JOHN MILES-THE DECCA ALBUMS.

JOHN MILES-THE DECCA ALBUMS.

Every artist dreams of a hit single. Especially one that tops the charts, and goes on to feature on radio playlists for the next forty years. The only problem with this, is that sometimes, the artist becomes synonymous with that one hit single. That’s the case with John Miles.

Forty years ago in 1976, John Miles released his most successful single Music. Since then, every time John Miles’ name comes up in conversation, Music is mentioned. That must be frustrating for the English singer-songwriter. After all, John Miles released ten albums between 1976 and 1999. This includes the four albums for Decca Records. They can be found on the recently released five disc John Miles box set, The Decca Albums. It was released by Decca Records and also includes a BBC Live In Concert recording from March 1978. The Decca Albums box set is a reminder that there’s much more to John Miles than one single. 

John Miles was born in Jarrow, in County Durham, England on 23rd April 1949. Growing up, music played a big part in John Miles’ life. While still at Jarrow Grammar School, John joined a local band, The Influence.

Three of the members of The Influence were keyboardist John Miles, drummer Paul Thompson and guitarist Vic Malcolm. Incredibly, they all went on to become successful musicians. Paul Thompson became Roxy Music drummer, while Vic Malcolm became Geordie’s lead guitarist. That was still to come. 

In 1969, The Influence released a single on Orange Records, I Want To Live. This was just the start of what would be a long, and eventually successful recording career. Not with The Influence though.They disbanded not long after the release of I Want To Live.  

Following his spell with The Influence, John Miles founded The John Miles Set, which featured bassist Bob Marshall. He and John would later form a successful songwriting partnership. That was in the future. Before that, The John Miles Set began to play the club circuit. However, in 1970, John decided to combine a solo career with playing with The John Miles Set.

This was a big step for John Miles. He was still only twenty-one. Already though, people were taking notice of John Miles. This included the owners of Orange Records who had released The Influence’s single. They released Why Don’t You Love Me?, John’s debut solo single in September 1970. While it failed commercially, John was attracting the attention of Decca Records.

They offered John Miles a recording deal for one single. It was akin to an audition, and also allowed Decca Records to test the waters. Josie was released on 7th July 1971. Alas, the single failed to trouble the charts and John was soon looking for a new record company. 

Fortunately, Orange Records had just changed hands, and new owner Cliff Cooper was looking to add new artists to his roster. John Miles fitted the bill. Orange Records sent John into the studio, and he recorded Come Away Melinda. It was released as a single in February 1972. Just over a month later, Yesterday (Was Just The Beginning) was released in March 1972. Despite neither single sold in vast quantities, Orange Records kept their faith in John Miles.

Meanwhile, The John Miles Set featured on the British talent show Opportunity Knocks. They won their heat, and found themselves in the All Winner’s Show. For John Miles, this was a boost to his solo carer.

An even bigger boost to John Miles solo career during 1972, was getting the opportunity to support Roy Orbison at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. Gradually, people were beginning to know the name John Miles.

Orange Records continued to keep faith in John Miles. He released a trio of singles during 2013. This included Hard Road in March 1973, Jacqueline in May 1973 and One Minute Every Hour in August 1973. Still, though, commercial success eluded John Miles. 

It was a similar story in 1974. Fright Of My Life was released in January 1974, but failed commercially. That was all that was heard of John Miles until he released What’s On Your Mind in November 1974. While it didn’t trouble the charts, John was improving as a singer and songwriter. His songwriting partnership with Bob Marshall was beginning to bear fruit. Similarly, over the last three years John’s band, which featured bassist Bob Marshall and drummer Barry Black, John Miles had matured and evolved into a tight, talented band. Maybe John’s luck would begin to change?

That was the case in 1975. As the year progressed, record companies began to take an interest in John Miles. Both EMI and Decca Records were vying for John’s signature. This was a huge decision for the twenty-six year old. Eventually, though, John decided that Decca Records who were looking to add to their contemporary pop roster, offered more of an opportunity.

By then, Decca Records’ pop roster had become stale, with Tom Jones and Englebert Humpererdinck looking like yesterday’s men. Decca Records was desperately seeking a transfusion of new talent. That was where John Miles came in. He was seen as part of Decca Records’ future. So, after opening for The Ohio Players at the Hammersmith Odeon, John and representative of Decca Records signed a recording contract.

Rebel.

With John Miles signed to Decca Records, the label decided to pair their latest signing, with one of Britain’s top producers, Alan Parsons. He had worked with Pink Floyd on their Magnus Opus, Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973. Since then, he had worked with some of the biggest names in music. So it was a something of a coup that he agreed to produce John Miles new single.

The song they chose Highfly, which in Alan Parsons’ hands, took on an art rock sound. It was released on September 1975, and eventually, reached seventeen in the UK charts and sixty-eight in the US Billboard 200. Exactly five years after he released his debut solo single, John Miles had his first hit single.

After the success of Highfly, John Miles would complete recording of his debut album. It featured nine songs, including six penned by John and Bob Marshall. The exceptions were Music, Lady of My Life and Music (Reprise) which John wrote. They were recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

During November and December John Miles and his band headed to Abbey Road Studios in November 1975. Drummer and percussionist Barry Black and bassist Bob Marshall accompanied John. He added lead vocals, and played keyboards, guitar and synths. Andrew Powell took charge of the orchestral arrangements and Alan Parsons produced, what would become Rebel.

As 1975 gave way to 1976, Decca Records began to think about what should be the lead single from Rebel. The song they chose was Music, a near six minute epic. It was released in March 1976 and reached the upper reaches of the charts across Europe. Music reached number three in the UK; number four in Holland; number number one in Switzerland and eighty-eight in the US Billboard 100. Later, Music won John Miles an Ivor Novello award for Best Middle-Of-The-Road Song. Before that, Rebel was released.

Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Rebel, which was hailed as an album of carefully crafted pop songs. Music may have been the standout track, but there was much more to the album, including the John Miles and Bob Marshall penned You Have it All, When You Lose Someone So Young and Lady Of My. They had matured into a talented songwriting team, while John brought each of the songs to life. It was no surprise that when Rebel was released later in March 1976, it reached number nine in the UK and 171 in the US Billboard 200. Elsewhere, Rebel reached the top twenty in Holland and Germany, and the top thirty in Sweden. For John this the perfect way to begin The Decca Years.

After the release of Rebel, John Miles embarked upon a lengthy tour. It marked the debut of Australian keyboardist Gary Moberley. John had brought him onboard to augment the band’s sound. He would make his recording debut in the summer of 1976, when Stranger In The City was recorded.

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Stranger In The City.

During the summer of 1976, John Miles was touring, supporting both Jethro Tull and the Rolling Stones. Despite what was a gruelling touring schedule, John Miles still found time to begin work on his sophomore album, Stranger In The City.

This time around, the eight of the nine songs on Stranger In The City were penned by John Miles and and Bob Marshall. The exception was Barry Black penned Do It Anyway. Recording of Stranger In The City began in the summer of 1976.

Despite the success of Rebel, Alan Parsons didn’t return to produce Stranger In The City. Instead, singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes took charge of producing John Miles’ newly expanded band. Recording took place at Mediasound in New York and Utopia Studios in London. That was where the newly expanded lineup of the band got to work.

Drummer Barry Black and bassist Bob Marshall were joined by keyboardist Gary Moberley. John added lead vocals, and played piano and guitar. However, the album wasn’t completed during the summer of 1976. So John and his band returned in October 1976, before heading off on their European tour.

In January 1977, Manhattan Skyline was released as the lead single from Stranger In The City. It failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic. For John Miles and everyone at Decca Records, this was a worrying time. However, in February 1977, Stranger In The City was released.

Reviews of Stranger In The City had been mostly positive. The occasional critic wasn’t convinced that Stranger In The City was as cohesive an album as Rebel. It was a much more eclectic album, with everything from pop to blue eyed soul, funk, rock and soul. Slow Down even married rock and funk with disco. Now that critics had cast their vote on Stranger In The City, the album was released.

When Stranger In The City in February 1977, the album reached just thirty-seven in the UK. However, in America, Stranger In The City proved much more popular, reaching ninety-three in the US Billboard 200. Elsewhere, the album reached the top twenty in Norway and Sweden. That, however, wasn’t the end of the commercial success.

Slow Down was released as a single in May 1977. It reached number ten in the UK and thirty-four in the US Billboard 200. Given its dance-floor friendly sound, Slow Down gave John Miles a hit in the US Dance Music charts, when it reached number two. The John Miles’ success story continued apace.

Clive Davis at Arista Records was watching events unfold. He had an unrivalled reputation as a talent spotter, and wanted John Miles on Arista Records’ roster. This he soon discovered, would come at a price. That price was in the region of $500,000. Undeterred, Clive Davis wrote the cheque, and John Miles was now signed to Arista Records in America. Back home in Britain, The Decca Years continued.

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Zaragon.

Following the release of Stranger In The City, John Miles spent much 1977 touring the album. Then in October 1977, John began to record his much-anticipated third album, Zaragon.

For Zaragon, the John Miles and Bob Marshall songwriting team wrote seven new songs. This included the eight minute epic Plain Jane, and the three part suite Nice Man Jack. These seven songs were recorded by John’s original band with Rupert Holmes again taking charge of production.

When recording began in October 1977, there was no sign of keyboardist Gary Moberley. He had left the band. This left just drummer Barry Black and bassist Bob Marshall. John added lead vocals, and played keyboards, synths and guitar. This time, it was decided that there should be no orchestral arrangements. 

John Miles wanted to be able to replicate the songs live. Just like many progressive rock groups, including Emerson, Lake and Palmer, John had discovered the more complicated the arrangement, the harder it is to replicate live. It seemed John had learned his lesson after two years of trying to replicate the arrangements on Rebel and Stranger In The City. That may not have been the only reason.

Music was changing, with punk, post punk and disco among the most popular musical genres So were people’s opinions on orchestral arrangements. Many critics and record industry insiders thought that albums with orchestral arrangements were yesterday’s sound. For John Miles, he was moving towards rock epics, like Overture, which lasted nine minutes. Keyboards and synths were to the fore, and replaced the lush, orchestral arrangements of previous albums. Over the course of three months, John Miles had reinvented himself. The reinvention of John Miles was complete in December 1977, when Zaragon was handed over to Decca Records.

With Zaragon complete, John Miles was preparing for his next tour. He felt he needed another keyboardist to augment the band. The man he turned to was Brian Chatton, who would head out on tour with John Miles in March 1978. Before that, the lead single from Zaragon was released.

No Hard Feelings, a beautiful piano based was chosen. It was released in late February 1978, but failed to chart. This didn’t bode well for the release of Zaragon.

At least Zaragon was well received by most critics. This mixture of the occasional ballad and rock epics proved to be a popular and potent combination. Especially songs like Overture, I Have Never Been in Love Before, No Hard Feelings and Zaragon.  They were among the highlights of Zaragon, which was released in March 1978.

Zaragon was released in UK on Decca Records, and reached forty-three. This was regarded as a success given how music had changed over the last year or so. Elsewhere, Zaragon reached number three in Norway and Sweden. John had built up a loyal following after years of constantly touring Europe. One place where John wanted his commercial success to continue was America.

In America,  Zaragon was John Miles’ debut for Arista Records. John was hoping that Zaragon would get his career with Arista Records to a successful start. Especially since Clive Davis had spent  $500,000 it took to buy John Miles out of his American recording contract. The pressure was on and John wanted to justify the $500,000 price tag.

Alas, John was out of luck, and Zaragon reached just 210 in the US Billboard 200. It was John’s first album not to chart in America. For John this was a bitter blow. All was not lost though.

Maybe though, a performance on British television and radio would help sales of Zaragon?

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BBC In Concert (March 1978).

Back home in Britain, one of the BBC’s most popular music shows on television and radio was Sight and Sound In Concert. It allowed an artist to be heard by a vast audience. Many of them had a voracious appetite when it came to buying albums. A good performance on Sight and Sound In Concert, would given Zaragon and the rest of John Miles’ back-catalogue.

So on 11th March 1978, John Miles and his band headed to Queen Margaret’s College, London. Drummer Barry Black and bassist Bob Marshall were joined by keyboardist Brian Chatton. Lead by John, they worked their way through a ten song set.

Opening with Nice Man Jack from Zaragon, John Miles returned to Stranger In The City, for Music Man. Then it was a return to Zaragon, for Plain Jane, Overture, Zaragon and No Hard Feelings. Having showcased Zaragon, John returned to his sophomore album Stranger In The City. Stand Up (and Give Me A Reason gave way to Stranger In The City. With just two songs to go, John returned to Zaragon and played Borderline, before closing the show with Slow Down from Stranger In The City. One song was missing, from what had been another accomplished and polished performance from John…Music. What John would given for another song like Music, for his fourth album for Decca Records, MMPH-More Miles Per Hour.

MMPH-More Miles Per Hour.

John Miles’ decision to eschew orchestral arrangements on Zaragon had backfired. It was time to rethink his future musical direction. Maybe it was time for John to return to what had become his trademark sound. That wasn’t the other decision that he would have to make; did Rupert Holmes have a future as John’s producer. 

Rupert Holmes had neither built on, nor replicated the success of the Alan Parsons’ produced Rebel. Maybe he should’ve cautioned John Miles about changing direction on Zaragon? What was clear, that neither Stranger In The City nor Zaragon, replicated the quality nor commercial success of Rebel. So a decision was made to bring Alan Parsons back to produce MMPH-More Miles Per Hour.

With Alan Parson back onboard, Andrew Powell returned to take charge of the orchestral arrangements on MMPH-More Miles Per Hour. It comprised eight songs penned by John Miles and Bob Marshall. Recording began in November 1978, at Super Bear Studios, near Nice, in France. That was where John Miles and his band began work. It featured drummer Barry Black and bassist Bob Marshall were joined by keyboardist Brian Chatton. The recording of MMPH-More Miles Per Hour was completed at Union Studios, in Munich, Germany. January 1979. Now John’s thought’s turned to the release of his fourth album.

Just three months later, MMPH-More Miles Per Hour was released in April 1979. Mostly, it was to critical acclaim. MMPH-More Miles Per Hour was a much more cohesive and focused album, which featured carefully crafted songs. They had been sweetened by Andrew Powell’s orchestral arrangements, and definitely benefited from Alan Parsons’ guiding hand. He seemed to able to get the best out of John Miles. Maybe this would result in a change in fortune for John?

Can’t Keep a Good Man Down was released as the lead single from More Miles Per Hour, but failed to chart. When MMPH-More Miles Per Hour was released, it stalled at forty-six in the UK, and failed to enter the US Billboard 200. A small crumb of comfort was that MMPH-More Miles Per Hour reached number six in Norway and ten in Sweden. That was as good as it got.

Neither of the other two singles from MMPH-More Miles Per Hour, Oh Dear, nor (Don’t Give me Your) Sympathy charted. For John Miles, it must have been a frustrating way to end The Decca Years. MMPH-More Miles Per Hour. like all of John’s Decca Records’ albums, deserved to fare better.

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After More Miles Per Hour, John Miles parted company with Decca Records. After just four years and four albums, The Decca Years were over. They feature on the recently released five disc box set, The Decca Years. It was released by Decca Records, and includes the four albums John Miles released for Decca Records. The fifth disc features the BBC Live In Concert recording from March 1978. It’s a tantalising taste of John Miles and his tight, talented band at their best. The live disc is a welcome addition, to The Decca Years. So are the bonus tracks that feature on each disc. That’s why The Decca Years is without doubt, a truly comprehensive retrospective of John Miles’ early career.

The Decca Years were also the most productive period of John Miles’ career. Not only was John averaging an album a year, but these albums featured what’s without doubt the best material of a recording career that spanned four decades. Incredibly, the four studio albums that feature in The Decca Years box set, were the most successful of John Miles’ career. Never again did he reach the same heights. That’s despite releasing another six studio albums.

Despite not releasing a studio album since Tom and Catherine in 1999, John continues to play live. He’s also regular at the Proms Concerts across Europe, where he will regularly play his classic single. That’s the song that’s become synonymous with John Miles. However, Music is only part of the John Miles’ story, which is documented on The Decca Years and what’s without doubt, some of the best music of his long and illustrious career.

JOHN MILES-THE DECCA ALBUMS.

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