Graham Reid | | 3 min read
In the slipstream of their success with London Calling, while battling with CBS, changing managers and wresting scattershot material for what would become their triple album Sandinista!, the Clash still found time for other projects.
Among them they helped out their friends Pearl Harbor and Mikey Dread on their albums, and most notably were all over Spirit of St Louis, the second album by American singer Ellen Foley which was being produced by “my boyfriend”, Clashman Mick Jones.
Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote half of the 12 songs and their pal Tymon Dogg (of Slip This Skin on Sandinista!) wrote another. Various Blockheads also appeared on it.
So Spirit of St Louis came with some serious post-punk pedigree, Pennie Smith took the photos and Foley was on the same label as the Clash, CBS, who had such great hopes for it they sent her on an extensive promo tour which brought her to New Zealand in March '81.
It wasn't just the Clash connection that was working for Foley however.
She was an extraordinary and established singer who – despite a poor showing for her solo debut Night Out in '79 produced by Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, which didn't chart in the US and didn't make the top 50 in Britain – had something else in her back pocket.
Foley had been the steamy and sexy singer on the Meat Loaf hit Paradise by the Dashboard Light.
There was every reason to think the stars would align for her with Spirit of St Louis.
But, much like the Clash's Sandinista! released the previous year, the album is all over the place.
In addition to the Strummer-Jones songs which amble from calypso (Theatre of Cruelty) to The Shuttered Palace with French lyrics and flute (which Rip It Up writer Mark Phillips said “somehow sounds Greek”), there is her version of the Edith Piaf classic My Legionnaire.
Patrick Humphries in Melody Maker noted the Strummer-Jones song The Death of the Psychoanalyst of Salvador Dali was, along with Spanish Bombs on London Calling, “part of an Andalusian fascination” for the songwriters.
And that the rocking MPH “doesn't really rock”.
Yes, the album is a patchwork and Foley's voice was – as suggested by that Meat Loaf work – better suited to the European/cabaret/stage style.
So in that regard Piaf on the same album as Strummer-Jones' Shuttered Palace (which calls to the sons of Europe and mentions boulevards) actually makes sense. As does the Bolero-like dramatics of In the Killing Hour.
The rock tracks – like Dogg's Beautiful Waste of Time – are unmemorable.
The critical verdict on the album was that it was patchy at best (“the power behind the throne being of more interest than the monarch occupying it,” Humphries) but that wasn't the only problem Foley had with it.
In every interview she had to answer the inevitable Clash questions and was kinda tetchy.
“Yeah, people go on about me being the girlfriend of Mick Jones from the Clash,” she told the Auckland Star's Louise Chunn. “But I don't see it like that. He's my boyfriend, I'm not his girlfriend.
“That's why on the record it just says produced by my boyfriend, not the other way around.”
Oddly enough, Foley had done very little live work and that was an issue too.
She was seen as lacking credibility in some quarters.
However she received wedges of press coverage for both her debut (Time, NME, MM etc) and Spirit of St Louis.
Of the latter she told Patrick Humphries of MM, “I mean, Ellen Foley, Tymon Dogg, the Clash and the Blockheads! Something's gotta come out of that.”
Well, what came out was an album which lacked coherence, a hit and any serious chart action, either back in her homeland or Britain, where you'd think the Clash/Blockheads cachet would have given it a serious nudge.
It isn't “the lost Clash album” as some recent writers have tried to have it.
The relationship with Mick Jones didn't last and was rather volatile. He wrote Should I Stay or Should I Go about it.
They both went.
She recorded a bit more with the Clash, had another album or two but mostly made her career in films and on stage.
Spirit of St Louis is an odd album where you suspect everybody's hearts were in it, but their heads weren't quite.
Somewhat surprisingly, given this album was on Epic/CBS at the time this album isn't on Spotify.
But at the time of this writing a few songs are on You Tube here
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here