Hazell Dean – “Heart First”
Thirty six years ago, HI-NRG Queen of the dancefloor Hazell Dean released her first album proper, thanks to her chart success with “Searchin'” and “Whatever I Do”, her first taste of UK top 40 glory, having been a recording artist since 1975, released the album “The Sound Of Bacharach & David” in 1981 while both “Searchin'” and “Evergreen” bombing when released in 1983. With production split between Ian Stephens and a then largely unheard of trio called Stock Aitken Waterman, the album embraced eleven tracks, which strangely didn’t include “Stay In My Life”, a song Hazell recorded for Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1984.
Thankfully those lovely people at Cherry Red Records have included this on the new ‘deluxe edition’ of “Heart First”, along with 12inch versions of the singles and another previously unreleased track, “Take Me Home”. “Searchin’ (I Gotta Find A Man)” was the lead single from the album released in late 1983, but only managed No.76 on the UK singles chart initially. Written and produced by Stephens, it did find favour in underground clubs and on the gay scene, where Hazell would find the core of her fanbase over the coming years. Her follow up, a cover of Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” coupled with the song “Jealous Love”, didn’t fare much better, stalling at No.63 in the UK and oddly only “Evergreen” only made the cassette version of the original album while “Jealous Love” was omitted in its entirety. Upon re-release in 1984, “Searchin'” would enter the UK top ten and peak at No.6, giving Hazell a huge hit after so long in the shadows.
In the Summer of 1984 her third single, “Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)”, would eclipse even this. Attributed to Mike Stock and Matt Aitken as songwriters, “Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)” took off and eventually perched itself at No.4 selling over 300,000 copies and becoming Stock Aitken Waterman‘s first top ten hit. After nearly ten years in the business, 31 year old Hazell was now a bonafide pop star and followed this new fame that Autumn with “Back In My Arms (Once Again)” (this girl does like a song in brackets, don’t she!), although this was less of a hit, just barely missing the top 40 by one place, which is a shame as the song is a glorious disco-pop number and a personal favourite. One more single was lifted from the album, and wait for it, it’s another bracket number – “No Fool (For Love)”, in early 1985. Once again(!) this ended up at No.41 in the UK and came in two versions, the album a more subdued and typical early 80’s affair, while the single version had added pump and volume.
The rest of “Heart First” was a mixture of filler tracks and potentially big hits that sadly were only heard by a small band of die hard fans. “Break The Rules” is certainly the rockiest track on the album with electric guitars and synths sprayed all over it while the deliciously electro-disco track “You’re Too Good For Me” is a standout and takes you back to school discos of the mid 80’s, pretty flickering lights and dance moves that were just made up on the spot! The title track is a gorgeous slowmo number, fit for a smooch or perhaps awaiting that special someone to recognise you and ask for that first dance. “Harmony” is another down-tempo number and great synthwave anthem which is also a perfect vehicle for Hazell’s sensual vocals to carry you off to a time long gone but so well remembered. “Devil In You” picks the pace up again as we all move to the “devil in you”, which brings out the “devil in me”.
“Everything I Need” is the only ballad on the album with the very bare minimum of orchestration until the closing minute when it really goes hell for leather, as does our Hazell with her power vocals. Wow! “Stay In My Life”, which is included here for the first time, is another down-tempo number, and as much as I love Hazell, this is no Eurovision hit. Two other tracks need mentioning, “Take Me Home” (not the Cher/Sophie Ellis Bextor song), which was previously only available on the single “Back In My Arms (Once Again)” and is another typical slice of early 80’s disco-pop, and “Young Boy In The City”, which begins with a sexy saxophone fade in and continues as a funky, low key late 70’s jive-pop number that is quite addictive the more you play it.
While Hazell had made the big time with “Searchin'” and “Whatever I Do”, her record company, Proto, were cash strapped and virtually no promotion was afforded “Heart First”. Consequently, the album failed to chart. Hazell herself blamed the poor marketing together with a wrongly timed release. Following the release of “No Fool (For Love)” in early 1985, Hazell left Proto for pastures new. It was a sad and swift end for the hard working lady who it seemed had finally won public approval and was then shown the door. Not so Hazell. While it would be another four years, Hazell continued working hard, releasing singles and playing live as well as continuing her bond with Stock Aitken Waterman, and was suitably rewarded with another massive hit in 1988 with “Who’s Leaving Who?”. With a bit more thought and some speculation, Proto could of paid off whatever debts they had with at least some publicity for “Heart First” and with the longevity of Hazell’s popularity, may of saved much embarrassment and ill feeling that perhaps still linger today.