2021 Song Draft- Round 3 Pick 6- A Sound Day selects ‘A Letter From St. Paul’- The Silencers.
Believe it or not, I do listen to music that’s not from the 1980s! But I find myself going back there again for my third pick here. But whereas my first two picks were from multi-platinum artists known far and wide (R.E.M. and Rush) this one is taking us a bit of the mainstream radio-beaten path. I reminded myself of this great, much over-looked track in my previous post here, when referencing Canadian Alt Rock Superstation, CFNY. It was one of the only places you were likely to be lucky enough to hear “A Letter From St. Paul”, the title track to the ’87 RCA Records debut by an obscure, London-based Scottish band, The Silencers.
The Silencers were formed out of the remnants of Fingerprintz, an equally-obscure post-punk act that had minor attention paid to them by college radio in the early-’80s. A quartet of bassist Joseph Donnelly, drummer Martin Harlan, guitarist Cha Burns (who’d played in Adam Ant’s backing band) and leader, singer, lyricist Jimme O’Neill. The four share credit on the writing, and Tim Finn, the super-talent who led Split Enz, is given a mysterious credit for “composing” in the liner notes with no real details explaining his role.
The entire album is well worth a listen. Particularly if you like that brand of guitar-driven alt rock only the mid-’80s could deliver…the Smiths, early R.E.M., the Bangles when they were allowed to be themselves, etc. CCM rank it as the 262nd best album of all-time, correctly describing it as “jangly and atmospheric guitars, driving rhythms, sultry and subtle vocals, poingnant and pinpoint lyrics.” While the single “Painted Moon” was a minor hit which deserved to be a major hit, and apparently got “regular” airplay at KROQ in L.A. as well as my beloved Toronto station, it is the title track that really gets underneath your skin and deposits an earworm.
“A Letter From St. Paul” is definitely a tune to both test your speaker’s tweeters, and one best enjoyed in the dark through headphones. Hypnotic, jangly guitars rollicking away that you figure can’t get any better … until an equally wailing harmonica joins in! And unlike the album’s other tracks, it lacks O’Neill’s singing. Replacing it, sparingly, is an uncredited woman speaking in a montone voice about her drab life in Minnesota and suggesting (threatening?) to come see the letter’s recipient in London. We don’t know if she is serious or has a deadpan sense of humor, and if he should be happy or running for the hills. Treblezine succinctly state it to be the “eeriest song I’ve ever heard.” Somewhere out there, there’s a Hitchcock-wannabe movie maker itching to make this letter, this song, into a film noir classic.
I had to listen again to catch everything you described. It sounded sublime until I listened to the spoken words. Eventually, I was hearing the words and almost forgot about the music. Eerie indeed. 🙂 I’ve never heard of this group or the song. Very interesting!
the single “Painted Moon”, which was off the same album is more conventional in having more typical lyrics and the band’s lead singer singing it, is very good and if you happened to listen to college radio or a major city alt rock station in the 80s (and I know many didn’t have that chance), might be familiar to you, as possibly might be “Bulletproof Heart” off their next album. But they really didn’t make much of a commercial impact.
I listened to Painted Moon and Bulletproof Heart. Both sound more radio friendly, but not familiar to me. As you surmised, in those years I wasn’t in a place where I had access to college and alternative radio.
so true of many, and most radio programmers if they even received a copy scanned through it and said “this doesn’t sound like Michael Jackson OR Bruce Springsteen! why you wasting my time, RCA?”
The song almost has the feel of a radio transmission from another place/dimension. The woman’s voice is hypnotic, almost like a siren calling, especially with that last line…
yes, a little bit of a Twilight Zone feel to it isn’t there? It was an outlier even on the album because of her vocals.
A fascinating song that I was not familiar with. I really like the instrumentals and hypnotic melody that slowly builds. Also, the woman’s rather unsettling spoken vocals work well with the music.
it really does come together well. Like you put it, it is almost hypnotic. I think I first heard it a few times at 3 or 4AM , in an empty hotel lobby (working that midnight shift) which only added to the effect.
That is a cool song Dave! I’m listening now through my seventies type headphones and it sounds great. It’s a clever song that makes you want to go back and listen to again to see what she is saying. It kinda of puts you in a trance. Nice off the wall pick Dave!
thank you! Yes… there could be an argument her voice could be up front more and higher in the mix, but I think the subtlety that makes you really listen works well for it.
I think it works better like it is… you want to go back and check it out
Good piece Dave. Lots of those sounds you mentioned. Im hearing them. The harmonica is a real nice touch.
Interesting pick from a band I had not thought about in a long time. I got their sophomore album “A Blues For Buddha” on CD when it came out in the late ’80s. I haven’t listened to it for many years. I really dug it at the time.
I never owned Blues for Buddha, but remember hearing a few tracks that I liked off it. From what I understand, they got harder and more mainstream after that and then it seemed no one at all paid attention to them.
Shamefully, I don’t recall why I got Buddha at the time. I think it was because of the song “The Real McCoy,” which I must have heard on the radio and really liked – just listening to the track and finding it pretty enjoyable!
I’ve never heard of them but, I like it. When it comes to jangly, alt-rock, I’m there. R.E.M., Bangles…you say Smiths but, I think Smithereens but, I know that is Morrissey’s group. Bring it on…
Yes, Smiths/Smithereens, confusing names and always get parked side by side in my collection (alphabetical). Both from same time more or less too, both very good, but Smiths were whiny Morrissey with the jangly guitars and Smithereens were NJ, more conventional rock but done very well.
The title sounds like its going to be a Paul Westerberg tribute. I like it – reminds me of Australian 1980s band Midnight Oil a bit.
hmm – never thought of it, but the harmonica in there is similar to PEter Garrett of Midnight Oil’s playing. St. Paul… yeah, like I said there has to be a story behind it but I don’t know what it is or if they had a reason to pick that city (maybe a sort of play on words or double entrendre, with the city and girl being compared to the Biblical Paul? Who knows?)