Bill Nelson Album Review: On a Blue Wing

Bill Nelson may be the least well-known genius in rock history, despite having been making music since not only when Michael Jackson was still black, but still a kid. He has gone through many different phases, rising to prominence with his art-rock progressive band Be Bop Deluxe, earning a place in the new wave rejection of such music by not only making his own Devoesque album, but also producing many artists from that era, including A Flock of Seagulls.

He has also written instrumental soundtracks for both movies and stage productions. But his greatest album achievement probably remains On a Blue Wing.

On a Blue Wing stems from the 80s when Nelson was moving toward a more electronic and synthesizer based sound and features his single greatest song, in my opinion. That song is “Contemplation” and it kicks off with this great line: “I’m a man of vision/And I like what I see.” It’s a gorgeous sounding song and carries just a hint of Middle Eastern melody to it which explodes – if that’s the right word – during the song’s fadeout. This remains one of my top five favorite songs of all time.

Bill Nelson dabbles not just in Middle Eastern influences in On a Blue Wing, but also jazz and some Oriental sounds over the course of this album as well. It includes some truly heartfelt love songs with titles like “Lost in Your Mystery”, “Heart and Soul”, and “Living for the Spangled Moment.” Although nothing else on the album rises to the height of “Contemplation” a few do come close.

“The Hidden Flame” is especially good, an upbeat song about love and promises that is beautifully orchestrated with some of the best use of synthesized instruments you’ll ever hear.

“Living for the Spangled Moment” is also magnificently composed, taking full advantage of Bill Nelson’s quite prodigious musical talents. And here’s the thing about that. Bill Nelson albums are solo albums in the truest sense of the word. I’ve written elsewhere how that whole “auteur” thing in movies is a crock; there is no one single guiding author in such a collaborative art form. Bill Nelson not only writes his music, but plays most of the instruments. I didn’t lightly use the word genius to describe him.

There’s a single misstep on the album On a Blue Wing. Every single song has something to offer and if the lesser songs sound lesser, it’s only because you’ll be comparing them to “Contemplation.” There is so much Bill Nelson music available because he is without question the most prolific artist in all of rock music.

Introducing someone to Nelson can be tricky because they may pick up one his albums dominated by instrumental lasting only a minute or less. Or they may pick up a Be Bop Deluxe album and be thoroughly confused as to his standing today. If you can’t find On a Blue Wing, I recommend Vistamix, which is a sort of compilation album featuring many of his best songs from the early 80s.

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