Swing Out Sister are an English pop group best known worldwide for the 1986 song “Breakout“. Other hits include “Surrender“, “Twilight World”, “Waiting Game” and a remake of the Eugene Record soul composition “Am I the Same Girl?”
Although Swing Out Sister are currently a duo, they began as a trio in the UK. The group was formed by Andy Connell (keyboards) and Martin Jackson (drums); they were later joined by Corinne Drewery (vocals). The group’s name came from the title of a 1945 movie starring Arthur Treacher, called Swing Out, Sister, and they claim they chose the name because it was the only thing the band could agree on, in that they all hated it. Both Connell and Jackson had been playing in other bands prior to forming SOS, while Drewery was a fashion designer and model before she became the band’s lead vocalist.
52nd Street’s Diane Charlemagne was influential in the period just prior the band signing to Phonogram Records. Connell and Jackson, outside of their usual roles as Manchester musicians in, A Certain Ratio and Magazine, were producing Electro tracks for Morgan Khan’s Streetwise label with a degree of underground success. This activity triggered interest from a few major labels including Phonogram/Mercury Records. Vocalised songs were asked for, so Connell who knew Charlemagne through Factory Records, approached her to sing on the Phonogram demos. These demos helped secure Connell and Jackson’s major label contract. This was the period in which 52nd Street moved from Factory Records to Virgin Records and as a result, Diane Charlemagne’s Swing Out Sister involvement ended.
Together with their producer, Paul Staveley O’Duffy, they signed with Mercury Records. Before their first album, they released the single “Blue Mood” in the UK in November 1985. However, it did not chart.
In late 1986, the single “Breakout” was released. It reached the number four position on the UK Singles Chart in November 1986, and number six on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States in November 1987. The songs originality came under scrutiny as Brighton-based songwriter Les Field claimed he had originally written the music. This was not upheld due to insufficient copyright material.
Consequently when they released their debut album, It’s Better to Travel, on 11 May 1987, it reached number one on the UK Albums Chart. The album blended real horns, synths (arranged subtly, to sound like strings), drums, and xylophones, scored by producer/arranger Richard Niles. The follow-up single to the effervescent “Breakout” was the brooding “Surrender“, which featured a trumpet solo performed by John Thirkell. It rose to number seven on the UK charts in January 1987. The next single was the more serious and jazzy “Twilight World”. This song was the subject of many remixes and was a dance club favourite worldwide. The final single, “Fooled By a Smile”, returned to the upbeat pop orientation characteristic of “Breakout”.
The group were subsequently nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1988: Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group or Duo (“Breakout”).
In addition to long-time partner O’Duffy as well as Thirkell, Swing Out Sister have also enlisted the talents of saxophonist Gary Barnacle (who with Thirkell also comprise the Henpecked Horns known for their work with Level 42); percussionist Luis Jardim; guitarist Tim Cansfield; trumpet/fluegelhorn master Jerry Hey; and songwriter-arranger Jimmy Webb.
Original member Jackson left the group during the making of the second album, Kaleidoscope World. Although the liner notes give “special thanks to Martin Jackson” and his co-writing credits appear on the songs “Tainted” and “Between Strangers”, they also point out that “Swing Out Sister are Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell.” Drewery and Connell have been the core group on all subsequent albums. After leaving Swing Out Sister, Jackson later worked for Frank Zappa.
Kaleidoscope World was released in May 1989, achieving critical acclaim and UK Top 10 success. Their turn away from contemporary styles towards retro musical sources on this album would establish the musical path that they would continue to follow with their subsequent albums. The duo found inspiration in Easy Listening music, such as Burt Bacharach, as well as songwriter Jimmy Webb, who arranged two tracks, “Forever Blue” and “Precious Words”. The incorporation of an orchestra in their recordings realised their sound in a richer, fuller way than their previous effort which relied more heavily on synthesisers. Consequently, this album featured arrangements and songwriting more classical in inclination. The lead-off single “You On My Mind” featured a more sophisticated blend of musical components (the video was strongly inspired by the 1968 cult film The Thomas Crown Affair) than their previous efforts while the upbeat tone of “Breakout” was echoed in the lead U.S. single “Waiting Game”. Further singles included “Where in the World” and “Forever Blue”, which featured a descending phrase that reminds some people of the John Barry theme for the film Midnight Cowboy.
80s Studio album
- 1987: It’s Better to Travel
- 1989: Kaleidoscope World