Classic Singers 3 – Kirsty MacColl

Wow. Picking 5 songs was difficult (once again), Kirsty MacColl had a smooth voice that moved effortlessly between notes and she is sadly missed. She started out in the charts with the single There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis, an upbeat 60’s inspired pop song, and from there carried on with the 60’s inspiration, before moving on to more 80’s music, doing folk music and then on to Latin rhythms at the end of her career. Whatever style she sang, she pulled it off.

One of her well-known songs is They Don’t Know, but I haven’t included it as I think Tracy Ullman’s 1983 version was better. In fact Tracy Ullman recorded a number of her songs during her short pop career, including Terry and You Broke My Heart in 17 Places.

Kirsty MacColl collaborated with Johnny Marr on Walking Down Madison another change of direction. Other songs that I considered but eventually left out of the 5 were Innocence, Free World, See That Girl, Angel, Days, Mother’s Ruin, My Affair, and All The Tears that I Cried. If anybody doesn’t know Kirsty MacColl then I suggest you find a copy of From Croyden to Cuba – this is a triple CD set of her work. I’m proud to have it in my collection.

On to the songs:

1. Can’t Stop Killing You – Written with Johnny Marr, this starts with simple stripped back intro with a guitar riff and some snare drums. Then it kicks into a full drum beat and bass halfway through the first verse. The foot-tapping compulsion is almost irresistible. Kirsty’s vocal overlay all of this evoking conflict and emotional frustration.

2. In These Shoes – Kirsty’s sense of humour comes through in spades in this song about a woman who is being chatted up by guys in what is probably a bar in Central America / Spain. The latin rhythm and her delivery are priceless, along with the trumpet solo. You may well have heard on adverts, a sure sign that its catchiness is a winner.

3. A New England – Written by Billy Bragg, this is the first song that I can remember hearing her sing. I think it’s pop at its best –a jangly guitar with a bass that is mixed to provide just right amount of ‘oomph’ to help it along. And it has the immortal lyrics ‘I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them, but they were only satellites. It’s wrong to wish on space hardware, I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.’

4. On the Beach – I love the upbeat vibe of this song. Kirsty MacColl’s harmonies soar ever upwards in this song, and the jangly guitar again gives this a great pop feel (a little bit of 60s influence I think!) And I relate to the subject matter, having moved from Stafford UK right around the world to Perth – and I spend a fair amount time on the beach too! Starting the day with a swim just makes the day. Going after work on a stinking hot day finishes is a perfect finish to the day. So, as you might see, anything about the beach is likely to appeal to me.

5. Fairytale of New York – Can’t not include this. Her duet with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues is gorgeous. They play off each other to make a perfect Christmas song. I never tire of listening to this, it’s uplifting and I often rue the lack of Christmas Songs being released these days. I can’t much more than this. It’s a classic song that deserves to be played.

That’s all for now…

Previous Classic Singers
1. Susanna Hoffs
2. James Reyne

About George Fripley
I am a writer who enjoys writing humour, satire, poetry and sometimes a bit of philosophy. I live in Perth, Western Australia and occasionally get a poem or article published. It's all good fun! I have two books available for unwary readers, Grudges, Rumours and Drama Queens- The Civil Servant's Manual (This contains all that anybody could ever want to know about why government runs so slowly) and More Gravy Please! - the Politician's Handbook. (available through Amazon). Real name Peter Tapsell...just started off writing under a pseudonym and kept going.

3 Responses to Classic Singers 3 – Kirsty MacColl

  1. Love Kirsty’s voice and music too. ‘On the Beach’ is probably my favourite just edging out the session version of ‘Free World’ (but it changes every week!). Wasn’t ‘They Don’t Know’ her debut with ‘Chip Shop’ following in 1980 though?

    • You’re right about ‘They Don’t Know’, but she really got noticed with ‘Chip Shop’ when it charted…and I am always amazed that so few of her singles charted in the UK. People’s taste is so fickle


  2. I have amended the article to ensure clarity – thanks

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