This last weekend I got pulled into the orbit of planet Holly Beth Vincent. A play of “The Right To Be Italian” led to her entire canon as it exists in the Record Cell getting repeated play and one song in particular has been in my skull and it just can’t let me go.
I’ve loved her second album after my friend Tom [finally] convinced me to give it a listening after years of being wary of its stylistic deviation from the punk pop/girl group perfection of “The Right To Be Italian” into the uncharted waters of album number two, “Holly + The Italians,” which sounds like only itself. The joy was that it did this brilliantly. And as far as I can tell, never more brilliantly on that album than on the stunning “Unoriginal Sin,” though several tracks certainly give it competition. At the end of the day, there has been only one song that I’ve played all weekend [and even right now] that I can’t get enough of and that’s the one.
It began subtly with a strummed rhythm guitar that was joined two bars in with bass [Bobby Collins – Ken Lockie, Blancmange] and drums [Kevin Wilkinson – League of Gentlemen, China Crisis]. The pacing was slow and deliberate. As the song ramped up to the first chorus, it featured Bobby Valentino [Fabulous Poodles] on violin adding dramatic counterpoint to the rock instrumentation. Then fell back to the incessant rhythm strumming, sounding like a small group of cellos, with the drums getting subtle fills to propel the song forward until the second chorus began at the 2:30 mark. Then the violin returned along with rhythmic piano grounding the tempo as the violin circled around it and plateaued with a plaintive solo that led into the intense and personal verse three, where it stayed through to the third chorus.
Chorus three was where the entire song built up dramatically with a fortissimo power that was truly moving and palpable. Here, Ms. Vincent added more lyrics to the third chorus which finally culminated in the appearance of the song’s title repeated through to the fadeout to attain a singularity of powerful feeling with Valentino’s violin soloing and also multi-tracked to attain a truly orchestral feel. The passion of this number is gripping. I’m still not done listening to it over and over, if not on disc, then definitely in my head, as I fall asleep and wake up to this magnificent song; surely one of the finest in my Record Cell? How many other 6:15 songs does one listen to that sound far too brief?
To shake things up, I’ve also been listening to the demo version, which was thankfully released on the amazing “Demos Federico” album in 2009. The demo here was dramatically different with presumably Ms. Vincent playing all of the instruments for the Portastudio demo. For one thing, the tempo was 50% faster, and the climactic verse three was not yet part of the song, so the end result was just four, very different minutes. The violin and piano that made the LP version so compelling were absent here, but the rocking tempo and reliance on crunchy guitar ala Holly + The Italians still marked the song as a complete winner, though the depth that came through the intense third verse and the differing arrangement only added more to the already substantial cards on the table even at this early stage.
As I was listening incessantly to the compelling, strummed rhythm guitar tempo of this song a small lightbulb went off over my head. Where else had I heard this exact sound? A few minutes of incubation led to the answer popping up. Three years after this song was released, a Boston post-New Wave combo called Til’ Tuesday appeared with a debut single that had exactly the same sound and tempo. You may have heard the song, “Voices Carry.” It was a smash and took them to the top ten of the US charts with a sound like a [highly] commercialized version of “Unoriginal Sin.” The minor key synths of that song come up short against the tremendous violin of Bobby Valentino, who proved that his sister [Anne Dudley] was not the only one in their family with a mastery of strings. I can’t believe that Aimee Mann didn’t have a copy of “Holly + The Italians” in her racks. The similarities were just too strong. My final proof? Both records were produced by Mike Thorne. Case closed. Aimee Mann wanted some of this mojo. She got the hit, but Holly Beth Vincent got my heart.
– 30 –
I’ve always loved “It’s Only Me” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opy3t2g-NOQ)! That’s the Holly and the Italians track that hooked me!
Ms. Vincent has never received the love and respect she deserves…Maybe the radio was too crowded in the early 80’s with too many other strong female lead bands, maybe she just wasn’t given enough record company support…but anyone who took the time to invest and investigate should be pretty happy they did. The fact of the matter his she was surrounded by a number of other great musicians on her records who wanted to be a part of her musical journey and that combined with her excellent songwriting and delivery made for some enduringly good 80’s Power Pop and New Wave Rock.
Echorich – There’s a Popdose post out there on how she was the “Chrissie Hynde” that got away. Please! There’s no comparison between Chrissie Hynde and Holly Beth Vincent in my book! They put the wrong one in the RNRHOF!
I agree with you…apples and oranges for the most part, but the record companies didn’t see this, nor the radio programmers…I think it’s a shame HBV was lumped in as a tough chick New Wave Rocker – she was so much more than that.
I look to someone like Johnette Napolitano as a singer heavily influenced by HBV as well. I can hear a lot of HBV on Joey, Tommorow Wendy and Caroline. She may have been darker lyrically, but the emotion and passion is very reminiscent of HBV.
Of course I sitting at home today, on my day off, thinking why does the idea of HBV and Johnette Napolitano sound so familiar….I searched the interwebs and it hit me right in the face – Vowel Movement! – a fairly dark, but quite beautiful record. I searched my secondary hard drive and even found a few songs I had collected from it. The title track is a monster and I Don’t Wanna is short, sharp and bites hard.
Echorich – You’ve not heard the entire Vowel Movement album then? Not optimal! Let’s put it this way, I sold off my copy! It sounded every inch like the worst sort of improvisation that it was. I can be okay with Johnette Napolitano. Eventually Concrete Blonde made albums I can listen to and I truly love the Pretty + Twisted album she made with Marc Moreland, but I had to divest myself of VM. It was that unlistenable to me. Your mileage may vary.
No, Monk, I have it, in file format…but you are right, it is much more miss than hit and for that reason, a very big missed opportunity in my mind. HBV gets a bit lost in the process for most of the album but there are some bright/dark moments that appeal to me.
Echorich – I need to rebuy a copy and give it another shot. Years ago I divested myself of CDs by favorites that I did not enjoy [Vowel Movement, Pleasure One, Outland, Go Bang] on the principle of it, and except for the Numan, it does stick in my craw that I no longer have those albums today.
Although I have the two Wounded Bird reissues I’ve never focussed on this song before – I have now and you’re right it’s great. I’ve ordered the demos cd as well, not sure why I held off, don’t want to risk the price rising further…
There is a definite similarity with Til Tuesday, I’m a long time Aimee fan, and it does seem quite likely she’d be aware of Holly’s work. Intriguing to see Holly is making electronic instrumental stuff now.
Am also a CB fan, agree though, Vowel Movement isn’t great….Pretty and Twisted on the other hand I love, Marc Moreland was ridiculously under rated, so he joins Holly in that category.
finding this now. great review. hope you see this.
yuru – Welcome to the comments! At first I thought this may be spam and tagged it as that, due to the brief, nonspecific comment, but I had 2nd thoughts after looking again. Hopefully you won’t be bombarding me with links for proxies!
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I believe I have played Unoriginal Sin more than any human alive including you…I love everything about the song..My brother was in the music business in the early 80s and he gave me a promotional copy of this, and incredibly I remember putting the vinyl on the turntable for the first time, and turned off WHFS radio (the greatest commercial station of all time..and that can be verified)..and incredibly coincidentally Honalu was playing on WHFS at the time I turned on the record player to the first tune…Honalu on vinyl..a million in one chance..as I had not heard this until that moment.!!!!
and this unusually, but great record then progressed to UnoriginalSin..the finale at the time..I think it may have been reordered on further pressing..and I was incredibly hooked..the unusually orchestral arrangements which detracted overall on this record made this song soar..as well as the fantastic lyrics that progressed to the amazing climatic ending..
I never saw here live, but checked out all of the other projects/albums she put out..and indeed she was one of those “great artists” that truly were hidden from the general public, and even the well informed progressive/new wave/punk music aficionados never heard of her..what a shame.
GE from just outside of Washington DC
Gary E – Welcome to the comments! In the race to hear “Unoriginal Sin” the most times…there are no losers! you provided an amazing tale of synchronicity [Karl Jung to the white courtesy phone, please!] with your first spin of this amazing album.