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2020 Album Draft- Round 8- Pick 10- Music City Mike Selects- Nick Lowe – Pure Pop For Now People [US}/ Jesus Of Cool {UK}

After already picking an LP in my top ten that featured different covers on each side of the Atlantic Ocean (with another to follow with my next pick) here’s one that takes this practice even further. While the cover variation was only slight, worldwide, there would be an assortment of differently costumed Nick Lowes among the six shots featured on the cover. But more significantly, they changed the LPs title as well as the song content.

Thinking that American audiences would be timid about the name “Jesus,” Columbia Records christened the record with a new name. Well, while I doubt that we would have seen copies of Nick Lowe’s debut solo LP being burned in the streets, we can be thankful that these titles resulted in two catch phrases that would label Lowe throughout his long and continued career. (Note that in 2008, the folks at Yep Roc were brave enough to use the original British title on a reissue of the LP here in the States.).

At the time of its original release in March 1978, the name Nick Lowe was not very well known in the US. Previously, Nick was a member of the British band Brinsley Schwarz who disbanded in 1975. The Brinsleys were best known in America, albeit barely, for a miserable attempt to promote the band with a show at New York’s Fillmore East. Flying in a bunch of UK journalists to promote the band, it turned into an unmitigated comical disaster. So much so, that a mate of mine is working on a screenplay.

After the Brinsleys called it quits, Lowe started working with a Welshman named Dave Edmunds and eventually began hanging out with the folks at Stiff Records in London. In late 1976, his “So It Goes” (included on this album) was the unconventional label’s first single and carried the clever catalogue number of BUY1. He soon became Stiff’s house producer and is credited by most with producing the first ever Punk LP in 1977 with Damned Damned Damned by The Damned. Labelled as SEEZ1, this was also Stiff’s first LP.

While the “So It Goes” single was on Stiff, by the time of this LPs release, label honcho Jake Riviera had taken his two prize properties, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, to his new label, Radar Records, which released Jesus.

By late 1977, Lowe’s name became more prominent with Americans as producer of the debut record by Elvis Costello, My Aim is True. His work with Costello of course continued and included a 1978 North American tour to promote Pure Pop with he and his band Rockpile opening for Costello and Mink DeVille.

The UK and US releases of this LP were vastly different in their running orders, and my ears grew to learn the Pure Pop version. This is still an album I can run through from start to finish in my mind from memory recalling every word and note. It’s an old friend that I never tire of revisiting.

As for the track variations, for the record (pun intentional), Columbia amended “Shake and Pop” on the Radar record for a livelier version of the same song with a new title, tempo and chorus with “They Called it Rock.” The fresh live Rockpile version of “Heart of the City” on the British LP was reverted to the old Stiff studio version here in the Colonies. Finally, Nick’s satiric but sincere ode to a band he unashamedly appreciated, “Rollers Show,” an earlier single and big hit in Japan where they too love the Bay City Rollers, was added to the US version.  

With tongue firmly in cheek, on this record Mr. Lowe crafted a lyrically clever and musically lush Pop masterpiece. With safety-pin Punks turning into skinny-tie New Wavers, this is a record that was undoubtedly influential in that transition. Nick also didn’t have to look far for a producer since this was during the period in which he earned the nickname “The Basher” and was one of the most highly sought after to sit behind the desk, turn the knobs and “bash” them out on the quick.

Pure Pop kicks off with the power guitar riffs of “So It Goes,” a song that Nick would include in his live set for the next 40 years. It’s a Power Pop classic with nifty lines about rockers and politicians set to a familiar riff that he cleanly “nicked” from Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.”  

If Disco was your thing, up next was “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” one that you could dance to. In fact, I often did that back in the day at rock clubs in New York City such as Hurrah. I suspect however that Nick was being sonically satiric on this one although he did start rocking at the disco before Blondie, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks took their turns.   

Lowe’s lyrics were fun and silly in ditties like “Marie Provost,” about a Hollywood actress who died alone and “became the doggie’s dinner” on “July 29th,” a day I never failed to acknowledge in remembrance of this song. Then there’s “Little Hitler” in which the song’s subject is likened to the notorious dictator. With its line “As the world turns, at the edge of night,” Lowe shows that he spent way too much time watching afternoon soap operas in American hotel rooms! What inspiration on both counts!

Want another great line? How about this one from “They Call it Rock” in which Nick’s gripes about the record biz: “Arista said they loved it, but the kids can’t dance to it.” This is all such great silly stuff, but then there’s “Tonight,” an almost perfect tender love song with a lavish arrangement that crowned Nick Lowe as the New Wave’s Phil Spector.  

Jesus / Pure Pop is a fresh sounding Pop record made with some of Nick’s old friends from the Pub Rock days, then Graham Parker’s Rumour, and his future band mates in Rockpile. The live “Heart of the City” on Jesus is Rockpile in full force. On this true classic rock song, give a listen to the ending drum solo by Terry Williams where he starts off slow and accelerates to a lightning fast pace. Amazing stuff. It goes without saying that Rockpile is perhaps the best live band that my eyes and ears have ever seen.

There is one cover tune on the record, that being Jim Ford’s “36” High.” It fits so fine on this record that you’d think it was Lowe’s. By the way, if you don’t know Ford, thank both Nick and me for leading you to his magnificent Harlan County LP.

I am so thankful for my timely introduction to this record that allowed me to be a lifelong Nick Lowe fan. Although his style has now changed, and he uses Sinatra-style singing more than clever lyrics with a rock band, he’s still at it and vital today. My final word to you is to be sure to read Will Birch’s great recent bio Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe. Like it did for me, it’ll only make you love him more!


  1. I love Nick Lowes music. I knew his hits growing up but soon started to get his albums at The Great Escape…a second hand record store. His pop songs are so well crafted and executed. So It Goes remains a favorite of mine. Happy to see Nick Lowe picked.

  2. Some names – Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, and others from the mid-late 70’s – I know a couple of tracks but never was exposed to their music. Then I read and listen to what you’ve shared and know I missed out. Better late than never. Nice write up, Mike.

  3. Nick Lowe is a favorite- discovered him with Labour Of Lust- but then went back and bought this one- and every one since. Great stuff! One of my favorites is from a little more than a decade ago -At My Age. What a mid career transition he made in his music.

  4. Two thumbs up from me! ‘So It Goes’ got some play in my region, but not enough. It has one of the catchiest rock/pop choruses ever, imo. While it didn’t get played a lot, it was enough for me to start recognizing the name, ‘Nick Lowe’. The ‘Jesus’ album title is epic, too, and the Pure Pop title is almost that good. I really enjoyed your witty, informative write up. You captured well how he fit into the time period. I’m so envious that you saw Rockpile perform. And, I didn’t know about the Fillmore East debacle, but I’m quite excited at the prospect of it becoming a screenplay.

    I’m glad to know about the book. Our library has it, so I’ve placed my request.

  5. I learned about this from Cincinnati Babyhead. If I’m not mistaken we’ve already had Carlene Carter and almost had Howie Epstein (the album before he joined the Heartbreakers) in the draft.

  6. His name is familiar and am sure I’ve heard some of his music. After hearing this I am interested in learning more. Good write-up, Mike. Nice flavor to add to the draft mix.

  7. Good writeup about some fine music. Nick is an under-rated musician, and between him, Edmuncs and Costello they almost invented their own sub-genre of rock in that time period (maybe could add in early Joe Jackson to the category too.) Good stuff, not familiar with a lot of those tracks, though the one song I sort of knew well was “I love the sound of Breaking glass”… had a friend who played it a fair bit on his radio show, though the version he had was a different recording or mix than the one included on the video I think… guess there were a lot of different versions for some of those songs.
    Coincidentally, the album is similar in the differing versions to one I considered for my next pick… although I don’t think I will opt for it, I was looking at one from the late-’70s that had a different title and slightly different song listing between Euro and american editions. It was odd, but perhaps smart, that back then it seemed commonplace for record companies to alter the release to cater to local tastes.

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