Mari Wilson: ‘The Neasden Queen Of Soul’

❉ This retrospective of the original voice of the beehive is just what you always wanted, writes Ange Chan.

“Mari’s voice is so adaptable, it works with a number of genres and tempos and always sounds accomplished.  She has an adaptability and a longevity, of which not many artists can claim the same.”

When Mari Wilson first arrived on the pop music scene in the early 1980s with her signature beehive hairdo, pencil skirts, fake-fur stoles, and twelve-piece backing band, The Wilsations, she was a breath of fresh air in the charts at the time, delivering 1950s pastiche without a hint of compromise or a trace of postmodern irony. Mariʼs records began achieving chart positions almost immediately and she soon had hit singles on her hands including her first and biggest hit, Just What I Always Wanted which reached the Top Ten in October 1982, and Cry Me A River, originally a hit for Julie London in 1953 and covered by many other significant pop artists including Ella Fitzgerald.  Both songs are taken from Mari’s first album Showpeople.

Mari is not only a singer but has also appeared in a vast variety of musical theatre, proving that she has many strings to her bow of talents. In 2000, Mari was the obvious choice to play Dusty Springfield in Dusty the Musical, which toured number one venues throughout the UK. She also appeared with Boy George in the West End musical, TABOO and Mari’s one-woman musical The Love Thing, was inspired by her 2005 album, Dolled Up. The show played London’s Leicester Square Theatre selling out for five nights to standing ovations.

Celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the album Showpeople which launched Mari into the showbusiness career of which she always dreamed, Cherry Red have recently released a 3CD gatefold album Mari Wilson: The Neasden Queen of Soul. Containing A-sides, B-sides, remixes and rarities as well as previously unreleased songs, this is a great compilation for seasoned fans and newcomers to her music alike, provides a comprehensive overview of the first part of Mari’s recording career, when she was signed to the Compact organisation.

​The 24-page full colour booklet accompanying the CD pack contains some beautiful photographs spanning Mari’s career as well as an essay by the lady herself, and full track breakdown.  The gatefold pack is beautifully presented in full colour, with striking photography.

Listening to the set, it was interesting to hear the progression of Mari’s music from pure 1980s soul, smooth as silk, through to her voyage into the use of synth backings.  The amazing thing is, that Mari’s voice is so adaptable, it works with a number of genres and tempos and always sounds accomplished.  She has an adaptability and a longevity of which not many artists can claim the same.

Disc One contains a comprehensive collection of 16 of Mari’s hit singles from the very beginning including some remixed versions of her biggest triumphs including the 12” mix of Just What I Always Wanted and the Smooch Mix of Cry Me a River.

On Disc Two we’re treated to an array of twenty-one of further A-sides, B-sides and rarities from Love Man through to Let Me Dream. This disc opens with Love Man which channels the 1960s vibe to full effect quickly moving onto If That’s What You Want and the frenetic Dance Card that you could only ever jive to, should the need take you, the beat is that fast. The pace is reduced slightly by the time we reach track 5, Beat the Beat, but loses none of the classic Mari Wilson trademark sound, which was indicative of the range of genres which populated the pop charts at that point in time, when soul and Motown sat very happily next to rock, synth and pure pop.

The pace is slowed down to lounge listening by the time we reach Glamourpuss, invoking memories of a smoky bar with the chanteuse commanding the stage.  An Emcee announces her arrival with a smooth, sassy sax intro.  It is doubtless that this track inspired recent retro-styled chanteuses such as Caro Emerald and her uber-glamorous style.

As we move through disc two we’re carried from romantic crooning to pop to energic dance.  Would You Dance with a Stranger is pure romance which could have come straight from a black and while film for the 1950s at the height of the Hollywood Golden Age. This is immediately juxtaposed by the next track What’s Going On which has a more contemporary modern sound.

The third and final disc in this collection offers sixteen tracks of new 2022 remixes plus some bonus tracks that have not appeared anywhere else, making it an exclusive treat for fans.  The disc also features the US version of Just What I Always Wanted, alternative versions of Ecstasy and One Day is a Lifetime as well as the DJ edit of Wonderful.

The whole package is a perfect treat for fans of Mari and anyone who appreciates timeless, show-stopping, quality pop, soul and blues-y ballads.

❉ Mari Wilson: The Neasden Queen Of Soul (QCDTRED876) was released 28 October 2022 by Cherry Red Group, RRP £22.99. Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 A lifelong lover of music and prominent contributor to Me and the Starman (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon), Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry.

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  1. ‘Would You Dance With A Stranger?’ was used in the film ‘Dance With A Stranger’, in which Miranda Richardson played the part of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

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