Thursday, 22 November 2018

Sophisti-pop - an exploration

(Work in progress..... some links and some thoughts)

What is Sophisti-pop? Who were the main artists? What are the best albums?  Was it any good?



Sophisti-pop was a smooth, jazzy style of mainstream pop/rock that appeared during the mid-'80s. In addition to jazz, many sophisti-pop artists incorporated sweet pop-soul into their sound, but the synthesizers that usually polished the arrangements marked sophisti-pop as a product of the '80s. With its slick production and mellow, urbane feel, sophisti-pop fit both adult contemporary and quiet storm radio formats, but it never became a wildly popular trend, and by the beginning of the '90s, it had largely faded away. Some of sophisti-pop's most notable artists include Simply Red, Sade, the Style Council, the pre-electronica Everything But the Girl, Basia, Swing Out Sister, and Prefab Sprout.

Neighboring genres: (the ending of) New Wave, Smooth Jazz, Blue Eyed Soul


Sophisti-pop is a subgenre of pop music. The term has been applied to music that emerged during the mid-1980s in the UK[1][2] which incorporated elements of jazzsoul, and pop.[1][3] Music so classified often made extensive use of electronic keyboards, synthesizers and polished arrangements, particularly horn sections.[1]
Stylus Magazine suggested that acts were influenced by the work of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry's mid-1980s albums, Bête Noire and Boys and Girls.[2]According to AllMusic, major artists included Simply RedSadeThe Style CouncilBasiaSwing Out SisterPrefab Sprout and the early work of Everything but the Girl.[1]


Sophisti-pop (sop) is a name applied to songs that contain a blend of pop, RnB, and smooth jazz and were released in the Eighties by young UK bands. The name was applied long after the Eighties. The earliest use I can find is when a Wikipedia article on sophisti-pop was created in August 2006 with these words: "Sophisti-pop is a music genre used to describe a certain kind of smooth, jazz-like radio friendly pop music. First appearing in the mid-1980s, its usual reliance on synthesizers was typical for the decade. All in all, sophisti-pop can be considered to share notable elements with smooth jazzblue-eyed soul and New Wave. Its mainstream popularity was limited and didn't last long." The article contained a link to AllMusic. The link is dead, and the current AllMusic article on Sophisti-pop can only be traced back to 2012 as the url address has changed. The old link does have a presence on WayBack dating to 2004, though the links are not active. It appears then that the term was definitely in existence in 2006, and was likely to have existed in 2004, and was likely to have been created by AllMusic.  A book, The Great Scots Musicography, published in 2002, uses the term in relation to Deacon BlueThe New Music Record Guide published in 1987 (during the period) uses the term to describe the development of the music of the American band The Motels: "They now make bland, almost colorless, sophisti-pop records", which doesn't seem like the author is referring to a genre, so much as creating a description of the sound he hears - and listening to the music he is talking about does bear that out: "Total Control" (1979). The Motels are pop with some smooth sax;  and they are from the wrong period and the wrong country. However, their sound does relate well to what the bands associated with sop would do.

I note that on various forums and blogs that the belief is that Brian Ferry/Roxy Music was the person most responsible for creating interest in blending together pop, RnB and smooth jazz, and for being dressed in a stylish manner (as seemed to be obligatory for bands labelled sophisti-pop). My gut instinct though is that this would be unlikely.  A number of the bands that are linked to sop were young, and would have developed out of punk and the immediate post-punk period, so Roxy would be an unlikely influence. This writer has Paul Weller/The Style Council as an influence, and that matches my instinct. Weller was huge at the time, very cool, and very stylish. Though the Jam were not Punk (stylistically opposed to it), they were strongly associated with that movement, and it would have been a rare band in the early Eighties who would not have members who would have admired and respected Weller. There was a huge interest in The Style Council's first album. Not just the music, but the clothes, and the album cover with its nod to cool jazz albums of the early Sixties. Roxy Music were not cool in the late 70s and early 80s, and their album covers and sartorial style did not match up with the cool jazz stylings of Weller and sophisti-pop.

Though musically not entirely related, the New Romantics were a movement of the late 70s and early 80s that indicated that the young generation wanted to move on from the crudity and drabness of the punks into something more stylish and sophisticated in both dress and music; so that could be seen as part of the development of the ideas that lay behind sop. Essentially where sop musicians would differ from NR is in the emphasis on real instruments, and a respect for the music and musicianship of the past. NR were more inclined to be interested in things new and modern, including instrumentation such as synthesisers. But bands or albums are often claimed as both sop and NR, such as Roxy Music and ABC.

Looking just at the musical ideas present in sop, then bands such as Steely Dan from the late 60s and early 70s would be sop, so it's not surprising that Donald Fagen's The Nightfly is placed on some people's lists of sop albums. But it appears that sop is not just about musical ideas, it's also about a moment in time, and a style that young bands liked to adopt during that period, so The Nightfly will be seen as sop because it was released in the 80s, while  Fagen's work with Steely Dan won't be because it was too early. So this is not a music genre so much as an observed musical fashion.

Sophisti-pop artists according to Wikipedia 

  • Living in a Box[2]

1. ABC  The Lexicon Of Love (1982)
2. Kate Bush  Hounds Of Love (1985)
3. Sade  Diamond Life (1984)
4. Prefab Sprout  Steve McQueen (1985)
5. Swing Out Sister  It’s Better To Travel (1987)
6. Everything But The Girl  Idlewild (1988)
7. Johnny Hates Jazz  Turn Back The Clock (1988)
8. Aztec  Camera Love (1987)
9. Deacon Blue When  The World Knows Your Name (1989)
10. The Style Council  Café Bleu (1984)
11. The Blow Monkeys  Animal Magic (1986)
12. Hue And Cry  Seduced And Abandoned (1987)
13. Scritti Politti  Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985)
14. Talk Talk  The Party’s Over (1982)
15. Curiosity Killed The Cat  Keep Your Distance (1987)

Grace Jones – Nightclubbing (1981; Island)
Roxy Music – Avalon (1982; Warner Bros)
The Style Council – Cafe Bleu (1984; Polydor)
Sade – Diamond Life (1984; Epic)
Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen (1985; CBS/Kitchenware)
Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985; Virgin)
Level 42 – Running in the Family (1987; Polydor)
Everything but the Girl – Walking Wounded (1996, Atlantic)

* RYM 20 Best albums

In the middle part of the 1980s, British musicians developed a sophisticated style of pop music which infused the synth-pop innovations of the early 1980s with soul, jazz and world music nuances. Its greatest pioneer was late Roxy Music, who had created the sound on their loungey, late-career classics "Flesh and Blood" (1980) and "Avalon" (1982). By mid-decade, their sonic palette was being mixed with everything from Billie Holiday-style torch songs (Sade) to hip-hop (Scritti Politti).

1. Roxy Music  Avalon (1982)
2.  Sade  Diamond Life (1984)
3.  The Blue Nile  Hats (1989)
4.  Prefab Sprout  Steve McQueen (1985)
5.  The Blue Nile  A Walk Across the Rooftops (1984)
6.  Bryan Ferry  Boys and Girls (1985)
7.  The Style Council  Café Bleu (1984)
8.  Sting  ...Nothing Like the Sun (1987)
9.  Scritti Politti  Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985)
10.  Roxy Music Flesh + Blood (1980)
11.  Sade Promise (1985)
12. Tears for Fears  The Seeds of Love (1989)
13.  Sting  The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)
14.  Donald Fagen  The Nightfly (1982)
15.  The Bible  Walking the Ghost Back Home (1985)

*ClassicPop Top 15 Albums

1. ABC  The Lexicon Of Love (1982)
2. Kate Bush  Hounds Of Love (1985)
3. Sade  Diamond Life (1984)
4. Prefab Sprout  Steve McQueen (1985)
5. Swing Out Sister  It’s Better To Travel (1987)
6. Everything But The Girl  Idlewild (1988)
7. Johnny Hates Jazz  Turn Back The Clock (1988)
8. Aztec Camera  Love (1987)
9. Deacon Blue  When The World Knows Your Name (1989)
10. The Style Council  Café Bleu (1984)
11. The Blow Monkeys  Animal Magic (1986)
12. Hue And Cry  Seduced And Abandoned (1987)
13. Scritti Politti  Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985)
14. Talk Talk  The Party’s Over (1982
15. Curiosity Killed The Cat  Keep Your Distance (1987)

Tears for Fears
The Style Council
Prefab Sprout
Swing Out Sister
Johnny Hates Jazz
Joe Jackson
Simply Red
The Blow Monkeys
Level 42
Matt Bianco

* RYM Artists
Sophisti-pop was a smooth, jazzy style of mainstream pop/rock that appeared mainly in UK during the mid-'80s and largely faded away by the mid-'90s. With its urbane / soul feel, it was fit both adult contemporary and quiet storm radios, and at the same time reminded me of 70's American AOR scene (short for Adult-oriented Rock, not to confuse with Album-oriented Rock) which was known as Westcoast music in EU, so I've added some artists from Westcoast scene into this list as well.

Keywords: Soothing, Elegant, Sensual, Refined, Mannered, Slick, Lush, Intimate, Reflective, Hypnotic
Relative Styles: Blue-Eyed Soul, Smooth Jazz, Jazz Fusion, New Wave

Simply Red
The Style Council
Michael Franks (?)
Swing Out Sister
Everything but the Girl
Prefab Sprout
Chris Rea (?)
Bobby Caldwell (?)
Boz Scaggs (?)
Gilbert O'Sullivan (wtf!)
Julia Fordham (?)
Matt Bianco
Johnny Hates Jazz
Working Week
China Crisis
Scritti Politti
The Blow Monkeys

* RYM 15 Songs

The Style Council  Café Bleu (1984) "Ever Changing Moods (fast version)" (5:42)
Sade Diamond Life (1984) "Smooth Operator "
Everything but the Girl  Eden (1984) "Each and Every One" (2:46)
Prefab Sprout  Steve McQueen (1985)  "When Love Breaks Down"
Simply Red  Picture Book (1985)  "Holding Back the Years" (4:30)
Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85      (1985)  "Perfect Way" (4:33)
The Blow Monkeys  Animal Magic (1986)  "Digging Your Scene" (4:13)
Swing Out Sister  It's Better to Travel (1987)  "Breakout" (3:45)
Basia  Time and Tide (1987)  "New Day for You" (4:29)
Danny Wilson  Meet Danny Wilson (1987)  "Mary's Prayer"
Bryan Ferry  Bête noire (1987)  "Kiss & Tell" (4:57)
ABC  Alphabet City (1987)  "King Without a Crown" (4:41)
Curiosity Killed the Cat  Keep Your Distance (1987)  "Down to Earth" (4:20)
Johnny Hates Jazz  Turn Back the Clock (1988)  "Heart of Gold" (3:20)
The Blue Nile  Hats (1989)  "Headlights on the Parade" 

* Pop Justice - Influences, Classics, Related - 101 songs

Disc 1
01 Virginia Astley - A Summer Long Since Passed (3:59)
02 Roxy Music - Tara (1:34)
03 Haircut 100 - Love Plus One (3:33)
04 Animal Nightlife - Love Is Just The Great Pretender (4:02)
05 Thomas Leer - All About You (3:48)
06 Pale Fountains - Thank You (3:07)
07 The The - Uncertain Smile (4:54)
08 H2O - I Dream To Sleep (3:58)
09 David Sylvian - Forbidden Colours (4:36)
10 Culture Club - Colour By Numbers (3:57)
11 Stranglers - European Female (3:59)
12 XTC - Wonderland (4:09)
13 The Lotus Eaters - The First Picture Of You
14 Aztec Camera - Oblivious (3:13)
15 Nick Heyward - Whistle Down The Wind (3:44)
16 JoBoxers - Just Got Lucky (3:44)
17 Orange Juice - Rip It Up (3:46)
18 Belle Stars - Sign Of The Times (2:55)
19 Kajagoogoo - Big Apple (4:09)
20 Carmel - Bad Day (3:41)
21 Eurythmics - Julia (4:03)

Disc 2
01 Everything But The Girl - Each And Every One (2:49)
02 Tracie - (I Love You) When You Sleep (2:53)
03 Swansway - Soul Train (3:17)
04 Matt Bianco - Whose Side Are You On (3:26)
05 Sade - Hang On To Your Love (4:30)
06 Kane Gang - Closest Thing To Heaven (4:07)
07 Blue Nile - Tinseltown In The Rain 
08 Private Lives - Living In A World (Turned Upside Down) (3:21)
09 Associates - Those First Impressions (4:44)
10 Icicle Works - Love Is A Wonderful Colour (4:16)
11 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Talking Loud And Clear (3:48)
12 The Light - Contrasting Strangers (3:38)
13 Heaven 17 - ...(And That's No Lie) (3:25)
14 David Bowie - Loving The Alien (4:42)
15 Bryan Ferry - Don't Stop The Dance (3:57)
16 The Colourfield - Thinking Of You (3:32)
17 Fine Young Cannibals - Blue (3:31)
18 Stephen TinTin Duffy - Icing On The Cake (3:50)
19 Go West - Goodbye Girl (4:34)
20 Dee C Lee - See The Day (4:22)

Disc 3
01 Big Sound Authority - This House (Is Where Your Love Stands) (3:58)
02 Level 42 - Leaving Me Now (3:33)
03 Prefab Sprout - Appetite (3:54)
04 Big Dish - Slide (3:58)
05 China Crisis - Arizona Sky (4:10)
06 Lloyd Cole and The Commotions - Cut Me Down (3:35)
07 Furniture - Brilliant Mind (3:40)
08 It's Immaterial - Driving Away From Home (Jim's Tune) (3:50)
09 Hipsway - The Honeythief (3:16)
10 Curiosity Killed The Cat - Down To Earth (3:49)
11 Johnny Hates Jazz - Me And My Foolish Heart (3:29)
12 Style Council - Have You Ever Had It Blue (3:24)
13 Double - Captain Of Her Heart (3:57)
14 Cock Robin - The Promise You Made (3:50)
15 Cutting Crew - I've Been In Love Before (4:31)
16 Sandie Shaw - Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? (3:42)
17 Belouis Some - Jerusalem (5:49)
18 Paul Young - Wonderland (5:03)
19 The Lover Speaks - No More I Love Yous (4:04)
20 Simply Red - Holding Back The Years (4:06)

Disc 4
01 Feargal Sharkey - You Little Thief (4:33)
02 Blow Monkeys - Digging Your Scene (4:07)
03 Dream Academy - Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (3:10)
04 Black - Sweetest Smile (4:19)
05 Climie Fisher - Rise To The Occasion (4:45)
06 Christians - Ideal World (3:53)
07 ABC - King Without A Crown (4:41)
08 Danny Wilson - Girl I Used To Know 
09 Wet Wet Wet - Wishing I Was Lucky (3:51)
10 Breakfast Club - Right On Track (4:18)
11 Ward Brothers - Cross That Bridge (3:41)
12 Hothouse Flowers - Love Don't Work This Way (3:39)
13 Blue Mercedes - I Want To Be Your Property (3:17)
14 Microdisney - Singer's Hampstead Home (4:04)
15 Bourgeois Tagg - I Don't Mind At All (2:35)
16 Adventures - Broken Land (4:08)
17 Julia Fordham - Happy Ever After (3:43)
18 Basia - Time And Tide (3:45)
19 Scritti Politti - Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry For Loverboy) (4:22)
20 Breathe - Hands To Heaven (4:19)

Disc 5
01 Simon Le Bon - Grey Lady Of The Sea (4:02)
02 Hue and Cry - Ordinary Angel (4:10)
03 Love and Money - Strange Kind Of Love (3:36)
04 The Bible - Graceland (3:51)
05 Frazier Chorus - Dream Kitchen (3:35)
06 When In Rome - The Promise (3:37)
07 Brother Beyond - Be My Twin (3:38)
08 Waterfront - Cry (3:54)
09 Then Jerico - Sugar Box (3:42)
10 Living In A Box - Room In Your Heart
11 Tanita Tikaram - Cathedral Song (2:52)
12 Swing Out Sister - You On My Mind (3:34)
13 Deacon Blue - Fergus Sings The Blues (4:01)
14 Halo James - Could Have Told You So (3:52)
15 Tears For Fears - Advice For The Young At Heart (4:47)
16 Railway Children - Every Beat Of The Heart (4:05)
17 Graham Stokes - Only The Love (The Flake Theme) (4:24)
18 EG and Alice - Indian (3:46)
19 Ten Sharp - You (4:08)
20 Beautiful South - Old Red Eyes Is Back (3:35)

* RYM - Top 150 songs

Top 10
Prefab Sprout  Jordan: The Comeback (1990) Wild Horses
Prefab Sprout  Steve McQueen (1985)  When Love Breaks Down
Spandau Ballet   True (1983)  Gold
Prefab Sprout From Langley Park to Memphis (1988) Cars and Girls 
Scritti Politti Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985) Perfect Way
The Style Council Café Bleu (1984) You're The Best Thing
Scritti Politti  Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985)  Absolute
Isabelle Antena Hoping for Love (1987)  Laying On The Sofa
Johnny Hates Jazz  Turn Back the Clock (1988)  "Shattered Dreams"
Danny Wilson  Meet Danny Wilson (1987)   "Mary’s Prayer"

Selected others
Deacon Blue When the World Knows Your Name (1989)  Real Gone Kid
Level 42  World Machine (1985)  Something About You 
Culture Club Kissing to Be Clever (1982) Time (Clock Of The Heart)
Mike + The Mechanics  Mike + the Mechanics (1985)  Par Avion
The Beautiful South Welcome to the Beautiful South (1990) "Song For Whoever"   
Erasure  The Innocents (1988)  A Little Respect
Crowded House  Crowded House (1986)  Don't Dream It's Over
Del Amitri  Waking Hours (1989)  Nothing Ever Happens
Haircut One Hundred  Pelican West (1982)  Love Plus One
Aztec Camera  High Land, Hard Rain (1983)  Oblivious
Wham!  Make It Big (1984)  Careless Whisper
Associates Sulk (1982)  Party Fears Two
Heaven 17 The Luxury Gap (1983) Let Me Go


* Stylus magazine bluffers guide
* Stylus Magazine background to sophistipop
* Forum thread
* 2016 RYM forum thread
* 2018 Hoffman forum thread

Music Styles & Genres

1007 March 2019

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