There’s nothing like hearing a song you’ve not listened to for years to transport you back in time. This is true for artists too, as Paul Young discovered while putting together his best-of album.
“It was very easy to be thrown back in time,” says Young, 59. “Particularly songs from No Parlez, because that album was such a huge success, and it was my first plunge into recording as an art form.”
Tomb Of Memories: The CBS Years (1982-1994), a four-CD collection chronicling the best years of his career, is out later this month.
As the title states, the songs are from his time signed with CBS, following his departure from early band Q-Tips. Young became one of the biggest UK solo stars of the decade, releasing a string of hit singles - including Love Of The Common People, Everytime You Go Away, Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home); the cover of the Marvin Gaye classic he made his own - and famously taking the opening line of the Band Aid single, Do They Know It’s Christmas.
His debut album, No Parlez, released in 1983, has sold around seven million copies worldwide and remains the biggest-selling album on CBS by a UK artist.
“The label got in touch earlier this year and asked if I wanted to be involved,” Young explains of the best-of. “ It was under way already, but they didn’t know the material as well as I do, so I soon started making suggestions of what should go on the discs.”
That includes three previously unreleased songs Young found, plus various other recordings and alternate takes, that compilers at the label weren’t aware of.
The experience made him nostalgic, he admits, especially as he was hearing some of his songs in the recording studio for the first time in years.
Prior to his 1983 breakthrough, Young was already familiar with recording studios, of course, having fronted a few short-lived bands, but in those early days, it was really a case of recording songs exactly as they played them live.
The process stepped up a good notch or two when he started working on No Parlez, however, and was introduced to producer Laurie Latham - and his many advanced techniques and impressive array of equipment, synthesizers and analogue drum machines.
“This was before samplers came in, which made studios much more boring places to be,” recalls Young. “Recording everything with analogue equipment, as we did with No Parlez, left space for the sorts of happy accidents that can make the most interesting sounds.”
His second album, The Secret Of Association, which was released 30 years ago this year, was also a chart-topper - and it’s the anniversary of this record that prompted Tomb Of Memories, named after the song from that album.
“It was a single, that song,” says Young, “perhaps not one of my better known ones, as it only went to No 16 in the charts, but the name was perfect for this compilation.”
After the release of his self-titled 1997 album, Young decided to stop recording on his own and concentrate fully on Los Pacaminos, the Tex-Mex group he’d formed a few years earlier. They’ve recorded a number of albums, while he’s also carried on performing songs from their catalogue.
“It’s fulfilled me in different ways,” he says now. “I’m not Mexican and I wasn’t born in Texas, so we had to get into the style and I’ve really learned about it, like a kid in a sweet shop, discovering all this amazing new music.
“I played at being the pop star but being in a band again is brilliant. I love it.”
That said, he confesses that revisiting old ground for his forthcoming best-of has given him the urge to start making new music as Paul Young again.
“I’ve been talking to a producer about making a new album, a producer that’s been working with James Morrison and James Bay and people like that - young credible artists - and I think he’s a great person to be getting involved with,” he reveals. “It’s very early days, and I have done some recording with Arthur Baker which has yet to see the light of day, so we’ll see.”
Reflecting on how things slowed down on the solo front following his 1993 album The Crossing, which reached number 27 in the charts, he says: “Now, it looks as if I just sort of walked away from it, but it was a gradual slide, really - although lots of fans say The Crossing is their favourite, which means a lot.
“I was without a deal for a while, so I stopped making records on my own, and to be honest, I didn’t really know what sound I would have,” he adds. “I didn’t want to try and recreate No Parlez because I think it would be impossible to do that. What I want to do is write or find songs that suit me now, and go with my gut feeling,” Young continues.
“But before that, there’s Tomb Of Memories, which celebrates a good period of success. It feels great to look back over it all.”