1987 was an interesting year for popular music. Prince had hits with "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man", "Sign O' the Times", and "U Got the Look", while U2 scored with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "Where the Streets Have No Name", and "With Or Without You". Chart topping songs of the year were diverse, from Michael Jackson's "Bad", to Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a Place on Earth", to "La Bamba" by Los Lobos.
Two of my favorite Top 40 songs of 1987 were from an interesting band from Manchester, England called Swing Out Sister. First came "Breakout", a happy, upbeat, horn-laden song with incredible vocals, followed by "Twilight World", with more great vocals, a funky bass groove and those same tight horns. Both hits came from It's Better to Travel, the band's 1987 debut album that entered the U.K. charts at No. 1, and peaked at number 40 in the U.S. The two singles established singer Corrine Drewery, keyboardist Andy Connell, and drummer Martin Jackson as purveyors of cool, soulful, high energy songs. Swing Out Sister toured Europe, the U.S. and Japan, and were nominated for a Grammy in the "Best New Artist" category.
A second album, Kaleidoscope World, followed in 1989, climbing to No. 3 on the U.K. charts. But America's tastes had changed and the group was cast upon the heap of "has been" stars. While other 80's Manchester bands like The Fall, The Smiths, and New Order continued to have commercial success, Swing Out Sister fizzled away, though their recordings did continue to sell well in Europe and Japan.
Swing Out Sister made a brief American comeback during the lounge music revival of the 90's. They released Shapes and Patterns in 1997, featuring a remake of The Fifth Dimension's hit Stoned Soul Picnic. Shapes and Patterns was favorably reviewed by America's music critics and played on radio stations across the country. Swing Out Sister did a small tour of the U.S. and were mentioned in Dylan Jones' book Easy! the Lexicon of Lounge. Jones summed them up as "fusing electro-pop, jazz and funk with their first love, easy listening."
And maybe that has been Swing Out Sister's greatest obstacle to enduring success and popularity in the United States. Terms like brit-pop, jazz-pop, synth-pop, sophisti-pop, as well as adult alternative, lounge and cocktail-jazz have been used to describe their musical style. Their sound is unique and does not fit into a single, neat category, or any simple, modern formula for BILLBOARD chart success.
Sometimes it is necessary to create your own categories. Swing Out Sister fits into my very large category of MUSIC I LIKE. My music collection includes It's Better to Travel on both vinyl and cassette, and cassettes of both Kaleidescope World and Shapes and Patterns. All are getting worn, but still have that magic that appeared the first time I heard "Breakout" on my car radio. New CD's are long overdue, so I encourage you to join me in breaking out of preconceived notions of musical genres and entering the twilight world of Swing Out Sister.
--- The latest Swing Out Sister recording, Somewhere Deep in the Night, is only available as an import, and is cherished by hard core fans. It does not appear that their record company, EMI, will be releasing or promoting it the US.