(This interview was originally published March 27, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Paul Young. He is the English pop musician who had a #1 hit in 1985 with his cover of "Everytime You Go Away". In the U.S., he is certainly best known to '80s fans for that great song as well as later successful covers of “Oh Girl” in 1990 and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” in 1992. In the UK, he enjoyed six Top 10 singles and three multi-platinum albums in the '80s, but this interview will be more from the American perspective. He was one of the artists to be spotlighted singing solo lyrics in the 1984 charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and would be asked to perform at 1985’s Live Aid. You’ll find out more about his biggest hit single, being a part of those iconic charity events and much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Paul Young…
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician and performer? How did you get your start in the music industry?
Paul: Yes, from about 14. I had a job which I quit at 20. I was in a couple of bands; the second one was a great live band and got a lot of attention from people in the business, but not enough sales. When I went solo, the DJ’s that had seen my second band, The Q-Tips, gave my records a lot of support and airtime until eventually the third release went to #1 here in the UK!
Q: Please discuss your musical influences and who molded and inspired your voice and career.
Paul: When I was young, I liked Free (Paul Rodgers) mainly, with a little James Taylor and Stevie Wonder. By the time I was in my first band, it was The Who, Small Faces, The Faces, Patto, and the emerging talent at that time was Dire Straits, Robert Palmer, The Stranglers. By my second band, I was influenced by Junior Walker, Joe Tex (big time!), Otis, Sam Cooke, and Wilson Pickett. By the time I’d gone solo I was discovering the lesser known soulsters; Garnet Mimms, Chuck Jackson, Johnny Taylor, plus the talent at the time (Talking Heads, Soft Cell) and I was interested in African High Life & Ju-Ju music.
Q:“Everytime You Go Away” became a huge hit topping the charts in both the U.S. and UK in 1985. What can you tell us about how you decided to record a cover version of this amazing song? Did you feel like you had something special when you recorded your version? Could you have ever anticipated the reaction this song would get not only in the UK , but in the U.S. as well?
Paul: I almost passed on the song because I was getting into the relatively darker material (darker than my first CD) that was making up the album. But when we compiled what we’d got, my manager suggested we lighten up a little!! So we went back to the cassettes of songs that we’d saved as “likers” and waddya know? Both “Everytime You Go Away” and “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” were on the same tape from the same publisher. It’s a little known fact that although one guy got the kudos, they were actually suggested to him by the temp secretary who had been a Q-Tips fan! We did feel we had something special, in fact by the time we knew it would get a U.S. release, my keyboard player predicted a U.S. #1.
“Everytime You Go Away” was written by Daryl Hall and originally recorded for his 1980 Hall & Oates album Voices. It was not released as a single by Hall & Oates and most were not aware of the song until Paul Young released his version of the song in February of 1985 and on his The Secret of Association album. The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on July 27, 1985 and remains Young’s only #1 hit up to this point. Here is the music video for “Everytime You Go Away” by Paul Young…
Q: Did you know Daryl Hall previous to or following recording the song? Did he ever tell you or did you ever hear his feelings on your outstanding version of his song?
Paul: Well, I heard my very cursory and blunt mention on the Hall & Oates Live album, but he softened a little after that. A sharp guy, he spotted the Joe Tex influence which I thought had gone by this time!
Here’s what Hall said on their Live at the Apollo album recorded and released in late September of 1985:
“We’d like to do a song that was on our 'Voices' album about five years ago. And it was recently done by an English artist. It’s called “Everytime You Go Away”. This is the original and we’re going to do it our own way.”
Hall is kind of laughing when he says English artist and does not even refer to Young by name. Hall did write an amazing song, but I feel he owed Young a little more respect for taking that song and making it a hit. As mentioned earlier, Young had taken his version of “Everytime You Go Away” to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of that same year. There’s a good chance that Hall & Oates wouldn’t even be performing the song if it weren’t for the attention that Paul Young brought to it.
Q: How did you come up with the arrangement on your version of “Everytime You Go Away”? The electric sitar works so nicely. What made you decide to use that?
Paul: Rev (my keyboard player) wrote the lovely keyboard patterns in the verses, and already had what he called the “doctor’s theme” in his head (the main one the sitar plays). I always loved the sound of the sitar, on The Box Tops’ “Cry Like A Baby” and Freda Payne’s “Band Of Gold”. I thought it was a soulful sound, so we decided to play the theme with that.
Q: Please discuss the unique sound of the fretless bass that Pino Palladino provides on this song and many of your other songs.
Paul: Pino’s done that fretless sound to death and is not so keen on it now (witness anything he plays with The John Mayer Trio. Still bloody good though, ain’t he?!). But at the time he was the only guy that could do that essentially Jazz-Rock style and make it Pop. Because of his incredibly melodic ear.
Q: Your song “Love of the Common People” appears on the soundtrack to the 1984 John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Then in the 1987 John Hughes film Planes, Trains & Automobiles, the song “Everytime You Go Away” is used but it is performed by a group called Blue Room instead of by you. As far as you know, were you ever approached or considered to use your version of that song for the movie? The song is perfect for the moment it is used in the film (which is one of my favorites), but I always wish it was your version of the song.
Paul: Damn it! I wanted my version of “Everytime You Go Away” in that movie so bad. I was a big Steve Martin fan, and a friend had seen the rushes of the movie with my version cut in. But [Walter] Yetnikoff (head of CBS at the time) and the head of Warner Bros. had a little war going on, so Yetnikoff said he could have it if he could price it out of his ass (or something like that). So I lost out! I always wondered who did it…and who were Blue Room??
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it?
Paul: My God, it’s probably the ONLY song I do that I don’t get tired of… that’s really sayin’ something. I think it’s because, although it’s a ballad, the arrangement has big dynamics, so you can do all the James Brown tricks, you know, knee drops and the music stops, call & answer with the crowd, ad-lib repeats over and over at the end… great fun!
Q: I have to ask about “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” from 1984. You had the honor of singing both the opening and closing lines of that iconic song. It is reported that the first line was originally intended for David Bowie. How did it turn out that you received those great solo lyrics both at the beginning and end? Please tell us a little about your memories of recording that song. You must be proud of what that song went on to accomplish and the good it has done.
Paul: I remember that David Bowie was going to get the first line, but Bob Geldof begs to differ! So who’s right? I’m not sure now. I do know that someone said I was all over it, and next time I listened to it I realized I was mixed pretty high all the way through. Wow… It was an honor and a pleasure though, and I’m chuffed I got the opening line.
"Do They Know It's Christmas" was written by Geldof & UreBob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) in 1984 specifically to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Geldof had a scheduled interview on a popular BBC radio station to promote his new album, but instead he selflessly used his airtime to publicize the idea for the charity single. By the time the musicians were recruited to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” there was already intense media interest in the subject.
Geldof put together a group which they called Band Aid, consisting of leading Irish and British musicians who were among the most popular and recognized of that era. What resulted was a literal who’s who of UK 80s musicians. Highlighting this impressive list were Paul Young, Boy George (Culture Club), George Michael (Wham!), Duran Duran, Sting (The Police), Bono (U2), Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama and more. They recorded this iconic song on November 25, 1984 and Paul Young sang the opening lyrics:
It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade
as well as the closing verse lyrics:
Here’s to you
raise a glass for everyone
Here’s to them
underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?
Here is the video for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid...
The single was released on December 3, 1984, and Band Aid went straight to #1 on the UK pop charts, outselling all the other records in the chart put together. It became the fastest selling single of all time in the UK, selling a million in the first week alone. It stayed at #1 for five weeks and ultimately sold more than three million copies. The single was released just before Christmas with the aim of raising money for the relief of the famine. Geldof’s somewhat cautious hope was for £70,000.
Ultimately, however, the song raised many millions of pounds and became the biggest-selling single in UK chart history. (It has since been passed by Elton John’s tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, “Candle in the Wind 1997.”) “Do They Know It’s Christmas” still ranks as the second best selling single in the UK with 3.8 million copies sold. It ranks ahead of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2.13 million) and now behind “Candle in the Wind 1997? (4.8 million). That is quite impressive for an impromptu Christmas song. It sold another 2.5 million copies in the U.S. and 11.7 million copies worldwide by 1989. It certainly inspired 1985's "We Are the World" which along with Live Aid that same year showed the social power of popular music.
Q: What memories do you have from performing at the Wembley Stadium portion of Live Aid on July 13, 1985? You finished up your set with “Everytime You Go Away” and Band Aid also performed “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” during the finale. What an iconic day in pop culture history. What are your memories of it now over 25 years later?
Paul: It was a blur… all I remember is Bob running on & saying that we are now worldwide (gulp!), and having to clear the dressing room (trailer) in 15 minutes because Queen had to use it! I went out to apologize that we were a bit slow and they were so cool about it, you wouldn’t believe. Everybody was cool that day.
Everybody was cool that day and, of course, Paul Young was a big part of that iconic event. Here is the video of Paul Young performing “Everytime You Go Away” at Live Aid…
Q: In 1988, you performed Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” at the 70th Birthday Tribute for Nelson Mandela. First, that had to be an honor getting to perform for that great man. Why did you not perform one of your own songs at the tribute? What made you choose “Don’t Dream It’s Over”
Paul: I had no song of my own that had any reference to what the day was all about, and I remembered the Crowded House song, the least oblique reference being, “in the paper today, tales of war and of waste, but you turn right over to the TV page”, so I decided on that one.
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” was written by Neil Finn and Crowded House reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 with it in 1987. After performing it at the Mandela tribute, Young would eventually release his own cover as a single in 1991 as part of his greatest hits compilation From Time to Time – The Singles Collection. Here is the video of Paul Young performing "Don't Dream It's Over" at the Nelson Mandela event in 1988...
Q: MTV was becoming a major factor right at the same time your career was blossoming. What are your thoughts on the impact that MTV had on music in the '80s?
Paul: I never felt that I made good videos, but considering that, I think I did OK out of it! When I did start getting my own ideas and visions, the record company would refuse to put up the money. I suppose they were a bit grand. But MTV definitely shaped the sound of the '80s.
Q: Any other comments or stories about '80s music or pop culture?
Paul: Yes, I felt a little outside it! Being an old soul fan and all, maybe I fitted in a little better with the U.S. acts, but the UK music was very synth driven at the time. My biggest problem in the U.S. was the radio segregation (College radio, AOR, R&B, M.O.R., Rock). I felt I fitted into all of them, but that wasn’t allowed, you had to be one or the other. An easy concept for an American artist, but a UK one?
Q: Some '80s pop superstars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective
Paul: I ran away from it for a while, because I was still shaping my music into the '90s and getting hits here in Europe, but once we got into the Naughties and I was far enough away, I could go back and appreciate the hits I’d had.
Q: Of all your hit songs over the years, which is your personal favorite? Is there a song that never was released as a single or never became a hit that you have always really loved?
Paul: Well, “Everytime You Go Away” would be my favorite because I felt it was the perfect Pop arrangement; but the one in all my career that I can say, great song, great vocal, great musicians and big heart is a song called “Won’t Look Back” that was on an album called The Crossing  that I recorded in Ocean Way Studios, L.A. with Don Was. Anyone who has to move out of a relationship because you just can’t forgive anymore will feel this one.
Q: In 1992, you performed with the surviving members of Queen at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Again, this must have been an honor. Were you a big fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury? What memories do you have from your performance of “Radio Ga Ga” with the remaining Queen members?
Paul: Great honor, again. I was a fan since the early days, and I remember when these three musicians did the opening few bars of “Ga Ga” at rehearsals, I said to someone, “After 40 years of Pop music, how the f**k can three musicians make such an unmistakable sound?” It was incredible.
Here is a video of Paul Young performing "Radio Ga Ga" with Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992...
Q: I read this quote from you, “Every artist wants to change, yet every record company wants them to stay the same.” Can you expand on this thought and how it specifically applied to you?
Paul: I was doing the self-titled album on East West, and (probably foreseeing the hash they were gonna make of it) I was saying that an artist wants to experiment, to move forward, but a record company want the same sounding stuff so that they don’t have to think… they just put adverts in the same magazines as with the last CD, use similar soundbites, go to the same radio stations, etc. etc.
Q: After over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
Paul: Massively! It’s turned on its head. The records, which made us the most money, are now expected to be for free. Concerts, which ran at a loss to promote albums, now are the main source of income, but the fans are being driven away by market saturation and sky-high ticket prices. What hasn’t changed is that there is still plenty of great music around, lots of diverse styles, and the good side to the internet is that it’s easier to find.
Q: There were reports that you were working on releasing a new studio album. Is there a new album in the works? What can you tell us about it?
Paul: Slowly, slowly… I’ve done four tracks to get a bit of interest drummed up (that’s happened), now it’s looking for/writing the next lot of material. For a long time I didn’t see the point if noone buys albums any more, but now I feel I’ve got something inside that needs to come out…an ALIEN! No, not really…
Q: What else is Paul Young up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise?
Paul: I do Paul Young concerts, I’ve had a Tex-Mex band (Los Pacaminos) for 17 years now and love doing shows with them, I have a big family, I’m now known in the UK as being a foodie (Hell’s Kitchen and Celebrity Masterchef TV shows), so a cookbook could be in the pipeline, and maybe my own little restaurant too…
I am so pleased that Paul took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Special thanks to Mick Cater who helped coordinate the interview. If you want to find out more about Paul Young and stay up to date with what he has going on, please be sure to visit his official Facebook page.
I want to take this opportunity to again thank Paul Young for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially with his version of “Everytime You Go Away” and, even more, for taking a moment to go back to the '80s with us here as well.