In England, Paul Young's "Secret of Association" album entered the charts at No. 1.
It took him a bit longer to reach a similar pinnacle stateside with his hit version of Daryl Hall's "Every Time You Go Away." And when he did -- on July 1 -- it wasn't even the biggest event of the month for Young. That came 13 days later, when he stepped on the stage at London's Wembley Stadium and sang for almost a billion Live Aid viewers.
Coming off the stage, "then I realized how many people I'd just played to and that was the shock," says the tall, tousle-haired singer, whose reverence for American soul music is evident in a gritty, liquid tenor that seems as comfortable crooning as it does punching out up-tempo sizzlers.
Young's romantic, danceable rock tunes and boyish good looks have turned the 29-year-old into something of a teen idol. The house at a recent Constitution Hall concert near the end of a nine-month road tour was heavy on screaming teen-age girls who acted as if they'd known Young all their lives.
Still, he says, America was a hard market to crack. His first solo album, "No Parlez," had sold 4 million copies in Europe and stayed on the British charts for two years, but hadn't hit the Top 100 here. A 1984 stateside tour had taken its toll on Young's voice as well, causing him to temporarily lose the top six notes in his range.
"I thought America would be my biggest market. It was there, ready to go. So I renewed my crusade this year and to make it easier I got a No. 1 halfway through the year, so that instead of coming over here as a necessity, I was coming here as a demand," he says, then adds, "which was much better."
Young is a bit chagrined at being classified a "neo-soul singer," or being connected to visions of white British singers bringing soul back to America.
"I don't think what I do is soul at all," he says. "I love listening to soul, and if you know anything about it you can probably hear it in my music. And I have said in the past that I aspire to be a soul singer, because that's where the best singers are. But the last thing I'd call my music is soul, though people seem to put that label on it."
Still, it is soul's emotionalism, its ability to connect performer and audience, that appeals to Young. "Soul music can ignite very easily, which is left over from the church music soul singers came from," he says. "It can spread all of a sudden -- click -- you get an inspiration. I don't think you get inspired singers in rock music; generally, with the melodies that they're using, they can't really play around with them.
"For anybody that wants to be a singer, soul music is the first thing."
As a 12-year-old growing up in the industrial town of Luton, Young was first impressed by the singing of Paul Rodgers of Free on that group's only real hit, "All Right Now," and it was Rodgers who helped him make the leap into soul fandom.
"I'd read all his interviews in the music papers and he'd always mention Otis Redding. And I'd find myself going down to the record shop -- they had a lot of secondhand records -- and one day I saw an Otis album. I knew 'Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay' and that was on there, so I bought it."
The process was repeated with Wilson Pickett, and later, Joe Tex, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and others. It's a measure of Young's respect for the idiom that inspired him that he has not covered any soul classics, though he did have a hit with a remake of a minor Gaye song, "Wherever I Lay My Hat (I Call Home)."
"I just couldn't face doing it, it seems pointless. People say 'When a Man Loves a Woman' is perfect for you, but you can't beat Percy Sledge's version, so there's just no point."
After an apprenticeship at the huge Vauxhall Motor plant (his father worked there as well), Young went through his rock apprenticeship with such groups as Streetband and the Q-Tips. The latter, a soul revue complete with a horn section, solidified his performance skills, as did hours watching videos of soul's classic performers.
Young is one of those rarities, a rock star who doesn't write his own material, though that has started to change with the new album. "I've been through that," he says, laughing. "The first band I was in wrote all their songs and refused to do anybody else's and the second band I was in did all covers -- until we signed a record deal and realized there could be extra money if we started writing songs -- which weren't very good."
Not being a prolific writer, Young has done that rare thing in contemporary rock: He's turned to other songwriters. Not surprisingly, his chart success provoked a deluge of songs. "For the last 20 years, ever since the Beatles, nobody's covered songs. All of a sudden I had a hit with somebody else's song and said it didn't bother me, that I liked covering other people's songs. And all of a sudden, they're coming by the drawer load, people were just emptying their drawers."