Recorded at Whitney Recording Studios, Glendale, California, with the exception of B2, which was recorded at Audio International Studios, London.
This 1976 follow-up to the successful Changing All the Time finds Smokie pursuing the same kind of country-flavored pop that made that album a hit. With Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman once again in the producer's chairs, the band produced some notable hits in Europe: "Something's Been Making Me Blue" layers Smokie's trademark harmonies atop a rousing country-rock tune driven by tasty guitar work, and "Wild Wild Angels" is a dramatic power ballad that highlights a strong lead from whiskey-throated vocalist Chris Norman. Smokie also scored a hit with "I'll Meet You at Midnight," a surprising departure from their usual formula where the band plays a backup role to a dramatic, French-styled string arrangement that sets the melody. Despite these strong hits, the remainder of Midnight Caf? hits a few rough spots: "Make Ya Boogie" is a dull and overlong boogie rock tune that could have been performed by any rock band, and the attractive melody of "Poor Lady (Midnight Baby)" is marred by mean-spirited and misogynistic lyrics that mercilessly skewer the down-on-her-luck groupie of the title. Despite these occasional lapses in quality, Midnight Caf? does offer some decent tunes between the hit singles: "When My Back Was Against the Wall" is a dreamy ballad driven by an ethereal string arrangement, and the epic "Going Home" allows the bandmembers to stretch out and show off their formidable instrumental chops. In the end, the album serves up enough solid tunes to satisfy the group's fans, but casual listeners may want to track down the album's hits on a Smokie compilation.
All Music Guide
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After turning professional in 1968 as 'The Elizabethans', the Bradford-based members of Smokie had strived for several years to find the elusive hit record. Between 1970 and 73, record deals with RCA and Decca under the name 'Kindness' had failed to bring any commercial success. By 1974 they had hooked up with hit songwriter/producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, changed their name to 'Smokey' (later to become 'Smokie') and signed to legendary talent-spotter Mickie Most's RAK Records. Under this arrangement the band were obliged to follow a simple but tried-and-tested RAK Records formula - Messrs. Chinn and Chapman would write the A-sides of the singles, whilst the band would be free to explore their own musical ideas on the albums and B-sides. A well-received debut album and single, both entitled "Pass It Around", introduced Smokie in early 1975 but it would be later that year before the band had any real success. The singles "If You Think You Know How To love Me" and "Don't Play Your Rock 'N' Roll To Me" became worldwide hits, as did the band's second album "Changing All The Time" from which the singles were taken.
Having had a successful year in 1915 throughout Europe and many far-flung reaches of the globe, Smokie were keen to take on the lucrative American market, hoping that 1976 would bring them the elusive U.S. hit which would enable them to spend more time recording and touring there. Their producer Mike Chapman had already relocated to Los Angeles, seen the huge sales potential of the American West Coast 'Country-Rock' market and viewed Smokie as the perfect vehicle with which to establish a foothold in that market.
By the end of November 1975, with the band's second album "Changing All The Time" still in the UK charts, Smokie had already laid down half a dozen new tracks with Chapman in the U.S.A., for what would become their third album, "Midnight Cafe". In interview in Nov. '75, lead singer Chris Norman proudly declared "These tracks are better than anything we've put out before !". Among the tracks they'd already recorded was "Living Next Door To Alice", a song which had previously been released on single a few years earlier by another RAK Records act, the folk band New World, and which Smokie felt would be "suitable for the American market". Chris Norman boldly stated " We won't put it out here (in the UK) though, either on album or single, because we don't want people saying that we're running out of songs and having to pinch them from a previous Chinn & Chapman band".
Smokie brought in the New Year by releasing their infectious new single "Something's Been Making Me Blue" B/W "Train Song" (RAK 227) on 2nd. Jan. '76. The A-side was the fourth in a line of Chinn / Chapman composed singles but showcased a more electric sound than their two predominantly acoustic previous hits and better represented the band's own preferred musical direction. Since the new single followed hot on the heels of two Top 10 singles and a hit album, they might have fully expected it to shoot straight into the charts. However, the single took a full 4 weeks to enter the Top 50 and didn't reach it's UK peak of # 17 until early March, during an 8-week chart run. The record's relatively low chart placing was mirrored in Germany where it peaked at # 21. In the Netherlands the record failed to chart at all, although it did give them their first # 1 record in Sweden !
In the meantime, Smokie received the accolade of being voted "Brightest hope for 76" in the annual Record Mirror poll - not bad for a group who'd by now been professional for 8 years! The band spent a large part of February in America, completing work on their forthcoming album with Mike Chapman. The release date of the follow-up single, "Wild, Wild Angels" B/W "The Loser" (RAK 233), was originally scheduled to be 19th March but was moved back to 9th April so as not to interfere with sales of it's predecessor. It shared it's new release date with the band's third album 'Midnight Cafe". To promote the album and single release, Smokie embarked on their first headlining tour of UK theatres through April 76. "Wild, Wild Angels" received mixed reviews, Record Mirror warning the band to "beware of falling into the trap of similarity", whilst NME referred m it as "a consummately slick piece of Chinnichap that will DO WELL!". The song itself has become a jewel in the crown of the Smokie repertoire, even to this day being a live piece-de-resistance and a Firm favorite among Smokie fans. It was a Rock power-ballad which demonstrated the more powerful sound the band were trying to achieve. Alarmingly however, "Wild, Wild Angels" narrowly failed to reach a UK singles chart dominated by Soul and Disco music, although it did hover around in the 'Breakers' just outside the Top 50 for a couple of weeks. The band blamed the single's failure on an "Easter chart mix-up", claiming that, on sales figures alone, it should have charted.
'Easter chart mix-up1 or not, the album surprisingly suffered the same fate and also received mixed reviews from the British music press - Record Mirror enthusing that it "shows they can boogie as well as ballad", whilst the more cynical NME rather cruelly referred to it as "Lovingly created tedium". The stigma of being seen as a 'Chinnichap' band was losing them precious credibility in Rock music circles and with the British music press. Chinnichap and RAK artists in general were notorious for faring relatively poorly in terms of album sales in the UK, though their singles would usually sell by the truckload - such was the distinction between what were perceived as 'singles' bands and 'album' bands in the 1970's. It seemed as though the Smokie flame had suddenly been reduced to a flicker, in their home country at least. In mainland Europe however, both the single and album fared much better. "Wild, Wild Angels" gave them a #15 hit in Germany, whilst "Midnight Cafe" lingered around the German album charts for a lengthy 38 weeks, peaking at # 6. The album would also rise to # 12 in the Norwegian album charts.
The band embarked on a sell-out, 6-week European tour through the Summer of 76 to capitalize on their overseas successes. On their return to England, Chris Norman aired his feelings about the band's apparent commercial decline and critical backlash in their home country: "People have said that we were going to be Chinn and Chapman's first un-teenybop act and then they said we weren't. Well we're not; we're anything we want to be, like the groups in the Sixties. We want to appeal to a cross-section of fans in the same way as say 10CC."
Smokie pinned their hopes on their next single to lift their UK chart career out of the doldrums. Given a UK release date of 3rd Sept. 1976, the Parisian flavored "I'll Meet You At Midnight" B/W "Miss You" (RAK 241) entered the UK charts on 25th Sept. and the band heaved a sigh of relief as it restored Smokie to the Top 20 and gave them another huge hit in Europe. It peaked at # 11 in the UK, whilst in Germany it reached # 9 during a lengthy, 23-week chart run. The single reached # 5 in the Netherlands, # 6 in Norway, whilst in Sweden the record got as high as # 2 ! It would also go on to become one of the Top 20 biggest selling records of 1977 in South Africa! "I'll Meet You At Midnight" was not included on the UK issue of "Midnight Cafe", although it was included on the slightly later European issues, a factor which doubtlessly contributed to the album's prolonged success overseas bat did little to re-promote the UK issue.
A commercial masterstroke came with the release of the band's seventh single, "Living Next Door To Alice" B/W "Run To You'' (RAE 244). "Alice" entered the UK charts on 4th December 1976 and rose up to # 5, ensuring that Smokie finished the year on an all-time high in their home country. It would also provide them with a massive worldwide # 1 record over the ensuing months, in countries as diverse as Australia, Norway, Germany and Holland, although the 'bubblegum' nature of the A-side might have effectively put paid to any chance of Smokie ever regaining their 'Rock music' credentials in Great Britain.
Thus far, the American success which the band hoped for had remained elusive. However, that situation would change with the US, release of "Living Next Door To Alice" on RSO Records in January 1977. The single crept up to # 25 in the Billboard Top 40 and it briefly seemed as though Smokie had cracked the final frontier and were set for global superstardom. Unfortunately, this would be the one and only time the Smokie brand name would grace the American charts. Nonetheless, Smokie had achieved huge worldwide success through 1975 and 76, which would continue with an incredible run of hits over the ensuing years.
- Phil Hendnks (July 2007)