[Review] Joan Armatrading: Whatever’s For Us (1972)

Joan’s first is patterned after Elton John, even featuring the same producer and guitarist.

Kronomyth 1.0: Elton Joni.

It’s no accident that Joan Armatrading’s debut, Whatever’s For Us, invites comparison to Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens. Producer Gus Dudgeon was also Elton’s producer, and the backing band–which includes Davey Johnstone, Gerry Conway and Ray Cooper–draws heavily from the camps of John and Stevens. As for Joni’s influence, one need look no further than Joan’s intimate piano and guitar accompaniment.

As with many singer/songwriters, quantity gets the better hand of quality. These fourteen tracks could have been pared down to ten and still retained the same impact as an album. Lyricist Pam Nestor, who appears here as full-time collaborator in a role similar to Bernie Taupin, is concerned primarily with social issues (My Family) and character studies (Child Star).

Joan isn’t the compelling presence here that later albums would reveal, instead seemingly content to let the songs speak for her. And a handful of songs do stand out: Visionary Mountains (which features Johnstone on sitar), Mean Old Man, Head of the Table, Spend a Little Time, City Girl and the album’s single, Alice. Like Elton John’s Empty Sky, the songs tend to be of a piece, suggesting a talented artist who hasn’t quite found their true voice.

Subsequent albums would see her incorporating elements of rock, jazz, and island music while shifting the lyrical focus to matters of the heart. As a result, casual fans of her later records may find Whatever’s For Us too preachy and folksy for their tastes. Still, you don’t need to be a hardcore fan to hear and appreciate this material for what it is: a talented young artist’s attempt to break into the singer/songwriter field of the early ‘70s.

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Original LP Version

A1. My Family (3:08)
A2. City Girl (Joan Armatrading) (3:58)
A3. Spend A Little Time (Joan Armatrading) (2:23)
A4. Whatever’s For Us, For Us (2;11)
A5. Child Star (2:31)
A6. Visionary Mountains (1:49)
A7. It Could Have Been Better (4:19)
B1. Head of the Table (2:30)
B2. Mister Remember Me (2:15)
B3. Gave It A Try (2:08)
B4. Alice (3:29)
B5. Conversation (Joan Armatrading) (2:15)
B6. Mean Old Man (2:33)
B7. All The Kings’ Gardens (2:58)

All songs written by Joan Armatrading/Pam Nestor unless noted.

CD Reissue Bonus Tracks (2015)
15. Lonely Lady
16. Together In Words And Music

The Players

Joan Armatrading (vocals, piano, harmonium, acoustic guitar), Gerry Conway (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion, vibes, bell tree), Davey Johnstone (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sitar), Pam Nestor (lyricist), Larry Steele (bass) with Chris Hughes (brass, brass arrangement), Del Newman (string & horn arrangements), Henry Spinetti (drums). Produced by Gus Dudgeon; engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable, Ken Scott, Roy Baker, Phil Dunne. Co-ordination by Mike Noble.

The Pictures

Cover design by Sumiko. Photography by Derek Davies. Art direction by John Hays.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in November 1972 in the UK (Cube, HIFLY 12), Belgium (Cube, 853009), Germany (Cube, 136320) and the Netherlands (Cube, 2338 038) with lyrics innersleeve. Released on elpee in April 1973 in the US (A&M, SP-4382) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-released on half-speed master elpee in 1982 in Germany (Intercord, INT 188.002).
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1982 in the US (A&M, SP/CS 3227).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the UK (Castle, CLACD 143) and the US (A&M, CD-3227).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in France (Cube, 853009).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc worldwide on March 27, 2001 (Metro Music, METRCD047).
  6. Re-released on remastered, expanded compact disc on April 27, 2015 in the UK (Esoteric, ECLEC2491) with 2 bonus tracks.

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