36 Years Ago: Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe Release Rockpile Albums Disguised as Solo Records
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The formation of Rockpile in the mid-’70s came with one major problem: The band’s co-leaders, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, were signed as solo acts to different labels. They temporarily solved that problem in June 1979 by releasing two solo albums — Edmunds’ Repeat When Necessary and Lowe’s Labour of Lust — that were, for all intents and purposes, Rockpile records.
The professional musical adventures of Edmunds and Lowe date back to the mid-’60s, when their paths frequently crossed as Edmunds was a member of the blues-based Love Sculpture. Lowe was in Kippington Lodge, and followed that up with a stint in the pub-rock group Brinsley Schwarz. Edmunds found some chart success with Love Sculpture in 1968 with a rock version of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” and as a solo artist in 1970 when “I Hear You Knocking” hit No.1 in England, and Top 5 in the U.S.
In 1974, Edmunds was hired to produce The New Favorites of … Brinsley Schwarz, which featured the original recording of Lowe’s ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,’ later a hit song for Elvis Costello. Even though it turned out to be its finest album — thanks in part to Edmunds’ work behind the board — the band fell apart shortly after its release.
Lowe went solo, releasing the “Bay City Rollers We Love You” single in order to get dumped by his label at the time. He would then become involved with the upstart Stiff Records, a company started by former Brinsley producer and associate Dave Robinson. Lowe found a home as both artist and producer here. Meanwhile, Edmunds had been signed by Led Zeppelin‘s Swan Song label.
In 1977, which is often remembered as Year Zero for punk, Edmunds released Get It, a blast of inspired rock ‘n’ roll that was a perfect nod to the music’s past souped up with punk energy. Lowe played bass on the album and had a hand in writing some of its songs. Another musician on the sessions, drummer Terry Williams, would soon team up with Lowe and Edmunds in Rockpile. The following year, Edmunds followed that up with the even more emphatic Tracks on Wax 4, which would include guitarist Billy Bremner. The foursome began touring as Rockpile.
Meanwhile, Columbia Records had snapped up part of Stiff’s roster, including Costello and Lowe, whose first solo album, Jesus of Cool, was released in a slightly altered track listing in the U.S. as Pure Pop for Now People. Edmunds, Williams and Bremner were the musicians on that LP too.
So when 1979 rolled around, Lowe and Edmunds had the tricky task of establishing themselves as vital solo acts as well as members of Rockpile, They did this by producing each other’s albums, with Rockpile credited as the band on both of them.
Lowe’s pop merges perfectly with Edmunds’ straight-laced rock on the two records. Repeat When Necessary kicks off with the Costello-penned “Girls Talk,” which hit No. 4 in the U.K. “Crawling From the Wreckage’, written by another scene contemporary, Graham Parker, follows.
Other highlights include ‘Sweet Little Lisa,’ which gives guitarist Albert Lee a moment in the spotlight, “Home in My Hand” (which had been previously covered by Schwarz on their 1973 album, Please Don’t Ever Change) and “Queen of Hearts,” later a hit for country singer Juice Newton.
Lowe’s Labour of Lust features a bit more edge than that found on his debut, thanks in part to the fact that Rockpile were now a full-time band. Their spirit is in full force throughout, especially on tracks like “Born Fighter,” “Switchboard Susan” and “Cracking Up.” Elsewhere, Lowe wasn’t about to let his pure pop go unheard, unleashing chewy nuggets like “Without Love” and “Skin Deep.”
Then there’s his breakthrough hit, “Cruel to Be Kind,” which leads off the album. Co-written by Ian Gomm, also a former member of Brinsley Schwarz, the cut became Lowe’s biggest hit, just missing the Top 10 in both the U.S. and U.K. (Gomm would have his own hit with ‘Hold On’ later in 1979.)
Repeat When Necessary was Edmunds’ first charting album in the States, making it to No. 54; Labour of Lust slid up to No. 31, but didn’t stay on the chart long. Rockpile would serve as the touring band for both artists during this period.
Edmunds released one more record for Swan Song to fulfill his contract, which allowed Rockpile to sign as a band with Columbia. They released Seconds of Pleasure in 1980. Even though it didn’t include any hits, the album fared better than both Lowe’s and Edmunds’ solo LPs, checking in at No. 27. Problems between the two frontmen caused the band to splinter a year later, leaving just the one album under the moniker.
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