City Boy is on that list of bands that woulda/shoulda/coulda been way bigger than they were, but for some reason only touched the high bar for a brief period of time. They combined impeccable vocals and vocal harmony with inventive arrangements and first-rate musicianship, and reaped the benefit of having multiple songwriters in the band. Their one bonafide hit single, “188.8.131.52.”, was from their fourth album Book Early, and while it was stuffed with great tunes it didn’t hold favor over time. Their next two albums sailed under the wavelength of everyone except their fans and remain underrated albums to this day.
Young Men Gone West, their third release, was probably the album that floated closest to a commercial pop sound; I’m still stunned that there weren’t multiple hits jumping off the record. It’s a loosely threaded concept album about a bad journey baja way, written with an enormous sense of humor.
City Boy was unusual for the time in that Steve Broughton and Lol Mason both sang lead vocals, although Broughton also played guitar. It wasn’t odd to see them trading lead and background vocals simply as dual front men, and the arrangements dabbled in jazz, soul and even prog as well as pop and rock. The high falsetto harmonies and intricate vocal parts brought them comparisons to Queen, Supertramp and 10cc, recent post-mortem comments cite Jellyfish and Def Leppard, among others. Compliments all. Multi-instrumentalist Max Thomas also pitched in with songwriting and vocals and producer Mutt Lange worked his magic. City Boy indeed forged these elements into something of their own.
“She’s Got Style” and “I’ve Been Spun” (the latter contains several brilliant turns of phrase) are short sharp pop songs, while the rockers among us cue up “Dear Jean” and “Bad For Business” ; both boast monster guitar work from Mike Slamer. (The former makes me pull out the air guitar to this day.) The rest blend a parade of sounds so that song-to-song it sounds fresh, various tempos and styles evenly distributed in perfect array.
After four albums on Mercury they moved to Atlantic for two more, then finally to Vertigo for the last one, It’s Personal. By then the band was a quartet and most fans (read: me) were unaware it existed until it was too late. And another great one bit the dust. The first six albums are commercially available, reissued by Reniassance Records; the seventh only if you hunt and peck on Al Gore’s Internet if you know what I mean and I think you do.
“Young Men Gone West” is available alone or as part of a 2-fer with Book Early, although the 2-fer is out of print and expensive on the used market. But if you don’t know the band, don’t stop here ! You will be richly rewarded by checking out their vastly underrated catalogue.
City Boy wiki.
City Boy homepage. Lyrics, clips, bio, etc. thanks to a great fan.
Wolfgang’s Vault members can stream a live show here.
And no, don’t confuse them with this guy.