Prefab Sprout are an English band from Witton Gilbert, County Durham, who rose to fame during the 1980s. Eight of their albums have reached the Top 40 in the UK Albums Chart, and one of their singles, "The King of Rock 'N' Roll", peaked at number seven in the UK Singles Chart. According to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums, Prefab Sprout are a critically-acclaimed, intelligent, fragile pop band, formed in 1978 in Newcastle. Allmusic states that they are one of the most beloved British pop bands of the 1980s and 1990s.
Prefab Sprout have had minimal chart success in the United States, where they are generally unknown outside of a devoted cult following. Their 1985 album Steve McQueen was released in the US as Two Wheels Good and peaked at number 180 in the Billboard 200. In spite of limited American success, frontman Paddy McAloon has been hailed as one of the greater songwriters of his era.
Prefab Sprout debuted in 1982 with their self-released single, "Lions In My Own Garden: Exit Someone" - songwriter Paddy McAloon wanted a song title where the first letters of the words spelled out "LIMOGES" (the French city where his former girlfriend was staying at the time). The single's warm reception, including many plays on DJ John Peel's BBC Radio 1 show, led to the Sprout's signing to CBS subsidiary Kitchenware Records, which re-issued the single in April 1983. Another single, "The Devil Has All the Best Tunes," followed later that year. Their debut album Swoon was released on the Kitchenware record label in March 1984. The following album, the Thomas Dolby-produced Steve McQueen, (released in America as Two Wheels Good after McQueen's estate expressed their displeasure with the title) was highly praised by critics. This prompted McAloon to remark: "I'm probably the greatest songwriter in the world, you know." Their Protest Songs album was recorded next, but was not released until 1989. Initially, Prefab Sprout returned to the studio without Dolby in the summer of 1985, and quickly recorded an album's worth of material that was initially meant to be released in a limited edition as a tour souvenir. However, several months after Steve McQueen was released, its song "When Love Breaks Down" (which had been released as a single four different times in the UK without chart success) finally became a hit, and CBS feared a new album would hurt its predecessor's sales, so the project was shelved. It included the song "Life of Surprises", which later became the title track for their greatest hits compilation album.
Their biggest commercial success in the UK came with the 1988 single "The King of Rock 'N' Roll", taken from the album From Langley Park to Memphis. It reached #7 in the UK Singles Chart, their only single to reach the Top 10. From Langley Park to Memphis included guest appearances from Stevie Wonder and Pete Townshend.
In 1990, Jordan: The Comeback, again produced by Thomas Dolby, was nominated for a BRIT Award. Though the music was more accessible than their earlier material, the lyrics and subject matter remained characteristically oblique and suggestive (McAloon has often cited Stephen Sondheim as an influence). In addition to its religious overtones, perhaps reflecting McAloon's education in a Catholic seminary, there were several allegorical songs about a character who embodied a mix of Howard Hughes, Jesse James, and Elvis Presley. McAloon has alluded in interviews to several albums-worth of songs that he has written but are unreleased/unrecorded including amongst others, concept albums based on the life of Michael Jackson (Behind the Veil), the history of the world (Earth: The Story So Far) and (Zorro the Fox) about a fictional superhero. Their greatest hits, The Best of - A Life of Surprises, gave them their biggest U.S. hit, "If You Don't Love Me", which spent several weeks in the Top 10 on the dance chart. McAloon joked in the album liner notes about the band's lack of touring over the past decade.
Many thought Prefab Sprout disbanded at that point, and indeed, Conti did leave the band at some point in the 1990s. However, Prefab Sprout released Andromeda Heights in the UK in 1997 and embarked on a short UK tour in 2000. This tour, and the subsequent album, did not feature Wendy Smith, who by this time had reportedly left the band. A double album anthology, the 38 Carat Collection was released by CBS in 1999 as the group was leaving the record label. Unexpectedly, the group's U.S. label, Epic, belatedly reissued this set as The Collection in early 2001. Smith left the group during this period, after the birth of her first child.
In 2001 the band released The Gunman and Other Stories a concept album themed on the American Wild West. The opening track "Cowboy Dreams" was a hit for the British actor-singer, Jimmy Nail. Though critically acclaimed, neither enjoyed major commercial success.
After being diagnosed with a medical disorder that impaired his vision, Paddy McAloon released the album I Trawl The Megahertz under his own name in 2003 on the EMI Liberty label. As of 2006, McAloon had suffered another setback: his hearing had deteriorated, reportedly due to M?ni?re's disease. In early 2007 a remastered Steve McQueen was released in a two-CD package, containing new versions of eight of the songs from the original album, in radically different arrangements performed by McAloon on acoustic guitar.
Prefab Sprout's first album of new material since 2001 was released on September 7th, 2009. The album is called Let's Change the World with Music. Initial reviews in the English press were favourable (e.g. 5/5 in The Times, 4/5 in The Guardian, 4/5 in Record Collector). The release was also accompanied by a few interviews (e.g. Mojo magazine).
Again, according to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums, the band was named after a phrase from the Frank Sinatra (sic); Nancy Sinatra / Lee Hazlewood song, "Jackson", misheard by group leader / frontman Paddy McAloon. The correct opening lyrics for "Jackson" are "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout"; which McAloon misinterpreted as 'hotter than a prefab sprout'. However, Allmusic reckons that the prosaic truth is that an adolescent McAloon had devised the meaningless name in homage to the longwinded and equally silly band names of his late 1960s / early 1970s youth. But it is equally valid that, because of the proliferation of pre-fabricated houses in The North East (due to The Second World War - and commonly called Prefabs), that the former is true due to word association.
Paddy McAloon (born Patrick Joseph McAloon, 7 June 1957, Durham; vocals / guitars / keyboards
Wendy Smith (born 31 May 1963, Middlesbrough); vocals / guitars / keyboards
Martin McAloon (born 4 January 1962, Durham); bass guitar
Neil Conti (born 12 February 1959, Luton); drums / percussion
Michael Salmon (born Durham); the band's first drummer and co-founder - left January 1984, replaced by Graham Lant before Conti joined in mid 1984