5 Things to Love About Nick Lowe

While some rock stars may hope to “die before I get old,” and others are clinging vainly to their bygone youth, others have evolved, adapted, and thrived. For his part, Nick Lowe is a prime example of how to conduct a long, fruitful career.

His sharp wit, catchy tunes, and influential production work have spanned decades, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire musicians and fans alike. Here are five things to love about him:

1. His Songwriting. Lowe embodies the virtue of concision: crafting tight, elegant songs that endure. He may work quickly (his nickname is “Basher,” after all), but his songs are well wrought. From anthems like “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” to quirky classics like “Christmas at the Airport,” to offbeat musings like “All Men Are Liars,” his songs feature a trademark mix of unusual subjects, smart wordplay, and memorable melodies.

His music travels well, too, as many artists have covered his music brilliantly. Of course, we know how well Elvis Costello interpreted “Peace, Love and Understanding,” but many others have done masterful jobs, too.

One of our favorite artists, JD McPherson, absolutely nails “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day,” for example, which features one of the all-time killer rhymes (“Pharoah Did” with “Pyramid.”)

2. His Role in Shaping Punk and New Wave. Lowe was an important player in the punk and New Wave scenes. As the “house producer” for Stiff Records, he was at the forefront of a musical revolution, producing the first U.K. punk single, “New Rose” by The Damned, and working with artists like Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, and Wreckless Eric. His own hits, such as “Cruel to Be Kind” and “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” remain classics of the era – and still sound lively and fresh.

His advice as a producer, “Just bash it out, we’ll tart it up later,” is about as rock-n-roll an attitude as you could want.

3. Humor and Self-Deprecation. Despite his success, Lowe has always maintained a sense of humor and humility about his work. He’s known for not taking himself too seriously. After “Peace, Love and Understanding” earned him some nice paydays, after sitting quietly in his catalog for years, he deadpanned, “If you put enough hooks in the water, something is bound to bite, sooner or later.”

His cheekiness is on full display on Bay City Rollers, We Love You, by – yes – The Tartan Horde, a song he wrote to fulfill a contractual obligation. He aimed to write something so dreadful he’d be released from his deal, but it nevertheless became a hit in Japan.

4. Rockpile. Lowe has had impressive collaborators over the years (Johnny Cash, anyone?), but for our money, none was better than Rockpile, the rootsy powerhouse that served as a bracing antidote to the bloated “corporate rock” that dominated the FM airways in the 70s.

See also: The Bar Band Hall of Fame

Lowe clearly knew his way around bare-bones, ass-kicking combos, starting with his early days in Pub Rock stalwarts like Brinsley Schwarz. With Rockpile, he reached an apex, teamed with maestros Dave Edmunds and Billy Bremner on guitar and Terry Williams on drums.

The band didn’t – and probably couldn’t – last very long, but it recorded several albums together, though only one, Seconds of Pleasure, under its own name. (The other records appeared as Edmunds or Lowe solo albums, or as a backing band for artists like Mickey Jupp and Carlene Carter.)

Its live shows were spectacular, and it released some typically punchy, trenchant songs.

See also: Appreciating Dave Edmunds

5. He is Aging Gracefully. This is how it is done, folks.

Way back in 1990, Lowe explained his views on aging in a BBC interview: “I certainly never thought I’d still be doing [this] at 40. But the thing is, you see, now I really think I’m just starting to get good. . . . I think I’ll be real great when I’m 60. Point of fact, I think I’m going to look fantastic when I’m 60. That’s going to be the main thing. I’m going to look wild when I’m 60. But also I think my voice is going to sound great.”

He wasn’t wrong, as this Tiny Desk Concert from 2010 showed.

Years later, now well into his eighth decade, Lowe remains elegant, composed, and sharp. There is no rock star posturing. He commands the stage with just his guitar, baritone voice, and – of course – the songs.

Then again, he also does shows with the luchadores Los Straightjackets, adding yet another twist on this evolving journey.

Whether we “knew him when,” or are just coming to him now, there’s always something new to discover in Nick Lowe’s body of work, which is yet another reason to love him.

-Al Cattabiani

Photo: Roger Green, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4 comments on “5 Things to Love About Nick Lowe

  1. Paul O. Jenkins

    Nice tribute to Nick, one of my all-time faves! Often doesn’t get the appreciation and respect he deserves.

  2. Saw him last November in Chicago: just him, his guitar and his songs – 50 years after seeing him live with Brinsley Schwartz. A strong personality with a strong vooce and strong songs. Enjoyed every minute of it, as did the sold-out venue. Yes: we LOVE Nick Lowe – thanks for the article!

  3. Steve Valvano

    Thanks Al for the great analysis
    I Saw Nick backing his good friend Elvis Costello last year in Philly…. His Los-band all wore masks on stage for no apparent reason other than to say “that’s Lowe humor”… but what a band, and what a performer!….

    • Al Cattabiani

      Thanks, Steve. Check out Los Straitjackets on YouTube. Killer band, masks and all!

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