Monday, February 27, 2012

Appreciating Afrodiziac

Like many of you, I suppose, my first memory of Afrodiziak was seeing the duo of Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine backing up Elvis Costello & the Attractions on the video "Everyday I Write the Book" back in 1983. Through the years, they popped up on other recordings I picked up, including a terrific bootleg of Costello's 'Punch the Clock' tour called 'Riot Act.' During my ska phase (didn't we all have one of those?), I heard Afrodiziak on a couple of later Madness albums, including the single
"Sweetest Girl." (Personally, I'll take the original Scritti Politti version.) I think we can all agree that, at least commercially, their work on Howard Jones' 'Dream Into Action' was the group's highpoint. For a while in '85, their voices on "Life in One Day" and "Things Can Only Get Better" saturated the airwaves, and the gals were prevalent on the videos.

The reason I was thinking about Afrodiziak today was because I recently picked up the 12" single of the Jam's "Beat Surrender." One of the B-sides I just listened to was a cover of "War," popularized by Edwin Starr. The back cover confirmed what I was assuming. There was Afrodiziac again! I have owned the Jam's odds-and-sods collection 'Extras' for many years, but this song, surprisingly, isn't on there. I read up a bit and learned Afrodiziak backed the lads on the Jam's last tour. My ignorance has left my head spinning. How did I miss this? My USB turntable is on the fritz, but I'll try to get "War" posted at some point. At the very least, it's a curiosity. In the meantime, below is a classic clip of "Beat Surrender" from a TV appearance. Sadly, as you watch this, you'll realize the clock is about to strike 12 on one of the all-time great bands.

As for Afrodiziak, not long after their work with the Jam and Costello, a third singer, Naomi Thompson, joined the fold. Thus, there are three in the photo above. I don't know too much about her, but I do know she appears on the 'Dream Into Action' stuff and is with the other gals on the Heaven 17 album 'How Men Are.' As for Wheeler, she lent her voice to the Special AKA album
'In the Studio,' (produced by her old pal Costello), and she went on to be a pretty big star as the lead singer of the R&B group Soul II Soul. Fontaine continued to back other groups, including EMF.

Here are some samples of Afrodiziak's work. Although they seem to be a mere footnote in our music collections, they are worth remembering.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Everyday I Write the Book (Special Version) (mp3)
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Charm School (Live) (mp3)
Madness - Sweetest Girl (Extended Version) (mp3)
Howard Jones - Things Can Only Get Better (Extended Version) (mp3)


James! said...

Hiya! I just started reading your blog after hearing about your trip to Scotland and meeting JC from his blog!

I love what I've read of yours so far!

Just wanted to drop a note and let you know that the link on everyday I write the book actually links to sweetest girl. The Sweetest girl link links to it too. Thought you'd want to know!

Brian said...

Thanks James. I'll fix that right now.