The sudden death of The Outfield bassist/vocalist Tony Lewis recently had me pulling my vinyl copy the band’s 1985 debut Play Deep for renewed turntable attention. Man, I loved that album, particularly the record’s first single and opening cut, “Say It Isn’t So.” Despite a rather heavy-handed 1980s production sound, the LP is eminently listenable, chock full of hooky poprock tunes. To read the media notices of Lewis’ passing you might think the band only had one hit, their lone US top ten single, “Your Love.” But over the course of seven albums they actually hit the charts numerous times, though arguably never with the same impact of that first release. Today I’m playing The Outfield to highlight some overlooked deep cuts and worthwhile alternative versions of their hits.
Let’s start at the beginning with a recently released album of early demos named after an early incarnation of the band, The Baseball Boys: Early Demos and Rare Tracks. The recordings here feature a more straight ahead, less bombastic version of the band, shorn of most of those 1980s production tricks that can make the era’s records sound so dated. Check out the fresh sound on this version of “Say It Isn’t So” or the jangle on “Looking for a Girl” or the indie vibe on “Don’t Tell Me.” Not only do these recordings show the band as great players but they demonstrate how any band can go in multiple directions, depending on circumstances, fashion and luck.
If people know The Outfield, they probably know Play Deep. As the rest of the catalogue remains a mystery to most fans, let alone the occasional listener, let’s focus there. From the band’s second album 1987’s Bangin’ I like the spare airiness of “Better Than Nothing.” 1989 brought Voices of Babylon with its title-track single but I’m more drawn to the straight up hooks of “My Paradise.” By the early 1990s the band had shifted from Columbia to MCA records but the basic poppy shimmery-guitar-plus-harmony-vocals formula stayed the same. From this period, I love “Young Love,” a song that tweaks the formula, sounding a bit like 1970s-era April Wine in hit mode. By the late 1990s the band released an album to their fan club (later released commercially) with a looser, less produced sound, apparent on great tracks like “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend.” Two more albums followed in the new millennium, still delivering on the band’s signature sound, showcased nicely “There She Goes.”
Main songwriter John Spinks died in 2014 and now with the death of lead singer Tony Lewis The Outfield’s story has definitely drawn to a close. But, as demonstrated here, there’s more to the story than a one-hit wonder. Who knows, more recordings might emerge, like this recently-released, nice acoustic version of their mega-hit “Your Love.”
And, of course, you can visit The Outfield online, probably forever.