A few months ago a friend’s dad, while clearing out his attic, came upon three capacious boxes of LPs he wanted to get rid of; many of the albums had been purchased by his kids in the mid-1980s, with the rest representing the his own generation’s dollar-bin oompah, lounge, or folk (The Village Stompers?) and the like. I ended up buying the lot with another guy for forty bucks—an insanely great deal even if there was a ton of dross in the mix. In addition to low-rated fare like Jermaine Jackson’s Let Me Tickle Your Fancy and Apollonia 6‘s only full-length, I ended up with albums by Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Donovan, Adam and the Ants, Big Daddy Kane, Duran Duran, Johnny Cash, and the Smithereens. Pretty good!
In among this haul was Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85, featuring a band I had scarcely thought about since the days when they were still making it onto the charts. The quality is noticeably high if also noticeably far more MOR than the cuts that had made them so distinctive in the period before 1985.
The main figure of Scritti Politti was named Green Gartside, a six-foot-six Welshman who as a teenager had been a member of the Young Communist League. Similar to David Byrne, perhaps, Gartside was a new waver notable for his high intellect, a trait signaled by the name he chose for his production company—Jouissance Ltd., which referenced the writings of Jacques Lacan—as well as his habit of hanging out with Jacques Derrida (!).
Even if you’re having trouble differentiating Scritti Politti from EBN-OZN, Aztec Camera or the Associates, it’s likely you would recognize the album’s biggest hit, “Perfect Way,” if you heard it. Cupid & Psyche 85 must have caught the ear of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, for Davis promptly recorded a cover of “Perfect Way” for his 1986 album Tutu, a far cry from Davis’ heyday that became a surprise hit by catching the still-being-defined NPR demographic in just the right way.
When you secure Miles Davis to record something for your album, MAKE SURE YOU GET PICTURES.
For their next album, Scritti Politti was given the extraordinary opportunity of having Miles Davis agree to record something for their album, so he appears on the first single off their 1988 album Provision, the awkwardly titled “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy),” for which Davis supplies a solo as well as some additional noodling.
To my ear, “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)” is about two unfortunate steps closer to, say, Howard Jones to stand out, as it succumbs to a welter of bland ‘80s pop conventions. It lacks a good melody and most of the other qualities that made “Perfect Way” such a memorable effort. Indeed, one can’t help but wonder if the legendarily cranky Miles was privately disappointed at the effort.
Many years later, Anthony Reynolds interviewed Green Gartside about the band’s encounter with the iconic jazzman:
Reynolds: I think a lot of [Davis’] final works—Tutu in particular—have transcended their era now. I think maybe at the time a lot of people heard it as Miles trying to be hip and down with MTV or whatever, but I think it’s beyond that now.
Gartside: Yeah, I remember being at his place and he was still very actively interested in music and very discerning and listened to a lot. Including his own stuff. I remember he had a whole wall of recordings of himself playing live in various places and he would go very specifically to find one gig say that he did in Germany eighteen months earlier where he’d played something that he particularly liked. And he’s play it for us. And that showed someone who really did know where he was at. A lot of people thought he had lost it but not at all. He was also very into hip-hop and into listening to himself very critically.
AR: Did Miles seek you out?
GG: Yeah, he did actually. I didn’t. I made no effort. He rang me first and kept on ringing. When I got back to London he’d ring me at odd times of the night and day and talk about working together and asked me to write stuff. It was strange.
AR: Did you ever figure out why he was drawn to you? I can imagine, after hearing the Cupid & Psyche album that he loved the production of it as much as anything. Cos he had a very progressive ... aesthetic.
GG: Yeah. He was interesting, and he told me that as far as his interest in me and my work went, he liked the attention to detail and the whole approach to vocals and melody reminded him of some Latin American music that had interested him years before. I can’t remember the names of the singers but that kind of non-ornamented non-vibrato. In a way that like, I guess he played very often. So yeah we had some interesting discussions about that kind of stuff.
Here’s the video for Scritti Politti’s “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)”, with guest trumpeter Miles Davis:
Here’s Scritti Politti’s “Perfect Way” followed by Miles Davis’ cover so that you can compare: