45 at 33: Lisa Stansfield’s been All Around The World

Her music and lyrics were simultaneously upbeat, funky, and melancholy. And this Lancashire lass had a bit of a voice on her too. Deliberately evoking memories of classic Barry White, welcome to one of THE great singles of 1989. That’ll be All Around The World by Miss Lisa Stansfield then.

In October 1989, pop was at a something of a crossroads, splintering off in innumerable directions on both sides of the pond. New kinds of dance music were emerging that combined modern electronic sounds with syncopated house rhythms and smooth jazzy harmonies. Just don’t mention the rabbits.

That’s because in Britain, the most popular singles acts of the day were Black Box and, erm, Jive Bunny, while the American public were hardly showing any better understanding of taste by feting those future great Grammy taker-awayers, Milli Vanilli.

The charts boasted a rare big US hit for The Cure (Lovesong) and the last major hit for the Rolling Stones (Mixed Emotions), whilst in terms of pop duos, there was a multitude of post-imperial offerings: Bros fudged the pack with Chocolate Box while Erasure dashed off some Drama! as Tears For Fears channelled The Beatles with Sowing The Seeds Of Love.

The ladies of both canyons were doing remarkable business too. Tina Turner reclaimed her crown as queen of rock with (simply) The Best, while Kate Bush and Debbie Harry were bringing up the rear with The Sensual World and I Want That Man. Even a certain Ms Ciccone released a pretty if lightweight single — Cherish was her name, with an ‘i’— that inspired me to buy Madonna album (Like A Prayer) for the very first time. How out of character that seemed, even then.

Life is indeed a mystery.

The very same mid-October week I bought the Madge album, Lisa Stansfield released All Around The World, the second single from her then-forthcoming solo debut, Affection. 

Rochdale-raised Stansfield had designs on a solo career for what must have seemed like an eternity, and released a number of somewhat shrill singles as a big-haired teenager in the early part of the decade, including a 1983 song called Listen To Your Heart. More blue leg warmers than blue-eyed soul, hardly anyone listened. 

After a stint in a short-lived trio, Blue Zone (their only album, 1988’s Big Thing, well, wasn’t), 1989 was the year things finally gained momentum. As featured vocalist and co-author of People Hold On, a team-up with Coldcut gave Lisa a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and, as a result, a solo record deal with Clive Davis’s Arista label.

The aptly titled This Is The Right Time, Stansfield’s first successful single under her own name, hit the thirteenth spot that August and paved the way for what would come next. And helping to incorporate and reintroduce a genre that had pretty much been left for dead a decade earlier.

A good two years after the peak of disco, the genre was mounting a comeback of sorts, reinvigorated and reimagined by a succession of dancefloor-intuitive acts like Pet Shop Boys and S’Express. All Around The World would build on that ’70s throwback and, quite literally, took Lisa Stansfield all around the world. Even more obviously, supported by electronic beats, deep syncopated bass and synthesized strings, the cut’s sonic blueprint was inspired by the heavyweight soul and R&B legend Barry White. Indeed, as an affectionate homage to the great Walrus of Love to him, the spoken intro that announces the track is a suitably breathy rewording of Let the Music Play, only slimmer. White was thrilled and later returned the pop payback on a duet rendition of the song with the Rochdale one in 1992. 

Ultimately, the song is both sexy and heartbreaking; a hopeful slice of melancholia about travelling the world and the seven seas looking for an estranged love. With lush, swirling Philly soul strings and an utterly gorgeous melody creating a sensual backdrop for Stansfield’s emotive, perfect nuanced vocals that are utterly convincing in conveying the torment and pain expressed in the lyrics. She coos, purrs, and cries out over the guilt of hurting her former lover, and now that he’s gone, of her desperate search to find him and win back his affection.

A picture-perfect marriage of classy sophisti-pop, textured house beats and the torchy growl of late-night silky soul, Affection would become the title of the LP that followed. Almost immediately it seemed like pop purveyors and music critics alike were enamoured and I’m sure Lisa’s Parisian-styled kiss-curled charisma helped a bit too. 

All Around The World was a massive hit almost everywhere it landed. It spent two weeks at No. 1 in Britain in November 1989, and from there, reached the top in Austria, Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, Norway, Greece, and Spain. And in 1990 got as far as third position on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, behind a succession of fleeting chart-toppers that included Sinéad O’Connor’s the Prince-composed gem Nothing Compares 2 U. The 45 did, however, also top the niche Hot Black Singles and Hot Dance Club Songs listings, a factoid Stansfield herself is still proud of over three decades later, telling The Guardian in 2019

“I was the first white British woman to reach No 1 on the R&B chart – the American black music chart. I remember sitting in a hotel room reading all the different charts around the world and just going: “Fucking hell!” All Around the World was top of most. Over the years, a lot of people have told me the song helped them through a difficult period. That’s beautiful, to know you’ve helped someone in that way. The song literally took us around the world, four times. I suppose you have to be careful what you sing, because you might have to do it.”

Do it she certainly did. In 1991, Stansfield was nominated for two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, losing out to the monstrous melon that is Mariah Carey in both categories. On home turf at the BRIT Awards, Lisa won Best British Newcomer in 1990, Best British Female in 1991 and in 1992 would duet with George Michael and the remaining members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury Concert For AIDS Awareness at Wembley Stadium.

Lisa would go on to have a further 13 more Top 40 hits, six of those which reached the Top 10, not including her vocal contribution to Stock Aitken & Waterman’s execrable remake of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas.

It’s Stansfield time.

Steve Pafford

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