Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat

Song#:  2167
Date:  12/22/1984
Debut:  86
Peak:  48
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Synthpop, Dance

Pop Bits:  This UK trio of Jimmy Somerville, Steve Bronski, and Larry Steinbachek had only played a handful of shows before getting signed to London Records. All three members were openly gay and they sought to write music that was more topical and sometimes political in nature regarding the gay culture and community. Their career kicked off in a big way when they released this debut single. It was a significant hit reaching #3 in the UK. A follow-up single titled "Why?" was issued next and it got to #6. With a couple of hits under their belt, the band tried to make the transition to the US market via MCA Records. This song was an immediate hit at Dance getting to #1. It led to the tune getting on the Pop chart, but it wasn't as warmly received and it stopped short of the Pop Top 40. It would be the trio's only US Pop chart entry. Despite the results, their debut album, The Age of Consent, sold well in the US and got to #36. It did far better in the UK getting to #4. Lead singer Somerville would leave the band after the first album. With a new singer in place, Bronski Beat would issue a remix album and one more studio album, which resulted in two more UK Top 10 hits.

ReduxReview:  Oddly, I just reconnected with this album thanks to a new deluxe reissue of it. Of course, this song is the highlight. That keyboard riff sticks with you and Jimmy Somerville's haunting falsetto voice grabs your attention. I remember they were a big deal with the gay community because there weren't too many openly gay, commercial, major label artists at the time. Especially ones who were singing about gay issues. Frankly, I'm still amazed this did as well on the Pop chart as it did. The US had a brief love affair with the near-drag Boy George, but  Bronski Beat was different and I'm sure their music and lyrics did not set as well with a lot of folks (and the video probably didn't help - in fact I don't even remember seeing it on MTV). This was an excellent song and one that is a touchstone for a lot of younger gays at the time.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The themes in this song mainly concerned family rejection for being homosexual and homophobia. The video for the song dealt with the same issues. It was rather forward in its depiction of gay attraction and was considered a bit radical for the mainstream at the time. The song has since become a gay anthem.  2) The title of the album had to do with the age of consent for homosexual acts. It varied in many countries and in the UK although they dropped the age of consent for heterosexuals to sixteen, it was kept at twenty-one for homosexuals. And there were other rules/laws stemming from that as well. The inner sleeve of Bronski Beat's album included a list of age of consent and/or other laws regarding homosexuality in various European countries. It also included the UK phone number for a gay legal advice service. In the US, initial pressing of the album contained this information as well, but for some unknown reason, later pressings MCA Records removed the information.


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