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Tracie – Souls On Fire: The Recordings 1983-1986 (Cherry Red Records)

After answering a ‘situations vacant’ advert placed in Smash Hits by Paul Weller in September 1982, Tracie Young was swiftly thrust into the limelight at the age of 17 when she was asked to provide backing vocals on what turned out to be the final single by The Jam, ‘Beat Surrender’. Within weeks, she was performing the song with the band on Top Of The Pops as it topped the UK Singles Chart.

When The Jam split, she then provided vocals for the first single by Weller’s new band The Style Council, Speak Like A Child, and on this firm foundation, Tracie’s solo career was built. In fact, the very next week, her own solo debut single, the irresistible ‘The House That Jack Built’, was released and, over the next month or so, climbed all the way to Number 9 in the charts.

Souls On Fire: The Recordings 1983-1986 gathers together everything Tracie released (and more besides) into a handy box set comprising four CDs and a DVD.

Only one album was officially released in the years covered, Far From The Hurting Kind, which came out on Weller’s short-lived Respond label in 1984 (in fact, on the same date as this collection, 30th June!), with a shelved second album, No Smoke Without Fire, finally seeing the light of day in 2014, also thanks to Cherry Red, who enhanced it with an array of bonus tracks. It was released under the name Tracie Young rather than just Tracie, incidentally.

CD1 includes the debut, which at the time didn’t include either the big hit ‘The House That Jack Built’ or even its follow-up, the Top 30 single ‘Give It Some Emotion’. It turns out that this decision was Weller’s rather than Tracie’s, and while the sentiment was sound (Weller didn’t want fans being ripped off buying tracks they already owned), it was probably not the best business decision in retrospect! Nevertheless, it’s a fine album that has aged gracefully. Its opening track ‘(I Love You) When You Sleep’ was penned by Elvis Costello after the two met on a flight from Newcastle to London after appearing on the legendary ’80s TV show The Tube. It’s an excellent, uncluttered song that leaves plenty of room to showcase Tracie’s wonderfully pure voice.

In 1984, there was quite a scene of jazz-pop going on with the likes of Swans Way, Carmel, Sade and Everything But The Girl enjoying hits and Far From The Hurting Kind fits more into this world than those initial hits. ‘I Can’t Hold On ‘Till Summer’ is particularly beautiful, just voice, piano and an understated synth-string section. ‘Moving Together’s fretless bass sound ties it to the era (it hasn’t done Japan’s legacy any harm!), but it fits in with the song nicely. The title track arrives last and is a Northern Soul stomper, wrapping things up on a high. The 10 bonus tracks on CD1 alone finally reunite those hits with the album, with B-sides and 12” versions thrown in for good measure.

CD2 has the aforementioned No Smoke Without Fire (Tracie eventually bought the rights from Weller for £1 ahead of the eventual 2014 appearance of the ‘lost’ album). This would-be second album has more of a mish-mash of styles and is not as coherent on the whole as the debut, but there’s plenty of treasure within; the George McCrae cover ‘I Can’t Leave You Alone’, which appears in several versions across the set, sounds like a huge hit all day long but stalled at Number 60 in the Summer of 1985. There’s ‘Me and Jimmy Stone’, an excellent track on which Tracie’s vocals sound rather like her almost-namesake Tracey Thorn, though it would probably be fairer to state this the other way around. It could easily be a track from Everything But The Girl’s Language Of Life, though, of course, that was still five years away at this point. Again there is a plethora of bonus tracks, including the fabulous ‘Heartbeat Demo’ of ‘Fingers Crossed’, a track which appears in its ‘proper’ form on the album. The official version is great (and would have been released as a single if I had happened to be a 15-year-old A&R person at the time), but the demo has something magical about it like it’s captured a moment in time. I’ve played it about 50 times in the course of reviewing this set. It also includes Tracie’s cover of Agnetha Fältskog’s ‘We Should Be Together’, which Tracie has made no secret of disliking over the years. It’s presumably here for completeness’ sake though it does seem very much of an outlier in the collection.

CD3 is given over to Rarities with a lot of 7” and 12” versions, all very serviceable, and a handful of demos (also two much more recent radio session tracks from 2008/9), while CD4 is titled Live + Mixes; it’s mostly live tracks from concerts in Tokyo and London which showcase Tracie’s considerable talent for on-stage performance. Tucked away towards the end, though is her remarkable version of Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’, subtitled ‘The Wickham Mix’ as it was created to support the 19 members of the South East Animal Liberation Front who broke into Wickham’s animal testing lab in October 1984. The lyrics have been changed to reflect the horrors of the lab in place of the horrors of the Vietnam War that were the subject matter of Hardcastle’s version.

Completing the set is the DVD, which gathers together promo videos and Top of The Pops appearances for the two big hits, as well as visits to Wogan in 1985 and a charming 1983 foray onto Cheggers Plays Pop to promote ‘The House That Jack Built’—seven tracks from a Japanese show round off the visuals.

Souls On Fire… is a testament to the fact that Tracie could have probably put out three good albums in her relatively short time releasing music. There are so many gems here, and it’s great to see the material rounded up so comprehensively.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.