When my Uncle Sonny blew back into town,
Said "I'll just go for a ride and have a look around."
And he took off his fedora, and he stuck his fingers in the crown,
And he pulled out twenty dollars and he laid that money down.
And he called out to a taxi cab, "Take me down to central park,
And keep that meter runnin' to the twenty dollar mark."
And he kept his eyes turned forward and he sat up straight and tall
And no one even noticed him, no one cared at all.
Anyone remember that song? From 1984, and in my opinion, Some Tough City is one of the great overlooked albums of the 80s.
The 80s were full of catchy pop tunes built around very few words, and in the middle of it all, Tony Carey was writing songs that were full of words and told stories, backed up by solid music and catchy tunes. He wasn't the only one, of course, but he seems to have been unjustly dropped into the One Hit Wonder category for his song "A Fine, Fine Day."
When this album came out, I had never heard of him before. I suppose most people hadn't, and assumed he was just another of those who came out of nowhere and swiftly vanished into oblivion. In fact, he had started out in a country-folk band called Blessings (which got a recording contract with ABC Dunhill when he was 19), then racked up experience as a keyboardist for Rainbow and created two albums as leader of a group called Planet P Project. I have not heard these albums, but I remember seeing them in record stores back then. And now I kick myself for not buying them. Anyway, they're available on CD now, so I've added them to my hit list. The Planet P albums are art-rock with sci-fi themes and from what I've read I'm sure I would have loved them back in the 80s, and will enjoy them when I get them (soon, I hope). Carey has recently reunited with a new version of Rainbow (sans Ritchie Blackmore) and a tour is in the works. He has also written film scores and produced albums for many other musicians.
So, it irks me a little that most barely remember him as an obscure one-hitter from the 80s.
As a keyboardist, he started out on organ and then followed the usual course into using synthesizers. This album isn't synth-pop. It's rock that uses synths (so don't let the leader being a keyboardist worry you). In fact, somewhere along the way he also began playing guitar, because the liner notes clearly state that he used Vantage guitars.
This has been a sort of defensive post, which is probably because when I mention him to someone they get that glazed look and then say, "Oh yeah...I remember that song."
The album starts out fairly hard, then gets harder and darker until finally brightening a little toward the end. Favorites of mine are "A Fine, Fine Day" and "I Can Stop the World." This album has, to me, improved with age. I also find an interesting tension between very sweet music and very bleak lyrics in "A Lonely Life" (a song about drug pushing and addiction). "I Can Stop the World" is a big enough favorite that it made it onto a collection of mix tapes that I put together in the early 90s. The title track (a saxophone song) has lyrics that are still appropriate today.
There's man on the radio
And he's readin the news
Says things are tough all over like 1932
Ain't no hope when it gets this slow
Seems like everybody gave up years ago
And no one's tryin' anymore, anymore
Ya just get promises
And you've heard all the promises before
There's a line outside the mission
Gonna get you whatcha want
And the salvation army's got the sisters out in front
And the unemployment office it stays open all night long
And the President keeps sayin', yeah, we'll make this country strong
Ripping results: nearly perfect. So close that I can't hear the very faint pops that I know are still there because I looked at the waveform but just couldn't dig them out.
If you ever heard anyone claim that all the music in the 80s sucked (I have said so myself in more cynical moments), this is an album you can point to to prove them wrong.
Amazon has sound samples of all tracks. Carey currently makes his home in Germany, and his official website is at truebeliever.de.