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Nick Lowe Labours in Luck : Pop music: The success of 'The Bodyguard' soundtrack has been good news for the British rocker, at the Coach House Sunday.

February 25, 1995|MIKE BOEHM

Nick Lowe has long been one of the wittiest and most affable fellows in rock 'n' roll. Now he also is one of the luckiest.

A few years ago, Lowe found himself in a queasy position for a recording artist of a certain age who is highly regarded, but not exactly a major star: Lowe's record company dropped him. Other labels weren't exactly clamoring to sign up a silver-haired Englishman who was entering his mid-40s, having placed just one album (the 1979-vintage "Labour of Lust") in the U.S. Top 40.

To the rescue came Lady Luck, in the cool, comely form of Whitney Houston. "I will always love yeeeewwww ," Whitney erupted, over and over. That illimitable voice, singing that inescapable refrain, set cash registers ringing. Since its 1992 release, "The Bodyguard" movie soundtrack album that contains Houston's hit has sold more than 13 million copies in the United States alone. And every beep or ching of the register has meant a few more pennies in the pocket of Nick Lowe.

For piggybacked onto the "The Bodyguard" album, after its six Whitney Houston opuses, its Kenny G/Aaron Neville duet and its Lisa Stansfield tune, is a rendition by Curtis Stigers of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Lowe wrote the song in the early 1970s, when he was playing in the British pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz. Elvis Costello made it a widely heard rock anthem in 1979, when he covered it on his "Armed Forces" album (like the rest of Costello's first five albums, "Armed Forces" was produced by Lowe).

Now, with "The Bodyguard" soundtrack still on the charts after more than two years, "Peace, Love and Understanding" is putting serious money in Lowe's bank account--quite a bit more than a million dollars, he said.

Lowe wasn't desperate for the cash: "I've earned a living out of the music business for quite a long time," he said over the phone from a Nashville nightclub, a stop on a tour that brings him to the Coach House on Sunday. "I live quite simply, but it's been a long time since I had to worry about buying a new shirt or taking somebody out to dinner. My one indulgence is my cars."

Nevertheless, Lowe acknowledges that "The Bodyguard" handed him a big, billowy parachute at a time when he needed a soft landing.

"It would be stupid to say it hasn't made any difference, because of course it does. When (the soundtrack album) came out, I'd just been dropped from Warner Bros., so it went from what was a potentially disastrous situation" to one where Lowe could make his next career move without any hint of desperation.

*

The move he made was to sign with Upstart Records, a tiny new offshoot of the independent Rounder label. Upstart recently issued the album Lowe was ready to present to Warners when it dumped him. The album, "The Impossible Bird," is one of the best in a career that includes such high-quality solo releases as "Pure Pop for Now People" (1978), "Labour of Lust" (1979), "The Rose of England" (1985) and "Party of One" (1990).

"Bird" blends Lowe's country and soul sources, capturing them with expert, attractively loose band arrangements. It also combines his oft-remarked-upon verbal wit with a sincere intent to sift the embers of love-gone-bad.

Lowe said his "Bodyguard" fortune is pure serendipity and none of his own doing--he had no role in pushing the song for use in the film--unless you consider his shrewd decision some years ago to retrieve his lost publishing rights to "Peace, Love and Understanding." To the holder of such rights go the songwriter's royalties--typically 6 cents per album for every song the writer has on an album.

"I had signed (an unfavorable) publishing contract in a cloud of marijuana smoke when I was about 19," Lowe recalled. "I can remember a guy in a loud, plaid sports jacket saying he liked my songs, and I was pitifully grateful. I bought (back) the rights to that song and 20 or 30 songs that went with it about 10 years ago. That was very, very nice."

Ironically, Lowe, a cinema buff, hasn't seen "The Bodyguard," which stars Houston and Kevin Costner. His tastes run toward artier fare than the romantic-action film.

"It seems terribly cheerless to say it, but I don't think it's the sort of thing I'd like very much."

Lowe said "The Impossible Bird" began for him as an exercise in self-discipline and turned out to be an expression of what he feels is a growing artistic maturity.

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