Essentials: The Top 10 William Topley Songs

Here’s a guy who’s got 15 albums to his name, whether solo or in his celebrated band The Blessing, and he’s barely known in his home country – but revered in America – particularly Colorado. And Mark Knopfler says of him – “He’s big-hearted, emotional and strictly legit”.

William Topley burst onto the music scene back in 1990 as lead singer of The Blessing, whose debut album ‘Prince of the Deep Water’ was released in 1991 and produced the magnificent single ‘Highway 5’, which charted twice that year in the UK. The album was a really strong debut and included guests of the calibre of Rickie Lee Jones and Bruce Hornsby. Label politics meant that their subsequent album ‘Locust and Wild Honey’ disappeared without a trace, but is so worth tracking down.

Topley then went on to pursue a wonderful solo career, which to date has produced an astonishing 12 really strong albums –  sadly many of them self-released. Legendary Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, who produced ‘Locusts and Wild Honey’ says of The Blessing “They’re right up my alley. I haven’t had such a good relationship with a band since Traffic”. Having gone solo, Topley worked with, amongst others, producer Barry Beckett, who said of Topley –“He’s the best singer I’ve ever heard” And that’s from someone who’s worked with Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon.

So there’s rich pickings when selecting a Top Ten from Topley’s back catalogue – and they all feature his signature strong vocals and rich, emotional lyrics and it’s a true mystery why his home country hasn’t taken him to their hearts. Here’s hoping this Top Ten may tempt a new generation of music fans to discover his incredible talents.

Number 10:  ‘I Don’t Want To Go Downtown’  (1997)  This is taken from his brilliant debut solo release ‘Black River’ back in 1997 where he worked with legendary Muscle Shoals producer Barry Beckett and included a young Kim Richey on backing vocals. From its strong opening drum beat and Topley’s charismatic vocals, this grabs one from the get-go and is as catchy as hell.

Number 9:  ‘Back To Believing’  (2002)  This is from Topley’s ‘Feasting With Panthers’ album and big things were hoped with this – his debut on Lost Highway. Amongst the songwriting talent on the album was Black/Colin Vearncombe, who has worked with Topley a lot. There are a smorgasbord of styles on this album, including some great calypso-influenced songs – he’s fascinated with Caribbean rhythms. Topely’s rich and deep baritone voice shines through.

Number 8:I Believe In Love’ (2012)  This is from Topley’s self-released ‘Aristocrats of the South Seas’ album with his band The Sea Gypsies. It’s another atmospheric tune with superb guitar and piano playing and another really solid tune.

Number 7: The Ring’  (1997)  We go back to Topley’s solo debut ‘Black River’ with this lovely laid-back rocker, with a powerful throbbing bass line and strong drum beat punctuating Topley’s usual gritty vocals.

Number 6: Humming Bird’  (2009)   Gentle acoustic strumming opens this track from his album with The Sea Gypsies ‘Water Taxi’ and his love of everything American is ably demonstrated in the lyrics.

Number 5: Delta Rain‘  (1991)   This is from Topley’s first record – fronting the band The Blessing – with the album ‘Prince Of The Deep Water’. The band included musicians Topley would continue working within his solo career – namely Mike Westergaard on keyboards; Luke Brightly on guitar and Kevin Hime-Knowles on bass. This is a slow, atmospheric and haunting track enhanced by some gorgeous violins and a hint of Bruce Hornsby to it – he appears on this album as well. There are also some fantastic female vocals throughout. The video was shot in Jamaica in a town called Duncans – the birthplace of Harry Belafonte.

Number 4:Sea Fever‘   (2003)    From his ‘Sea Fever’ solo album. Topley continued his solo career garnering really solid reviews from his albums, but sadly making little dent on the charts or the airwaves. Mark Knopfler was really impressed with Topley as a musician and performer and offered his services as guest on electric and acoustic guitar on this track. Once again it’s a soft opening with Topley’s powerful vocals as strong as ever and Knopfler’s guitar playing perfectly complementing the feel of the song.

Number 3: Listen To The Band‘   (2020)   This comes from a more recent solo album ‘Amidst The Alien Cane’ and is a rockier number, with a solid drumbeat pounding around two vocals, including Topley’s and another superb tune. Really accomplished stuff.

Number 2:   ‘Drink Called Love‘  (1997)   We go back to Topley’s debut solo album ‘Black River’ for the stunning song. Guitar, piano and keyboards open this one, before Topley’s vocals passionately sing a moving love song. It’s co-written by guitarist Dominic Miller and the guitar playing on this is exemplary.

Number 1: Highway 5‘  (1991)   This track from The Blessings’ debut album ‘Prince of the Deep Water’ made a big impact when it was released as the lead single from the album – it reached number 42 initially and then when re-released it got to number 30. It’s a wonderfully catchy and strong track, with a chorus that stays in the mind for ages after listening to it. It’s a very 90’s sounding song – but has stood the test of time well. Topley’s amazing vocals always work well with female back up singers and it’s never better demonstrated than it does here. Brilliantly produced by Neil Dorfsman, this was The Blessing’s and possibly Topley’s finest hour. But his catalogue of astoundingly accomplished solo releases really do deserve further attention. He’s in a class of his own and genuinely is one of our finest singers, musicians and writers and long may he reign.

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