Let’s Get Sophisticated! #SophistiPop Old and New …. with Bryan Ferry, ABC, Michael Franks, Destroyer, Red Box, Aztec Camera, Marshall Crenshaw and the Style Council

“Sophisti-Pop” is a subgenre of pop that takes musical elements from jazz, MOR, synthpop and what could be best called easy listening, and mixes them with a more literary-than-visceral, slightly detached lyrical sensibility. And a lot of sax. Or at least that’s one attempt at a definition, although the songs I included on this playlist include plenty of outliers:

Sophti-Pop’s origins are obviously well before the 1980s. The Roxy Music of Avalon (1981)  and Oh Yeah (1980)  are the quintessential Sophisti-Pop band and the Bryan Ferry of Slave to Love (1985) the quintessential Sophisti-pop singer but in Ferry’s 1970 solo work especially we find pop as Sophisti as it comes.  Here is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes from 1974’s Another Time, Another Place (and the tux he is rocking on the cover it the quintessential Sophisti-pop look):

Actually maybe the quintessential sophist-pop look is Martin Fry’s gold tuxedo. Final use of the word “quintessential” in this post: for me, “Valentine’s Day” is the quintessential sophisti-pop song. It has a quality of being overwrought, stylised and more than a little tongue in cheek – while at the same time being totally sincerely heartbroken. Oh and “School For Scandal/Guess Who’s Enrolled” is the quinte- sorry, archetypal Sophisti-Pop couplet:

Reviewing my playlist there are quite a few entries I felt had to be included more for representativeness rather than great enthusiasm on my part (Level 42, Temper Trap) but also many neglected artists who would shy away from the Sophisti-Pop label. Red Box are best known for The Circle and the Square, a dominant album of my childhood (the pop hit “For America” being a gateway song to a small-s-and-unironic sophisticated album) but in recent years I discovered the even stronger follow up, Motive. And here is opening song Train.

Another recent discovery has been Michael Franks, definitely from the jazz end of the spectrum, setting a rueful template which Paddy McAloon amongst others have follow. Here’s When Sly Calls (Don’t Touch That Phone):

The playlist is called Sophisti-Pop Old And New, and to my mind this kind of music has aged quite well (better than it might have seemed during the grungey 90s?). New sophisti-pop tinged music is still being made.  Destroyer’s 2011 album Kaputt is highly Sophisti, especially the title track, but here is the more downtempo Chinatown:

Not a sax to be heard in Aztec Camera’s Spanish Horses, but it’s as Sophisti as they come:

I knew  Your’e My Favourite Waste of Time best in the rather stereotypically 80s Owen Paul cover, but here is the original by Marshall Crenshaw which has a more Sophisti sensibilty :

I could go on and on and on and on (in fact, I have already written and deleted “finally” about five times in this post) but the final finally is here – and I am desperately trying to avoid the q word but the Style Council’s “Shout to the Top” is, well, um, a really good example of Sophisti Pop:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s