"Life in a Northern Town" is a pop song by The Dream Academy, an English dream pop group. The song is the first single from their 1985 self-titled debut, The Dream Academy. Reaching #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1986, it is also their highest-peaking chart single in the United States. A cover version, recorded by the country music duo Sugarland with guest vocals from Little Big Town and Jake Owen, was a Top 40 country hit in 2008.
The Dream Academy released the original version in 1985 as the first single from their self-titled album. It was a Top Ten pop hit for them, peaking at number 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
The lyrics include references to English singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who suffered from depression and insomnia throughout his life and often reflected those topics in his lyrics. Gilbert Gabriel, a member of The Dream Academy and co-writer of the song, has also said that the inspiration for the tune came from his experience at Dartington College of Arts. Nick Drake died of an antidepressant overdose in 1974 at the age of 26, but his music has influenced songwriters and guitarists well after his death. He was best known for sombre pieces composed on his favourite instrument, the guitar, and The Dream Academy intended the song as a tribute to Drake.
The song, which took a year to record, also includes elements of classical music, an "African-esque" chant (which was later sampled by dance duo Dario G for their track "Sunchyme"), and hints of psychedelia. It is in the key of E major with a main chord pattern of E-Amaj7-E and a vocal range from B3 to E5. There is no specific reference to any particular northern town or city, though Drake lived in the village of Tanworth-in-Arden near Solihull in the English Midlands, around 100 miles north of the band's London base.
There were two different versions of the music video. The first one was made in 1984 and was filmed in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, England. It was directed by Tim Pope. The second version was filmed in 1985 and was directed by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams. It was filmed in and around Newcastle upon Tyne with some scenes filmed in Manchester in the UK and in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, USA, using footage of the now closed LTV Steel and Duquesne Light facilities. The video featured footage from one of their first TV appearances, on The Tube.
"Life in a Northern Town" - 4:17,
"Test Tape No. 3" - 5:01,
"Life in a Northern Town" (Extended) - 5:19,
"Test Tape No. 3" - 5:03,
"Life in a Northern Town" (7" Mix) - 4:14,
"Poised on the Edge of Forever" - 3:32,
United Kingdom (The Official Chart Company)
U.S. Billboard Hot 100
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks
Sugarland cover version:
The song was covered in 2007 by the country music duo Sugarland, along with Little Big Town and Jake Owen, on the Sugarland Change for Change Tour. A live performance from 2007 was made into a music video by Becky Fluke for the network Country Music Television. Although not officially released as a single, this rendition received airplay on country radio, debuting at 57 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart dated for 5 April 2008 and reaching a peak of 28. It also peaked at 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 based on downloads.
This performance was included on the Deluxe Fan Edition of Sugarland's 2008 album Love on the Inside and on Capitol Records' late 2008 re-release of Little Big Town's 2007 album A Place to Land. In addition, it was nominated for Vocal Event of the Year at the Country Music Association awards, Best Country Collaboration with Vocals at the 51st Grammy Awards, and Vocal Event of the Year at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music awards.
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)
US Billboard Hot 100