One of the greatest records of my lifetime – an album that did so much for me, offered so much to me, an album that I still play, that still sounds great – is Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby. It mixed soul and funk with the pop sound of the day. It offered up a bunch of killer singles, but it was a listening experience as a full album. My mum bought the LP when it was released, I still have that copy in my collection.
In the school holidays I’d wake up to the sound of If You All Get To Heaven pounding out from the turntable. Mum would be doing the vacuuming and she’d turn the record up so loud. It was the best alarm clock in the world. It’d roll from there into If You Let Me Stay and Wishing Well – this album was stacked!
It was a throwback to Stax, to Motown, to sixties soul and funk…when it concluded with a cover of Who’s Loving You the soul debt was obvious. But these were banging big pop tunes too. And perfect ballads (Sign Your Name).
Introducing The Hardline was released in 1987. It just arrived. Fully formed. Terence Trent D’Arby was born Terence Trent Howard. He had been dishonourably discharged from the army – he’d gone AWOL. He turned up buried inside the grooves of an album that felt like an instant classic.
He wasn’t friendly or funny or interesting as a personality. He was pitched in a rivalry with Prince – but he considered himself greater than that, far greater. In his mind he was already and instantly as important as Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke and his true hero was Smokey Robinson. He was sure he wrote as well and could sing far better. He played a dozen instruments too. So he was absolutely sure he was the best.
What made him very much not the best, was a second album that was so bad that it didn’t matter that albums three and four were really quite good. He was done. Finished. His giant ego didn’t help.
Album number four – Terence Trent D’Arby’s Vibrator had this amazing song, Holding On To You. I’d find out many years later that he wrote this for Rod Stewart. It arrived too late for the deadline of whatever album Rod was under-delivering. Apparently. So Terence took it to the charts. But really his work was done. His mojo was cooked. His juju was bad.
And now he records and tours under the name Sananda Maitreya. I loved the first TTD album so much that I even tried to interview Sananda Maitreya; it was baffling…
None of that matters though– because that first album blew me away. And it sent me all over the place – back to Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson, I was already a Prince fan but it had me contemplating the comparisons and re-listening to Prince. But most importantly it was the first time I really connected with something on my own terms and got inside the album. I was just a kid.
I copied the lyrics, handwrote them, I memorised the credits, I had to know everything about this. I was obsessed with the sound of the album. I loved his voice. The playing. The writing. I could hear the old soul and funk; I could hear blues and gospel. I could hear the pop sounds of the day.
This album made me inquisitive. It made me want to explore more music – and not just music from the person that created it.
But most importantly this album made me happy. So exquisitely filled with joy. I know this album isn’t ever going to be considered influential and important when it comes to making lists of the greatest and best…but those lists are always down to a personal choice, or a set of choices made by a panel. Always subjective of course. So, in that spirit, subjective as it always is this album deserves to be number one on my list. This album was so crucial to me as part of my journey with music. One that continues to this day and every day. And on for many years I hope.
The bizarre failure/misstep of Terence Trent D’Arby following his Hardline and the baffling nonsense he now releases as Sananda Maitreya is all wrapped up in a pre-internet world. He’d be a Kanye West-type figure if he’d acted out these same steps two decades on. But we weren’t interested in the nonsense back then. We just wanted the great music. And in terms of great music – you can plump for albums three and four all you like, they both have great songs on them – it was that phenomenal debut that hit hardest; that stuck, that deserves rediscovery (or discovery) to this day.