drums and guitars are the forefront of the track. Wendy Smith’s backing vocals are a perfect foil for McAloon, and together, they produce a joyous uptempo track.

Prefab Sprout allow you to draw breath by dropping the tempo on I Remember That. It’s a slower track, one with a much simpler arrangement. The lyrics are romantic and thoughtful, and McAloon’s delivery of them is soft, gentle and highlight their beauty. I Remember That, starts gently, and meanders beautifully, benefiting from an understated arrangement. Quite simply, a lovely track.

Strange noises produced by a synth start Enchanted. This fools you. You wonder where the track is heading. Thankfully, it’s heading in the right direction. McAloon sings the sweetest of vocals, his voice very different from the previous track. There is one problem with the track. It features a synth which produces some jarring sounds. These sounds that are at odds with the rest of the arrangement. They’re like a minor assault on your senses, and slightly spoil the rest of the arrangement. That said, Enchanted is still a good track, one that would be better without the addition of that synth.

Nightingales is a much better track, a real return to form for the band. A keyboard plays at the start of the track, McAloon sings, his voice sweet, almost seductive. The arrangement is perfect, keyboard, drums understated, play in the background, sleigh bells and Stevie Wonder on harmonica complete the lineup. They sit in the background, never overpowering the vocal, allowing McAloon to take centre-stage, singing some intelligent, sad and thoughtful lyrics. 

Hey Manhattan sees the band up the tempo. It’s a joyous song, one that strides along proudly. The sound is grandiose, overblown and totally glorious. It’s a song filled with hope and promise, a journey through about the sights and sounds of the American way. From the start, the song sweeps along proudly, the band coming together to produce one of their greatest songs. It’s not only a highpoint on this album, but in their career. When I hear tracks like this, I’m astounded that Prefab Sprout were never a much bigger band, especially in the US. 

The next track, Knock On Wood, sees a very different sound and style. It’s a melting pot of styles. Listen carefully, you’ll even hear a slight reggae sound trying to emerge. Here, the sound meanders, rhythms and sounds emerging, developing and flowing, a variety of styles. Sometimes they blend well, merging effectively. McAloon sings the song with a very different style. His vocal is almost subdued, not as clear or confident. This suits the style of the song. The lyrics are tinged with sadness, even cynicism, and are about the problems with relationships. Knock On Wood is quite different to other songs on the album, one that shows another of the many sides to Prefab Sprout.

The Golden Calf starts with jangling guitars, reverberating. Drums provide a steady backdrop. The sound is both loud and full. McAloon’s vocal is high, loud and somewhat forced. His voice is full of passion. This track has a real 1980s’ sound. It’s like being transported back in time. When you listen to the lyrics, their full of vivid imagery, and even have a surreal quality in places. It’s an interesting track, one that seems slightly out of place on this album, it’s loud, almost raucous in places, totally different from tracks like I Remember That and Nightingales. However, having said all that, this is still a good track.

Nancy (Let Your Hair Down For Me) is the complete opposite to the previous track, The Golden Calf. Whereas The Golden Calf was loud, sometimes even raucous, Nancy (Let Your Hair Down For Me) is a beautiful, gentle song, one that has some of lovely lyrics. It’s the complete opposite to the previous track. When Paddy McAlloon sings the lyrics, he sings them softly, as if he means them, they almost sound personal to him. The arrangement is understated, deliberately subdued, allowing the song to breath, the lyrics to stand out, show their beauty. 

From Langley Park To Memphis ends with The Venus of The Soup Kitchen. It starts with McAloon and Smith singing in unison. Then McAloon takes over, half-singing, half-speaking the lyrics. His voice is strong and clear. He is aided and abetted effectively, by Wendy Smith on backing vocals. The arrangement isn’t over complicated. There is nothing in the arrangement that doesn’t add to the song, and improve it. It’s a fitting song to end the album, a masterful example of McAloon’s songwriting skills and a brilliant overall performance from the band.

From Langley Park To Memphis was one of Prefab Sprout’s best albums. Although their early albums were all good, this album was much better. There are some wonderful songs on the album, songs that are amongst the best in the band’s career. The King of Rock ‘N” Roll, Cars and Girls and Hey Manhattan are minor classics, some of the best songs they’ve written and recorded. Even twenty-three years later, these songs sound as good as the day they were released. Like all quality songs, they sound timeless. McAloon’s voice on this album is fantastic. He demonstrates that he is capable of singing different styles of songs. Each time, he does so brilliantly. Should you never have heard this album before, or Prefab Sprout’s music before, I can highly recommend From Langley Park To Memphis. It’s an album full of wonderful music, some of the most perfect pop music your ears will be privileged to hear. Prefab Sprout released many fine albums, but among my other favorites are Jordan: The Comeback and Andromeda Heights. Should you just wish to hear their best work, the album to buy is The Best of-A Life of Surprises. One album that is hugely underrated is the last album they released, Let’s Change The World With Music. Whichever album you buy, you will hear some wonderful, joyous music, music that is timeless, and music you’ll never tired of hearing. Standout Tracks: The King of Rock ‘N” Roll, Cars and Girls, Hey Manhattan and Nancy (Let Your Hair Down For Me).


1 Comment

  1. Mark

    I’m listening to this album as I’m typing – Amazing and beautiful.

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