Joan Armatrading
Joan Armatrading Credit: Joel Anderson

Joan Armatrading isn’t always recognized here in the States with the same kind of accolades that she receives in her native England, but her new album, Consequences (released in June on BMG), showcases her seasoned voice and songwriting skills in a way that should convert some more Americans. 

Armatrading played her first concert at age 16, after dropping out of school to help support her struggling family (her dad had been in a band when he was young, but he forbade his six children to follow that almost always unprofitable path). Joan was already a strong writer, and she’d taken to bringing her guitar with her to work so she could practice during breaks. She joined a touring production of the musical Hair, and then in 1972 her first album, Whatever’s for Us, was released in England. American listeners didn’t really get the message until the mid-70s, when Armatrading’s song “Love and Affection” (already a hit in the UK and Ireland) broke through to our airwaves. She subsequently toured the States and appeared as the musical guest on a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live.

Armatrading’s softer and more pensive songs, such as “Love and Affection” and “Down to Zero,” certainly got plenty of spins in my household when they came out. We lived in a two-flat in the 70s, in the second-floor apartment above other family members, including my teenage aunt, a pensive guitar player herself who responded enthusiastically to Armatrading’s striking lyrics. While she learned the chords to “Woncha Come on Home” (from 1977’s Show Some Emotion), I approximated the mbira accompaniment with the xylophone in my Fisher-Price percussion set.

Remember when you could just leave the phone off the hook when you didn’t want to hear from anyone?

My personal favorites come a tiny bit later in Armatrading’s career, specifically on her 1980 album Me Myself I, with its terrific, alt-poppy title track. The album was produced by Richard Gottehrer (who started as a Brill Building songwriter and could have rested on his laurels after writing “I Want Candy” for his fake Australian band the Strangeloves). Gottehrer was cofounder of Sire Records, and when he worked on Me Myself I he was also collaborating with Blondie and the Ramones. The slightly pre-MTV promo video that Sire made for the “Me Myself I” single has a tinge of late-70s downtown New York art-school edge, and it’s a welcome addition to Armatrading’s already edgy lyrics: “I want to have a boyfriend and a girl for laughs / But only on Saturdays, six days to be alone.” Sounds like a pretty good pandemic plan to me, Joan.


The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.