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Thomas Dolby – Silk Pyjamas


You know when you really, really want to like a pop star but you can’t quite get your head around what they’re doing? This was the situation I found myself in with Thomas Dolby during the 1980s. On paper I ought to have loved him, but sometimes it felt like you required a degree in Advanced Pop to fully appreciate what he was doing – to me it sounded like the sort of thing Judith Hann would introduce on Tomorrow’s World in a “isn’t this terribly modern” type of segment. So to my shame I kind of forgot about Thomas, and went back to slightly less complicated stuff by OMD and Depeche Mode.

By 1992 I was at university, reading Smash Hits, and happened across Close But No Cigar in the good old 99p section in Fopp Records – scene of many a happy discovery. The sleeve was nice, so it seemed worth a punt, and my gosh it certainly was. Either Thomas had mellowed out a bit or I had evolved a little, but this time round I bloody adored Thomas Dolby, so much so that I rushed out and bought the album Astronauts & Heretics, which remains one of my favourites to this day. A lot less electronic than his previous work, I suppose if one were to make a comparison, this is his So – squarely designed for the mass market but still nicely weird. I particularly liked what at the time I referred to as the New Orleans-y sound on several of the tracks, which I have since learned is called zydeco –  a brilliant word, and one which I trot out knowingly whenever I hear an accordion.

Unusually for Thomas, the album actually spawned a couple of hits – Close But No Cigar made no.22 and the even better follow up I Love You Goodbye no.36. Third single Silk Pyjamas followed the law of diminishing returns, making no.62 – but it was no less brilliant.

I especially enjoyed Silk Pyjamas because it had a whiff of a true story about it – I may be wrong, but the lyrics – “Silk pyjamas, can’t have gone far / Where’s the high street? Where’s the river? / How’s the bugger going to manage? / Doesn’t speak a word of Spanish” – do seem rather particular. The whole thing has a charming sort of hand-cranked quality and is generally a bit upside-down – in a way the verse is the chorus, and the chorus is like a brilliant bridge, only there’s another brilliant bridge later on. Naturally it completely suits the subject matter.

The release of Silk Pyjamas followed the generally observed rules of the time, coming out on a variety of gatefold CD formats designed to coax you into buying the complete set in order to obtain the full complement of bonus tracks. It was quite a good way of dragging a single into the top 40, assuming you had that kind of rabid fanbase. Sadly in this case it didn’t quite work, but while it may not have been a hit, it is a song that’s given me many years of pleasure, enabling me to pretend I’m relaxing on the Bayou with a mint julep when in reality I’m crammed onto a tiny balcony in south London with a Bacardi Breezer.


Entered chart: 26/09/1992

Chart peak: 62

Weeks on chart: 2

Who could sing this today and have a hit? I rather think this would suit Maroon 5.

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