Dylan Adjacent: Helena Springs

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

The people we are looking at in this series are artists who have a direct connection to Dylan and his work or life. So they could be from his backing bands, friends from back in the day or even family members.

The research and introductory commentary is by Aaron Galbraith in the USA with further comments added while listening to the recordings, by Tony Attwood in the UK.

Aaron: It’s been awhile since the last one in the Dylan Adjacent series.  Let’s take a quick look at the solo career of one time Dylan co-writer – Helena Springs.

Following her stint with Dylan she became a backing singer of some success. She sings on a couple of early Pet Shop Boys hits including West End Girls and Opportunities in 1986. Prior to that she performed backing vocals for David Bowie including his Live Aid set.

As far as I can tell she only released two solo albums – Helena (1986) followed by New Love (1987). The albums contain a song she co-wrote with the Pet Shop Boys plus one by Genesis’s Mike Rutherford.

Now it’s time for Tony to take a listen to some music and leave us his thoughts on these! Be warned these are so mid-80s I feel like I’m back at my school disco!!

Her first single was I Want You (not the Dylan song – this is a Springs’ original). I tried to find an audio only version but only the music video was available on YouTube.

Tony: A lot of the time I don’t get what some of these video producers are up to at all.  It is as if they believe that the music is merely an accompaniment to their fanciful cut and paste jobs, when surely in most cases the video is only there as an accompaniment to or perhaps occasionally an extension of, the music.

Now this doesn’t matter at all, in situations in which we all know the song so well we can hear it in our heads, and thus are ready to have another medium thrust in on top.  But when listening to a song that one doesn’t know, it is nothing but a distraction unless it adds to the meaning of the music.

It’s a jolly song with a really fine production avoiding all the obvious tricks of engineering that can sometimes be forced upon us poor listeners and viewers, but I am not too sure I really want to hear it again.  I most certainly don’t want  to see the video again.

But then that’s all a bit unfair because it’s not my style of music.  It is just straight heavy production pop, and I don’t really go for that.  I am sure it is very good of its type, but that’s about it.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find the lyrics on line, for I wanted to compare them with Dylan’s “I want you” but couldn’t bear the thought of listening to Helena’s work again and then line by line writing the lyrics down.  No one seems to have them on line; maybe there is nothing there.

Aaron: The second album contained 3 singles, including Midnight Lady, the ballad Be Soft With Me Tonight…

Tony: Sorry but I am annoyed again by the musical accompaniment: that strange combination of a bass playing the same two notes and a melody that goes to unexpected places for no sort of reason while the rest of the accompaniment does the more normal orchestral arrangement behind a pop song.  (I swear those guys have about a couple of dozen arrangements on file, listen to the melody and then say, “ah yes, I think this is an accompaniment number 6” and they find the tape and drop it in.

And since I am in moaning mood there are a couple of jerk modulations in here in which the piece changes key simply by moving up a semi-tone.  It is used as a short hand way of saying, “we are moving up a gear” which the music isn’t at all.  It’s crashing a gear like a learner driver with a manual gearbox.  (Dylan as you may know, never, if ever, changes key in a song).

I don’t know… maybe someone who likes this type of music can find something good to say.  It’s not that it is bad, she’s not singing out of tune or anything, it is just that there is nothing here that hasn’t been done a million times before and will be done a million times after.

Aaron: And finally the self written Prince-esque Paper Money.

Tony:  OK, this accompaniment is different but there is nothing really interesting within this.   And why the oh-oh-oh vocal accompaniment?   Besides, why the lyrics “Paper money makes your dream come true.”  No it doesn’t.  It’s unlimited credit that does that – for a little while before everything falls down.

But there is one thing that runs all the way through these songs: the unexpected chord change and jump to another key for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Aaron: I wonder why she didn’t choose to include any of the songs she wrote with Dylan on her two albums. Would have definitely been a major selling point.

Tony: I think she was probably trying to show that she was a songwriter in her own right, and not riding on the back of Dylan (if you will forgive the phrase).

But really listen to the singing of the line, “Paper money makes your dream come true”.  On “true” we get an unexpected chord change – which is one of Dylan’s techniques occasionally, but for Ms Springs it always sounds forced – as if she has remembered Bob doing it, and now thinks it it de rigueur for the inventive composer who is going places.

She is going places, but they are always the same places.  I don’t know if any of these were hits or indeed had any impact on popular culture, but really I just think they are very everyday.

The website on her, from last fm says “In 1986 she signed a solo deal with Arista records and released the singles “I want you” & “Paper Money”. Both were popular in the clubs, but failed to be pop hits. In 1987 she released the album “New Love” which also contained the singles “Midnight Lady” and “Be soft with me tonight.”

And that’s about it, so I guess at that point she stopped working in the music business or the music business stopped working with her.

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1 Response to Dylan Adjacent: Helena Springs

  1. Marta Jadwiga says:

    I listened to all 3 recordings and I have to agree with Tony that there is nothing interesting in there. This is not my kind of music either. It sounds like mass production. So I guess Ms. Springs should have stayed a back up singer because she has nice enough voice.

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