Friday, January 28, 2022

"Anchorage" by Michelle Shocked

Song#:  3739
Date:  12/10/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  66
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Contemporary Folk, Singer/Songwriter

Pop Bits:  This outspoken and sometimes controversial artist was born Karen Michelle Johnston in Dallas, Texas. After her father introduced her to classic blues artists and contemporary singer/songwriters, Johnston began to explore various music scenes in Austin, Texas. Along the way she began to work on music of her own. She spent time in San Francisco, New York, and Amsterdam honing her skills while also becoming an activist for various causes and movements. Upon returning to the US in 1986, she ended up doing some volunteer work at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. While there for the multi-day event, Johnston, who had by this time changed to the stage name of Michelle Shocked, played her compositions around the festival's campfire. British producer Pete Lawrence happened upon Shocked and was impressed. He recorded her on his Walkman, took it back to England, and assembled the songs into The Texas Campfire Tapes. Released on Cooking Vinyl in '86, it became a surprise hit of sorts in the UK topping the Indie chart. That led to a Shocked getting an offer from Mercury Records. She signed on and work began on a debut LP titled Short Sharp Shocked. This first single was released and it caused a bit of a buzz. The tune would spend a couple months on the Pop chart while also reaching #42 AC and #60 Modern Rock. A second single, "If Love Was a Train," would get to #20 Modern Rock and #33 Rock. The album would make it to #73 and would go on to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording.

ReduxReview:  The timing of this single was perfect. With other contemporary folk artists like Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman scoring hits and bringing new listeners over to the genre, it gave Shocked the opportunity to perhaps secure a hit and gain a lot of fans. While this song wasn't a major breakthrough, it did fairly well on the Pop chart and that along with critical favor brought attention to the album. This tune was a nice, rolling track with that Hammond organ driving it forward. The lyrics were interesting as well. It may not have had a significant hook, but the melody and lyrics along with Shocked's easy, laid back vocal delivery made the song memorable. I do wish that it had at least made the Top 40. Shocked wasn't one to settle on one sound or approach, so her next couple of albums were spotty (yet still interesting). Because of that, she wasn't going to gain a huge mainstream audience, but she ended up with a pretty good following that elevated her three Mercury albums to a sort of cult status. (Note that Shocked is really protective of her catalog, so you won't find her music on streaming services or even YouTube as of this posting date, so no music link on this one.)

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The cover of Short Sharp Shocked featured a photo that appears to show Shocked being held by the neck and/or dragged away by a police officer. That photo was from a real incident. In 1984, Shocked attended a protest at the Democratic National Convention held that year in San Francisco. At the protest, Shocked was confronted by police and arrested. Photojournalist Chris Hardy, who was working for the San Francisco Examiner, was present at the protest and just happened to take the picture of Shocked with the police. A 2003 reissue of the LP would crop the image down to only focus on Shocked's face.  2) Shocked would follow up her debut in 1989 with Captain Swing. While Shocked would still compose the songs, she did them in a more big band swing style. Then in 1992, she released Arkansas Traveler. Done as sort of a nod to the roots of her music, the LP featured various styles along with noteworthy guests and would earn Shocked her second Grammy nomination. It also courted a bit of controversy as Shocked had wanted to appear on the cover in blackface as a tribute to the minstrel/roots music that influenced her songs. Mercury, obviously, quashed that idea, but apparently Shocked was allowed to write about it in the liner notes (with Mercury adding their own disclaimer). With Shocked and Mercury at odds due to that clash and one concerning the theme of her next LP (a gospel effort), she would leave the label (via a lawsuit) to become an independent artist and would release several albums over the years.


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