The brief interest in cool, painfully hip jazz-pop in the UK was a curious thing. It was the child of New Romantic fashion hounds, smooth jazz dilettantes, Big 80s superstars, and retro-minded soul boys in thrall to Burt Bacharach, Dusty Springfield and Chet Baker. And in 1985, when Sade’s Diamond Life became a cross-format smash, and Sting assembled a coterie of jazz and R&B musicians for his triple-platinum The Dream of the Blue Turtles, “sophisti-pop” — to quote an obtuse term employed by Allmusic.com – entered the Zeitgeist.
This stuff wasn’t popular with critics. Paul Weller, who arguably kick-started the trend with his Style Council project, was lambasted for inserting leftist analyses into his music. Sting, who had entered his socially conscious, save-the-rainforests phase, got called out for being pretentious. And even Sade, perhaps the most important group to emerge from this era, was dismissed at the time as make-out music for supermodels. But before it faded back into the adult contemporary ghetto, the jazz-pop fad yielded some memorable singles.
This playlist not only includes great tracks like Swing Out Sister’s “Breakout” and The Blow Monkeys’ “Digging Your Scene,” but also songs with similar sensibilities, like British pop darling Prefab Sprout’s incandescent “Appetite,” and David Sylvian’s brilliant “Red Guitar.” Dive in, and don’t be afraid of the sexy saxophone solos.