Clues – Robert Palmer (1980)

Clues album cover
Clues album cover

When cable TV arrived to the northern suburbs of hometown in 1982, I was no longer dependent on the radio and magazines to discover new music. MTV was a new and wondrous concept that brought new (and old) music videos to millions of households. One of those videos was the near hit ‘Looking For Clues’ from Robert Palmer’s 6th album Clues.

Robert Palmer’s career had taken many turns as he went from rock to new wave and eventually pop/R&B. Prior to Clues, he was best known for the 1978 soft rock hit ‘Every Kind of People’. Clues was his first foray into new wave music. It was 1980 and everybody seemed to be doing it, so why not Palmer?

New wave music associations were not new to Palmer. He played drums on a recording for the Talking Heads and co wrote a song with Gary Numan. Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz returned the favor as would Gary Numan and his bass player Paul Gardiner.

Clues would introduce a snappy but short collection of songs that ranged from the dry funk of ‘Looking For Clues’ to the electro creep of ‘I Dream of Wires’ a Gary Numan song. Numan actually played keyboards on the song released on his Telekon album the same year. The two also collaborated on a second track on Clues ‘Found You Now’.

Although I would not realize it at the time, this is possibly where my association with remakes and Robert Palmer was formed. Palmer remakes were often funkier versions of whatever he covered. In the case of the Beatles’ ‘Not a Second Time’, he added a verse in the process of putting his own spin on it.

It seemed that Palmer would remake at least one established hit from other artists on every release forward, including during his time with The Power Station. Palmer’s covers of ‘You’re In My System’ and ‘I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On’ from future releases could likely trace their stylistic heritage to the electrofunk heard in Clues.

Despite the reinterpertations of familiar music, Clues had its moments of unexpected originality like the fun xylophone solo in the ‘Looking For Clues’.  Bolstered by a clever video, it was the only song from the album I ever heard played on the radio and that was only after I had seen it on MTV. It was a mild hit by any standard in America. The album of course fared better in the UK, where it was a hit and re-established Palmers’ career.

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