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Eddi Reader – Nobody Lives Without Love

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Sometimes a record hits you so hard the very first time you hear it, sending you reeling with the emotional punch it’s just dealt, that you spend every subsequent listen trying to figure out what it is about that particular song which affected you quite so deeply. This is exactly how I feel about Nobody Lives Without Love by Eddi Reader.

The song was written by American songwriter Tonio K and Larry Klein, the acclaimed producer and former Mr Joni Mitchell, and while the lyrical content is both heartbreaking and somehow strangely life affirming, it’s Reader’s stunning vocal and a suitably lavish production from Trevor Horn which turn Nobody Live Without Love into a true masterpiece.

 
Eddi Reader has one of those voices, so immediately recognisable and distinctive, it’s impossible to mistake her for anyone else. In the same way Annie Lennox has made much of her work with Eurythmics, and indeed her solo material, cover proof, it’s hard to imagine anyone singing most of Reader’s back catalogue – especially if it’s being butchered by a session singer for a sofa ad on TV. And while Reader may not write every song she records, she epitomises perfectly the role of the vocalist as an interpreter of songs, rather than one who merely sings them. There’s a moment in Nobody Lives Without Love, around the 50 second mark, when much of the track’s instrumentation drops away and she sings in a heartbroken whisper, “Can you save me, baby?” that sends shivers through your entire body and drags you shaking and sobbing into the strangely hopeful and edifying chorus. And if you don’t believe Reader has the skill to make virtually any song her own based purely on the evidence of Nobody Lives Without Love, take a stroll through her deeper catalogue, where you’ll find excellent covers of The SmithsLast Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me, The Blue Nile’s Saturday Night and Steve Earl’s My Old Friend the Blues – and that’s without mentioning her ‘winching’ with the songbook of a certain Scottish poet.

In its most basic form the song is a fairly mournful ballad, with a decidedly lovelorn Reader finally admitting that, unlike Viola Wills, she just isn’t gonna get along without you (now). But in the hands of Trevor Horn, from the opening, barely audible, electronic pulse, to the climactic swell of synthesised brass, Nobody Lives Without Love is given the same glossy sheen of sophistication which had previously been so successfully applied to the likes of Seal, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Dollar. Typically layered with Horn’s juxtaposed mix of timeless, lush string sounds and decidedly modern electronic washes, the song takes off in unexpectedly epic and bombastic directions without losing sight of the subtlety of Reader’s vocal or the fragility at the song’s core.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr Horn at Sarm West Studio’s one evening in 2004 – he was shyly avoiding us in another part of the building while we celebrated the launch of the Lisa Stansfield album, The Moment, which he’d just produced. Lisa was great company (of course), but I was slightly distracted by being under the same roof as THE Trevor Horn, so I probably missed a few of her bawdier stories. When someone told Trevor I was a huge fan, he came to join us and we started chatting about pop music in general, his specific, if unlikely, love for all things Eurovision and the fact that Band Aid‘s Do They Know It’s Christmas? was recorded exactly where we were standing. I asked him about Nobody Lives Without Love, singling it out as one of my favourite records. He told me the song was originally intended for Sinead O’Connor, but she had failed to show up at the studio at the pre-arranged time. With a roomful of musicians waiting in an expensive studio, someone at Warner Brothers, the label footing the bill for the session, had sent the first artist they could get hold of, and thus it was Eddi Reader‘s vocal which completed the recording.

Originally Nobody Lives Without Love could be found languishing on the Batman Forever soundtrack, stuck between Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn‘s Smokey Robinson cover, The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game and Mazzy Star‘s Tell Me Now, before being released as a single in late 1995. It sank without trace at the time, but I am still as gripped now by the sad intensity of the vocal and the dramatic swirl of the (typically) sumptuous production as I was back then. I’m also thankful, and more than a little relieved that none of The Corrs were picking up their phone messages on that fateful day…

Entered chart: 23/09/1995

Chart peak: 84

Weeks on chart: 1

Who could sing this today and have a hit? – Is it wrong to want to hear Kate Bush sing other people’s songs? I can imagine this sitting quite comfortably between Deeper Understanding – original please, not Director’s Cut –and Between a Man and a Woman on an alternative timeline version of The Sensual World.

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