For much of the '80s, Paul Young rivaled Simply Red's Mick Hucknall as the top blue-eyed soul/pop singer in the U.K.
In America, Young was known primarily for his lone chart-topper, "Every Time You Go Away," but was able to sustain his commercial success at home for much of the decade. He was chiefly an interpretive singer, and although he did write some of his own material, his greatest strengths lay in covering R&B classics and rescuing forgotten chestnuts from obscurity. Unfortunately, Young's career was interrupted periodically by difficulties with his voice, and those health problems substantially curtailed his activities in the '90s.
Paul Young was born in Luton, north of London in Bedfordshire, on January 17, 1956. He started his music career playing bass and guitar in several local bands, gradually working his way up to lead singer posts. Young first made a splash as frontman of new wavers the Streetband, who scored a national U.K. hit with 1978's "Toast." When they disbanded in 1979, Young and several bandmates quickly regrouped as the Q-Tips, a retro-minded soul outfit with a jones for classic Motown. With a self-titled album on Chrysalis and a relentless touring schedule, the Q-Tips generated significant interest in Young's solo potential, and in 1982 he signed with CBS, hastening the Q-Tips' breakup.
Young forged a songwriting partnership with Q-Tips keyboardist Ian Kewley, who also joined Young's new backing band, the Royal Family (complete with a subset of female backup singers dubbed the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts). His debut solo single, "Iron Out the Rough Spots," was released in late 1982, and was followed by a cover of Nicky Thomas' reggae-pop hit "Love of the Common People." Neither single did particularly well on the charts, but his version of the lesser-known Marvin Gaye number "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" was a roaring success, topping the U.K. charts and pushing his debut album, No Parlez, to the same position later that year. No Parlez gave Young his first Top 40 hit in the U.S. with the Jack Lee-penned "Come Back and Stay" (a U.K. Top Ten), and also drew attention with its left-field cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Young mounted an international tour in support of the album, which sold several million copies worldwide; afterwards, however, he suffered the first of numerous throat ailments which would pop up throughout his career.
Kept out of action for much of the latter half of 1984, Young nonetheless made a contribution to the Band Aid "Do They Know It's Christmas?" single, and returned to the U.K. Top Ten with a version of Ann Peebles' "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down." The latter appeared on his sophomore album, The Secret of Association, released in 1985. That year, Young scored the biggest hit of his career with "Every Time You Go Away," a previously obscure Hall & Oates album track from 1980. "Every Time You Go Away" topped the pop charts in both the U.K. and U.S., ending up as far and away his biggest success in the latter. Young followed it with another U.K. Top Ten hit in the original "Everything Must Change," and watched The Secret of Association become his second U.K. chart-topping album.
Young concentrated mostly on original material (co-written with Kewley) on his third album, 1986's Between Two Fires. A slicker, less soul-flavored outing, Between Two Fires sold respectably to Young's U.K. fan base, but didn't produce any major hits, and slowed his momentum somewhat. In its wake, Young took several years off from recording, chiefly for personal reasons but also to rest his voice. He didn't return until 1990, when Other Voices restored his commercial standing with a reading of the Chi-Lites' classic "Oh Girl," his only other U.S. Top Ten. He returned to the U.K. Top Five in 1991 with "Senza una Donna (Without a Woman)," a duet with Italian pop singer Zucchero that appeared on Young's hits comp From Time to Time: The Singles Collection. In 1992, Young's version of Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" rose from the Fried Green Tomatoes soundtrack to top the U.S. adult contemporary charts, even though it missed the pop Top 20.
By this time, health problems were beginning to exact a toll on Young's voice, yet he remained a viable performer. Released in 1993, The Crossing was his final album for Columbia, spawning the U.K. single "Now I Know What Made Otis Blue." In late 1994, Young issued an album of soul covers called Reflections on the smaller Vision Music label. He then disappeared for several years, giving occasional live performances but mostly resting his voice and procuring new material. Eventually, Young signed with East/West, for whom he released an eponymously titled album in 1997. Displaying a stronger country influence, the record failed to sell well even in the U.K., and Young found himself without a label again. In 1999 he mounted a small-venue tour of the U.K. that earned him solid reviews. He subsequently concentrated on Los Pacaminos, a Tex-Mex/country-rock band he'd started on an informal basis in the mid-'90s; they issued a self-titled debut album in 2002.
From this point on, Young divided his musical time between Los Pacaminos and his solo work, touring regularly and recording intermittently with both. Some of his time was occupied by non-musical pursuits, including appearances on the U.K. version of Celebrity MasterChef and Hell's Kitchen, televised opportunities to demonstrate his cooking skills. His first appearance on television arrived in September 2006 when he had a role on Celebrity MasterChef that coincided with the release of Rock Swings: On the Wild Side of Swing, a record where he reinterpreted rock songs in a big-band style. He continued to appear on TV and tour, but during this period his most noteworthy recording arrived in 2010 with "Come Back," a single by Chicane that interpolated Young's 1983 hit, "Come Back and Stay." His next recording was A Fistful of Statins, the 2014 album by Los Pacaminos. Two years later he returned to solo work with Good Thing, a 2016 album that returned him to soul. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi