That Fatal Mailing List #67: Lost Songs, Pondering - "Outline of a Hairdo" by Steve Nieve (1980)
I’m a piano guy—always have been, always will be. That means I gravitate toward whoever’s behind the keys. That includes singer-songwriters like Elton John and Ben Folds; rock icons like Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino; and supporting players like Roy Bittan and Benmont Tench. When I go see a band, I’m usually straining to peek at whatever the keyboard player is doing at any given moment.
There are so many great rock keyboardists but when it comes to the ultimate player in the ultimate band, it’s hard to beat Steve Nieve. (Bittan’s a close second for me.) Elvis Costello recruited the Attractions from a newspaper ad, and he absolutely struck gold across the board, but let’s pay special attention to Nieve—he left his studies at the Royal Academy of Music to join a rock band, and with every note he’s always used a keen academic eye to coax madness from his fingers. It’s this perfect balance between deep proficiency and careful abandon.
Back in 1980, the Attractions took advantage of their lead singer’s success to record their debut (and to date, only) solo recording as a band, Mad About The Wrong Boy, splitting up the singing and songwriting duties amongst themselves. Packaged with early versions of the album was an EP, Steve Nieve Plays Theme Music From Outline of a Hairdo. It’s about five minutes worth of short instrumental pieces, all of which are soundtracks to an imaginary film.
It’s a high concept that acts as a vehicle for an endlessly inventive run of brief musical ideas. Although it seems unlikely to have inspired Angelo Badalamenti, it does call to mind some of his themes for Twin Peaks. The tracks evoke smoky detective dramas with hopelessly doomed femme fatales, nursing cocktails as they await the inevitable arrival of their unrequited love and their certain doom, destined to be the same person.
Again, this is just five and a half minutes; the concepts are so densely packed that it’s hard to believe there isn’t a lost film somewhere floating around with this music as the backdrop. It’s music that covers an emotional distance where there’s no destination in sight.