The Blow Monkeys, She Was Only a Grocer’s Daughter

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 07.24.14 in Reviews

Of the many bands that could’ve only happened in the ’80s, the Blow Monkeys might top the list: The U.K. quartet’s only American hit, “Digging Your Scene,” was about the Scottish-born singer Dr. Robert’s fascination with gay culture and sadness from watching his friends being demonized by AIDS. Assisted by Spandau Ballet-like smoothness and the frontman’s perfect pop star cheekbones, the 1986 single sailed into the U.S. Top 20, right over most radio programmer’s heads. The achievement led to their inclusion on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, in which the group covered Leslie Gore’s 1963 feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me” while preserving the original pronouns. One of the biggest pop albums of all time, in other words, features a song in which a man proclaims, “Don’t say I can’t go out with other boys.”

The subversive 1987 pop record gets remastered

That subversive spirit waves its flag all over She Was Only a Grocer’s Daughter. Their third album title’s refers to then-current Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and one of its singles, “(Celebrate) The Day After You” imagined an England free from her conservative rule. Robert, perhaps feeling emboldened by the unprecedented U.K. success of the album’s first single. “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way,” intensified the message of “Celebrate” by inviting soul legend Curtis Mayfield and writer of ’60s civil rights anthems like “We’re A Winner” and “Choice of Colors,” to sing with him on the single version. Released during Thatcher’s ultimately successful 1987 re-election campaign, the BBC considered the track too overtly political, and banned it. Club versions nevertheless scored an aesthetic victory: A remix of the song by the Jam/Style Council leader Paul Weller sacrifices almost every element of its instrumental arrangement in favor of Chicago-style house beats, which was also the key to the Dr. Robert’s UK chart comeback in 1989 with club diva Kym Mazelle’s “Wait.”

Throughout Grocer’s Daughter, Robert revisits ’60s and ’70s soul styles in quintessentially ’80s ways. “Some Kind of Wonderful” combines Stax horn blasts with Rhythm Nation-style snare drum cracks, and the long version of “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way” threatens at regular intervals to segue right into Jackson’s recent smash “Nasty.” And Dr. Robert finds room to flaunt his glam roots through the sophisticated sheen: Check his unabashedly Marc Bolan-esque moans and born-to-boogie guitar chords while soul sisters wail in the background of the T. Rex flashback “Rise Above.”