The biggest struggle with this “Turning 30” series is deciding which albums to discuss. This problem exists because there were so many great album released in 1985. When a choice needs to be made I do two things: first, I check out the Billboard archives and second, I go through my own collection and let the memories steer me. I let Billboard dictate my first three choices as Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, and USA for Africa all hit #1 on the charts. For this installment I am letting my heart take over- The Outfield’s album Play Deep turns 30 this year.
As I was once again going through my album collection, my heart literally skipped a bit when my eyes landed on the cover of The Outfield’s debut effort. The cover’s abstract face full of bursting colors immediately takes me back to 1985. This cover also makes an appearance in the first video from this album Your Love as a backdrop for the band’s stage and is being painted by the female artist while the band plays.
I distinctly remember putting the album on my record player, setting the stylus down and hearing the lead singer (Tony Lewis) belt out, “Baby, you got me all screwed up / So much I can’t turn around” Yep, that’s it – I’m hooked! The song and album continues – solid guitar driven pop rock that is just plain hard to resist. If you remember, I spent my teen years on army bases in Frankfurt, Germany and my friends and I listened to as much American music as possible. And here was a great sounding new American band. Imagine our surprise when we discovered they were British! How could a band sound so American, so Romantics-ish not be American? Honestly, we did not worry about this for long – the music was so good, we didn’t care.
Each track is irresistible. Clean guitars, catchy hooks, and smooth vocals dominate. Lyrically, these songs are not groundbreaking, but good enough. Most of the songs are variations on being in love, falling out of love, and questioning one’s love. There are two tracks that lyrically stand out. 61 Seconds becomes a lament on a confining society driven by unimaginative constructs that seem to limit our freedoms. It is hard to disagree with the frustration of, “61 seconds is all it takes for a 9 to 5 man to be more than one minute late.” The second song that does not lyrically match the others is Mystery Man. While I really like this song, I am not completely sure of the song’s motivation or meaning- perhaps it is just one of those songs that is meant to be enjoyed and not dissected.
Play Deep was well received by the American public. According to Billboard, the album reached #9 and had three Hot 100 hits: Everytime You Cry (#66), All the Love (#19), and by far the most recognizable, Your Love (#6).
As with all of these albums that turn 30 (and are some of them are my all time favorites) there is more to the music than just sales. Each track of Play Deep takes me back to my high school days. I can connect each song to some great memories: hanging out with my friends and singing as we take turns typing BASIC code into the Commodore 64 so we could play a new game, jumping on the subway and heading to the latest blockbuster film to make its way to the American theaters overseas (Back to the Future, for sure), or spending time at the basketball court while our boombox thumps out these great songs.
I have two favorite tracks that were not released as singles. One is Taking My Chances. I love this song because the guitar riff is excellent and it features guitarist John Spinks on lead vocals. The entire album displays Spinks’ excellent guitar work, but this song also shows that he can hold his own vocally as well. Unfortunately, Spinks passed away in July of 2014 after a battle with cancer.
My other favorite is the album’s closing song, Nervous Alibi. This is a haunting song about a man who starts to question his love’s truthfulness and is faced with the possible end of a long relationship. The man refuses to give up completely,
Sherie, name the day and I’ll be waiting
Give me just one chance to show I care
I know if we’re together, it can’t go on forever
Another nervous alibi
After the success of Play Deep, the Outfield released several other albums, all of which I bought right away. Bangin’, Voices of Babylon, Diamond Days, and Rockeye all had some good songs, but never really reached the overall appeal and perfection of Play Deep. Even after thirty years, I sing this album cover-to-cover. Every song still sounds fresh- timeless, really. Nothing can really recapture the first time I listened to The Outfield, but I will never give up trying – Josie will always be on a vacation far away and I will always want to come around and talk it over. There are so many things left to say . . .