The year was 1984, and the fact that Van Halen was using a synthesizer hardly seemed like revolutionary musical news to me. Instead, I had uncovered the album that would become the most important record I ever purchased, and on this twenty-fifth anniversary of that memorable procurement, I would feel remiss not revisit this defining musical moment.
Disc Records at Oxmoor Center was my record store of choice in Louisville from 1982-1985. Not only was it the place for the best rock group buttons, but you also got a $1.00 off the purchase of an album if they were playing it in the store at the time. A dollar is a lot when you're in eighth grade and have no job. Elvis Costello and The Attractions‘ Punch The Clock, Big Country’s The Crossing, and ABC’s The Lexicon of Love all quickly come to mind as Disc purchases. But in June of 1984, I made a particularly special buy, and it came with a steep price of $8.99. The album: My Ever Changing Moods by The Style Council.
I had no idea that it had already been released in the UK as Café Bleu. I didn’t even know Paul Weller had been in a band before The Style Council. I had just turned 14 and was beginning to discover music beyond what my older brother had exposed me to. The single and title track My Ever Changing Moods was so good, I just knew I had to hear the whole album. The song was a horn-filled bit of sunshine, and I assumed the rest of the album would be the same. I had no idea that "ever changing" also referred to the musical styles that filled the rest of the album.
I recall my brother listening to it before I got a chance to; I had gone to a Louisville Redbirds game with my dad the night I bought it. My brother was cautious. “I don’t think you’re going to like this,” he said. Those words would prove to be as inaccurately prophetic as “I think the Spin Doctors will become the biggest band in the world.” The record was an amalgamation of genres: acoustic, easy listening, soul, funk, and pop. I would later learn that many fans of The Jam were less welcoming to Weller’s new musical direction than I was. After all, it was new to me, and Weller was new to me.
The musicianship on the title track was impeccable, and it remains Weller’s only song to crack the US Top 40. Steve White sure didn’t sound like he was an 18-year-old drummer, and Mick Talbot commanded the Hammond B3. Of course, Weller played all types of guitars in all different styles – except he played nothing that sounded like The Jam. There were no crunching hooks, no In The City or Going Underground- type riffs. There were even instrumentals. There was a song with a guest vocalist (Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn on The Paris Match). One song featured a fiddle. And then there was A Gospel, a rap song sung by someone other than Weller. That had to ruffle the feathers of Jam diehards who felt disgraced and disrespected that Weller could do such a thing. The sound may have been different, OK radically different, but the biting commentary of the lyrics remained. "And those whose greed was the strongest of all/Took upon themselves to lead the call/That some must work while other rest/Without the question of what is best."
There was something about this stew that seemed so new and full of promise to me. Songs about Whigs and Tories, about Margaret Thatcher, about the British economy (which were even more numerous on their follow up CD, 1985’s Internationalists in the US and Our Favourite Shop in the UK) somehow resonated with this kid from Louisville, KY. Why? Because it was the human element that Weller focused on. He wrote of the worker and underdog rising up. (The lords and ladies pass a ruling/That sons and girls go hand in land/From good stock and the best breeding/Paid for by the servile class). It was a lyrical evolution from his days with The Jam when he wrote about the power and change offered primarily by the young.
The Motown stomp of A Solid Bond in Your Heart was not derivative in the least to me. Instead, it was such a fresh antithesis to 80s hair bands on this side of the Atlantic. It was vital and full of life. Even You're The Best Thing was a cut above other love ballads at the time, filled with passion and sincerity. Headstart for Happiness owned a classic soul sound, but it was fresh as Weller and D.C. Lee traded vocals and updated the whole late 60s R'nB duet style. The lyrics were of personal and not political power. (You'll find it can happen/You'll find you've got the strength/You can move a mountain/You just need the confidence.) They were words I reminded myself whenever I would slip into the unworthy self doubt of my high school years. In fact, it became my senior quote four years later.
Not everything on the album worked. Strength of Your Nature comes off like a frantic and unfocused Funkadelic b-side. It doesn’t sound any worse or better after all these years. Sometimes I forward through the song; sometimes I leave it on. My Ever Changing Moods is not the best album I own. It’s not even The Style Council’s best album. But it was a landmark purchase. It allowed me to set no boundaries in music, to throw out expectations, and to listen more maturely. It brought me awareness of Weller, who along with Bruce Springsteen, has given me decades of music, much of which has connected with me on an emotional and personal level.
Along the way I have gotten copies on cassette and CD because of bonus songs. I still own the vinyl, and even its cellophane wrap still remains. But maybe the most important thing that remains is the feeling it gave me. That excitement of new music, a certain type of sound you knew you liked, a certain, sometimes inexplicable, connection you had to the music. Yes, the summer of 1984 will also be remembered to me as the summer of Born in the USA, but by that time, I was already a Springsteen fan, and thanks to my brother, had access to all of Bruce's albums. But that leap of faith to buy My Ever Changing Moods based on the hit single and no previous knowledge of the artist, was the defining moment in my record buying life.
Twenty-five years later, I have just about everything Weller has released since 1977, but at the time I had no idea how his music would affect me the way it has. All I knew was that this was a special record unlike any pop record I had heard before.