Performers I Love: Gilbert O’Sullivan


One of the most misunderstood and underrated performers in pop music, Gilbert O’Sullivan has weathered the storm that is the fall from the top of the mountain (as an international recording superstar in the early 1970s) to stand tall as a proudly independent musician who never ceased being who he is. More than just a one hit wonder, O’Sullivan has soldiered on for four decades, making albums of quality, brimming with joyful wit, insight and youthful exuberance.

Gilbert O’Sullivan has always produced strong, uncluttered tunes bursting with unusual musical and lyrical twists. Some of the songs happily stick in your head and carry you through the day; others can consume you with a genuine sense of sadness and melancholy. O’Sullivan paints with a palette very similar to that used by country legend Roger Miller, affording him tremendous creative leeway. He primarily deals with the sweet, obscure and absurd, while at the same time touching on issues that are universal and meaningful. He also focuses on moments and very particular imagery in a way that is very real and personal. Gilbert is very proud of his English and Irish isms, and those specific qualities pepper much of the material. As an American, I must admit I don’t know what he is talking about all the time, but that never detracts from the music.

He possesses a voice that is uniquely his own. When you hear Gilbert O’Sullivan, you know it. His sound is whimsical and easy-going, but the lightness does not disguise the underlying depth and sincerity. Time has not dulled his trademark impish buoyancy, either — it has given it a few extra threads of complexity, and perhaps improved the whole package. For, while the core remains essentially the same, O’Sullivan is an artist in constant development, thus he remains fresh.

Gilbert has never had a “down period,” meaning his career has been solid throughout. His later albums are every bit as good as his earlier works. I will state that Singer Sowing Machine is the one I connect with the least, and I would count that as the one true misstep in his otherwise consistent career — but there’s still good points about it, too, so it’s not a total wash. His catalogue, otherwise, has the same magic, charm and beauty that one expects out of Gilbert O’Sullivan. You can pick up any of his albums with confidence, knowing you’ll get an excellent product no matter when it was produced.

He may be 60 now, but I feel his career is far from over, and there are many avenues he will explore creatively before he steps away from the piano.

If you care about excellent pop music with roots in Tin Pan Alley that goes across many genres, I highly suggest you give this man another look. “Alone Again (Naturally)” is just a fraction of what this tremendous talent has to offer.

My top three albums…

BY LARRY (1994)
This album features the unique concept of orchestra in the instrumental sections, and Gilbert’s joyful percussive piano only during the vocal sections – a highly complimentary presentation. Most importantly, some of the most memorable, organic, expressive songs he has ever produced are tied together with his ageless style and fabulous wit. It is a classic album on every front, without a shred of filler. This is the album that, to me, best expresses who Gilbert O’Sullivan is.

Note: The Little Album is the same thing, minus two tracks. That’s how I was first exposed to this wonderful grouping of songs.

I’M A WRITER, NOT A FIGHTER (1973)
As a whole package, I think this completely encapsulates the Gilbert energy of the early 1970s. There’s the hits here – “Ooh, Baby,” “Where Peaceful Waters Flow” and “Get Down” – but it’s the remainder of the songs that really do it. The overall feel is much looser and casual than his first two albums, and Gilbert’s wonderful personality is more prominent (not that it was ever hidden to begin with). To me, it was when Gilbert completely asserted who he was… and his music only became better because of it.

SOUTHPAW (1977)
Though Gilbert had started to fade a bit as a major star at this point, he still churned out first class material that could go toe-to-toe with any of the top albums of the day. This is packed with songs that are classic GOS, ones that touch your heart and fill you with tremendous energy, like “The Best Fun I Ever Had,” “That’s Where I Belong” and the heart wrenching “Miss My Love Today.” Southpaw is a cornerstone of his musical career.

For more information on Gilbert, visit his official web site: www.gilbertosullivan.com

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