Nick Lowe

Early last year, British pop-rocker Nick Lowe released Dig My Mood, an album of

jazz and power-pop songs. The LP, which didn't attract a lot of attention, was aptly titled,

given that the idiosyncratic, influential rocker has been switching styles on a whim ever

since he first appeared in the pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz in 1970.

Lowe was born a half-century ago today in Woodbridge, England. Lowe's father was a

British Royal Air Force officer who lived with his family in the Middle East before settling

in Kent, England. In his teens, Lowe played guitar and bass in bands such as Three's A

Crowd and Sounds 4 Plus 1 with a friend, guitarist Brinsley Schwarz.

In 1965, Lowe and Schwarz formed the guitar-pop band Kippington Lodge, which failed

to have any hits. Four years later, the band became the country-rock outfit Brinsley

Schwarz, which suffered a blow early in its career when a much-hyped gig at the

Fillmore East was branded as zealous overpromotion by critics, who blackballed the

band for years.

But Brinsley Schwarz soldiered on, becoming the leader of the pub-rock scene, an early

'70s niche movement of back-to-basics good-time pop-rock. Dominated by Lowe's

infectious pop and hard-driving rock, the genre foreshadowed the punk/new-wave

explosion later in the decade.

When Schwarz split in 1975, Lowe issued whimsical records under a variety of names

such as the Disco Bros. and the Tartan Horde ("Bay City Rollers, We Love You"). He then

became house producer for Stiff Records, where he helmed seminal records by such

important artists as Elvis Costello, the Pretenders and the Damned.

In 1976, Lowe issued one of the first British "punk" singles, "So It Goes"/"Heart of the

City." He joined Dave Edmunds' band Rockpile and turned it into his own backing band.

Lowe's debut solo LP, Jesus of Cool, was renamed Pure Pop for Now

People for its 1978 U.S. release. The album was critically hailed and featured Lowe's

first U.K. top-10 hit, "(I Love the Sound Of) Breaking Glass."

Labour of Lust, featuring Rockpile, spawned Lowe's sole U.S. smash, the

impossibly catchy 1979 hit "Cruel to Be Kind" (RealAudio

excerpt), an updated version of a Brinsley Schwarz track.

Seconds of Pleasure, Rockpile's only album, yielded the 1980 Lowe-penned hit

"Teacher Teacher," but the band split up in early 1981. Lowe had a minor hit record with

1982's Nick the Knife, but its follow-up, The Abominable Showman,

flopped. New wave petered out as the '80s progressed, so Lowe switched to

roots/country rock and earned a fairly large cult audience.

Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (1984) contained Lowe's U.K. hit "Half a Boy

Half a Man," while the next year's Rose of England featured a hit reworking of his

"I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock & Roll)."

After producing LPs by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Hiatt and Paul Carrack, Lowe

returned to the Billboard 200 albums chart in 1990 with the Edmunds-produced

Party of One. He then formed Little Village with Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner.

Later in the decade, Lowe's song "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and

Understanding" -- initially made famous by Costello -- was recorded by Curtis Stigers for

the soundtrack to Whitney Houston's mega-hit film "The Bodyguard." When the LP

became the biggest-selling soundtrack album in history, Lowe became a millionaire.

In 1994, Lowe released the country-fied album The Impossible Bird, behind which

he toured. After issuing last year's Dig My Mood, Lowe said: "I had to figure out a

way to deal with getting older in a business that's youth-orientated ... I didn't want to be

the old guy jumping around, singing his old songs. I wanted to use my age in a way

that's not a hindrance."

Other birthdays: Aretha Franklin, 57; Elton John, 52; Steve "Spiny" Norman (Spandau

Ballet), 39; Jeff Healey, 33; and Johnny Burnette, 1934-1964.