❉ Second time lucky for a seminal album from one of the original Hi-NRG pop stars.
“‘Heart First’ contains some classic pop songs delivered by a belting vocalist. With this reissue it’s great to finally see this formative album finally being given the treatment that both it and the lady herself deserve.”
Hazell Dean is, frankly, an icon. Not only is she one of the great original Hi-NRG popstars – and still boasts a bloody good set of lungs – but her unwavering commitment to LGBTQ+ rights is worthy of mention. I suppose it pays to support your audience – and she’s certainly a regular on the Pride circuit – but there can be no suggestion her attachment to the cause is a cynical one: A glance at her twitter account proves that Hazell Dean is both whole-hearted and big-hearted. All in all, she definitely puts her heart first.
But to be honest this makes her history of reissues a bit of a shame. The original Cherry Pop release of her 1984 album Heart First back in 2010 was an odd one: not only was it a bit limp in terms of bonuses but it was also marred by the accidental inclusion of a 1987 remix of one of its standout tracks instead of the rarer contemporary version they’d publicised.
Cherry Pop later released her 1987 album Always in a much more expanded set – a reissue which is almost faultless – but also, bizarrely, her former label EMI stepped in to issue Evergreen: a slightly odd “greatest hits and then some other stuff” compilation which was great for her fans in that it finally mopped up some glaring omissions from other releases, but also risked overwhelming casual purchasers.
Now, amazingly, Cherry Pop have gone back to Heart First and decided to give it another try. The good news is that this new two-disc set largely gets it right, showing that the “powers that be” have learned the lessons of what went wrong with its predecessor.
Searchin’ and Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) are such grandstanding tracks that they should require no introductions, and both are admirably represented here in both their original versions but also in a selection of extended, dub and instrumental mixes. If there’s any misstep in the selections here, it’s in the inclusion of the later remixes which were made to modernise the sound of the originals. Whatever I Do’s 1986 “Extended Remix” is noticeably crisper than the original, and while it highlights how polished the Stock/Aitken/Waterman sound became over the years it also makes the original productions sound a little more leaden.
It is fascinating to hear the powerhouse producers starting out, however. The opening track Back in My Arms (Once Again) is a forerunner to the much more lauded You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive but this writer ultimately prefers Hazell’s song. You Spin Me Round is much more sophisticated in terms of production, but Back in My Arms (Once Again) proves that Mike Stock is capable of more poetry in his lyrics than Pete Burns could ever dream of. That “the words of a song say everything” is undeniable to any fan of any pop song ever.
Ultimately Back in My Arms (Once Again) feels like You Spin Me Round’s slightly more demented older brother – albeit the older brother you’d kind of want to get drunk with at a party. It’s rawer, sure, but also that little bit more fun – until the poignant reprise arrives later in the album and devastates you. Where the idea to do this additional track came from is a mystery, but it’s a stroke of genius, leaving you hanging on for a banging dance anthem but instead fading out slowly into despondent silence.
No Fool (For Love) is another standout track and this release corrects its predecessors mistake in finally including the original 12” mix, although it still bafflingly includes the 1987 remix too, as well as a (really very good) dub mix from the same period. But to balance things up a bit the contemporaneous “Part Two Instrumental” is included for good measure. In all forms, however, it’s a great song which again highlights both Hazell’s vocals and the early Stock/Aitken/Waterman production admirably.
The elephant in the room, however, is the title track, Heart First. The album version is quite a laid-back affair, a very 80s shuffling synthy number which – despite Hazell’s spirited rendering of the chorus – never quite takes off. In keeping with current trends on re-issues, however, a new remix is included courtesy of acclaimed Dutch producer Matt Pop. His remake is wonderfully lively, managing to sit between being a modern version but also a remix that could have been done for the original track. It shimmers in a way the original version doesn’t and is an inspired addition to the album.
Since the album was released before Stock/Aitken/Waterman became the towering colossuses they would later rise to be, other writers were able to contribute to the record. Aside from Ian Anthony Stephens’ Searchin’, Dean herself was able to contribute songs both on her own and with a variety of collaborators. Jealous Love is the obvious killer track from Hazell’s pen, but other tracks such as Take Me Home and You’re Too Good To Be True stand the test of time; indeed the later 1988 remix of You’re Too Good To Be True again shines as one of the bonus tracks.
The album track Stay in My Life is also notable since it was entered into A Song for Europe in 1984. It’s a pretty number, albeit a fairly standard 80s power-ballad, but whilst it has a great vocal it’s easy to see why it was beaten to be the UK’s entry for Eurovision by Belle and the Devotions’ Love Games. Happily, the booklet reveals that both Dean and Kit Rolfe (Belle) are great friends so it seems that all’s well that ends well.
Obviously Cherry Pop’s packaging is up to their usual standard. There is a lavishly illustrated booklet and Hazell’s commentary and anecdotes regarding the tracks are a delight, being both comfortable and revealing. If there is any criticism of the notes it is that they are somewhat concise and leave you wanting to know more. Perhaps Hazell’s autobiography is long overdue?
Ultimately, Heart First contains some classic pop songs delivered by a belting vocalist. Sure, the iconic nature of the major singles renders the possibility of the other tracks being regarded as “filler” but if you examine them on their own merits you can see that this really isn’t the case. With this reissue it’s great to finally see this formative album finally being given the treatment that both it and the lady herself deserve
It’s also an album which features its artist on the front cover standing in high heels on a set of drums and what could be more amazing than that?
❉ Hazell Dean: Heart First, Deluxe Edition 2CD is out now from Cherry Pop, part of the Cherry Red group. RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Rob Morris is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He is also the writer of several audio dramas for Big Finish Productions and What Noise Productions, and was one of the contributors to the bestseller 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die.