Tracklisted: An Intro to Paul Heaton

News / Special Features / Tracklisted / December 4, 2017

Much like the classic mixtape, Tracklisted presents a collection of songs under a selected theme, which you can check out below. Click on the provided Spotify playlist and listen to this week’s arrangements while you read a few words about the selections.

Spanning over 30 years, Paul Heaton’s musical career has seen him form and front both the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, two of the most iconic bands of the ’80s and ’90s in the UK, while also releasing a string of solo albums under his own name. The Housemartins topped the UK’s singles charts back in 1986, and the Beautiful South were so popular during their ’90s heyday that a copy of their greatest hits compilation released in 1994, Carry On Up the Charts, is claimed to be owned by 1 in every 7 households in the UK.

In 2013, Heaton teamed back up with Jacqui Abbott (duo pictured above), his ex-Beautiful South bandmate, much to the pleasure of fans and critics alike and in July 2017, they released their third studio album as a duo, which reached number two in the UK album chart. But despite all of his critical and commercial success in the UK, Heaton’s appeal has never translated to American audiences, where he still remains largely anonymous.

This is your introduction to Paul Heaton.

The Playlist

Three of the tracks were not available on Spotify. You can find YouTube links below. 

The Selections

The Housemartins – Happy Hour

The Housemartins only released two studio albums as a band, but their influence on indie pop music would live long after they split in 1989. “Happy Hour,” the first track taken from their debut record, London 0 Hull 4, is a great starting point for this playlist and sums up everything great about them. Heaton takes aim at the idiotic and sexist culture of ‘80s businessmen by recalling nights out drinking with his former employers. “It’s happy hour again/I think I might be happy if I wasn’t out with them,” he sings with a knowing smile over Smiths-esque jangly guitar riffs.

The Housemartins – Five Get Over Excited

“Five Get Over Excited,” taken from their second and final record, The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, showcases the power of contradiction between an upbeat pop song and dark lyrics, a technique which Heaton would later use extensively during his time in the Beautiful South. The track is a pun on Enid Blyton’s popular “Famous Five” series of children’s novels published during the ‘40s and ‘50s, which featured chipper titles such as Five on a Treasure Island, Five Have a Wonderful Time and Five Have Plenty of Fun. Heaton’s take on the Blyton classics sees five “poisoned over dinner” and “killed in a car crash,” but the track’s lively hooks and soaring horns mask his dark lyrics well enough to avoid the overzealous censorship of the ‘80s, peaking at number 11 in the UK singles chart.

The Housemartins – Caravan of Love

Reaching the top of the UK’s single charts in December of 1986, this acapella cover of an Isley-Jasper-Isley track demonstrates another string to the Housemartins’ bow. Heaton was strongly influenced by both Christianity and Marxism during his time in the band and despite being a cover, “Caravan of Love” feels like it showcases his beliefs perfectly through the vehicle of a catchy pop song. The acapella, almost gospel, style of the track would be replicated successfully on a number of soulful album cuts and B-sides released throughout the band’s career.

The Beautiful South – You Keep It All In

Following the Housemartins’ split in 1988, Heaton formed a new band and called it the Beautiful South — a sarcastic remark about his proud northern heritage. “You Keep It All In,” the second single taken from their debut record released in 1989, features a male/female duet between Heaton and Irish singer Briana Corrigan, which would become a trademark dynamic for the band for years to come. The track shows the two sides of an argument between a husband and a wife, from each of their perspectives, accompanied by a catchy opening hook which repeats throughout the song and will get stuck in your head for weeks.

The Beautiful South – Let Love Speak Up Itself

“Let Love Speak Up Itself,” taken from the Beautiful South’s second studio album, Choke, finds Heaton at his soulful best. A simple piano-led backing track provides Heaton the space to give an expansive and emotional vocal performance. The song’s lyrics examine the challenges of romance and provide a refreshingly honest yet hopeful take on love songs. “Don’t whisper love and dream of wedding bells/Don’t do all the talking, let love speak up itself,” wails Heaton.

The Beautiful South – Old Red Eyes Is Back

As the opener to 1992’s 0898 Beautiful South, “Old Red Eyes Is Back” not only sets the tone for the band’s third record but for the Beautiful South’s career during most of the ‘90s. The track features more robust and substantial instrumentals than anything on their previous two records, which could be one of the reasons behind the band’s slightly improved fortunes with U.S. audiences around this time. “Old Red Eyes Is Back” tells the sorry tale of an old alcoholic looking back over the mistakes he has made and battling to turn his life around. “Old Red” is ultimately unsuccessful and the song ends on a sad note, “Old Red he died, and every single landlord in the district cried/An empty bottle of whiskey lying by his side.”

The Beautiful South – Hold On To What?

Perhaps the band’s most underrated song, “Hold On To What?” looks at the lack of prospects available to working class people and how continually struggling to make ends meet eventually breaks the spirit of people, as they have nothing left to live for. It’s a wonderful piece of songwriting and storytelling from Heaton, yet remains relatively unknown to anyone except dedicated fans of the band. “To achieve the American dream, you need a trampoline/To achieve the counter-effect, get that whisky down your neck,” snaps Heaton cynically. The track ends with a tempo change as it becomes quicker and more angry leading up to a final barrage from Heaton: “Chamberlain had his paper, Jesus had his cross/They held on, we held on to what?”

The Beautiful South – Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)

“Rotterdam (Or Anywhere),” taken from the Beautiful South’s fifth studio album, Blue is the Colour, features Jacqui Abbott on lead vocals, having replaced Briana Corrigan as the band’s female singer in 1994. A laid back country guitar riff is repeated throughout the track as a backing to Abbott’s soaring vocals. Heaton’s lyrics cover the issue of loneliness as he makes the point that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world if you’re lonely and depressed. “This could be Rotterdam, or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome/’Cause Rotterdam, is anywhere, anywhere alone.” One of the Beautiful South’s best known songs, the track reached number 5 on the UK’s singles chart in October 1996.

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – Heatongrad

Jacqui Abbott left the Beautiful South in 2000 to look after her autistic son, and the band eventually called it a day in January 2007 due to “musical similarities” after a string of mediocre records during the late ‘90s and 2000s. Heaton released a handful of solo records following the Beautiful South’s split, but they were not met with much commercial or critical success. However, when Heaton and Abbott reunited in 2013 to record new material together, things changed. “Heatongrad” is taken from the duo’s second studio album together, Wisdom, Laughter and Lines, and finds Heaton back at his angry political best. A long-time opponent of the British monarchy, Heaton opens with a provocative outburst, “Fuck the king, and fuck the queen, with an AK-47/Line them up against the walls, and let them talk to heaven.” “Heatongrad” continues throughout in a similar vein, attacking tax dodging millionaires, lying newspaper editors and Tony Blair for the Iraq War.

The third studio album from Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, “Crooked Calypso,” is now available via Virgin EMI. The duo is on tour until Dec. 9 in the UK and Ireland. 


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Alexander Chilton