Review: "Heart First" by Hazell Dean (Vinyl, 1984)

Today’s POP RESCUE from an unknown future, is the 1984 debut album ‘Heart First‘ by Hazell Dean. Will this be love at First sound, or will you be Searching for the door? Read on…

Hazell Dean - Heart First (1984) album cover
Hazell Dean’s 1984 album ‘Heart First’

This 11 track album opens with Back In My Arms (Once Again) which acted as the album’s 3rd single. The song, written as the first of the 3 Mike Stock and Matt Aitken songs here, bursts the album open with this synth heavy track that reeks of post-disco pop and carries at its fast pace. Hazell gets plenty of chances to show off her vocal power and range, and she does! Despite this upbeat sound, and songwriter royalty, the track stalled at #41 in the UK charts.

Up next is Searchin’, and this was the track that brought Hazell into the UK charts – hitting #6 in the summer of 1983. The synth line on this track is fantastic – with some wonderfully thick and bassy sounds. Hazell’s vocals are wonderfully delicate over the top and toy perfectly with the music. The chorus helps to showcase her vocal power and energy. A complete early 80’s pop gem.

This is followed by Break The Rules which gives Hazell some higher pitched softer vocals, at least until the chorus comes along when she’s then set alongside a roaring electric guitar. Hazell’s vocals work really well in this rockier sound, as she has the range and power. It’s a really catchy track, and would have been a great single.

Second single Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go) follows, and this track instantly reminds me of the Pet Shop Boy‘s track that was used by the BBC for The Clothes Show. It is Hazell’s joint highest charting single with her hit Who’s Leaving Who from 1988, and reached #4 in the UK chart.

You’re Too Good To Be True opens with and repetitive bass synth and ‘woah’ shout before leading into the verses. It sets her up perfectly for a roaring chorus, again showing off her huge vocal power. This is the first of three writing credits for Hazell, and this her only solo one.

Then we’re closing Side One with Back In My Arms (Reprise), this time giving Hazell a big ballad style for a few moments before fading out. I’m left wanting to hear more of this style though, but it’s time to flip the LP.

Side Two opens with the titular Heart First, which wastes no time getting into the verse with a softer style than the hits. The chorus is catchy as hell though, and results in a perfect combination of a song. You’re on the edge – get into it” she sings, and I’d happily dive right into this song.

Next up is No Fool (For Love) which was the album’s 4th and final single, but it stalled at #41 despite the Stock/Aitken songwriting. You can hear the early S/A/W sound chugging along in the bassline. Again, the chorus is catchy, and Hazell really gets plenty of space to show off those vocals during the verse too.

Harmony follows this and it pretty much stands up to its name, with plenty of vocal highlights throughout, resulting in a lovely song.

That’s followed by Devil In You, which is a return to pace and catchiness. There’s a simple bassline and synth sound, but it works a treat as the song races along. This is another one of Hazell’s writing credits, and my favourite of the three.

The album closes with Everything I Need, which is a simple heartfelt ballad that really really allows Hazell’s vocal range show. It builds perfectly, with warm synth layers and vocal harmonies. Towards the end, cymbals crash, the bass drum kicks to life and the rockier stadium sound gives Hazell’s vocals something more to lift her even higher before letting her slowly drift back down again as a gently played piano section leads us out.

Hazell Dean’s lead single ‘Searchin’

Verdict

Over all, this album is a genuine pop gem. When the album roars, it belts out some truly wonderful 80’s pop. There’s nothing here that feels out of place, and even the softer songs show off the strength in Hazell’s vocal power.

This stands as a fairly early example of the Stock, Aitken, Waterman sound, and Pete Hammond and Phil Harding are also present in the production credits.

This album was massively overlooked upon its original release, and hopefully its 2020 re-issue will help it finally receive the praise and commercial sales that it so desperately deserves.

Rated 5 stars - Essential listening.
  • POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 5 / 5
  • 1984 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE cost: £1.50 from a Discogs.com seller.

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