This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #399: Don’t Go by Yazoo.
When I first moved from Cape Breton to go to university in Toronto in 1982, the school had an orientation week for new students. There are always a lot of social mixers involved in these weeks. With these social mixers came alcohol. One such party was held in the Common Room in the basement of my residence (which was called Neill-Wycik College). I had the first 8(!) beers of my life that night. I can still remember the amusement I felt at trying so hard to walk within a straight row of tiles on the floor and not being able to make it past tile #3 or 4 before staggering off to the side. I don’t remember how I got back to my bedroom that night but, just before I left the party I do remember hearing this absolutely terrific song for the first time. The female singer’s voice was unlike anything I had ever heard. The synthesizer work was amazing to me, too. Even in the fog that was my brain at that moment, I could tell that this song was something special. The song turned out to be “Don’t Go!” and the group was called Yazoo! This is the story of one of Synth-Pop’s signature songs. This is the story of Yazoo.
Yazoo consisted of singer, Alison Moyet and keyboardist extraordinaire, Vince Clarke. Both of their stories are very interesting so, I shall discuss both. But first, I’ll talk about the band. Yazoo was formed in 1981 when Clarke answered an ad placed by Moyet, who was a singer in search of bandmates. Together they formed Yazoo, ending up with a string of very successful, genre-defining singles such as “Nobody’s Diary”, “Only You”, “Situation” and “Don’t Go”. The combination of Moyet’s deep, soulful voice and Clarke’s wizardry with the synthesizer helped launch Synth-Pop as a genre. However, internal and external pressures conspired to break up the band and Yazoo ceased to exist a mere two or three years later. But, the story doesn’t end there. The experiences of both Moyet and Clarke are different and are noteworthy for their differences. Let’s take Vince Clarke first.
Clarke has long been associated with top-notch musical acts. Before answering Moyet’s ad for bandmates, Clarke was a member of an up and coming band that you may have heard of called Depeche Mode. As Depeche Mode was sorting itself out after one album, on their way to enjoying a career that saw it end up in The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Clarke sought newer, more creative opportunities. He felt he had that when he paired up with Alison Moyet and began providing the techno-counter-balance to her earthy voice. For a while, he was correct. Together, the partnership flourished and Yazoo were as popular as any band in the world. Eventually, pressures that had more to do with Moyet (as we shall soon find out about) caused the band to grind to a halt. Clarke left Yazoo and joined up with a man named Andy Bell to form the highly-successful band Erasure. Erasure is still producing music today and Vince Clarke remains a respected musician throughout the world.
As for Alison Moyet…..she is one of those generational singers. Her voice is strong and powerful and utterly distinctive. The comparison that is often made with Alison Moyet is between her and Adele. At the time of the creation of Yazoo, there was no one with the stage presence of Alison Moyet. As it turned out, that was a good thing and a bad thing. A singer is a singer and a song is a song and a voice is a voice. That should be all that matters. But, in our world, there is one final layer added and that is appearance. When Yazoo was formed, Alison Moyet was a large, plus-size woman. She wore a severe, brush cut hairstyle and was quickly declared to be “butch” and “unattractive”. It didn’t seem to matter that she possessed a singularly unique voice and singing style. What ended up mattering first was that she wasn’t Barbie. Needless to say, it isn’t easy to be constantly berated for how one looks. The debate that raged made it difficult for Moyet’s talent and creative ambition to come to the fore. Moyet had dreams of making Blues albums and Dance albums and Jazz albums but, all that her record company wanted was more of the same Synth-Pop……more albums/less personal appearances. In the end, Moyet refused to play the media/music industry game any longer and she stopped making music. Her record company took her to court to make her fulfill her contractual obligations. Yazoo disbanded. Clarke left to pursue his own career with Erasure, leaving Moyet to languish in creative limbo; unable to record as she wished, unwilling to record what was being demanded of her by the record company.
With the passing of time, Alison Moyet has been enjoying a bit of a musical renaissance. In 2016, she reappeared in public as the centrepiece of the annual Burberry Fashion Show in London. Moyet sang her four hits from the Yazoo years, while models passed by on the runway all around her. Once again, it was her physical appearance that garnered all of the attention. For health reasons, Moyet had slimmed down and lost a lot of weight. She has adopted a softer, more flowing hairstyle, too. She looks happy and healthy and fit. Her voice remains electric. I will post the original video of “Don’t Go” below and then, I will post the Burberry Fashion video for comparison sake.
I will close by returning to the comparison made between Alison Moyet and Adele. Moyet’s experiences as a female singer are instructive when watching how Adele is handling her career. In both cases, they have unbelievable singing voices that separate them from all others in their peer group. In both cases, each woman started their career being called, “Fat” and “Overweight” and having that focus detract from the beauty of the music they were making. That obsession with appearance nearly derailed Moyet’s entire career. Keep that in mind as we watch Adele attempt to conform to the media/public’s idea of what females should look like. I notice the changes in her weight. Being healthy is important, of course but, being happy is important, too. Adele doesn’t have to be anything other than who she is for me to be happy. I feel as honoured to listen to the magnificence of her voice today as I did that foggy, drunken evening in 1982 when I heard Alison Moyet’s voice for the first time. Both women are completely unforgettable. We are all the richer for being exposed to women of such talent. That is all that matters. Here is “Don’t Go!” by Yazoo. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for the Burberry Fashion Show featuring Alison Moyet can be found here.
Alison Moyet has her own website that can be reached by clicking on the link here.
Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their wonderful website can be found here.
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