Song of the Week – Living on the Coast, The Rise of Heart, Judie Tzuke


Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Gil Roeder. Gil is a guitarist/songwriter and a member of Rockridge Station. He has also written about music professionally. When he’s not focused on his musical interests he holds down a day job!

Sure, sure … finding your lifetime partner and significant other can bring love and happiness, companionship, children, emotional support, etc. etc. All wonderful stuff, but let’s not overlook one of the great benefits of entering into a long-term romantic relationship: combining music collections!

Today, I suppose, this is a routine Bluetooth or Thunderbolt file exchange for most couples. But back in the vinyl era, a significant ritual in the progression of a serious relationship was sitting on the floor of your new shared home, sifting through each other’s crates of records to cull the duplicates (“let’s see, your copy of Rumors is in better condition, my copy of Sticky Fingers has the original Andy Warhol zipper on the cover”), and discovering the quirks in your S.O.’s musical tastes.

When my future wife and I first set up house together, I came across a 1980 album in her pile by the British singer-songwriter Judie Tzuke, called Sportscar. I was immediately smitten: Tzuke’s belting vocal style and inventive rhythms and harmonies set her apart from many mainstream female artists of the time. Our SotW features two cuts from that album.

“Living on the Coast” portrays a recent migrant to (presumably) Southern California, basking in the sunshine and sea breeze while aching with loneliness:

Living on the coast
You see no one beyond the waterline
You make yourself feel better
By breathing in the air

The arrangement seems inspired by contemporaneous Steely Dan records (Aja, Gaucho), with a catchy bass-keyboard interchange, jazzy 11th and 13th chords over abrupt rhythmic transitions, and serpentine guitar fills.

“The Rise of Heart” is a better showcase for Tzuke’s voice.

Her powerful upper range and steady, vibrato-less fermatas at times resemble Rickie Lee Jones. Her band shines here, with a delicate bass riff that gets picked up by the guitar, a dramatic keyboard countermelody in the chorus and an intelligent guitar solo by Mike Paxman that is straight from the Larry Carlton school of jazz-rock.

Tzuke’s story illustrates how important luck and timing were in the star-making machinery of that era. After modest success in the British pop charts with her initial albums and singles, she got her big break — signing with Elton John’s Rocket record label and opening for him on his 1980 U.S. tour. From all accounts, confirmed by YouTube clips of her live performances around that time, she seized the moment and killed on stage. The high point was playing to half a million people in New York’s Central Park.

But the machinations of the recording industry conspired against Tzuke. Elton John had switched U.S. distributors just before the tour. According to her web site, “MCA consequently decided to stop all tour support and promotion for the acts on the Rocket label, which meant that Judie was playing to huge audiences … but no-one knew who she was and her records were not available in the shops.” Despite a quick fade to obscurity, she has continued to self-produce albums and tour the U.K. to this day, sometimes with her two musician daughters.

Enjoy… until next week.