22 August 2006

Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I

I got my dream job in 1980: public relations/public affairs director at WRAS, the campus radio station at Georgia State. I coordinated public service announcements and on-air concert and album giveaways. It was an exciting time to be in college radio, as new wave and post-punk and local bands ruled those airwaves. I was born obsessed with music, but my taste was pretty pedestrian when I joined WRAS. I wish I could say I was one of those cool high-school kids who obsessed over The Ramones and Patti Smith and Iggy Pop, but I wasn’t. I listened to Boz Scaggs, Boston, and the Marshall Tucker Band; I even owned a (gasp!) Leo Sayer album. Nothing wrong with them, of course (well, except for Leo Sayer), but I was ready to expand my musical horizons and record collection.

My first three album giveaways changed my music life: The B-52’s Wild Planet, The English Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It, and Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I. I got a copy of each record we gave away, and those three opened up my world. I couldn’t stop playing them. They were different than anything I’d heard on WQXI, 96 Rock, or 94 FM. Me Myself I introduced me to singer-songwriters, and Joan Armatrading remains at the top of that genre in my CD closet.

For the seven or eight of you out there who owned LPs, don’t you miss them? I loved everything about them — ripping off the cellophane as soon as I got in the car, soaking up the artwork, studying the liner notes (back when I didn’t need a magnifying glass to read the 3-point type used on CDs), eager to get home and drop the needle in the groove. I enjoyed the hiss just before the first song began, the pops and occasional skips that personalized my albums. I like the convenience of the CD and I’m addicted to MP3s, but I miss the thrill of opening a new LP.

Me Myself I is an empowering album about a personally and sexually confident woman. Every song, every lyric struck my proverbial chord — heartfelt, compassionate, honest tunes about love and friendship and self. This album is more upbeat, cheerier than her previous albums, but not to the point of poppiness.

The title track, the first song on the album, became an anthem for me on the first listen. I’d always enjoyed being alone, and here was a song that declared that love of singleness.

I sit here by myself
And you know I love it
You know I don’t want someone
To come pay a visit
I wanna be by myself
I came in this world alone
Me myself I

Joan let me know that the desire to be alone didn’t mean I was weird.

“Friends” always makes me think of Janice, my best friend in high school — that longing for a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, that remembrance of having to do the breakup dance your friend.

“I Need You” captures that loneliness and sadness of being with someone other than the one you want. Her voice and the strings break my heart.

I’m on my third listen of Me Myself I as I write this. In this world of MP3s and the shuffle option, I rarely listen to an entire album anymore. I’d forgotten how free these ten songs make me feel, how I must sing along with every one, how well this album works. It’s a perfect disc.

The studio musicians on Me Myself I include The World’s Most Dangerous Band: Paul Shaffer on piano, Will Lee on bass, Hiram Bullock on guitar, and Anton Fig on drums. The album was recorded in March 1980, a few months before Letterman’s short-lived, ill-fated morning show and two years before “Late Night.”

I’ve seen Joan Armatrading in concert three or four times. She was touring in 1986, but didn’t have Atlanta on her tour sheet. Creative Loafing, our local alternative paper, started a petition to get her to town. It worked. And it was one of the most stirring shows I’ve seen. Every person in the Roxy really wanted her there. When she stepped on the stage, we stood, cheering and clapping and stomping. And it fed Joan. She stood there on stage and warned us, “Don’t make me cry, now.” Joan’s a tough cookie onstage, so seeing her get emotional sent us higher. Amazing show, one of the best I’ve seen. Sang myself hoarse that night. When she performed “Willow,’ we all threw our arms around each other, swaying and singing from the heart.

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At 8/22/2006 07:34:00 AM, Blogger Ben Heller said...

She's done 3 really good albums that are up there with the best of them IMO Beth.

Your choice is one of them and I would include her self titled album, and "Walk Under Ladders".

I bought some of her mid 80's stuff Beth and it wasn't bad, but had that bad over produced syndrome and spoilt the songs.

Nice post.

At 8/22/2006 07:36:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

I agree with you, Ben. Walk Under Ladders holds a special place in my heart, and I love her stuff from the 1970s. But Me Myself I introduced me to Ms. Armatrading and I found it during a wonderful part of my life, so it will always be my favorite. I agree that her later stuff is a little too over-produced; wish she'd strip back down. I saw that she's recording a new album; hopefully we'll see that.

BTW, I'm loving your countdown!

At 8/22/2006 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

I do miss albums Beth and for exactly the same reasons. The anticipation of picking tightly shrinkwrapped Cds apart and removing security features to get at those tiny booklets is a lesser experience.

As for Joan, I like the few songs I've heard, maybe I'll give her a closer listen. After I shuffle through these next few thousand songs. :-)

At 8/22/2006 07:56:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Dale, check the link at the bottom of the page to hear "Me Myself I."

At 8/22/2006 08:17:00 AM, Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

"For the seven or eight of you out there who owned LPs, don’t you miss them? I loved everything about them"

The two thing I miss most besides the fidelity is the artwork and the reproduction of the cymbals. You cannot accurately reproduce the cymbal and the highhat with CDs.

At 8/22/2006 09:24:00 AM, Blogger Old Lady said...

LP's are Like scratches in fine leather(or something like that)(quote off of the Woodstock album)

Joan, much like another black female singer in the 60's/70's whose name escapes me at this senior moment.

At 8/22/2006 09:54:00 AM, Blogger Marni said...

I can't say anything to this post -- I have never heard of her! ;)

At 8/22/2006 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I'm going to check the link once I'm safely back at home Beth. Looking forward to it.

I emailed Andi by the way and said you might be in touch.

At 8/22/2006 04:52:00 PM, Blogger Anomie-Atlanta said...

I still buy LPs. Mostly, I frame them for the album cover art, but I occassionally dust off the old record player I inherited from my parents and play them.

At 8/22/2006 07:01:00 PM, Blogger Old Lady said...

Ha! I remembered, Tracy Chapman!

At 8/22/2006 08:24:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Had a listen Beth, very nice!

At 8/22/2006 09:30:00 PM, Anonymous Glassmeow said...

Liked Joan, but. LEO SAYER!!! I loved him (when I was in high school before I got exposed to more sophisticated stuff). Actually, the one that was the BIG hit in 1978 isn't his best stuff. He did better stuff earlier on. A little schmaltzy, yeah, but we listened to Barry Manilow in the '70's too. And even Cat Stevens had some pretty sentimental songs. Not the hits, no, tracks like "Sad Lisa" on (...oh, crap, can't remember) That wasn't on Teaser And The Firecat. Must have been on Tea For The Tillerman.

Leo, Cat, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and the Rolling Stones all coexisted quite peacefully in my long lost vinyl collection! Didn't matter at all when I added the Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie and Elvis Costello to the pile. Liberally sprinkled with Bowie in all of his various guises.

At 8/22/2006 09:47:00 PM, Blogger Grant Miller said...

Dear beth,

I've never listened to Joan Armstrong, but I'm a firm supporter of the B52s. By the way, your Colbertnation.com link appears broken. Fis it or you're on notice.

At 8/23/2006 05:11:00 AM, Blogger Coaster Punchman said...

I miss the concept of the album side, which we don't get any more with CDs. Interesting fact from the world of CPW: My first listen to "Murmur" was when I taped it from a friend of mine. For some reason, I reversed the sides. So for several years I listened to that album not knowing that "Radio Free Europe" was supposed to be the first song. Then one time when someone played it for me they started with RFE and I was like "no, start it from the beginning!" Funny thing is, I think the album is better my way. (Not that I would dare to suggest on your blog that there is any way to improve on REM...)

At 8/23/2006 08:24:00 AM, Blogger ziggystardust73 said...

"I’d always enjoyed being alone, and here was a song that declared that love of singleness."

I need this album!

Thanks for the brilliant post.

At 8/23/2006 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

WRITEPROCRASTINATOR: I waited as long as I could — 1989, I believe — to convert to CDs. The final push was the fact that I could no longer find a stylus for my player; I had to have the arm rebuilt every time. Ugh. But now I mainly download and buy only the most loved albums on CDs.

OLD LADY: Isn’t it the truth? But I’ve never understood the Joan Armatrading/Tracey Chapman comparisons. They’re both black and singer-songwriters, but they’re very different to me. I seem to be the only one who thinks that, though.

MARNI: Did you listen “Me Myself I” via the link at the bottom of the page?

DALE: If you like that, you need to check it “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names.” Seems your type of tune …

ANOMIE-ATLANTA: I have my old player, too, but haven’t pulled it out in a couple of years. There are still a few albums that have never been released on CD or digitally. Cool idea about framing the cover art! I did some freelance work for a local radio station in the early 1990s, and their program director had framed album covers all over his office and home.

GLASSMEOW: You lost two points for the Leo Sayers love.

GRANT MILLER: Thanks for the tip; Mr. Colbert’s link has been repaired.

COASTER PUNCHMAN: Horrors! Not knowing that Murmur began with the slow fade into “Radio Free Europe”? But I also miss the concept of side one/side two.

ZIGGYSTARDUST73: It’s a great one; highly recommended. (And welcome to my comment boxes; I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while.)

At 8/23/2006 11:39:00 AM, Anonymous Judith said...

Just gotta say I really like Leo Sayer...just makes me feel like dancing! Did listen to this, which is new to me, and it is o.k. - maybe if I had "hooked on" to her in earlier days.

At 8/23/2006 01:09:00 PM, Blogger Old Lady said...

Yes, they are different, but I place them with Phoebe Snow as well. Powerful talented solo female singer/songwriters with rich voices.

At 8/23/2006 09:12:00 PM, Anonymous DJ Cayenne said...

Wow. How dig you get on WRAS when you were in seventh grade? I should have known you were a college radio person. I worked for my college radio station as well. We were envious of the GSU power. You guys had 100,000 watts. We were operating on 85. Woo hoo.

At 8/23/2006 09:25:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

DJ, you know how I landed that WRAS gig? I thought it was because I was talented and brimming with writing talent ... but I got the job because the station manager thought I was cute.

At 8/23/2006 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

JUDITH: Get out there and DANCE, girl! I'll find some other Joan Armatrading that you might prefer. Do you MP3?

OLD LADY: Ah, Phoebe Snow. I put her in a different category, too. What an amazing talent.

At 8/23/2006 10:51:00 PM, Anonymous Glassmeow said...

Crap! I just got Y (as in come up with 10 songs that begin with it without resorting to Google or your iPod)in a meme on LJ and I totally forgot about "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing"! I'm so past the Leo Sayer thing now...
(and "Long Tall Glasses" was a hit when I was in junior high - gotta cut me a little slack for inexperience at that point)


At 8/27/2006 09:48:00 PM, Blogger Tenacious S said...

WRAS?!!?? I was the program director at WUSC around '86. We hung with your crew at IBS in New York-awesome station. It was my dream job, too. I suffered from major depression after graduation because nothing else was nearly as exciting or fun. I have been to Atlanta many times to see shows and hang. In fact, one of my good friends from WUSC lives in Atlanta (big shock, right?).

At 8/28/2006 12:20:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

We missed each other in the college radio world by about five years. Wasn't it wonderful? I had the best time ... and I was the only chick in the crowd, which I also loved.

Did you enjoy your years in the South?

At 8/28/2006 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Tenacious S said...

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Depended on who I was with. I was a Yankee, you know.


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