The only real complication in the collaboration between New Wave hero Nick Lowe and Nashville’s surf rock outfit Los Straitjackets is logistics. “Ever since I started working with them, and we decided to do some recording together, it’s a bit of a problem because I live here and they live there,” the London-based Lowe tells Apple Music. “So we pick a city when we have a couple of days off, and look for a studio. This can be quite good, because it stops you getting in a rut—you never quite know what to expect when you walk through the doors.” For Lay It On Me, Lowe met his co-conspirators and current backing band in St. Louis to work through some originals, as well as Dorsey Burnette’s 1962 single “Here Comes That Feeling” (made famous by Brenda Lee) and Los Straitjackets’ Lowe-produced take on Shocking Blue’s 1969 hit “Venus,” which is now a stand-alone release. “There’s some songs I write which just wouldn't suit this lineup,” he says. “But sometimes it can be surprising. Some things that we've recorded in the past, you'd think that they wouldn't work, and they actually did. And vice versa: Some things you think would work really well actually just don't happen at all.” Here, the 71-year-old singer-songwriter, producer, and pub rock pioneer talks us through each song.
Lay It On Me Baby “I've got a little house—a cottage really—just about a minute's walk from our family house. And this little house I've lived in for about 30-odd years, it's only enough room for one person, really. When I got married, again, about 12 years ago, we both decided to keep this house and use it as a place for me to carry on, like an office. Every so often, I'd knock up some pasta and get some good wine in, and my pals would come round and we'd have a really great evening. We'd play guitars and eat and drink and listen to our own records. One night, we had a couple of guys round here, both of whom sadly are no longer with us—Bobby Irwin, who played drums with me for years, and Neil Brockbank, who used to co-produce my records with me. We started talking about the idea of making a record, a a sampler, like CBS Records’ The Rock Machine Turns You On, a sort of compilation for an imaginary record label with imaginary artists. We started discussing which artists would be on the record, and the imaginary record label we were discussing obviously had a very enlightened A&R department, because we decided to have artists of extremely different styles. ‘Lay It On Me Baby’ was done by this guy—I can't remember what his name was now—a sort of slightly cheesy, over-the-hill white soul guy. I can see him now, with a medallion round his neck, blue jeans with creases in, and aviator shades—tinted aviator shades. We thought ‘Lay It On Me Baby’ would be the kind of title of a song that he would be likely to do , and I started fooling around with this idea. When we sobered up a few days later, we realized that the demand for a record like this would be extremely limited, and very expensive to do, so the thing sort of withered on the vine right there. But this imaginary fellow's song, ‘Lay It On Me Baby,’ sort of hung around. And I did a bit of work on it, and then put it away, and one day I was playing it to one of the Los Straitjackets and they got really excited about it. We wanted it to be fun, but in order for it to work, it had to be good. The tunes actually had to be good, not too jokey. It had to stand out.”
Don’t Be Nice to Me “It's the sort of thing that people do say, and I haven't checked, but I can't believe there can't be another song with that title—somebody must have thought of that before. I've had it hanging around for a while, and I've rewritten it and fiddled around with it quite a lot, and it’s been a bit problematic, that song. I put a lot of thought into the songs that I write, in order to make them sound like I wrote them in 10 minutes. With this one, I think I painted myself into a few corners. That can sometimes happen. You start going where the song takes you, which is what I tend to do now, to try and let the thing write itself rather than me forcing it somewhere. And with that one, it led me down a few places where the melody started to get too complicated, too many chords and things. But that's the way it goes. It sort of lulled me into a sense of false security. You just can't tell. After all these years I've been doing this thing, the more you do it, the less you know, and the stuff you do know gets on your nerves.”
Here Comes That Feeling “I actually didn't know it by Dorsey Burnette—I knew it by Brenda Lee. She had a hit with it over here in the ’60s, but Dorsey's is fantastic. It was Greg from Los Straitjackets who drew my attention to his version, and he wrote it, of course. I loved that record—it’s a great tune with really good lyrics, and I could hear me and the Straitjackets doing it. I love that area where R&B music meets rockabilly. It just doesn't sound like one particular genre, and I really like to see if you can pitch it in the middle of two or three genres, so you can't quite tell what it's supposed to be. When it comes to cover songs, I'm always looking for songs that people haven't heard millions of times before, but also songs which can be adapted very, very easily. You can change them. In fact, I quite often write new words for them as well and insert them. If there aren't enough lyrics for the purpose, I'll just write a few more words and another little bit of music, and bend it to suit our needs. And whenever anyone does that to my stuff—if they cover my songs and they do that—I love it. I never get pissed off about that. Honestly, it's a great compliment.”